While camels appear as pack animals in the biblical stories of Abraham, Joseph, and Jacob, archaeologists at Tel Aviv University say carbon dating shows camels were not domesticated in Israel until centuries later.
In addition to challenging the Bible's historicity, this anachronism is direct proof that the text was compiled well after the events it describes, said Erez Ben-Yosef and Lidar Sapir-Hen of the university's Department of Archaeology and Near Eastern Cultures.
"The introduction of the camel to our region was a very important economic and social development," Ben-Yosef said. "By analyzing archaeological evidence from the copper production sites of the Aravah Valley, we were able to estimate the date of this event in terms of decades rather than centuries."
To determine exactly when domesticated camels appeared in the southern Levant, where Israel is located, the researchers used radiocarbon dating and other techniques to analyze the oldest knows domesticated camel bones from several sites in the valley.
Camel bones were found almost exclusively in archaeological layers dating from the last third of the 10th century B.C. or later, centuries after the age of the patriarchs, they said.
The origin of the domesticated camel is probably the Arabian Peninsula, which borders the Aravah Valley and would have been a logical entry point for domesticated camels into the southern Levant, the researchers said.
Able to travel over much longer distances than the donkeys and mules that preceded them, the domesticated camels opened Israel up to the world beyond the vast deserts, they said, profoundly altering its economic and social history.