Our first piece this month are two statements from the IAA. The first regards the continuing crisis in the Middle East, and the IAA calls on its members and all parties involved to ‘respect the right to life of all citizens and to work to prevent, minimize and repair damage to the heritage of the region’. The second concerns the order restricting entry to the United States. The IAA Board ‘strongly calls for the immediate suspension of this executive order’, and ‘condemn the chilling impact that it will have on both the study of the affected countries and on their people.’
The spotlight falls on Chuo University, where Fumi Karahashi and her student Naomi Aiba tell us about their work and daily life in Tokyo, as well as the challenges facing the Humanities in Japan. ‘In Popular Culture’ features Sabina Franke, who organized a workshop on communicating knowledge about Assyriology to a wider audience.
Cinzia Pappi is ‘In the Field’ at Koya, and brings us news of her archeological survey there. We congratulate Abather Saadoon for completing his PhD at the University of Baghdad, on the subject of Old Akkadian agriculture at Tell al-Wilayah. And Tim Clayden tells us about his new database of archaeological images, the OAID.
This issue also covers two newly opened museum exhibitions on Mesopotamia. Ariane Thomas reports on the ‘History Begins in Mesopotamia’ exhibition at the Louvre Lens, while Director of Basrah Antiquities and Heritage Qahtan Al-abeed tells of the new museum in Basrah.
There is a lot to look forward to in 2017, not least the 63rd RAI, which will be held in July at the University of Marburg with the theme ‘Dealing with Antiquity: Past, Present & Future’. At the Rencontre, we will also reveal the winners of the IAA Prize and the IAA’s other funds – so remember to submit your application!
Yet the new year also brings new changes. At the 2017 Rencontre the proposal to rename the IAA will be discussed. Head over to our post to see the motivation for this proposal, and participate in the consultation discussion – even if you cannot make it to Marburg, you can still make your voice heard! Remember also that you can vote by proxy, if you are unable to vote in person at the General Meeting.
Finally, the issue brings you an updated list of books published in the fields of Assyriology and Mesopotamian Archeology since September.
As always, all suggestions for improvement and any content that you would like us to put on Mar Shiprim is more than welcome! If you have happy news to share or if you would like your university to be featured in the spotlight, let us know. Also, if you’ve found something missing or broken on the site, just send us a note.]]>
For the full pdf-versions of the statements, including French, German, Arabic, Italian, and Turkish translations, see the IAA website.
Regarding the continuing conflict and destruction in the Middle East (as of December 2016):
“The growth of humanitarian crises in the Middle East continues to be a tragedy for the residents across the region. The IAA is particularly sensitive to this human tragedy since the ancient societies that we study all had their homes in the region, and our members have a long history of working with colleagues and communities there.
Alongside the danger to human life, these conflicts pose a grave threat to the rich tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the Middle East. Damage to this heritage strikes at the identity and valued traditions of the peoples of the region. There is also a long history of the politicization of the surviving sites, monuments, and remains of the ancient communities of the region.
We decry all damage to cultural heritage and efforts by any party to instrumentalize this tragedy politically in order to claim advantages in today’s conflicts. The IAA calls on its members, the international community, and all parties to respect the right to life of all citizens and to work to prevent, minimize and repair damage to the heritage of the region.”
The International Association for Assyriology urges the suspension of the order restricting entry to the United States (February 1, 2017):
“The International Association for Assyriology (IAA) was founded with the goal of furthering the study of the rich textual, artistic, and archaeological heritage of the ancient Near East, and especially of ancient Iraq. This goal can only be achieved through the intensive and continuing cooperation of a large body of international researchers. The ability to maintain bilateral relations with colleagues from Near Eastern countries is essential for our work on both ethical
and practical grounds.
The recent Executive Order issued on January 27, 2017, by the President of the United States, that restricts entry of citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen into the country, directly undermines these goals and principles in every respect and must be regarded by our colleagues from the affected countries as a humiliating act. The executive order furthermore has a devastating effect on all future research events hosted by institutions in the US as it brutally severs long grown research affiliations.
The IAA board strongly calls for the immediate suspension of this executive order. We decry the spirit in which it was drafted and we condemn the chilling impact that it will have on both the study of the affected countries and on their people. Until the suspension of the executive order is effected, the IAA must regretfully abstain from organizing any research activities in US territory, as we value the participation of all our members as a matter of principle.”]]>
“The Tama campus (home to the Faculty of Letters, the Law School, etc.) is situated to the west of downtown Tokyo, in a place where one can see mountain ranges, including Mt. Fuji, on clear days. I like the environment very much: the air is fresh and the trees green!” – Fumi Karahashi
“I became especially interested in Assyria because I wondered why Assyria, which had existed more than 2,000 years, collapsed soon after unifying the ancient Near East.” – Naoki Aiba
The students and their BA-projects are, from left to right, in the first row: Mr. Yamagishi (“Cheese in Human History”); Ms. Oketa (“Snakes’ Two Aspects in Ancient Greece”); Ms. Ishigooka (“The Fate of Neaira”). In the second row: Mr. Saso (“Teachers in the Ancient Rome”); Mr. Noritake (“Illness and Death in Ancient Egypt”); Mr. Aiba (“Kingship and Animals in the Ancient Near East”); Mr. Nakaoka (“Rituals for the Dead in the Ancient Mesopotamia”).
Please tell us something about yourself!
I am a professor in the Faculty of Letters at Chuo University in Tokyo, Japan. I am from the northern part of the main island and lived in Jerusalem, Barcelona, Chicago, Ann Arbor (Michigan), and Philadelphia before getting my current job.
What makes Sumerology your passion?
It is pure fun, like doing a jigsaw puzzle or a sudoku.
What is something you would like to work on if you had all the time and funding in the world?
I would like to translate some Sumerian literary texts into Japanese.
What would you regard as your ‘masterpiece’ until now?
I wish I could answer this question positively…When I am writing articles, I usually do like them, but afterward when I reread them (as proofs or published), I often find that they could be better and cannot help feeling disappointed. That makes me reluctant to distribute offprints of my papers.
Can you tell the readers something about Chuo University?
The Tama campus (home to the Faculty of Letters, the Law School, etc.) is situated to the west of downtown Tokyo, in a place where one can see mountain ranges, including Mt. Fuji, on clear days. I like the environment very much: the air is fresh and the trees green!
What would you say are the strong suits of Chuo University?
Its unassuming character, I believe.
How are Sumerology and Assyriology generally perceived in Japan?
As something very remote and quite exotic. It seems there are quite a few people who are keenly interested in them: they go to museums and attend related lectures offered at universities or adult education courses.
When it comes to our field, every country has its own traditions in teaching and research. What do you feel is typical for Sumerology in Japan?
Since I didn’t learn Sumerian in Japan, I don’t know how Sumerian has been taught in Japan. As for research, we have the late professor Yoshikawa, who contributed tremendously to the understanding of Sumerian grammar, and several active scholars who have been publishing outstanding studies in the socioeconomic field.
What does a regular day in your work at Chuo University look like?
I usually spend part of the weekend and the whole day Monday preparing my classes for the week. Tuesday and Wednesday are my busiest days, when my classes and office hours are scheduled. Thursday I have a meeting or meetings to attend (which I like to skip if I can). Friday I try to do my own research, though not with much success.
Could you tell us a bit about the students at Chuo University? How do they generally come to study Sumerology?
In the photo you see the students who are participating in my ancient history seminar. The juniors are writing a seminar paper and the seniors are writing a B.A. thesis with a theme that is related to ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, or Rome. Many of my students will get a job after graduation but from time to time some pursue further study. Mr. Aiba, for example, will become an M.A. student this coming April when our new academic year starts and will begin studying Akkadian and Sumerian.
Japan is a country with an incredibly rich cultural heritage. Do you think that affects the way you or your students approach Sumerian culture?
In writing Japanese, we use kanji (= Chinese characters) as logograms and kana, developed from kanji (= simplified kanji), as phonograms. This kanji-kana mixed writing system is quite analogous to the Sumerian one, and it might be this proximity that makes us feel that Sumerian is familiar.
Last year the field of Humanities faced massive closures in Japan. What are the latest news about these cutbacks? Can colleagues around the world help in any way?
Colleges and universities (especially public ones) have been undergoing serious budget cuts. Public funding is given to projects that, in the short term, promise economic growth and gains in industrial competitiveness. With the emphasis on quick and practical results, the conduct of applied research naturally takes priority, which pushes the Humanities and basic scientific research into a corner. The Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine in 2016, Yoshinori Ohsumi, has stated that if the Japanese government continues its current cultural and scientific policy, there will be no more Nobel Prize winners for new research in the future. I am afraid that a deteriorating research environment may be found all over the world. I don’t know what we can do to counteract this situation.
Please tell us something about yourself!
My name is Naoki Aiba, I’m 21 years old and a B.A. student at Chuo University. I am from Tochigi, a prefecture adjacent to Tokyo. Right now I am writing a B.A. thesis about kingship in Neo-Assyrian times and its iconographic representation involving animals.
Why did you choose to study the Ancient Near East?
I was originally interested in ancient history and I was hoping to learn about the history of German music when I entered Chuo University. But I had a chance to take a lecture course in ancient history, and the more I learned about the history of ancient civilizations, the more I became inclined to focus on ancient history. I became especially interested in Assyria because I wondered why Assyria, which had existed more than 2,000 years, collapsed soon after unifying the ancient Near East.
What are your ambitions for the future?
I want to proceed to the master’s program starting next year and learn Akkadian and Sumerian. My hope is to become a high school teacher or a researcher. I want to get a job where I can apply what I learn.
How does one apply to study at Chuo University? Is it difficult to get in?
It is not that difficult to get into Chuo University if you study to some extent. After you are admitted, I think it is very important to have a strong will to learn.
How are Near Eastern courses taught at Chuo University? What department is it part of?
There is no separate Near Eastern studies program at Chuo University. The Western history major is divided into five tracks according to the historical periods. Ancient History is one of them. In the Ancient History track, we can study Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome and so on. There are not many students compared with other tracks but we enjoy it.
What does the general ‘university track’ look like in Japan?
The general university curriculum is for four years in Japan. In many schools Humanity students are supposed to acquire a basic knowledge during the first two years and then learn more professionally what they want to learn. After four years, they can proceed to the master’s program if they want to and if they pass the exam.
How is student housing organized?
Many students live alone near the University campus. Others live with their parents and commute by train. I live with my grandmother in Saitama and I spend three hours commuting every day!
What does a regular day in your studies at Chuo University look like?
I usually study in the seminar room or library and assist my professor, twice a week, by making a database of Lagash personal names. I also play the cello and am a member of the Chuo University orchestra.
What does the typical Japanese student do when it comes to social activities?
I think that having a part-time job is the most common social activity for Japanese students. There are a variety of part-time jobs, such as food store or convenience store clerk, cram school teacher, and so on. Students work to make money and for social interaction. Some students do volunteer work after natural disasters like earthquakes and typhoons.
Are there perhaps any fun facts you can tell us about you department, or about Chuo University?
There is a kakigōri machine in the seminar room. Kakigōri means “shaved ice” and is a typical summer treat in Japan. On hot afternoons, we enjoy eating it with a variety of syrup.
What would you like to know from other students in other countries?
What subjects are you interested in about the ancient Near East? What is your research topic? What kind of job do you want to get after studying Assyriology?
Pictures courtesy of Fumi Karahashi.]]>
“I have to admit that it took me years to be able to understand more or less the basic ideas, concepts, and lines of thoughts in the ANE and to realize that it is perfectly OK to simplify and to tell the stories behind the text. As Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: ‘Easy reading is damn hard writing!'”
Please tell us a bit about yourself!
From very early on I was interested in languages. Therefore I started my university life with Arabic and Turkish studies in Saarbrücken and Bonn. But soon I got fascinated with cuneiform script and culture and gave up on the modern languages. With a Fulbright scholarship I spent two years at the University of Pennsylvania studying with Ake Sjöberg, Erle Leichty and Barry Eichler – a memorable experience. After a short stay in Munich I moved to Hamburg where I got my PhD in 1989. I still think it was a lasting influence on my attitude towards Assyriology that I spent six campaigns digging in Syria.
While I was still a student in Hamburg, Gernot Wilhelm offered me the opportunity to teach, and this has been a prime interest ever since. I taught at universities in Würzburg, Hamburg, Salzburg, Rostock, Bielefeld, Kiel, Aarhus, and Göttingen, but now mainly in Hamburg. When my children started school, I also offered classes on the Ancient Near East in their schools and began giving as many lectures as possible on diverse aspects of the Ancient Near East. For general readers, I recently edited an Anthology of Ancient Near Eastern literature. Also, I have been organizing archaeological excursions to Turkey for interested people. Basically, I consider myself now an Ancient Near Eastern Scholar in a very broad sense.
At the 2015 Rencontre in Berne and Genève, you organized a workshop entitled ‘Die Zukunft der Altorientalistik’, or ‘The Future of Ancient Near Eastern Studies’. The workshop focused on what we can do to bring the cultures of the Ancient Near East to public attention. Why this particular topic?
For some years I have been teaching general courses at the Helmut-Schmidt-Universität in Hamburg. It is one of the two universities run by the German Army where future officers have to attend also liberal arts and ethics courses. If I am lucky, two or three in a course might have heard of the Tower of Babylon (in their religious education class! – never in history classes!).
Also, when I am asked to speak about my profession, hardly any younger person has an idea about the cultures of the Ancient Near East. The general knowledge about the civilization of the Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Hittites, not to mention Hurrians, Urarteans or Elamites, and of their impact on and similarity with our modern world has almost completely disappeared. But the young people are the ones on whom we will depend to continue the study of the Ancient Near East.
There is a rather recent, additional reason: In recent years, we have welcomed refugees from Iraq and Syria in Europe, many of them children and young adults. Yet they know very little about their own pre-Islamic past. Especially for them, it is essential that we communicate the importance of their own early history and culture as part of their identity as well as to convey how well connected to Western civilizations it has continued to be throughout the centuries.
“To resurrect the cultures that are left to us, we have to tell the stories that connect to our listeners. And that is not always easy.”
The proceedings of the workshop were published in the latest edition of Altorientalische Forschungen. In your introduction, you describe a dwindling public interest in the cultures of the Ancient Near East. Why is it, do you believe, that the broader interest in the ancient cultures is disappearing?
What does the general public associate about the Near East nowadays? Terror, war, fighting, destruction, religious problems, danger, ISIS (Daesh), destruction of ancient sites: in short problems and more problems. Khorsabad has been destroyed, but who in our days actually knows and can explain that we have lost – in my opinion – the most impressive and ingenious Assyrian palace ever built? Who realizes and explains what plundering or destroying archaeological sites means for our future understanding? Most people cannot bear the gruesome stories propagated in the media anymore – they close their eyes and let it happen.
In addition, specialists on Mesopotamia and Syria “compete” with Egyptologists who have pyramids, temples with lively scenes, inscriptions, and mummies to show, when we have largely cuneiform tablets and mud bricks to display. To resurrect the cultures that are left to us, we have to tell the stories that connect to our listeners. And that is not always easy.
What general conclusions did you yourself draw from the workshop?
It was good to see that there is the realization, especially among the younger colleagues, that something has to be done. My intent was to show what can be done and how to do it, to show that there are some ideas that can be taken up easily and that everyone of us can get involved.
I also found the results from the British Museums comforting, in that cuneiform tablets in a modern display do attract attention. I was also much impressed by the outreach programs that are done in the Penn Museum in Philadelphia. The problem however is the funding: you cannot expect a young scholar to finance this work without any chance of earning a living in museums or academia.
When talking to the public, we might first broach the famous remains in our field: the Code of Hammurapi, Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon, Assyria and its stunning reliefs, stories about Gilgamesh, Enki and Inanna, maybe even about Enmerkar and Lugalbanda, daily life (always very much of interest) including aspects of religion, justice, trade, and irrigation.
But I have to admit that it took me years to be able to understand more or less the basic ideas, concepts, and lines of thoughts in the ANE and to realize that it is perfectly OK to simplify and to tell the stories behind the text. As Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote: “Easy reading is damn hard writing”!
What obstacles and advantages do Assyriologists face when communicating their results to a broader audience?
If assyriologists or Near Eastern archaeologists talk about their work, people are normally very curious because most of our work is unknown to them. I find it always amazing to see how many of them had wanted to become an archaeologist. Why not use popular figures like Indiana Jones to tell the adventures of assyriologists and archaeologists?
To reach the public we have to start by connecting their life as it is today with the life 4000 years ago: school children love the stories about the Sumerian school, they like to write on clay and listen to the stories. Adults do too; but then you can, for example, expand on the advantages of globalization, long distance trade, the problems of a country without any commodities, the building with mud brick, the import of Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan to Iraq. Then you almost certainly face the question: “How did they do it?” Or you might end up with astonished reactions like “I never knew that”, “That’s amazing”, and the like. Very often, making analogies has been despised and considered not scholarly. But drawing comparisons means to connect people and their experiences.
In that sense, one of my favorite stories comes from Mari (ARM 27,1, see W. Heimpel, Letters to the King of Mari, p. 411, 2003): “When Asqudum audited the palace, he assigned 12 men to 1 plow. And they were not enough, as 15 men are barely enough for 1 plow. The seedbed preparation in front of the plows is much (work). And the agents saw (then) that the workload was much. Now agents arrived and assigned 10 men to the plows. In the past, 12 men were not enough for one plow, how can 10 men now be enough?!” Anyone listening to this passage will instantly recognize parallels to modern work-life.
The general public is interested in general ideas and new insights, the main line of the argument and a reasonably clear answer and anchors to what they already know. We, however, are taught to discuss every detail, all eventualities and possibilities. Therefore we have to strive hard to skip the details and concentrate on the essentials. This type of work should not belittled in the academic world.
The papers in the workshop dealt with very different media of communication – schools, museums, board games, theatre. Is there any media that you yourself find particularly promising?
Personally, I am a strong believer in individual contact. Sometimes young adults still come up and tell me that I have taught them many years ago to write their name in cuneiform and discussed with them the adventures of Gilgamesh. So I gather that my own enthusiasm made a lasting impression. But in the end, of course, we will need all media, and communicators can use the one that works best for them. But first, we have to be present far more in the public as well as to interest computer and media people to facilitate and participate in our mission.
Assyriologists today face a number of challenges in their daily work, including cutbacks at a number of universities. Why should already hard‑pressed researchers focus on communication as well?
Very simple: it is the public that funds our work! Very often they ask good questions that are worth listening to. If they don’t know what, how, and why we research, they are hardly likely to want to pay for it? Also, don’t we believe that our work has some relevance for the public?
What do you believe is the future of Ancient Near Eastern Studies?
If we really want to have a future among the many competing fields, we have to accept that popularizing work is necessary and essential and not some lesser work. In short, we cannot only depend on the private commitment of some of us but need professional public relations to survive.
“Personally, I am a strong believer in individual contact. Sometimes young adults still come up and tell me that I have taught them many years ago to write their name in cuneiform and discussed with them the adventures of Gilgamesh. So I gather that my own enthusiasm made a lasting impression.”
Picture courtesy of Dr. Sabina Franke.]]>
The Archaeological Survey of Koi Sanjaq/Koya (Iraqi Kurdistan): Scientific Investigations and Teaching Programs
By Cinzia Pappi
Roughly two hours southeast of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, nestled between the modern districts of Sulaimaniya, Erbil, and Kirkuk, lies the region of Koi Sanjaq/Koya. This rough triangle of about twelve hundred square kilometers is hemmed in from the east by the rising chains of the Zagros piedmont, on the south by the Lower Zab as it descends from the Raniya plateau towards the Tigris and the Assyrian plains.
Since antiquity, the area has been known as a cultural crossroads of imperial powers, from the Assyrians, Achaemenids, and Parthians to the Ottomans empire, between southern and northern Iraq and between the valley of the Tigris and western Iran. This is partly mirrored in the historical archives of neighboring Shemshara for the Middle Bronze Age and in the Middle and Neo-Assyrian archives for the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age.
Since 2015, the Leopold-Franzens University of Innsbruck (Austria), with the support of the University of Koya (Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq) and the General Directorate of Antiquities of the Kurdish Regional Government of Iraq, has been conducting an archaeological survey of Koi Sanjaq/Koya (ASK) to investigate the evolution of this cultural and historical landscape.
The rich archaeological potential of the Koya region had long been known from the Archaeological Atlas of Iraq (1975), which had already recorded 113 sites dated from the Palaeolithic to the Islamic Era. Previous excavations at Satu Qala, not only confirmed this long settlement history at a stratified site from the Epipaleolithic to the Sassanian Period, but further highlighted the role of the region as an important economic and cultural node between Mesopotamia and Western Iran.
The first job was then to integrate the existing data provided by the Archaeological Atlas of Iraq with a preliminary spatial analysis based on satellite imagery. This work already showed several topographic anomalies, consisting of a number of medium to small-sized tells and a large number of archeological settlements on flat hills. Both a short pilot season in 2015 and fieldwork in 2016 show the challenges in matching data from remote sensing with evidence on the ground. The physical morphology of the region is defined by hilly plains throughout, broken by numerous mountain areas in the north as well as the northern bank of the valley of the Lower Zab. Added to this are the continuing urbanization combined with the intensive exploitation of the hinterland through agriculture, the exploitation of water resources, and oil fields as Kurdish Iraq continues to flourish. Systematic interviews with the inhabitants about the history of region have thus proved to be an indispensable aid to fieldwork.
Daily fieldwork has so far been focused on testing the satellite and Atlas data at selected sites, confirming the Atlas data and removing some false positives. The basic work of collecting and processing the pottery and surface finds is certainly made much easier through the logistic support of the local office of the Directorate of Antiquities of Erbil, housed in the restored Qishlah which overlooks the city of Koya, an Ottoman citadel built at the end of the 18th century AD, which also serves as a storage for much of the material collected so far.
An important adjunct to the scientific project is also provided by a teaching program in field archaeology, begun in the Fall of 2016 in collaboration with the Departments of History and Geography of the University of Koya (Iraqi Kurdistan). Prof. Robert Rollinger, director of the Institute of Ancient History and Ancient Near Eastern Studies of the University of Innsbruck, Dr. Wali M. Hamad, president of the University of Koya, Dr. Haidar Lashkry, vice-president for scientific and post-graduate studies, and Abubaker Othman Zendin, general director of Antiquities of Iraqi Kurdistan, have given their eager support to integrating knowledge of field archaeology into the curriculum of the Faculty of Education. Students and colleagues gain the opportunity to observe the fieldwork in progress and learn the basics of archaeological methods and the application of Geographical Information System (GIS). This close collaboration among colleagues in the Departments of History and Geography will help to develop awareness of cultural heritage for future generations of teachers in primary and secondary schools. In a long-term perspective, it aims to create an academic infrastructure for a new study program in Ancient History and Archeology.
The first training sessions during the field season 2016 were addressed to a small group consisting of four students and four colleagues. Members of the ASK project team began by giving introductions to the methodology of archeological survey fieldwork, and in the following, to post-processing of the data with Geographic Information System for members of the Geography Department. A second group, consisting of teachers and student belonging to the History Department, has been trained in processing and analyzing the surface collections. The training for the latter group has been focused on investigating the role of ceramic artifacts in their archaeological contexts as primary sources for the diachronic reconstruction of historical landscapes.
The pilot season of 2015 was mainly aimed at checking sampled anomalies of different type and size on sampled areas on the ground. Particular interest was initially devoted to the area of the valley of the Lower Zab, one of the main communication routes in antiquity. The following season in September 2016 expanded the survey first to specific nodal points in the plain of Koya and moved on to the fertile hilly plains located north-east of Satu Qala at the feet of the Hab-es-Sultan Dagh, the chain dividing Koya from the Raniya plain. With the exception of individual sites in the valley of the Lower Zab, the western part of the region as well most part of the northern one remains largely unexplored.
Preliminary results following the two short seasons of fieldwork have already been promising. Considerable data have already been collected and analyzed for some 39 sites of different sizes in detail. Preliminary results of the ongoing work on the surface collections attest to a great variety of materials ranging from the Neolithic to the Late Sassanian/ Early Islamic Period. Prof. Karel Nováček of the Palacky University, Olomouc (Czech Republic) joined the team in 2016 to provide his expertise on Sassanian and Early Islamic materials. As expected, the information in the Atlas can already be adjusted in many cases. The fieldwork highlighted several tells of similar or larger size to Satu Qala, including Qala Sartik, Ashti, both located directly on the Lower Zab, and Qala Shila, located in the hinterland close to the city of Koya itself.
Qala Sartik, located at the conjunction of the river Shalga with the Lower Zab, is a multiphase mound presenting a very rich surface ceramic collection, dating to the Middle Bronze Age onwards. Ashti is an archaeological mound on a flat plateau, located in fertile plain about 10 km northeast of Satu Qala and about 5 km from the bank of the river. The ancient site has an abandoned modern mud brick village on the top and a small urban center extending northeast. The materials dates back to the Middle Bronze Age onwards. Similarities with stratified materials from Satu Qala already prove that the site was not as isolated as current maps suggest. Indeed, further investigations conducted in the surroundings revealed a cluster of agricultural centers connected to a system of karez, underground irrigation tunnels.
Qala Shila, in contrast, gives some sense of what the hinterlands in the plain of Koya, further from the river, looked like in antiquity. The site consists of two mounds joined by a low hump. Previous investigations on the northern mound by the Department of Antiquities of Iraq had focused on the remains of a Sassanian structure on the surface. However, the site, by far the largest in the immediate area, also expands to the northwest into a lower town. While the Atlas indicates “Cassite” and “Assyrian” settlement, our preliminary analysis of the consistent surface collections revealed a much wider range of materials from the Chalcolithic to the Sassanian and Early Islamic Period.
The ongoing fieldwork is too preliminary to provide a more detailed picture of diachronic settlement patterns for the region. However, the fieldwork at Satu Qala combined with the surface investigations in the region of Koi Sanjaq/Koya is slowly giving shape to the cultural landscape of a region usually viewed as an empty frontier between empires. The next campaigns will add considerable information on the ceramic typology and the history of the region, as surface investigations extend to the western and northern areas. One of the main goals for further research is also to check the typological data through soundings on selected sites. We also plan to continue the systematic interviews with people in the region, conducted in cooperation with the History Department of the University of Koya, in order to better understand the cultural landscape of the recent past and to pinpoint archeological sites as places of memory. A cooperation between the ASK project and Michael Thevenin (IFPO Erbil), who is currently investigating the seasonal transhumance of some Kurdish groups in the region of Koya, will expand these efforts considerably.
With the data from the next few years in hand, we hope to return both to the historical questions about the regional and transregional communication network, and to the definition of Koya as an archeological landscape in its own right. The parallels to the post-Assyrian materials from Satu Qala will also add information on the developments of peripheral centers within the new consolidated Assyrian Empire and how they developed after the fall of Nineveh. Building on previous excavation work in the area, particularly at the Middle Assyrian provincial capital at Satu Qala, the survey will finally add new puzzle pieces to the question of the eastern territories Assyria and the later kingdom of Adiabene as well as to the multicultural and multi-religious periphery of the Sassanian Empire.
Tell al-Wilayah, writes Saadoon, is a uniquely important site because it provides us with new information about the economic system of Mesopotamia for the Old Akkadian period. Our knowledge of Old Akkadian economy is highly limited, with respect to other periods such as the Third Dynasty of Ur or the Old Babylonian period, in the term of e.g. weights, scales, prices, and wages. Likewise, we know little about the machines that were used in agriculture and irrigation, or about the various stages of agricultural work in this period.
The texts of Tell al-Wilayah are particularly important as a source of information because they were uncovered through controlled scientific excavations rather than illicit digging, and because they are the earliest group of texts known from the Old Akkadian period. Saadoon studied 40 of the texts discovered during the fourth season of excavation at Tell al-Wilayah, in 2002. Thanks to a grant from the British Institute for the Study of Iraq, he was able to travel to the UK for a research visit.
Saadoon’s tour of the UK began at SOAS with professor Mark Weeden as his advisor, but included also shorter stays at Cambridge, Liverpool, Reading and Oxford. Saadoon also worked at the British Museum reading and collating texts, and taking courses on the photography, restoration, and digital archiving of cuneiform tablets. His stay in the UK ended with a workshop at SOAS in November 2015, on the subject of the cuneiform tablets found at Tell al-Wilayah.
Combining archeology and philology
Saadoon’s dissertation includes both an archeological study of the site of Tell al-Wilayah and a philological investigations of the texts and of what they reveal about the ancient agricultural practices. He begins his dissertation by examining the geographical layout and topography of the site, and in particular the results of the fourth season of excavation, in 2002.
He then goes on to give an overview of which texts were uncovered at Tell al-Wilayah and what kind of information they provide us with. Saadoon’s study explores a number of topics in light of this philological evidence. He investigates the ownership of agricultural land in the Old Akkadian period, as well as how this agricultural land was managed. He then examines the personal names attested at Tell al-Wilayah, in terms of their structure, grammar and meaning. Finally, he studies the attestation of metrological terms and the names of professions in this group of tablets.
In an email to Mar Shiprim, Saadoon writes that there were four main results from his thesis:
In sum, writes Saadoon, “I hope that I have been able to add something useful to the cuneiform library, something which contributes to help researchers in the field of cuneiform studies, as a service to my dear country.”
Pictures courtesy of Abather Saadoon.]]>
The Oxford Archeology Image Database is a new project, launched last June, dedicated to preserving and presenting fragile images from archeological excavations. Not only are the images available on the site in the best quality possible, they are also identified with a number of tags, making the images easier to find and identify. Tim Clayden tells us about his motivation for constructing this very useful database.
By Tim Clayden
The digital camera was invented in the 1970s, but the technology did not become available to ordinary users until the early 1990s. By the late 1990s digital photography was commonplace and for at least a decade film based images are now the rarity having been almost fully eclipsed by digital photographs. One immediate result of this technological revolution is that images are easily taken, copied, modified and distributed – all in the click of a keyboard.
By contrast all photographs prior to the early 1990s were the product of ‘wet film’ photography. If the cost of each image is considered, film photographs were hugely more expensive than digital pictures. Cameras too were not cheap. At least one of the team members at Nimrud in the 1950s and 1960s could not afford a camera – unheard of today when even mobile phones have good quality cameras.
The net result is that while images of excavations are now easily and cheaply made and distributed (in published or unpublished form – e.g. on webpages), images taken before the early 1990s are rarer and subject to physical decay. The bulk of the pre-1990 photographs were taken as slides. This means that there is literally one copy of the image. But film decays. In some cases the colours fade or merge one into the other leaving the image increasingly blurred. In other instances the film itself can either become brittle and crumble, or emulsify and effectively melt. Film also attracts dust which over time embeds within its structure. Given that copying of images taken on film is time consuming and expensive it is the case that such photographs are increasingly lost.
The loss of photographs of excavations and sites before 1991 is unfortunate. In many instances the excavations have not been fully published, and even if they were only a fraction of the photographic archive was published. Almost exclusively publications have had to publish illustrations in black and white to keep costs down. Seeing these images in colour adds to the understanding of the object/ scene being photographed. Also lost is the record of a site over time which might also be of interest – for example the progress of sand dunes over Nippur. Overall, the loss of such photographs represents the loss of a record of what was excavated leaving gaps in our understanding of the ancient remains. This is also true of sites such as Dūr-Kurigalzu, Babylon and Nimrud which have been subject to restoration work before the original excavated remains have been fully recorded and published.
An additional and horrible spur to the work was the destruction committed by ISIS at Nimrud in April 2015. The very physical remains of some sites were being lost. It seemed very appropriate to do what could be done to preserve at least the images of these sites.
Against that background in 2014 I began work to establish whether there was a way of making available to others undigitised photographs (i.e. film based) of sites. The obvious solution was to establish a website as the host medium for such images having been digitised first. However, it soon became apparent to me that an unstructured data base of images would be hard to use and ultimately of little value. A website which could be searched across a range of data points for each image – site name, description of the image, photographer, date of photograph, date of the remains in the image – was obviously of better utility. Further as the objective of the website was to make such images available for use by scholars and others, a unique reference number (URN) for each photograph had to be generated. Doing this manually was not an option as being too time consuming – an automatic system was required.
As there were no commercial software packages available that matched my requirement I looked to software developers to develop what was needed. I turned to a Leiden based company – Landscape, who specialise in making data useable, understandable and manageable. The company consists of recent graduates of the university with academic backgrounds ranging from computing to political science. Their work focuses on the management and visualisation of complex data sets to help interpret the data. Over a series of discussions and a workshop we collaboratively developed the website which is hosted in the UK.
In June 2015 with the help of the Lorne Thyssen Research Fund for Ancient World Topics at Wolfson College, Oxford, I launched the website (the bulk of the costs have been borne by myself). The process is simple. The photographs have first to be digitised and then uploaded with the various ‘tags’ completed making possible searching across the data base. It is this last bit of the process that takes the most time, but which is the unique aspect to the site.
Use of the images is governed by the UK law on copyright and in particular the principle of Fair Dealing in the UK Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988 (and paragraphs 29 and 30 in particular). In summary it allows use of the images in research and private study without cost, and that only when an image is to be used in a commercial context (e.g. advertising) will a charge be made for use of the photograph. The only other stipulation is that the OAID URN is given when the image is used along with the name of the photographer and the date the photograph was taken.
The site now hosts over 1500 photographs from nearly forty archaeological sites in Iraq from Babylon to Yarim Tepe with images contributed by a range of people including Warwick Ball, Dr Stephanie Dalley, Dr Julian Reade, Professor Michael Roaf, Anne Searight, Dr Christopher Walker, Dr Paul Zimansky and myself (a number of the images have been contributed by persons who wish to remain anonymous). Some amateur photographs from museums are also available including from inside the Mosul Museum after ISIS destroyed a number of the displays; objects in the University Museum, Philadelphia and photographs of the 1920-30s excavations at Kish from the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. The quality of some of the photographs is not ideal, but they do preserve a unique image and thus have value.
The OAID complements the work being done in other areas to preserve photographs of sites in Jordan, Syria, North Africa etc. I welcome further contributions to the website – preferably as digitised images (or with funding to digitise photographs). Most importantly offers of assistance to upload and label images would be very helpful.
Tim Clayden, Wolfson College, Linton Road, Oxford
All pictures are available on the oaid.co.uk website.]]>
“The exhibition has enabled a different presentation of the Louvre’s collections, with a deliberately evocative and contextualising scenography supported in particular by models and a wide range of audiovisual and multimedia presentations.”
By Ariane Thomas
The exhibition “History begins in Mesopotamia” presents 3000 years of Mesopotamian history, from the appearance of cuneiform writing in the late 4th millennium B.C. until its abandonment in the first years A.D. While avoiding a Mesopo-centric “origin myth”, this exhibition nevertheless reminds us that – according to current knowledge – a number of fundamental innovations appeared for the first time in this territory now designated “Mesopotamian” but characterised by a number of constants over its 3000 years of history.
The history of the area in fact consists of a number of interruptions, while the culture and society of this land of cross-fertilisation located at the crossroads of the Orient have always evolved in a complex manner. The exhibition structure is therefore based on the official conception of an initial divine order which contributed some level of permanence to Mesopotamian culture and traditions over the centuries during which buildings were reconstructed and tablets recopied.
The exhibition is divided into eight sections on the basis of themes. The first are dedicated to the history of the rediscovery of ancient Mesopotamia and the myths that have developed about the civilisation since Antiquity. Presented next are the foundations of the Mesopotamian economy and the beliefs of this fundamental religious world. The other sections are dedicated to the major milestones characterising ancient Mesopotamia, beginning with the first towns which offer the opportunity to examine not only the appearance of the urban phenomenon but also the main characteristics of the Mesopotamian towns.
The exhibition then discusses writing, which appeared in these first urban centres, presenting in particular the great diversity of facts that we can learn from cuneiform texts about a wide range of areas, from the scholarly to the more mundane. Writing also provided the first names of kings and the first dynastic lists, which leads into the presentation of the royal function in Mesopotamia, ending with a section dedicated to the appearance of the state and of imperial ambitions. In conclusion, this last section is organised in chronological order along a frieze and with maps punctuating the works to better spotlight the great figures of Mesopotamian history depicted by the exhibited objects, up to the gradual disappearance of Ancient Mesopotamia during Late Antiquity.
Presenting almost 500 works, the majority from the Louvre’s collections, including a large number of works restored and/or re-erected for the occasion (such as a monumental panel more than 5 m high made of bricks from Khorsabad previously conserved in the museum reserve), the exhibition has also benefited from exceptional loans generously granted by the British Museum, the Vorderasiatiches Museum, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, the musée de Varzy, the musée d’Orsay, Strasbourg University and other departments of the Louvre Museum. These loans enable the exhibition to be completed but also make it possible to compare very similar works, sometimes resulting from single batches, or to examine both material objects and their representations.
The exhibition has enabled a different presentation of the Louvre’s collections, with a deliberately evocative and contextualising scenography supported in particular by models and a wide range of audiovisual and multimedia presentations, together with a set of photographs from 1850 to the present day collected for the show. Among the tools developed, a unique virtual visit of the Palace of Khorsabad has been created. A simulation of the handling of seal-cylinders has also been put in place, enabling them to be considerably enlarged, while an audio system presents a short extract of the Epic of Gilgamesh read by four assyriologists with different accents – a means of answering without answering the question frequently asked about ancient pronunciation.
The fruit of a number of collaborations, this exhibition and its catalogue aim to contribute to a better understanding of this field by the public, providing also informations on the perils currently being faced by the sites and objects involved. The exhibition also addresses the scientific community, presenting a number of original works and the result of in-depth studies, including verifications and revisions of dates or materials but also new translations of the tablets presented.
Exhibition from 2 November 2016 to 23 January 2017.
Musée du Louvre-Lens
99 rue Paul Bert, 62300 Lens (France)
T: +33 (0)3 21 18 62 62
All images courtesy by Ariane Thomas.]]>
By Qahtan al-Abeed
The idea started when I came to Basrah in 2005, the year I got my first job as an employee at the Basrah Antiquities Department. I had spent the previous years in northern Iraq, but I’m originally from Basrah.
When I started, the department was working out of a digging house 15 km south of Basrah, in Al-Zubair, and there was no proper building. I asked them, what about the museum? But they replied that there was no museum: the old one had been looted in 1991, during the first Gulf war, and the building that had been used since as the antiquities office had been lost in the war of 2003. So on my first day, I was really sad: This was Basrah, with its great history, but without any museum at all for 15 years! I began to dream that I could take the opportunity to fix everything.
The previous museum was in the old part of the city, called ‘Old Basrah’, by the al-Ashar river. It was a very nice wooden house in the style called ‘Shanashel’. During the 1970’s the building was used as the Greek Consulate, but after the last war in 2003, somebody from one of the parties was living there and refused to give it back to the Department. Mudhar–who was the Director of the Museum–and I began to negotiate with this man, but without success. In 2006 the building was sealed as an office for one of the parties.
We went back again and talked with them; this time the police were with us, and we got the building back at the end of 2006. But after 6 months, somebody shot at us while I was driving along; Mudhar was killed. It was a difficult time, in the beginning. The building was not strong enough to host the museum, and the area not secure enough at that time.
Then I heard that the British army would leave Saddam’s palace complex, and I said, ‘Ok, it would be a good idea to ask the local government to get one of the palaces as a museum!’ I felt that the idea would touch people’s heart, because they were still feeling bad about Saddam’s regime. Places can remind people of their sad feelings, so how can we change those feelings? We have tried to send the message that the places of the dictatorial regime will become places of culture and civilization. That civilization always triumphs over dictatorship.
So we sent an official letter to the head of the Basrah Provincial Council (BPC), and there was a meeting between the BPC and somebody from the British army. Then they contacted me, and we had several meetings in their camp at the airport. They offered support for our plan, and they made contact with Dr. John Curtis, who was the Keeper of the Middle East Department at the British Museum at that time. We began leading the project together, and from 2008 until 2010 we worked on getting permission from the government to use the building, and in 2010 we finally got it.
Sir Terence Clark (former British ambassador to Iraq) together with John Curtis and other friends founded a charity called Friends of Basrah Museum (FOBM). The FOBM signed a memorandum of understanding, pledging to raise the funds needed to rehabilitate the Building. Most of the funds came from British Petroleum.
We made a work program together and started the first phase in 2011. First we needed to secure the building, blocking all the windows on the first floor where the galleries are. I did a 3D CAD model of the building, so we could understand what we were going to do. Then we restored the drain and water network, cleaned the yard around the building of military rubble, built the security gates for the main entrance and the four exhibitions, as well as the woodwork on the building’s facade, restored the dome, the paintwork, air conditioners and the furniture.
After all this work was completed, we suggested a partial opening of the museum, starting with the Basrah gallery. I did the designs for the showcases and made the plans for the exhibit. In 2016, we began to select the objects. We sent official requests to the Baghdad Museum. We went there and began the selection.
We focused on artifacts coming from archaeological sites in Basrah, and we got around 300 objects of different types, shapes and uses, from the Hellenistic period through the Parthian, Sassanid and Islamic periods. Then, we selected 255 artifacts from sites outside of Basrah, but which had some relationship to the city.
The Basrah gallery opened on the 27th of September 2016, supported by the FOBM, BISI and the British Museum.The opening day was very successful, and everybody was happy. Today the museum is one of the main places for visitors in Basrah. Within the first two months we have had 650 visitors, which is the largest number of visitors for a museum in Iraq. We recently received the very happy news that the British Council has accepted a proposal submitted by FOBM, and that they will fund the museum 460,000 GBP to open the other three galleries. The museum now works as a cultural center in Basrah, and we are planning to host the most important cultural activities in the city very soon.
All pictures courtesy of Qahtan al-Abeed.]]>
The theme will be ‘Dealing with Antiquity’, and it is split into three themes: relating to the past in ancient times, today, and in the future. The first theme addresses such issues as tradition and cultural memory in Ancient Near Eastern societies, while the second theme explores the present status of cultural heritage in the Middle East. Finally, the third theme will take a look at the future of the discipline, including new technological advances and methodologies, such as digital humanities.
Remember that the deadlines for registering to the Rencontre will be coming up soon: members should register before April 1st to avoid additional fees. The deadline for abstracts has been extended to March 1st. The registration fee will be €100 for members of the IAA and €130 for non-members, with a 50% discount for students. Remember also that the IAA Fund offers €400 of support for early career scholars who are presenting at the Rencontre – the deadline for application is March 1st.
So far, the following workshops have been announced:
Website of the 2017 Rencontre