“Remember, Archaeology is NOT a Treasure Hunt!” -- By: Gordon Franz

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 18:2 (Spring 2005)
Article: “Remember, Archaeology is NOT a Treasure Hunt!”
Author: Gordon Franz

“Remember, Archaeology is NOT a Treasure Hunt!”

Gordon Franz


The headline of the Science Section of the New York Times for Tuesday, September 28, 2004, read, “Solving a Riddle Written in Silver.” I recognized the picture underneath the headline right away. It was a portion of a silver amulet that was one of two discovered in Jerusalem in 1979. The article described the scholarly debate concerning the date assigned to the amulets by the excavator and his team in the latest issue of the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. They claim that these two objects contain the two oldest Biblical texts ever discovered to date. Unfortunately the BASOR is very technical. It discusses the style of the letters and how this is used to date the amulets. This is important to answer the critics who have suggested the amulets were not as old as the excavator claimed they were. The present article will not deal with the technical aspects of the debate, as important as they are, but rather I would like to take you behind the scenes and share some of the human interest stories relating to the discovery, unrolling, announcement and publication of these two amulets.

Monday morning, July 30, 1979, is as clear in my mind as if it were yesterday. It was about 6 am when I arrived at the excavations below St. Andrew’s Scottish Presbyterian Church, a site that would later be known as Ketef Hinnom, “the shoulder of Hinnom,” located just across the Hinnom Valley from the area known as Mount Zion south of the Old City of Jerusalem.

St. Andrews Church as seen from the Hinnom Valley. The Cinemateque is below in the vally. The Iron Age tomb where the silver scrolls were found is located in the rock outcrop in front of the church.

The director of the excavation, Gabriel Barkay, known to his students and friends as Goby, asked me, “Gordon, how energetic are you?” I replied, smiling, “As energetic as a 25 year old person could be.” “Good,” he said, “I want you to clean out that cave over there with three Israeli junior high students.” I was up to the challenge. As I headed for the cave, Goby confided, “By the way, the cave might be loaded. But remember, archaeology is NOT a treasure hunt.” Thus began one of the most interesting weeks of my life.

This was one of the first archaeological excavations I ever worked on and now I was an area supervisor of three junior high Israeli students! I was about to receive a crash course with on the job training in Methodology of ...

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