Goren Defends Bulldozer Archaeology

In response to my recent post concerning Prof. Goren’s (Tel Aviv University) use of bulldozers for the fine art of archaeology, Goren has now defended himself in the blogging world by stating that the area where he used his bulldozer is not technically on Tel Sochoh “but in a valley south of it”. I stand corrected. But, clearly, it’s part of the same dig. He says that they found “waste remains of a ceramic workshop” in the area, so he went looking for “the lost ceramic workshop”. He calls the area south of the Tel, “Area B”. He says they did regular archaeology there “for an entire week”. By the end of the week, when they came up with nothing, they “decided to make there a trial trench with a digger [bulldozer of the Caterpillar variety] to make sure that no archaeological remains existed at what was apparently virgin soil”. I think this is a very disturbing comment. Am I alone? He’s not saying that he used the bulldozer to move heavy rocks or waste. He’s saying that he went into an area where he wasn’t sure what lay beneath the ground, and decided to use bulldozers so as to “make sure”. Not only that, even though he says that the area was “apparently virgin”, he asked for an archaeological permit from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) to continue digging there. In other words, he didn’t know what lay beneath the ground. He wasn’t sure. And he was sufficiently unsure to ask for an archaeological license. Once he got the license, he used the “digger” to look for the ceramic workshop.

I don’t know which is more shocking – his use of a bulldozer to do fine archaeology or his “defense” of his methodology. Here is a man who finds “remains of a ceramic workshop” and is motivated to look for it in a specific area. He digs for a week and when he doesn’t come up with the goods, he decides to accelerate the process. He then gets a permit from the IAA and gives the green light to the digger driver to plow into the ground. Prof. Goren finishes his defense of his bulldozer methodology by saying that even though they found some “swept sherds” i.e., archaeology, the bulldozer confirmed his “impression [emphasis added] that there were no remains” of the ceramic workshop in Area B. Good grief! He used a bulldozer to excavate an area because it was his “impression” that it didn’t have significant finds beneath the ground. I sincerely hope the bulldozer didn’t destroy the workshop during its fact finding mission. In any event, after the bulldozer excavation, Prof. Goren says he closed Area B. He then ends his defense by saying that they are continuing their excavations at Areas A and C on the Tel. Incredibly, this is what he has to say about the future excavations: “Needless to say, with no tractors or the like”. I’m not kidding, this is a quote. He promises that in the future he will use Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), rather than tractors, “in order to locate the lost ceramic workshop”. Does this make any sense? If he finds bulldozers such an effective tool of archaeology, why is he promising online readers that in the future he is not going to use “tractors or the like”? It’s all too bizarre.

For all those who care about the archaeology of Israel, at least we now have this to be thankful for. Prof. Goren has moved from bulldozers to GPR.

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  • David

    All this proves how little you understand about the archaeological profession. I suggest you go and do a BA in the subject before you make such ill-informed and irrelevant claims. The backhoe is a tool, just like a spade or a dental pick. It is used by all archaeologists where appropriate, just like a surgeon chooses his tool for surgery, from a scalpel to micro tools when necessary. The choice of the tool is judged by the situation and by professional experience, professional experience you lack and Yuval Goren has.

    So give credit where credit is due. Your mail is clearly part of a smear campaign to protect your own vested financial interests displayed through the quack ‘archaeological’ work conducted in Talpiot.

  • John

    Recently I circulated your blog post critical of Professor Yuval Goren’s use of bulldozers for excavating at Tel Socoh. Since then, Professor Goren has responded and you have rebutted. I want to state a few things for the record.

    Archaeology is not a spectator sport with people rooting for their favourite individual or team. Archaeology is, at the very least, a craft and, at its best, a science. Also, it doesn’t “belong” to an elite group of academics. Archaeology in Israel deals with the heritage of Israelis, Jews generally and, in a sense, the roots of Western culture. It belongs to us all. I believe, therefore, that the issues raised in this debate are very, very important and need to be addressed:

    1. Professor Goren posted photos of bulldozers from various dig sites around Israel. This is very serious. When the Waqf i.e., the Muslim authority on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, used bulldozers on the Temple Mount we were all rightly appalled. In their defense, they said that the bulldozer is a standard tool of Israeli archaeology. Is this really true? Is this what Professor Goren’s photos demonstrate? As a layman, I can immediately see that the bulldozers in his photos at Zippori and Tel Hazor are being used to move heavy objects – not for excavating. But what about the other sites? In Tiberius, it seems the bulldozer is being used for restoration, not excavation. What about Ashkelon, Ramat Rachel and Tel Qeiyafa? Are the bulldozers being used for recovery or excavation? The IAA needs to get to the bottom of this.

    2. In his note below, Professor Goren seems to be dismissive of “swept sherds”. Any reader of BAR knows that where sherds are “swept” from is very important. This is called “inverted” or “reversed” stratigraphy. By ordering the use of a bulldozer for a “trial trench”, did he knowingly destroy inverted stratigraphy? This is very serious. The IAA needs to get to the bottom of this too.

    3. Even where there are no sherds, we know that the positioning of rocks on the ground can be very important. I’m thinking, for example, about the very important work done by Professor Uzi Avner in the Negev and the Sinai. A bulldozer at any of these locations would have totally destroyed the archaeology e.g., the open air cults at Hashem el Tarif or the “Leopard Temple” in the Uvda Valley, Negev.

    4. Under Shuka Dorfman’s excellent leadership at the IAA, the institution has brought archaeology to the people. The new campus being built will revolutionize the interaction of lay people and professionals. This interaction has to be civil. No one should get their back up. It would help if director Dorfman’s respected lieutenants would now draw up guidelines explicitly stating when it is proper and when it is improper to bring and use a bulldozer on a site. It would certainly clear up the confusion.

    • Jul

      I have a picture of Yossi Garfinkel ‘excavating’ tel Qayafa with a bulldozer…near architecture and in his words he told us he was ‘straightening the bulks’. THAT could cause him a license btw.

  • The use of heavy machinery in archaeology is risky, but certainly defensible. Having already made an extensive test excavation using more traditional methods and uncovering nothing, using a backhoe to make a test trench to look for more deeply submerged remains is completely reasonable. I have no doubt that such an excavation would be carefully monitored and at the first sign of cultural material the use of the backhoe would cease and manual excavators would be called back in.
    There are many archaeological sites that are buried under meters of overburden, and without the use of heavy machinery they would never be excavated. I, myself, worked on an Archaic Period site in Colorado that was uncovered excavation for a natural gas pipeline. We had done survey previously and there was NO sign of inhabitation on the surface. Unsurprising, since the site was 4 meters down, and never would have been discovered were it not for the pipeline. When we returned to excavate the site (4 large pithouses, C14 dated to ~7000 BC), we needed a backhoe to remove the top three meters of overburden before we could even begin digging, and we found that the original trench dug by the backhoe for the pipeline had only removed a 1.5 meter wide section from one pithouse, which actually proved to be invaluable for recording the stratigraphy of the site.
    Another example of where a backhoe would be invaluable, is a major Late Bronze Age site in Cyprus, which is under 4 meters of alluvium (we know because we can see the architecture in cross-section in the banks of the river), that will never be excavated unless someone uses a backhoe to take the bulk of the soil off the top. The manpower to excavate through 3 meters of soil, half of which is plow zone anyway, would be completely wasted, and an entirely prohibitive expense, so excavation will not occur until heavy machinery is approved. Reading Prof. Goren’s exacation reports and defense of his methods, he has done his due diligence, and was making a well-thought out decision based on the requirements of his research, while taking into account the costs of running a project in both time and money, and the best interests of the archaeological site and materials themselves.
    Until you’ve spent a decade in the field actually digging, and maybe acquire an MA or a PhD from a reputable archaeology program in Europe, Israel, or the U.S., how about you stop telling us how to do our jobs?

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