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Session 13 – Life in Texts, Life in Materials

Timetable: Friday morning 0930-1230 in the Janet Spector Zoom Room

Format: Standard

Organisers: Alathea Fernyhough, Rosie Kenworthy, Tom Clements


The ancient Near East and Eastern Mediterranean boast a rich and varied archaeological and textual record. Despite a long history of research into both avenues of evidence, however, they have often received largely separate investigation. While the need for specialisation makes this necessary to some degree, studying either evidence type in isolation can stunt both the depth and the accuracy of our understanding.

This session, run by three researchers utilising various approaches to bridge the gap between textual studies and archaeology in their own work, aims to shed light on current research combining analysis of archaeological materials and landscapes with the analysis of literary sources. With the vision to encourage wider use of a holistic engagement with evidence in the study of the ancient Near East and Eastern Mediterranean, this session showcases a varied collection of different approaches combining innovative uses of scientific methods with archaeological and historical theory that give a richer view of life in these ancient complex societies.


 0930 – Introduction

0940 – ‘Immediately Explicable’: The ‘Positivist Fallacy’, Its History (and Legacy?)

Thomas Clements, University of Manchester

In his Sather Lectures (1987), Anthony Snodgrass developed the idea of the ‘positivist fallacy’. This was a simple idea; that archaeological prominence had previously been equated with historical significance. This had produced fallacious reconstructions of the past, which simplistically equated significant archaeological features, such as ‘destruction layers’, with historically documented events. In recent years, scholars have taken an increasing interest in the implications of this idea and have sought to further theorise the relationship between archaeological and historical evidence (Fotiadis 1995; Chapman 1999; Greene 2005; Stewart 2013). In this paper, I revisit the notion of the positivist fallacy, and explore its history with special regard to Greek archaeology and consider its lasting impact. In the historical context of ‘text-based archaeologies’ (Trigger 2003), archaeological material was seen as immediately explicable in light of Classical literature. To what extent are these assumptions still with us, and if so, how do they effect the simultaneous interpretation of archaeological and textual evidence? 

1010 – What’s in a Vessel’s Name? A Relational Text-Object Approach to the Uses of Mesopotamian Pottery

Daniel Calderbank, University of Glasgow

While pottery is the most abundant form of material culture found on Mesopotamian archaeological sites, references to pottery vessels in cuneiform texts are comparatively infrequent. Beyond one-to-one identification of common vessel names with archaeological pot ‘types’, rarely have these two sources of evidence been integrated and mobilised to furnish our understanding of Mesopotamian peoples’ perceptions of, and engagements with, their material world. This paper develops a relational methodology, based on analysis of second-millennium texts in combination with excavated ceramic data from the Sealand period site of Tell Khaiber, southern Iraq (ca. 1600-1475 BCE). It begins by investigating the broader repertoire of pottery nomenclature to build an impressionistic sketch of the primary use-contexts of Mesopotamian vessels, before locating these within a contextual analysis of the Tell Khaiber and CUSAS 9 tablet archives. Vessel use-contexts are then empirically mapped across the excavated areas of Tell Khaiber’s Fortified Building to understand whether the potentialities of vessel use underscored in the texts are borne out in context. Ultimately, this paper demonstrates the complex ways in which pottery names and archaeological vessels operated contingently in the (re)production of an ancient craft tradition.

1040 – Diplomacy in the Presence of Women: The Drafting of an Ancient Social Network in Egypt during the Late Bronze Age

Kelee M. Siat, University of Manchester

Egypt’s diplomatic relationship with the wider Mediterranean and Near East has been characterised by the political power of a ‘brotherhood’, a patriarchal establishment. However, the presence of (royal) women has often been overlooked within this ancient political dynamic. Textual evidence in the form of commemorative scarabs and correspondence inscribed on clay tablets attest to the presence of women in the political affairs of Egypt. From acknowledging diplomatic marriages to dispute resolution and authority, women of Egypt’s Eighteenth and Nineteenth Dynasties from regions including Mitanni and Hatti were present in diplomatic communication. 

Initial investigative work surrounding the presence of women in ancient politics demonstrates connections and interconnections between them, their roles, culture, political power and defined social relationships demonstrating an existing social network. These relationships will be examined looking at the Eighteenth Dynasty Amarna Letters in association with the commemorative scarabs of king Amenhotep III, the female royal women Gilukhepa and Queen Tiye, and the Nineteenth Dynasty exchange of communication between the Hittite queen Puduhepa and Ramesses II.

Feminist archaeology encourages an approach where women can be examined, not as an isolated feature in politics, however as active agents who are an integrated and essential presence in Egypt’s wider political social network. In order to examine social relationships it is important to consider an interdisciplinary approach where textual analysis, social network analysis (SNA) and a broader look into mixed methods social network analysis (MMSNA) enable both a qualitative and quantitative examination into diplomatic relationships and the presence of women. 

1130 – The Particular and the Process: Analysing the Event in Historical & Archaeological Studies

Dan Stewart, University of Leicester

Within archaeological and historical studies, ‘event’ is used differently. In history, the event serves as a node in a scalar and linear view of time, a hook for discussion of the before and after. In archaeology, ‘event’ has become elided with process and structure (Lucas 2008), as short- to medium-term recurrences of similar activities.  In archaeology, ‘event’ as a particular, singular occurrence has fallen by the way-side.

Within landscape archaeology in particular, it’s easy to see that the data lends itself to the view of event as process or sequence. Pedestrian field survey identifies and records aggregate artefactual data, a smear on the landscape created by repetition through time (Witcher 2012).  Geophysical data is the result of different sequences and processes that exist beyond the particular – no matter the method, it doesn’t measure points in time but relationships between contrasting materials that are the result of decades and centuries of varying but repeating processes, both cultural and natural. Despite this, our visualisations of that data are rooted in the historical notion of event: a Roman phase, a Hellenistic destruction, a Classical sherd; the particular and not the process often take precedence in the presentation of interpretation.

These ideas are discussed in relation to recent fieldwork at Knossos, on Crete. It will move between the different historical and archaeological notions of ‘event’ to create a nuanced narrative of both the particular and the sequence to illuminate different aspects of the landscape that will have applicability beyond Classical Archaeology. 

1200 – The Landscape of War: A Re-analysis of the Battle of Qadesh

Johnathan Milton, University of Liverpool/Allen Archaeology

The battle of Qadesh occurred in c. 1274 BCE, with the Hittites and the Egyptians each vying for control of the Levantine city of Qadesh, located in modern day Syria. Up until now, our understanding of the events of, and surrounding, the battle has been dictated by Egyptian narratives, with multiple textual and visual contemporary sources. However, there has been little means of testing the reliability of these narratives and accepted reconstructions of events. This paper will present landscape analyses using ArcGIS to re-analyse the course of the battle, including the use of least-cost-paths, viewsheds, and range and movement analyses, to try to gain a greater understanding of the course of events at Qadesh, and to investigate whether the Egyptian sources were indeed accurate. The framework presented in this paper, utilising textual, archaeological and landscape data will demonstrate that the holistic approach taken has an opportunity to enrich the study of the battle of Qadesh, and will discuss any wider implications this study may raise about conflict in the Near East during this period.


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