12 septiembre 2020

Science and the court ruling on the Iruña-Veleia case

On the occasion of the recent trial and court ruling on the case of the findings at the archaeological site of Iruña-Veleia, reports have been published in the media that seriously distort the reality of the events. This distortion of reality has crossed borders, with the false news that a geologist had pleaded guilty, acknowledging that "the whole thing was nothing but a joke" (!), being reported in two British newspapers with wide readership. It is worrisome that in the Iruña-Veleia case some media are failing to fulfill their mission of truthfully informing citizens.

With regard to the sentence, it is important to highlight that it acknowledges the lack of proofs against the main individual accused, Eliseo Gil, the former director of the excavation, with the ruling being entirely based on clues, and that the court case remains unresolved, since Gil has appealed his conviction, requesting his acquittal.

But, apart from the events in the judicial sphere, the Iruña-Veleia case has a scientific side, which a large part of the public is unaware of. And the fact is that what has been presented in some media outlets as a "crude forgery", is actually the subject of a lively and still unresolved controversy among experts from various scientific disciplines, who hold conflicting views on the authenticity of the findings. And the reality of this controversy has been made clear in the judge’s ruling, where it is stated that there are "opposing opinions that will have to be assessed in the field of archaeological, linguistic, epigraphic, etc., sciences." and that "there are conflicting opinions about their authenticity among the different experts who have been able to analyze the pieces." The recognition by a judicial body of the scientific controversy surrounding the Iruña-Veleia findings disproves the myth of the “scientific unanimity” favorable to their falsehood, which was created in November 2008 by the Department of Culture of the Provincial Council of Álava (DFA) and which lasts until today, fed by some media that ignore the facts. And the reality is that numerous authors in various fields (archaeology, epigraphy, linguistics, history, geology, Egyptology) have publicly expressed, through reports, scientific articles, books and conference presentations, their opinions and arguments favorable to the authenticity of the Iruña-Veleia findings. And this controversy is not affected by the court ruling. First, because the court case remains unresolved, and, second, because scientific issues must be resolved in scientific forums, such as scientific journals and conferences, not in courts of law. And this is what the sentence refers to when it expressly asserts that the opposing opinions "will have to be assessed in the fields of the archaeological, linguistic, epigraphic, etc., sciences."

We do not want to hide the fact that the sentence is based on the analyses carried out by an expert from the Institute of Cultural Heritage of Spain (IPCE) on 36 pieces from Iruña-Veleia (out of the more than 400 found at the site), which he interpreted as indicative of recent execution or manipulation of the graffiti engraved on them (however, he failed to present the results of analyses performed on control graffiti of undoubted age, ancient and recent, supporting his interpretations, which casts a shadow of doubt on his conclusions), and, based on these analyses, the ex-director of the excavation was convicted as the author of the graffiti, performed "by himself or through other persons". But neither should it be omitted that in none of the three other reports on physical analyses delivered to the court, from the experts of the accuser and of the defendant, as well as from the IPCE itself, is it concluded that the graffiti are false. Therefore, we see that in the field of physical evidences there are also discrepancies among the expert opinions and court testimonies.

Where there are no discordant opinions is about the age of the pieces found at Iruña-Veleia: their origin from Roman times, indicated by the stratigraphic dating which was favorably evaluated by two prestigious international archaeologists, is not questioned by anyone and is recognized in the sentence itself. As for the linguistic, epigraphic or physical analyses proposing dates for the graffiti incompatible with the stratigraphic dating, they have been questioned by various experts, who consider that they are compatible with Roman times. We believe that the only way to end this controversy is through science. For this reason, we appeal to the DFA, which has the custody of the pieces, to make available those which are not part of the litigation (currently focused only on 36 pieces whose graffiti were considered false in the sentence) to the scientific community, in order to carry out the pertinent studies aimed at determining the age of the graffiti, their interpretation and publication. We also request that the Iruña-Veleia pieces which remain unwashed at the Museum of Archaeology of Álava be cleaned, videotaping the entire process, and that control excavations be carried out by an independent archaeological team in the vicinity of the places where the “exceptional” graffiti were found, in order to check if similar findings are reproduced.

The graffiti from Iruña-Veleia, if they are from Roman times (and no one has conclusively shown that they are not), provide novel and valuable information on the ancient Basque language, on the evolution from Latin to Romance languages, ​​and on early Christianity. Therefore, the resolution of the controversy about their authenticity and their scientific study and publication can be of enormous importance for our historical and cultural heritage.

 

Signed by

Antonio Rodríguez Colmenero, Professor Emeritus of Ancient History at the University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Edward C. Harris, MBE, PHD, FSA, Founding Executive Director Emeritus, National Museum of Bermuda

Xabier Gorrotxategi, Ph.D. in Archaeology

Luis Silgo, Ph.D. in History, specialty in Archaeology

Noé Villaverde Vega, Ph.D. in Archaeology with European mention

Mikel Albisu, graduate in Geology

María Pilar Alonso, Ph.D. in Language and Communication

Juan Martín Elexpuru, Ph.D. in Basque Philology

Roslyn Frank, Professor Emeritus at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA

Ulrike Fritz, Egyptologist, Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, Germany

Alicia Satué, graduate in Philology of Classical Languages

Miguel Thomson, Staff Scientist at Public Research Organizations

Koenraad Van den Driessche, Ph.D. in Geology, specialty in Geochemistry

Patxi Zabaleta, lawyer and writer, member of Euskaltzaindia (Academy of the Basque Language)