Archaeologists use pottery shards to reconstruct Babylonian fire

A group of archaeologists from Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Israel Antiquities Authority has made a remarkable discovery, offering new insights into a devastating fire that occurred in Jerusalem in 586 BCE. During this period, the Neo-Babylonian Empire laid siege to the city, leading to its fall and the destruction of the First Temple. The Babylonians employed a tactic of setting buildings ablaze, resulting in the destruction of most structures.

Despite the existence of ancient writings and artifacts from the time, gaining a clear perspective on the events has proven challenging due to the considerable time that has passed. However, the recent study utilized a novel approach by analyzing magnetic signals in pottery shards recovered from a specific building known as Building 100.

By studying the magnetic signals in the shards, the researchers were able to determine the sequence of events during the fire. Some shards showed magnetic signals pointing south, indicating they had been demagnetized before the fire, while others pointed north, suggesting demagnetization during the fire. High temperatures during the blaze caused the changes in magnetic polarity.

By comparing the magnetic direction of the shards with their location in the building, the research team traced the fire’s path and intensity. They discovered that the fire burned the upper floor the hottest and did not fully reach some parts of the bottom floor, likely due to the floor collapsing. The study also revealed that the fire had been deliberately set in multiple locations, indicating a deliberate effort to achieve complete destruction.

This innovative approach sheds light on the events of the past and provides valuable information about the fire that engulfed this specific building during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. The research deepens our understanding of ancient city destruction and the methods employed by ancient armies during times of conflict. The findings have been reported in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

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