Monday, May 14, 2007

The Abu El-Haj controversy continues An alert reader sends along a link to this article: Bulldozer archaeology?

The notion of bulldozer archaeology is so shocking largely because the classic image of archaeologists at work is one of painstaking care, precision and slowness: the earth delicately probed with hand-held trowels, soil gently cleaned from each find with brushes, every stage of the excavation carefully recorded with notes, drawings and photography. As an arena of human activity an archaeological dig would seem to be conceptually closer to an operating theatre than to a construction or demolition site. Yet large-scale as well as small-scale operations have their place in archaeology, and the carefully planned archaeological use of mechanized earth moving techniques, including bulldozing, is an established and accepted practice.

It's largely critical of Abu El-Haj. It provides a plausible explanation of the whole bulldozer controversy, which seemed kinda hinky to me from the start, being a 3rd-party report in the first place. Harrington provides this quote by David Usshiskin on the origin of the Bulldozer Incident:
I believe the use of a JCB to determine the line of the rock-cut Iron Age moat was justified. It was essential to establish the size of the Iron Age enclosure in order to understand properly the site … A JCB with a long arm working delicately under archaeological supervision was the right solution: it can do useful work without damaging ancient remains, and I believe that this was the case here.

I think I mentioned in previous posts on this that large earth-moving equipment is not unknown archaeologically, though not often used for obvious reasons. It could feasibly start an urban legend of heinous archaeologists ripping up valuable archaeological remains. But, you know, that's the danger when you throw out "I heard from someone that. . . ." as part of an academic treatise.