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Common Ground


Feet of clay: on the troublesome uses of archeology, past and present

Each year, the City of David, the archaeological site believed to be the ancient core of Jerusalem, attracts some six hundred thousand tourists, who come to see the place where King David may have ruled in the 10th century bc. The problem is that, as Harper’s Magazine senior editor Rachel Poser explains in our September issue, the City of David is no scientific operation. Elad, the organization that manages it, is in fact “a right­wing settler group that employs archaeology as part of a long-term effort to strengthen Israeli control over Jerusalem,” and the City of David is only one of many such projects that, taken together, constitute a threat to the legitimacy of archaeological research throughout the region. Poser, who once trained as an archaeologist herself, charts the uneasy history of archaeology as a “national vocation” in Israel, from the country’s founding to the current use of excavations as both justification and method for evicting Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

In this episode, Poser speaks with Israeli archaeologist Rafi Greenberg—a vocal critic of Elad, a professor at Tel Aviv University, a cofounder of the nonprofit Emek Shaveh, and a subject in the article—about his political disillusionment, the possibilities and limitations of the archaeological record, and an experiment in decolonized excavation.

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