International archaeologists to discuss common ground in Middle East
Oct. 31, 2013
By Darla Martin Tucker
World leaders for decades have strived to resolve the festering political and social issues of the Middle East, to little long-term avail.
However there is one arena that brings together the region’s ancient and multifaceted history, politics and culture, offering opportunities for finding common ground.
“Archaeology has the potential to spawn dialogue between peoples and bridge some of the current political and cultural divides,” said Robert Mullins, an associate professor of Biblical Studies at Azusa Pacific University. He is also an archaeologist with more than 20 years’ experience supervising excavations in the Middle East. He currently co-directs a new project at Tel Abel Beth Maacah in northern Israel.
“At Abel Beth Maacah we are engaged in public archaeology, where we not only want to involve local Israelis in digging their own past, but point out neighboring Aramean and Phoenician presence at the site as well,” Mullins said. “If Israelites, Arameans, and Phoenicians lived and worked together then, why cannot we also do the same today?”
On Sun., Nov. 17, Mullins along with six archaeologists from Israel, Palestine, England, Canada and the United States, will examine the role of archaeology in Middle Eastern politics and social issues during a keynote panel discussion that caps La Sierra University’s 5th Annual Archaeology Discovery Weekend Sat., Nov. 16 - Sun., Nov. 17. The event is sponsored by La Sierra’s Center for Near Eastern Archaeology. Weekend activities will focus on ancient Jerusalem and will range from archaeology lectures to a kid’s dig and hands-on labs.
On Nov. 17 at 7:30 p.m., Mullins and archaeologists Jane Cahill West, Mahmoud Hawari, Dan Bahat, Lawrence Geraty, Kent Bramlett, and Larry Herr will bring their various experiences and knowledge to bear in a panel discussion titled “The Archaeology of Jerusalem in the Context of the Modern Middle East: Risks, Responsibilities, Opportunities.” Each will talk for 7 – 10 minutes on specific topics followed by a question-and-answer session with the audience.
The archaeologists arrive with widely varied backgrounds and deep expertise in Middle Eastern archaeology, specifically ancient Jerusalem. It was the royal city of kings such as David and Hezekiah, as well as a central city for the Romans, Crusaders and Muslims.
“I plan to speak about archaeology as a tool in politics and tell what the situation in Jerusalem is, of archeological works and … the reaction of Jews, Christians and Moslems to the discoveries,” Bahat said of his portion of the panel discussion.
An associate theology professor at the University of St. Michael College, University of Toronto, Canada, Bahat is also an Israeli archaeologist who has directed excavations in the Middle East since 1965. These include the excavation of old Jerusalem’s Western Wall tunnels, an ongoing project. He has won prestigious awards for his archaeological endeavors including the Jerusalem Award for Archaeology. Between 1963 and 1990 he was employed by the Israeli Government Department of Antiquities, Ministry of Culture and Education, lastly serving as district archaeologist of Jerusalem. He gave an invitational presentation on the archaeology of Jerusalem in an audience with Pope John-Paul II, and in 2004 received from the president of Italy an honorary commendation for his work promoting relations between Israel and Italy.
“Jerusalem is important to the three monotheistic religions, to Jews as the location of their temple, to Christians as the site of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, and to Muslims as the site of the Dome of the Rock where according to their tradition, Abraham nearly sacrificed Ishmael,” said Geraty, a professor of archaeology and Old Testament studies at La Sierra University. “So as archaeologists today excavate remains in the vicinity of Jerusalem they have to be cognizant of the sensibilities of conservative adherents to these religions. Overlying that are the current political issues between Israelis, Palestinians, and organizations like the United Nations and the Vatican. Archaeologists carefully work their way through this minefield, discovering historical evidence that relates to many of these issues, some of which will be addressed and discussed on this panel.”
Geraty has been involved in major excavations in Jordan since 1968 when as a student he began working at Tall Hisban. In 1984 he initiated digs at Tall al-‘Umayri, an ongoing, multi-institution project sponsored by La Sierra University. In 1992 Geraty initiated another excavation at Tall-Jalul. He ultimately became founding director of the Hisban-‘Umayri-Jalul three-dig site collectively known as the Madaba Plains Project. It is the largest, longest-running American archaeological project in the Middle East. Geraty is a past president of the American Schools of Oriental Research at Boston University.
Hawari, a Palestinian archaeologist and activist is a research associate at the University of Oxford and director of the Khirbat al-Mafjar Archaeological Project in Jericho. His primary interests are the archaeology, art and architecture of the Islamic Middle East and the Mediterranean, with a deep interest in the history and cultural heritage of Palestine. A widely published scholar, Hawari has worked on numerous local and international archaeological and architectural projects. He is currently preparing a book on the Citadel of Jerusalem.
Cahill West, a federal district court legal clerk, attorney and community advocate in Houston, is also a widely published Middle East archaeologist who has alternated her interests in law and archaeology since the late 1980s. Her varied excavation experiences include serving since 1984 as co-director of an excavation at Tel El-Hammah in the Jordan Valley, and since 1979 as senior staff archaeologist for the City of David archaeological project. She serves on the editorial boards of the “Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research,” and the “Biblical Archaeology Review.”
Herr is an archaeology professor at Canadian University College in Alberta, Canada. He began working at Tall Hisban in 1971 and later became became chief archaeologist and co-director of the Tall al-`Umayri site. He is widely published and known for his work in archaeological excavation technique and interpretation, in ancient inscriptions and in pottery dating.
Bramlett is a professor of archaeology and the history of antiquity at La Sierra University. He began excavations at Tall al-`Umayri in 1994 where he currently serves as chief archaeologist. Bramlett has coordinated with others to help direct the `Umayri project in the development and use of advanced technology in archaeological research.
The annual Archaeology Discovery Weekend focuses each year on the archaeological discoveries and ancient history of specific regions of the Near East, also known in general as the Middle East. This year’s event is co-sponsored by The American Schools of Oriental Research, the Riverside Society of the Archaeological Institute of America, the Western Science Center, the Orange County Society of the Archaeological Institute of America, the Los Angeles Chapter of the Biblical Archaeology Society, the Tom and Vi Zapara School of Business, and the Green Olive Grill.
The weekend’s events kick off Nov. 16 at 4 p.m. with an opening lecture by Bahat titled “Jerusalem through the Ages: Prehistory to Modern,” with responses by Cahill West, Hawari and Herr. A Middle Eastern reception in a Bedouin hospitality tent will follow with a gala at 6:30 p.m. celebrating the grand opening of the newly minted Center for Near Eastern Archaeology.
The lineup on November 17 includes a teachers’ workshop from 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.; lectures by Cahill West, Bahat, Bramlett, Hawari and Herr; hands-on labs for ancient pottery dating, ancient foods, textiles, pottery making and other activities; the “Archaeology Adventures” kids’ dig; and the closing panel discussion with archaeologists.
Archaeology Discovery Weekend lectures, the grand opening gala and teachers’ workshop will be held in the Troesh Conference Center of the Zapara School of Business. All other activities will occur in and around the Center for Near Eastern Archaeology which is adjacent to the business school.
For a full schedule of events and registration information visit lasierra.edu and click the event’s carousel image, or call 951-785-2041. Cost for the “Archaeology Adventures” kids’ dig is $5 per child. Teachers’ workshop admission is $25 and includes continuing education credit. Admission to the grand opening gala for the Center for Near Eastern Archaeology is $50 per person. All other weekend events are free admission.