Just when we begin to think modern scientific archaeological methodology has enabled us to securely date whatever we dig up, we are faced with the realization that even with the best and the latest techniques, the dating, even of major structures, can still be extremely difficult.

Take the great outer wall at Gezer. The recent 10-season excavation of this major site had as one of its major objectives the re-excavation and dating of the city’s defenses. Two different wall systems defended Gezer in various periods in its history.

In his 1902–1909 excavations R. A. S. Macalister, the Irish archaeologist, exposed the perimeter circuit of the outer wall. The 1964–1974 excavation, led first by William Dever and then by Joe Seger (both Americans), re-examined this wall. Now nearly the entire wall system has been excavated. The Macalister excavations typified the worst excavation methods; the recent re-excavation, sponsored by Hebrew Union College and the Harvard Semitic Museum, represents the latest and the best in archaeological methodology.

But the date of the great outer wall still remains a subject of bitter scholarly dispute. Dever dates the outer wall to the Late Bronze Age (c. 1400 B.C. to 1375 B.C.). The late Dame Kathleen Kenyon, whose name will live forever in the Wheeler-Kenyon method on which most of Dever’s own methodology is based, dates this same wall to the Hellenistic period (c. 200–150 B.C.). Another Israeli archaeologist, Adam Zertal, has recently published a lengthy article agreeing with Kempinski’s date. A third Israeli archaeologist, Israel Finkelstein, also now argues for an Iron II date. The question is obviously a complicated one—and extremely technical.

But the result, as Dever observes, is that after “the clearance of nearly the whole of a Palestinian site’s city-wall system, together with its modern stratigraphic excavation,” scholarly opinions as to the date of the outer wall of Gezer still “differ by more than a thousand years.”

Dever charges Kempinski with “simply ignoring the overwhelming evidence.” Dever also attributes part of the problem to the Israelis’ “unfortunate persistence” in adopting an architectural rather than a stratigraphic orientation. They simply cannot understand his technical publications, he says, “which are based on an altogether new approach to archaeological observation and interpretation.”

Nevertheless, Dever expects to return to Gezer for six weeks in the summer of 1984 to continue his excavation one more season in order to re-investigate this and other questions which his earlier excavation left unanswered.

(For further details, see W. G. Dever, “The Late Bronze, Iron Age, and Hellenistic Defenses of Gezer” in Essays in Honour of Yigael Yadin, Geza Vermes and Jacob Neusner, eds., Vol. 33 of The Journal of Jewish Studies, 1982.)