The Public Impact

At the Secondary Context I workshop,  Dr. Giorgio Buccellati spoke movingly of his commitment to the people who live in Mozan ( the village for which the tell that covers ancient Urkesh is named). He and his colleagues have collaborated with those who live in Mozan and work the land nearby to create an innovative program that involves both populace and excavators. Small wonder that the site survives intact, a monument to culture, to a people, and to a tradition that endures.
-Rick HAUSER, Research Associate
IIMAS The International Institute for Mesopotamian Area Studies

The Public Impact
Giorgio Buccellati
Mozan/Urkesh Archaeological Project (Tell Mozan, Syria)
March—June 2011

Times of turmoil encourage an intense reflection on the ultimate validity of our field work in foreign lands. Identified as we become with the people, committed as we are to recover their territorial past, engaged as we still remain in the more esoteric dimensions of our research — the question of relevance emerges with urgency.

It is the case, today, with regard to our field work in Syria. We are identified, we are committed, we are engaged — we definitely have come to feel foreign no more. Because of our attitude, because of their openness. Our heart is very much in Mozan while our mind dwells on Urkesh. Our heart is in the streets of Syria today even while our mind seeks to define something as seemingly remote as Late Chalcolithic 3 pottery.

“Seemingly” remote? How could such abstractions not be remote when people are dying in the streets? But they do, strongly, matter, because the whole effort ultimately evokes and nurtures the sense of dignity that sustains us humans when everything else collapses around us.

Archaeologists, we serve as purveyors of a past in which the present sinks roots that are all the deeper when the sense of identity is under attack. We come to feel that in some unexpected way, the Syrians of today can also lean on the Syrians of yesteryear we help bring back to light.

We have, unwittingly, prepared for this. We have prepared as we have been striving to conserve the fragile mudbrick walls of four and more millennia ago, as we have been endowing this remote past with faces and names, as we have been showing how the delicate disentangling of ruins from the grip of the earth is laden with meaning.

We have prepared because, in doing this, the people affected — we who dig, and they who live the results – have become jointly empowered with the richness of memory. And this memory is treasure to be defended.
Thus it is that we feel confident that, having become the guardians of memory, the Syrians of Mozan will protect the Syrians of Urkesh. Thus it is that the Syrians of yesteryear can in turn lean on the Syrians of today.

Communication is the start of preservation. Alongside conservation, alongside interpretation. Communication conceived as education. An education that educates as much as “them,” as we all learn, together, that to attribute meaning is to affirm relevance.


Permission to reprint this essay from The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology Press and Dr. Giorgio Buccellati is gratefully acknowledged.

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2 thoughts on “The Public Impact

  1. Dear Rick

    First of all, I commend you for being an organizer of a conversation at ASOR’s annual meeting about issues that related to this month’s blog entry. I read your comment to the post about Prof. Hallote’s class trip to the Met. You say: “It does baffle me that colleagues should not see the connection between Buccellati’s efforts and the illegal antiquities trade.”

    Are you referring to specific instances where colleagues have resisted this work and approach at Mozan/Urkesh?


  2. Thank you, Lynn. ASOR has lent us great support for the Workshop on SECONDARY CONTEXT.

    And, as to what “specific instances” I was thinking about—

    I actually was thinking of our own efforts (me and my co-chairs) as we were designing the Workshop.

    Our initial focus was of course on material culture and the ethics of studying objects with no known origin. We were concerned that bringing the local populace (in several different situations) into the equation was, if not peripheral, then at the least challenging to conceptualize as an actual tool in the ongoing “battle” to stem the flow of illegal antiquities.

    We eventually began to see this work, complex as it is, as central to the looting question and as a meaningful way to address the flood of artifacts torn from context (which is where we began).

    I am glad the editors saw fit to publish the piece. There is of course much more to discuss. This blog will provide a forum for such collegial exchange.

    Cheers—and congrats, too!!

    RAH [Rick]

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