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Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Kafkian case of the archaeology of Iruña-Veleia

I have been recently posting on the controversy about the potentially most important Vasco-Roman site of Iruña-Veleia. Veleia was the Roman name, Iruña, "the city", the Basque term used for the area in Medieval and Modern times, in spite of not being anything but a monastery there anymore (memory is oddly stubborn sometimes).

Now K. Fernández de Pinedo writes at Herrian, a small magazine of the provincial government, mostly oriented to the rural areas, reviewing the process of criminalization of the lead archaeologists and how reports that are either neutral or clearly contradictory with the claims of falsification have mounted up without the institutions (provincial government of Araba, Basque public University) backing in their claims of falsehood.

Air picture of the house called "Pompeia Valentina" where most of the inscriptions were found, among the rubble used to ciment the building. The room of the findings is marked with an X.

The article (in Spanish) is provided by linguist Juan Martin Elexpuru at his dedicated blog: Iruña-Veleia, gezurra ala egia? (Iruña-Veleia, lie or truth?) as a PDF download. I can't translate it in its integrity (though I recommend all who are minimally fluent in Spanish and interested to take a direct look) but I can make a synthesis.

Elexpuru also provides an extensive private Flickr archive of photos of the Basque texts, with brief explanations in Basque, that should not be any major handicap for whoever is really interested in the matter.

The late chronology of the Iruña-Veleia case

In 2008 the ad-hoc Advisory Scientific Committee on Iruña-Veleia reported to the provincial parliament of Araba (Alava) and left no doubt: the impressive findings of the Roman age city were fake, there was no linguistic theoretical way they could be true (no mention of archaeological or other factual data, at least nothing clear). A few days later, Eliseo Gil, lead researcher, gave a press conference to defend his innocence and that of his team members, including his wife and co-researcher, Idoia Filloy. A few weeks later the provincial government publishes in the net the acts, reports and a good deal of the photos.

More than a year later the official stand is the same, in spite of Gil and Filloy being acquitted of scam at court (the accusation of forgery is still pendant at another court). There is not a single material evidence that supports the case of forgery and there are 13 new reports that show that things then considered as "impossible" were real in other areas of the Roman Empire.

As time has passed, the irregularities of what happened in the committee, made up mostly by members of the same faculty (Philology). All what happened then is irregular: Eliseo Gil is faced with some kind of unexpected trap, some negative reports are read and he's made to know that the decision has been taken. On a written order from the provincial public servant, Félix López, the authorities sentence that the inscriptions are false in spite of only one report being published by then. The rest would appear only weeks later.

By this order, Eliseo Gil is expelled from the site.

That same evening a press conference tries to demonstrate that all was a forgery. The use of glue by the archaeologists to compose broken pieces (a common practice) is the only material "evidence". They claim that in one shard it's read "Descartes", when the actual word very clearly reads "Miscart", seemingly a variant of the Phoenician name of Mercury, Melkart.

Do you read Descartes or Miscart here?

One of the worse irregularities has just been known: assigning the research of the site to Julio Núñez, author of one of the most negative reports.

The reports of the commission are all very negative, emphasizing that they are forgeries, basing their conclusions specially on the uniqueness of some of the shards and the alleged "impossible anachronisms" among the findings.

The "impossible" materials include names like Nefertiti or Deidre, combination of capital and small letters, some epigraphic issues, existence of words that rather belong to Vulgar than Classical Latin, words in a Basque that is "too modern"...

The only material report actually confirms that the shards have either been buried for centuries or have suffered some other sort of accelerated aging process, though in the conclussions section takes a Pilatean attitude: "we can't confirm that the shards are false or authentic".

Shard with a Christian cross drawing and the text neure ata (my father in Basque). Intrusions in the graph are quite apparent.

Two of the members of the committee, Santos and Ciprés, have all the time nevertheless defended the authenticity of all. Another one, Gorrochategui, did originally but changed his mind later on. Yet another member, Henrique Knörr, also supported the authenticity of the findings, even if favored an Early Middle Age origin for them, but he has passed away since then.

Since then 13 experts have elaborated for free, based on the images that can be found on the Internet, different reports, all of which support the authenticity of the findings. These can be grouped in three categories: archaeological (dealing with excavation methods), philological (dealing with the plausibility and possible meaning of the texts) and technical (dealing with the autheticity of the shards).

Three of these reports deal with the archaeological methodology, including one by Edward Cecil Harris, who concludes that "the research was carried on with the highest standards"

Seven other papers are of linguistic nature and notice numerous contradictions in the committee's reports and the lack of any expert in Vulgar Latin in the team, in spite of most Latin texts being written in Vulgar dialect, as almost nobody spoke Classic Latin anymore by the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries, when these shards are dated.

The last group, includes three reports (by geologists Koenraad Van Der Driessche and Mikel Albizu and paleopathologist Joaquim Baxarias) all of which find enough physical evidence that supports a likely ancient origin, such as crusts, carbon remains, marks of roots, etc.

Another inscription showing clear incrustations (detail). The full text reads Denos zure naiaDenos your will, with Denos being a rare Celtic name according to H. Iglesias)

While the judicial procedure continues its course, the provincial government has requested a graphological report on a latrine that presumptly demonstrate the hand of Gil in the texts. As Fernández de Pinedo notices, these also resemble closely, for example, the types used by popular comic of Roman Age ambient, Astérix.

In this situation, the author makes a demand for an independent reanalysis of the findings, which, if authentic, would be of exceptional importance. This is the request of SOS Veleia, which is gathering e-signatures in demand of such revision.

The materials found at Veleia include some 400 texts, mostly on pottery shards, though there are also some on bone, brick and glass, dated to the 3rd and 4th centuries CE mostly (some also from the 5th century). They have drawings and/or text on them, mostly in Vulgar Latin but also a few in Greek, with Egyptian hieroglyphs (maybe just decorative) and crucially some 50 of them with texts in ancient Basque. Many have a Christian theme, being one of the most controversial ones a calvary with a supposed "RIP" inscription that may be only three strokes.

Previous posts on the subject:
- Rare Celtic and Phoenician names add credibility to the Iruña-Veleia findings.
- Further voices in favor of the authenticity of Iruña-Veleia's findings.

See also:, where you may find all or most of the reports briefly mentioned here.


Toni Garçía said...

Here you have the arxive with my hebrew transliteration of some epigraphics from Veleia.

We must cease with falsification of ancient hebrew poetry. Epigraphers pretend to read latin on hebrew documents.

This is the correspondance of hebrew alephat from roman empire and reduced phoenician.

We need to finish with antisemitics on historiograpy, or negationisme of hebrew people.

I hope you can see this images.

Maju said...

I see the images and saw them before when you sent them to me by email.

I think you are trolling. I can't read Hebrew but I can read Latin and those images read:

1. It's a manipulated version of the original, posted in the article, which reads:

MISCART (= Melkart, the Phoenician Hermes)

No Hebrew here, except for related Phoenician word.


Not Hebrew again.


Not Hebrew but Basque: my father.