Online Review: Book

Proceedings of the 7th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East

Roger Matthews and John Curtis, eds.


Reviewed by Aren M. Maeir

3 vols. Vol. 1, Mega-cities and Mega-sites. The Archaeology of Consumption and Disposal. Landscape, Transport and Communication. Pp. xxii + 738, figs. 279, table 1, diagrams 5; vol. 2, Ancient and Modern Issues in Cultural Heritage. Colour and Light in Architecture, Art and Material Culture. Islamic Archaeology. Pp. xxii + 727, figs. 381, table 1, CD-ROM 1; vol. 3, Fieldwork and Recent Research. Posters. Pp. xxii + 717, figs. 354, tables 27. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2012. €98 (vols. 1, 3); €118 (vol. 2). ISBN 978-3-447-06684-6 (vol. 1); 978-3-447-06685-3 (vol. 2); 978-3-447-06686-0 (vol. 3) (cloth).

The biannual International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East (ICAANE), the eighth of which was held in Warsaw in 2012, has become the premier vista at which archaeologists working in various countries in the contemporary Near East and on cultures of the ancient Near East gather to present and hear studies related to this broad field. Covering topics of an enormous geographical (from Arabia in the south to Azerbaijan in the north; from the Indus Valley in the east to Turkey in the west) and temporal (prehistoric through Medieval) span, these meetings offer an (albeit somewhat overwhelming) opportunity to see a cross-section of much of the current research. No less important is that the proceedings of the ICAANE meetings, save for the 2002 Paris meetings, have all been published, and the research presented in these conferences is thus available to all.

The editors of the present volume, Matthews and Curtis, are to be deeply thanked for managing to put together these three large volumes (totaling 2,248 pages) in such a short time. The hard work of not only editing all these diverse papers but also of just making sure that they were submitted must have been an extraordinary effort. Even if not all the papers presented at the conference were published (see the conference program in the preface in each of the volumes), an impressive lion's share of the papers does appear in the volume.

The three volumes are organized according to the very broad themes of the conference itself: Mega-cities and Mega-sites. The Archaeology of Consumption and Disposal. Landscape, Transport and Communication (vol. 1); Ancient and Modern Issues in Cultural Heritage. Colour and Light in Architecture, Art and Material Culture. Islamic Archaeology (vol. 2); Fieldwork and Recent Research. Posters (vol. 3). It should be noted that while it can be understood that the conference organizers wanted to have some sort of framework through which to organize the sessions, many of the papers in the various themes have very little to do with the theme itself. This makes one wonder whether such broad general themes are in fact helpful, or simply confusing.

As in any large conference proceedings, especially with such a broad coverage, the character and quality of the papers cover a very expansive spectrum. Some are but brief reports; others are extended, full-article papers; some cover very broad topics, while others focus on specific details. Clearly, in the context of a review of limited space, I will not discuss all the papers, and in fact not even a large selection of them. Rather, I highlight some papers that caught my attention in the three volumes.

In volume 1, Biehl discusses the "megasite" Çatalhöyük during the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic; Dolce points out urban and ideological pathways in late Early Bronze Age (EBA) Ebla, providing insight on daily and ritual activities at this site; Pedde describes the preliminary stages of the important project to publish all the graves and tombs excavated by the Germans at Assur; el-Hamrawi identifies the Assyrian toponym of Arabian Medina; Smith discusses "layered" images in ancient art, using cylinder seals with multiple layers of repeated decoration as a case study; Ben-Shlomo et al. discuss feasting and burial at Chalcolithic Tel Tsaf in the Jordan Valley; Pace suggests insights on the transition between the EBA and Middle Bronze Age (MBA) in the Levant based on changes in foodways between the two periods; Polcaro discusses evidence of food offerings in funerary contexts from MBA Ebla (a very interesting paper); D'Andrea very nicely summarizes the "Trickle Painted Ware" of the EBA IV southern Levant; Peyronel discusses various raw materials used in production at EBA and MBA Ebla; Kühne reports on work on Neo-Assyrian irrigation works in the Jazirah in Syria; and Forstner-Müller presents the urban landscape of Avaris, Egypt, in the Second Intermediate Period.

In volume 2, Stone discusses ethical issues relating to and emanating from the pillaging of the Iraq Museum after the American capture of Baghdad and what can be learned from this, from the archaeologists' perspective, for the future; Paz describes a project in which school children were involved in a cultural heritage project in Israel; Atakuman debates the state of cultural heritage in modern Turkey; Winter provides a learned and stimulating study on gold in ancient Mesopotamia; Affani sheds light on a barely known topic—color decoration on first-millennium B.C.E. ivories (from Arslan Tash); Zanon discusses color symbolism in Mesopotamia; Becker sheds light on color and light in Abbasid palaces; Soldi presents and discusses a group of enigmatic glazed funnels from an Iron Age temple at Tell Afis, Syria; both de Jong and Mottram present settlement patterns in the Early Islamic period in northern Syria; Whitewright discusses Early Islamic maritime technology; and Whitcomb suggests that the formation of the Islamic city represents a period of urban transition.

Volume 3 contains reports on various field projects, some new and relatively unknown (e.g., Chogha Golan, Iran; Awam cemetery in the Marib Oasis, Yemen; Göytepe, Azerbaijan; Tell Feres al Sharqi, Syria), and some updates on already well-published sites. In addition, there are summaries of the posters presented at the conference.

All told, the volume contains many interesting topics and analytic perspectives, covering an immense geographical, spatial, and cultural range. That said, almost all the papers in these three volumes are in the end preliminary reports or presentations of studies that will (or should be) eventually published in a much broader and comprehensive manner—even if only in article form, and one is left to wonder what is the usefulness, from a long-term perspective, of this massive publication. If most of the papers in the volume will be published in the future, is the enormous effort put into getting these volumes out really necessary? Or could we perhaps be satisfied with online abstracts and related illustrations? I believe this is an issue relevant for all such "mega-meetings" and should be debated and dealt with by the international scholarly community. Perhaps, in future ICAANE meetings, an online format—which would be more accessible and also less costly—could be the way to publish the conference proceedings.

Aren M. Maeir
Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies and archaeology
Institute of Archaeology
Bar-Ilan University
52900 Ramat-Gan


Add new comment

Plain text

  • Use [fn]...[/fn] (or <fn>...</fn>) to insert automatically numbered footnotes.
  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Click "Save" to submit your comment. Please allow some time for your post to be moderated.