As my Dutch readers probably know, I publish a newsletter every month, a bit like David Meadows’ Explorator. The difference is that I try to offer some context. If an archaeologist claims to have found something very special, I try to explain why it is so special, or why his press release must be taken with a pinch of salt.
Quickly after I started, I realized how much news was, in fact, no news at all. At first, I could make jokes about it and I awarded a satirical prize to the archaeologist who had written the most outrageous press release to draw attention (and get money) for his excavation. Some journalists, like this one, realize that they’re fooled, but most of them are easy victims. Unfortunately, it’s not funny any more. Take this month’s newsletter:
- The inevitable Zahi Hawass, visiting Russia, comments upon the Taposiris excavations. We all know that it is not the tomb of Cleopatra VII, so why is he stressing it again?
- The Alexander exposition in Mannheim is abused to stress again that Alexander has nothing to do with the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia. Boring. We already knew that, and people who still do not realize that ethnicity is fluid, are mentally living in the nineteenth century.
- An article about hoards as indication for population trends is interesting, but raises a lot statistical questions, which are not addressed.
- A street in Jerusalem belongs to the “Second Temple Period”. The name is a way to make things look Biblical, but basic information -was the street from the Persian, Hellenistic, Hasmonaean, Herodian, or Roman age?- is withheld.
- A first-century cup from Jerusalem is described as a “mystery vessel” written “in code”. Now if those words were written by Dan Brown, I wouldn’t have a problem, but it’s the National Geographic.
- After a year of unnecessarily commemorating the battle in the Teutoburg Forest, you’d believe that no one will say that ancient Germania was poor – an idea only found in Tacitus and not matched by the natural resources of the country east of the Rhine. But no, here‘s a professor claiming that the Germans’ “poverty helped preserve their liberty”.
- Nero’s rotating dining room has been found, for the second time. Either it’s the next archaeologist’s trick to obtain funds, or archaeologists have fooled the public for quite some time.
It’s just a selection, I might add more. All these claims were made by professional historians and classicists. It is so depressing that our universities are becoming one of the main sources of false knowledge about Antiquity.
Usually, I like writing the Newsletter, but this time, I felt really frustrated. I need a holiday – and that’s why I’m off to Iran for two weeks.