Conference sessions will cover:
- Encounters with Materials and Technologies Close Encounters
- Routines, Memory and Performance
- Landscapes of Transition
- Archaeologies in and of Conflict
- Big Data, Large Scales, Long-term - New Approaches
- Ongoing Fieldwork
What are the grand challenges in the study of materials and technology in the Near East? With current paradigms addressing materials, economies and technologies, there is potential for innovative research that goes beyond the boundaries of traditional artefact and textual studies. Current discourses on materials and materiality open up avenues of research into understanding the relationships between materials and people, whether through investigating object biographies, technological choices, material properties, or the perception of materials in specific times or places. In other areas, the question of value draws attention to the construction of social meaning, and the relationship between materials, objects, their circulation and social economies. To this, we add the importance of identifying periods of innovation, whether in terms of early technological advances, or innovation in the procurement, production, circulation, of materials and objects. This session welcomes contributions providing new new data, methods and insights relevant for reconstructing and understanding ancient materials, objects and technologies and their impact on economic structures and social systems founded upon them. We welcome papers that address these issues in all areas of material, object and technology study including but not limited to metals, fibres, textiles, bone, water, soil, ceramic and chipped stone.
Recent years have seen an increased interest in routine practices and performance as a way of creating communities and transforming social memory. In the context of the ancient Near East, there is a striking period-specific concern with the ways in which such practices produce community on the one hand, and political sovereignty on the other. A similar divide can be seen in the sources of information that are preferentially drawn upon to understand such phenomena. For instance, funerary practices and feasting have increasingly gained traction in understanding the negotiation of social relationships in early sedentary communities through archaeological and bio-archaeological approaches. By contrast, public festivals and more exclusionary sumptuary practices in early states and empires are primarily the prerogative of textual and iconographic research. The challenges here, thus, lie in the integration of textual and iconographic work with contextual and scientific archaeological approaches to the ways in which routines shape and socialise the human body and mind both in public and household settings. This session invites contributions that explore performance and the production of social memory through routine practices of production, consumption, and destruction. We encourage presentations based on interdisciplinary research and the development of new theoretical perspectives.
Regional-scale landscape research is one of the great fortes of Near Eastern archaeology. It has a distinctive flavour and enthusiasm for addressing the large scale - geographically and with regards to fundamental questions of human society and its transformations. Traditionally, we have conceived of these processes as taking place within space. More recently, we have begun to focus on the experience and active spatial construction of the social and the political and on the practices that create them. These range from long-term traditions of land-tenure to exceptional political spectacles. Among the current challenges for landscape-based research in the ancient Near East is the formulation of suitable interpretive frameworks that permit us to transition from space to place at varying scales. This session invites contributions focusing on landscape-based research in the broadest sense. Particularly encouraged are papers dealing with landscapes of transition from political borderlands to highland-lowland intersections.
One of the most pressing challenges for Near Eastern Studies today is how we engage with the Middle East’s many human, military and political crises. Yet the wars in Syria and Iraq are but the tip on an iceberg in which archaeology and cultural heritage find themselves in the midst of conflict. This includes political, social or economic friction and hostilities in the context of rescue projects, contested pasts, or the less spectacular destruction of archaeological sites through agricultural or industrial intensification. Discord, conflict and their aftermath, however, shape not only current affairs and the lives of millions in the Middle East today, but were both frequent and deeply transformative in ancient societies. Taking tragic inspiration from the human dimensions of such conflict, one of the challenges is thus, how we can shift attention from geopolitical questions to the people affected by and suffering from them, both today and in the past.
This session invites contributions on recent heritage crises in the Middle East and discussions of the appropriate roles and responses of archaeologists, art historians and experts to the destruction of Middle Eastern heritage sites and the looting and trafficking of illicit cultural objects from the region. Also invited are discussions of less publicised archaeologies in and of Middle Eastern conflict in both the past and the present. We encourage papers that tackle questions of increasing inaccessibility of study regions, the role archeologists can play in the development of effective on-the-ground protection of sites, and innovative ways of asking new questions of old data.
Big Data and the novel avenues and scales of enquiry they provide us with are one of science’s analytical frontiers. Driven largely by technological innovations, archaeologists too are increasingly engaging in the collection and analysis of high-volume or high-variety datasets, which permit analyses of cultural phenomena at unprecedented scales, from archaeo-genetics to tracing expansive exchange networks across time and space. Big Data, however, also brings with it a series of methodological challenges from the collection, management and curation of massive datasets to issues of messy data and comparability to incompatible underlying research philosophies and disciplinary barriers. Perhaps the biggest challenge, however, lies with the integration of Big Data and the patterned information it can provide with interpretive frameworks that allow us to produce nuanced narratives of past cultural processes. This sessions welcomes contributions presenting on the methods with which we can gather, archive and query Big Data from a variety of sources, approaches to the challenges of incompatible data, and initiatives which aim to bridge the data-theory divide.