Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Can Fundamentalists of Any Religious Stripe Be Trusted With Archaeology?

This is interesting. An Israeli archaeologist is expressing concern over the lack of publications on anything being researched in the occupied territories. Dr. Rafi Greenberg of Tel Aviv University particularly points to the lack of oversight in archaeological research and the potential for significant loss of irretrievable information on the history and prehistory of the area. Of principle concern is the lack of professional archaeology being maintained in Palestinian areas:

The main problem, though, Greenberg says, is documentation. "We were taught in university that archaeology is the planned destruction of an antiquities site," Greenberg notes. "A dig that does not conclude with an orderly publication is pretty much tantamount to antiquities theft."

This is a very good summation of how seriously professional archaeologists take the methods and goals of archaeology. Without proper documentation reporting the methods and results of the archaeological fieldwork, one might as well be looting archaeological sites rather than feigning archaeological excavation. When they’re not forging data outright, creationists like Carl Baugh who claim to conduct field research produce absolutely no reports on their efforts (largely because they don’t want anyone to highlight the shoddy work they are conducting) and cannot be considered archaeologists or paleontologists. More than the lack of professional credentials, they lack the work ethic necessary to demonstrate that they are anything other than looters of history.

Dr. Greenberg comments further:

Greenberg believes that excavating in occupied territory is problematic. "An occupying force arrives from outside and makes unilateral decisions, without consulting the local residents," he says. "Archaeology has social significance, because you are taking part of the landscape and giving the archaeologists a kind of veto power over it. That's why archaeologists must be transparent; we must report to the public on what we are doing. We, as historians, must be sensitive to such matters. We have to know that what is being done in the territories is a crime."

But beyond this, Greenberg is simply concerned that parts of the history of the Land of Israel will be lost. "Because of the lack of supervision over what is happening in the territories," he says, "there is a vast gap between what was excavated and the information we have about those excavations. We have no guarantee that this gap will be closed in the future."

Many of the comments following the article express concern with Muslims destroying archaeological evidence of Jewish ancestry in the area. These comments are a testament to the power of archaeological research for addressing questions of cultural ancestry, the paranoia of those who need archaeological research to substantiate their belief system, and the great potential for religious zealots to destroy archaeological or textual evidence that does not support their own theological interpretations. The danger of archaeological research lies in giving any religious group management over the archaeological record. The comments generally single out concern with Muslims destroying Jewish history. Does anyone reasonably think that Jews would not destroy Muslim history? That Christians would not destroy Muslim history? That any of these three wouldn’t destroy pre-6000 year paleolilthic sites that lend credence to the fact that all sacred texts have no credible description of history? Archaeology is best kept in the hands of secular scholars, with research credentials, a history of publication and the integrity not to destroy archaeological evidence.

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