'Israel's Burning Man' Festival Damages Archaeological Site

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People watch the burning of the 'Effigy, Adam & Eve' exhibit during the Midburn festival at southern Israel May 22, 2015.Credit: Reuters

Last weekend’s Midburn festival, the Israeli version of the Burning Man event in the United States, apparently violated one of Burning Man’s 10 principles: “Leave no trace.”

Midburn drew some 6,000 people to the Negev region, but the burning of the Midburn “temple” Saturday night, which caused 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.

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.

Midburn’s organizers said they had received permits for the festival from all the necessary agencies, including the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

“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.”

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