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Monday, November 27, 2006

Once again, we return to Columbia University's (Barnard College) Nadia Abu El-Haj (see: Who's Coming Up For Tenure: Nadia Abu el-Haj). This post, like the previous, was prepared with the help of an "anonymous academic" (and stop guessing, I didn't say what college they work at).

The great archaeologist William Dever has stated that “Barnard should deny Ms. Abu El-Haj tenure," he said, "not because she's Palestinian or pro-Palestinian or a leftist, but because her scholarship is faulty, misleading and dangerous."

Her publisher, the University of Chicago Press, immediately came to her defense, posting an excerpt form the book. The excerpt they posted, however, gives little clue to why William Dever has charged Abu El Haj with “demonizing a generation of apolitical Israeli archaeologists.”

This excerpt from Abu El Haj’s book gives some idea of why the archaeological community is irate:

“The most controversial practice in Israeli archaeology has been the use of bulldozers on archaeological sites. Among Palestinian officials at the Haram al-Sharif and the Awqaf as well as many other archaeologists – Palestinian and European or American (trained) – the use of bulldozers has become the ultimate sign of “bad science” and of nationalist politics guiding research agendas. Critics situate this practice squarely within (a specific understanding of) the politics of a nationalist tradition of archaeological research. In other words, bulldozers are used in order to get down to earlier strata which are saturated with national significance, as quickly as possible (Iron Age through Early Roman.) During the excavation of the biblical site of Jezreel in which I participated, a bulldozer was used in order to more quickly determine the direction and structure of the Iron Age moat. In doing so, the remains above it were summarily destroyed. A joint dig of the Department of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, the research priorities of the excavation were defined by the Tel Aviv team. The aim was to study the Iron Age.”

(the footnote to this paragraph reads: “This bulldozing incident occurred a week after I stopped participating in the excavations and was recounted to me after the fact by several participants, both archaeologists and student volunteers. The decision to use bulldozers precipitated quite an argument between the British and Israeli archaeologists digging the site, I was told. With one exception, the former strenuously objected. The exception was a British archaeologist who was a PhD student in the Department of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, a student of the Israeli archaeologist leading the dig.”)

“While this chronological focus (and its nationalist implications) provides a partial explanation for such excavating techniques, in order to more fully understand when and why bulldozers are used on excavation sites in Palestine/Israel, the practice needs to be situated within a broader set of methodological questions. The practical logic that guides archaeologists at work determines how sites will be excavated and which remains will be produced, carefully recorded, and preserved. At both the Jezreel excavations and the Jerusalem excavations, archaeologists moved through dirt rather quickly. Israeli excavators tend to use large shovels, pick axes and large buckets in order to move through the earth. In contrast, for example, the European (mostly British) trained archaeologists at Jezreel explained that they would prefer to excavate with smaller tools and slower digging techniques, including, for example, sifting dirt in search of very small remains: artifactual, animal, seeds, and so forth These smaller finds are seen as essential to the reconstruction of aspects of ancient daily life. In general, however, in Israeli archaeology – and clearly, on those excavations carried out in Jerusalem’s Old City – the practical work of excavating favors larger (mostly, well-preserved architectural) remains over smaller remains. It is only after “significant finds” have been located that specific loci are more carefully excavated from smaller remains (often pottery shards) that can illuminate the history (the chronology of identity) of the architectural structures themselves or lend insight into the settlement patterns of specific (of significant) stratigraphic layers.” (pp. 148-149)

Readers here [see: Temple Mount Destruction Watch] will marvel at El Haj's invocation of the Waqf as an authority on good archaeological practice in the above: "Among Palestinian officials at the Haram al-Sharif and the Awqaf as well as many other archaeologists – Palestinian and European or American (trained) – the use of bulldozers has become the ultimate sign of “bad science” and of nationalist politics guiding research agendas."

Here is a site that monitors the destruction wrought on the Temple Mount...perpetrated by the self-same people El Haj points to as authorities on archaeological elegance. See photos below.

The archaeologist being charged by El Haj with deliberately destroying Islamic strata for nationalist motives is David Ussishkin, who directed the dig at Jezreel for Tel Aviv University.

If Professor Ussishkin has a response to Abu El Haj, he is welcome to space here to defend his field methods.

Photos of Temple Mount destruction [from this page]:

Heaps of marble pillars that were part of an ancient structure that was dismantled by the Wakf.

Heaps of stones from the structure that was dismantled. These stones are waiting to be cut by the stone saw in the next picture.The huge stone saw. It is located in a warehouse build near the ramp of the Dome of the Rock, from its east side.

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Columbia's El Haj slanders...but what are her standards?.

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.solomonia.com/cgi-bin/mt4/mt-renamedtb.cgi/6913



6 Comments

John Woodhead of the University of Edinburgh co-headed that dig with Ussishkin.

Has anybody asked him if he really said these things about Ussishkin?

An interesting refutation to the charge that Israeli archaeologists routinely discard "very small remains: artifactual, animal, seeds, and so forth These smaller finds are seen as essential to the reconstruction of aspects of ancient daily life. In general, however, in Israeli archaeology – and clearly, on those excavations carried out in Jerusalem’s Old City – the practical work of excavating favors larger (mostly, well-preserved architectural) remains over smaller remains."

Here is an archaeologist "Mordechai Kislev, an expert on botanical archaeology" carefully sorting through the seeds and peach pits that the late Prof. Yigael Yadin carefully preserved while digging decades ago. So much for Abu El Haj's accusation that Israelis dig carelessly and fail to sift for small bits of food waste.

Yadin
http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/794492.html

Usshiskin responds. Anyone reading this entry shouuld know that Usshishin has responded
http://www.solomonia.com/blog/archives/009649.shtml

The link in the story called "Here is a site that monitors the destruction wrought on the Temple Mount" is broken. It says the URL has expired on 6-22-2010 and is awaiting renewal.
See for yourself...
http://www.har-habayt.org/

I have read several of the prior blogs on this ongoing subject. Humbly I say this is just another sad story about the sons of the brother who were not blessed being angry at the sons of the brother who were. Sins of the father and all that. Too bad the unblessed wish to eradicate the blessed from the earth. What then will be left to bless the earth but the Spirit of God?
Sad, very sad.

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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