Tuesday, September 10, 2013


There are several issues regarding modern archaeology. Questions seem to naturally rise in the minds of people who think about the concept, such as: “How much does archaeology actually benefit modern science and history? Is it really worth destroying the earth to find historical information that just seems completely arbitrary? Is it morally permissible to disturb certain cultures in order to get a few bits of information? These are just a few of several concerns. On what seems to be the opposite end of the spectrum, other concerns focus on issues involving the historicity of the book of Mormon for instance. Is the book of Mormon really credible historically? It seems that since archaeology consists of evidence from historical events, then there should be large amounts of artifacts and ruins that still exist where the book of Mormon claims that wars and such took place.
Archaeology is apologetical in that it challenges historical claims with little bias. Think about it... if there were a group of Native Americans centuries ago on top of a mountain chipping away stone to make arrowheads and such, then because stone doesn’t decompose as quickly as modern litter, if we dig carefully enough, we should be able to find these stone chips. If someone were to say, “Native Americans never existed.” The artifacts that have been found would simply disagree.  Likewise, if there are legends and records of past events, Investigation should confirm or deny some of these events. Simply put, it is what it is. Whether archeology proves biblical history, or puts the historicity of the book Mormon into serious question, the goal of archaeology is to learn the truth of what happened, where it happened, why it happened, who was involved, and when the actual events took place.

To dig or not to dig
The question of whether or not archaeology should be performed, in comparison to the ethics of abortion or euthanasia, seems clear. It should be performed because of the benefits and knowledge taken from it, but should be done with respect to culture, and not to mention, it should disturb the surface of the earth as little as possible for the sake of vegetation and aesthetics. It has not only benefitted modern science and medicine, but is also extremely beneficial to the Bible as well as secular history, in that it supports and corrects theories with evidence.

Archaeology gives us understanding of ancient medicines and science which logically help people understand such things better in present times.
Obviously, if an action was documented by someone (or documented by the surroundings of the action) in the past, those who are in the present can logically benefit from it. Think of it as a somewhat cryptic testimony.

‘Scientists recently exhumed the bodies of victims of the 1918 flu epidemic because they had been buried in marked graves. Data from this research has been crucial in preparing medical defenses against future epidemics,’ added Mays.
‘Archaeological research has also shown that until relatively recently, children were weaned around the age of three,’ said archaeologist David Miles, ‘for the reason that late-weaned children were better protected against infections. Weaning children early, as we do today, is not necessarily a good thing, the lesson of history would suggest.’[1]

Since Children were weaned until a later age to fight infection, it seems that applying this practice to third world countries, for instance, may prove to be beneficial in regards to improving health and immune systems. The fact of whether or not there exists a moral issue is another story.
Ancient Egyptians have taught the modern world a considerable amount on preserving the deceased. Now that many procedures of the mummification process are common knowledge because of the history books found in public schools, it seems to spark curiosity among many modern scientists:

Bodies donated to science generally serve as interactive textbooks for the next generation of doctors… But some corpses go beyond the call of duty. Thirteen years ago, the donor—then a man in his seventies—died of a stroke, and the body was handed over to Bob Brier, an Egyptologist at Long Island University, and Ronald Wade, director of the Maryland State Anatomy Board. After removing and pickling all the organs except the heart, Brier and Wade buried the body under hundreds of pounds of natron (basically baking soda and salt) for 30 days to dehydrate it. Once they removed the clumps of soggy natron, Brier and Wade sprinkled the desiccated body with frankincense and myrrh.[2]

This article goes on to explain that there were tissue samples donated to many different scientists for their own separate research. “Corthals[3] experimented with samples from the modern mummy and found she could retrieve plenty of DNA from the bones but nothing useful in the skin or other tissues. That was enough to convince the council[4] to let Corthals go to work on the would-be Hatshepsut[5][6] In other words, the process of this modern mummification has already helped in determining some important factors to the public eye.
Another article on the same subject helps us understand a controversy that has been going on for quite some time. The question in focus is how the body was dried with natron, a substance of salt and baking soda. “This technique would require large vats to soak the corpses in, no evidence to support this theory has ever been found. Instead, there is evidence of large tables being used for the drying process. But it has never been clear why these tables are nearly six feet across, wide enough to fit two corpses. These and many more questions were answered during the mummification of Mumab[7].[8]
Now since we have seen that questions have been answered with modern science’s look at the ancient, the next question is whether or not this whole situation is ethical. The man who donated his body to “science” is something one might wonder if this man, while living, would have thought this to be considered science. Nevertheless, he left the decision of what happens to his body in the name of the person or group of people who decide what seems to them, to be a–no boundary–ethical issue. Since the Egyptians, roughly five thousand years ago, have decided to figure out a way to preserve their dead, one can definitely come to the conclusion that the act of archaeology doesn’t reach an immoral or unethical issue. In other words, because they are preserving their dead, aside from religious beliefs, it seems logical that they would have no reason to quarrel about exhuming the deceased. The issue of culturally focused offenses is another story. It is a question in which we probably could not answer without the help of a time machine.

Biblical archaeology brings life to the Bible, and also proves its history.
There are many references that can be found in Scripture showing certain things such as the name of the City of David found in some Biblical books such as 2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, and 1 Chronicles, for a few examples. In other words, these places with names such as this have been in existence since early Biblical times, and still exist in modern day. As opposed to other “ancient” writings such as what is found in the book of Mormon, the Bible speaks of recognizable, tangible places, helping to bring the Bible to life. The book of Mormon speaks of wars and cities and towns that the earth doesn’t currently have named after it, where certain events have taken place in the Bible people have named towns and cities after these events which are still named.
The findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Caves at Qumran are definitely a strong argument for the fact that Biblical history is hard to deny. “In a cave in the Judean Desert cliffs south of Qumran, Bedouins in 1947 found the first Dead Sea scrolls. Following this discovery, Qumran was excavated by the Dominican Father R. de Vaux in the years 1951-56. A complex of buildings, extending over an area of 100 x 80 m. was uncovered, dating to the Second Temple period.”[9] As is well known, the Second Temple period ended around 70 A. D. Since these buildings had copies of the Bible; books such as Genesis, Isaiah, Psalms and Deuteronomy, one can come to the conclusion that the highly skilled people in charge of this ancient library considered the contents of the books saturated with history very sacred.

The question of whether or not Biblical archaeology should be used to formulate secular history comes to mind. One can open nearly any study Bible and see a timeline that has both secular and Biblical events that take place. This holds a considerable amount of weight in the argument that the Bible should and can be used to formulate secular history. As with any type of archaeology, Biblical or secular, relics and artifacts are matched up with theories in history. Judging from what the archaeologist finds, whether it is something bronze or iron for example, possibly plays an integral part in the story as the surroundings of the subject. So it appears that if the desire is to know something about X, then because W and Y surround it and are known and found, more can be understood of X.
The Bible clearly tells us to “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21, NIV).[10] A paraphrase might sound like, “do what is reasonable to find out what the truth is.” Look at what some disciples’ reactions were when they heard the news of Jesus body not being in the tomb:

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. –John 20:3-8, (NIV)

There was clearly no disturbance of culture or earth, and no one was disrespected by their actions of going into the tomb.
In the Bible, the idea that God’s people will rebuild on ancient ruins is perfectly acceptable: “Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings” (Isaiah 58:12, NIV). The fact that the Israelites are pretty much told to rebuild on ancient ruins, shows the value of the ruins, which seems to have practical value.

Archaeological studies have proven some “historical” events to be fallacies that never actually took place.
The book of Mormon makes some extraordinary claims about there being wars with large numbers of warriors in the Americas.[11] The problem with this is that there has been no archaeological evidence to support these claims that the book of Mormon makes. “The Smithsonian Institution has never used the Book of Mormon in any way as a scientific guide. Smithsonian archeologists see no direct connection between the archeology of the New World and the subject matter of the book… No reputable Egyptologist or other specialist on Old World archeology, and no expert on New World prehistory, has discovered or confirmed any relationship between archeological remains in Mexico and archeological remains in Egypt.”[12] In other words, when someone does something, there is evidence of it. For every action there is a reaction!
Since there is so much archaeological evidence of ancient Greece and ancient Jerusalem, from ruins the whole way down to pottery, it is easy to not only believe the events in history that took place, but one can literally take a leap back in time and understand certain things with precision. Not so with Mormon history. Since there is no realistic archaeological evidence of Mormon history, it is not only hard to believe that the events written in the book of Mormon took place, it is also hard to put any type of credit into the book of Mormon because of this fact. The same logic can be used for the History in the Bible. Because we “see” the history that took place, the Bible has a strong argument for validity.

Archaeology is sometimes considered disrespectful to cultures whose ancestors are being excavated and to the actual deceased.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), is a federal law that requires items found to be returned—“human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, or objects of cultural patrimony—to lineal descendants, and culturally affiliated Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations.”[13] Now what seems to be ethical here is the fact that when a person’s grandparent dies, the material that was accumulated by them must go to the descendents. This ethic has been this way for thousands of years, but for some reason it must have seemed necessary to place the NAGPRA law in effect in 1990: “I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me” (Eccl. 2:18, NIV). So, clearly, this law being passed makes sense. The natural heirs are obviously the descendants. Disrespect takes place when someone digs illegally, and keeps the artifacts that they find.
There arises a question that points to the actual act of digging up graves. Whether these graves are Native American, ancient Egyptian or Israeli doesn’t matter, ethnicity concerning these morals holds no weight unless it were somehow religious to do such things, and even then it would be questionable. What are the things being disturbed here? Is it only the deceased? Or is it the lineage as well? If there are bodies that are being disturbed that are well over a hundred generations old, then there can obviously be no familial ties to those in the lineage living presently. Thus, the opposite end of the spectrum arises. If bodies are being excavated that are only one or two generations old, then emotional family ties still exist. The thing is though, there is probably only one reason that someone would be excavated if they were that recently buried.
The logic that seems to overrule the act of not digging up recent graves is because the case of their death is not closed, or has been reopened on a matter of justice. So because Justice has more ethical support than exhuming the dead, it seems relatively close to being along the lines of morally acceptable. If someone recently put the body in the ground, why does that same person not have the right to exhume the body? When the body is buried, does that mean from that point on it is not to be disturbed? If yes, is that because the person who buried the body has the divine authority to make the carcass to rest in peace? Obviously, only God can have that authority. “And Joseph’s bones, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem in the tract of land that Jacob bought for a hundred pieces of silver” (Josh. 24:32, NIV). Clearly humans are just movers of things of the earth, and sometimes, answers are more important than the disturbance of the deceased.

Archaeology, performed in a respectful manner, not only benefits modern science and medicine, but is also extremely beneficial to the Bible as well as secular history, in that it supports and corrects theories with evidence.
The historical impact of archaeological studies has proven to benefit several important factors in life. The easiest argument aiding in favor of archaeology is the fact that archaeologists have found so many things that involve historical events, as well as corrected theories, proven truth, forgeries and false accounts. Archaeology has provided a great deal of information for the classroom history books, subject material for museums and answers concerning long lasting controversies.
Future trends in the ethics of archaeology seem to point towards laws that will crack down on illegal digs and looting in a more punishable manner. Greed motivates certain people to do things such as create forgeries, perform illegal digs and trespass, leading to looting. It seems for these and other reasons, the Departments of Environmental Conservation and the Environmental Protection Agencies are at every site that concerns the disturbance of water or anything that is over a certain number of years in age.
Many archaeologists are hired by the U. S. government to do such things as govern the careful digs of construction when necessary, such as around Native American burial sites and such, as well as during the destruction and clean up of dams that were built a century or so ago, and have since breached. It doesn’t seem like archaeology has the future of what many people have come to believe due to movies like Indiana Jones and such, but at least in America, more of a future of protection and respect to culture, regulating disturbance to historical items, and occasionally,  actually looking for answers to questions that have been in controversy for years.

Dig deep
With all of these things in mind, whether or not to perform the act of archaeology seems clear. Because it gives us so much as far as knowledge is concerned, it not only should be performed, but it needs to be performed. Where do we draw the line as far as respect for the deceased? It seems that would all depend on how far away in generations the deceased is from the living descendents. Where do we draw the line as far as culture is concerned? Obviously, if people stick to the general rule of thumb that the descendents get what is found, then it would seem that there is less room for offense. In any event, we should “Test everything. Hold on to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21, NIV).

Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus 

[1] McKie, Robin; The Observer: Archaeology: Ancient Bones Could Help Combat TB. Sunday 13, July 2008 (http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2008/jul/13/medicalresearch.health).
[2] Peck, Morgen. Mummies Back from the Dead. (http://discovermagazine.com/2007/oct/mummification-is-back-from-the-dead October 15, 2007).
[3] A biomedical Egyptologist.
[4] The Supreme Council of Antiquities
[5]  One of four female pharaohs whose identity is not certain.
[6] Peck, Morgen. Mummies Back from the Dead. (http://discovermagazine.com/2007/oct/mummification-is-back-from-the-dead October 15, 2007)
[7] The name of the modern mummy.
[9] Israeli Foreign Ministry (IFM). Qumran: The American Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Archaeology/Qumran.html).
[10] All Bible quotations are from the New International Version.
[11] See Mormon, 6:10; Helaman 1:30-33; Alma 62:15; et. al. The Book of Mormon: (Corporation of the president of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints, Salt Lake City 1981).
[12] Smithsonian; Statement Regarding the Book of Mormon: (Department of Anthropology National Museum of Natural History MRC 112 Smithsonian Institution Washington, 1996); emphasis mine.
[13] National NAGPRA; FAQ: (National Park Service, Department of the Interior. http://www.nps.gov/history/nagpra/FAQ/INDEX.HTM).

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