In need of a holiday

Confused

Confused

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.

3 Responses to In need of a holiday

  1. Sean Manning says:

    Dear Jona,

    I hope you enjoy your holiday.

    Could I have some sources that the Germans weren’t poor? I thought that archaeology had confirmed that they didn’t have large population centers, had less metal than the Celts let alone the Greeks or Romans, and had a modest population density (even if parts of Germany were settled farmland not Tacitus’ wilderness). I agree that the “poor and therefore virtuous” thing is an obvious topoi which we now know to be wrong.

  2. Dear Sean

    I’m now in Tehran and have no access to my books; but think of the loessial soils along the Lippe, the gold mine in the Taunus (close to the Feldberg), and the fertile land in which Waldgirmes was founded. I am not sure about the lead; I recall it was from the Taunus, but it might have been the Eiffel, west of the Rhine but “German” in the sense that some of the tribes over there were considered to be Germanic (Caesar, somewhere). But the main point is, of course, the topicality of the remarks.

  3. Sean Manning says:

    That’s perfectly fine Jona. Its fun watching your trip as you add things to Livius Online.

    I notice that the guy with the “poor but free” interpretation was trying to use it to comment on modern politics, and that often leads scholars onto dangerous ground.

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