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Dutch archaeology is like commercial television, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine

Dutch archaeologists are disreputable characters, according to a spokesperson of the Dutch Ministry of Finance, on 12 December 2005.

After the wreck of an eighteenth-century Dutch trading vessel, carrying a cargo of silver, was identified off the British shore, the discoverers soon got in touch with the Finance Ministry and the Dutch National Service for Archaeological Heritage. It was decided by these organizations, however, that Dutch archaeologists would not be invited to investigate the find, because, according to the spokesperson, "we were afraid that disreputable characters would dive for treasure".

He meant that the Ministry wanted to prevent private treasure hunters being attracted to the wreck, but there was also the implication that Dutch archaeologists are no longer to be trusted. Tell them about an interesting discovery and in no time, the news will get out.

And indeed, Dutch archaeologists know how to use the press. Not so long ago, a medieval wall was excavated in Amsterdam. The city archaeologist announced it to be the castle of the first lords of Amsterdam, even though the wooden foundations were obviously not that old. Or take the Roman helmet from Leidsche Rijn that was presented in the summer of 2005. It was decorated with a representation of the goddess Cybele, and was claimed to be of great importance due to the rarity of her cult. Nonsense: Cybele was a perfectly ordinary deity in the Low Countries.

The same rules apply for Dutch archaeology as for commercial television: if you're unable to show something spectacular, your sources of money will run dry. The consequences were demonstrated recently in Nijmegen. For years, archaeologists have been fooled by a forger who carved Christian symbols on Roman shards. The city archaeologists swallowed it jubilantly, even though some of their colleagues pointed out that one of the shards dated back to the first century. Before Christ.

The hoaxes were supposed to be the showpieces on an exhibition at the Valkhof Museum called "Nijmegen, the oldest city of the Netherlands". That's not the whole truth either, but let's allow that to Nijmegen's treasure hunters.

[A Dutch version of this article was published in De Volkskrant, 17 December 2005.]

Marcel Hulspas for
Livius.Org, 2005
Revision: 17 Dec. 2005
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