Biblical Archaeology Review 36:4, July/August 2010

First Person: Archaeological Politics—Why Is Israel Different?

By Hershel Shanks

Not long ago, a news report landed on my desk describing an Egyptian archaeological project. The Egyptians were going to excavate the 1.7-mile avenue of the sphinxes that, almost 3,500 years ago, linked the grand temples of Luxor and Karnak. More than 1,350 sphinxes lined this glorious, but now buried, path.

There was only one problem with the project: 2,000 people now lived on the buried path. They would have to be dispossessed and relocated. The Egyptians allocated half of the project budget of 60 million Egyptian pounds to compensate these families who will be moved.

Another Egyptian archaeological project would require the demolition of the entire village of Gurna, located near the Valley of the Kings. The village was sitting over ancient tombs. Nearly 3,200 homes would have to be demolished. The government built new homes for the villagers about 2 miles away. Some villagers complained that the new houses weren’t big enough, but that was it.

The mention of the dispossessed Egyptian settlers was only an incidental part of the article, which was really about the planned projects.

All nations, including the United States, take pride in their history. We, too, want to explore our past, even when it’s not something to be proud of, like our country’s history of slavery.

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