An Issue of French Citizenship for Algerian Jews

In the 1960s, history was rewritten and modified in Algeria. How, you might ask? Professor Sarah Stein looked into just this question with her presentation and research project Decolonization and the Jews of the Sahara: National Myth Making in Israel, Algeria and France. Her research took her to the French colonization of Algeria starting in the mid-1800s, and followed the lives of the Jewish communities there into the present day. The issue that has raised concerns in the past decade has to do with the nationality and citizenship status of Algerian Jews living in France.

When the French colonized northern Algeria, they granted French citizenship in 1877 to the Jewish communities living there. However, when France later occupied southern Algeria, they did not immediately grant citizenship to the Saharan Jews until much later. The French differentiated between northern and southern Jews for about 80 years.

When the Saharan Jews were finally given citizenship status, it was discovered that their rabbi had not been keeping adequate tabs on the community. Records regarding births, deaths, and marriages were missing and had to be quickly compiled. At around this same time, a civil war was going on in Algeria, and the Jewish communities were in a hurry to leave. Since the compilation of accurate information was taking too much time, the French government decided that it would be better for the Jews to simply forge their identifications to make the process go more quickly and smoothly. Of course, when the option to forge documents came up, a number of people wanted to change their information. Some individuals wanted to change their name, some changed their ages to make themselves appear younger, and a whole slew of misinformation was created in this time period. In addition, Israel sent over an emissary to register Jews for Israeli citizenship. His efforts were cut short and lost after he caught wind of an assassination attempt.

All this misinformation has created problems that have lasted until the present day. Because history had been rewritten, Algerians who have moved to France are encountering difficulties in becoming true citizens. There have been attempts by France and Israel to procure the original historical documents, but to no avail so far. In the end, it may be archaeology that can resolve these issues. History can be rewritten to represent an individual’s desires, but the science of archaeology is harder to alter.

Applying Science to the Bible

Erich von Däniken is famous for his book Chariots of the Gods? which became an immediate bestseller in America, India, and Europe and was adapted into a film. In this work Däniken takes material from ancient texts, and puts an extraterrestrial spin on it. In particular, Däniken spoke of the bible story of the ancient disaster of Sodom and Gomorrah, and spun a tale about the similarities between this disaster and the effects of an atomic bomb. Däniken carefully chose his words to make the bible story about gods and angels sound like hocus-pocus fantasy, while making his own theories derived from ‘clues’ sound scientific and informed. But are his theories real science, or just more fantasy couched in scientific language?

Däniken is not the only person interested in finding modern explanations for biblical stories. I recently came across a article titled The 5 Most Extravagant Ways Cities Have Been Wiped Out, which gave another theory for what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. Although this article attempted to strip scientific language from their article to make the story more accesible to the average layman, this does not necessarily mean that their explanation is any less scientific. It is not language that makes a theory scientific or not, but rather the process of arriving at and testing and verifying a theory makes makes it so.

Looking again at Däniken’s theories, and taking what we learned about the scientific method in class, the science of his theories about alien astronauts seem suspect. For one, his theory is hard to test. Science has not yet been able to provide any concrete sign of extraterrestrial activity, but nor have they been able to prove that aliens haven’t visited the Earth. His theory that an advanced atomic bomb could have leveled Sodom and Gomorrah can be tested by looking for signs of radioactivity, but so far there is no supporting evidence.

The Cracked article on the other hand, provides a theory that can be potentially tested for. The Cracked article relayed a theory proposed by scientists, that a massive, 3-mile wide meteor landed in the Austrian alps, which caused a fire storm of superheated air to spread to the Middle East, causing all flammables (such as hair and clothing) to combust. This theory is more easily tested than alien participation, and Cracked quoted an article, which quoted another source, relaying evidence for just such a meteor impact. Whether the sources are accurate or not, this theory remains readily tested for future scientists.

Another problem with Däniken’s theories, is his lack of supporting evidence from reliable sources. Other than the bible and his own speculations, Däniken doesn’t mention any sources for his theories, nor any literature by other scientists to compare theories with regarding Sodom and Gomorrah. The Cracked article however, provides a wealth of links that readers can use to fact check. Looking solely at these two points, Cracked appears to be more scientifically engaged than does Erich von Däniken.

Archaeology and Looting in The Sims 3: World Adventures

There is a game that I have been playing for a few months now called The Sims 3: World Adventures that, while there is no mention of archaeology in the description, still manages to perpetrate misconceptions about what archaeologists do.

In this game, the player can send their Simulated people to China, Egypt, or France. Egypt has pyramids, the great Sphinx and Abu Simbel. The Chinese town is located right next to The Great Wall, and has its fair share of famous tomb sites. France has mausoleums and a Celtic circle. While at these locations, players are prompted to complete quests given by the locals, the majority of which require that players explore the tomb of so-and-so to retrieve a Relic of a certain value. Along the way, the player is encouraged to pick up any artifacts or relics that they can find.

This game pays homage to Indiana Jones, and looks like a combination of Indy and the Lara Croft Tomb Raider series. A lot of the tombs require that you first locate a key before you can gain access. One feature that might amuse true archaeologists, is that you can Analyze a relic you found no matter your current location. Your Sim will stand there for a few seconds and ponder the item in question, after which they will have narrowed down its age to ‘Very Ancient’, ‘Ancient’, ‘Very Old’, ‘Old’, or ‘Contemporary’, and also how much more or less the relic is worth than their initial appraisal. And of course, the older something is, the more it is worth. There are also a variety of dig sites scattered throughout the world in which you can dig up items of varying worth, including trash. Broken artifacts are worth less than whole or complete artifacts. The trash has no value at all, other than to disgust your Sim and prompt them to say, “Who put that there??”

As we have all learned in class this week, an item’s ‘worth’ is derived from what an item can tell us about our past, not on how much money can be made by selling it. This makes trash just as important as artifacts. On pages 71-75 of chapter 4 of Wendy Ashmore’s Discovering Our Past, we learned that an important aspect of analyzing an artifact has to do with the context in which the artifact was found. There is much more to analyzing an object than just looking and contemplating; one has to consider the composition of the Matrix, the layers in Provenience, the Association with other objects in the Matrix, and the Context in which all this information is found.

While The Sims 3: World Adventure seems to promote and encourage looting and gives misinformation on the true process and worth of analyzing artifacts, it is nevertheless a fun game to play with. The Features and monuments are beautifully crafted and designed, and if you don’t take the looting and pseudo-archaeology in it too seriously, then it is a game worth checking out.