I’ve been at Duke University April 23-24, attending a Symposium on Archaeology and the Media. The symposium grew out of a growing problem – fueled largely by an unpatrolled Internet and media outlets that need sensationalist stories to attract attention – in which matters of archaeological interest are distorted and misinterpreted to a gullible public.
Perhaps you have heard of the James (brother of Jesus) Ossuary, which most legitimate archaeologists regard as a forgery, or the Talpiot tomb near Jerusalem that reportedly contained ossuaries belonging to Jesus’ family. It’s a bogus claim, despite a fancy TV documentary that would lead many to think otherwise.
Sadly, some of the most famous “archaeologists” known to the public are not archaeologists at all, but there is big money to be made by claiming to have found Noah’s Ark or the Ark of the Covenant. The late Ron Wyatt, a nurse-anesthetist whose website continues to promote him (because there’s money still to be made), even claimed to have found remnants of Jesus’ blood, so identified because the number of chromosomes reportedly confirmed divine conception. A popular book last year claimed to have found markers noting the original Garden of Eden at a fascinating but not paridisical site called Gobekli Tepe: this article, written by the author using a pseudonym, was planted to spur interest just before the release of the book. Klaus Schmidt, the real archaeologist who is quoted in the story, wrote a rebuttal to refute the way his words and findings were twisted by the author. The list of fantastical finds boggles the mind.
Archaeologists and scholars agree that they have been unsuccessful in getting the media to give attention to their reasoned rebuttals of bogus claims – partly because genuine evaluation isn’t nearly as sexy as a sensational announcement. They’re trying to find a better way.
I occasionally speak to some of these claims that are of interest to our readers, and to offer something other than the story offered in the popular media, but I’m rarely an expert on the subject at hand. The symposium will help me make connections and contacts necessary to do a better job at that, so our readers will be less likely to be taken in by sensationalist claims.
I hope you’ll find the effort worthwhile.