Duke Conference on Archaeology, Politics, and the Media: DAY 1

i was asked by eric meyers to blog 2009 duke conference on archaeology, politics, and the media as an observer. even though my comments below are posted the monday after the conference ended, i recorded my comments as live notes, as one would live blog or twitter an event. my job was not to offer a polished report on the conference but rather to blog the sessions in a live manner. i’ve also added additional comments at places throughout.  -bc


Duke University Conference on

Archaeology, Politics, and the Media

April 23-24, 2009

The conference began with an introductory lecture by Eric Meyers and Michael J. Schoenfeld, Duke VP for Public Affairs and Gov’t Relations.

1:00 pm – 1:15 pm

Eric Meyers gave an introduction on the origin of the conference.

Meyers told the story of his first experience with archaeology and the media.

His discovery of an object in the Galilee was reported as: “Lost Ark Found in Wilderness of Galilee.”

His excavation’s “Sepphoris Mosaic” became the “Mona Lisa of the Middle East.”

Meyers told a brief history of the “James Ossuary,” and how Hershel Shanks, Simcha Jacobovich, and the ROM promoted and sponsored the James Ossuary exhibit in Toronto. SBL then held a special session on the James Ossuary.

Meyers concluded with the ongoing trial of Oded Golan, the power of the media, PR representatives, lawyers, the IAA, and others, and lamented the fact that these side-shows continue to take away from the work of reeal archaeology and archaeologists.

Michael Schoenfeld welcomed the attendees and gave an introduction to Duke. Schoenfeld provided reasons why he felt it was important that Duke University addressed issues of Archaeology, Politics, and the Media.

1:15-1:35pm

Joel Marcus, professor at Duke, introduced the first speaker, Byron McCane.

Byron McCane – Prof. of Religion and Chair at Wofford College.
“Scholars Behaving Badly: Sensationalism and Archaeology in the Media.”

McCane discussed the Talpiot Tomb’s discovery and subsequent media blitz.

Wed, Oct. 3, 1945 was the actual first media blitz of the Talpiot Tomb. McCane told it as if it were the introduction to the recent Jacobovichi/Cameron endeavor (which, of course, it was not).

Earlier, on Sept. 10, 1945 Sukenik, Nachman Avigad, Yigael Yadin, excavated the Talpiot tomb for the first time.

McCane then told the story of the original discovery of the “Jesus Tomb.” Although he initially saw the possibility of Christian discipleship, Sukenik gave several interviews explaining the nature of the discovery, tempered sensational news reports, and published a formal, peer-reviewed report to the academy, which was received negatively. Scholars responded to the publishing negatively, and Sukenik received the criticism without protest. That is, he behaved like a scholar should, and took the high road, accepting the judgment of his peers.

Prof. McCane lamented the growing trend to report any archaeology discovery as a sensational, straight-to-media promotion, without the consultation of the academy.

2004 – Cave of John the Baptist
2007 – Talpiot again
2007 – Netzer discovered the Tomb of Herod the Great
2009 – Easter, Who really killed Jesus, found the house of Caiaphas.

Spate of sensationalism is surely the fault of the media.

But, (!)

Most documentary makers are careful and responsible, although speaking to a popular audience.

They attempt to catch the eye, challenge the mind, and touch the heart.

The responsibility also lies with scholars.

We have been entrusted with great responsibility like tenure, and the opportunity to educate the public’s children.

The responsibility of the scholar on TV is not to use it as an opportunity to promote our own pet theories, but to provide an informed scholarly consensus, or bring about a sense of the academic debate.

“We should never present to the media any theory that has not already been published in a peer-review journal. Put frankly, if you can’t get it published in a peer-review journals like BASOR and JBL, then don’t say it in front of a camera when the little red light is on.”

McCane concluded by stating that sensationalism gives the public the impression that the Middle East is a place where religious battles can be fought and won, and takes away from what the Middle East might someday be.

1:35-1:55pm

Milton Moreland, Assoc. Prof of Religious Studies at Rhodes College
“Forged by a Genius: Scholarly Responses to History Channel Meets CSI”

Religiously-inspired video productions are incredibly popular in the US.

The Religion documentary has arguably replaced the book as the method of archaeological dissemination of information to the public.

Moreland did a study on the public reception of religious TV docs with his class and shared some of the results.

Biblical scholars and archaeologists need to take these documentaries VERY seriously.

Where inspiration once came from thousands of hours of scholarly work, the public now receives the bulk of its information about archaeology from film studios.

The archaeologists and biblical scholars MUST continue to engage the documentary industry to counter the sensational misinformation of the fringe, conspiracy-laden documentaries.

Moreland stated that there are no crises of faith in the archaeological record except those manufactured by the popular media.

How did we get from John Grierson to Simcha Jacobovichi? How did something so educational go so wrong?

Docs once had a high level of trust and an expectation of truth.

PBS/BBC – May have been boring, but were associated with truth.
Frontline – Investigative Documentaries became seekers of truth and chief debunker of fantastic stories.
Ken Burns – Provided a model for filmmakers for biblical documentary makers.

In a final proposal, Moreland suggested that we must treat doc filmmaking in the way we treat other scholarly print. We must respond in a formal and timely manner to the sensational claims of the doc filmmaker.

Cargill note:

  • The journey of documentaries into a lesser level of truth and more entertainment is tied to its association to reality TV. This is why History doesn’t show history shows anymore. History and Discovery show “Ice Road Truckers” and “Deadliest Catch” and “Axe Men,” and have changed their slogan to “History in the Making” in order to cash in on the reality TV craze. Note that the Emmy Award category is now “Reality/Documentary” – both of which are scripted for maximum entertainment, often at the expense of truth. By the way, that’s almost done and it’s about to change.

1:55-2:15pm

Christopher Rollston, Emmanuel School of Religion
“An Ancient Medium in the Modern Media: Stages of Semitic Inscriptions”

Rollston gave a paper that, in keeping with his style and traditional subject matter, was an erudite specialist paper on NWS epigraphy.

Rollston described the discovery of the Mesha Inscription and the media that surrounded it. He noted that there never has been any doubt about its authenticity.

Rollston suggested three categories of archaeological inscriptions:

1. Forgery
2. Apologetic Usage
3. Sober Reflections by Scholars

For the Jehoash Inscription, Rollston stated:

1. Forgery (by the public)
2. Genuine (only by non-epigraphers)
3. Sober Reflection (forgery)

Rollston spoke about Jacobovichi and the Talpiot Tomb sham.

Rollston called for “All hands on deck!” We need to address the documentary sensationalism put forth by filmmakers, and not think ourselves above it.

Regarding the Jezebel seal, Rollston believes it’s a forgery. For many previously published reasons, and reason that there is no (other) 9th century seal in Canaan.

Following the outline he provided, Rollston then dealt with sensationalism surrounding other epigraphic discoveries.

1. The Media at Sea Sans Compass
a. Jesus Family Tomb

2. All Trained, Restrained Hands on Deck: The Sagacity of Methodological Doubt and Field Expertise
a. Jezebel Seal
b. Goliath Inscription
c. Temeh Seal to Shlmt Seal
d. John the Baptist Cave: No Epigraphic Data
e. Pierced Messiah
f. Baruch Bulla

3. Recalibrate the Ship’s Rudder: A Case Study in Retraction
a. Ebla Tablets and the Cities of the Plain

4. Navigating for Placid Waters

Methodological Doubt must be our M.O.

Be suspicious comes from the antiquities market.

2:15-2:35pm

Jonathan Reed, Professor of Religion at University of LaVerne
“The Lure of Proof and the Legacy of Biblical Archaeology: Scholars and the Media”

Reed gave an excellent talk and accompanying powerpoint presentation on Pseudo science and Biblical Archaeology. He discussed his class that teaches critical method and historicity.

The lure of proof coupled with the lure of mammon drives much of popular media.

Hoaxes:

The Cardiff Giant – The petrified stone remains of a giant.
The Shroud of Turin –
Head of John the Baptist
Three Heads of the Magi
The Feather of the Holy Spirit
The Foreskin of Jesus (no image available)

The James Ossuary – there’s a sucker born every minute

How to create a sensationalistic (and profitable) claim:

Prey on the public’s thirst for proof
Use scholarly skepticism
There is money to be made
Use twists of logic
Make reason for doubt

Reed noted that archaeology is made to be the arbiter of faith and fact. Should this be the case?

Biblical pool (Silwan) found in Jerusalem.

The lag time between discovery and publication is suspect.

Public dissemination of the story and the earlier academic discussion are often disconnected.

The purpose of late (NT) archaeology is not to ‘prove’ the biblical narrative, but more to illuminate the social context of the world that produced the biblical narrative.

What should scholars do with regard to the media? Good teachers can use a stupid question to answer a rephrased form of that question and communicate a better bit of information, shedding light on the questions we should be asking.

2:35-3:00pm

Question and Answer Period

Is it better to anticipate in the media or to ignore and remain above the media?

Skepticism is growing. Skepticism follows sensationalism.

Today’s kids are more skeptical of things because we all know how to Photoshop, YouTube, blog, and manipulate the Internet (AND catch those that do it). Like a cat and mouse, the public (especially younger generations) are learning to be highly skeptical of sensational claims, and use the new set of research tools at their disposal to verify claims. This is why sensational archaeologists are making better use of websites, Wikipedia, and YouTube, to beat the scholars to the media.

Cargill notes:

  • We must engage the popular media.
  • Archaeologists must participate in these docs at the very least as debunkers and at best as authorities on the subject.
  • Archaeologists must form a consortium that offers some equivalent of a “seal of approval.”
  • There must be a group dedicated to discussing archaeology and the media. We have editorial boards for peer-review journals. Where is our editorial board for television production?
  • Likewise, the respected authorities/scholars within the field must embrace those bloggers and legit websites that are attempting to combat junk science by making guest posts on the sites.
  • It’s time to stop claiming that the academy is above television media. If we don’t speak to the public, they will.
  • One of us needs to get in, take root, and invite the others in.
  • Documentary filmmaking has merged with reality television. That means, the audience is getting younger. Thus, the more media savvy, younger generation of scholars will begin to get asked to participate. Where are they/we? Why am I the youngest person here?)
  • The other thing is that peer-review publication is the ‘radio’ of television media. That is, tv docs are always looking for people who are “camera friendly”. “Camera Friendly” can be defined as good looking, fit, or eccentric. Scholars need to do a better job of learning to speak and appear in ‘camera friendly’ ways, so that they will become more likely to be used on camera.

3:20-3:40 pm

Eric Cline, George Washington University
“Fabulous Finds and Fantastic Forgeries: The Distortion of Archaeology by the Media Pseudoarchaeology”

Cline began with a “study” that declared the types of breakfast cereals one eats influences the gender of children produced by the one eating the cereal. Even though the claim was later refuted by science, the legend remained.

The game is played by issuing a fantastic claim and couching it as possible.

When facts are later refuted, they are not as popular as the original fantastic claim.

We have already taken the first steps towards reclaiming the field archaeology from junk science and fantastic claims.

Cline suggests creating a “war room” to respond to junk science.

Cline used the example where he and Robert Cargill called out Randall Price and his search for Noah’s Ark on the ASOR website. He also noted his quick response to defend himself once he had been called out, showing that these junk scientists are using and monitoring the media and know of the power of legitimate scholars responding to them.

Cline noted that the AIA created a combat/refutation site.

Cline also described the Raphael/Norman Golb affair and their misuse of the Internet to promote marginal views of Norman Golb. He described how Robert Cargill used the Internet to track and ultimately expose the media campaign.

Cline suggested we should create something like a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for documentary makers.

Cline also suggested that ASOR should create a page for the media in which a list of specialists who are willing to appear on camera might appear.

3:40-3:50pm

Response by Joe Zias, Science and Archaeology Group

Zias discussed how this issue has been around since the 70’s with Erich von Däniken.

He also discussed how the media exploits religion and vice versa.

Zias described a story of how Hershel Shanks published an article about the James Ossuary, and told the real story behind the abuses of the ossuary and the media coverage of it.

During the discussion period, Eric Cline stated that 30 years ago, there were a few nuts and a few outlets. Today, there are more outlets (Internet) and therefore more nuts making unverified claims. The lure of an unknown amateur making a discovery missed by the professionals is appealing to the reality TV/American Idol public audience.

Robert Cargill asked whether this “crisis” is based upon this second American trend of self-publication? As newspapers fail and blogging increases, the definition of ‘credible’ resources is again in question. Credible scholars must embrace credible bloggers or create a central, authoritative one of their own.

4:00-4:20pm

Morag Kersel, University of Toronto
“The Power of the Press Release and Popular Magazines on the Antiquities Trade”

Kersel spoke about archaeology and the ethics of antiquities sales. She discussed the practice of looting and its relation to the antiquities market.

Kersel did original research in the form of interviews to determine how consumer demand drives antiquities dealers’ desire to acquire objects.

AAMD issued guidelines for press releases that limit publication of items after the 1970 threshold date to those that have a demonstrable history of ownership or context.

Archaeological context is not about history of ownership, but about actual in situ context. We need to wage a social war against those who advocate for the collection of antiquities. Only education as to the supply and demand of this trade will curb the desire to collect objects.

4:20-4:30pm

Response by Annabel Wharton, Duke University

Wharton agreed with Kersel and argued that dealers and collectors drive the market and harm archaeology and despoil it of its own history by removing it from its context.

As an example, Wharton shows the claims about the “Tomb of David” in Jerusalem.

4:40-5:00pm

Jodi Magness, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
“Confessions of an Archaeologist: Lessons I Learned from Talpiyot Tomb Fiasco and Other Media Encounters”

Magness told many stories about her participation in public documentaries.

People are most interested in issues of Egyptology (mummies, pyramids, etc.), and anything related to Jesus.

The web has blurred the lines between scholarly credibility and popular junk science.

It is impossible to explain in a 60-second sound bite why some archaeological claims are simply invalid. Sensationalist claims can be made in a moment. Disproving a claim scientifically takes more time, more effort, a more patient and understanding audience, and therefore are not usually as received as the initial claim.

Some filmmakers use their connections and capital to promote false claims, in spite of archaeologists counter claims. They do it knowingly for ratings.

Magness wished that ASOR, SBL, and the AIA had issued swift claims denouncing many of these false claims.

Archaeologists have a responsibility to communicate their findings to the public. This means that scholars need to learn to speak in sound bites and become more media savvy.

5:00-5:10pm

Response by Chad Spigel, Trinity University

Academics have had tremendous difficulty responding to and refuting sensationalist claims.

Are scholars offering the kind of expertise that the public thinks it is receiving?

Academics don’t always agree with each other, and history is always interpretation.

Irresponsible uses of the media can be used as teaching moments in the classroom.

Cargill notes:

  • The number one thing interviewers say to me is, “Can you say that again, but say it more definitively? You keep saying ‘It is possible’ or ‘some scholars believe’ before everything. Can you say it again and just say it factually?” The fact is that scholars can’t, because scholars live in a world of probability, doubt, and preponderance of evidence, while junk science and peddlers of sensationalism live in a world where any data is definitive, and any possibility, no matter how remote, is fodder for investigatory entertainment.

5:20-5:40pm

Mark Goodacre, Duke Professor of the NT

“The Talpiot Tomb and the Bloggers”

Dr. Goodacre talked about the role of blogging in the Talpiot Tomb affair.

Goodacre demonstrated the successes and failures of blogging in their role in countering the claims of the Jesus Tomb doc.

The key is a consistent presence, which builds trust and confidence in the source, as well as a presence within Internet searches.

5:40-5:50pm

Response by A.K.M. Adam, Duke University

Mark Goodacre’s “Talpiot mistakes” page is not as much of a failure as he thinks it is. Goodacre should be credited with an early and consistent voice against the Jacobovichi’s claims, as well as a platform for others to voice their concerns and opinions.

We need to learn to address other media outlets other than blogs.

We need to engage all forms of media and get ahead of the curve.

7:45 Plenary Session

Patty Gerstenblith, DePaul University; Director of the Center for Art, Museum and Cultural Heritage Law; President, Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation
“Legal and Ethical Aspects of Cultural Heritage”

The earliest form of looting is the booty of war.

The French were required to return the plunder of war after the Napoleonic War.

Only about half of the objects were returned.

Leber Doctrine – Cultural objects captured during war were to be returned and not destroyed. First codified set of rules regarding artifacts.

1954 Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict

Art. 3. Safeguard Cultural Property

Art. 4. Respect for Cultural Property

  • Section 1. The High Contracting Parties undertake to…
  • Section 2. The obligations mentioned in paragraph 1…may be waived only in cases where military necessity imperatively requires….

Art. 5. Occupation

  • Section 1. Any High Contracting Party in occupation of the whole or part of the territory…

Art. 7. Military Measures

Hague Convention Blue Shield

First Protocol

  • Section 1. An occupying power should prevent export from occupied territory.

Second Protocol (1999)

Narrows “military necessity” waiver

Art. 9. Preserves cultural property

Status of the Hague Convention as of 2003

105 States Parties to main Convention
87 to First Protocol
U.S. had signed, but not ratified the treaty

Following WWII, the antiquities market surpassed war as the leading cause of looting.

Fakes and Looting became the two main ways to appease the demand for artifacts.

Market and looting encourage damage to artifacts. The mosaics in Northern Syria were given as an example.

Gerstenblith spoke of the story of the excavation:

Proliferation of Aramaic incantation bowls in Israel post-2003. Under the conventions, Israel should return the bowls (if proved to be authentic) to Iraq.

How did US military break the conventions?

Sites looted for objects are worse than looting the museum. Because in a museum, at least the objects are recorded.

Recent developments:

1970 UNESCO Convention ratifications: UK, Suisse, Germany, Belgium
1954 Hague Convention.
UK proposed ratification of convention
Germany implementing legislating
US ratification in 13 March, 2009.

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2 Responses

  1. [...] notes on the papers and the conference, see Robert Cargill’s blog (day 1 & day 2). Also note that some of these papers are available from Duke’s [...]

  2. can one find mp3’s on these topics, from you or any of the speakers?

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