It offends me as an archaeologist

8 Nov

I frequently think about dialogue from the 90s sitcom Seinfeld. There’s a funny line applicable to almost any life situation imaginable. Here’s one of my favorite exchanges from the 1997 episode “The Yada, Yada, Yada”:

Father Curtis: [in a confessional booth] Tell me your sins, my son.

Jerry: Well, I should tell you that I’m Jewish.

Father Curtis: That’s no sin.

Jerry: Oh, good. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about Dr. Whatley. I have a suspicion that he’s converted to Judaism just for the jokes.

Father Curtis: And this offends you as a Jewish person?

Jerry: No, it offends me as a comedian!

We’re all capable of being offended on multiple overlapping levels: personally, professionally, spiritually… It’s often tempting to use a blog as a place to rant about things that offend us, and I resist the temptation to do that. Mostly. You can read back through previous posts to see that evolution denial really aggravates me. It aggravates me as an anthropologist, a scientifically literate person, an intellectually honest person, a father of school-aged children, etc. I’m comfortable blogging about evolution because, as much as people try to treat it as an opinion-based political issue, it is a scientific theory central to my research – one that I hate to see intentionally misrepresented.

This has inspired me to start an ongoing, occasional series called “It offends me as an archaeologist.” Even with that limitation, there is plenty to be offended by, though I will stick to archaeological topics and not post every time “someone on the internet is wrong.”

In August of this year I was offended (actually devastated and heartbroken) by the public beheading of Syrian archaeologist Khaled al-As’ad. He was an 82-year-old professor and antiquities expert who was murdered by ISIS because he would not reveal the location of even more artifacts for them to petulantly destroy. Al-As’ad was a hero who simply refused to go along with their infantile need to destroy all evidence of the world before Islam (which originated a mere 1500 years ago, leaving a lot of prior history to destroy).

Khaled al-Asaad in front of a rare sarcophagus dating from the first century.

We should all honor the memory of Khaled al-As’ad. The fact that this elderly scholar proved threatening to a terrorist organization reveals his strength and their weakness.

2 Responses to “It offends me as an archaeologist”

  1. jrabdale 11/12/2015 at 8:01 am #

    I’m sorry to say that this is nothing knew. Early Christians defaced or destroyed statues of Greek and Roman gods because they represented a non-Christian religion. When the Arabs invaded Egypt, they broke the nose off of the sphynx because they said it was an idol (at least that’s what I’ve heard). Early Protestants destroyed irreplacable Catholic or Orthodox paintings, stained-glass windows, statues, and icons. The Nazis re-wrote their history by hiding or destroying all things that were not connected with a so-called glorious Germanic past, as well as Germanic artifacts that didn’t fit in with the Nazis’ pre-determined image of their history. The Khmer Rouge destroyed almost everything connected to a pre-Communist past in Cambodia. The Taliban destroyed monumental Buddha statues in Afghanistan, which they now say they regret doing. And don’t even get me started on what ISIS has done. It makes me want to vomit. Some people are martyrs of faith. Doctor Khaled al-As’ad was a martyr of knowledge. ISIS killed him because he wanted to preserve knowledge and they wanted to erase it.

  2. jrabdale 11/19/2015 at 7:49 am #

    Oops, I meant to write “new”, not “knew”.

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