December 2, 2012

Edward Harris on the Iruña-Veleia affaire

Edward C. Harris, Director of the Bermuda Maritime Museum and world-famous among archaeologists for being the inceptor of the Harris matrix, which soon became standard procedure in all serious digs, wrote yesterday at The Royal Gazette on his recent visit to the Basque Country and the Iruña-Veleia affair. 

On this one he says the following:

In late November 2012, I was invited to the Basque Country to speak at a conference on archaeological works at the Roman town of Iruña-Veleia, a short distance from the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, being one of the leading experts in matters of stratigraphy in archaeology, the science that controls the excavation and recording of archaeological sites, and the subsequent analyses of portable heritage from such places. While it would have been easy to bask in the honour in which the “Harris Matrix” is held in such matters, at least with the Basques, the purpose of the conference was to review some of the subjects that have made Iruña-Veleia one of the most controversial sites in the world.

The issue revolves around classes of artifacts found at the site by an archaeological team led by Idoia Filloy and Eliseo Gill, objects of pottery, brick and bone that were reused as writing tablets and inscribed with words and pictures in later Roman times. The information contained on the artifacts appears to have conflicted with presently held views of the origins of the Basque language and other subjects, so much so that some experts declared them to be fakes, forged perhaps by the archaeologists who found them. Apparently without proof, academic or otherwise, the archaeologists have been hung out to dry in the media, which unfortunately is often the fate of the falsely accused, as one Lord McAlpine found recently when he was defamed by the BBC, no less, and ‘twittered’, almost to death.

As to motivation, one cannot ‘follow the money’, as there is, and will likely always be, a dearth of it in archaeology. A preliminary audit would suggest that the archaeologists conducted the excavations to modern standards, particularly in recording, but as artifacts can be moved without losing their integrity, it is difficult to comment on the placement of objects after a “dig” has finished. 

Given the complexity of the supposedly forged graffitti, all that one can say at this stage is that if the artifacts are forgeries, that the perpetrators of such a hoax are geniuses of the first order, but who, as archaeologists, would want to claim fame on the basis of such forgeries, when the real thing is usually of a far more abiding interest?

H/t to Iruña blog.

See also for background: category: Iruña-Veleia in this blog and its ancestor.

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