“The scientific explanation behind the study of antiquity does not exist.”

“The scientific explanation behind the study of antiquity does not exist.”

If the media write about antiquity, they do not go further than simply reporting “unique treasures.” This is unjustified, says science journalist Jonah Lendering. He wrote a book about it.

'I had had Archeology is a science “Reading is better than writing,” sighs historian and science journalist Jonah Lendering as we talk about his latest book. 'And in fact the subtitle, And you can explain that too, should be completely unnecessary. But unfortunately: the truth is that an explanation of the scientific process underlying the study of antiquity is often lacking.

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According to Lendering, this essentially means that the general public does not take antiquity seriously. “If antiquity is discussed in the media and in popular scientific literature, it is often in the form of trivia. Discoveries quickly become 'treasures', and the discoveries are always unique.”

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Another consequence of the fact that archaeologists seem unable to explain to the general public how they obtain their information—what they know, but especially what they don't know and why—is that incorrect information often goes unchallenged. For example, stories keep emerging about Archimedes' Mirror or the sunken city of Atlantis.

“Pseudoscience is not the only problem.” Nationalism (think, for example, of the constant attempts to link the city of Jerusalem to King David), religious satanists (Christian apologists and Jesus seekers) and scholars who use their research to please their supporters: these are all causes that mislead people. It spreads and reaches the public.”

The result is that a part of the public believes that scholars who deal with antiquity have nothing to offer. They don't seem to have a way.

Scientific process

The latter is not true, as Lindering shows in his new book. “Archaeologists, literary scholars, linguists, and historians share the same subject: the world and culture of the Romans, Greeks, Jews, Egyptians, and Mesopotamians from approximately 3000 B.C. to 650 A.D. They also work according to the same scientific process. People ask questions, collect data, and test hypotheses.” , they identify limitations, and then ask new questions.The main methodological problem is the fundamental lack of measurement data, which means that there are things in antiquity that we cannot yet know.

Changing perspectives in society also give rise to new research questions, leading to new insights, Lendering says. Take, for example, the question of the situation of slaves in antiquity. Why does the general public know almost nothing about this?

Lending points to the limited exchange between different disciplines as an important reason. Sometimes classicists, who study texts from antiquity, don't know what archaeologists know. Conversely, archaeologists underestimate the importance of information contained in ancient languages. The importance of DNA research and other technology-based innovations is also not adequately understood due to lack of appropriate exchange.

Lending sees an important reason as the increased workload among scientists. As a result, they are not able to transfer knowledge as much as they would like.

To communicate

Where things also go wrong is the way universities and museums communicate. Press releases, which journalists often rely entirely on due to lack of time and knowledge, are often used to draw attention to research, please sponsors or simply to attract the largest possible audience, even if it is not true. Incomplete or biased information.

Finally, there is the questionable role of publishers. Lending: The Book End of the Roman Empire by Martin van Rossem, full of outdated and partly incorrect information, made it appear at about the same time Romans and barbarians He barely received any attention from the well-known specialist Jeroen Wijnendael.

Support base

LENDING: Don't get me wrong, I have great respect for monument people who have to work under difficult conditions. But they are currently unable to introduce people to the scientific process: formulating questions, obtaining data, testing, self-doubt, and the occasional breakthrough.

According to Lindering, this must change, because if this continues, archeology will lose more support. “Then more people drop out and get rubbish information and incorrect information and… Fake news Every opportunity. This is bad because as a society we are losing the opportunity to think “truly” about our past.

“If we want to stop this decline, we must first improve training courses,” says Lendering. You can't expect someone to know enough after four years to realize what they don't know. This is a basic requirement in a science where the scarcity of data is taken for granted. Interdisciplinarity should not be just talk, as is the case now, but should be given real form. So that different disciplines really know what each is doing, and that real breakthroughs are recognized by everyone. It is also important not to raise any barriers while transferring knowledge. By this I mean that journalists should be able to verify the information provided. Information is often lagging behind a paywall. And Last but not least, Communication should not only convey information, but also provide depth.

In his book Lending he approaches mainly the latter. Because if no opportunity for further exploration is presented after the facts are presented, people will still drop out or be drawn into pseudoscience. Because thanks to social media, it has always been widely available.


Read our review here Archeology is a science.

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