Ten years ago, in April of 2003, a coalition led by the United States invaded Iraq. This quickly toppled the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein but also resulted in the loss of life, local unrest, displacement, and the ransacking of cultural institutions, archives, libraries, and the national museum in Baghdad. During that eventful month we both worked for the U.S. Department of State in the Cultural Heritage Center– Christina as a cultural property analyst and Morag as a contractor, administering the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation.
In our daily work lives at State we knew that we were carrying out foreign policy initiatives under the guise of archaeology, but until April of 2003 and the unfolding events in Iraq we did not realize that all of the programming and initiatives we carried out at State, and much of our previous lives as archaeologists, was in the service of the state, under a paradigm of national bridge building and fence mending. While we do not wish to diminish the myriad devastating effects of war on humanity, as archaeologists we are also concerned with the consequences of war on cultural heritage. Continue reading →
There is a saying that Balkans, sometimes rightly compared to a “powder keg”, is a place where the East offered a hand to the West but the West refused to shake it. The Balkan Peninsula is a land bridge between Europe and Asia, through which pass major cultural boundaries. The Balkans are a border, and an arena, between two different cultural spheres with contrasting world views, value systems, aesthetics, and artistic tendencies: Rome and Byzantium, the Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire, West and East, Modern and Oriental. And we cannot forget that there are deep divisions within the Balkans, particularly between north and south. These divisions have unfortunately manifested themselves as open warfare but have also been expressed in the politics of Yugoslavian Egyptology.
Figure 1: Scarab excavated in Serbia. Photo courtesy of B. Anđelković.
Archaeological objects from the Near East appeared sporadically in Serbia and can be classified in four chronological and contextual settings. The first – represented by a glazed composition scarab found in a local Iron Age ruler’s grave mound (dated 550-520 B.C.) in Southwestern Serbia – corresponds to prehistory (Figure 1). The second, the era of Roman domination, includes a number of artifacts, chiefly figurines, lamps, and inscribed altars, connected to Egyptian or syncretistic deities, chiefly Isis, Isis-Fortune, Harpocrates, Anubis, Hermes-Thoth, and others. These are mostly of Roman rather than Egyptian manufacture, though during the construction of Roman emperor Galerius’ palace in Eastern Serbia (ca. 300 A.D.) a number of architectural elements including some columns and statuary were made of Aswan red granite and other Egyptian stone (Figure 2). Continue reading →
Recently, I was looking through some of this blog’s original posts to remove spam comments when I came across this article by the Albright Institute’s chef, Hisham M’Farreh. The included recipe looked easy to follow and delicious, so I decided to try it at home.
Because this was an experiment, I made a half-batch and ended up with 13 small dinner-sized rolls. I also used three tablespoons of za’atar mix and in the future I would bump this up to at least four. I substituted an Italian cheese blend for the “baladi or Bulgarian salted cheese” and thought it all turned out well (though I’m sure the originals are much better!).
A crucial component of this recipe is za’atar, which not everyone has lying around the house. I didn’t have fresh za’atar leaves at home, but I did have the spice mix (which includes salt and sesame seeds). Mine had been brought back as a present from Israel but it is frequently sold in stores in the US or you can make it yourself. Continue reading →
What if Biblical Archaeology went extinct in your native country? More than twenty years ago I left my native Germany to get a Ph.D. at Tel Aviv University and to work for the Antiquities Authority in Israel. But when I returned in 2009, the situation I found in Germany came as a shock. Biblical Archaeology is an endangered species and may never recover.
Ever since the Reformation, Protestant seminaries have held Biblical Studies in the highest regard. The Enlightenment meant that historical-critical investigations of the Bible were central to any theological program in Germany. Biblical Archaeology thus became a central part of theological studies at Protestant seminaries. But even in this supportive environment it only had the status of a “Hilfsdisziplin” (auxiliary discipline). With shrinking numbers of students at the faculties of theology in the 1990s, budgets were cut back and small seminars and institutes like those for Biblical Archaeology were closed, leaving only a handful. How could a discipline that once was so central have become relegated to an afterthought in just two decades? Continue reading →
By: Ingmar Franz, Freiburg University, George A. Barton Fellow
The goal of my project was an in-depth survey of the literature focusing on early pottery production in the Neolithic and Early Chalcolithic periods in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin and the Near East. The well-organized Albright library provided the opportunity for me to find almost every source I needed. Discussions with the fellows at the institute were also fruitful and contributed to the success of my project. Continue reading →
By: Oleksandr Symonenko, Institute of Archaeology, Kyiv, Glassman Holland Research Fellow
The main purpose of my project was the study of Near Eastern artifacts from Sarmatian graves. The Sarmatians were Iranian-speaking nomads who inhabited the territory stretching from the Altai Mountains up to the Danube from the 3rd – 4th centuries CE. The Near Eastern artifacts objects came to the Sarmatians in two main ways, as military trophies and as traded merchandise.
Spoils of war included Montefortino- and Pilos-type helmets and fragments of body armor found at Sarmatian sites. The helmets came to the Sarmatians during the Mithridates’ wars against Rome between 88 – 63 BCE. They were used by the Galatian soldiers of Mithridates’ army and were passed on from them to the Sarmatians. The Roman scale armors of the lorica plumata type, found in Sarmatian graves, were most probably seized by the Sarmatians during the war of 47 BCE in Asia Minor. Fragments of Parthian type armor were found in Sarmatian kurgans in the second half of the 1st – early 2nd centuries CE. Such trophies fell into Sarmatian hands during their battles with the Parthians in 72 CE. Continue reading →
By: Emmanuel Moutafov, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow
For some scholars, the letter abbreviations with encoded meaning on cryptograms and acrolexa are the creation of a monachus ludnes (a monk having fun), who has been instructed to hide his identity or his personal message in an acrostic or in visual poetry, writes his signature through cryptographs, laughs at monastery moralizing anecdotes and does not want his identity to be revealed in the vanity of mundane life. This monk is perhaps of the greatest schema, due to which the so-called cryptograms will be written on his hood, in order to protect him from evil demons, impious thoughts, misfortunes, and encroachments. Continue reading →
The transformative political events in the Middle East over the past two years have had, among many other unexpected outcomes, profound effects on the direction of research in Near Eastern archaeology.War and civil unrest act as both a carrot and a stick, forcing the cessation of fieldwork in some areas, while promoting new investigations in places that might otherwise have gone unexplored. The geopolitics of the post-Arab Spring world are changing where we are able work, and by consequence they will shape the research questions we investigate, as well as the regions where future generations of scholars will likely specialize. But the present moment of realignment is far from unique—our discipline has been shaped from the beginning by the tumultuous political history of the Middle East.
In the spring of 1920, James Henry Breasted and a group of scholars from the University of Chicago’s newly founded Oriental Institute embarked on a survey of major archaeological sites in Mesopotamia and Syria. It was Breasted’s hope that the return of political stability under British rule after the end of World War I would facilitate renewed investigations in Mesopotamia. Having traveled by steamer from Egypt, via Bombay, to Basra in southern Iraq, the team began making their way up the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, visiting many of the most prominent sites in the region, including Uruk, Babylon, and Nineveh.
Oriental Institute expedition team members pose with British officers at the west gate of Dura Europos, May 1920. (Image reproduced courtesy of the Oriental Institute Museum’s Photographic Archives http://oi.uchicago.edu/museum/collections/pa/).
Fig 1: The seminar poster (graphics by Qais Tweissi)
By: Micaela Sinibaldi
On the 9th and 10th of February 2013 I had the great pleasure to organise a seminar entitled: The History and Material Culture of Ottoman Palestine at the Kenyon Institute in Jerusalem. The seminar consisted of a day of papers and a roundtable discussion at the Kenyon and a day of tours of the Old City led by some of the seminar scholars.
As an archaeologist who works on the Islamic period, I know from my fieldwork and research, which has been especially focused on Petra (Jordan), that it is particularly the later periods which are still largely unexplored by archaeology, particularly the Ottoman period. During my recent work for Brown University, for example, as a co-director of excavations at Islamic Bayda (Petra region), a village whose occupation spans the whole Islamic period, it appeared from my preliminary research that the latest and most extensive phase is Ottoman; however, almost no material is currently available in the region for providing the excavation results with some archaeological parallels. One of the reasons for a very recent interest in the archaeology of the Ottoman period is that, partly because of the wealth of both documentary and monumental architectural sources available, the study of material culture has naturally focused on buildings such as the impressive ones preserved in Jerusalem in the al-Haram al-Sharif and in other areas of the Old City of Jerusalem, rather than on rural sites or on the use of archaeology to help solve chronological questions. Continue reading →
By: Jolanta Mlynarczyk, University of Warsaw, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow
The aim of my research at the Albright was to study an assemblage of ca. 200 oil lamps discovered at Qumran by archaeologists from the Ecole Biblique at the settlement itself and in the caves (1951-1956) as well as at Ein Feshkha (1958). The importance of this cluster of sites for our understanding of the late Second Temple period is indisputable, yet in the past many lamps have not been properly described within their archaeological context. Hence, the first stage of my research was focused on completing a description of the lamps and extracting the relevant contextual information. The second stage involved working out the typology. Conceived as a part of the general typology of the Qumran ceramics, the lamp typology consists of two series, each one dependent on a different technique employed in lamp-making: wheel-throwing and moulding. In the former group, the types have been distinguished on the basis of shape; and in the latter, the criterion of shape is combined with that of decoration. Continue reading →
By: Aleksander Michalak, Independent Researcher, Poland, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow
My preliminary examination of several Second Temple texts, 1Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, Joseph and Aseneth, Testament of Job, the First Epistle to the Corinthians, andthe Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs indicates that there is already at this time a connection between demons and the cult of foreign gods, although they are not always explicitly identified with one another. Sometimes the demonic spirits are said only to lead people astray, that is, to lead people toward Gentile worship and toward idolatry, whereas in other cases it is the demonic spirits who are the objects of worship, or the pagan gods themselves. The inanimate material of the idolatrous objects is frequently juxtaposed with the demonic power that is hidden behind them. The association of the Gentiles with the demonic realm in Jubilees is understood to be the result of the subordination of all foreign nations to the rule of spirits. Continue reading →
An aerial view of damage to Ōtsuchi, Japan, a week after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated the area.
By: Beverly Goodman
On March 11, 2011, the word “tsunami” went from being an esoteric term to a household word. The world’s television screens were filled with images of destruction and carnage when massive waves generated by an offshore earthquake devastated large portions of northeastern Japan. Waves reaching as high as 40 meters resulted in more than 19,000 people either killed or missing, almost one million damaged or destroyed buildings, and $230 billion in damages. To make matters worse, the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant was severely damaged, causing a meltdown and explosions that released radioactive contamination into the air and water. According to Forbes, more than 315,000 people remain displaced today.
Just two years after this catastrophe, we are still asking whether any of the devastation could have been prevented. Should houses have been built differently? Should nuclear plants have been sited differently? How safe is it to live near any coast? In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, such questions are even more pressing for Americans living on the east coast. While archaeology cannot answer all of these questions, it can contribute to our understanding of tsunamis. In turn, the geological study of tsunamis helps us understand important archaeological phenomena in the eastern Mediterranean. Continue reading →
Egypt’s January 25th revolution was originally seen as part of the larger “Arab Spring” across the Middle East where old political regimes were overthrown by popular protests and replaced by representative democracies. But on January 28th 2011, as chaos reigned in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, reports began circulating around the globe claiming that antiquities on display in the Egyptian Museum had been stolen. Zahi Hawass, the famous face of Egyptian archaeology, Mubarak regime insider, and then head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), was immediately embroiled in the situation. Many outside of Egypt believed that the political volatility and economic crisis engulfing the capital and the rest of the country had claimed some of the most precious artifacts of Egypt’s over 5,000 year history which would be lost forever. Egyptians of all social classes converged on the museum to protect it, sparking hopes that a new era in the relationship between Egyptians and their past had begun. Continue reading →
“There is a tendency at every important but difficult crossroad to pretend that it’s not really there.”
What should American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) members do if new Dead Sea Scrolls are found? What if our country’s military actions increase uncontrolled looting of ancient sites? Or if war creates a situation where people and ancient things exist under occupation? How should we deal with the remains of human beings we encounter in burials? How should ASOR members and others support international laws dealing with antiquities?
These are the questions that are driving the development of a new, comprehensive ethics policy for ASOR. This moment has arrived as a result of a decades-long process. ASOR is an organization with an impressive history and a promising future, founded in response to the shared interests, vision, and ideals of professional archaeologists, historians, epigraphers, and others. Continue reading →
Archaeological sites in the Middle East have been ransacked, pillaged, and plundered for many decades. The motivations of the actual pillaging are normally economic: the pursuit of marketable artifacts. That is, the pillagers wish to find objects that can be sold to collectors. Of course, the motivations of the collectors who purchase these pillaged antiquities range from the desire to possess a piece of ancient history to having putative proof for a cherished belief. Among the artifacts most prized by collectors are ancient inscriptions.
Think briefly about scientific archaeological excavations. Complete pots and potsherds are carefully collected, catalogued, documented, and analyzed, while broken pots are often restored. Organic materials are meticulously bagged and tagged and sent to be carbon dated. Animal bones and seeds are studied to learn about animal husbandry, agriculture, and ancient diets. Grinding stones, needles, and pins are photographed and studied carefully to shed light on aspects of daily life. Metal objects are sent to laboratories for scientific analyses. Stone tools such as arrowheads are sent to specialists for analysis. And inscriptions are sent to epigraphers to be read and analyzed. The result is that knowledge is gained about ancient languages and dialects, and about ancient social structures, and religious practices and ideas. The final result is that scientific excavations yield an enormous amount of information about the ebb and flow of ancient lives. Continue reading →
By: Jonathan Rosenbaum
President Emeritus, Gratz College
For generations, academic journals have been deemed the appropriate venue for the initial publication of ancient inscriptions and artifacts. Nevertheless, last fall, the New York Times became the source of an editio princeps when it announced the discovery of a “faded papyrus fragment” that seemed to be “first known statement from antiquity that refers to Jesus speaking of [his] wife.” The Times reporter had not gained access to the fragment through a dogged effort of investigative journalism or a lucky find on the black market. Rather, Karen L. King, a prolific scholar of early Christianity at the Harvard Divinity School (HDS), had shared the discovery in an interview with the Times, the Boston Globe, and Harvard Magazine. Prof. King provocatively described the fragment as the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.”
Popular media immediately presented a panoply of opinions by respected papyrologists, Coptic linguists, Christian theologians, and laypeople. The Vatican weighed in with both an editorial and an article in L’Osservatore Romano, the former declaring the papyrus a fake and the latter by Coptic scholar, Alberto Camplani, expressing a more guarded opinion based upon the lack of provenance. Continue reading →