Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Some links at Archaeology Magazine
A chat with archaeologist and educator Dr. Shelby Brown about archaeology, teaching, and students.

A paleo-celebrity's (Lucy) contributions to evolutionary science

Raiders of the Faux Ark
We are living in a time of exciting discoveries in biblical archeology. We are also living in a time of widespread biblical fraud, dubious science, and crackpot theorizing. Some of the highest-profile discoveries of the past several years are shadowed by accusations of forgery, such as the James Ossuary, which may or may not be the burial box of Jesus' brother, as well as other supposed Bible-era findings such as the Jehoash Tablet and a small ivory pomegranate said to be from the time of Solomon. Every year "scientific" expeditions embark to look for Noah's Ark, raising untold amounts of money from gullible believers who eagerly listen to tales spun by sincere amateurs or rapacious con men; it is not always easy to tell the two apart.

The tools of modern archeology, from magnetometers to precise excavation methods, offer a growing opportunity to illuminate some of the intriguing mysteries surrounding the Bible, one of the foundations of western civilization. Yet the amateurs are taking in the public's money to support ventures that offer little chance of furthering the cause of knowledge. With their grand claims, and all the ensuing attention, they divert the public's attention from the scientific study of the Holy Land - and bring confusion, and even discredit, to biblical archeology.

Archaeology is just one of those professions that will always attract the dilettantes and fakers, largely because it's still got that romantic flair about it. Plus, it's still largely a social science which means mathematics is a smaller part of it and for the most part you don't need a lot of sophisticated instruments to do it (think astronomy or physics). I suppose some day when we're not even digging anymore but just running an instrument over the ground and getting a 3D virtual model of what lies beneath the ground down to the micron we'll achieve that Big Science look and feel and then people will figure they can't compete by just climbing a mountain and taking some pictures of funny looking rocks -- okay, they still will, but they'll look dumber.

Then again, being a proponent of amateur archaeology myself -- Army of Davids and all that -- I'm not quite willing to dump on everyone without an advanced degree.