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orion-list Bones, Beads and Battlefields
I hope the smoke over the "battlefield over 1200 dead men and a handful of
Bedouin women and children" has settled a bit and we can see the terrain
Regarding Joes (I wish the first name is still o.k. with you, Joe?)
comments on the beads, I still want to ask the simple question: if beads
were found in Jewish burials like En Gedi (as I have pointed out in QC
before), what makes the ones from Qumran exclusively Bedouin? The position
around the ankles? Maybe. Unfortunately the En-Gedi publication does not
tell exactly where the beads were found in the coffins. I hope Prof. Hadas
could help us here personally, and I wonder what his reaction would have
been if somebody had shown him a photograph with beads from En Gedi out of
their archaeological context. So far, I do not see any reason to take back
what I have said before: beads alone are no clear indication about the age
or the ethnicity of a burial.
Regarding the bones, I still see fundamental contradictions between Joe's
and the Germans' way of analysing and interpreting the material. Olav
Rohrer-Ertl clearly says in the first part of his analysis that there is no
reason whatsoever to separate the bones from the "fringes" from the rest,
not for osteoarchaeological, not for ethnical nor for any other reason
(op.cit. I 169ff). What Joe has said so far has not helped me in bridging
this gap. Apparently, the osteoarchaeological data (speaking "loud and
clear for themselves") do not speak the same language...
With Joe rightly admitting that the beads need not be exclusively Bedouin,
we face the problem of the C14 datings and the mysterious botanical
particles that caused so much dispute. Olav Rohrer-Ertl suggested with good
arguments that the best explanation for these particles is indeed to see
them as remains of packing material (op. cit. II, 229-231 with a microscope
picture of one particle for palaeobotanists to go for!). Unless anybody
comes up with any other plausible theory, I see no reason to question that.
Simply stating, as Joe does, that it is "hard to believe that this
material from the 16th-18th century was packing material" is not enough to
disprove it. Any better idea?
There is one severe problem if one takes the cork/bark particles for dating
the bones: My German colleagues identified and dated botanical particles
not only in Q34 (female) and QS 01 (female) (both East-West oriented,
therefore supposedly Bedouin), but also in Q 29 which is oriented
North-South, lies at the eastern edge of the center part of the main (!)
cemetery, contained an adult male (but not necessarily celibate...)!
Another modern Bedouin burial? In a North-South oriented grave?? Joe's
point does not help, it would cast doubt not only on the graves in the
supposedly "Bedouin fringes", but also on other parts of the cemetery, an
effect I suppose Joe cannot not like.
Let me turn to another topic that aleady has been widely discussed before.
Rochelle Altman has written:
(snip) IF Khirbet Qumran was originally constructed as one of
a ring of fortresses of similar design, THEN that is originally a _military_
cemetery. Males will necessarily predominate in a military cemetery.
Synchronic graves at a military cemetery will all have the same orientation
and the bodies will be laid-out in the same manner. (snip)
A big IF from which the big THEN does not necessarily follow. I am not sure
what Rochelle exactly means with "military cemetery"? I see two options: a)
If she is suggesting a cemetery containing soldiers and civilians killed in
action, I confess to be a "nay-sayer" here, too. There are (at least) three
reasons for my "nay": 1) From all we know about such cemeteries in
antiquity, soldiers from the ranks and files were never buried in
individual graves before the mid-19th century (the American Civil War
probably being a major watershed: a democratic society granting their
fallen an individual burial), but always in mass graves. I have the notion
you are a little anachronistic here. 2) None of the skeletons published so
far shows any traces of wounds typical for ancient warfare. 3) There are
other cemeteries in the region, notably Khirbet Qazone, that show a similar
layout as Qumran. They, however, clearly do not have a military background.
b) If she thinks the people in Qumran were veterans, families of soldiers
etc. having died naturally and been buried there over a long time, that
would make it hard to distinguish this cemetery archaeologically from any
other of similar layout. And I do not think that the Qumran settlement's
premier function was military.
Finally, let me close with the remark that I do not have to make up things
in order to get a job. I am happy with my academic position in NT studies,
and I am grateful for the sound training in field archaeology I received
from Carol and Eric Meyers over many years in Sepphoris (however, Eric
disagrees with me over Qumran). Neither was my article ever submitted to
any other Qumran journal, nor was it ever returned to me because it "could
not pass peer review" before I sent it in to Jan Kapera. I decided to have
it printed in QC because I admire Jan for his energy and respect him as a
colleague and friend.
With all respect and kind regards,
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