According to Albert Einstein, the changes in the planet’s magnetic field constitute one of the major unresolved problem of modern physics. Archaeological research into the Babylonians’ sacking of Jerusalem in 586 BCE could help bring scientists closer to the solving it, writes Rossella Tercatin:
Just a few steps from the Temple Mount, one prominent two-story building, probably used for administrative purposes, was . . . set on fire [during the Babylonian invasion] and collapsed. Over 2,600 years later, its carbonized beams and stones uncovered in the Givati parking lot . . . represent an incredibly vivid testimony of those grievous day.
Among the most notable remains of the building, the archaeologists noticed several fragments of a sophisticated plaster floor. Those pieces, left in the same position for millennia, proved to be essential for measuring the intensity and direction of the earth’s magnetic field in those precise moments.
While throughout modern history the direction has been associated to the geographic north, making it a pillar of navigation systems for centuries, in the past the magnetic field is known to have been completely neutral or even pointing south.
When objects containing magnetic minerals burn at a very high temperature, those minerals are re-magnetized and therefore record the direction and the magnitude of the field in that precise moment. Artifacts like pottery, bricks, and tiles, which are fired in furnaces, ovens, and kilns, can all provide these records. However, as precise as their dating can be, it usually spans of at least a few decades. On the contrary, if documented by historical records, [objects] can be pinned down to a very specific moment—in the case of Jerusalem in BCE 586—providing a unique opportunity.