A BAR advertisement has been labeled “defamatory” by 16 faculty members of Tel Aviv University’s Institute of Archaeology.
The ad, placed in repeated issues of BAR, features a picture taken at a lecture given by Tel Aviv University professor Yuval Goren reporting on his excavation at Tel Sochoh, about 29 miles southeast of Tel Aviv. In the picture, Professor Goren stands beside a screen showing a mechanical excavator, often referred to as a backhoe or bulldozer, in operation at the site.
In the latest version of the ad, the picture is headed: “Cater-Pillaging—The Stratigraphy of Tel Socoh,” a pun on the name of the Caterpillar company that manufactures bulldozers, backhoes and similar equipment, and characterizes Professor Goren’s excavation as pillaging.
The advertisement in BAR was paid for by Robert Deutsch, a leading Israeli antiquities dealer, a lecturer at Haifa University, a former member of the staff of Tel Aviv University’s excavation at Megiddo, a sometime BAR author and a recently acquitted defendant in the famous forgery trial in Jerusalem clearing him of all charges.
The use of mechanical equipment in a professional archaeological excavation is usually considered a cardinal sin, although it is permitted in some circumstances, such as the clearing of topsoil, not involving actual archaeological excavation.
Professor Goren maintains in a statement that his use of a backhoe occurred not on the tell at Tel Sochoh, but “in a valley south to it,” where he had found “waste remains of a ceramic workshop.” His first attack on this area (Area B) was to measure standard 5x 5 meter squares, one of which can be seen in the picture, followed by careful excavation by hand. After a week of digging and finding nothing, Goren decided to finish the job with “a [mechanical] digger to make sure that no archaeological remains existed at what was apparently virgin soil.”
The statement by Tel Aviv University archaeologists states that “There was no use of a mechanical excavator on Tel Socoh. The slide shown in the ad illustrates work carried out in a wadi (valley) near the mound, as a sequel to a systematic manual excavation from the surface. . . This is a common method in archaeology.”
“Is it in the wadi?” Deutsch responds. “Or is it on the slope of the tell,” where it is clear from the picture that the excavation was begun in a standard five-meter square? Deutsch adds that if, as Goren claims, it is so common to use these mechanical diggers, why is it that in 20 years at Megiddo, the university’s major excavation where he worked, he never saw a bulldozer, “not on the tell and not on the lower terraces.”
Perhaps some of our readers who are better informed on archaeological practice will weigh in on whether bulldozers are justified—or common—in the circumstances described at Tel Sochoh.