A. Contemporary Theory in Near Eastern Archaeology

Organizers: Laurent Dissard, University of California, Berkeley and Antonietta Catanzariti, University of California, Berkeley

Saturday, May 7th
9:00 – 12:00
Chevron Auditorium


The Ancient Near East has played a crucial role in the disciplining of Archaeology as early as the 19th century. Both Mesopotamia and Egypt were central to early 20th century theoretical considerations on the origins of agriculture and early development in urbanism. After World War II, new methods and theories were experimented with, for instance in Iraq by Braidwood, and adopted as models elsewhere in the world.

Today, it would seem that archaeology in the Near East has taken a seat back and let other parts of the world be on the forefront of theoretical discussions. This session will critically evaluate this position and offer explanations as to why or why not. In order to do so, it will scrutinize both the historical and political context of the modern Middle East which have made possible the emergence and development of this scientific discipline. Finally, papers will address new theoretical trends in archaeology and offer contemporary perspectives which rethink through themes relevant to ancient Mesopotamia, the Levant, Anatolia and Egypt today.


Session I: Near Eastern Archaeology: Conflicts, Collections and Collaborations (Laurent Dissard, facilitator)

“Embedded”: The Role of Archaeologists During Armed Conflict

Allison Cuneo, Boston University, aecuneo@bu.edu

The embarrassment caused by the looting of the Iraq Museum shamed the United States into ratifying the 1954 Hague Convention.  Controversy has swirled around the idea of utilizing “embedded” archaeologists during armed conflict to uphold the Convention.  What does it mean to be “embedded,” or has this loaded term been misappropriated?  Are we as archaeologists professionally obliged to assist the military in order to protect heritage during wartime, or are we ethically compelled to avoid any collaboration with armed forces?  This paper will discuss the ever-changing relationship between archaeologists and the military as well as its potential ethical implications.

Decalogue or Dialogue? The Biblical Past and Middle East Peace

Sandra Scham, University of Maryland, Center for International Development and Conflict Management, sandrascham@hotmail.com

Proponents of interfaith dialogue are consistently pointing out the “common narrative” of the Bible. The secular exploitation of the Biblical Past by the State of Israel, however, has turned it into a form of negative heritage for others in the region. At the same time, our country’s obsession with Christian nationhood, and adherence to Biblical rhetoric, has been understudied as a cause for our failures to broker peace in the Middle East. This paper will explore how these various admixtures of Bible, archaeology, and politics have damaged all prospects for a real dialogue between Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

The Artifact as Ambassador: Displaying Ancient Near Eastern Materials in Washington DC

Alexander Nagel, Smithsonian Institution, nagela@si.edu

This paper is an attempt to explore the relationship between the fascination with and public display of ancient Near Eastern materials in Washington DC from the early decades of Near Eastern archaeology to the present day. With the formation of collections in the late nineteenth century, the archaeology and knowledge systems of the vast areas of the Orient became first visible and manifest. But how was/is the ancient Near East visible today in the nation’s capital? Issues of display will be addressed as well as the impacts of the display in education and public media.

Session II: Redefining Egyptology I: Contemporary Politics and Ancient Egypt (Dana DePietro, facilitator)

From the Rosetta Stone to Lady Sennuwy: Collection as control in Egypt and ancient Nubia

Elizabeth Minor, University of California, Berkeley, eminor@berkeley.edu

Control of antiquities was a key arena of conflict during 19th-century colonial Egypt and can inform us about ancient conflict as well.  The history of collecting, studying, and displaying Egyptian artifacts is intertwined with European colonialism.  The battles over ownership of the Rosetta Stone, and the knowledge produced through viewing/studying it, illustrate how objects act in political interactions and negotiations.  A comparison with the collection of Egyptian statuary by the ancient Classic Kerma Nubians demonstrates similar trends.  Kerma’s obtaining and manipulating the sculpture of their northern neighbors can also be placed within a long history of political conflict between polities.

Finding the Disabled in Modern and Ancient Egypt

Anne Austin, University of California, Los Angeles, aeaustin@ucla.edu

Disability studies have recently come into academic favor through their ever-growing prominence in the political arena. The American Disabilities Act (1990) and the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (2001) have forced both governments and academia alike to redefine disabled identities and question the way responsibilities surrounding disability relate to broader society.  This paper will explore the modern day Egyptian responses to definitions of disability, as well as the influences these responses have had on academic interpretations of disability in the archaeological record. It will then survey future potential for disability studies using the ancient Egyptian archaeological record.

Revolutionizing Egyptology: The Impact of Sociopolitical Changes on Egyptian Archaeology and Cultural Heritage

Nicholaos Lazaridis, California State University, Sacramento, leetheicy@hotmail.com & Marwa Helmy, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium

In the course of news broadcasting on the ongoing developments in Tahrir Square and in Egypt’s political system, spectators around the world have also been receiving frequent reports on the guarding or looting of Egyptian antiquities; a statue of Tutankhamun has been featuring in such broadcasts, along with Cairo Museum as part of the impacted landscape in downtown Cairo. The fact that Egyptian antiquities have been in the spotlight comes as no surprise, given the importance this ancient heritage holds for Egypt’s national and international profile, not only as an irreplaceable tourist attraction and economic resource but also as a defining element of Egypt’s national identity. In this paper we will discuss the main developments pertaining to the management of Egyptian antiquities in the midst of the political changes in Egypt. We will attempt to raise the question of how the discipline of Egyptology may best adapt to these changes and use them as an opportunity to reexamine the way it conducts archaeological work and the role it plays in modern Egyptian society.

Session III: Redefining Egyptology II: Contemporary Theory and Ancient Egypt (Erin Riggs, facilitator)

Elite Female Identity Constructions in Egypt in the Eighth-Sixth Centuries BCE: Theories and Applications

Jean Li, University of California, Berkeley, jeanjzli@gmail.com

The roles and status of ancient Egyptian women remain imperfectly defined in Egyptology.  Taken at face value, ancient Egyptian material culture presents a normative view of women that is focused on their sexuality and fertility.  As a result, Egyptological discussions define ancient Egyptian women as wives and mothers whose status and identities were dependant upon men. A holistic application of contemporary theoretical frameworks to the rich textual, pictorial, and archaeological evidence, however, results in more nuanced interpretations of Egyptian elite female identity. This paper uses as a case study elite female burial practices at Thebes in the eighth-sixth centuries BCE.  The examination of the evidence from the theoretical perspectives of identity, status, gender, landscape, and memory demonstrates the potential disconnects between normative cultural and disciplinary views of ancient Egyptian women and ancient quotidian practices. The interpretations of the evidence suggest complexities of identity conceptions by women that extend beyond the traditional scholarly characterizations. This paper advocates a holistic theoretical approach to the study of ancient material culture in order to demonstrate the place of theory in discussions of the social history of ancient Egypt and the Near East.

Out of the Shadow of the Texts: Reinvigorating Archaeology’s Role in Egyptology Through a Theoretical Perspective.

Stuart Tyson Smith, University of California, Santa Barbara, stsmith@anth.ucsb.edu

Flinders Petrie, the founder of modern Egyptian archaeology, realized the ability of archaeology to reveal not just cultural generalities, but insights into the lives of individuals, most of whom left no written record behind. Egyptologists largely failed to exploit this potential, seeing the search for individual action in the archaeological record as futile compared to insights from the historical record. With Egypt’s rich archaeological record, however, the application of theory dealing with issues of structure and agency can connect objects and intent, artifacts and individual life stories, in ways that can reinvigorate theory’s role and relevance in Egyptology and to archaeology.

Interpreting the Ancient Egyptian Palace in the Modern World

Virginia Emery, University of Chicago, vlemery@uchicago.edu

The consideration of ancient Egyptian palaces heretofore has been confined primarily to descriptive site reports or detailed prosopographic studies, with little integration of archaeological and textual evidence.  While this analytical approach has not necessarily been deemed problematic within Egyptology, it significantly limits the understanding and, therefore, the interpretations of these ancient palaces.  In an effort to ameliorate these limitations, I employ contemporary theoretical developments in historical or text-aided archaeology to draw together both archaeological and textual materials to provide a better-contextualized perspective on the ancient conception of the palace, as compared to our modern expectations.

Session IV: Contemporary Theory and Methods in the Ancient Near East (Antonietta Catanzariti, facilitator)

“Tell-ing” Theory in Near Eastern Archaeology

Alan Farahani, University of California, Berkeley, afarahani@berkeley.edu

Assessing the utility of theory in Near Eastern archaeology requires addressing what an archaeological theory is.  In this paper I argue that Near Eastern archaeology often holds theory at a distance.  In contrast, I propose that research in associated disciplines such as behavioral science offers several models to address the content of archaeological theories. While I do not promote a unified model or definition of theory, I suggest, using two tell-sites as examples,  that as practitioners become more explicit on the constitution of theory in the region, attention to other disciplines within the wider scientific community may encourage reciprocal engagement.

The Untangling of Politics in the Archaeology of the Southwest Black Sea

Shannon Martino, University of Pennsylvania, smartino@sas.upenn.edu

For most of the history of archaeology in Turkey, analyses of prehistoric archaeology were made with reference to developments in the Near East, the presumed origin of all culture and technology, yet southeast Europe is no farther from central Turkey than the Near East.  Why then is the divide between research in southeast Europe and Turkey so much more significant than that between Turkey and the Near East?  My paper will show how politics, language, and methodology have been significant divides to collaboration between Turkish and southeast European archaeologists and how recent research has contributed to increased collaboration.

Adoption, Adaptation and Application: Systems Theory and the Bronze Age Southern Levant

Susan Cohen, Montana State University, scohen@montana.edu

Near Eastern archaeology stands at the forefront of methodology; the utilization of deep trenches, seriation, and the analysis of complex stratigraphy reflect approaches created by the needs of large “tell” archaeology during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Yet, a concurrent development of theoretical interpretation appears lacking; in recent years Near Eastern archaeology has adopted theory, not created it.  Adaptation of theory to the ancient Near East, can, however, create new theoretical models. This paper discusses the adaptation and application of World Systems Theory, together with a core-periphery approach, to system growth, sustainability, and collapse in the Bronze Age southern Levant.

Of Temples, Kings, Mountains, and Power: The Focusing of Spiritual Power of Late Bronze Age Tel Hazor

Daniel Griswold, State University of New York at Buffalo, Dagriswold@hotmail.com

One of the more promising recent theoretical trends in Near Eastern Archaeology is that of Landscape Archaeology.  For a region containing such a vast cultural history, the ways in which the ancient peoples experienced their world and the ways they used their landscape to reinforce and perpetuate their worldview, have been woefully under-investigated.  This paper will examine the potential of Landscape Archaeology in the Near East using Late Bronze Age Hazor as a case study and will demonstrate that new theoretical developments can enhance our understanding of the Ancient Near East, and show there is always more to be learned about the past.

Session V: Interrogating Hybridity: People, Objects and Practice in Ancient Near Eastern Art (Eric Driscoll, facilitator)

What are the Limits of Near Eastern and Classical Archaeology? The New Spatialities and Temporalities of Hybridity

Nassos Papalexandrou, The University of Texas at Austin, papalex@mail.utexas.edu

The recent destabilization of the traditional limits between Near Eastern and Classical Archaeology and their discursive referents warrant new tools and further analysis. This paper explores the potential of hybridity to define new spaces, new conceptions of time, and new relational modes not only among people but also between people and objects. As a case in point, I introduce the notion of sensory hybridity (e.g of vision, sound, taste, etc) and its potential not only to destabilize further the traditional geographic basis of both Near Eastern and Classical Archaeology and Art but also to facilitate our understanding of ancient materialities.

Hybridization Theories in Near Eastern Archaeology

Philipp Stockhammer, University of Heidelberg, philippstockhammer@yahoo.de

We witness a continuing epistemological gap between the vivid discussion on the phenomenon of cultural hybridization in cultural anthropology and the reality of methodological approaches in archaeological interpretation. Nevertheless, notions of hybridization play an important role in current theoretical studies in Near Eastern archaeology. In my paper, I will discuss selected studies and contrast them with my reading of Homi Bhabhas’s seminal work. In order to appropriate hybridization for archaeology, I break down the complex anthropological discourse into components that may be useful for archaeological sources by differentiating between the hybridization of objects and the hybridization of practices.

Trendy Hybridities in the Terracotta Figurines of Hellenistic Babylonia

Stephanie Langin-Hooper, University of California, Berkeley, stephanie_langinhooper@berkeley.edu

Hellenistic Babylonian terracotta figurines present a complicated picture of cross-cultural hybridity that is often simplified for typological purposes into a Greek vs. Babylonian dichotomy.  Building off theories of classification systems, this paper demonstrates how traditionally rigid typologies can be productively replaced by investigations of “trends” in the shifting, mutable affiliations suggested by bundled features of the figurines.  This approach provides insight into the multiplicity of hybridities – some more popular than others – that emerged within the terracotta figurine corpus, and allows us to consider how these hybrid figurines generated and reflected back new cross-cultural ideals to their human interlocutors.

Problems in Ancient Anatolian Art and Archaeology: “Orientalizing,” “Hellenizing,” or “Anatolian?”

Tuna Şare, Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University and Rutgers University, tunasare@rci.rutgers.edu

This paper explores cultural and artistic hybridization in ancient Anatolia through a stylistic and iconographical examination of a late-7th-century BC ivory figurine group discovered from Bayındır D Tumulus at Elmalı in Turkey. While scholars of Greek art consider the figurines “Orientalizing” in style, scholars of Near Eastern art classify them as “Hellenizing”. Through typological comparisons I propose that the figurines are simply “Anatolian”. Previous studies also identify the figurines as representations of either Greek or Phrygian divinities. Instead, I argue that the figurines, as handles of ritual implements, represent the high-status cult participants of Anatolian Artemis Ephesia.

Artistic Style, Hybridity, and the Problem of Ancient Ivory Workshops

Marian Feldman, University of California, Berkeley, feldman@berkeley.edu

This paper seeks to examine assumptions regarding the relationship between style and artistic production through an interrogation of the concept of hybridity as potentially applied to artistic styles. It takes as a case study a corpus of ivories from the early first millennium that have been the focus of stylistic analysis in attempts to link them to singular Levantine city-states. I argue that such a pursuit is futile due to an unacknowledged concept of stylistic hybridity and suggest alternative theoretical frames for their interpretation based on theories of practice.