Ten Years after Iraq: Archaeology, Archaeologists, and U.S. Foreign Relations


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

Remix: Hisham M’Farreh, Chef at the Albright Institute (1994-Present)

Recently, I was looking through some of this blog’s original posts to remove spam comments when I came across this article by the Albright Institute’s chef, Hisham M’Farreh. The included recipe looked easy to follow and delicious, so I decided to try it at home.

Because this was an experiment, I made a half-batch and ended up with 13 small dinner-sized rolls. I also used three tablespoons of za’atar mix and in the future I would bump this up to at least four. I substituted an Italian cheese blend for the “baladi or Bulgarian salted cheese” and thought it all turned out well (though I’m sure the originals are much better!).

A crucial component of this recipe is za’atar, which not everyone has lying around the house. I didn’t have fresh za’atar leaves at home, but I did have the spice mix (which includes salt and sesame seeds). Mine had been brought back as a present from Israel but it is frequently sold in stores in the US or you can make it yourself. Continue reading

Study of Early Pottery Workshops in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Near East Around 6,000 cal. BC

By: Ingmar Franz, Freiburg University, George A. Barton Fellow

The goal of my project was an in-depth survey of the literature focusing on early pottery production in the Neolithic and Early Chalcolithic periods in the Eastern Mediterranean Basin and the Near East. The well-organized Albright library provided the opportunity for me to find almost every source I needed. Discussions with the fellows at the institute were also fruitful and contributed to the success of my project. Continue reading

Trade and Trophy: Near Eastern Imports in the Sarmatian Culture

By: Oleksandr Symonenko, Institute of Archaeology, Kyiv, Glassman Holland Research Fellow

The main purpose of my project was the study of Near Eastern artifacts from Sarmatian graves. The Sarmatians were Iranian-speaking nomads who inhabited the territory stretching from the Altai Mountains up to the Danube from the 3rd – 4th centuries CE. The Near Eastern artifacts objects came to the Sarmatians in two main ways, as military trophies and as traded merchandise.

Spoils of war included Montefortino- and Pilos-type helmets and fragments of body armor found at Sarmatian sites. The helmets came to the Sarmatians during the Mithridates’ wars against Rome between 88 – 63 BCE. They were used by the Galatian soldiers of Mithridates’ army and were passed on from them to the Sarmatians. The Roman scale armors of the lorica plumata type, found in Sarmatian graves, were most probably seized by the Sarmatians during the war of 47 BCE in Asia Minor. Fragments of Parthian type armor were found in Sarmatian kurgans in the second half of the 1st  – early 2nd centuries CE. Such trophies fell into Sarmatian hands during their battles with the Parthians in 72 CE. Continue reading

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

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

The Relationship of Egypt and its Vassals as Reflected in the Amarna Tablets

Zhihui_YuanBy: Yuan Zhihui, Tianjin Normal University, China, Noble Group Fellow

During my four-and-a-half month fellowship at the Albright, my research project focused on “The Relationship of Egypt and its Vassals as Reflected in the Amarna Tablets.” The aim of the project was to reveal the diplomatic system between Egypt and its vassal states in Canaan. My study draws upon the Amarna Letters, the most important document of the Late Bronze Age, as well as archaeological material from the Near East in order to explore the political and economic relationship between Egypt and these states in Canaan during this period. My research concentrated on  the political, economic and ideological relations between Egypt and its vassal states in Canaan; and two models were employed — the core-periphery approach and the prestige-power theory. Continue reading

The Origins of the Early States in China and Israel: Through A Comparative Study

Xinhui luoBy: Xinhui Luo, Beijing Normal University, China, Noble Group Fellow

During my fellowship at the Albright, my main project was entitled “Ideology of the Early State: East and West.” The goal of this project was to examine the ideologies of the early states in Mesopotamia and in China, and to find the similarities and the differences between the two.

The first step was to compare the ideology reflected by royal images. I collected relevant materials on the image of the kings of the Western Zhou Dynasty (ca 1046 BC-771 BC), and compared them with the image of Gudea, the ruler of the state of Lagash in Southern Mesopotamia (ca. 2144-2124BC). Continue reading

The Image of Suffering Women in the Book of Lamentations and Nanjing Holocaust Literature: A Cross-Textual Reading

Zhe LiBy: Zhe Li, University of Illinois at Ubana-Champaign, Noble Group Fellow

The aim of my research was to decentralize a male-gendered interpretation tradition of Lamentations 3, and to reinterpret the neglected image of “Daughter Zion” (בת־ציון) in Lamentations 1 and 2 in the sense of human suffering. Meanwhile, reexamining the counterpart image of suffering women through the lens of Nanjing Holocaust literature also helps to demonstrate how these different types of texts transform the unique voices and experiences of women into the memories of human disasters. Continue reading

Chinese and Western Cultural Exchange in Archaeology: A Focus on Glassware

Geng_ShuoBy: Shuo Geng, Peking University, China, Noble Group Fellow

My project at the Albright Institute during the academic year, 2011-2012 was entitled “Chinese and Western Cultural Exchange in Archaeology:Focusing on Western Glassware Found in China from the First Century B.C. to the Sixth Century A.D.”  It was during this period that China initiated wide-ranging cultural contacts with the western world, resulting in large numbers of western artifacts being found in China at sites and in tombs, such as gold, silver, and glass ware, as well as pottery, brass objects, textiles, seals, and coins, etc. with glassware being one of the most important of these finds. Previous research on glass-ware has achieved significant results. Studies by Chinese scholars, however, have generally lacked in-depth research on the primary data of Western ancient glassware. Continue reading

Nomad Archaeology in the Near East

Cheng_JiafenBy: Jiafen Cheng, Jilin University, China, Noble Group Fellow

 My project involved using Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis with ethno-archaeological materials in researching the nomads in the Negev region in Israel with the aim of explaining the patterns of ancient pastoral and nomadic settlement in late antiquity. I chose two small areas in this region - Makhtesh Ramon and Har Karkom – as a case study.

With the introduction of the Negev Emergency Survey, a series of systematic field surveys of the entire Negev had been undertaken since 1978. Continue reading

Evidence of the Arabian Incense Trade in the Southern Levant: Altars and Alabaster Perfume Jars from the Axial Age (8th-4th Centuries B.C.E.)

Zimmerle_BillBy: William Zimmerle, University of Pennsylvania, Educational and Cultural Affairs Fellow

Hundreds of portable altars made of stone and clay have been uncovered from archaeological contexts dated to the beginning of the first millennium B.C.E. until the early Roman Near East. Drawing upon anthropological models of trade, cult and economy, this project examines the replication of one specific type of altar, the portable domestic cuboid-burner, the chronological horizon of which extends from the late Iron Age II into the Hellenistic-Roman phases of the southern Levant. Continue reading

Geographical Factors in the Defense of Judah and Israel

Keimer_KyleBy: Kyle Keimer, University of California, Los Angeles, Educational and Cultural Affairs Fellow

My research focused on describing the varying strategies for defense of Israel and Judah in light of each kingdom’s topographical realities and the changing political situation over the course of the Iron II. I began with two basic questions: 1) how, in military terms, did fortifications work? and 2) where were they placed and in response to which circumstances? My goal was to reach an understanding of the function of fortified sites both on a regional and inter-regional level. Assessing defensive networks and answering the preceding questions, however, required broader considerations, such as where people want to go and where they can not go. Also, what kind of enemy is being defended against? When all of these questions were considered in conjunction with the topography and the type and distribution of fortified sites, it was possible to address their defensive function and strategy. Continue reading

The Emergence of Social Complexity: Changes in Animal Management Strategies between the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age in the Near East

Hill_AustinBy: Austin C. Hill, University of Connecticut, Educational and Cultural Affairs Fellow

The Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age transition in the southern Levant has long been considered a threshold event in the development of social complexity in the Near East.  Societies are argued to have shifted from small scale, village-based chiefdoms to true “urban” or city-state level societies. Nevertheless, much recent criticism has focused on the accuracy of this long held characterization and the degree of social change that occurred between these periods. Studies of animal economies, however, can offer direct insight into political and social systems, but have rarely been used to look at social change in this key period. The types of species raised, how and when animals are slaughtered, and the parts of animals that are consumed are all directly affected by the degree of hierarchically organized production and distribution. Rigorous faunal studies, therefore, are a vital line of evidence in studying the emergence of social complexity. My research at the Albright focused on extending our understanding of faunal economies in these critical periods by analyzing new material, and synthesizing published material. Continue reading

From Code to Discourse: The Semantics of Ancient Near Eastern Ritual

Feder_YitzhaqBy: Yitzhaq Feder, University of Haifa, Educational and Cultural Affairs Fellow

My fellowship at the Albright Institute provided me with the opportunity to make significant progress in my large-scale inquiry into the origins of ritual symbols and their sociological and political functions in cultural discourse. This project builds upon the recognition of the foundational role of concrete imagery in processes of human conceptualization and expression (as elucidated in ‘embodiment’ theory), particularly as reflected in the languages and rituals of the ancient Near East. In implementing this project, I distinguish between codes (the repertoire of symbols) and discourse (the systems of thought regulating the use of these codes). The case studies which I examined during my residency at Albright aimed to shed light on different aspects of the relationship between ritual codes and cultural discourse. Continue reading

Metal Implements and Tool Marks from the Levantine Second Millennium BC

Blackwell-NicholasBy: Nicholas Blackwell, Bryn Mawr College, American School of Classical Studies at Athens, AIAR Educational and Cultural Affairs Fellow

The primary purpose of my Spring 2012 fellowship at the Albright Institute was to compile an extensive dataset of metal tools from the Levantine second millennium BC. This research began to round out the previously-incomplete Levantine category of a tool database assembled for my dissertation on Middle and Late Bronze Age metal tools from the Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean, and Anatolia (Bryn Mawr College, 2011). Furthering this study through reading excavation reports from Syro-Palestinian sites and visiting museums in Israel, I was able to add a considerable number of tools to my database. The updated data has proven useful by 1) revealing patterns of tool distributions and regional preferences within the Levant, and 2) providing some context and comparison for implement types and trends in the broader Mediterranean and Anatolian worlds. The result is a more informed investigation of cross-regional interaction as indicated by tool choices and depositional practices. Continue reading

The Tel Burna Archaeological Project

By: Joe Uziel, Israel Antiquities Authority, Ernest S. Frerichs Fellow

 In 2009, Dr. Itzhaq Shai and I initiated a long-term archaeological project at Tel Burna.  The site is located in the Judean Shephelah on the northern banks of Wadi Guvrin.  While described by a number of scholars over the years as a prominent ancient site, it is one of the last tells in the Shephelah to be excavated.  Since 2009, an ongoing survey, including several different methods has been conducted alongside excavations.  Thus far, 21 squares have been excavated in three different areas, uncovering a sequence of five strata spanning the Late Bronze Age IIB through to the Persian period. Continue reading

To Unify and Distinguish: The Making of “Crusader” Art

Mahoney_LisaBy: Lisa Mahoney, DePaul University, National Endowment of the Humanities Fellow

The crusades to the Holy Land defined all of western Christendom during the 12th and  13th centuries, even if this was not continuous and did not affect all of Christendom at the same time. In the Holy Land, however, once cities had been conquered and loca sancta “freed,” the military component of this enterprise was superseded by other matters—the creation and maintenance of a new, identifiable community despite the cultural dissimilarity of its members and the remove of their origins.  Although an endeavor never articulated in available journals, guides, or historical accounts, that is, in tidy passages that can be excerpted and pointed to, I contend that it was the central factor determining artistic production in the Latin occupied territories.  Continue reading

The Philistine Remains at Tell es-Safi/Gath: Their Regional and Transcultural Connections with the Aegean and Cyprus

Hitchcock_LBy: Louise Hitchcock, University of Melbourne, National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow

My sabbatical semester at the Albright resulted in a preliminary analysis of the stratigraphy, finds, and architecture from Area A2, in the early Philistine sector of Tell es-Safi/Gath, in collaboration with Prof. Aren Maeir and specialist members of the excavation team. The Tell es-Safi/Gath Archaeological Project is a long-term collaborative project begun in 1996 under the direction of Prof. Maeir of Bar-Ilan University, Israel as a consortium involving foreign research partners.  It is aimed at studying the archaeology of one of the largest and most important multi-period sites in Israel, which was the location of Gath, one of the five capitals of the Philistine Pentapolis. For the last four years, I have been directing excavations in the early Philistine part of the site, Area A2, where I lead the largest Australian project in Israel with support from the Australian Research Council. This collaboration emerged as a direct result of time spent at the Albright as Annual Professor in 2007. Working at the Albright provided me with easy access to the library and my collaborators. Continue reading