This seminar was created to coordinate the archaeological chronologies of the regions of the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean. It meets from six to eight times a year to discuss new research and hear reports of recent fieldwork. A number of relevant papers were published in the American Journal of Archaeology from 1968 until 1988, and in 1992 in the Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society. Since then, the focus of the seminar has been widened to include all aspects of the ancient cultures of the Near East and its adjoining regions.
Recent excavations in the southwestern mound of Kültepe have brought to light a series of superimposed structures and associated stratified deposits that are allowing a precise definition of the site’s occupational sequence from the mid-3rd millennium BC to the Iron Age. The discovery of a well-preserved monumental stone building dating to the last phase of the Old Assyrian colony period – roughly between the end of the 19th and the end of the 18th century BCE – has provided important new data for the reconstruction of the urban layout of the public sector of the town. The building is composed of a long storeroom equipped with big pithoi, and a wide hall in which a substantial amount of materials was found in the collapsed layers over the floor. This paper will present the building’s architectural features, pottery equipment, and materials, discussing its functional interpretation and the implications of this new evidence for the settlement’s history.
Zoom 12:00 PM
Enlil’s slumber: Poetry and the phenomenology of night
Piotr Michalowski, University of Michigan, Abstract
For the average Mesopotamian, the mundane night was dark in a manner difficult to imagine today, a time for slumber and rest. In the transcendent world, however, this time of darkness was teeming with activity, in a multifold universe of myth devoid of time, which is an illusion imposed by language and narrative. While most people were fast asleep, a wide range of cultic practitioners was busy with night-time rituals associated with such matters as gathering herbs, eliciting the power of magical purifying agents by starlight, fending off vexatious ghosts, preparing divination rituals, or countering witchcraft. In temples, certain practitioners were chanting prayers in a ritual version of the Sumerian language before and during sunrise to appease the angry heart of the “deceptively sleeping” god Enlil and to undo the havoc created by the destructive “storm” that was a manifestation of his will and desires, poetically realized as his “word” and “heart.” This destruction took place in one of the mythical realms during the night and had to be ritually repulsed before the coming of the day. In this paper, I attempt to unravel the mythic tropes and cultural norms expressed in the poetics of Enlil’s slumber embedded in the Mesopotamian phenomenology of night.
Zoom 12:00 PM
Identity, mobility, and burial traditions at Tell Atchana, Alalakh
Facets of identity – personal, social, cultural, etc. – are widely sought after and theorized aspects of ancient populations. Archaeology has developed many tools and tactics to untangle and interpret these various identities from the material record, and burials have always been a key form of evidence for this purpose. Recently, a growing number of bioarchaeological methods, including isotopes and ancient DNA analyses, alongside the identification of pathologies, biological sex, and other analyses of skeletal material, have opened up new perspectives and opportunities to reconstruct the lives of ancient individuals, sometimes in great detail. Can these reconstructions lead to better understandings of what constellations of identities these individuals may have belonged to or claimed? This presentation looks at the diverse and well-studied burial record at Tell Atchana, ancient Alalakh, as a case study to examine questions of identity and how different aspects of it may have overlapped and interconnected with patterns of mobility as revealed by recent isotopic and DNA studies.
Zoom 12:00 PM
Ebla’s Commerce with Armi and Kablul and Its Importance for History and Geography
This presentation studies commercial contacts between Early Bronze Age Ebla and its partners in Cilicia and along the ranges of the Amanus mountains. Chief among them were Armi(um) and Kablul, which were situated in Lower Cilicia and Upper Cilicia respectively. These two important territorial states were the main suppliers of gold and silver to Ebla. Kablul was also a source of tin. This commercial network involved various other locales, such as Lu’atum, Husha’um, Zaburum, Urshu, Gudadanum, Za’ar, Abatum, Ama, and Ibubu. Although the exact locations of these places remain uncertain, all of them may confidently be assigned to the greater Amanus area. Apart from discussing the pertinent questions of geography, a provisional reconstruction of the origins and the operations of this commercial phenomenon will also be offered.
Zoom 12:00 PM
Hope in the Past: Reflecting on West Asian Neolithic after Graeber and Wengrow’s The Dawn of Everything
Çiler Çilingiroğlu, Ege Üniversitesi, İzmir, Turkey Abstract
Graeber and Wengrow’s book, The Dawn of Everything (2021), presents a new assessment of the past, re-invented as a non-linear, non-teleological, contingent narrative with more room for broader political and social possibilities. In their words, they “tell another, more hopeful and more interesting story” of the past in order to build a basis for hope within our dark Anthropocene conditions. This is why my title subtly refers to Rebecca Solnit’s “Hope in the Dark.” Is it possible to discover new hope in the past?
This presentation will apply the methodology of Graeber and Wengrow to the Southwest Asian Neolithic, which is usually narrated as an inevitable prehistoric development following the beginning of the Holocene. With such a linear view, food storage, social inequality, and political centralization naturally follow. The Dawn of Everything opposes this simplistic cause-and-effect relationship based on the notion of progress and necessity. Instead, the principle of contingency is invoked, and archaeological evidence re-examined to inquire whether what we think is really what we find. In other words, does the archaeological record of the Southwest Asian Neolithic concur with the modernist view of history? In my talk, I will provide examples from the Neolithic (Anatolia and beyond) to argue that culture and ideology played a significant role in the formation of the Neolithic, and that the process was far from being linear and teleological. Each group, having an authentic and unique cultural background, encountered and acted upon the changing natural and social conditions of the early Holocene differently, thereby manifesting the high variability of the Neolithic record. It is my wish to find some hope in the past by reflecting on The Dawn.
Faculty House, Columbia University 5:30 PM
There is no periphery: Re-centering Central Asian engagements among its Bronze Age neighbors
Michael Frachetti, Washington University in Saint Louis Abstract
Archaeological research of the past decade has deepened our understanding of regions often characterized as peripheral to major cradles of civilization, such as Central Asia. Today, a diversity of archaeological data from the region illustrate that Central Eurasia was not only crucial geographically, it was also a pivotal zone of economic, technological, and ideological participation forged from a diversity of innovative life ways that influenced political-economic realms far beyond its environmental heartland. This paper explores the range of engagements that define this region throughout the Bronze Age and illustrates the reach and impact of its societies far beyond their historicized characterization as barbarians of the distant lands of the Steppes.