Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
Israel's Reburial Debate Volume 49 Number 5, September/October 1996
by Haim Watzman

Archaeologists and ultraorthodox Jewish groups are expected to vie for seats on a committee that will review the excavation of some sites in Israel where human remains are found. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to create the oversight body shortly after his election this past May. The decision represents the latest development in a decades-old dispute between archaeologists who excavate sites with tombs and religious groups that believe such excavations violate Jewish religious law. Archaeologists were dealt a setback two years ago when Israel's attorney general ruled that all human remains found during rescue excavations at construction sites must be handed over to the Ministry of Religion for immediate reburial.

Netanyahu's victory was due in part to the support of religious parties, including the ultraorthodox Torah Judaism party, which asked for a total ban on tomb excavation among its conditions for joining the new government. It also demanded that the Antiquities Law be amended to wrest control of salvage excavations from the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Both demands were rejected by the new prime minister after intensive lobbying by the country's leading archaeologists, who argued that a ban on tomb excavations would be a serious blow to archaeology. Exactly what guidelines the committee will follow in determining who is allowed to dig what has yet to be determined.

© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America