08 May 2010


I realize I am a little late to this party, but the last few weeks have seen a deluge (you see what I did there?) of ark-related stories from the "Ark of the Covenant" (i.e., sacred wooden drum) at last on view in Zimbabwe to news of "Noah's ark" discovered by "evangelical explorers" (thanks Fox News) in eastern Turkey on Mt. Ararat (see here and here and here). Well needless to say there has been a backlash, especially as evidence comes to light that the "discovery" was completely staged. This is not the first and certainly not the last time the ark will be "found" and I for one hope the archaeological community can come out with a stronger response against these pseudo-archaeologists running around the world looking for these fantastic relics that do not exist and using up all the grant money! Thankfully ASOR, the American Schools of Oriental Research, has already initiated a task force to deal with these types of archaeological fraud.

It has always boggled my mind that so many Christians, but not all, need physical proof and reassurance that what they/we believe--the stories, history, mystery--is true. This, of course, completely undermines the idea of faith and likewise leads to poor scholarship. If archaeologists want to be considered as true scientists, even social scientists, we need to approach the archaeological record as objectively as we can, though I am the first to admit that true and complete objectivity is unattainable. Still that is no excuse for what Randall Price, Director of the Center for Judaic Studies at Liberty University in Lynchburg, is advocating: "If the Bible is real history, it can be confirmed by real discoveries of the past. For this reason, it is both acceptable, and desirable, that archaeology and other means of the scientific investigation be employed as handmaids to biblical faith." This is straight up scholarly thinking circa 1900.

I also agree with this article and a few other Near Eastern archaeologists that, instead of remaining quiet when sensational claims of archaeological discoveries come out, we need to openly dialog both with the pseudo-explorers AND the general public in setting the record straight. I'm not claiming that professional archaeologists have all the "correct" theories either, however there are conclusions that are more sound than others and they often derive from the scholarly community and not the weekend-warrior treasure hunter. So come on archaeologists! Jump down from those ivory towers and get dirty in the public streets!     

Excavating Hollywood

This fun story is from ages ago I know, but popped in to my brain after having a discussion yesterday with a colleague about archaeology and the contemporary. The LA Times reports on one man's journey to uncovered the buried set of "The Ten Commandments," C. B. DeMille's 1923 silent move classic:

Digging Up A Piece of Hollywood History

Strong winds scour the dunes, which hide a curious history. Nails and fragments of concrete are scattered everywhere. Steel cables, carved pieces of wood and slabs of painted plaster poke out of the ground, ghosts rising from the grave.

In 1923, Cecil B. DeMille came to the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes on California's Central Coast and built a movie set that still captures the imagination -- a colossal Egyptian dreamscape for the silent movie version of "The Ten Commandments."

Under the direction of French artist Paul Iribe, a founder of the Art Deco movement, 1,600 craftsmen built a temple 800 feet wide and 120 feet tall flanked by four 40-ton statues of the Pharaoh Ramses II. Twenty-one giant plaster sphinxes lined a path to the temple's gates (see right). A tent city sprung up to house some of the 2,500 actors and 3,000 animals used to tell the story of Moses leading the Israelites to the Promised Land.

"Your skin will be cooked raw. You will miss the comforts of home. You will be asked to endure perhaps the most unpleasant location in cinema history," DeMille told his army of actors. "I expect of you your supreme efforts."

When he was done, the set proved too expensive to haul away, but too valuable to leave intact for rival filmmakers to poach. DeMille had it bulldozed into a 300-foot-long trench and covered with sand...

Keep reading...
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