October 13, 2006


We'll always have Akkadian in Geneva & Indiana

After this summer the US Supreme Court had declared the treatment of so-called enemy combattants unconstitutional, the US Congress proceeded to grant the US President far-reaching authority to do as he pleases without any need for authorization from Congress or the courts. Evan Eisenberg wrote a satirical explanation of the new law: "Ear-Splitting Music--No prisoner shall be subjected, for a period exceeding twenty-four (24) hours, to music at a volume exceeding that of the explosion of a two-ton cruise missile heard from a distance of fifteen (15) yards. (i) For the purposes of paragraph (D), 'music' shall be defined as recordings by (a) the Oak Ridge Boys, (b) the Knack, (c) John Fogerty, (d) Joni Mitchell, (e) George Jones, (f) John Hiatt, and (g) such other artists as the President may, from time to time, choose to download." Personally, I take exception to the inclusion of Joni Mitchell in this list: let it be known that I am a great fan of her musical genius! "Evidence Withheld From The Accused -- The accused shall have the right to see all evidence presented against him or her, except for evidence classified as secret for reasons of national security, in which case the accused shall have the right to see a faithful translation of the evidence into (i) Akkadian, (ii) Sumerian, or (iii) Ugaritic." Hmmm, now which version would you, my dear reader, prefer? What's more important is that this would open up plenty of employment opportunities for starving Assyriologists! ;-)

And now from the satirical present to the satirical future with a story (Halton) that reminds me a bit of the famous "Motel of the Mysteries" by David Macaulay: "The archaeological find of the century was discovered today in Winona Lake, Indiana. Apparently in the early third millenium or late second millenium AD there was a thriving Akkadian culture in Indiana. A cache of pottery sherds, all with the opening two lines of Enuma Elish were uncovered. Archaeologists from Indiana University assert that this is finally the definitive proof that an enclave of people devoted to ancient Near East studies lived in Winona Lake, ... Since a team of archaeologists from Uganda discovered the find, the pottery sherds will be housed in the National Museum of Uganda over the objections of the United States State Department. The U.S. President said that she was amazed by this brazen 'state-sponsored act of looting' undertaken by the Ugandan government. ... Furthermore, the Ugandan government turned down a reported $1.7 billion dollar offer from the J.P. Getty Museum for the sherds as they are trying to rebuild their holdings after a collection of iPods were shown to be forgeries." See Spinti for the more prozaic facts behind the parody (also the source of the photo).

• E. Eisenberg, "We'll Always Have Geneva," in The Nation, online, October 2, 2006
• Ch. Halton, "Akkadian Culture in Indiana," in Awilum.com (Ohio), online, June 26, 2006
• D. Macaulay, "Motel of the Mysteries," 1979
• J[ames ]P[. ]S[pinti], "Sherds?," in Idle musings of a bookseller (Indiana), online, June 26, 2006

October 12, 2006


Ossendrijver Iraq photos, 1

This is the 1st installment in a series of photographs I will publish here (on an irregular time schedule). They were taken by Dr. Mathieu Ossendrijver (Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, Germany) when he participated in a trip to Iraq organized by the Orientalisches Seminar of the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg (Germany) in October 2000. They form interesting documentary evidence of the condition of several archaeological sites only a couple of years before the Iraq War. Mathieu has been so kind to allow me to publish them here. If you'd like to use his photos, please contact him. I start with pictures taken at el-Meda'in/Salman Pak better known under its ancient name Ctesiphon. This site which now lies almost in the suburbs of Baghdad was at one time a capital of the Partian and Sassanid empires. As a hub of empire it succeeded the neighboring Seleucia-on-the-Tigris (Seleucid empire) and was itself later succeeded by nearby Baghdad (Abassid empire). Its most famous still standing structure is the 4th-cent.-AD Taq-i Kisra with its great arch (80 ft wide by 160 ft long; see Keall for more info). The arch is still the original one but for example the north wing of this throne hall has been reconstructed (collapsed in a late-19th-cent.-AD earthquake):

See also University of Chicago Oriental Institute. Archaeological Site Photography. I am not really sure what is in this final photo, maybe someone can help me out? Are these remains of fortifications?

• E.J. Keall, "Ayvan (or Taq)-e Khosrow," in The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies (UK), online, n.d.
• "Ctesiphon," in University of Chicago Oriental Institute. Archaeological Site Photography, online, November 15, 2001
• "Iraq Heritage Program. Ctesiphon," in Global Heritage Fund, online, n.d.

October 11, 2006


Cori Wegener

Just a quick post to draw attention to one of the less-sung heroines of the effort to save Iraq's heritage: Minneapolis Institute of the Arts curator Cori Wegener, who was in Baghdad as a major in the US Army Reserve in the early days of the Iraq War. I had the privelege of meeting her at last year's Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale in Chicago. I was reminded of her while going through my hiatus backlog and noticing that she gave a lecture (Artdaily.com). Needless to say, she has an interesting story to tell. Minter: "'In regard to the museum, I’m not optimistic. But I am hopeful.' She cites the collection and the staff as her primary reasons for hope. 'But it’s all about stability and their ability to reopen the museum to the public.'" I'd love to hear her thoughts on what has happened since that interview in 2004... Minter: "Even more ambitiously, she wants to establish an international organization of combat conservators." I wonder what became of that great idea?

• A. Minter, "The Art of War. A Minnesota reservist is the U.S. military’s only professional curator. Meet the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ Corine Wegener, Iraq war hero," in The Rake. Secrets of the City (Minnesota), August 2004
• L. Mack, "Iraqi artifacts were her call to duty," in Star Tribune (Minnesota), August 22, 2004
• "Shelburne Museum Offers Lecture on Looting," in Artdaily.com, online, [July 16, 2006]
• "Weekly Highlight. Thursday 03. Museum Pieces," in Seven Days. Vermont's Alternative Webweekly (Vermont), online, [August 2, 2006]

(photo courtesy of Corine Wegener)

October 09, 2006


Fort sounds Drum for cultural-heritage awareness

AP just published another article (Kates) on Dr. Laurie Rush, the archaeologist at Fort Drum in New York State's North Country. I reviewed an earlier article before (Mattingly). Kates: "So with $165,000 in funding from the Department of Defense Legacy Program, Rush and the post's Integrated Training Area Management unit has begun to heighten the cultural sensitivity of the soldiers and pilots who train at Fort Drum, including building mock cemeteries and archaeological ruins and developing a field guide. ... Fort Drum, located near the U.S.-Canadian border, has a rich archaeological history with dozens of American Indian sites spread throughout the sprawling 105,000-acre post. ... 'Here we are barring them from the sites at Fort Drum, and then asking them to occupy a[n Iraqi] World Heritage site [i.e., Babylon] in a responsible way having failed to teach them how to act in a responsible way,' she said. So Rush's small staff took steps to preserve Sterlingville, one of six North Country communities erased by the federal government in 1941 so it could expand Fort Drum." (for more on Sterlingville, see Snyder)

Kates: "Across the road, ... sit the fake ruins and cemetery that Rush and her staff built using concrete, plywood and paint. The cylindrical ruins are modeled after ruins in Uruk that are believed to be 4,000 to 5,000 years old. Rush's crew plans to soon add a mosque. ... a second fake Muslim cemetery and another set of ruins are set up just outside a small fabricated village. The cemetery sits on a bend in the road in a spot that affords good fighting position, Rush said. Like they are in the Middle East, the markers are plain, unadorned and face toward Mecca. Arabic blessings are imprinted into the concrete in the walls of the ruins. 'This helps trains soldiers to immediately identify cultural features so troops don't waste valuable time during combat operations,' she said. She recounts one incident where a commanding officer had his troops put up a communications tower on the top of a pile of rubble, not realizing it was a tell – an artificial mound covering the successive remains of ancient communities. The unit started erecting a security fence when they began digging up artifacts. They had to stop, take down the fence and move the tower." [oops!] I found a bit more information in an earlier article (Cutshaw) published in the base newspaper: "'We started the process in April [2006] and started planning for the process with the Air National Guard,' Rush said. 'Aerial gunnery is an issue because sometimes excavated sites in the classical world look like fighting positions because they are excavated in nice trench shapes. People sometimes use them because they are relatively safe. The Air National Guard has crews going overseas, and they want their pilots to know the difference. They teach them to avoid certain targets while aiming at others,' she added. 'We will soon be constructing a mock cemetery on Range 48, and that will be one of the avoidance targets.'" By the way, the stacked cylinders in the rotating photo set I include above, could they really be a rough imitation of a Stiftmosaik from the late 3rd millennium BC (for examples from Uruk, see the Metropolitan Museum and the Oriental Institute)? If so, they're too large and also not pointed. Furthermore, cone mosaics are a rare find so not very helpful to prepare soldiers for normal archaeological sites in Iraq. But maybe I'm missing something?

I notice that apart from Mattingly Dr. Roger Ulrich is not mentioned in any of the articles. Kates only has an oblique reference to "developing a field guide." I don't know if one should draw any conclusions from that. Mattingly: "Classics professor Roger Ulrich will begin working soon to develop training materials aimed at helping troops in Iraq and Afghanistan prevent damage to important archeological sites." "Because Ulrich is a classical archeologist, meaning he specializes in Greek and Roman archeology, he hopes to rely on his students' research to supplement his own knowledge. 'I don't really work in the Middle East at all,' Ulrich said." "Ulrich hopes to begin work on the project this summer and continue it into the fall, and the Defense Department hopes to complete work on the materials approximately one year from now. The materials will include a general instruction manual, 100,000 packs of playing cards carrying cultural and historical information and 50,000 laminated sheets for troops in the field to help them recognize and protect historically sensitive areas." As I remarked before: wouldn't a Mesopotamian archaeologist be more appropriate, e.g., Dr. Sam Paley at SUNY in Buffalo? Still wondering... Anyway, Dr. Ulrich's web page, for example, still doesn't refer in any way to this. However, Dartmouth's Peer Academic Link site has Classics student Craig Dent stating that one of his projects will be focused on this.

• N. Snyder, "The Rebirth of Sterlingville," in Environmental Update. A Quarterly Publication of Army Environmental News, online, 18, 1 (Winter 2006)
• E. Mattingly, "Prof. to train soldiers to preserve sites," in The Dartmouth (New Hampshire), April 26, 2006
• J.B. Cutshaw, "Post archaeologist will train Soldiers to preserve historic sites," in Fort Drum Blizzard (New York), online, June 22, 2006
• "Military builds mock archaeological ruins and Muslim cemetery on Fort Drum range," in Newswatch 50 (WWTI; New York), July 11, 2006
• W. Kates, "Army archaeologist seeks to heighten soldiers' sensitivity," in Rutland Herald (Vermont), October 8, 2006
• "Classical Studies," in [Dartmouth College] Peer Academic Link (New Hampshire), online, n.d.