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humor

Alternative archaeology and American Antiquity

I don't, admittedly, always read the reviews section of the SAA's flagship journal, American Antiquity. I am, however, quite glad that I did last month (or, more accurately, this month, since I didn't open the July issue until just a few days ago). That is because the current reviews section is devoted entirely to reviews of "alternative archaeology" titles, in a special reviews section, titled "Talking to the Guy on the Airplane." These are worth a read for a few reasons. First, many of them are quite funny, especially if you find "alternative archaeology" entertaining anyway, as I do. Second, many of the reviews make important points about why it is that people are much more interested in alternative archaeology than they are in actual archaeology (for lack of a better word). Stephen Lekson's review, in particular, has some good points about why "all archaeologists not named Brian Fagan" tend to be much less successful than alternative archaeologists at writing for a popular audience. Third, for archaeologists, who often tend to ignore this sort of thing, it's an interesting overview of what's actually out there in terms of alternative archaeology. For example, William Conner's Iron Age America gets a review. I occasionally see him posting to the ARCH-METALS mailing list, and have often wondered what he was all about. Well, now I don't have to wonder anymore!

I do find one thing very strange, though. One of the stated purposes of this special reviews section was to provide laypeople with an overview of what archaeologists actually think of various alternative archaeologies and why we reject those ideas. To quote, "Accordingly, the main intent of these reviews is to offer the silent and curious majority that is interested in these works a professional perspective on them" (Holly 2015: 616). This is, I think, a good goal, especially because, as Holly implies, most of the people who consume alternative archaeology are probably not "true believers." I'd argue, however, that the best way to engage this audience is not to bury these reviews in a closed-access PDF labeled only "Reviews" that only SAA members can download. This seems to me to miss the point. I should note that Holly has uploaded his introductory piece to his Academia.edu page, but maybe if the goal was to reach a wide audience of non-archaeologists, it would have made more sense to make the entire thing open-access to begin with? Or to make all of them open-access at all? Or to advertise this at all? To be fair, this is not the first time the SAA has done a less-than-stellar job of disseminating information to all of the people who might be interested in it. Still, it'd be nice if they did this time!

EDIT: In the course of my Googling on this topic, I've discovered that Jennifer Raff already wrote a better post on this a month ago. She's asked people to pester the SAA about making all of these reviews open-access, but this doesn't seem to have had much success yet, unfortunately.

Works Cited

Holly, Donald H., Jr. 2015. Talking to the Guy on the Airplane. American Antiquity 80(3):615-617.

You always have friends in Acre

This AP story promoting travel to Acre got forwarded around various archaeology lists the other day, and it got me thinking about my visit to Acre in 2009.  I was digging at Tell es-Safi at the time (there's a Crusader castle there, too, called Blanche Garde, although the current excavations focus on the earlier periods), and four of us decided to take a trip to see a few sites in northern Israel, including Acre, Caesarea Maritima, and Megiddo.  Acre was definitely a memorable place, and I'd say it's certainly worth a visit if you get a chance.The history of the site is, of course, fascinating.  As the article mentions, it was an important Frankish port up until its destruction in the late 13th century by the Mamluks, as part of a larger campaign wherein they destroyed nearly every Mediterranean port in the Levant (Gaza being the one exception).  Following that (and its abandonment in the 14th century), the city went through some ups and downs in the Late Islamic (Ottoman) period, and there are a few interesting stories there.  Notably, it was briefly a holding of Fakhr ad-Din II, starting in 1610.  Hartal (1997:111) describes that situation like this:

Following Fahr ed-Dîn's conquest of the city in 1610, he cleaned the harbor, renewed maritime trade, enlarged the city, and built some new buildings . . . In 1613, however, when the Ottoman Turks campaigned against him, Fahr ed-Dîn ordered the harbor to be filled in and had the city devastated.
I've always found this to be an amusing story, in a way.  In 1610, he cleans the harbor and expands the city, and three years later fills the harbor in and destroys part of the city.  There's also the story, mentioned in the AP article, of Napoleon's failed attempt to take the city in 1799, when it was controlled by Jazzar Pasha.  Al-Jazzar (الجزار), incidentally, is not a very nice nickname; it means "the butcher."  After Napoleon's unsuccessful siege, Jazzar Pasha understandably decided to fortify the city, using stone taken from the Crusader city as well as 'Atlit castle (Hartal 1997:112; generally, Hartal [1997] has a good, brief discussion of the post-Crusader architectural history of the city).Reading the story, though, I decided to go back and look at the photos I'd taken while I was there.  Of course, I got some nice, scenic shots of the city, like this one:Acre HarborLike most of coastal Israel, it really is a beautiful place.  I definitely wouldn't mind spending more time there.I also took quite a few photos of buildings in the Crusader city, like this one:AcreThis isn't the most interesting photo I've ever taken, but if you look at it closely you get some hints at the construction phases of the building.Then there's this one, taken in the refectory (dining hall) of the Hospitaller fortress in the old city:Acre, Crusader refectoryOh, hello there. . . didn't see you guys up there before.
1997     Hartal, MosheExcavation of the Courthouse Site at 'Akko: Summary and Historical Discussion. 'Atiqot 31:109-114.

Pleasure reading

In between the work I've been doing, I've also had some time to read a few things for my own amusement, and recently finished Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men on the Bummel, the equally-amusing-but-still-not-quite-as-good follow up to Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), from which the title of this blog is taken. In both books, Jerome often discusses the history of the places they visit, and many of these descriptions are pretty funny. Given my own work, I found this line in his description of Breisach especially good:

But when one begins to think of these things one finds oneself wondering why anybody in the Middle Ages, except kings and tax collectors, ever took the trouble to live at all