Wikipedia's Archaeology Editor Slams Israel Museum for Prohibiting Photography

The Israel Museum objects to giving Wikipedia unfettered access to the ivories, even though by law the artifacts actually belong to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Go to the Hebrew-language Wikipedia page on the Megiddo ivories and you'll see a single image of one of hundreds of 12th-century ivory carvings excavated from Tel Megiddo. Below it, a caption reads: "Megiddo ivory, exhibited in the Israel Museum, which won't grant permission to photograph the archaeology wing."

That caption is indicative of the struggle that Hana Yariv, the archaeology editor for the Israeli version of Wikipedia, has been waging against the Israel Museum, in an effort to secure permission to photograph the ivories and post the pictures on the free encyclopedia website.

"These pictures are in the interest of all of us," said Yariv. "Don't they realize they're living in the past?"

The Israel Museum objects to giving Yariv unfettered access to the ivories, even though by law the artifacts actually belong to the Israel Antiquities Authority rather than the museum.

Uzi Dahari, deputy director of the authority, says his institution does not oppose the photography, as long as it doesn't damage the objects - and is not used for commercial purposes.

But that's precisely what the Israel Museum, which the antiquities authority says does have the right to limit access, fears will happen.

"The museum doesn't gain anything from banning photography," the Israel Museum said in a statement. "But since Wikipedia rules state that every picture given to Wikipedia is automatically entered into a photographic database and allowed to be used for commercial purposes, we cannot grant wholesale approval to photography requests."

The museum says it is prepared to give "special permission" to photograph specific objects if asked.

Yariv says most of the corporate uses are actually for scientific articles, and that any commercial use would be rare and, in any case, would bring more visitors into the museum.

The Megiddo ivories, recovered from the treasury of an early 12th-century palace, were excavated between 1925 and 1939. The majority were found by Gordon Loud, from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

The objects from the collection on display in Israel are housed in the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum in East Jerusalem, which is controlled by the Israel Museum.