60-Second Science

Patriarchs Beat Their Camels (in Time)

A convergence of dating analysis for camel bones in Israel finds that the animals arrived in the area long after biblical descriptions of them are thought to have taken place. Cynthia Graber reports


In the Bible, Abraham was impressed by how well his future daughter-in-law Rebecca cared for their camels. The animals have long been a crucial part of life in the region, opening it to trade with lands as far as India.

Camels were likely domesticated in the Arabian peninsula about three thousand years ago. But archaeological evidence suggested that camels arrived in the Levant well after the biblical patriarchs, theoretically about 2,500 to 3,000 years ago.
Now, researchers have nailed that date. The finding is in the peer-reviewed publication Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University. [Lidar Sapir-Hen and Erez Ben-Yosef, The Introduction of Domestic Camels to the Southern Levant:Evidence from the Aravah Valley]

Israel’s oldest camel bones are found at ancient copper mines in the Arava Valley, between the Dead Sea and the gulf.

The research team used radiocarbon dating and other techniques to precisely pin down the layers in which camel bones are found at a number of sites. The oldest domesticated camels at all sites dated to the last third of the 10th century B.C.E.

That date is centuries after the time of the Patriarchs. This analysis gives more support to the theory that Bible accounts were written down long after the events described might have occurred.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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