“The stone was huge, well over 500 pounds. It was quite a thing to witness. It was face down in the dirt, and using lots of muscle the workmen were able to stand it up. I looked at it and all I saw on its face was packed sand. For a split second I was very disappointed, thinking that we were wrong and there was no inscription carved on it. Then one of the workers started brushing the sand off with his hand, which we were not supposed to do! The director of the project said ‘stop, stop, stop!’ to him, but it was too late. But, secretly I’m glad he wiped off the sand, because for the briefest moment I saw letters in red paint! It was probably the coolest moment of my life to get a glimpse of those letters. Our representative from the Jordanian Department of Antiquities, usually a quiet and soft-spoken man, starting jumping up and down yelling ‘It has writing, it has writing!’ Another one of the directors did her ululation sound, the ‘YALALALALALA!’ call Middle Eastern women make. It echoed all throughout the valley. It was such an exciting moment.”
The ‘Ayn Gharandal inscription being lifted
This is how Emma Pugmire, an undergraduate in Classics at the University of Tennessee and Jennifer C. Groot Fellow at the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman, described the remarkable events at the archaeological site of ‘Ayn Gharandal, in southern Jordan this past June. After two and a half weeks of careful excavation and recording in the scorching summer heat, the ‘Ayn Gharandal Archaeological Project (AGAP) uncovered the type of find that many archaeologists dream of making – a monumental inscription. Continue reading →
Buried deep in the footnotes of Martin Bernal’s first volume of Black Athena is a reference to an undergraduate paper about the Sea Peoples. I no longer have a copy of that paper, nor do I remember what I wrote back in 1980. But as someone who took several classes with Martin at Cornell University during the late 1970s, his death has caused sadness and has set me to thinking about those days and his scholarship.
Officially I was a History major specializing in American Foreign Policy. Unofficially I took most of my courses in Near Eastern Studies and Classical Archaeology and worked in the Dendrochronology lab. Martin’s official appointment was in the Government Department (itself a strange artifact but that is another story). I knew that his primary field was China. But he had taken Ancient Near Eastern studies at Cornell by storm and I happily signed on. Continue reading →
Looting hole at Tell el-Borg. Photo courtesy of James Hoffmeier.
By: James K. Hoffmeier, Trinity International University
On January 25, 2011 the Egyptian revolution that toppled the thirty-year dictatorial reign of Hosni Mubarak began. On February 11th, Mubarak resigned. While the political news gripped much of the world, reports of some looting in the Cairo museum surprised everyone. Though limited in scope, security was quickly tightened and a human chair of volunteer guards locked arms around the historic museum. What happened to the museum seemed like a replay of the vandalism that occurred in Baghdad during the Iraq war of 2003, although the losses from the Cairo Museum were minimal. After only a brief interlude, the museum reopened.
Also like the war in Iraq, archaeological sites all over Egypt were plundered for their antiquities in the aftermath of the revolution. This remains an ongoing predicament. Even more distressing, many storehouses of the Supreme Council for Antiquities (now known as the Ministry of State for Antiquities, MSA) were plundered and hundreds of artifacts disappeared. This even happened at Saqqara. The MSA magazines in north Sinai, where the finds were stored from my excavations at Tell el-Borg, were likewise robbed. Pickup trucks drove up to the secure magazines, so the story goes, with well-armed Bedouin. The few guards and antiquities police were overwhelmed. The trucks were loaded up with boxes of stored artifacts and the thieves drove away. Also, in this storage facility were the thousands of sherds and artifacts from Israeli excavations in the Sinai during the occupation of 1967-1982; they were returned to Egypt in the 1990s. I was subsequently advised by an MSA official that the stolen material had been recovered, although I have not been able to verify this in person yet. Continue reading →
Photo Gallery: Here’s a gallery all the images that appear in Near Eastern Archaeology 76.2 (2013) for Hazor in the Middle and Late Bronze Ages. Smaller versions of some of the images also appear to illustrate the abridged version of the article on Hazor’s Ceremonial Precinct found on the ASOR Blog / ANE Today which you can read here.
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Figure 11: The Southern Temple with favissa in its center (looking south).
Hazor, “the head of all those kingdoms,” has a unique place in Biblical Archaeology. It is the largest tell in the Southern Levant, and a city-state whose importance resonated throughout the Middle and Late Bronze Ages.
Hazor is also specifically named in the Book of Joshua as one of the enemies of the Israelites. Since the pioneering excavations at Hazor during the 1950s and 1960s, the question of ‘who destroyed Hazor’ has tantalized scholars and lay people. The renewed excavations directed by Ben-Tor have added greatly to our understanding of the site and have brought to light an enormous Late Bronze Age “Ceremonial Palace” in the Upper City.
But is it really a palace and does the identification matter for our understanding of the Joshua narrative? Ben-Tor’s student and co-director, Dr. Sharon Zuckerman, disagrees. She believes the Late Bronze Age building is actually a temple, built in an area used over many centuries for religious activities. Either way, the building was destroyed in an immense conflagration at the end of the Late Bronze Age and the area was never reused for temples or palaces. Continue reading →
The Maltese archipelago lies practically at the centre of the Mediterranean, roughly midway between the eastern and the western Mediterranean Sea, and between the island of Sicily to its north and Libya to its south. Given this unusual location – between the Near East and Classical worlds and at the epicenter of the Punic world – one would expect Near Eastern archaeology to be a long-standing academic discipline. This is not the case, at least not yet.
Malta’s location in the Mediterranean. Image from Wikipedia
Some of the current status of the field in fact stems from my own experiences in high school. When I was in high school on Malta, I remember being enthusiastic about the vibrant power of the Scripture that we had to study for our religious classes. I was completely awed by the literary aspects of the Bible which I saw as indivisible from the message it aimed to communicate. At that time, little did I know the tremendous role which literary analysis would play in contemporary Biblical Studies. I was then told that to study the Bible properly it would be appropriate to first read Near Eastern Studies with an emphasis on Semitic languages (Classical Hebrew holding the pride of place). And I also wanted a grasp of the New Testament. All this meant learning Greek and Biblical Aramaic. Continue reading →
Figure 1. Beirut National Museum was badly damaged during the Lebanese Civil War. Photo courtesy Suzy Hakimian
By: Hélène Sader
Lebanon has a long and very rich past, but in spite of the country’s wealth of ancient settlements, compared to neighboring countries archaeological research is far behind. While in the last decades archaeological research has greatly enhanced our understanding of Syria’s, Jordan’s, and Palestine’s past, Lebanon appears to be lagging behind and its ancient history, with the exception maybe of prehistory, is almost terra incognita.
One reason is Lebanon’s antiquities laws. Archaeology in Lebanon is governed by the 1933 law on antiquities, clauses of which have been suspended or changed by ministerial decisions. The law establishes the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities (DGA) as the sole authority in charge of the oversight and organization of archaeological activity, the protection of archaeological sites and historical monuments, and the creation and curatorship of archaeological museums. The law also stipulates that universities and specialized institutes—not individuals—can be granted excavation or survey permits. Continue reading →
By: Amnon Ben-Tor, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Edited and abridged from NEA 76.2 (2013): 66–67 (see editorial note below)
Tel Hazor, “the head of all those kingdoms” (Joshua 11:10), is the largest tell in Israel and encompasses a total of approximately 800 dunams (200 acres). With the exception of two gaps in the settlement, one at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age and the other following the destruction of the Canaanite city during the transition between the Late Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age, Hazor was continuously occupied for approximately two millennia, from the first half of the third millennium BCE to the late eighth century BCE.
Following the Assyrian conquest of Hazor in the year 732 BCE along with several other important sites in the region (as referenced in 2 Kgs 15:29), a period of decline set in until the site was finally deserted. A short-lived Israelite (?) settlement (Stratum IV) was established on top of the ruins of the fortified Israelite city. Poor traces of occupation attributable to the Assyrian, Persian, Hellenistic, and Islamic periods (Strata III–0, respectively) were noted at different locations on Hazor’s acropolis. Continue reading →
The Archaeology of World War I in Palestine and the Beginning of the Modern Middle East
Most Americans understand World War I in the Middle East through the epic 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. Who can forget Peter O’Toole’s vibrant blue eyes as he blew up trains on the Hejaz railroad in modern Saudi Arabia and Jordan? Since American forces were not involved in the Egyptian/Palestine front, it probably would have escaped American interest were it not for the film.
But World War I shaped the modern Middle East. Nation-states from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf were brought into being by the British and French mandates. Their borders were drawn by colonial administrators in European chancelleries using inadequate maps and with little regard for and no input from the local populations, which were a swirl of ethnic and religious groups. Many of these states and boundaries are now breaking down.
Figure 1. General Edmund Allenby reviewing troops in Jerusalem, 11 December 1917.
Brazil and Argentina are not the first places you think of for ancient Near Eastern studies. But the story of ancient Near Eastern studies in these places is both interesting in its own right and says important things about education and culture in these countries.
There are similarities between the discipline in these two countries but their differences are tremendous and are related to the larger history of academic institutions. Argentina’s academic tradition is far longer and more solid than Brazil’s. The first Brazilian university (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro) was created only in 1920, while the oldest in Argentina, the University of Cordoba, was founded in 1613.
Former Rectory, University of Cordoba (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cordoba-derecho1.JPG)
Unfortunately, there are few sources to investigate the development of ancient Near Eastern studies in these two countries. But this also says something about the important differences between the two. In Brazil there are useful articles about the development and the present situation of the discipline of ancient history, but these are rarely found in Argentina. Why? In my opinion the abundance of sources in Brazil is an attempt to bring visibility to an area that has been given little space in most Brazilian universities. In contrast, ancient history has been more successful in Argentina, where it has been solidly represented since the second half of the twentieth century. The need for acknowledgement is therefore lower. Continue reading →
Thirty-foot tall bronze sculptures of former Iraqi Saddam Hussein, sit on the grounds of the Republican Palace, in the International Zone (IZ) located in Central Baghdad, Iraq. (DoD photo by Jim Gordon, CIV)
By: Morag M. Kersel and Christina Luke
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 →
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 →
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/).
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 →