Archaeology after the Arab Spring

Posted in: Ancient Near East Today, Archaeology, ASOR, Conservation, Cultural Heritage and Property
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By: Jesse Casana

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[1]. 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


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9 Comments for : Archaeology after the Arab Spring
  1. Pingback: Archaeology after the Arab Spring | Fr Stephen Smuts

  2. Pingback: Unearthed: 15th May 2013 « The Archaeology of Tomb Raider

    • David
    • May 21, 2013

    Interesting article that skirts around the Middle East noting every country except Israel. Considering that stable foreign excavations continue there in increasing numbers makes the omission very strange to put it mildly!!

    • David
    • May 22, 2013

    Reference / Footnote 5: [5] AbdulKarim, Maamoun (2013) "The Status of Syrian Antiquities since the beginning of the Crisis until Feb 1, 2013, and their protection measures" is available to download here:

    • David
    • May 22, 2013

    Also, Breasted's (1922) "The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago: A Beginning and a Program" can be found online at the Internet Archive:

  3. Reply

    yes true…a lot of antiques is arriving from syria and offered for sale in lebanon and jordon …i was told that 1200 items was offered for sale 14 days ago in beirut …and over 3000 treasure hunters are digging in syria every day…

    • Jamal
    • June 28, 2013

    Interesting that Mr Casana is affiliated with the King Fahd Center for Middle East Studies, so does this mean the Center receives contributions from the Saudi government, which in turn is funding al Qaida terrorists in Syria?

    We've already seen the disregard al Qaida has for pre-Islamic antiquities, and Shia and Christian heritage sites in Syria, so can Mr Casana confirm that the Center receives no money from Saudi Arabia, and if it does, are there any plans to reject future money and change the name of the Center given this association between al Qaida and Saudi Arabia?

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