Bafflingly bad history

The world would be boring if we all agreed on everything all the time. People disagree with each other in every field of endeavour, and history and archaeology are no different. However, sometimes you come across a story and it’s obvious that something just isn’t right. It can be that somebody has twisted the facts, that they’ve made a leap not supported by the evidence, or that somebody is seeing what they want to see as opposed to what’s really there.

The last two definitely apply to this story, to which I came across a link to an article on Facebook earlier: King David’s palace found, Israeli team says.

Khirbet Qeiyafa city walls. Pic: Wikimedia Commons

Khirbet Qeiyafa city walls. Pic: Wikimedia Commons

Now, that’s not to say that they haven’t found a significant historical site. In this case it’s Khirbet Qeiyafa, a fortified area near Jerusalem that has been under excavation and study for years. According to Wikipedia (I know, I know, not quite authoritative) it is known by local Bedouin’s as Khirbet Daoud, or David’s ruin. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s actually David’s. Any number of sites across the world have become associated with historical and even mythical figures; there’s one in a forest near where I grew up called the Giant’s Grave, but that doesn’t mean there’s an actual giant buried in it.

The authority of the finders isn’t in question; they are professionals from a university and a state culture agency. However, they seem to have seriously jumped the gun on this one.

[Yossi Garfinkel, a Hebrew University archaeologist] said his team found cultic objects typically used by Judeans, the subjects of King David, and saw no trace of pig remains. Pork is forbidden under Jewish dietary laws. Clues like these, he said, were “unequivocal evidence” that David and his descendants had ruled at the site.

pzIug - Imgur

Er, no. I’m not an archaeologist and I know that. It is very dangerous to make a sweeping conclusion based on a lack of evidence, as opposed to a supposition based on some evidence. For me, the lack of pig remains simply means that there’s no evidence that pigs were slaughtered on the 3,000-year-old site. One would be entitled to suggest that, taken with typical religious artifacts, this means a Jewish community ruled it or lived there – it does not mean that it was a palace owned by one of the most important figures in Jewish history.

As the article by Max Rosenthal notes, other researchers think the site could have been built by the various other ethnic groups that lived and fought over the area at about that time. Granted, I haven’t been involved in the dig and haven’t seen the artifacts or filed reports, but this seems to be a case of over-interpreting data.

History is already fraught with enough dangers and missing links – we shouldn’t be out to add a few new ones to it.

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One thought on “Bafflingly bad history

  1. My initial reaction to these stories isn’t “What?!” or even “I don’t believe it”… it’s to fumble about in my man-drawer for my Bullshit Alarm (patent pending). I’ll file this away with the story about how they found St Paul’s skeleton…

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