Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Archaeology, Politics and the Media - Duke University

The Center for Jewish Studies at Duke University has its own podcast on iTunesU that I started listening to. The audio that sits in the feed reflects the sessions of a conference that was held at the center on the subject of Archaeology, Politics and the Media. (feed)

The relationship between archaeology and politics and the media should not be so strong, neither so problematic I thought. However, we have just had a media hype around an alleged find of Noah's Ark and this shows both. A hype that is widely mentioned on the conference is the James Ossuary and here the same problem arises: an archaeological find is captured by the media, before serious science has had a chance to draw conclusions. The idea is just too sexy to ignore, this find is alleged to be Jesus's tomb (or alternately the actual Ark built by Noah). And as the conference shows, here are not just the media guilty, also the archaeologists involved are giving in to the temptation to make a sensational appearance and get their name connected to a fantastic find.

Alternately, careful archaeologists, who evade the temptation, who are invited to comment in the media, no always succeed in defusing the hypes. Hence, the conference explores how serious science should deal with the media and once the media is talked, it is clear that there is also politics on the scene. Both the Ark and the Ossuary show this: the meaning of these finds get the importance of a verification of a religious claim. It has people passionately involved in making these finds true and their meaning engraved in stone.
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