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Ancient Archaeological Site Torched at Israel’s Midburn Festival

Flint tools from Paleolithic, Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods are history

Jonathan Zalman
May 29, 2015
Cosplayers watch a wooden effigy burn at Midburn festival in Israeli, May 22, 2015. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Cosplayers watch a wooden effigy burn at Midburn festival in Israeli, May 22, 2015. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, the second annual Midburn festival—a radical five-day event of art and expression and self-reliance and sundry communal tomfoolery—took place in a “temporary city” in the Negev Desert. An estimated 6,000 attended, who, by virtue of being present, adhere to “The Ten Principles” as established by Larry Harvey, the founder of the U.S.-based Burning Man festival after which Midburn is modeled. But it appears that two principles, namely “Civic Responsibility” and “Leaving No Trace,” were violated.

On May 24, a Saturday night, festivalgoers watched a wooden temple burn on a hilltop. I imagine many danced, or gazed agape as they contemplated the meaning of it all, as the flames screamed upward into the night sky. Below the fire, however, and atop the hill, were prehistoric artifacts. Reports Haaretz:

…a huge blaze lasting several hours, damaged an archaeological site at the community Nahal Boker. The site contains ruins from the Middle Paleolithic period 150,000 years ago and the Epipaleolithic period 15,000 years ago.

The flat-topped hill on which the temple stood served as a workshop in ancient times. The site was discovered 30 years ago and the find scuttled plans to build a power station there.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, the damage may be great, though it can only be fully assessed once the weather turns rainy and the dust is washed away.

“It’s unfortunate and sad,” said Yoram Haimi, the authority’s archaeologist for the district. Haimi said he toured the area during the event, after the temple had been put up, and asked Midburn’s organizers to ensure that it would not be burned to the ground.

Haimi told Haaretz that he will file a police complaint. Apparently, Midburn authorities covered its tracks, obtaining all the necessary permits.

“The antiquities authority contacted us only in the middle of the event,” they said in a statement. “We tried very hard not to harm the area and collect all the waste, because that’s part of Midburn’s principles. We regret any misunderstanding.”

Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.