no, no you didn’t find noah’s ark

A member of the Noah's Ark Ministries International claims to be examining Noah's Ark in Turkey.

A member of the Noah's Ark Ministries International claims to be examining Noah's Ark in Turkey.

about this time every year, something sensational happens…literally. every spring, as dig season approaches, we are treated to a little hoax disguised as hope. every spring, faith is once again used to sell something, and every year, science pays the price in the form of a reduced credibility at the hands of pseudo-scientists, who peddle their claims and cheapen the name of science.

i am speaking, of course, about the annual, sensational claims by some group that purports to have discovered the ark of the covenant, noah’s ark, the true cross of christ, or some other biblical relic that is supposed to prove once and for all that the narratives recorded in the bible are true. this year is no exception, but this time it appears that something far more sinister may be at work. late-breaking news indicates that the whole thing may be a hoax.

an evangelical group out of hong kong calling itself noah’s ark ministries international, and its partner organization, the media evangelism limited are claiming to all who will listen (except scholars) that they have discovered noah’s ark. their claim is based upon their ‘discovery’ of wooden ‘rooms’ or compartments atop turkey’s mt. ararat. they claim that it must be the ark because no one would possibly build a building at that altitude. they claim to have carbon-14 samples, but won’t reveal who performed them. and of course, they can’t tell us where the secret location of the site is, because, well…it’s a secret. still, according to the sun, group member yeung wing-cheung says:

It’s not 100 per cent that it is Noah’s Ark, but we think it is 99.9 per cent that this is it.

well, allow me to explore that .1%. in fact, let me just come right out and say it:
no, no you didn’t find noah’s ark.

richard bartholomew and jim west have already commented upon this nonsense, but let me add my simple comments:

this group was put together to do one thing and one thing only: make money and spread ideology by pimping both archaeology and religion. let me explain:

the media evangelism limited is a media company which states on its website that its background, vision and mission are:

Background

  • In 1987, a group of young Christians in Hong Kong envisioned a society where multi-media businesses would proliferate, and they saw the chance to capitalize on the advance technologies to serve the society. Their vision gave birth to an organization, known as “The Media Evangelism” (TME). The Media Evangelism Limited was officially incorporated in Hong Kong in 1991.

Vision & Mission

  • The Media Evangelism Limited is a charitable Christian organization committed to building a Christian media presence by using every modern means of communication to promote the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our missions are:

  • To take the message of our Lord Jesus Christ to all by means of high quality audio and visual products and services.
  • To foster biblical standard and Christian values in Chinese communities worldwide.
  • To enhance the moral and spiritual fabric of our society through creative media.
  • To pull together the collective wisdom of Evangelical Christians who are talented and gifted in media arts, and to collaborate with other Christian groups for the advance of the Kingdom of God.
Lost in the Noah's Ark

Lost in the Noah's Ark

as one might expect, the group filmed the expedition and now has a documentary movie to sell (note the director’s name: yeung wing-cheung). it is also interesting that noah’s ark ministries international runs a noah’s ark theme park and needs to sell tickets. of course, you could make even more money if you host an exhibition entitled, ‘lost in the noah’s ark’ and advertised it with bizarre posters. and, of course, the whole marketing must be kicked off in a coordinated manner. according to their web site:

March, 2010
The “We Touched Noah’s Ark: The Search for A Carpenter’s Heart” Evangelistic Campaign was launched. Worldwide press conferences, exhibitions and sharing are carried out to spread the Gospel through the Noah’s Ark discovery.

follow the money and follow the ideology. every ark expedition is about the same thing: raising funds and spreading a fundamentalist christian ideology. this may all be well and good if you’re a ministry, but for a group feigning to be archaeologists, it’s a dead giveaway.

my colleague and co-chair of asor‘s media relations committee, dr. eric cline of george washington university, appeared on good morning america wednesday, april 28, 2010 and later on fox news on thursday, april 29, and discussed the group’s claims. dr. cline mocked the ‘99.9%’ claim, incurring the wrath and claims of bias and unfairness over at cbn (which means he’s got it right).

rather than ridicule or bash them, dr. cline addressed the fundamental archaeological methods that are lacking with noah’s ark ministries international (the name still cracks me up). they are keeping the location of the find secret, haven’t invited any scientists to provide outside verification, and haven’t revealed the source of the carbon-14 data they claim they have. as i said in an interview with rich buhler on 740 am kbrt this afternoon, any credible excavation knows that it must do the following:

  1. reveal the location. all credible excavations publish when and where they will be digging. in fact, they are usually begging for volunteers. but, this group has not yet even revealed the location of their find. here’s a rule of thumb to live by: any time someone promises you, ‘i have evidence that will prove that the bible is true, but i can’t show it to you,’ be suspicious.
  2. publish your data and get outside verification and corroboration. all credible excavations publish their data and make it available for peer-review and cross-examination. this is usually done at a professional conference. this is how scholarship works. this group has not done this.
  3. announce to scholars first. it is not enough to make a press release direct to the public. those who publicize their finds with direct-to-the-media marketing campaigns and bypass scholars do so because they rely on the buzz of the media and know that the scholars will end their 15 minutes of fame before it starts. they prey on the curiosity of the public, and hope that no one pays attention to scholars’ rebuttal on the back pages of the same newspapers and websites that ran the initial story in the headlines. (see: foxnews, msnbc, nat geo, abc, etc.)

this is how the academy works. and this is how it should work. there should be a system of checks and balances between the academy and institutions of faith. it keeps both groups honest.

archaeologists look at these untrained, amateur, evangelical groups doing archaeology and making claims about noah’s ark with well-deserved suspicion. it is the exact same suspicion that evangelicals would show towards a group of untrained, amateur hindu explorers claiming to have found a mace, a chakra and a conch shell in kurukshetra that prove the existence of the hindu god vishnu. just because you find reindeer bones at the north pole does not mean you have proved the existence of santa claus. and, just because you find a boat doesn’t mean you’ve proved the flood. and in this case, noah’s ark ministries international hasn’t even demonstrated that they’ve found a boat! they’ve found wood. finding a wooden structure on a mountain in turkey does not mean you’ve discovered noah’s ark. it means you’ve found a wooden building. it could be a barn. it could be a small cottage. it could be a tool shed.

however, this story may be even more sinister than a simple sensationalist claim. there is evidence that it may have all been a hoax. an article by stephen kurczy in the christian science monitor is now claiming that fellow ark hunter, dr. randall price of liberty university, who once worked with the noah’s ark ministries international group and was the archaeologist on the chinese-led team in 2008 when this alleged discovery was first made, may have been participants in an elaborate hoax. according to the article:

“If the world wants to think this is a wonderful discovery, that’s fine. My problem is that, in the end, proper analysis may show this to be a hoax and negatively reflect how gullible Christians can be,” he says. He says he has “difficulties with a number of issues related to the evidence at hand.”

Price declined to elaborate. However, a leaked email from Price – which he confirms that he wrote – shows that he has reason to believe that a group of local Kurdish men trucked wood up to the mountain and staged an elaborate hoax for the Chinese team.

A group of Kurdish workers “are said to have planted large wood beams taken from an old structure in the Black Sea area (where the photos were originally taken) at the Mt. Ararat site. … During the summer of 2009 more wood was planted inside a cave at the site. The Chinese team went in the late summer of 2009 (I was there at the time and knew about the hoax) and was shown the cave with the wood and made their film,” Price writes in the email.

michael heiser at paleobabble.com offers even more details. he writes:

I also got an email today from one of Randall Price’s students. The email contains a message from Dr. Price about this expedition. (Dr. Price, as some of you may recall, has been doing a lot of searching for the ark lately.) Here is an excerpt from his message:

I was the archaeologist with the Chinese expedition in the summer of 2008 and was given photos of what they now are reporting to be the inside of the Ark. I and my partners invested $100,000 in this expedition (described below) which they have retained, despite their promise and our requests to return it, since it was not used for the expedition. The information given below is my opinion based on what I have seen and heard (from others who claim to have been eyewitnesses or know the exact details).

To make a long story short: this is all reported to be a fake. The photos were reputed to have been taken off site near the Black Sea, but the film footage the Chinese now have was shot on location on Mt. Ararat. In the late summer of 2008 ten Kurdish workers hired by Parasut, the guide used by the Chinese, are said to have planted large wood beams taken from an old structure in the Black Sea area (where the photos were originally taken) at the Mt. Ararat site. In the winter of 2008 a Chinese climber taken by Parasut’s men to the site saw the wood, but couldn’t get inside because of the severe weather conditions. During the summer of 2009 more wood was planted inside a cave at the site. The Chinese team went in the late summer of 2009 (I was there at the time and knew about the hoax) and was shown the cave with the wood and made their film. As I said, I have the photos of the inside of the so-called Ark (that show cobwebs in the corners of rafters – something just not possible in these conditions) and our Kurdish partner in Dogubabyazit (the village at the foot of Mt. Ararat) has all of the facts about the location, the men who planted the wood, and even the truck that transported it.

so it appears that the whole thing may have been rigged. an ark-eologist got duped by other ark-eologists. this is simply sad.

the problem with this is that both religion and science lose. people of faith look like a bunch of liars that will do or say anything to prove their faith, including lie, cheat, steal, and rig an elaborate hoax to raise money and spread their faith. but because they use science to make their claim, religious fundamentalists will claim that scientists are elaborate tricksters that manipulate data in an attempt to prove the bible is false. and somewhere in between these two extremes are honest people of faith and honest scientists trying to have an honest debate about the feasibility and historicity of a flood and an ark, questioning why different numbers of animals on the ark are given in the bible, (gen 6:19 vs. gen 7:2), and how wood could have survived and not decomposed over time. these arguments are lost because both extremes-the religious fundamentalists and the militant agnostics-retreat to their extreme positions, and the media loves extreme anything.

science and faith both lose. both can co-exist, but episodes like this one don’t help.

this unfortunate episode also reveals that there are two levels of ‘sensational’. the first is the sensationalism that we find when someone makes an unsubstantiated archaeological claim. whenever someone finds a piece of wood on top of a mountain in turkey, someone is always sure to claim they’ve found noah’s ark. there is no evidence, but this speculation is sure to raise eyebrows, and so someone always irresponsibly makes that claim. but, there is a far more egregious form of sensationalism: the hoax. this is when evidence is planted so that said sensational claim can be made. this hoax should be met with outrage, and both noah’s ark ministries international, their sponsors, and the local turkish government officials should be sanctioned for their participation in the charade.

Hong Kong people are recognized as Honorable Citizens in Agri Province of Turkey for the first time

Hong Kong people are recognized as Honorable Citizens in Agri Province of Turkey for the first time

so no, you didn’t find noah’s ark. but you did get to be honorable citizens for the day. and you got your name in the paper. and you got you picture taken. and you’ve become the latest chapter in the seemingly never ending story of the quest for things that we’ll never find, if they ever existed at all.

and one more thing: my hat is off to all of the scholars and the cadre of bloggers that came forward to research this story and expose this charade. hats off to the news organizations that quickly posted responses to the initial story like time and the christian science monitor. and hats off to randall price, whom i previously ripped in this very space, for admitting his mistake and exposing this nonsense. you did the right thing and i respect that.

well, that explains it: fresno is nation’s drunkest city

well, that explains it.

sometimes in life, certain things are suspected long before some scientific research or statistical analysis confirms what we already know. texas votes republican. england likes tea. the vatican likes catholicism.

and such is the case with a new survey to be published in the march 2010 issue of men’s health ranking the drunkest cities in the nation.

the winner: my hometown of fresno, ca.

i’ve told many of my professional colleagues in southern california and across the nation that we do things differently in fresno. for instance, to save money on buying meat at the super market, we hunted. a lot. my family ate something my father shot four nights a week growing up. elk, venison, wild boar – you name it, we ate it, and it was delicious.

and we drink beer in fresno. a lot. in fact, beer plays a major role in many rites of passage in fresno. i can’t recall my father every crying in public (with the exception of his father’s funeral), but i distinctly remember my father shedding a tear on the day i tapped my first keg, which was quite an proud accomplishment for a fifth grader.

and so goes the story of fresno. a big town that still retains a small town attitude. my ‘uncle jerry’ carried a .44 with him when he went on walks around the block, just in case. both my parents have concealed weapons permits, which makes sense for my dad, who was a cop, but is peculiar for my mom, the school teacher. let’s just say i did what i was told growing up.

it’s that kind of town: you don’t mess with me and i won’t mess with you. fresno is an ag community where one can still make more money working on the family farm than in some desk job. there has been an effort to revitalize the downtown area with a more sophisticated clientele in recent years. the most common way of doing this: establishing microbreweries. it’s a vicious cycle.

so congratulations to my fellow fresnans on being named the nation’s drunkest city. on behalf of those of us in the academy, like notable scholars victor davis hanson and eric cline, thank you.

a few more noteworthy items in the list of 100 cities:

  • 3 of the top 12 drunkest cities are in the central san joaquin valley of california (fresno 1, bakersfield 10, modesto 12)
  • the home town of my bride-to-be, lubbock, tx, came in at #8 which is astonishing since lubbock is a dry county!! i’ve often told roslyn that lubbock and fresno are sister cities – both flat, both ridiculously hot in the summer and freezing in the winter, both have really, really nice people, both ag towns, and everyone drives a white pickup – but now i have hard data to confirm it.
  • the soberest/least drunk city in the nation: boston, ma. go figuah. while one might expect the center of red sox nation to be a bit more tipsy, all of those top notch college students studying for endless exams must outweigh the weekend baseball crazed sox lovers.

update: sources say that one of the prime factors used in determining these rankings is the number of drunk driving arrests made over the past year. fresno is in the middle of a city-wide drunk driving crackdown in an attempt to reduce the number of incidents of drunk driving in fresno, resulting in a high percentage of dui citations. on the flip side, the combination of excellent public transportation, the smaller, european style living accommodations, and the proximity of pubs to residential establishments in boston (read: pubs downstairs and on every corner) means very few people ever drive at all, much less when drinking. it’s no excuse, but these facts do contribute to the numbers in fresno where there is no public transportation (the fresno area rapid transit busses don’t count), where everything is big and spread out, and where restaurants and pubs are located in strip malls away from homes.

here is the list:

  1. Fresno, CA                      F
  2. Reno, NV                         F
  3. Billings, MT                    F
  4. Riverside, CA                   F
  5. Austin, TX                        F
  6. St. Louis, MO                  F
  7. San Antonio, TX             F
  8. Lubbock, TX                    F
  9. Tucson, AZ                      F
  10. Bakersfield, CA               F
  11. Las Vegas, NV                F
  12. Modesto, CA                    F
  13. Columbia, SC                   F
  14. Nashville, TN                  D-
  15. Madison, WI                    D-
  16. Colorado Springs, CO    D-
  17. Denver, CO                       D-
  18. Phoenix, AZ                      D-
  19. Cheyenne, WY                D-
  20. Sacramento, CA              D-
  21. New Orleans, LA             D-
  22. Toledo, OH                      D
  23. Aurora, CO                      D
  24. El Paso, TX                      D
  25. Corpus Christi, TX           D
  26. Fargo, ND                        D
  27. San Diego, CA                 D
  28. Lexington, KY                   D
  29. Tampa, FL                         D
  30. Albuquerque, NM             D
  31. Oklahoma City, OK         D+
  32. Tulsa, OK                            D+
  33. Jacksonville, FL               D+
  34. Detroit, MI                        D+
  35. Boise City, ID                   D+
  36. Kansas City, MO             D+
  37. Washington, DC              D+
  38. Montgomery, AL               D+
  39. Omaha, NE                      D+
  40. Portland, OR                    D+
  41. Anchorage, AK                 D+
  42. Birmingham, AL             D+
  43. Greensboro, NC               C-
  44. Wichita, KS                      C-
  45. St. Petersburg, FL           C-
  46. Burlington, VT                 C-
  47. Houston, TX                     C-
  48. Los Angeles, CA              C-
  49. Charleston, WV               C
  50. Orlando, FL                      C
  51. Spokane, WA                   C
  52. Lincoln, NE                      C
  53. Arlington, TX                    C
  54. Des Moines, IA                 C
  55. Fort Worth, TX                 C
  56. Providence, RI                 C
  57. Anaheim, CA                    C
  58. Milwaukee, WI                  C
  59. Pittsburgh, PA                  C
  60. Baltimore, MD                  C
  61. Indianapolis, IN               C
  62. Louisville, KY                   C
  63. Raleigh, NC                     C
  64. Seattle, WA                      C+
  65. Grand Rapids, MI           C+
  66. Buffalo, NY                       C+
  67. Wilmington, DE              C+
  68. Hartford, CT                     C+
  69. Sioux Falls, SD                C+
  70. Virginia Beach, VA          C+
  71. Memphis, TN                   C+
  72. Cincinnati, OH                 C+
  73. Cleveland, OH                 C+
  74. Charlotte, NC                   C+
  75. Oakland, CA                    C+
  76. Little Rock, AR                 B-
  77. Dallas, TX                        B-
  78. Richmond, VA                  B-
  79. San Jose, CA                   B-
  80. Minneapolis, MN            B-
  81. Jackson, MS                    B-
  82. Jersey City, NJ                 B-
  83. Columbus, OH                 B-
  84. Atlanta, GA                       B-
  85. Chicago, IL                       B
  86. San Francisco, CA          B
  87. St. Paul, MN                     B
  88. Honolulu, HI                     B
  89. Philadelphia, PA              B+
  90. Portland, ME                    B+
  91. Manchester, NH               B+
  92. Fort Wayne, IN                 A-
  93. New York, NY                   A-
  94. Durham, NC                    A
  95. Newark, NH                      A
  96. Miami, FL                         A
  97. Salt Lake City, UT            A
  98. Rochester, NY                 A+
  99. Yonkers, NY                    A+
  100. Boston, MA                      A+

‘the distortion of archaeology and what we can do about it’ by eric cline

bi_jugbible and interpretation has published dr. eric cline’s new article entitled, ‘the distortion of archaeology and what we can do about it: a brief note on progress made and yet to be made.’ in the article, dr. cline laments the trend towards the sensationalism of archaeological claims made by amateur archaeologists, hacks, fakes, and scholars who should know better, and the media’s use of this quackery to sell books and magazines and drive traffic to television documentaries and internet sites.

dr. cline then details how some archaeologists are working hard to expose this nonsense, critique and correct the false claims, and re-establish legitimate archaeology as a science and not as a field held hostage by those who use the media and internet to drive minority opinions, spurious claims, and outright unsustainable theories.

give it a read.

eric cline’s last lecture

Dr. Eric Cline

Dr. Eric Cline

eric cline’s ‘last lecture‘ at george washington university is now available online. it’s a bio of his life and a compelling argument for those considering archaeology as a career. as always, dr. cline is funny and quite compelling. here’s to a scholar committed to bringing archaeology to the public (as well as to other scholars). good job eric.

the insanity continues: jim barfield and the copper scroll project get another jpost article

Jim Barfield, leader of the 'Copper Scroll Project' testing a metal detector in preparation for his search for the treasures of the Copper Scroll

Jim Barfield, leader of the 'Copper Scroll Project,' testing a metal detector in preparation for his search for the treasures of the Copper Scroll.

the insanity continues.

apparently, the copper scroll project is listening to the criticisms made on this blog here and here and here and on the bible and interpretation site here and here and on jim west’s blog here and here and here and here and on dr. jim linville’s blog here and eric cline’s comment on the asor blog and on todd bolen’s blog here and on steven smuts’ blog here and here and on richard bartholomew’s blog here and here and here and here and on….. well, you get the picture.

jimmy barfield is listening, and is now attempting to refute the scholars that are beginning to question openly his copper scroll project and their findings (including their claim that the copper scroll was written during the time of jeremiah, and that all of the treasure is buried beneath ‘the pyramid with the top cut off’ (i.e., the tower), and that the copper scroll was the only dead sea scroll to be discovered in a ‘legitimate’ excavation by archaeologists). in the past few weeks, we’ve had some gems, such as what barfield stated in the ‘setting the record straight’ section of his august 2009 update:

b. With all respect to those with the stacks of letters behind their names displaying their degrees, we lowly firefighters have learned to work and play well with others. We on the project have, and will, always try to remain respectful of others no matter what their level of education. The objective is to learn from each otherr [sic]- not attempt to humiliate or discredit those that are progressing. That simple trait may have been a key factor in the success that the Copper Scroll Project has enjoyed to this point.

mr. barfield, i’m not trying to embarrass you. that is your own doing. i am simply trying to show readers why the iaa doesn’t call you anymore, why no scholar accepts a single thing you are saying, and why your circular reasoning makes no rational sense.

but there is more. for instance, barfield responded to my pointing out that he studied with vendyl jones:

d. The research about the history of the Copper Scroll is my own. Although Vendyl Jones does agree with me on many points, the determinations are mine and not influenced by Vendyl in any way. It is my studies into the Dead Sea Scrolls and my Biblical research that shaped my conclusions to form the Copper Scroll report.

e. With all respect to Vendyl. He is not, nor has he ever been, a member of the Copper Scroll Project or the team.

or this one in response to my questioning why the copper scroll project went back and overdubbed the name of the archaeologist ‘working with them’ (they occur at 0:28, 1:26, 2:18, 3:50, and again at 5:11):

g. We removed the name of the IAA archeologist from the site to allow him to focus on his job and not have to answer loads of distracting questions.

or this one in response to my pointing out that barfield has never been the leader of an excavation:

h. We on the Copper Scroll Project had no authority over the excavation, nor did we pay the IAA one single shekel for what was done at the sites.

now, the copper scroll project has released an entire video that appears to have been shot before in response to scholars’ calls for evidence. (i shall address this in another post.)

but make no mistake: jimmy barfield and the copper scroll project folks are listening.

the problem is, the iaa is listening too. as i have said in earlier posts, the iaa has completely disowned jimmy barfield and the copper scroll project. of course, they had a meeting with yizhak magen and yuval peleg, and barfield and company were sure to take lots of pictures of them keenly looking at barfield’s ‘research.’ as a result, barfield and his team were allowed to watch magen and peleg’s ongoing ten-year excavation, but at no time did they lead the excavation. likewise, magen and peleg completely disagree with barfield’s interpretation, and said as much in this week’s jerusalem post:

“We have dug all over Qumran,” Magen said. “This stuff isn’t there.”

magen went even further:

Yet Magen, one of the leading archeologists on the project, has confirmed to Metro that the digging has ceased.

“We did tests and we didn’t find anything,” Magen said. “There is nothing there.”

When asked why the permit for the excavation remained active, Magen clarified that while the dig was technically ongoing, Barfield’s “theory did not hold up.”

“For 30 years, each person has come with their own theory,” he added. “And they amount to nothing.”

however, something in the article struck me as odd. according to shelly neese:

Peleg, with Magen’s consent, agreed to be the archeologist for the excavation.

the wording in the sentence appears vague, and perhaps intentionally so. the article nowhere says that the iaa endorsed or sponsored the dig. perhaps this is because the west bank, where qumran is located, falls under magen and peleg’s authority as the representatives of the civil administration of judea and samaria. or, it could be that magen gave peleg permission to let barfield and company tag along. neese’s article makes it appear that peleg was working for barfield and his dig. barfield has already stated that the iaa was not paid ‘one single shekel’ (august 2009 update). however, observers usually have to pay somebody to tag along, and barfield has already stated on the copper scroll project fund raising page that:

The CSP has set up a 501(c)3 just for this purpose and has established four separate budgets ranging from the bare bones of $18,185 up to $148,000. Depending on the amount that can be raised will determine how many volunteers and how much equipment will be available for the excavation. The IAA will require trained staff to do the excavation along with Yuval Peleg, the archeologist who will be managing the dig.

in fact, barfield specifically said he was raising money to pay for the following:

Depending on what is raised will determine which budget they will go with. Understand this. If the cave opening is where Jim thinks it is…all it will take is four men, a couple of shovels and a lot of work to reveal the opening for a magnificent find. It is the cost of food, shelter, the IAA staff and transportation that makes the cost soar.

somebody got paid for something!! your supporters gave you a lot of money to pay for something, but you are stating that the iaa got nothing.

where did all the money go? did you give it to the iaa? did you pay your archaeologist? or did you pocket the money?

which is it?

new article by dr. robert cargill: pseudo-science and sensationalist archaeology: an exposé of jimmy barfield and the copper scroll project

Dr. Robert R. Cargill appearing on Discovery.

Dr. Robert R. Cargill appearing on Discovery.

the bible and interpretation website has published my latest article entitled, “pseudo-science and sensationalist archaeology: an exposé of jimmy barfield and the copper scroll project.” it is a call to arms for biblical scholars and archaeolosgists to address publically the sensationalist claims made by amateur archaeologists and pseudo-scientists.

Members of the academy must take individual responsibility and make conscious efforts to rebut examples of obvious disinformation whenever and wherever they arise. Likewise, archaeologists must band together and coordinate their efforts to meet these misleading claims as strongly and consistently as possible. For in a world where Wikipedia allows anyone to say just about anything, scholars must move beyond their comfortable arenas of peer-review and professional conferences, where they talk only to one another, and redouble our efforts to reach out to the public directly. We must counter irresponsible claims with measured responses, debunk and discredit them, and offer alternative theories from a spectrum of reliable scholars who, while they may at times disagree, can support their various claims with scientific facts, tangible data, and sound reason.

and in case you were wondering if this is about money (perhaps a mere finder’s fee and some texas funding) the attention (news articles and tv spots), and religious ideology (the ark of the covenant? really?), just watch:

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.

The Qumran Digital Model: SBL Joint Session Book Review

Nov 21-24, 2009. Dr. Cargill will be a respondent in a joint session panel that will review his new book, “The Qumran Digital Model: An Argument for Archaeological Reconstruction in Virtual Reality” (Gorgias Press, 2009) at the 2009 Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting. The panel will discuss the author’s conclusion that Qumran was originally established as a Hasmonean fortress that was reoccupied by a sectarian Jewish group, as well as Dr. Cargill’s methodology for using virtual reality and other technologies to aid archaeology. Dr. Robert Mullins (APU) will moderate the joint session. Panelists include Dr. Jodi Magness (UNC), Yuval Peleg (IAA), Dr. Lawrence Schiffman (NYU), and Dr. Eric Cline (GWU). Dr. Robert Cargill (UCLA) will offer a response, and the presentations will be followed by a question and answer period.

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