(Inter-) National Treasure 3. A Tale of Junk Science, Pseudo-Archaeology, and the Copper Scroll

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Posted by Eric H. Cline, George Washington University

Gather ye round, my friends and colleagues, and let me point you to a wondrous tale — the story of an arson investigator from Oklahoma named Jimmy Barfield; a man with no training in archaeology or philology, yet who claims to have “cracked the code” of the Copper Scroll; a man who, by his own admission, cannot read Hebrew and is not an archaeologist, bible scholar, or ancient historian, and yet claims to have located nearly all of the treasures listed in the Copper Scroll. Gather round, I say, and hear a whopper of a tale, which advocates a cause, pays little attention to the investigative process, ignores contrary evidence, and advertises a high moral purpose. Sound familiar? Junk science, anyone? Ah, the stuff of summer — more tales of miraculous discoveries by pseudo-scientists who are able to “think and reason without a PhD.” The fun just never stops, does it? And yet it must. It is up to us, as the group of professionals most affected by such nonsensical claims, to stand up and protest immediately when stories like this are hawked on the Internet and in the popular media to an unsuspecting and gullible public. And we have; Bob Cargill, a member of ASOR’s fledgling Archaeology and the Media Committee, is a first responder; his essay rebutting Barfield’s claims can be found on the Bible and Interpretation website at http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/cargill2_08261.shtml. I urge everyone to read it and to move forward from there. If we do not say anything and do not begin to protect our “brand,” as Microsoft, Coke, IBM, and other entities do with a vengeance, then we shall continue to see such pseudo-archaeology practiced and our field continually sullied.

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4 Comments for : (Inter-) National Treasure 3. A Tale of Junk Science, Pseudo-Archaeology, and the Copper Scroll
  1. I happen to be the webmaster of a very large site on ancient history (livius.org), and I have since 1994 answered about 3600 questions on Antiquity. The real pseudoarchaeologists have, in those years, become increasingly marginalized; what really matters -and causes people to write to me- is outdated information that is sent into the world again by specialized scholars who talk about fields outside their direct specialism. Exaggerated claims in press releases by archaeologists are another problem.

    People like Barfield are not the main source of disinformation; it's the university itself, which does not live up to the standards we're entitled to expect. Without wanting to criticize Cargill, who does his best: he is fighting the wrong enemy. An enemy outside. But the real enemy is inside.

    For lazy scholars -and Barfield is not one of them- the pseudosciences are the best enemy they could possibly have, because they can show indignation and cry havoc, and do not have to look at themselves.

  2. Pingback: the insanity continues: jim barfield and the copper scroll project get another jpost article « The Official Blog of Dr. Robert R. Cargill

    • Geoff Hudson
    • September 30, 2009

    Eric Cline wrote: "If we do not say anything and do not begin to protect our “brand,” as Microsoft, Coke, IBM, and other entities do with a vengeance, then we shall continue to see such pseudo-archaeology practiced and our field continually sullied."

    "Protect our 'Brand' as Microsoft". Really! I can't say I like the language. I dare say archaeologists will do what they have always done, which is archaeology. Life is too short to bother otherwise.

  3. Pingback: now you can pay to hear the madness « The Official Blog of Dr. Robert R. Cargill

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