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November 3, 1960

Professor I. E. S. Edwards

Dear Sir:

“One of the first questions which occur to the mind of anyone looking at the ancient monument is its date. In the case of Egyptian monuments it is often difficult, and sometimes impossible, to answer the question in terms of years before the beginning of the Christian era, because our knowledge of Egyptian chronology, especially in the early periods, is still very incomplete. . . An exact chronology will not be possible until the discovery of material of a different and more precisely datable character than anything found hitherto.”

When in 1947 you have written these lines and opened with them your book on The Pyramids of Egypt, the radiocarbon method of dating was not yet worked out. Since 1948, however, in twelve years very many samples of all kinds of origin and date were tested, but not a single one dating from between the end of the Middle Kingdom and the time of the Ptolemies, more than twelve hundred years, a period so long and important of a country so dominant in ancient history. Although the margin of error of the method makes it hardly suitable for finer datings, it could be of decisive value where the chronological problem involved is in excess of that margin of inexactitude.

Tombs near Tell el Yahudieh were assigned by LI. Griffith to the 12th century and by E. Naville of the same expedition to the Hellenistic age: the difference is of ca. 800 years or even more. Do you possess at the Museum anything from this excavation that could solve the problem?

Not only Egypt of 1680 to 332, but the entire Ancient East is left out of RC analysis and testing. At Carchemish, Sir Leonard Woolley was baffled by young objects in old tombs, six to seven centuries intervening. Also the Herald Wall is very differently dated by Woolley and Güterbock. Should not some organic object from the tombs of Carchemish be tested in RC count?

The British Museum must be especially interested to clear the name of A. S. Murray who was accused of ignorance (Enkomi) for finding Assyrian objects of the seventh century in tombs contemporaneous with the 13th century Egypt.

Why not to test by RC the old dispute between Dörpfeld and Furtwängler as to the relative age of the Geometric and the Mycenaean ware (Olympia)? Or the age of the temple in the megaron of the Tiryns palace-is it Greek or Mycenaean? Or to investigate the relative age of Gordion tumuli and of Hittite relics of the Empire period? I could enlarge the list by many other cases. (Ahiram’s tomb dated to 13th, 10th, and 7th centuries is one of such cases. Ivory of the 9th century [Samaria] and, presumably, of 14th century [tomb of Tutankhamun] , also of Nimrud and Megiddo is a very suitable material for tests).

Is not the find of a piece of wood from under Alisar III fortress wall that came out 800 years too recent (W. F. Libby, Radiocarbon Dating, 1952, pp. 71 and 102) by itself an invitation to undertake a survey of all debated and unsolved chronological problems where datings differ by centuries?

The problem of the so-called Dark Ages in the Near East, for five centuries following -1200 could be greatly illuminated, also the question of the true interval between the Mycenaean and the Greek Ages, and the Homeric question tied to it.

This morning the radio announced that W. I. Libby was awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry. With this letter I make one last effort to convey to you that problems of great importance and urgency should not be left undecided and waiting, their turn for the Carbon test till after the determination of dates of the earlier periods from a “wide area of the Middle East.” as you put it in your letter to me on September 16th.

  Very sincerely yours,

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