There’s a lot to learn about Earth’s magnetic field — did you know that it’s dented or that unpredictable geometric jerks can occur? You might know that the strength and direction of Earth’s magnetic field have changed over time — it has flipped numerous times in the history of our planet! Scientists want to study the pattern of this change to help make predictions about how the planet’s magnetic field will behave in the future. 

Instruments for measuring Earth’s magnetic field have only been around for a few hundred years, but scientists have figured out other ways to analyze Earth’s magnetic field. This includes a new study using artifacts recovered in Jordan from the Neolithic period or the New Stone Age. Read on to learn more about this discovery and how it’ll impact the future of magnetic field research. 

About the Study

A study was led by Professor Erez Ben-Yosef, a professor of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University. Researchers examined 129 different artifacts, including pieces of pottery and burned flint used to make prehistoric tools, recovered from archaeological sites in Wadi Feynan, Jordan. They determined that the strength of Earth’s magnetic field dropped when these particular artifacts were in use, which was about 8,000 to 10,000 years ago. They also determined that the magnetic field recovered within a few hundred years.

Using Artifacts to Understand Earth’s Magnetic Field

How exactly did Ben-Yosef and the other researchers involved in the study identify the strength of Earth’s magnetic field when the discovered artifacts were originally being used? 

Ben-Yosef and a team of scientists were responsible for creating the technique used to detect the magnetic field in artifacts, which proved that pottery — and now flint — can be dated using the “signal” of its magnetic field. Because pottery has to be subjected to high temperatures during creation, certain minerals within it hold a record of what the planet’s magnetic field was like at that time. This is known as remanent magnetism or paleomagnetism. 

This same phenomenon happens to flint that has been burned, recording the intensity of the magnetic field. This discovery is significant because while pottery can be used to understand Earth’s magnetic field at the time of firing, pottery in the Middle East was invented only roughly 8,500 years ago, limiting how far back scientists can study the pattern of the magnetic field. Since we know about flint exhibiting the same qualities as pottery, now scientists can explore magnetic fields even further back.

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