Gideon Avni, who heads the Archaeological Division of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), began his archaeology career in 1980. Since then, he has conducted extensive archaeological fieldwork throughout Israel. Here, Avni discusses the topic of salvage excavation. To read the full interview with BAR, visit biblicalarchaeology.org/rescue.
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What is a salvage excavation?
GIDEON AVNI: This is the basis: If you have antiquities on your property, the site and its artifacts are owned by the state—through the Antiquities Authority. The director of the Antiquities Authority has the right to decide what to do with the antiquities on your property. It can start by saying, “Don’t touch; you’re not allowed to do anything,” but then, after the proper documentation and excavation, you can often go on with your development or construction. The basic idea is that cultural heritage must be protected. This is a practice in many countries all over the world. In Israel, from the Negev in the south to the Galilee in the north, we have about 35,000 archaeological sites in 4,000 square miles, which makes it one of the densest concentrations of sites in the world. At the same time, it is a rapidly developing modern country. Immediately you face this tension: To build new cities, you sometimes must excavate and destroy ancient sites.
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What are the big differences between a rescue excavation and a university expedition?