When is it OK for an archaeologist to speculate?
From her careful reading of the Biblical text, the Hebrew University’s Eilat Mazar thought she knew just where King David’s palace lay buried in the City of David, so she decided to dig there. When she started digging, she uncovered the walls of a very imposing structure—and the place seemed right for David’s palace.*
According to the traditional dating, King David ruled in the tenth century B.C.E. And Mazar did find some pottery sherds from this period. This suggested that the major wall of the structure could be from King David’s time. The problem, as Hershel Shanks points out in his First Person, “When Is It OK for an Archaeologist to Speculate?” was that the surface on which this pottery was found could not be associated with or directly connected to the wall that Mazar wanted to date. Nevertheless, she thought this structure could be David’s palace.
Eilat Mazar has her critics, but no one questions her archaeology methods or qualifications. The question is about her interpretation.
According to Hershel Shanks, Eilat Mazar never claims that she is sure she has found King David’s palace. But she reasons from her evidence, as well as that of others, that it does seem quite likely that this is a wall of David’s palace.
Is Eilat Mazar acting in an archaeologically responsible manner in speculating this way without absolute proof?
Archaeologists do this all the time. Despite advanced scientific archaeology methods, archaeologists are constantly reasoning from incomplete evidence. They have no other choice.
Should archaeologists speculate about their finds when they write for the general public? Are they using proper archaeology methods to speculate so long as the speculation is suitably qualified?
* See Eilat Mazar, “Did I Excavate King David’s Palace?” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2006.
Read more in Hershel Shanks’s First Person, “When Is It OK for an Archaeologist to Speculate?” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2011.
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