Editors' PageMay / June 2001
The Two Faces of the AIA
Last December I decided that we should give the Archaeological Institute of America a break. Our editor in chief, Hershel Shanks, had been taking the AIA's current leadership to task for their fanatical, often inconsistent and largely ineffective policies dealing with the problem of archaeological looting.
As I riffled through the schedule for the upcoming annual AIA conference in San Diego, I thought: "Hershel is right, but those who control the AIA today aren't the AIA; it is in fact a greater, more distinguished and embracing institution." The January 2001 conference, for example, would feature talks on Amazons, Cretan hieroglyphics, excavations in the Athenian Agora, the relation between Greek and Roman art, the archaeological evidence for the running long jump, the archaeology of the Andes, Michael Ventris's spectacular decipherment of the Linear B script, the failed attempts to decipher Linear A, African burial rituals, the career of the linguist Emmett L. Bennett, Jr., Greater Zimbabwe, Pompeian frescoes, Etruscan sculpture, maritime archaeology in the eastern Mediterranean—and much, much more. Where else can you find so much witty, intelligent, passionate discussion of the ancient past? This is the real AIA.
Then I got a disturbing telephone call. It was from a member of our Editorial Advisory Board, who over the past few years has become a friend. He is an industrious, gentle, clear-minded scholar with two young children—and he has been extremely helpful over the years in giving me advice. On the phone, his voice was agitated; the words seemed to force themselves out, and then they burst forth. AIA members, acting as agents of the AIA, told him that his career would be hurt if he maintained an official connection to our organization. Until he resigned from our board, they said, he could not serve in any official capacity with the AIA. They told him: Just resign quietly but keep doing what you are doing, only unofficially.
Their reasons? They dislike the antiquities ad that appears inside the back cover of this issue and the photo of the prism [8.5 inch-high block listing more than 400 of the king's workers] that appears on page 33. The prism, now in a private collection, was bought on the antiquities market. According to current AIA policies, this unprovenanced object cannot be discussed in any AIA publication or presented at AIA-sponsored conferences. The AIA insists that its members pretend that such objects do not exist.
But the prism does exist, and it is an object of great interest: Its cuneiform text mentions an otherwise unknown kingdom, Syrian Tikunani. The text is mainly a list of names, mostly Hurrian, possibly suggesting that its king, (see Gernot Wilhelm, "When a Mittani Princess Joined Pharaoh's Harem," p. 28). And the prism also refers to the mysterious , a word some scholars have connected to the word "Hebrew."
Is it reasonable to forbid scholars—or even you and me—access to such ancient objects? Is it reasonable to punish scholars and interested laymen who take a different view?
Not surprisingly, this problem arose at the AIA San Diego conference. Another member of our advisory board, the distinguished Cypriot archaeologist Vassos Karageorghis, gave a talk on Cypriot art. In Karageorghis's view, if you are going to discuss Cypriot art in a scholarly way, you discuss it on the merits; you do not leave out a sizable portion of that art for political reasons, simply because the current AIA leadership deems it tainted and unworthy of publication. Some of the works Karageorghis felt compelled to discuss are in private collections. So he offered a few words of apology—and they were sincere words, of course, for Karageorghis detests, as we all do, the sort of archaeological plundering responsible for unearthing many unprovenanced works—and then did what scholars are meant to do, consider the facts.
Nothing was said to Karageorghis about being on our board, for he is an internationally renowned archaeologist. Nor was anything said to other distinguished scholars and archaeologists who hold official positions with the AIA and serve on the boards of Archaeology Odyssey and our sister magazine Biblical Archaeology Review. The AIA's current leaders do not have the professional standing of these men and women, so they don't dare attack them. Instead they go after a younger, more vulnerable scholar, who is rightfully concerned about his family and professional prospects.
My advice to him? This was not the time for him to stand his ground. All of us at Archaeology Odyssey are sorry to see him go.—J.M.
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