Saturday, March 03, 2012

Archaeologists and their pretensions

The difficulty here is that the archaeological establishment, internationally as well as in Turkey, now bays at this sensible measure like wolves surrounding a beleaguered dog-sled trying to convey a bit of common sense, through the winter of discontent and ravenous ideological illogic, to some place where it can be heard and constructively acted upon.

The real solution to such difficulties is to cease extending automatic acceptance of and respect to archaeologists as scientists. Archaeologists are not, by any defensible definition of that term, scientists. They are instead purveyors of unproven and in too many cases, illogically formulated opinions.

According to a REAL scientist -- Dr. Ernest Rutherford (1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson), "That which is not measurable is not science. Physics is the only real science. That which is not physics is stamp collecting."

This dictum (though essential to understanding the issues) does go too far. It should properly be extended to ""That which is not measurable or rigorously provable according to the laws of mathematics logic and experimental verification is not science." That definition would extend Rutherford's rigor-based intellectual perspective beyond physics to include mathematics, and other disciplines in which mathematical and experimental proof is possible -- chemistry and materials science being important examples.

No reasonable construction as to what constitutes a science, however, can possibly be stretched so far as to include archaeology. As one who has personally contributed to the subdiscipline of optical physics, carefully observing the rigors of the scientific method and the laws of mathematics, as well as the necessity of experimental verification of hypotheses before one ventures to assert them, I view the intellectually loose, disorganized, illogical, ideologically driven approach of "mainstream" doctrinaire archaeologists toward what might charitably be described as their "discipline" as contemptible according to a Rutherfordian perspective. Whatever they do practice, it cannot be considered a science according to that perspective or any defensible extension thereof.

Archaeology is in reality a very imperfectly organized body of thought, a loose collection of the opinions of thinkers and investigators united to a very elastic degree by unverified and inherently unverifiable doctrines of experimental procedure and theory, which may best be viewed as possibly constituting a science in the making -- as astrology eventually gave rise to astronomy, and alchemy to chemistry. In this observer's opinion, archaeology still has a long way to go.

Absent the essential ingredient of rigorous proof, we find in utterances of archaeologists much nonsense among which is the unproven, unjustified concept that looting of archaeological sites is caused by collecting. No verifiable data supporting that assertion in a manner consistent with fact and logic has ever been published nor will it ever be published, since this dogma is factually and logically indefensible.

Looking at the many difficulties and actual injustices the anticollecting perspective of mainstream archaeology has caused to those who do not subscribe to their ideology, it is difficult to justify automatically extending the respect one instinctively accords to a scientist, to those who identify themselves as archaeologists. What basis is there within the accepted definition of a science for that? Should we not instead first require definitive affirmative proof that archaeology really does deserve to be considered a science?

Meanwhile, it seems appropriate to view those who identify themselves as archaeologists as being united only in their interest in a subject which has at times attracted thinkers and investigators capable of intellectually rigorous thought and research, but which also undoubtedly attracts others who might best be described as charlatans.

From: [] On Behalf Of JorgL

Sent: Saturday, March 03, 2012 8:33 PM


Subject: [Moneta-L] Turkey Proposes Law to let Museums Sell Unused Antiquities

I don't know how well the translation engines work but basically Turkey is looking at allowing museums to sell unused antiquities after they've been in storage one year. If they figure out a way to include individual finders things would look good.

Jorg Lueke

'Glamorization' of Looting?

Archaeologists Protest 'Glamorization' of Looting on TV

by Keith Kloor

Archaeologists are mounting a campaign against two new cable TV shows that they say encourage and glamorize looting of American archaeological sites.

On 20 March, Spike TV will premiere a new show called American Digger, while a show called Diggers on the National Geographic Channel made its debut 28 February. Both shows "promote and glorify the looting and destruction of archaeological sites," Society for American Archaeology (SAA) President William F. Limp wrote in a message posted earlier this week to the SAA listserv.

The premise of American Digger, which is being hosted by a former professional wrestler, was laid out in a recent announcement by Spike TV. A team of "diggers" will "scour target-rich areas, such as battlefields and historic sites, in hopes of striking it rich by unearthing and selling rare pieces of American history." Similar locales are featured in National Geographic's Diggers. In the second episode, set in South Carolina, Revolutionary War and War of 1812 buttons, bullets, and coins were recovered at a former plantation.

After viewing the first two episodes of Diggers, Iowa's State archaeologist John Doershuk posted a review to the American Cultural Resources Association listserv, in which he lamented: "The most damaging thing, I think, about this show is that no effort was made to document where anything came from or discussion of associations—each discovered item was handled piece-meal."

"It was ironic that they [the show's on-air diggers] are destroying the entire basis of what they're interested in," Doershuk told Science Insider by phone. "These are non-renewable sources. There's only so many of them from these time periods."

The archaeological community is trying to make its views known. In addition to Facebook petitions, professional societies such as SAA have sent letters of condemnation to Spike TV and National Geographic. (Copies of the SAA letters are on its Web site.) Limp said Tuesday on the SAA listserv that Spike TV had not yet responded to its concerns. He wrote that National Geographic indicated that it would place a disclaimer into its show that affirms there are laws in place protecting archaeological and historic sites.

Despite the treasure-hunting theme of both shows, neither appears to be violating federal and state regulations against unlawful obtainment of antiquities. The on-air fortune seekers are not venturing into National Parks or other federal lands, but dig on private property. If property owners sign off, then it is legal--landowners can do whatever they choose with artifacts found on their land. That's the argument Shana Tepper, spokesperson for Spike TV, made to ScienceInsider. "Our show is shot on private property," she said. "They're getting artifacts that are otherwise rotting in the ground."

But archaeologists remain concerned. "These programs encourage looting," University of Colorado, Boulder, archaeologist Steve Lekson wrote in an e-mail to ScienceInsider. National Geographic's imprimatur also rankles some. "Its reputation as a credible scientific and educational institution" effectively "normalizes" the looting aspect of its show, says Washington State University archaeologist William Lipe.


"Two hundred years ago, archaeology was a treasure hunt—finding fabulous things for museum collections," says Lekson. "But we learned long ago that archaeological sites were really books to be read, pages of history. We can learn a great deal about pasts we would otherwise never know, by studying sites themselves and artifacts (simple or spectacular) in their original contexts at sites. When treasure hunters loot sites, ripping artifacts out of the ground, we lose any chance of understanding context—what was with what, its date, how it was used, what it can tell us about history—all so somebody can have a trinket on their mantelpiece."




These archaeologists seek to convey the essence of "archaeologie ueber alles" -- an archaeology-centric perspective based on the doctrinaire dogma that excavation of artifacts by anyone other than an archaeologist (even in strict compliance with the law) is "looting and destruction of archaeological sites," and that an educational television program depicting recovery of artifacts that would otherwise almost certainly perish is "glamorization of looting."

As Keith Kloor points out, this program is produced on private property, where the artifacts recovered would otherwise remain rotting in the ground (with no prospect of ever being excavated by an archaeologist).

Perhaps the most appalling aspect of this dogmatic perspective is its pervasive reliance upon "doublespeak" that is undisguised propaganda. "Archaeologese" deceptively masquerades as English, and is easily confused with the plain English in which the rest of the world (other than archaeologists) communicates. A non-archaeologist encountering "archaeologese" will very likely be misled into beliefs archaeologists wish the public to have. Those who prefer to think for themselves should understand what terms in this deceptive and pejorative jargon actually mean. Translations follow, between "archaeologese" and plain English for the terms appearing in Kloor's article:

"archaeologese" >> plain English

looting >> excavation of an artifact by anyone other than an archaeologist

archaeological site >> any place in which an artifact is buried

destruction of archaeological sites >> excavation of artifacts by anyone other than an archaeologist

treasure hunters >> all non-archaeologists who search for buried artifacts, even if lawfully

treasure hunters looting sites >> all non-archaeologists discovering buried artifacts, even if lawfully

ripping artifacts out of the ground >> excavation of artifacts by non-archaeologists

context >> the relationship between an artifact and its undisturbed place of burial

trinket on the mantelpiece >> an artifact possessed by a non-archaeologist

It sometimes seems as though archaeologists think the entire world is an archaeological site, and that they own it.


Monday, February 27, 2012

Moving Forward

Turkey Moves Forward

by Peter Tompa

While Greece is floundering, Turkey is moving forward through a major liberalization of its economy and political life. Now, the Turkish Government also appears to be taking a major step towards rational management of its cultural resources.


According to the report,

"The changes, which were proposed by the Board of Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets and first announced in the Official Gazette on Jan. 19, dictate that artifacts which are not being used by museums can be valued by a specially formed commission and sold."

Of course, while the Old Guard in the Military has been largely vanquished, the Old Guard in the Turkish Archaeological Establishment fights on:

"The head of the İstanbul branch of the Archeological Association, Dr. Necmi Karul, told the Vatan daily in comments published on Feb. 18 that the changes undermine the most basic of archaeological principles, namely that any artifact from any period of history is part of a shared culture and should, thus, remain as such. Karul said the main benefactors of the change in the law will be private collectors who will be able to access valuable items, many of which can still be put to equally good use by being passed on to other museums for display or used in universities or other educational institutes for the purposes of teaching."

Yet, even in good times, there is never enough money to properly preserve, study and display everything. And while passing along artifacts to other institutions may sound reasonable and is probably a good idea for some artifacts, generating funds through sales would likely benefit the cultural establishment as whole much better.





This new Turkish policy implements an approach that pro-collecting advocates [including this observer] have recommended for years: deaccession and sale (with provenance) of redundant artifacts not needed for display in museums, or for scientific research collections.

In addition to the important benefits gained from generating funds through such sales, distribution of redundant artifacts to individual collectors will make them accessible to the public. This will increase interest in our ancient heritage, and public support for the cultural establishment, museums and site protection (including conservation).


Luxor Fiasco

Failed attempt to smuggle 19 antiquities objects at Luxor Airport

Ministry state of Antiquities (Seized Antiquities department office at Luxor Airport) foiled an attempt to smuggle 19 objects of different sizes and dated back to different historical eras. The captured pieces vary between ushabtis, faience,ushabtisi , ostraca, manuscripts including an English version of a Bible dated back to 16th century and various coins.

Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim (Minister State of Antiquities) said that the objects were in acquisition of a British couple (Michael R. and Angela N.) who was trying to leave the country and that the objects will be transferred to the Egyptian Museum storerooms in the next few days under the supervision of a specialized committee. The objects include a pottery pot on 9cm with a human face depicted, 5 pottery and green faience ushabti with hieroglyphic inscriptions and depiction of Isis which are dated to late pharaonic times. The objects are protects and fall under the antiquities law No. 117 for 1983 and the Bible is subject of culture property which is protected by law 114/1983.





We demand an official apology

Yesterday the news were spreading around about the so-called “smuggling attempt at Luxor Airport” and even some media sources made up stories about a private jet and a mummy was stolen too. Luxor Times had published the officials’ statements about the incident but the story has another side. Luxor Times editor had the opportunity to meet in person with the so-called “smugglers” who were RELEASED immediately by the pre-judge at Luxor court and a committee will be formed for further investigation on the objects from Cairo and question what the antiquity specialist at the airport said it was a Roman coin, it was in fact a Romanian coin according to the couple.

The full story and details will be published soon in the printed version of Luxor Times but from now until then, we hope that the British respectful couple get an official apology from whoever is responsible for this drama as long as the objects are not genuine otherwise don’t expect any tourists to buy a souvenir from the local market for 5 pounds as it may fool someone who should have studied for many years to be a professional and think it is genuine.







Peter Tompa's perspective:

Egypt's cultural bureaucracy and more than a few shoot first ask questions later archaeologists and media outlets are looking foolish after a bust for supposed antiquities smuggling unravelled in a big way.

Egypt is desperate for foreign tourists. Stories like this will rightly scare even more away.


To which I will add that the officials and archaeologists involved are looking not only foolish, but astonishingly ignorant and incompetent.

The artifacts [ see image in ] are so obviously "tourist fakes" that anyone who knows anything at all about ancient Egyptian artifacts should have immediately recognized them for what they are.