Monday, 24 November 2014

Dr. Craig Evans on First Century Fragment of Mark

Dissolving one artefact to get more small bits of artefact
Here's a guy getting so excited about finding a first century manuscript of a first century text that he's totally oblivious to the destruction of archaeological material ("hundreds of low-end mummy masks") it entails. They date the fragment "to the eighties" - what was the dating of the cartonnage, and was that dating from context or style/guesswork? By the way they generally did not accompany sarcophagi. Getting the mask off the wrapping was usually accompanied by the destruction of the whole mummy. Now these guys with their atrocious accents and patronising attitudes are destroying what's left to get their hands on  trophy exhibits.


UPDATE 22.01.15

Please note that eight people have had their say on this article (one I disallowed because it was insulting) and I consider comments closed on this topic.

UPDATE 5.2.15
David Meadows has spotted that Evans is NOT using documenting photos of the mask that was used to recover the new Mark fragment - but one that is still intact (thankfully it did not get in the hands of private collectors) in an Australian public collection. Note caption here: "This mummy mask was one of the masks that the researchers took apart to reveal ancient papyri. This mummy mask is similar to the one that contained the first century gospel fragment. Credit: Courtesy of Prof. Craig Evans". As I said, it is Ptolemaic.

12 comments: said...

I think there are probably more substantive criticisms one can make of people than that they have atrocious accents...

Paul Barford said...

The phrase was "atrocious accents and patronising attitudes" and is intended to be read as a whole and in the context within which I write. I think the patronising attitude to the remains of the past of an Other goes with a certain mindset on the North American continent these folk come from.

If you look a bit deeper than required for knee-jerk reactions, you will find plenty of substantive criticism in this blog of all who destroy archaeological evidence to gratify their own personal needs.

MarkBrooks said...

Calumsblog is right, this was a petty remark, and one made without full knowledge of the facts. There are a great many of these masks, and many of those in very poor condition. Who is to decide which is more valuable, the mask or the document? If the owner is satisfied, there is no legitimate complaint from a third party. And a complaint based on identity politics or atheistic predilection doesn't have much legitimacy anyway. "Smug" and "knee-jerk" would be a fair description of that kind of attitude, not of serious scholarship.

ParaManic said...

While I don't disagree with the main thrust of your criticism (the conscious and probably unnecessary destruction of one type of evidence to get at another), I wonder if you have ever viewed the widely circulated film on papyrology (ca 1964, from Britain) that shows the application of sulphuric acid to a mummy mask to get at the underlying papyrus documents (in a French lab, I think)? It causes me shudders even today, and sadness that it has been unnecessarily imitated.
Bob Kraft, Emeritus Prof. of Religious Studies, UPenn

Paul Barford said...

"without full knowledge of the facts" well, in the case of the "Mark", it's taken them three years so far to get a full report out. When it comes out, I am sure we will all know the "full facts" but what we see and hear (and what is being kept from us) now leads us to believe that nothing very good has been going on here.When that report is out, we will see just how much what was done, how and why complies with anyone's definition of "serious scholarship".

"There are a great many of these masks"
No there are not, not ones that have been legally acquired.

"If the owner is satisfied, there is no legitimate complaint from a third party. And a complaint based on identity politics or atheistic predilection doesn't have much legitimacy anyway".
Doesn't it? So decisions taken by Real True Christians on other premises are somehow more valid than those other ones?

What do you mean "based on identity politics" anyway? If these artefacts have been smuggled (let's say) out of Egypt, sold on the black market, and if Egypt says "please can we have them back" you shout "identity politics, no, we want to trash them", that is somehow a reasonable approach? And if Egypt does not know Mr Green, Brown or Redd has them stashed away, you trash them anyway saying "there was no legitimate complaint from a third party"?

Where was this debated, where is the research programme? Or was an arbitrary decision taken, and something trashed just on the off-chance that some trophy piece would be found inside?

PaulT said...

All archaeology is controlled destruction of what is being studied. Should we stop that, too?

Paul Barford said...

"All archaeology is controlled destruction of what is being studied. "

REALLY??? OMG all those years I've been doing it, and I had never realised, thank you Mr T for explaining it to me using your wonderful "Two Wrongs" brand of argument.

Over here in Yurope, most of it today is done in response to a threat and is funded by the developer. The only threat to these mummy masks is they are owned by North American philistines who think they have the right to destroy them in pursuit of their own greedy trophy-hunting ends.

Anyway, dunking them in a bath of water with 'palmolive' and wringing them out and pulling them apart (just LOOK at those videos) is not, I repeat not, in any sense at all "controlled". It is just destruction of archaeological artefacts in pursuit of ... well what?

As I say, we await the report of this "controlled excavation" of the mummy mask. I will be paying especial attention to the stratigraphy and the way it is recorded.

Philip Hornsey said...

There is potential to recover data this way. Business documents could provide additional information on the lifeways of the people in question. We might find books (which were of course much shorter than what we think of) and all of this might be far more consequential than the masks themselves. Under what circumstances would you believe it appropriate to do this, or are you advocating for leaving everything as is and awaiting better technology? How about allowing the dissolution of less important pieces after careful documentation with high resolution scans in all three dimensions? Yes, this is a “treasure hunt” but so much written material has been lost and how much might this tell us?

I would add that some private collectors are just going to do what they want, but perhaps it would be more useful to establish some guidance for those who take the decision to do this. It’s problematic, but it is a bit different than melting down Aztec statuary and jewelry for its gold, or looting graves to sell trinkets.

Bill Asbury said...

Given the magnitude of this find one would expect Barford to be ecstatic yet we find him churlish.


Cusanus said...

I know very well in the 1800s that thousands of these mummies were tossed into the boilers of locomotive engines. They were a good source of fuel and relatively cheap at the time.

Paul Barford said...

Some "Tao X" left a comment attacking other commentators here. I'd like to remind readers of the rules for comment posters in the left sidebar. Comment not approved.

Paul Barford said...

Philip Hornsey reckons he’s going to give me a folksy lecture me on “how to study the past”. I suggest that to study “the lifeways of the past” we could start with the unpublished archives of papyrus fragments already above ground and in scattered collections (Oxyrhnchus for a start – massive amounts unpublished).

As far as I am concerned, the best way to look at lifeways is through the archaeological evidence. Let’s find the origin of a flood of illicit papyri that is currently coming onto the market, lock up the sellers, and then all those homegrown wealthy wannabe scholars who’ve been buying them can help fund a proper rescue excavation, not only papyri, but parts of clothing, household linen, animal bones and other remains from food consumed, coprolites with parasites, household pottery and utensils, amulets and talismans, personal items and accessories, floor sweepings with insect remains and so on and so on, and all in proper association and identifiable context. That is “studying lifeways”.

In any case, I have yet to see any information that the business and other non-scriptural papyri from these mummy masks are being published to the same level of detail in the forthcoming volumes. Maybe that is what is delaying publication?

> it would be more useful to establish some guidance for those who take the decision to do this. <
How about “don’t”?

Bill Asbury rudely reckons I am merely being “churlish” and should recognize the reported “magnitude of this find”. Hmm. Some guy who people later called “Mark” wrote a Gospel, one of many texts on related subjects created in the milieu in the first century AD. A lot of people believe this one is true, now they have a piece which they think is the earliest bit of his text. Ummm… I really do not see any real “magnitude”, what I see is a group of people who seeking acceptance for their views treating it as some kind of talisman and trophy. I am talking about where they got it from. The “magnitude” which a special interest group sees in it does not justify everything.

Mr “Cusanus” from Australia attempts to answer my point that there are not so many of these cartonnage masks left and we should preserve archaeological material. His reply is to point out that he “knows very well” [that] “thousands of these mummies were tossed into the boilers of locomotive engines”. He seems to think that his 'Two Wrongs' argument makes them MORE common now than in the 1880s. I'd not presume to lecture an Aussie soil scientist on well-known anecdotes from the history of pedology, I’d be grateful if he’d extend me the same courtesy.

I think this comments thread is beginning to look like one on the Sunday Mirror, and we are going round in circles. I’m now closing comments on this. I am sure mummy mask trashing and the terrible things unthinking private collectors do to archaeological artefacts which unfortunately have ended up in their ‘tender care’ will come up again. Save it for then, please.

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