Archaeology in Israel (2)

6 August 2015

probabilityIn the first part of this article, I explained how information from ancient sources is not always confirmed by archaeology. In asymmetric situations like these, “maximalists” assume that the information from written texts can be accepted: this is supposed to be reliable unless archaeology contradicts it. “Minimalists”, on the other hand, think that information from written sources can only be accepted if it is archaeologically confirmed.

Usually, it is not important which of these two research strategies is preferred. No Englishman cares there is no archaeological confirmation for Caesar’s claim to have invaded Britain and no Iranian is worried that Herodotus’ seven walls of Ecbatana have not been found. This is different in Israel, where there is no unequivocal archaeological evidence for the powerful state of King Solomon. Given the fact that Israel has supporters who believe the Bible to be literally true, and given the fact that it has enemies who will mercilessly point out flaws in the Biblical narrative, the asymmetrical evidence has political consequences.

[Read more on the blog of Ancient History Magazine.]

Archaeology in Israel (1)

3 August 2015
Jerusalem, "Large Stone Structure"

Jerusalem, “Large Stone Structure”

The study of the ancient world is so fascinating because all those cultures, nations, tribes, states, and civilizations share one characteristic: a great shortage of data. If you want to study an aspect of Antiquity, you need every bit of information you can get: texts, archaeological finds, parallels from other cultures. Antiquity, I’m sure you’ll agree, is the largest and most interesting puzzle the world has ever seen.

Unfortunately, the available information is often inconsistent. Herodotus tells us that Ecbatana was a big city with seven walls, but archaeologists found nothing. Caesar claims to have visited Britain, but not a single camp has been identified.

In situations like these, when information obtained from texts and excavations is asymmetrical, it’s up to the historian to decide what to do next. He might say: “I prefer to believe the written sources. If the archaeologists continue to dig, they will find what we’re looking for.” In other words, as long as archaeological data are absent, you lend maximum credence to your written sources. This approach is called maximalism. The alternative would be to argue “The sources may not be literally true. Unless the archaeologists find something, I must reconsider my way of reading the texts.” If you think you should not believe your source unless it is confirmed archaeologically, that’s called minimalism.

[Continued on the blog of Ancient History Magazine]

Mosul and Hatra

9 April 2015
Statue of a Hatrene nobleman. This is a cast in the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz; the original is in the Baghdad Museum, which was recently reopened.

Statue of a Hatrene nobleman. This is a cast in the Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum in Mainz; the original is in the Baghdad Museum, which was recently reopened.

Yes, they are shocking, those images of the destruction of the museum of Mosul and the vandalism in Hatra. Still, I would suggest that you don’t pay attention to it. There are three reasons to ignore the news, sad though it is.

(1) Let’s be glad that the members of the so-called Islamic State are wasting their time destroying antiquities instead of human lives.

(2) We only see what is shown. Although it is terrible that ancient statues are destroyed, they are quite often well-documented. We know what is lost. The real problem is that there are illegal excavations and that the museums’ storerooms have been looted. The objects thus acquired are sold and we do not know what is lost. We don’t have footage of the clandestine trade – which funds ISIS – in ancient art. The footage shown to us, is a decoy.

(3) Let’s focus on the real news: Tikrit has been reconquered. Because the so-called Islamic State does not like that news, it shared a movie of the vandalism in Hatra. (Compare ISIS’ response to its defeat at Kobani: broadcasting the execution of Muath Al-Kassasbeh.) Because we are shocked – as we ought to be! – we start telling others and share the footage on social media. By doing so, we become unwitting allies of the so-called Islamic State, because we’re helping to distract from the fact that ISIS is suffering defeats and is forced to retreat.

If you feel outrage, the best thing to do is NOT share the news. If you want to do something, write a letter to a politician and call for legislation to stop the illicit trade of ancient artifacts.

[Originally on the website of Ancient History Magazine]

Ancient History Magazine

22 March 2015

ahm_coverSome time ago, I blogged about the new project of Karwansaray, the publisher of a/o Ancient Warfare: a new magazine about Antiquity with the admittedly predictable name Ancient History Magazine. I wrote that once the trial issue was ready, we would try to raise money with a Kickstarter campaign.

Well, you can download the trial issue here and you can find the Kickstarter there.

That’s all I really wanted to say. But, you may ask, why should you be interested in another new magazine? And why should you contribute to it?

Read the rest of this entry »

New magazine on ancient history (2)

28 February 2015

ahm_coverI already wrote about the new magazine about the ancient world which Karwansaray Publishers wants to launch. The website is now online: here.

The PDF with the trial issue will soon be available too. It contains articles on a Greek in Egypt, a recently-published papyrus that seems to document a scene from Alexander’s campaign to the east, and Trajan’s Markets.

On the cover, you won’t see a museum piece or a ruin, as is customary on archaeological magazines. We’ve chosen a drawing of a scene from Trajan’s Markets. After all, our magazine is about the ancient world, and not about “the ancient world as seen by archaeologists” or “the ancient world as seen by classicists”. A drawing is a good way to show the world in which it all started: urban life, writing, states, monotheism, science, literature.

Please visit the website here.

Update on Ancient History Magazine

22 January 2015

Ancient Warfare. The new magazine will also contain original artwork.

Last week, I posted that we are thinking about starting a new magazine devoted more generally to ancient history. This new magazine will be similar to Ancient Warfare, so each issue will be devoted to a particular theme, have well-written articles from contributors all over the world, and will be illustrated in full colour using photos of ancient buildings and objects (we have a vast collection of original photographs that allow us to show you stuff you’ve probably never seen before!), as well as custom artwork.

You can read more here.

New Ancient History Magazine

15 January 2015

One of the covers of Ancient Warfare. Perhaps the new magazine will look like this.

Karwansaray, the publisher of a/o Ancient Warfare, has plans for a new magazine on Antiquity. You may wonder: don’t we have many magazines about Antiquity? The surprising answer is that they are quite rare. Archaeologists have journals about their perspective on the ancient world. There are magazines about the classics. There are magazines about the ancient Near East. There are magazines about Greece and Rome. But magazines about the ancient world are pretty rare.

So the general idea is to make something that connects all ancient regions and all kinds of scholars. Like Ancient Warfare, it will be lavishly illustrated, journalistic, bimonthly, and devoted to a theme. “Thrace” and “creation stories” come to mind, but of course everything else is possible. Unlike Ancient Warfare, it may be 60 pages or a bit more. The editors will be Josho Brouwers and Jona Lendering, and we’re not completely sure whether it should be called “Ancient History Magazine“.

Read the rest of this entry »


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