Newsflash from Jerusalem: Pot Calls Kettle Black

A truly pitiful example of the ideologically inspired and financed archaeological work in the “City of David.”  Is this a battle for “science” or just envy in not being allowed to claim the credit for another “this land really belongs to us” claim.  

Jeremiah’s Pit would have been another fine addition to the bogus Mazar corpus.  See, for example, blog report from Feb. 22, 2010.

Of course with Mazar or without her, this biblical chimera could still become a tourist attraction and a rationale for expropriation.   When will this government-approved misuse of archaeology stop?

Dr. Eilat Mazar expounding to the press, Feb. 2010

From Haaretz October 11, 2001

Top archaeologist decries Jerusalem dig as unscientific ‘tourist gimmick’

Dr. Eilat Mazar, who worked in close cooperation with the group – which promotes the ‘Judaization’ of East Jerusalem – says excavations carried out in violation of accepted procedures.

By Nir Hasson

An archaeologist who worked with the Elad association in Jerusalem’s City of David claims that the association and the Antiquities Authority are carrying out excavations “without any commitment to scientific archaeological work.”

Dr. Eilat Mazar – a Hebrew University archaeologist who worked in close cooperation with Elad over past years, and who is considered one of the most productive researchers in Jerusalem and in the City of David area in particular – has castigated Elad for the excavation of a large subterranean pit, called “Jeremiah’s Pit,” at the entrance to the City of David visitors’ center complex.

In a sharply worded letter she sent 10 days ago to Prof. Ronny Reich, chairman of the Archaeological Council, Mazar demanded an urgent discussion of the excavations, which she says are being carried out in violation of accepted procedures.

Mazar’s claims against Elad are being leveled at a crucial time as a proposed law to privatize public parks is being considered. If approved, the bill will enable Elad, a private association which excavates, maintains and conducts tours of the City of David, to maintain control of the historic site – situated in the predominantly Arab village of Silwan, adjacent to the Old City.

“To my astonishment I discovered that for over a year Elad, together with the Antiquities Authority, has been secretly planning a tourism gimmick called the ‘Jeremiah’s Pit Project,” writes Mazar in her letter, noting that the excavation is only two meters away from the excavation area that she directed between 2005 and 2008. She says that she wanted to continue digging in the present area, but was prevented from doing so “for logistical reasons, since north of the site the Antiquities Authority permitted Elad to build a special events hall,” and because of the area’s proximity to a residential building and a road.

Mazar claims that the excavation in the area of the pit contravenes several accepted practices in archaeology, among them, the digging up of an unusually small area of a mere “two squares,” or 10 square meters, which makes it difficult to analyze the findings in relation to the overall area. An excavation of this size, claims Mazar, is made only in situations where there is no other choice.

Mazar is also critical of the diggers’ intention to destroy the wall of the pit, which has not been properly investigated. She also notes that the dig “interferes with the nearby excavations,” which will undermine her ability to complete the research in the area. She claims that it is not acceptable to transfer an area being excavated by one archaeologist to another one, without the former’s consent.

Mazar raised these complaints to the director of the Jerusalem area in the Antiquities Authority, Dr. Yuval Baruch. He conveyed them to Antiquities Authority director Shuka Dorfman, who in turn rejected the complaints and approved the continuation of the excavation.

Antiquities Authority personnel said yesterday that Mazar, who asked to excavate the site and was turned down, received the status of a consultant to the excavation, but she wasn’t satisfied with that and turned to the council. An official reply from the Antiquities Authority said that “the excavation is a rescue dig for the purpose of tourism and the development of the national park. Near the site several archaeological excavations have been conducted, including that of Dr. Mazar. It seems that Dr. Mazar is trying to appropriate the site to herself and we regret that.”

Elad officials explained that it is not the association, but the Antiquities Authority that decides which archaeologist will conduct an excavation. Elad also claims that for several years Mazar has been aware of the project, which was designed to enable groups of tourists to visit the pit, and that she even promised not challenge it.

Attorney Boaz Fiel, representing Elad, noted in a letter that Mazar had signed a contract with the association, to the effect that she would not have “any claim or complaint against Elad regarding future excavations.” “In light of this clear and specific promise, how can we explain your present claim regarding any rights, as incomprehensible as they may be, to continue excavating at the site?” wrote Fiel.

The lawyer added:”It is hard to avoid the impression that your letter is nothing but an attempt to stop legitimate and vital work being carried out by our client, for reasons of ego and credit only, camouflaged as pseudo-professional complaints.” Fiel threatened to take legal steps against Mazar.

In the weekend newspapers Elad published large ads inviting the public to tour the new subterranean route that it has opened near the Western Wall complex. The ads were signed by the new public council of the association, headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.

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City of David excavations. Slippery indeed. From Blog

Modern Druidism: What’s Continuity Got To Do With It?

Well I suppose this makes it clear that historical/archaeological authenticity and uninterrupted continuity are no longer preconditions for civil recognition of cultural traditions.  It was probably inevitable that cultural belief systems only need to be “historically themed” to be meaningful.    

The danger is, of course, our growing inability to distinguish (or even to care if there is a difference between) historical reality and historical fantasy.  I’m sure that many think that The Lord of the Rings is as old as Beowulf… And what exactly does the lead sentence “Druids have been worshipping the sun and earth for thousands of years in Europe” in the following article mean?     

From the AP Oct 3, 2010:    

Druids recognized as religion for first time in UK


LONDON — Druids have been worshipping the sun and earth for thousands of years in Europe, but now they can say they’re practicing an officially recognized religion.    

 The ancient pagan tradition best known for gatherings at Stonehenge every summer solstice has been formally classed as a religion under charity law for the first time in Britain, the national charity regulator said Saturday. That means Druids can receive exemptions from taxes on donations — and now have the same status as such mainstream religions as the Church of England.    

The move gives an old practice new validity, said Phil Ryder, the chairman of the 350-member Druid Network.    

“It will go a long way to make Druidry a lot more accessible,” he said.    

Druids have practiced for thousands of years in Britain and in Celtic societies elsewhere in Europe. They worship natural forces such as thunder and the sun, and spirits they believe arise from places such as mountains and rivers. They do not worship a single god or creator, but seek to cultivate a sacred relationship with the natural world.    

FILE - This Tuesday Aug. 10, 1999 photo from files shows Arch Druid Ed Prynn as he calls down the sun during his sun dance around a ring of stones, in St. Merryn, England. The druid dance is to celebrate the total eclipse of the sun, which is due in this part of southwest England on August 11. Druidry has been officially recognized as a religion in Britain under charity law. The Charity Commission has granted the Druid Network charitable status, giving it tax breaks and equal status to mainstream religions like Christianity. The commission said Saturday that druidry has a coherent and serious set of beliefs and that it offers a beneficial ethical framework. (AP Photo/Dave Caulkin, File)


Although many see them as robed, mysterious people who gather every summer solstice at Stonehenge — which predates the Druids — believers say modern Druidry is chiefly concerned with helping practitioners connect with nature and themselves through rituals, dancing and singing at stone circles and other sites throughout the country believed to be “sacred.”    

Ancient Druids were known to be religious leaders, judges and sages among the Celts during pre-Christian times, although little evidence about their lives survived. There are now various Druid orders and about 10,000 practitioners in Britain — and believers said the numbers are growing because more people are becoming aware of the importance to preserve the environment.    

The Druid Network fought for nearly five years to be recognized under the semi-governmental Charity Commission, which requires proof of cohesive and serious belief in a supreme entity and a moral framework.    

After initially rejecting the Druid Network’s application, the Charity Commission decided this week that Druidry fit the bill.    

“There is sufficient belief in a supreme being or entity to constitute a religion for the purposes of charity law,” the commission said.    

Adrian Rooke, a Druid who works as a counselor, said Druidry appeals to people who are turning away from monotheistic religions but still long for an aspect of spirituality in their lives.    

“It uplifts the spirit,” he said. “The world is running out of resources, and in that context it’s more important to people now to formulate a relationship with nature.”

The March of Heritage Folly Continues

No one should impugn the genuine emotional and spiritual attachment of Jews, Christians, an Muslims to Jerusalem’s monuments and heritage places.  But when heritage becomes a public zero-sum game between hostile communities, waged with raucous demonstrations and intentional muscle-flexing in a small, already-tense city, needless violence can be the only outcome.  

Are there no cool heads, no wise leaders who can stop this latest cycle of heritage-based hostility in Jerusalem?  

Jerusalem: Rebuilt Hurva Synagogue (white dome, above; al-Aqsa Mosque (silver dome, below). Detail of a photo by Berthold Werner


From Ynet News:  

Old City synagogue opened amid heightened tensions

After PA urges Muslims to barricade themselves in Al-Aqsa Mosque, hundreds of Jews take part in ceremony bringing new Torah scroll to restored shul in Jewish Quarter. ‘If this angers Obama, Netanyahu should choose a different partner,’ celebrator says.  

Shmulik Grossman

Published: 03.14.10, 20:38

Hundreds of people took part in a ceremony bringing a new Torah scroll into the restored Hurva Synagogue in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter on Sunday. The ceremony in east Jerusalem was held under heavy security after the Palestinian Authority joined the Islamic Movement in its calls for Muslims to flock to the al-Aqsa Mosque in response to extremist Jews’ plans to lay a cornerstone at the Temple Mount.  

Among the celebrators was Knesset Member Michael Ben-Ari (National Union), who criticized the prime minister, saying, “(Benjamin) Netanyahu, who crushed his own national backbone and is leading to the division of Jerusalem, should have come here to draw strength from Hurva’s restoration and display power instead of compromising Jerusalem’s unity.”  


Earlier Sunday, Hatem Abdel Kader, the Fatah official in charge of the Jerusalem portfolio, urged Palestinians in Jerusalem and Israel to declare their plans to travel to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City and barricade themselves there starting Monday.  

Meanwhile, police have declared they will not allow the Israeli rightists to go through with their plans to lay a cornerstone at the site.  

To read complete story, click here.

A Long Way From Plymouth Rock


Guardsmen walk off Blanket Hill at Kent State University as civilians come to the aid of one of the wounded after the shootings on May 4, 1970.


 If anything symbolizes the turn in “official” heritage from tangible monuments to intangible significance, the recent inscription of the 1970 Kent State shootings during an anti-Vietnam protest on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places has to be one of the clearest signs of a change in attitude.      

All there is there is a solitary “pagoda,” some sidewalks, and a great expanse of grass.  It isn’t the architectural history that makes this place significant.  It is the significance that makes this place a site of heritage.      

*   *   *      


Kent State shootings site added to National Register of Historic Places

The site of the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970, has been a local landmark for nearly 40 years — attracting scores of visitors annually.      

Now it is officially a national historic site.      

The Ohio Historic Preservation Office announced today that the site has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.      

Franco Ruffini, deputy state historic preservation officer, said the site made the National Register because of its ”significance to national history.”      

Four students died and nine students were wounded when Ohio National Guardsmen fired into a crowd of people during a protest of the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.      


Two students walk past the spot where Ohio National Guard troops fired on student anti-war protesters. AP Photo/Tony Dejak


The historic site includes 17.24 acres of the KSU campus comprising three areas: the Commons, Blanket Hill and the Southern Terrace. It covers the areas where the guardsmen, student protesters and observers moved from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. May 4, 1970.      

”What happened here at Kent State was historic, and it’s appropriate that it receives this special designation,” said Kent State University President Lester A. Lefton in a prepared statement. ”The National Register recognizes those places that are significant in American history and culture, and the May 4 site definitely qualifies for this recognition.”      

For full article click here.

Who Do You Think You Are?

I am convinced that in the developed, industrial world we are on the verge of a new era in heritage communication:  the creation of a creative personal, individual connection to history.               


No not the old aristocratic Burke’s Peerage kind; no not the “came on the Mayflower” kind; and not even “Kunta Kinte is the ancestor of all of us,” Alex Haley kind.  I’m talking about a personal narrative, with specific names, brushes with greatness, misfortune, sadness, and maybe a few moments of triumph– packaged in the slick envelope of video pans and lap dissolves, with background music and reaction shots.               

The quest for identity in a globalized homogenized world went through its virulent, corporatist nationalist stage (and still does in some places as we have seen in the last couple of weeks).  It was transmuted into personal expression through hobbies and eventually shopping, creating personalities that were somehow at least superficially different from the co-worker in adjoining cubicle 3c.               

But now with the miraculous capacities of low-cost hand-held video, massive internet genealogical records and digitized historical photos, and hundreds (thousands?) of unemployed history graduates looking for work, commissioning a personal narrative can be as easy as making a wedding video.           

And with a bit of training and experience, that personal video history can be infinitely expanded and elaborated as more facts and insights are uncovered.  Just imagine the possibility of being the family Ken Burns.     

Sarah Jessica Parker: Episode #1: Luckless Gold Miner and Accused Witch


The first episode of NBC’s “Who Do You Think You Are?” premiered last night and it has the advantage over Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s PBS “Faces of America” in focusing on the celebrity subject of the search instead of the presenter.  Yet both shows resort in the end to a dutiful, if politically correct patriotism that revolves around what it means to be an American.  

The BBC original was much less focussed on what it means to be British and much more on how far and surprisingly other meaningful, moving experiences underlie the superficialities of “official” Britishness.   

What I see in the American adoption of this genre is at least the potential 21st century fulfillment of the revolutionary, radical innovation of the decidedly unradical Sir Walter Scott.  In “inventing” the modern historical novel, Scott tried to show that despite the way that history had always been understood– Great Men, Great Wars, Great Events– even marginal characters (read: you and me) were connected to those events.  They were affected by and affected the great sweep of history.             

So if the Great Men and Events were the main trunk of the massive tree of history, it also had spreading branches, sub-branches, twigs, and buds that reached every person on earth.  And Scott, by beginning his stories at the very end of a branch– with a particularly vivid character in a personal situation, was able to show that this personal situation, and by extension all individual situations were meaningfully linked to the great events of the time.   In a word, everyone was part of history.            

Even such an unlikely ally as the Hungarian Marxist literary theorist Georg Lukács saw the radical possibilities of Scott’s brand of Personal History in changing the individual’s relationship to history from a passive to an active one.               

And today, when we have been atomized into job descriptions or CVs and when our shared public idea of history is either passive edu-tainment or ideological caricature, enabling people to see their own roots in a surprising unexpected history wouldn’t be such a bad thing.  It might restore some sense of collective energy to regain control over how our history is today unfolding and it might allow people to have some sense of historical identity not determined solely by their choice of clothing, cars, or current livelihoods.      

P.S. From an online discussion with Cornelius Holtorf:      

…here is what I think is key: we have mindless heritage groups now (nations, ethnicities, religions) that cause more trouble than they are worth. On the other hand we have atomized individuals who live in the present but don’t really see how collective action is possible outside established institutions.       

I think the personal link to haphazard collectivities (adventurers, con men, criminals, and dreamers) in the past can be powerful!      


Moonbeams and Cultural Heritage Management (Update)

Thanks to Professor Margie Purser of Sonoma State University for sending along an article that provides some welcome context for the recent listing of artifacts at Tranquility Base on the Moon as a California State Historical Resource.  It apparently began as a worthwhile academic exercise, not just a case of bureaucratic megalomania:

Archeologist Helps Get Moon Junk on Historical Resources List

The Historical Resources Commission for the state of California recently listed 106 items left on the moon from the landing of Apollo 11 on the Historical Resources List. Archaeologist Lisa Westwood had worked alone on the project before encountering three others with a similar goal: Beth O’Leary, Department of Anthropology, New Mexico State University; Ralph Gibson, Placer County Museums; and John Versluis, Texas Heritage Museum. “Together, we had more than 40 years invested in getting the objects on a historical resource list. I think it’s interesting that that’s the length of time since the Apollo mission,” said Westwood.

Four years ago, in Westwood’s class Society, Time, Archaeology, she talked about resources management and what qualifies for protection. She used the artifacts left on the moon and Tranquility Base as an example of a site that was not old, but was worthy of some protection. It is a case study of a site that doesn’t fit well with existing law and protocol.

“After open discussions with students, it occurred to me, has anyone tried to get this listed? I contacted NASA; they’ve been very nice and supportive. The wall I hit with NASA is that any one country as part of an international treaty can’t claim the lunar surface. The way it stands right now, there is no protection for these objects or the site.”  Read More…

*   *   *

Interesting that NASA has “lost” some of the original documentation– and I do recognize that there is an interesting heritage management exercise here. 

But the heritage of Apollo 11 is not ONLY on the moon.  Any potential World Heritage Nomination (to be a realistic project– even as a realistic academic project) would have to consider a transboundary serial nomination linking a number of places, things, and people in a number of countries (“states-parties”) around the world that contributed in some way to the moon landing or perhaps to the wider 1950s-1960s pioneering exploration of space.

For an example of this kind of “scientific achievement” transboundary serial World Heritage Site, see the Struve Geodetic Arc, inscribed in 2005.  This would eliminate the “sovereignty” problem– and in fact such initiatives have already been discussed.

It would be a fantastic subject for collaboration between all the world’s space agencies…

Digging for Jews

The conference at the Musée d’art et d’histoire du judaïsme in Paris that I mentioned in my last blog post was at least as interesting to me for the questions it begged as for the information it supplied.  That it was a success by the terms that its organizers hoped for, there is no doubt.  This gathering of historians and (mostly) archaeologists from France, Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic, and the Ukraine was another important step in placing archaeology of medieval Jewish communities in the mainstream of European archaeology     

That is much more of an achievement than many would think.  It’s not only that the Jews have been vilified as Europe’s most familiar and easily attackable Other, it’s that European medieval culture has simultaneously been romanticized, idealized, and homogenized.  Despite the work of a few social historians, the public impression of European medieval history—particularly material culture—has been all about suits of armor, reliquaries, cathedrals, castles, and tapestries.     

That is certainly what the European public gets in its menu of museums and heritage sites.  And if it weren’t for the enormous expansion in the last twenty-five years or so of urban archaeology (read: emergency salvage archaeology at building sites and infrastructure projects in the rebuilt and expanding cities across Europe), there would probably not even be such an advance in the knowledge and teaching of the European medieval “common people’s” everyday pottery, diet, and trade.     

But today—despite the look-down-your-nose-at-those-ditchdiggers disdain of the staunchly elitist, conservative curators and art historians toward archaeologists—enormous strides have been made in understanding the material evidence of medieval society in recent years.  INRAP in France and urban archaeology offices across Europe have dug where they had to, not where they might have wanted, and so they have discovered things they were not looking for.     

Subterranean stepped pool excavated by INRAP archaeologists in Montpellier in southern France


It’s almost like a kind of mikve-mania or synagogue syndrome; all over France and in a few places in Germany there is a sudden wealth of archaeological traces of Jewish habitation that were never recognized or acknowledged before.  In France and Spain, particularly, the archaeologists (the overwhelming majority of whom are not Jews and usually have very little familiarity with Jewish culture), sent out to work in places with ancient names like rue aux juifs or el juderia, are now more and more finding themselves discovering things that are identified as “Jewish” and becoming fascinated by Jewish archaeology.     

As I mentioned in my last post, I get a little nervous when archaeologists start illustrating a traditional narrative rather than challenging or at least testing it.  In this case the narrative is the unchanging “otherness” and rigidly orthodox behavior of Jews—ironically testified to by the opinions (and often protests) about ongoing archaeology by hardline, fundamentalist Jewish religious groups.  This is certainly true when it comes to the excavation of medieval cemeteries, and no less in their religiously authoritative identification of ancient synagogues, study houses, and mikves or ritual baths.     

Yes, the Jews were omnipresent in medieval European society, but is the ongoing archaeology really telling us anything new?  Instead of mapping and documenting the Jews’ supposed religious tracks across Europe—or submitting to the political pressure by rabbinical authorities top stop the digging—could there be another purpose to the expanding field of Jewish archaeology?     

Anyone interested in the historical image of the Jews in Europe should take a look at Alan Steinweis’s fascinating 2006 book Studying the Jew:  Scholarly Antisemitism in Nazi Germany  where he documents how German scholars twisted ancient and medieval references to Jews and Jewish communities to “scientifically” validate the central presumption behind the Final Solution.      

That presumption (or certainty) was that Jews were biologically and racially incapable of productive integration into European (read: Aryan) society.  They were always a definitively alien presence, whose continued existence there undermined the cultural coherence and cultural health of their hosts.      

Steinweis describes how more than a few of the “scientifically” anti-Semitic German historians were absolved of their sins by their academic colleagues in the de-nazification rituals of the 1950s and went on to have prominent careers in Jewish and medieval studies.  The result is that even shorn of the political backing and aktionplan of the National Socialist Party, the stereotype of the Jew in medieval cities remained alive and well.     

At least archaeologically.  For while Jewish historians from the time of Salo Baron to Ivan Marcus have stressed the interaction and symbiosis of Jews with their various European surroundings, Israeli and Jewish archaeologists have shown virtually no interest in the supposedly unremittingly dark and dismal centuries of diaspora—preferring to concentrate on the evolution of ancient Israelite and Jewish material culture in the Land of Israel.     

And so the Jews of medieval Europe remain golem-like ciphers in the archaeological record, identified by a bizarre combination of modern rabbinical opinion and anti-Semitic stereotypes.  How much more we could learn if it were NOT taken for granted that: 1.) medieval Jews across Europe unhesitatingly followed modern ultra-orthodox practice, or 2.) that they remained culturally distinct and separate from those around them.     

The myth of the eternal Jew is as dangerous when it arises from an archaeological report as from an anti-semitic screed.  I certainly do not fault the hardworking archaeologists whose interest in a diverse and multi-cultural European past (and future?) led them to devote their time, interest, and personal passion to publicly presenting their finds.     

The Find from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, now on display in the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme


And it’s not that there haven’t been some amazing discoveries.  The highlight of the conference for me at least was the presentation of archaeologist Mylène Lert of a find from the village of Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux in southeastern France.  In a crumbling multistory building identified with the “Tower of the Jews” mentioned in late medieval records, the local archaeological team recovered an astoundingly well preserved limestone wall cupboard, dated stylistically to the mid 15th century.  It is ornamented on its top with the well-known “Jews’ hat” of the Middle Ages, inscribed with a Hebrew Inscription, and arguably the earliest known, conscious use of a Star of David as a Jewish symbol.  It still bears its original wooden doors.     

If any archaeological artifact can confidently be identified as an ancient Holy Ark (inside or outside the Land of Israel), this is certainly one.  But neither modern rabbis nor conventional wisdom can really tell us what rituals were performed before it, whether men and women were separated in its presence, what scrolls or other objects were contained within it, and whether the direct, lineal descendants of its users in that small French village in the late Middle Ages, identify themselves as Jews today.