On Egos and “Bulldozers” and Bull of Another Kind

As many folks know, besides filling my time with rogueclassicism, I also put out a weekly archaeology newsletter called Explorator which looks at coverage of archaeology in all parts of the world. I’ve been putting out that newsletter for at least sixteen years and one of the things I’ve long been aware of is that there is a certain ‘class’ of archaeologist (for want of a better term) who are very much into the ‘glory’ aspect of any coverage they get and/or create. That is to say, they are driven as much by their egos — and their desire to be seen as somehow ‘better’ than their counterparts — as much as they are by their research. One might even cynically suggest there are some  who are even more ego-driven than research driven. I’ll let you decide which applies in the following situation.

Biblical Archaeology Review unleashed a bit of a firestorm when, in its May/June 2013 issue it showed a photo which was subsequently picked up and commented on by Emmy Award Winning Professor Simcha Jacobovici, co director of the Bethsaida Dig and self-described ‘Naked Archaeologist’. Here’s the photo as posted by the Professor:

via Simchajtv.com

Back in April, Professor Jacobovici opened his blogpost containing the photo thusly:

Recently, Professor Yuval Goren shocked an audience at Tel Aviv University by proudly describing his method of archaeological excavation using a Caterpillar bulldozer.

You can read the post if you want a bit more context.  That particular post (and other coverage) resulted (more or less) in a response from the archaeologists which included the following:

1. There was no use of a mechanical excavator on Tel Socoh.

2. The slide shown in the ad illustrates work carried out in a wadi near the mound, as a sequel to a systematic manual excavation from surface to natural soil nearby. The sounding was aimed at detecting pottery and slag in the vicinity of the site. This method is authorized (and endorsed) by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

3. This is a common method in archaeology. Most seasoned archaeologists – regardless of period of research, location on the globe, and institutional affiliation – use mechanical excavators in certain, closely controlled circumstances.

… The professor dutifully noted it as well: Shocking Tel Aviv University Statement Defending Bulldozer Archaeology. Now it gets silli(er) as the Emmy Award Winning Professor has blogged the following at his own blog (I’ve left his links in):

An archaeological controversy has erupted in Israel which has serious implications for anyone interested in the history of the Holy land. At the center of the controversy is Professor Yuval Goren from Tel Aviv University. Goren has a PhD. in petrography, which is a branch of petrology that focuses on detailed descriptions of rocks. Though he doesn’t have a graduate degree in archaeology, he de facto works as an archaeologist. A few months ago, Goren shocked an audience at Tel Aviv University by proudly featuring his method of archaeological excavation using a Caterpillar bulldozer.

Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) dubbed Professor Goren’s technique as “Cater-pillaging”. Archaeologists normally dig with spades and toothbrushes. The position of every coin is important for identifying strata and for dating. Every pottery shard and its location can influence the overall understanding of the site. But at Tel Socoh, where Goren is digging, the archaeology was going slowly and Goren decided to speed things up. That’s where the bulldozer came in. Clearly, bulldozers are not conventional archaeological tools, and Professor Goren came under severe criticism. Dr. Robert Deutsch took an uncompromising stance against the practice and I have been blogging against it as well (here and here). Now, in BAR’s latest issue, someone has once again anonymously published an ad featuring Professor Goren and his bulldozer. Goren has reacted with anger calling the ad “defamatory” and some colleagues at Tel Aviv University have posted a defense of the practice. [...]

… an almost identical (if not actually identical) post is at the Times of Israel site as well: Bulldozer Archaeology

So now it’s time to comment … it ain’t a bulldozer. It’s a front end loader with a bucket scoop/backhoe on the back. No, you probably wouldn’t use a bulldozer for archaeology, because it has a big blade on the front and is used for grading and pushing large quantities of dirt (etc.), not digging. As for using bucket scoops in archaeology, anyone who has watched Time Team will know that use of such buckets are common enough and there are plenty of images on the web of same.  Heck, if you want to go to the AIA’s Ask the Experts page, you can read this:

What tools do archaeologists use for excavation?
Archaeologists use a great variety of tools for excavation, depending on the nature of the area in which they are working. The most common digging tools are picks, shovels, and trowels. In areas where there is a lot of sediment or dirt over the sites, archaeologists sometimes use heavy equipment like bulldozers and back hoes, but only to remove earth that shows no signs of human remains. If excavation will be a delicate operation, as during the careful cleaning away of soil from a damaged painting or human skull, archaeologists use dental picks, spoons, brushes, or anything that works. They often improvise based on the situation in which they find themselves.

For our purposes, however, it should suffice to link to this one from the BETHSAIDA EXCAVATIONS of which Professor Jacobovici is a co-director (although that was a recent gig … this photo is apparently from 2010):

Whaaaaaa?  Is that a front end loader with a bucket attached? Or maybe it’s just a bucket scoop on its own. Say it ain’t so! Perhaps Dr Rami Arav can school his co-director in the ways of archaeology …

Come on guys … in the right hands, a front end loader/bucket  is a perfectly legit archaeological tool … a massive ego isn’t.

… we now return to our regular programming.

UPDATE (the next day): Tip o’ the pileus to Joseph Lauer for drawing our attention to BAR’s most recent comment in this little saga: BAR Accused of Publishing “Defamatory” Ad

UPDATE II (A couple days later): See now Robert Cargill’s exceptionally thorough piece on this whole thing … very eye-opening: One Big Balagan: Robert Deutsch, Simcha Jacobovici, and their Campaign of Misinformation against Prof. Yuval Goren

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3 thoughts on “On Egos and “Bulldozers” and Bull of Another Kind

  1. Backhoes (not bulldozers) are used at Bethsaida to remove dumps and help conservators to lift heavy boulders, not to dig. Each use is authorized by Israel Antiquities Authority.

      • My profs here at University of Windsor have certainly mentioned use of backhoes for multiple purposes, even including a convenient means of moving personnel and equipment around the site. Their digs are in Greece generally, Helike and Stymphalos as I recall. Helike also has a tremendous amount of sediment to be dealt with – I’d hate to shovel that out by hand.

        Furthermore, the usage isn’t limited to classics. My anthropology prof has also mentioned use of such machinery on Native American sites here in Canada. Apparently, a skilled operator can even feel changes in soil density. Should something unexpected appear, he often feels it through the machine.

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