Yavneh, central Israel. It is a Friday in June 659 CE and an earthquake strikes. Buildings are destroyed and we have no record of the number of victims. The regions industry does not recover from this devastation, due in some part to shifts in economic and political conditions. So how do we know that the earthquake that damaged Yavneh happened on Friday in June 659 CE? Well we have historical documents that mention two earthquakes for this area the first in September 634 CE and the second in June 659 CE. Distinquishing between these two dates (which, being only 25 years apart, could lie within the error margins of radiocarbon dating) comes down to pollen preserved in a collapsed pottery kiln. Dafna Langgut and colleagues have found that the pollen in the collapsed kiln comes from plants that flower in the spring: such as olives and burnet. They found no pollen from plants that flower into September and so the kiln must have been destroyed in the June 659 CE earthquake.
The identification of historical events by geological and archaeological evidence is often ambiguous and conflicting, undermining the enormous potential for sub-annual precision in dating. The ruin of one of the largest pottery factories in the Middle East during Byzantine times, recently excavated in Yavneh (central Israel), exemplifies this: aligned fallen walls and columns and a kiln that collapsed while still in operation, with dozens of ceramic storage jars in articulation. Archaeological dating, which limits the time of the collapse to the seventh century CE, cannot distinguish between two large documented earthquakes that occurred during this century. By using pollen grains trapped by the collapse, we were able to distinguish, for the first time, between the two candidate earthquakes: September 634 CE and early June 659 CE.