Typology and Semantics of Cryptograms and Acrolexa in the Orthodox East in the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Period

Moutafov- EmmanuelBy: Emmanuel Moutafov, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow 

For some scholars, the letter abbreviations with encoded meaning on cryptograms and acrolexa are the creation of a monachus ludnes (a monk having fun), who has been instructed to hide his identity or his personal message in an acrostic or in visual poetry, writes his signature through cryptographs, laughs at monastery moralizing anecdotes and does not want his identity to be revealed in the vanity of mundane life. This monk is perhaps of the greatest schema, due to which the so-called cryptograms will be written on his hood, in order to protect him from evil demons, impious thoughts, misfortunes, and encroachments. Continue reading

Archaeology after the Arab Spring

By: Jesse Casana

The transformative political events in the Middle East over the past two years have had, among many other unexpected outcomes, profound effects on the direction of research in Near Eastern archaeology.  War and civil unrest act as both a carrot and a stick, forcing the cessation of fieldwork in some areas, while promoting new investigations in places that might otherwise have gone unexplored. The geopolitics of the post-Arab Spring world are changing where we are able work, and by consequence they will shape the research questions we investigate, as well as the regions where future generations of scholars will likely specialize.  But the present moment of realignment is far from unique—our discipline has been shaped from the beginning by the tumultuous political history of the Middle East.

In the spring of 1920, James Henry Breasted and a group of scholars from the University of Chicago’s newly founded Oriental Institute embarked on a survey of major archaeological sites in Mesopotamia and Syria[1]. It was Breasted’s hope that the return of political stability under British rule after the end of World War I would facilitate renewed investigations in Mesopotamia. Having traveled by steamer from Egypt, via Bombay, to Basra in southern Iraq, the team began making their way up the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, visiting many of the most prominent sites in the region, including Uruk, Babylon, and Nineveh.


Oriental Institute expedition team members pose with British officers at the west gate of Dura Europos, May 1920. (Image reproduced courtesy of the Oriental Institute Museum’s Photographic Archives http://oi.uchicago.edu/museum/collections/pa/).

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Archaeology Weekly Roundup! 4-26-13

The minaret of one of Syria’s most famous mosques has been destroyed during clashes in the northern city of Aleppo. The state news agency Sana accused rebels of blowing up the 11th-Century minaret of the Umayyad Mosque. However, activists say the minaret was hit by Syrian army tank fire.

The builders of the famous Giza pyramids in Egypt feasted on food from a massive catering-type operation, the remains of which scientists have discovered at a workers’ town near the pyramids.

Sounding like the plot from a science fiction novel, a robot has discovered three burial chambers under one of the main temples at the archaeological site of Teotihuacan. The ancient city is about 31 miles northeast of Mexico City and estimated to be over 2,000 years old. Continue reading

A Seminar on The History and Material Culture of Ottoman Palestine at the Kenyon Institute, Jerusalem


Fig 1: The seminar poster (graphics by Qais Tweissi)

By: Micaela Sinibaldi

On the 9th and 10th of February 2013 I had the great pleasure to organise a seminar entitled: The History and Material Culture of Ottoman Palestine at the Kenyon Institute in Jerusalem. The seminar consisted of a day of papers and a roundtable discussion at the Kenyon and a day of tours of the Old City led by some of the seminar scholars.

As an archaeologist who works on the Islamic period, I know from my fieldwork and research, which has been especially focused on Petra (Jordan), that it is particularly the later periods which are still largely unexplored by archaeology, particularly the Ottoman period. During my recent work for Brown University, for example, as a co-director of excavations at Islamic Bayda (Petra region), a village whose occupation spans the whole Islamic period, it appeared from my preliminary research that the latest and most extensive phase is Ottoman; however, almost no material is currently available in the region for providing the excavation results with some archaeological parallels. One of the reasons for a very recent interest in the archaeology of the Ottoman period is that, partly because of the wealth of both documentary and monumental architectural sources available, the study of material culture has naturally focused on buildings such as the impressive ones preserved in Jerusalem in the al-Haram al-Sharif and in other areas of the Old City of Jerusalem, rather than on rural sites or on the use of archaeology to help solve chronological questions. Continue reading

Terracotta Oil Lamps from Qumran and Ein Feshkha (R. de Vaux’s Excavations, 1951-1958): Typology, Chronology and the Question of Manufacturing Centers

Jolanta MylnarczykBy: Jolanta Mlynarczyk, University of Warsaw, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow

The aim of my research at the Albright was to study an assemblage of ca. 200 oil lamps discovered at Qumran by archaeologists from the Ecole Biblique at the settlement itself and in the caves (1951-1956) as well as at Ein Feshkha (1958). The importance of this cluster of sites for our understanding of the late Second Temple period is indisputable, yet in the past many lamps have not been properly described within their archaeological context. Hence, the first stage of my research was focused on completing a description of the lamps and extracting the relevant contextual information. The second stage involved working out the typology. Conceived as a part of the general typology of the Qumran ceramics, the lamp typology consists of two series, each one dependent on a different technique employed in lamp-making: wheel-throwing and moulding. In the former group, the types have been distinguished on the basis of shape; and in the latter, the criterion of shape is combined with that of decoration. Continue reading

Ecclesia Diaboli: The Demonization of the Gentile Religion in Jewish and Christian Thought

By: Aleksander Michalak, Independent Researcher, Poland, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow

My preliminary examination of several Second Temple texts, 1 Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, Joseph and Aseneth, Testament of Job, the First Epistle to the Corinthians, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs indicates that there is already at this time a connection between demons and the cult of foreign gods, although they are not always explicitly identified with one another. Sometimes the demonic spirits are said only to lead people astray, that is, to lead people toward Gentile worship and toward idolatry, whereas in other cases it is the demonic spirits who are the objects of worship, or the pagan gods themselves. The inanimate material of the idolatrous objects is frequently juxtaposed with the demonic power that is hidden behind them. The association of the Gentiles with the demonic realm in Jubilees is understood to be the result of the subordination of all foreign nations to the rule of spirits. Continue reading

Archaeology Weekly Roundup! 4-12-13

A new language dating back to the Scottish Iron Age has been identified on carved stones. These inscriptions are believed to belong to the early Pict society living from ca 300 to 843 AD, in modern-day eastern and northern Scotland.

A giant “monumental” stone structure discovered beneath the waters of the Sea of Galilee in Israel has archaeologists puzzled as to its purpose and even how long ago it was built.

The rise of crowdfunding has taken another step forward as UK-based DigVentures launches the world’s first archaeology crowdfunding platform in response to the dwindling of traditional sources of funding for archaeology. Continue reading

Ancient Tsunamis and their Modern Significance

Ōtsuchi, Iwate, Japan (March 18, 2011). An aerial view of damage to Ōtsuchi, Japan, a week after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated the area. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dylan McCord/Released)

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

Archaeology and Cultural Heritage in Egypt after Mubarak

ANET1_WILLIAMSFig1By: Greg Williams

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

ASOR and Archaeological Ethics

By: Lynn Swartz Dodd

“There is a tendency at every important but difficult crossroad to pretend that it’s not really there.”
-Bill McKibben

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

Using Inscriptions from the Antiquities Market: Polarized Positions and Pragmatic Proposals

By: Christopher A. Rollston

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

The Dilemma of Denial: Scholarly Publication Policies and the Illusion of Power

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