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The E-Sylum:  Volume 9, Number 49, December 3, 2006, Article 33

ON THE SCIENTIFIC VALUE OF UNEARTHED ARTIFACTS

Katie Jaeger writes: "Reading last week's item entitled "TEMPLE TROVE
DISCOVERY BARES THE POLITICS OF ARCHEOLOGY IN ISRAEL" brought back a
load of memories, especially the following: "...the Waqf dug a large
pit, removed tons of earth and rubble that had been used as landfill
and dumped much of it in the nearby Kidron Valley....Though Israel's
archaeological establishment had shown no interest in the rubble,
Zweig was sure it was important..."

Why would archaeologists have no interest in rubble removed from a
Biblical-era archaeological site?  Because it is unstratified.  That
is, artifacts which are no longer in situ cannot be reliably used to
tell you much about the site from which they came.  Between 1976 and
1981, I spent five summers on digs in Israel.  It was where I first
heard the word "numismatist," because the first dig I participated
in at Tel Aphek (site of Herod's mercantile capital, Antipatris) had
a numismatist on staff, and I had to ask, "what's that?".  It was
there that I learned the importance (and drawbacks) of using coins as
tools for dating the structures amidst which they are found.

I have two Herodian and one Byzantine coin sitting in my jewelry box
today, that I brought home with me in 1976. Rules for removal of
artifacts from Israel were just as tight then as they are now, but
I had permission to take these, because I found them in Aphek's dirt
dump.  Moshe Kochavi, who is now head of Israel's Department of
Antiquities, was our dig director in 1976.

At that time, Tel Aviv University was conducting excavations all
over the country and had limited funds, so he ordered the opening
of some sites with a bulldozer, before the expensive-to-maintain
hordes of American and European university volunteeers arrived.
American archaeologists found this shocking, but it was only
practical...the upper layers of soil above a site have been disturbed
by wind, water, insects and worms anyway and any artifacts on the
immediate surface are considered unstratified, and therefore
scientifically useless.  And of course, many probes had been
conducted prior to bringing in the heavy equipment, so they had a
pretty good idea at which point to bring in the diggers with our
little picks and brushes.

On lazy afternoons, when it was too hot for sane people to be out
in the field and when the rest of the crew were napping, I and a few
others would go to the dirt dumps with metal detectors, because we
were allowed to keep whatever we found. Aphek was one of the most
fascinating sites in Israel...talk about strata!  Due to the presence
of an artesian spring there, it was continuously occupied from the
Early Bronze age to the present.

In one summer, in five different areas, we were excavating Early
Bronze dwellings of mud brick, Iron Age four-room houses of limestone,
the main street of Herod's Antipatris (complete with paving stones,
curbed sidewalks and shops), and a Byzantine-era patrician villa
floored with mosaics.  A ca. 1400 AD Turkish fort stood complete
on the site, and the dig team of about 150 people from all over the
world lived in pre-1948 British Army barracks.  A sift through the
dirt dumps produced potsherds, coins, glass fragments, mosaic tesserae,
and what have you, from all these periods.

Anywhere you go in the ancient world, Jordan, Iraq, Syria...artifacts
like potsherds, coins, even the occasional scarab (in Egypt) can be
found lying on the ground. Natural geological and biological processes
sift them gradually toward the surface.  On the Mediterranean beach at
Caesarea, I found hundreds of pottery artifacts...worn by wind and
water to be sure, but clearly recognizable to the trained eye, as to
what era produced them.

Because it is unstratified, it is generally OK to keep anything you
find on the surface as long as you are not on an active dig site,
national historic site, or shrine.  (The same is not true in the U.S.)

Anyway, those truckloads of Jerusalem rubble are interesting, and
should be investigated, but their scientific value is limited."

  Wayne Homren, Editor

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