The Middle East “peace process”—may it be thy will, O Lord—has raised two thorny archaeological issues. Both have recently been in the news.
The first concerns archaeological finds recovered in territories taken in war and later ceded—or to be ceded—to other sovereigns. The results of 15 years of Israeli excavations in Sinaia will be turned over to Egypt, according to a recent agreement between the two countries. Now Palestinian archaeologists, anticipating a sovereign state or autonomous area in the West Bank and Gaza, are laying claims to the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well as to other finds that originated in those two places.
The second issue concerns the Israeli Antiquities Authority’s Operation Scroll—the recent search near Jericho and Qumran for more scrolls.
Both issues involve the competing claims of patrimony and sovereignty, the rights of cultural heirs versus the rights of modern nation-states that own the land. But, as we shall see, there are other considerations as well.