Bulldozer Archaeology

Recently, Professor Yuval Goren shocked an audience at Tel Aviv University by proudly describing his method of archaeological excavation using a Caterpillar bulldozer. Biblical Archaeology Review has now dubbed the technique “Cater-pillaging”. Goren who is a petrographer i.e., an expert in stones, not archaeology, seems to not be aware of the importance of stratigraphy at Tel Socoh. Normally, archaeologists dig with spades and toothbrushes. The position of every coin is important for identifying strata and for dating. Every pottery shard and its location can influence the overall understanding of the site. But Professor Goren seems to have lost patience with that approach and is now advocating 5 by 5 m squares using a bulldozer! Whatever his rationalization, I’m sure the archaeological community will not agree. Sadly, though messages were sent to 30 members of the National Archaeological Committee, so far no one has responded.

Recently, in contrast to the Goren approach, my team designed a robotic arm to infiltrate a sealed 2,000 year old tomb in Jerusalem. A few weeks ago, the New York Festivals awarded us a Gold Medal for Innovation in Filmmaking that pushed the envelope of Jerusalem based archaeology. The whole point of the exercise was to use technology in a non-invasive manner. Professor Goren, please abandon the bulldozer approach. We’re willing to lend you our robotic arm.

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  • Fred Houpt

    Simcha: why does the Israeli Antiquities Agency sit on their hands over this breach of normal digging protocol? Are their not laws about how to dig or am I being generous with my imagination?

  • Robert Deutsch

    Can anyone remind me what were the working methods of the Arab Islamic Wakf’s work on the Temple Mount ? Wasn’t it with bulldozers ? I suggest to send the Tell Socho dump to Prof. Gabi Barkay’s sifting project to rescue what is still possible.

  • David

    “I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” ” You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?”

    Shame on the writer of this post!

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  • Guest

    Pardon me Simcha but since when do you have an archaeology degree? This is just a pathetic ploy from the camp of BAR still upset over their fake antiquities being outed. I was at the dig and after meters of dirt with nothing but alluvial material it is perfectly ok to use a bulldozer experienced in working with excavations (all the time). The IAA was there and was ok with the process hence in my professional experience as a working archaeologist in Israel Simcha should perhaps calm down before burning many important bridges. I also think that at this point Robert Deutsch needs to stop using Tel Aviv University as his University of work at ASOR and SBL conferences. I also wonder if I were to post the picture I have of Yossi Garfinkel “cleaning the bulk” with a bulldozer ON the Tel of Qhirbet Qayafa, NEXT to architecture, what would Simchas response be then? Or Mr. Deutsch’s?

    • http://www.facebook.com/simcha.jacobovici Simcha Jacobovici

      I’ve now learned from responses such as yours a lot more about bulldozers and archaeology. And here’s the bottom line: The bulldozer is not an archeological tool! You don’t have to be a specialist to conclude that. Having said this, I know that bulldozers are used to remove waste and heavy boulders. They’re also used for reconstruction once an area has been excavated. When it comes to excavation, I think it’s more a matter of economics. Basically, everyone agrees that what a bulldozer does is destroy archaeology. Because it speeds things up, the argument is that you do “controlled” destruction. Some people call this a “trial trench”. Then the “specialist” looks and decides where to dig manually. That’s it, there’s no magic. If there was endless money and time no one would use a bulldozer (I don’t think a bulldozer has ever made an appearance at Megiddo, for example), but since there isn’t endless time and money, the argument is that an amateur (e.g., waqf) would destroy everything, while a “specialist” destroys a little bit and gets an insight as to where and how to dig.

      The question I raise is: Do we need guidelines for this? Do we really trust all the so called specialists to decide on the use of bulldozers for controlled destruction? It’s a perfectly legitimate question. Now, I understand that we don’t want Soviet type control of the archaeologist, but guidelines are not the same as Soviet control.

      Some people say that a spade can also cause damage. That’s true, you can even cause damage with a spoon if you stick it in the wrong place. That still doesn’t mean that tractors are ok. I also know that there are two schools. From what I understand, Finkelstein, Ussishkin, Gibson, Strange and others are categorically against the use of bulldozers for excavation. So am I. I don’t buy the trained eye bit. There are certain things, for example, that doctors can’t do even though a master surgeon is probably better with a steak knife than his student is with his scalpel. It doesn’t matter, steak knives are not allowed in surgery.

      The fact is that I haven’t seen any professional archaeologists go on record supporting the bulldozer as a tool of archaeological trade. Even on this blog, the guy with the “professional experience” doesn’t sign his name. More than this, they all resort to the personal attack. What I can tell you is that when Professor James Charlesworth saw Goren’s bulldozer archaeology he cringed and concluded that Kathlene Kenyon is turning in her grave.

  • http://www.facebook.com/simcha.jacobovici Simcha Jacobovici

    I’ve now learned from responses such as yours a lot more about bulldozers and archaeology. And here’s the bottom line: The bulldozer is not an archeological tool! You don’t have to be a specialist to conclude that. Having said this, I know that bulldozers are used to remove waste and heavy boulders. They’re also used for reconstruction once an area has been excavated. When it comes to excavation, I think it’s more a matter of economics. Basically, everyone agrees that what a bulldozer does is destroy archaeology. Because it speeds things up, the argument is that you do “controlled” destruction. Some people call this a “trial trench”. Then the “specialist” looks and decides where to dig manually. That’s it, there’s no magic. If there was endless money and time no one would use a bulldozer (I don’t think a bulldozer has ever made an appearance at Megiddo, for example), but since there isn’t endless time and money, the argument is that an amateur (e.g., waqf) would destroy everything, while a “specialist” destroys a little bit and gets an insight as to where and how to dig.

    The question I raise is: Do we need guidelines for this? Do we really trust all the so called specialists to decide on the use of bulldozers for controlled destruction? It’s a perfectly legitimate question. Now, I understand that we don’t want Soviet type control of the archaeologist, but guidelines are not the same as Soviet control.

    Some people say that a spade can also cause damage. That’s true, you can even cause damage with a spoon if you stick it in the wrong place. That still doesn’t mean that tractors are ok. I also know that there are two schools. From what I understand, Finkelstein, Ussishkin, Gibson, Strange and others are categorically against the use of bulldozers for excavation. So am I. I don’t buy the trained eye bit. There are certain things, for example, that doctors can’t do even though a master surgeon is probably better with a steak knife than his student is with his scalpel. It doesn’t matter, steak knives are not allowed in surgery.

    The fact is that I haven’t seen any professional archaeologists go on record supporting the bulldozer as a tool of archaeological trade. Even on this blog, the guy with the “professional experience” doesn’t sign his name. More than this, they all resort to the personal attack. What I can tell you is that when Professor James Charlesworth saw Goren’s bulldozer archaeology he cringed and concluded that Kathlene Kenyon is turning in her grave.

  • Guest

    I’ve now learned from responses such as yours a lot more about bulldozers and archaeology. And here’s the bottom line: The bulldozer is not an archeological tool! You don’t have to be a specialist to conclude that. Having said this, I know that bulldozers are used to remove waste and heavy boulders. They’re also used for reconstruction once an area has been excavated. When it comes to excavation, I think it’s more a matter of economics. Basically, everyone agrees that what a bulldozer does is destroy archaeology. Because it speeds things up, the argument is that you do “controlled” destruction. Some people call this a “trial trench”. Then the “specialist” looks and decides where to dig manually. That’s it, there’s no magic. If there was endless money and time no one would use a bulldozer (I don’t think a bulldozer has ever made an appearance at Megiddo, for example), but since there isn’t endless time and money, the argument is that an amateur (e.g., waqf) would destroy everything, while a “specialist” destroys a little bit and gets an insight as to where and how to dig.

    The question I raise is: Do we need guidelines for this? Do we really trust all the so called specialists to decide on the use of bulldozers for controlled destruction? It’s a perfectly legitimate question. Now, I understand that we don’t want Soviet type control of the archaeologist, but guidelines are not the same as Soviet control.

    Some people say that a spade can also cause damage. That’s true, you can even cause damage with a spoon if you stick it in the wrong place. That still doesn’t mean that tractors are ok. I also know that there are two schools. From what I understand, Finkelstein, Ussishkin, Gibson, Strange and others are categorically against the use of bulldozers for excavation. So am I. I don’t buy the trained eye bit. There are certain things, for example, that doctors can’t do even though a master surgeon is probably better with a steak knife than his student is with his scalpel. It doesn’t matter, steak knives are not allowed in surgery.

    The fact is that I haven’t seen any professional archaeologists go on record supporting the bulldozer as a tool of archaeological trade. Even on this blog, the guy with the “professional experience” doesn’t sign his name. More than this, they all resort to the personal attack. What I can tell you is that when Professor James Charlesworth saw Goren’s bulldozer archaeology he cringed and concluded that Kathlene Kenyon is turning in her grave.

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