Conflict and archaeology

The current conflict in Israel, especially near the Gaza strip, has also meant that several archaeological excavation projects have been affected. Some just stopped excavating for a few days, others have closed excavations for the season or are in the process of doing so.


Unfortunately, the excavations at Khirbet Summeily are due to close early for the season. The students have been evacuated. It seems staff are now closing down the excavation areas. As it is very costly to organize a dig and there are a lot of fixed costs, it is very disappointing that this season could not proceed as expected and not many finds could be made. This means that another season is definitely required at Khirbet Summeily, but so much more difficult to organize now, since it is seen within range of a conflict zone. And if students had to be evacuated once, the university hierarchy is so much less likely to approve field schools in what is now even more so perceived to be a dangerous area.

Because archaeology is so closely linked to particular places, it is also affected so immediately by conflict in those places. As archaeologists we may try to keep away from modern conflicts, try to remain as neutral as possible, but even the most neutral has to live in this world. And in Israel this means living and working alongside Israelis.

I don’t think most Palestinians would distinguish between Israelis and some western archaeologists working in Israel. And if they knew the difference, those archaeologists would probably still represent to them the evils of the western world. Indeed, some Palestinians – in their reaction against the State of Israel – deny all Jewish presence in the land and therefore see those who document the presence of Israelites in the land as enemies.

The politics of modern societies affect our knowledge of the past, not only by making some places more available for archaeological excavation than others, but also by our own presuppositions and attempts not to offend particular groups. Let’s hope that out of this disparate evidence and the contested worldviews a coherent picture of history can still be discerned.

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