So much for leaving no trace: The Israeli Antiquities Authority is accusing the organizers of Midburn — the Israeli affiliate of Burning Man — of accidentally torching ancient remnants dating back to Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic periods.
The recently concluded Midburn Festival drew some 6,000 people to the Negev Desert in southern Israel from May 20 to 24. It was the second Midburn held, and is now the second largest regional version of Burning Man, the largest being AfrikaBurn.
Like the main event held each year at Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, the counter-cultural festival is highlighted on the final Sunday by the burning of an elaborate wooden temple. But as Haaretz is reporting, the torching of the Midburn temple may have caused damage to an archaeological site, one that contains ruins from the Middle Paleolithic period 150,000 years ago, and the Epipaleolithic period 15,000 years ago.
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.
He also asked that the coals stoking the fire be removed manually, not with heavy equipment. On Monday, it was clear that neither request had been fulfilled.
Haimi plans to file a police complaint. “Maybe that will deter them next year,” he said.
As noted, the extent of the damage is still unclear.
The organizers of Midburn say they received all the necessary permits to hold the event, and that the antiquities authority only contacted them once the festival was well underway. Here’s their statement in full:
Today we read in the press that there is a concern we may have caused damage to an archeological site while burning the Temple. If this is true, we consider it a very serious matter. We’ve of course received all the necessary permits from all authorities (Nature and Parks Authority, the Regional Council, the Police, Israel Land Authority etc’) to hold the event in a lawful manner, including permits for the specific locations of the art installations and the city’s perimeter. Throughout the permitting process, we worked in full transparency and coordination with all the relevant authorities.
Nevertheless, Civic Responsibility is our guiding principle and that requires us to act as responsibly as possible and take measures that extend far beyond the minimum requirements of the law.
We will therefore examine the claims by Israel Antiquities Authority and continue to be a community that is involved and is aware of the environment in which it exists. We promise to investigate the matter thoroughly and to keep you updated.
The archaeological site, which served as a workshop in ancient times, was discovered 30 years ago. According to the Times of Israel, the area is not marked with signs and the remains are difficult to see.
Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. Top image by Midburn/Facebook. Lower image: Amir Cohen/Reuters via Guardian.