Thursday, October 29, 2009

On Boats and Sea Peoples

Artzy’s article On Boats and Sea Peoples outlines the studies of the mysterious “Sea People’s” that are mentioned in various sources across the Ancient Near East. In the 14th through the 12th century there are references to a group of people that ravaged the area repeatedly, but there is little evidence as to who these people are or where they came from.  Some of the possible groups include the Sharadan, the Shekelesh, the Danuna, the Teresh, the Plesheset, the Tejeker, and the Weshesh. The most evidence we have about these peoples are the drawings of boats left behind.  One example is an altar found at Tel Akko from around 1200 B.C. that portrays several marks representing ships. There is a possibility that it was a ship’s altar that could have been moved onshore when the ship was docked.
There are four boats depicted on the altar ranging in size and overlapping one another. The ships vary in detail and complexity, especially a “fan” shaped stem that is very peculiar. There are no other examples of this type of “fan” on any other ship during that time period. There are many reasons that the ship might possess this shape, including that it could be of ritual or spiritual importance. It could also be exaggerated from any actual ship’s dimensions. There are some examples of similar types of ships and there are writings about other types of prows shaped like flowers and examples of ships similar made of clay. 
While there is no certainty about where these ships came from of who was actually responsible for them, there are some conjectures that they originated in Cyprus or another group that is unknown. There really aren’t any hard and fast answers about these ships, and there is a likelihood that there never will be. Unless there is evidence found about these cultures or more depictions of these ships found, how can we know for certain?

This was one of the most frustrating articles that I have read so far for this class, mainly because there are no answers about the ships and there is really no conclusion about the article. It mostly goes back and forth suggesting possible solutions and then stating that they don’t have enough evidence to support them or that there is another possibility that could be it instead. This is extremely frustrating to me, because when trying to understand what there is to get out of the article, the less answers there are, the harder it becomes to make any sense of it without being an expert. There are a few other sources mentioned in the article that could have helped to make this more accessible, but unfortunately, I don’t have access to them.
Even regardless of learning more about this topic, I still don’t think that this article offers much for either scholars or students. Without any real information in the article, I can’t imagine what there is to understand about these boats or sea peoples. I understand that it is important to learn more about different groups of people in the ancient world and would love to actually get some answers about these artifacts but that is something that I can’t see happening in the near future.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Archaeology and Texts in the Ancient Near East

This reading spoke more about tablets and writings, like we had talked about in past classes but also focused on the important aspect that the Ancient Near East has a great written record, unlike that of many countries, that has survived until present day. This is largely due to the fact that tablets were made out of clay and that the environment in which they were created was very hospitable to their survival. This fact brings out a very interesting point. Not only are tablets that contain texts valuable for the simple reason that they provide us with texts from that time, but also that they are artifacts in and of themselves.
This leads us to the differences between scholars interested in archaeology and scholars interested in languages and ancient writing. Archaeologists are more concerned with the context in which the item was found and what we can learn about the culture as a whole. Because many tablets are found in areas varying from trash heaps to libraries and archives, what an archaeologist can learn from these tablets also varies. This is in contrast to Philologists, who view the inscriptions as the key importance for the tablets. There are a large number of tablets that are put on to the black market, which can lead to problems between these two groups. Philologists often are willing to purchase these tablets, even at the expense of encouraging black market trade, in order to retain the information on the tablets and to keep them safe.

The main issue of this discrepancy is that both communities can be singularly focused on their disciplines and tend to not share information or collaborate in their studies. It astounds me that this hasn’t come to pass at this point, just simply because so much could be learned if the two groups would work together to create new hypothesizes and learn more about the artifacts than either group could do alone. What is the reason that they can't seem to come together? I have no idea but I think that there is no reason not to work together when a greater result can be achieved together. 
This article was interesting, but repeated some of the same information that I had read in the past about cuneiform and writings in the Ancient Near East. While I do enjoy continuing to learn about this subject, the most interesting idea that the article proposed was about the differences in academic study. I can't seem to understand why it would be so hard to work together in an academic study. I understand that everyone wants to focus on their own ideas and perspectives but when an area would greatly benefit from both working together, it doesn't make good sense for the advancement of academics that they would keep working in their separate fields. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Growth of Bureaucracy

The evolution of writing is something that has been debated for years, and while everyone can accept that its creation took place in Mesopotamia at the end of the fourth millennium B.C. there are conflicting ideas about how it began. The two theories are that writing evolved slowly over time or that it was invented quickly by a small number of individuals. Writing was originally intended for accounting purposes, and when looking at how accounts were tallied it becomes clear how writing could have evolved out of counting.

Writing was primarily used for bureaucratic functions at first, then gradually evolving into something that could be used to religious and historical writings. The first kind of record-keeping technology that was developed is a system of tokens. Tokens represented a quantity of goods that were hand molded out of clay or carved out of stone. They can be traced all the way back to the Neolithic period (around 8000 B.C.) and continue in use until around 3000 B.C. and were a part of a concrete numerical system.

The tokens were placed in clay envelopes called bullae that were approximately 5-7 centimeters in diameter and hollow in the center. One of the uses for bullae was that a certain amount of tokens could be placed inside and the bullae sealed. When sent along with an order of cloth or grain, the amount could be verified by breaking the bullae open and checking against the number of tokens. This gradually evolved into making impressions of tokens on the bullae’s surface, and then onto small tablets, thereby rendering the use of tokens unnecessary. This technology also brought about the use of seals in order to authenticate a tablet.

Stamp seals were the first form of seals developed and could identify the person, office or institution that the seal belonged to. They were typically carved out of stone or shell and were of one of two categories: naturalistic (hand-carved) or schematic (worked with drills). Interestingly enough, most seal impressions that have been found were of naturalistic type seals, while most of the seals themselves that have been found are of the schematic type. Also, the type of image on the seal can tell us something about who may have used the seal. Contest motifs are often associated with men, while images of two figures sitting and eating or drinking together are associated with women.

Protocuneiform writing is the precursor to cuneiform and is a mnemonic device, as opposed to a way of communicating speech. At its earliest stages, writing was only distantly similar to spoken language. The earliest examples of writing are from the final centuries of the fourth and beginning of the third millennium, and while the script clearly resembles later cuneiform, it is an earlier form. Most were found in rubbish piles, so there is no context for their usage, however, they are still very important in the study of cuneiform’s evolution. It is an ideographic script, where individual signs can stand for an idea, or combined for additional meanings. Using over 1,200 different signs, but rarely any syntax, many offer no clue as to the language involved.

To think that writing is something we use every day without even thinking, and being able to make others understand what we mean and convey our thoughts into a tangible form, it is crazy to think that someone had to invent it. Of course it makes sense that everything we use today was at some point nonexistent and that someone one day had to have the idea to put symbols to clay to represent the world around them, but learning about it places it into a different context. In the end, does it really matter that we don’t know if writing was a gradual invention, or a product of a small group of dedicated individuals in a short burst of creativity? All that is important is that we, as humans, have the ability to create and bring about new forms of technology and skills, and that we can never take that for granted.

Friday, October 2, 2009

AIA Lecture #1: Underwater Archaeology

I have seen a few movies that portray underwater archaeology and I know that what we see in movies is more often than not a complete fabrication. Knowing that this is the case, I was surprised at how exciting the real life of an underwater archaeologist is. Listening to Eric Wartenweiler Smith, professional diver and underwater explorer, speak about his experiences in Egypt, the Philippines, Florida, and all over the world. Through out the talk, he spoke about the discovery of Cleopatra’s palace which he was involved in, the lost city of Heraklion, and shipwrecks all over the world. Most of the readings we have done in class and general knowledge about archaeology focus mainly on sites and artifacts found on land and under ground. But of course it seems obvious that over the years, through both shipwrecks and movement of the earth that a great number of artifacts are laying just beneath the waves. Taking Alexandria as an example, the movement of tectonic plates and gradual sinking of the sea floor has created a veritable treasure trove of artifacts. The sea floor is completely covered in amphora and in some areas not even 15 feet deep artifacts can be found that haven’t seen the surface in over 2,000 years.

Some of the most interesting things that Smith spoke about were new technology that has been developed to scan for underwater artifacts. Metal detectors, and submarines have long been used for underwater exploration, but as technology as progressed over the years, scanning has become more advanced and the use of computers has put most of the information into digital format. One of Smith’s most recent ventures is being a part of Aqua Survey Inc. a company that uses technology to develop better metal detectors and scanners. Their “mud sled” is able to find objects buried nearly four and half feet deep in clay. Not only can it be used for archaeology purposes, but also to find bombs and mines that were discarded over the years and can pose a threat to people and the environment.

I have never before wanted to try scuba diving, and really haven’t spent much time under the water, with the exception of a few snorkeling trips. Seeing how these divers worked and what they could accomplish for the first time made me curious about diving for the first time. Learning about all the equipment and techniques of salvage and restoration of the artifacts was interesting, as was learning about the risks of diving. I would never have guessed that statues had to be soaked in fresh water for years before they could be displayed. Division of goods and findings was also fascinating. To hear that in some countries they expect 50% of all findings and that others allow you to show the artifacts but return them to their native land created a whole new perception for me about treasure hunting and archaeology.

Sitting in the auditorium, I barely wanted to take notes on the lecture. All I wanted to do was to sit and listen to his stories about the amazing things he has discovered during his career. The slideshow of pictures took my breath away. Crystal clear images of ancient Egyptian artifacts; a perfectly preserved stella, a sphinx that has stood guard at Cleopatra’s sanctuary since being washed off her island years ago. It is amazing that after so many years that these objects haven’t been obliterated by the surf, sand, or the countless boats that use the harbor. These discoveries have only come to the surface in the past twenty years, and with continuing advances in technology we can guarantee that more are sure to come.