November 4, 1953
Robert H. Pfeiffer, Chairman
Department of Semitic Languages and History
Dear Professor Pfeiffer:
You may have read about the radio-carbon dating of archaeological objects of organic origin, as perfected by W. F. Libby and his associates of the University of Chicago. The method has some problematic features: in the case of fossil remains in which organic carbon is replaced by the inorganic, there can be no correct result. Libby also stresses that his method works only on the condition that cosmic radiation or terrestrial radioactivity remained unchanged in the last 20,000 years. As the first attempt to verify the method on an object of known age, pieces of wood from the Old Kingdom (Zoser and Sneferu), from the Middle Kingdom (Sesostris III) and from the Ptolemaic ages were analyzed. The pieces of Sesostris (three testsaverage) showed the age of 3621 with an error margin both ways of 180 years, or 1720 before the common era, with the chance that Sesostris IIIs reign (or properly the time the tree was cut) can be brought as low as -1540. As you know I place the end of the Middle Kingdom at ca. -1500, and Sesostris III was not the last king of Middle Kingdom (there must have been also a succession of lesser known kings of the 13th Dynasty). In short, the date of the wood of Sesostris III is in good harmony with my chronology.
What is not found in Libbys analyses, is some object from the 18th, 19th, or 20th Dynastythe New Kingdomwhere my chronological scheme is five to seven hundred years out of line. I wonder whether the Museum under your care possesses a wooden coffin from one of those dynasties and would be interested to sacrifice a little piece for the purpose of the analysis. Actually all analyses made by Libby were performed on objects submitted by various scholars and institutions.
One object, though not from Egypt, showed a divergence by 800 years from the conventional chronology: it is wood from the foundation cribbing for a fortification wall of Alisar III. You will remember that the Hittite empire is recognized by me as 700 - 750 years younger than it is generally assumed. The analysis supports my dating.
At this occasion I would like to tell you that three weeks ago, on October 14th, at the invitation of the Forum of the Graduate Students of the Princeton University, I have addressed the students and professors before a capacity audience speaking on:
Worlds in Collision in the light of recent finds in archaeology, geology and astronomy: refuted or verified. From the Princetonian, the students newspaper, I would like to quote (from Oct. 16th issue):
After his lecture last night, he impressed all attending by his well-reasoned and well-documented answers to questions posed by experts in physics, geology and other sciences. I would be gladif there should be an opportunityto meet also a comparable group of Harvard students and professors. Is there any Forum that you think could be interested to arrange such lecture (no fees)?
In archaeology, the work of Claude Schaeffer who established the occurrence of a very great natural catastrophe at the very end of the Middle Kingdom, and a few other similar events in historical times, served me very well.
With kind regards also from my wife, to you and Mrs. Pfeiffer,
P.S. The address of Libby: Research Institutes, the University of Chicago, 5640 Ellis Avenue, Chicago 37, Illinois. He admitted in his articles and his book (Radiocarbon Dating) that they are inclined to consider the accepted dates in their analyses as guides for selecting a date out of the range of uncertainty that sometimes is as high as 300 or 400 years. Therefore it would be good to have an object offered for analysis with a remark that two datings vie between themselves, and the analysis is requested to decide between these two datings.