Attending RAI 51

Observations on the 51e Rencontre Assyriologique
Internationale in Chicago, July 17-23, 2005

August 5, 2005 Francis Deblauwe IW&A Documents, 4

Updated August 20 and 24, and September 16, 2005

[These observations, musings and thoughts are written down in "blog" style, i.e., the oldest entry is at the bottom and the most recent one is at the top]

Mathieu Ossendrijver of the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg in Germany also sent me a photo taken at the Rencontre.  Dank je wel, Mathieu!

I remember this photo well.  It was taken in front of Ida Noyes Hall after the Iraq Workshop on the final day.  These were some of the Dutch-speaking participants to the Rencontre, from left to right: myself, Jan Tavernier, An De Vos (the piano player! see the Friday July 22, 1:00 am posting), Ineke De Lange and Geert de Breucker. Benedetta Bellucci of the Università di Pavia in Italy was so kind to send me some photos taken at the Rencontre.  I post them here with her captions:

"Wednesday, July 20. Seth Richardson's party.
From left: Ahmad Serrieh, Emmanuelle Salgues, Seth Richardson, Alessandra Mezzasalma.
Behind: Lorenzo Verderame, Maria Gabriella Micale, Davide Nadali, Marta Rivaroli, Agnes Garcia Ventura.
Benedetta Bellucci, Erica Couto, Claus Ambos"

"Thursday, July 21. The cruise.
From left: Marco Ramazzotti, Agnes Garcia Ventura, Benedetta Bellucci, Alessandra Mezzasalma, Alessandro di Ludovico, Erica Couto, Lorenzo Verderame, Carlo Lippolis"

"The cruise.
From left: Maria Gabriella Micale, Davide Nadali, Marta Rivaroli, Irene Winter"

"From left: Carlo Lippolis, Alessandra Mezzasalma, Simona Bracci, Benedetta Bellucci, Marco Ramazzotti, Alessandro di Ludovico"

"From left: Alessandra Mezzasalma, Marta Rivaroli, Anna Maria Gloria Capomacchia"

"Still the cruise.
From left: Maria Yakubovich, Alessandra Mezzasalma, Marta Rivaroli, Carlo Lippolis"
Andrew Lawler contributed 2 more brief articles to the August 5 issue of Science (Vol 309, Issue 5736, 869), this time focusing on papers presented at the Chicago RAI.  As they too are pay only I will review them in detail.  In the 1st, "Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale Meeting: Alas, Babylon: Tracing the Last King's Desert Exile," he discusses the 2 papers reporting on the joint Saudi-German excavations at Tayma (see my Tuesday July 19, 4:15 pm posting).  "Mid-6th century B.C.E. was a dark time for the empire of Babylonia. Persians and Medes were threatening in the east, and the king mysteriously abandoned his famed capital of Babylon for a remote oasis in the western Arabian desert. Contemporary texts portray King Nabonidus as mentally unstable and complain that he forsook the prime Babylonian deity, virile Marduk, for the mystical cult of the moon god Sin, often portrayed as an old man with a long beard. Those texts, written by Nabonidus's clerical enemies, have been the only evidence of his claimed exile. ... Academics familiar with the Middle East say that the Tayma dig itself, in sparsely settled northwestern Saudi Arabia, is a triumph of science over politics, given the difficulty of winning permits from the Saudi government for excavations by foreign teams. Three years ago, Saudi researchers working near Tayma found rock inscriptions that mention an army of Nabonidus that battled local Bedouin. Then in December, a joint Saudi-German team found a piece of badly weathered stele, a stone slab inscribed with writing, which closely resembles other slabs associated with Nabonidus's reign. The slab originally would have stood for passersby to read, but the team's fragment--60 ... cm wide, 50 cm high, and 11 cm thick--was later reused in building a wall. Only about a dozen lines of the stele are legible, but they indicate that Nabonidus made offerings to Babylonian deities--including Marduk--in the form of carnelian, lapis lazuli, and censers of gold, according to a translation by Assyriologist Hanspeter Schaudig of the University of Heidelberg in Germany. ... The find is part of a larger effort to understand the complex trade routes that linked the ancient Middle East. Tayma lies at a critical juncture of the frankincense trade flowing north from Yemen and other routes to the Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia, and for millennia it offered travelers a respite from the desert. At the time of Nabonidus, the oasis included a city with a vast wall some 14 kilometers in circumference and a well 18 meters across, one of the largest on the notoriously dry Arabian Peninsula. The team, led by Ricardo Eichmann of Berlin's German Archaeological Institute and Said al-Said, a professor at King Fahd University, has found 13 successive layers of occupation from the mid-3rd millennium to the early centuries of the modern era, showing a surprising continuity in urban desert life. Although Babylonian texts mention that Nabonidus built a palace at the site, Eichmann says none has yet been found, but the team will keep looking when it returns to Saudi Arabia in November. Textual evidence found elsewhere indicates that Nabonidus was ill when he left Babylon and recovered during his decade in the desert. But German excavation director Arnulf Hausleiter speculates that his real motives could have been economic: By asserting control over an important trade city, Nabonidus may have been attempting to bolster Babylon's flagging treasury. If so, the gambit failed. The texts say that the king returned to Babylon in 542 B.C.E. after a decade in exile, only to be overthrown by the Persian King Cyrus the Great 3 years later."

Lawler's 2nd article was given—by his editor, no doubt—the catchy but deceptive title "Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale Meeting: Ur's Xena: A Warrior Princess for Sumeria?"  "One of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries in history was Leonard Woolley's excavation of the royal tombs of Ur in the late 1920s. The 16 graves included a 'death pit' with sacrificed retainers and animals. Woolley believed the tombs were those of kings and their consorts, including the famous Queen Puabi, buried with a magnificent crown and other jewelry. But one grave, tomb 1054, left Woolley perplexed. In the shaft 4 meters above the stone burial chamber was a cylinder seal inscribed with the word 'lugal,' Sumerian for 'king' or 'ruler,' along with a name read as Meskalamdug and traditionally translated as 'hero of the land.' In the stone chamber itself were a host of weapons, including a dagger at the side of the principal occupant. But there was one hitch: Woolley determined that the remains were of a woman. Scholars had long held that ancient Mesopotamian rulers, unlike their Egyptian neighbors, were always men. 'That seal cannot be hers,' Woolley concluded in a 1934 publication. ... Now Kathleen McCaffrey, a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, says [see my Tuesday July 19, 4:15 pm posting] that the most logical answer is the simplest: The seal and weapons did indeed belong to the buried skeleton, which may have been that of a female Sumerian ruler. That claim has sparked fierce debate, however, especially because Woolley disposed of the bones shortly after discovering them. Woolley himself suggested that the seal and weapons were gifts from the woman's husband. Another theory is that the true owner of the seal, a male, was buried in a mud-brick shaft above the stone tomb. But McCaffrey notes that the materials in that shaft are low quality and lack weapons, and that no other royal tomb is constructed of mud brick. In fact, the remains in the mud-brick shaft, identified by Woolley as male, were wrapped in women's clothing with feminine jewelry. Unfortunately, those bones also were discarded. The principal occupant of 1054 herself reveals some curious gender anomalies, notes McCaffrey. Her skeleton was found wearing a hair ribbon, two golden wreaths, and a gold dress pin, all typical for high-status Sumerian women of the day. But she was not adorned with the usual earrings or elaborate choker, and there were no floral combs or cosmetic containers. And a gold headpiece and a dagger and whetstone at her waist were typical for Sumerian men; a gold headdress near the skeleton has a brim, a style that Woolley believed was worn mostly by men. Also in the stone chamber were a bronze ax, dagger, and hatchet--very atypical for a woman's tomb. Other researchers attribute those weapons to the male attendants in the room, but McCaffrey notes that the attendants lack rings, weapons on their bodies, or any other sign of elite materials, suggesting that they were servants. McCaffrey maintains that the root of the problem is translation: Sumerian grammar does not include gender distinctions, but 'lugal' has always been translated as 'king' rather than simply 'ruler.' In the case of tomb 1054, she concludes that the woman was in fact a lugal. But other scholars hotly disagree. University of Chicago archaeologist McGuire Gibson argues that the seal's location above the stone chamber makes it difficult to tie it to the elite occupant below. ... Philologists, meanwhile, note that although 'lugal' is technically a gender-free term [doesn't "lú-gal" literally mean "big man"?], there is the counterpart term 'eresh,' which traditionally is translated as female consort to a male ruler. ... Researchers are now examining Queen Puabi's remains for clues to her genetic identity."

Furthermore, a paper I didn't attend but should have... is now fortunately available online, both the text and the slides—thank you!—, "New digital tools for Mesopotamian cultural heritage preservation at CDLI" by Cale Johnson.  "... the photo on the right—a room full of confiscated tablets [in Iraq]—that will typically include tablets from every imaginable time period and in every imaginable state of decomposition. The important thing to keep in mind is that none of these tablets can be tracked through the markets if stolen; none have been properly documented, so if they do disintegrate we’ll never know what they might have said; none can be read by any of us and they are all slowly turning into dust. And if you’ll permit me to stand on my soapbox for a moment, the preservation of cultural heritage is not about Indiana Jones, rescuing the artifact from the unscrupulous simply to put it in a box and lock it away in a museum. It is all about documentation, curation and dissemination: the real work of the preservation of cultural heritage is about sitting in museums, documenting and transliterating tablets and building corpora." "... transliterations of the tablets in ASCII Text Format—otherwise known as ATF— ... Then we convert it ... into ... XML ..." "... lemmatization and other kinds of second-order markup quickly grow far too complex for the relatively simple syntax of ... ATF ..." "... the conversion into XML lays the groundwork for other kinds of markup that link particular texts to corpora, dictionaries such as the PSD and ultimately prosopographical study and the localization of materials in terms of both time and place."; the numbers of tablets per group (with number transliterated) are, all rounded by me to the closest hundred: Ur III 65,700 (44,600), Ebla 7,100 (1,400), proto-cuneiform 6,100 (5,400), Old Akkadian 5,800 (2,400), Early Dynastic IIIb 3,800 (2,700), Lagash II 3,500 (2,500), proto-Elamite 1,600 (1,600), Early Dynastic IIIa 1,500 (200), Archaic Ur 400 (400); he explained the improved searching capabilities; slide 12 is esp. interesting: "... a couple years ago, ... Bob Englund noticed several proto-cuneiform tablets that were being auctioned by Bonham’s in London. ... Englund and staff at CDLI do regularly monitor not only the traditional markets, but also new media of circulation such as eBay. Given the images of the tablets published in the auction book, Englund did a search, located the tablets in our database and also noticed that the same tablets had been offered for sale in Amman in September of 2000. It is thus likely that these were a few of the growing number of Late Uruk, Early Dynastic and Old Akkadian tablets, presumably from Umma and its vicinity, that have been flooding the markets since the 1990-91 Kuwait War. The important thing in this case is that only because of such basic tools as catalogs, archival images and transliterational corpora now in place was it even possible to know which tablets these were, and where they had been until recently." "Our next major initiative ... will be the development of corpora of syllabically written Semitic languages covering the first millennium of the attested history of the Semitic languages from Ebla to the end of the Old Babylonian period. Two areas of second-order markup in which we hope to make substantial progress in the coming years are the development of a mechanism for collaborative work on the prosopography of the Ur III empire and the integration of the morphosyntactic parsing that is being applied to Sumerian materials at the PSD in cooperation with the Penn Treebank into, again, a collaborative system for the description of Sumerian morphosyntax and the various grammatical theories that have been applied to Sumerian over the hundred years since Poebel. Currently we are investigating the use of Wiki-technologies ..." "In my view, the best scenario is to continue to require that both graduate students and their mentors spend time in the trenches building and extending these corpora, but the real intellectual content of Assyriology should not solely reside in the publication of primary sources. If the field of Assyriology is to have any relevance in this new century, we must as a profession come to value synthetic treatments of particular historical or linguistic topics over the mere publication of raw materials, materials that will hopefully come to exist in publicly available corpora maintained and extended by projects such as CDLI."  Finally, as of August 18, there were 78 signatures under the Chicago Statement.  If you haven't signed yet, please do, and if you have, find a colleague who hasn't and make sure he/she does...  ;-)
I should have known that the moment I decided to try to close this report, something would pop up that I'd have to write about: Andrew Lawler just published an article in today's issue of Science (Vol 309, Issue 5736, 869), entitled "Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale Meeting: Looted Tablets Pose Scholar's Dilemma" (unfortunately subscription-only).  See my 2003- Iraq War & Archaeology site for a review.  By the way, the Müller-Karpe petition already had 70 signed names as of yesterday!  I urge all colleagues to add their name.
I'm provisionally closing this "blog" today.  I may still add to it if I receive photos to post, something is published online about this conference or more RAI papers are posted online.  See my 2003- Iraq War & Archaeology site for ongoing coverage of Assyriology and Mesopotamian archaeology.  Thanks for reading!
As already mentioned in my July 23, 10:45 am posting, Michael Müller-Karpe also presented a paper, "Legal or Illegal - Can We Afford a Market for (Un-)Excavated Objects?," at the Iraq Heritage Workshop on Saturday July 23.  It is is now available online. A statement was prepared by Michael Müller-Karpe for the RAI.  It condemns the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq and specifically urges scholars worldwide "... to refrain from providing expertise to the antiquities market and to private collectors, unless the artifacts in question can be proven to be neither excavated illegally nor exported without permission."  It was presented at the Workshop “The Threat to Iraq’s Cultural Heritage – Current Status and Future Prospects" (July 23, 2005) and was subsequently signed by 46 of its attendees. It has now been posted at the Workshop's web site. Scholars in the field of Assyriology and Mesopotamian archaeology/art history are encouraged to add their names to the list of signatures (see the web page on how to contact Clemens Reichel to do this).  They can also discuss this statement on the moderated Iraqcrisis discussion list.  And yes, as you can see in the list of signed names, the Universität Wien now has a satellite program in the US, viz. in Kansas City, Missouri!  Just kidding.  As most people probably know by now, the Iraq War & Archaeology web site and assorted academic web stuff of my hand have been kindly "adopted" by the Institut für Orientalistik of the University of Vienna in Austria, and, as an added bonus, they threw in a nice title to put on my business card.  However, I still don't have a permanent or full-time job, hence the PayPal buttons I've added just in case anyone has some spare change they'd like to donate.

[PayPal button removed]
Michael Müller-Karpe was interviewed in Die Süddeutsche Zeitung of July 28, 2005, at the occasion of the prosecution in Italy of Marion True, the J. Paul Getty Museum's curator for antiquities, for conspiring to import illegally excavated antiquities into the US.  He mentioned that Dr. Donny George Youkhanna, Director General of museums in Iraq, has clearly stated that they will refuse access to the National Museum in Baghdad to anyone who encourages the illegal trade in antiquities through purchasing, providing expertise or publishing.  Iraqcrisis's Chuck Jones helpfully pointed out the official statement, see 2003- IW&A Documents, 2. Müller-Karpe proceeded to talk about how Grand Ayatollah el-Sistani has declared looting un-Islamic but radical cleric Muqtada el-Sadr has issued a counter-fatwa to the effect that looting of antiquities is allowed as long as its proceeds benefit the fight against the infidels; if you buy looted artifacts from Iraq, you are also supporting terrorist attacks.  The way this is reported I find a bit of a stretch: the Shi'ite firebrand el-Sadr is not likely behind most of the terrorist bombings and attacks nowadays that are mostly committed by Sunnis; which of course doesn't mean that insurgents aren't using antiquities looting and smuggling as a source of income.  By the way, digital photos of the Rencontre are still welcome: shots of the sessions, reception, cruise, ...  You can send me the actual files or the hyperlinks.  Surely, somebody can share some pics that aren't too embarrassing ;-)  ? Regarding the discussion about what to do with artifacts looted from Iraq, esp. cuneiform tablets, that appear on the market in the West, let me tell a "what if?" story I used as an example a couple of times while in Chicago.  As looters in Iraq are plundering rather systematically, on an unprecedented scale, at a fast rate of tell destruction and without much meaningful opposition, it would be quite possible that they hit upon the city of Agade.  This capital of the later-3rd-mill.-BC Akkadian empire has long eluded us scholars and presumably would contain many remains that would elucidate this pivotal episode in Mesopotamian history and culture.  Now say some tablets from this site reach an Assyriologist who's willing to ignore the telltale signs of recent looting.  He examines the texts and comes to the conclusion that they must have come from an archive in Agade!  He is ecstatic, tells the dealer.  The latter at once tracks down what tell the tablets came from and puts in an order for more.  Word gets around in the antiquities trade and among the smugglers and looters.  After all, a find like this is impossible to keep a secret.  A treasure hunting frenzy ensues.  A couple of weeks later, there is nothing left of the tell of Agade worth excavating.  At about that time, some Iraqi FPS archaeological guards finally arrive to check out what's going on but it's too late.  Lots of artifacts (sculptures, tablets, seals, etc.) pop up on the antiquities market, all claimed to have been dug up at the now (in)famous Tell X.  None of them have any archaeological context, stories about some having been found together may be true or may be just a ruse to drive up the price, even whether artifacts for sale are truly from Tell X is hardly certain.  This confused, hopeless mess is all that's left of Agade.  Some scholars wish the darn Tell X would never have been identified as Agade in the first place, instead left to be discovered at a later time when Iraq would have been at peace.
I'm home and catching up on e-mail and other stuff.  Overall, I'm happy I got to go to this RAI.  I find it very benificial to interact with archaeologists, art historians, historians as well as philologists who study the cuneiform world at large.  It's good to get together and not lock ourselves up in our little specialties.  Of course, more archaeological papers would've been nice.  I'd like to attend the International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East (ICAANE) sometime and compare.  The next one is in April 2006 in Madrid.  If only I could get some funding to pay for my travel expenses...  I see the organizing committee has already proposed a "The State of Iraqi Archaeological Heritage (1990-2006). Looting, Restoration Projects, Current Situation" workshop!  I do think that I need to get out of Kansas City more often, leave Missouri behind me once in a while.  I'm still churning on a lot of the ideas and discussions...  I'll be back with more soon.  Oh yeah, did you notice the Chicago Tribune article I referred to in my previous posting seemed to forget about Sumerian too?
Before I forget again, there appeared an article about the RAI on the front page of the Chicago Tribune of July 23: "Babylon's dirty secrets: No tablet left unturned. Experts in a 4,000-year-old language find Mesopotamians faced rising home prices, booming harems and doctors who laid it on thick" by W. Mullen. "Only 200 or so people in the world are fluent in the Akkadian language. Scattered across four continents, they get together only once a year. So by the time the scholars arrived in Chicago this week for their annual meeting, they had stored up a lot of things to discuss--from the harems of Assyrian kings to rising housing prices in ancient Babylon." "'In our field, Chicago is a very important center,' said Dominique Charpin, an Assyriologist at the Sorbonne in Paris. 'For us, it is our Mecca.'  Charpin, 51, and his wife, Nele Ziegler, 37, have been going over nearly 20,000 clay tablets generated during the reign of Zimri-Lim between 1800 B.C. and 1760 B.C. in the city of Mari, ..." "'It's not so different from the English language, where we see specialists devoted to reading and interpreting Shakespearean texts, and others who are experts in reading and interpreting Dow Jones stock tables,' said Martha Roth, editor of the nearly completed dictionary and organizer of this year's Assyriology congress.  Heather Baker, 42, a British lecturer at the University of Vienna, has been looking at legal documents recording sales of houses and empty plots in Babylon between 700 B.C. and 500 B.C." "Barbara Boeck, 37, a university researcher in Madrid, has inherited the work of her mentor and teacher in Germany, the late Franz Koecher, who translated pharmacological texts left by ancient physicians. To the consternation of scholars, many of those recipes called for the excrement of animals--the droppings of dogs, pigs and other barnyard species--as key ingredients. ... 'He discovered the physicians listed use of animal excrement simply as codes for actual secret plant ingredients that they didn't want their patients to know, so that the patients couldn't make their own medicine,' Boeck said. 'He discovered the equivalence lists, about 100 coded plant names.'" Too bad this journalist didn't speak to any archaeologists...  He seems to have left with the impression that cuneiform texts was the thing the RAI was solely about.  [see also above, next posting at the end]  It's also odd that there wasn't a mention of the events in Iraq.  Looting of sites, anyone?  Which brings us to the impromptu but vehemently requested addition to the program of the Saturday workshop discussed in my 2 previous postings: a discussion on how to deal with unprovenanced, i.e., most-likely looted artifacts, esp. cuneiform tablets.  Unfortunately, I had to leave early in order to catch my plane back home.  It was partially instigated by the petition that Michael Müller-Karpe had circulated.  I believe the petition with the list of signatories will soon be posted on the web.  I'll link to it as soon as it is available. [see also below under my Thursday July 21, 2:20 am posting] Saturday, after a coffee break, Paola Negri Scafa and Salvatore Viaggio gave a paper about "The Contribution of the Italian D-R Project to the Preservation of Iraq's Cultural Heritage."  They have an incipient 3-D image and text database project of the cuneiform tablets of the National Museum in Baghdad.  [August 4 addition: but using solely already published tablets, I think; also, as was remarked from the audience, why re-invent the wheel already invented by the CDLI project at UCLA/Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte that has already processed more than 125,000 texts?]  Then David Myers and Stephen H. Savage talked about "Documenting Cultural Heritage Sites in Iraq with an Integrated ArcGIS/MSAccess/SQL Server Database."  Myers started with explaining how the Getty Conservation Institute and the World Monuments Fund joined in 2004 for their Iraq Cultural Heritage Conservation Initiative.  They already have run a training session in November-December 2004 in Amman with 16 SBAH participants, a session in April 2005 at the British Museum in London with 3 SBAH staff, and in June 2005 a session for 6 SBAH staff; still to come: August-September 2005 for 18 SBAH staff, November 2005, April 2006, May 2006, June 2006, October-November 2006; to continue for several years.  Savage continued with more detail on the Iraq Cultural Heritage GIS database which will be bilingual Arabic/English (see example to the right).  It's a significantly enhanced version of the JADIS one of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan. They plan on making it web based eventually.  Roberto Parapetti and Carlo Lippolis were then scheduled with "The Contribution of the Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino to the Reconstruction of Iraq's Cultural Heritage."  They have been studying about 1400 artifacts seized by the Jordanian authorities, though not all are from Iraq.  Some still have the "IM" number on them.  He showed an interesting overview of the type of objects confiscated.  The workshop concluded with "The New FBI Art Crime Team and Iraq" by Bonnie Magness-Gardiner.  The new rapid-deployment Art Crime Team was created in response to the crisis in Iraq.  Legally, no Iraqi artifacts have been allowed to be imported into the US after 1990.  [illustration added and posting slightly edited on July 25, 9:45 pm and August 4]
And then the big day arrived: Saturday, the Workshop "The Threat to Iraq's Cultural Heritage - Current Status and Future Prospects."  After an introduction by organizer Clemens Reichel, MacGuire Gibson took to the podium in Ida Noyes Hall: "Introduction: The Archaeology of Iraq Two Years After the War - An Overview."  He started with an excellent recap of the events in 2003 at the National Museum in Baghdad with good illustrations.  Basetki statue has lost another toe while it was stolen.  Ur harp was taken apart by looters to try get the gold out of it.  Also showed the looting of archaeological sites.  Every little tell around Nippur has been badly damaged by looting, according to information from a Spanish army officer.  The next paper was "Legal or Illegal - Can We Afford a Market for (Un-)Excavated Objects?" by Michael Müller-Karpe.  He explained the proposed German legislation that would finally enact the UNESCO convention of 1970; it has so many loopholes that it would not be good at all, it would also not abide by the UNESCO convention of 1995.  A major defect is that protection is limited to a finite number of important artifacts explicitly listed by a country, ignoring for instance all archaeological objects looted from sites.  [see also the August 2, 1:15 am posting]  MacGuire Gibson then read Joanne Farchakh-Bajjali's (who was unable to come) richly-illustrated paper "Cultural Heritage Condemned to Destruction--the Looting of Archaeological Sites in Southern Mesopotamia."  It was actually retitled "Heritage on Death Row" by Farchakh.  Looters dig trenches and then dig tunnels to stay out of the sun.  Parthian site of Farwa also extensively looted.  Smugglers were initially overpaying to recruit farmers to loot.  Arshad Yasin, Saddam Hussein's brother-in-law who had been involved in smuggling operations in the past, is active again since 2003 in looting and smuggling of artifacts.  Farchakh is working on a film about all this. [I  include a photo of  the looted site of Zabalam from the Four Corners Media web site]
Irene Winter, in her "Sennacherib's Claims to Knowledge," made a convincing case that terms such as naklu (Akkadian) have up till now been wrongly translated too narrowly as "artistic."  Instead, they referred to skill, mastering of the craft, better translated as "artful."  Next, Frances Reynold's "Knowing Your Enemy: Reclassifying Knowledge Through Wordplay" examined how Babylonian scholars in the late periods reinterpreted different terms to provide analogies for foreign enemies.  I give 2 examples of her very nicely organized tables illustrating this:
Text Terms
Omens: Direction
Text Historical
Text Contemporary
Land of Akkad /Babylon
Babylonia /Babylon
Babylonia /Babylon
Land of Elam
Land of Subartu North
Traditional mythological battles:

Enūma Eliš
Ninurta Mythology
Land of Akkad
Land of Elam
Anzû (?)
Land of Subartu Oingu
"The use of spin in foreign relations, it appears, is not an entirely modern phenomenon."  Indeed.  I also attended a paper by Abraham Winitzer: "Alternative Interpretation in O[ld] B[abylonian] Divination: Organizational and Creative Considerations."  Jesús Gil Fuensantas presented "On the Ubaid Stratigraphy of the Turkish Euphrates" as evidenced by his excavations near the already submerged Tilbes Höyük.  There is evidence of possible cross-influences between Halaf and Ubaid potters during the Terminal Halaf and Late Ubaid times, maybe showing a gradual transition to Ubaid culture in this region.  "Tokens from a Juridical Point of View" by Bonnie Nilhamn posited that one can study juridical activity by using archaeological material: tokens, markers, calculi, jetons.  Denyse Schmandt-Besserat has extensively studied them but mostly in economic context.  The excavations at Tell Sabi Abyad (N Syria) yielded Late Neolithic and Middle Assyrian tokens, the latter found together with tablets mentioning a certain Mannu-ki-Adad.  Perhaps tokens placed in wooden box together with cuneiform tablets.  There is a similar case in Nuzi: a bulla (SMN 1854) and a related text (SMN 2096).  By the way, sorry about the lack of illustrations or hyperlinks for the last several postings.  I am having issues with my wireless connection and even with the kind assistance of OI's IT expert John Sanders I have not yet been able to really find a solution.  The practical effect is that I have little or no internet connectivity inside buildings and consequently little opportunity to look up appropriate illustrations or hyperlinks.  There is one I'd like to mention on this occasion though: Ricardo Eichmann's Tayma project in Saudi Arabia (see my Tuesday July 19, 4:15 pm posting) has a web site.  While I am following up on some stuff I mentioned before anyway, I ought to state that Elizabeth Carter is unfortunately not attending the Rencontre this year---I had expected her later arrival in posting Tuesday July 19, 1:05 am.

Back to the papers: F. Rachel Magdalene talked about "The Jurisdictional Power of the Courts During the Neo-Babylonian and Persian Empires."  After a nice lunch with Lucio Milano and Elena Rova, the next paper I went to was by Heather D. Baker: "Characterising Urban Space and Comparing Neighbourhoods: The Babylonian Cities in the First Millennium BC."  Postgate did a study of Abu Salabikh and Ur and calculated that public space accounted for about 10% of all space, she did the same for Merkes area of Babylon and came up with about 17%.  There were 27 city districts (erṣetu) in 1st-mill.-BC Uruk.  Property types: bītu house, kišubbû unbuilt plot, kuruppu (kind of reed structure), bīt qāti workshop/storeroom; other neighbouring features: mūṣû (no-through) alley, sūqu street.  Caroline Janssen spoke on "Keeping Track of One's Records: Ur-Utu and His Letters."  Over 2,000 Old Babylonian tablets were found in Tell ed-Der, all from the archive of the "Chief Dirge Singer," and with meticulously recorded archaeological context.  "Chagar Bazar (Syria): New Cuneiform Tablets from the Second Millennium BC" (by Denis Lacambre) found in the new excavations since 1999 by the Université de Liège.  The site may be ancient Ashnakkum.  The texts are from the time of king Samsī-addu.  It is probable that the leader of Chagar Bazar at the time was Sȋn-iqȋšam.  Michel Tanret enthusiastically delivered another paper on the Ur-Utu archive from Tell ed-Der: "Reclassifying the Unclassified."  Tablets from an archive had been taken out of the archive room while the room was rebuilt.  They were then returned to await sorting and transfer to the new tablet room.  Some tablets were already stored there when the inhabitants of the house were forced to flee on short notice.  Someone collected a number of important tablets though, dropping some on the way out.  While making his selection, he threw the ones he didn't want on a heap in the new tablet room.  Hence none of the remaning tablets are sorted or organized.  Real estate tablets were normally grouped in dossiers: a transaction tablet was accompanied by all of its predecessors all through the birth of the field, i.e., when it was separated from a larger field or constituted by combining fields.  Layers of the archive: 1) documents kept in the archive in Sippar Jaḫrūrum; 2) documents added in the 1st house in Sippar Amnānum; 3) documents added to the archive in the 2nd house.  Reasons to keep so many tablets: for the tax man; maybe as family mementos.  Next was "Abum-waqar son of Iddin-Erra: A Synopsis" by Karljürgen Feuerherm.
Thursday evening, there was a joint cruise on Lake Michigan of the participants of the RAI together with the local Assyrian community of Chicago. The sunset was quite beautiful over Chicago's skyscrapers...  I had fun getting to know even more colleagues like Harriet Martin, Anne Kilmer,  Eleanor Guralnick, etc.  Now that I think about it, I forgot to mention earlier that I had a pleasant dinner with Felix Blocher on Tuesday night.  When, later that Thursday evening, I got back to the student residence where most of us are staying, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of my colleagues is also a very good classical piano player: An De Vos.  In the community room, she was coaxed by some colleagues to play on the Steinway and we were enthralled...
I started late on Thursday, had to mull over some of the issues touched upon yesterday... and catch up on my night rest.  The 1st paper I went to was "Les listes métrologiques, entre mathémathiques et lexicographie" by Christine Proust who actually delivered it in English. Eleanor Robson started with a heartfelt note in memoriam of Jeremy Black who passed away recently.  Her paper was entitled "What Counts as Mathematics? A Re-Examination of the Cuneiform Record."  She started with an interesting history of the study of Mesopotamian math by Assyriologists as well as mathemathicians. There were local groups of Old Babylonian mathematicians.  She proposed to go beyond the traditional categories of  "table texts" and "problem texts" and also include intellectual explorations of mathematical ideas as found in a wide range of texts going from literature and divination to astronomy and cultic topography.  Jamie Novotny spoke on "Classifying Assurbanipal's Inscriptions: Prisms C, Kh (= CND), and G": Borger's prism CKalach or CND re-identified as describing the 1st war against Ummanaldasu.  During lunch, I chatted with Frauke Weiershäuser about the evolving standards of academic publishing in our field. Digital formats are gaining ground but the problem of what counts for academic promotion and the like remains unsolved.  Still, funding of the institutes and researchers doing the publishing as well as the academic libraries doing the purchasing is only decreasing.  I feel that the established academic series, esp. the ones published by university departments, should be edited and prepared for print with the same quality standards as usual but then, just before the usual step of sending a manuscript to a printer, it should instead be converted into a high-quality pdf file.  This then should be placed on the web to be downloaded for free by anyone interested so as to encourage research in our small field.  Academic libraries could download it, print it out and bind it into a book to place in the stacks. If there are fine photographs or plans, they should have it printed out by their university copying/printing service on a high-quality printer.  This approach would save the money for a limited and expensive print run which is almost always totally subsidized anyway.  Any academic library could also acquire a lot more of the literature without having to make the painful choices that are all too common today.  And because it would go through the same process as before, it would still count fully for academic achievement.

In the afternoon, the Landscape Archaeology Workshop started with a paper by Bernadette McCall: "Landscape and Settlement in the Mamasani Valleys, Fars province, Iran": soundings at Nudabad and Tol-e Spid; survey of 51 sites (34 mounds), collected close to 4,000 sherds; it turns out that there were substantial settlements present after all, contrary to the common opinion, and culturally/politically tied with Khuzestan and highland Fars.  Next, in "Recent Survey in the Region of Tell Brak, E. Syria: Preliminary Results," Eric Rupley told that they have surveyed for 3 seasons now in a circle around Tell Brak (including for instance Tell Beydar), assisted by satellite photography.  Their search was optimized using multispectral identification of settlement-associated sediments coupled with CORONA legacy imagery.  Hollow ways (3rd mill. BC) spotted, radiating out from Tell Brak.  Jason Ur talked about "The Classification of Urban Settlement Systems in Northern Mesopotamia in the Fifth to First Millennia BC."  After the break, I chose "Classification of Knowledge, an Archaeological Approach: The Case of Nuzi" by Simona Bracci.  Dominique Charpin talked about "Archives and Classification: An Example at Mari."  He discussed how in the unpublished text M.15119+ containing a compilation of unpaid debts owed to the late queen mother Addu-duri and the high priestess Inibshina the scribe arranged the debts: 1) dated, sealed tablet; 2) dated, unsealed tablet; 3) undated, unsealed tablet; 4) dated, no tablet, smaller amount; 5) dated, no tablet, larger amount; 6) undated, no tablet.  Only 21 of the 31 were dated.  "Where Was the Statue of Idrimi Really Found?" by Amir S. Fink proposed an earlier archaeological dating for this sculpture excavated by Woolley in Tell Atchana (Alalakh) in 1939.  Woolley published contradictory plans about levels I and II of the temple, and his notes also betray a lot of uncertainty.
Tuesday there were a few schedule changes that had been announced sometime on Monday on a blackboard in the OI entrance hall but that were not widely known.  This was unfortunate as it makes life difficult for those of us who like to pick and choose from both sides of the Mesopotamian scholarly aisle (see also my remarks in my Tuesday July 19, 1:05 am posting).  Maybe a page with announcement of the changes could have been handed out in advance? We had Tuesday afternoon off from the conference stuff so I checked out the Egyptian exhibit at the Field Museum.  At night, fun and games with colleagues (Douglas Frayne, Gordon Whittaker, Kathleen Abraham, Jan Tavernier, ...) over a few games of pool at the rec room of our student residence.  Over Wednesday breakfast, Michael Müller-Karpe briefed me on his October 2004 trip to Baghdad.  Maybe we'll hear more on Saturday.   I started the scheduled business of the day by listening to Claudia Beuger's re-examination of "The Pottery of the Archaic Ištar Temples in Assur" excavated about a century ago.  Marian Feldman analyzed Levantine frescoes from Alalakh, Qatna, Tell Kabri, etc. and compared them with the ones from the Aegean: "Knowing the Foreign: Power, Exotica, and Frescoes in the Middle Bronze Age." A problem is that Levantine frescoes are generally much more fragmentarily preserved and their reconstructions draw greatly on the Aegean ones which makes it hard to prove the direction of the influence.  Nevertheless, Levantine frescoes seem more like exotica, isolated within their cultural context.  Barbara A. Porter ("A Middle Bronze Stele from Hama and Old Syrian Cylinder Seals") discussed the dating of a stele excavated in 1936 by the Danes on the tell at Hama (Syria) and contributed more evidence to support Frances Pinnock that it was not from the Iron Age.  The next paper I attended was "Classification of Methods of Pictorial Narrative in Assurbanipal's Reliefs" by Chikako Watanabe, focusing on the battle of Til-Tuba and lion hunt scenes (Nineveh), and esp. the change in method between the battle scene and the lion hunt in Rooms S and S1 on the one hand and the lion hunt in Room C on the other hunt.  In "Babylon as a Name for Nineveh and Other Cities," Stephanie Dalley showed that there is evidence in lexical texts that cities other than Babylon were known as Babylon starting at least in the late 8th-7th cent. BC.  Elna Solvang's "Classifying Women: The Harem ... and What It Doesn't Tell Us About Women" eloquently analyzed  the inappropriateness of projecting the term and concept of the later Islamic "harem" to the Mesopotamian past of, for example, the texts from Mari.  Gabriella Frantz-Szabó gave a paper entitled "Reflections on the Past and Future of the 'Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie.'"  This encyclopaedia of our field of study was started by Bruno Meissner and a 1st volume published in 1928.  The latest fascicle appeared last year ("Panzer-Pflanzenkunde").  Entry titles are in German but the actual entries can also be in French or German to allow for choosing an appropriate expert scholar for each entry.

The general meeting of the International Association for Assyriology (IAA) took place today in the late afternoon.  Witty as usual, Wilfred van Soldt presided.  He explained that the IAA had 25 members 3 years ago, 95 a year later and now 115.  He stepped down as president and Jack Sasson succeeded him by a unanimous vote---he was the only candidate.  The schedule for the future RAIs is: 2006 Münster ("War and Peace in the Ancient Near East"), 2007 Moscow & St. Petersburg, 2008 Würzburg, 2009 Changchun (not yet confirmed), 2010 Paris.  A discussion was then started about the last point on the agenda: "Policy on unprovenanced inscriptions."  Let's just say there was no perfect agreement.  MacGuire Gibson: it all started when 5,000 artifacts were stolen from museums in Iraq after the 1991 War, of which only 45 were recovered.  He met a Ms. Osthoff two weeks ago in Amman: she said looting has now reached the Diyala region. Irene Winter: the AIA has already instituted programs to educate military personnel on Mesopotamian antiquities at their deployment centres in Georgia, etc.  There are two purist positions on the issue: one that says no to any dealings with looted artifacts of any type as that only encourages more looting, and one that says that looted cuneiform tablets contain precious textual information and should therefore be studied anyway.  A committee will be formed to formulate a policy by the next RAI.  I personally am disappointed: this is the year 2005, more than 2 years after the start of the Iraq War and we as a scholarly organization still haven't figured out a sensible policy in this matter we can all more or less agree with?  Sad!  [this paragraph was reworked on July 21, 11:30 pm][see also above under the Monday July 25, 2:15 am posting]
Yesterday I was happy to finally meet Andrew Lawler who has been one of the journalists who has been the best in reporting about the ongoing damage caused by the 2003- Iraq War to Iraq's archaeological heritage.  Thank you, Andrew, for coming to the RAI!  Tuesday morning we were off in brightly-colored schoolbuses to the Field Museum of Natural History (see photo on the right) for more paper sessions.  Like yesterday, I had to choose which papers to attend as there are always two concurrent sessions.  I started with a paper by Romina Laurito, Alessandra Mezzasalma and Lorenzo Verderame: "Texts and Labels: A Case Study from Neo-Sumerian Umma."  Lorenzo talked about the sa2-du11 labels: pyramidical shape, pre-sealed on 3 sides (often also on the base) by one or rarely 2 officials, unique Neo-Sumerian innovation, unique to Umma, used to seal cords tying tablet containers and the monthly counting, all are from the antiquities trade and therefore unfortunately without archaeological context.  Kathleen McCaffrey's paper "A Female King of Ur: Moving Beyong Gender Blindness" challenged the tendency to automatically assume that a royal burial is a king's.  Tomb PG 1054 at Ur was identified as a king's grave by Woolley because of a seal, discarding the skeleton in it which happened to be female. However, PG 1054's artifacts are different than in other female burials and in some respects more like men's grave goods.  There is textual evidence of a SAL.LUGAL or female king after all and a few queens on the Sumerian Kings List.  Of course, Sumerian doesn't have a grammatical gender which doesn't facilitate things.  [see also the August 21 update]  Next, Ahmad Serrieh spoke on "The Ninevite V Period at Tell Arbid (Northeastern Syria)": old sounding by Max Mallowan, current joint Polish-Syrian expedition.  By the way, contrary to the arrangements at the OI/Pick Hall, at the Field Museum at least it's the archaeologists who got the nice roomy auditorium and the philologists who got the still very nice but admittedly smaller auditorium (see my "rant" in the previous posting).  I then chose to listen to Felix Blocher's "The 2004 Excavations at Tall Munbāqa/Ekalte" about the ongoing work at this Bronze Age site on Lake Assad in the Balikh valley of North Syria.  Ongoing German research is now focusing on a huge building, probably a 4th sanctuary but in the "Innenstadt," a part of the town not settled till the Late Bronze Age.  The sanctuary is located in a walled compound.  After the break, Ricardo Eichmann informed us about "Stratigraphic Research at Tayma."  He gave a well-structured and well-illustrated presentation on the joint German-Saudi expedition's research at this pivotal site.  The palace of the Neo-Babylonian king Nabonidus who made this city his residence for 10 years has not been located yet.  Tayma was a caravan city, wealthy from the trade between South Arabia and Mesopotamia/the Levant. A fragmentary stele of Nabonidus was found, with a cuneiform inscription. There was a large lake on the spot in 4,500 BC, the first habitation is attested in the mid-3rd millennium BC.  [see also above and the August 21 update]  Hanspeter Schaudig continued with "The Tayma Stele of Nabonidus" as mentioned by Eichmann.  The fragment was reused in antiquity.  It does not actually contain Nabonidus's name but is most probably his.  It is only sculpted/inscribed on one side.  Traces at the top show a Babylonian king paying tribute to divine symbols. The cuneiform inscription below is only very fragmentarily preserved but parallels known other ones.  I rounded off the morning sessions with "Activities and Projects of the Center of Achaemenid Studies" by Shahrokh Razmjou. This center studies the collection from the National Museum of Iran.  One of the projects is the 35,000 Persepolis Fortification cuneiform tablet fragments that were returned by the OI. Another is joining the fragments of Susa glazed tiles.  They are using digital technology for reconstruction work.  They are serving as a model for the establishment of a Center of Elamite Studies.  Much is still to be discovered in the National Museum, awaiting "secondary excavation" after decades of storage and benign neglect. Over Monday lunch, I hashed over ANE scholarly matters in Belgium in particular with my colleagues Michel Tanret and Katrien De Graef.  Then, the normal sessions began.  By the way, I forgot to mention I had a good chat with Michael Müller-Karpe the other day too.  Anyway, the first paper I attended was by Niek Veldhuis: "The Archaic Lexical Corpus."  Check out some of his research on the web: Digital Corpus of Cuneiform Lexical Texts. I then crossed the street from the OI to Albert Pick Hall (the 2 venues for the regular paper sessions; OI in the big photo on the left, Pick Hall in the photo on the right) to hear Trudy Kawami, "Some Bovine Sculptures from Uruk":  zoömorphic vessels made of dark stone that usually have tubular-drilled holes on the surface for inlaid other-colored stone; most acquired by different museums and collections in the 1920s and 1930s, possibly pointing at shared original find location; they were possibly ritual temple furniture of the end of 4th millennium BC.  The paper "The Akkadian 'Bello Stile'" by Davide Nadali and Lorenzo Verderame analyzed epigraphy, cylinder seals and steles.  On another subject, rumor has it that Marc Van de Mieroop will be leaving his tenured Assyriology professorship at Columbia University to succeed the late Jeremy Black at Oxford University.   Interesting.  I also met Caroline Waerzeggers, my fellow Belgian associated with the Universität Wien.  Of course, she didn't have to depend on the kindness of strangers as in my case: they actually hired her on as a researcher on their [FWF] project for a multi-year contract.  I was sort of "adopted" and my web site kindly given server space.  Thank you again, Gebhard and Friedrich!  I also bumped into Lucio Milano, another one of my old professors besides Karel Van Lerberghe.  I'm expecting Liz Carter to arrive later. [see however above]   There was a paper by Jon Taylor called "Lexicographical Study of the Already Ancient in Antiquity: Late Copies of the Standard Professions List" which I sat in on.  To be honest though, cuneiform lexicography isn't really my cup of tea.  I again crossed the street and listened to a fascinating paper, "The Ur-Namma Stele Revisited," by Claudia Suter, which walked us through how she re-reconstructed this famous stele after its cleaning, using its many extra parts not used previously.  The class room was really too small, lots of people, myself included were forced to stand.  Okay, here it goes: this is not well organized.  The Breasted Hall in the OI is nice, wood panelled and big, has dimmed lighting and houses the "language" papers while the Pick Hall class room is cavernous, concrete plain and small, has only on-or-off lighting and is the locale for the archaeological and art historical papers.  If one is interested in both types of papers, then one has to run across the street back and forth: not convenient nor easy as sessions tend to not run exactly synchronously even though they are planned that way.  Surely, the good colleagues at the OI didn't want to give the impression that the "language" scholars are more valued than the others?  I understand that it's not always easy to arrange meeting spaces but this conference was assigned far in advance so that doesn't apply.  The space used for the reception and the book publishers could've been turned into a second session space, couldn't it?  And the coffee room downstairs could've housed the book publishers as well perhaps?  Anyway,  it is imperative that all sessions are in the same building, so as to ensure as much interaction and mingling of all kinds of scholars as possible.  That's my two cents worth anyway.  [see also the next posting]  Next came "Depositional Charateristics of Altar Deposits" by Judy Bjorkman who drew attention to a subject too often not given enough thought.  She is of the opinion that these artifacts were buried under altars because of their ritual, magical power, not because they were worn out, used up or so (which is the standard explanation).  That evening it was time for the Provost's Reception at the Faculty Quadrangle Club (see photo to the right).  Ideal for, you guessed it, more mingling.  That's really what the RAI is all about I think: meeting colleagues anew or for the 1st time, connecting a face with a name you've seen in print, on the web or that you've e-mailed with, having chance encounters with colleagues that lead to discussions that give you surprising insights or just make you feel that you are not alone in a certain predicament, catching up on anecdotes and, yes, some gossip.  The weather was still hot and humid so luckily there was plenty to drink and eat. I got to meet Clemens Reichel in person and got to know Michael Dick, Olof Pedersén, Billie Jean Collins, Neal "Chocolates" Walls, Gary Beckman and Jan Tavernier.  Before I forget, I noted yesterday what was said regarding the ANE and Iraqcrisis discussion lists at the plenary session.  I may have misunderstood partially or something, anyway, this is the situation as I was told by e-mail by Chuck Jones himself: ANE and its corollary ANENews have been on hiatus since mid-May but Iraqcrisis will be continued indefinitely by Chuck himself. 
In the same morning session, OI Hittitologist Theo van den Hout deviated from the program and did not talk about H[itt]itology at the OI but rather about the theme of this RAI, "Classifications of Knowledge in the Ancient Near East: Lexicography, Iconography, Stratigraphy," as pertaining to the Hittites.  This year is actually the 100-year anniversary of the "discovery" of the 1st Hittite cuneiform tablets (actually shown to a scholar by a villager).  MacGuire Gibson related the history of the excavations and surveys of the OI in Mesopotamia: the Diyala Expedition, Nippur, etc.  He did point out how in the early digs at Nippur the philological and archaeological teams did not communicate much and therefore the excavation methodology was lacking.  The famous Adams survey work spearpointed the new approaches to archaeological research in southern Iraq.  I hotlink a photo of the early days of digging at Nippur, a view over part of the Temple of Gula (goddess of healing).  He of course mentioned the "Lost Treasures from Iraq" project.  He showed many photos of the looting of the archaeological sites of Iraq.  The photos of the Ur III temple palace in Umma from 2001 (before) and 2003 (after), for example, spoke eloquently of the huge damage.  Nippur looted for 2 months in the summer of 2003 but now safe.  Abu Salabikh safe as far as 6 months ago.  Finally, Robert McC. Adams made some concluding remarks.  Perhaps the destruction of the big, important sites may force us to pay more systematic attention to the many smaller sites out there which after all were an important aspect of ancient society too.  Better availability of satellite photography may be of great use here.  By the way, this using-a-Windows-computer experience has so far not been great: lots of crashes!  Yesterday, I had to remove 70+ spyware programs...  If I only I could buy myself a Mac notebook...  Oh well, don't look a gift horse in the mouth and all that.  There was some general Q&A/discussion after the session itself.  If I understood correctly, OI's Magnus Widell will be taking over Chuck Jones's duties running the ANE and esp. the Iraqcrisis discussion lists, starting sometime after the Rencontre.  Chuck has taken up his new job as librarian of the Blegen Library of The American School of Classical Studies at Athens---good luck, Chuck!---but is still doing at least Iraqcrisis a little while longer. [but see now tomorrow's posting]  The big discussion on how to deal with looted artifacts, how to prevent, curtail looting, etc. started.  No easy solutions, I'm afraid. Over breakfast at the Pierce Hall student restaurant, I had a great time getting acquainted with Trudy Kawami and getting updated on the news from Leiden by Klaas Veenhof.  We startedSumerian Exercise Tablet, myth about Lugalbanda and Nin-sún the RAI officially this morning at 9:30 with a General Session in the Max Palevsky Theatre in Ida Noyes Hall (see photo).  Gil Stein Ida Noyes Hall(director of the Oriental Institute or OI), Don Randel (president of the university) and Wilfred van Soldt (president of the Int'l Association for Assyriology) spoke briefly.  Robert McC. Adams introduced the "The OI and the Ancient Near East" (or ANE) session.  He drew attention to the horrible situation in Iraq and expressed his opinion that the pending civil war (which may even have started already) can probably only be avoided by a US withdrawal.  He did ackowledge though that many colleagues believe that this would only acerbate the problem.  OI's very own Erica Reiner focused on the Assyriological research tradition of the OI, i.e., the study of Akkadian (with its dialects Assyrian and Babylonian). Next came Sumerology and the Sumerian Lexicon Project at the OI as highlighted by Miguel Civil.  He gave a nice historical overview interspersed with the occasional funny anecdote: Chiera, Poebel, Kramer, Landsberger, Jacobsen, etc.  I hotlink an example of a Sumerian school exercise tablet with a part of the myth about Lugalbanda and Nin-sún in the illustration.  I love how the 1st introduction to computers at the OI in the '60s was during a seminar on "non-numerical" (i.e., text-oriented) computing.  The 1st aborted computer program at the OI was written in Fortran...  Converting an IBM typewriter into a printer... Appeal to any RAI participants reading this and who have been or will be taking digital photos: if you don't mind sharing them, please send some to me (fdeblauwe [at] gmail [dot] com).  I may post (a selection of) them!  Thanks!  You can also send me the URL of where they are stored online if you prefer that.  Please indicate then if you wish me to "hotlink" them (see for instance the pic under my 1st posting) or if I should download and put them on my server.  Oh, don't forget to identify people in the pics if possible.  Thanks.
I am in Chicago.  Boy, was it hot today!  It reached a high of 95° F (= 35° C).  While reading over yesterday's posting, I noticed one important Iraq-related omission: Chuck Jones isn't attending either as he has already taken up his new job in Athens.  At the welcoming reception at the Oriental Institute (6 pm) I did meet a whole bunch of new and old faces though.  I was happy to meet up again with Karel Van Lerberghe en Gabriëlla Voet, Grant Frame, Dominique Charpin, Jack Sasson, Theo Krispijn, David Owen, ... and got to know in person Heather Baker, Hermann Hunger, Stephanie Dalley, Kathryn Slanski, Elna Solvang, Barbara A. Porter, Barbara N. Porter, Rich Beal and JoAnn Scurlock, Carol Justus and Darien McWhirter, Raija Mattila, Eleanor Robson, Wilfred van Soldt, Cornelia Wunsch, ...  The conference organizers announced that there were 340 people registered for the Rencontre: a good turnout!  As they said, every continent is represented "except Antarctica"; a new volume of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary---the second last one, I believe---is due to be available for purchase during the Rencontre.  The food was appropriately Middle Eastern-style and delicious.
I'm rather tired so let me finish with some thoughts about the Max Palevsky East Residence Hall that I and a lot of conference visitors are staying in: it's very recently built and therefore nice and clean; however, the plan and layout is fortress-like and inhabitant-unfriendly forcing people to walk long distances for everything.  For instance, I have found only one, yes one, snack vending machine and one drink vending machine---one non-functional, the other sold out---in the whole large 4-floor structure which is weirdly U-shaped with a closed-off inner courtyard.  By the way, the one elevator is located at one end of  the U shape.  Also, there's only one entrance to the building, and one needs to use one's card key 3 times to get inside the actual building, then one more time to get into a small hall accessing a shared shower and toilet and finally one last time to arrive in one's room.  Hello, Kafka!
I think I've transfered everything I'll need to this laptop and I've installed the necessary software.  Let's see if I can post this.  Even before I make it to Chicago, I already know that some people won't be able to make it to the RAI this year: John Russell, Sam Paley, Gebhard Selz, Friedrich Schipper.  Too bad, I really was looking forward to meeting them in person, especially since I am not usually able to attend academic conferences so I have to depend on people dropping by Kansas City...  Needless to say, that's not a common occurrence.
Just a quick note: on the last day of the RAI there will be a half-day workshop dear to my heart.  I quote:

The Threat to Iraq's Cultural Heritage -- Current Status and Future Prospects
In conjunction with the 51st Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, the Oriental Institute will host a workshop "The Threat to Iraq's Cultural Heritage--Current Status and Future Prospects" on Saturday, July 23  2005. This meeting will address the current situation of archaeological sites and museums in Iraq, measures to stop the looting of sites, and passed or proposed legislation in western countries to curb the illegal trade of antiquities.
Admission to this session is free - no separate registration is necessary.
I am getting ready for the trip to Chicago: borrowing a laptop---unfortunately a Windows machine not a Mac---, loading my iPod with podcasts, brushing up on my cuneiform signs, ... But let me take this occasion to explain a few things for the reader who may not be familiar with this conference. The RAI is the international annual conference of scholars of the ancient "cuneiform world" (Mesopotamia/Iraq, Syria, Anatolia/Turkey) where Sumerian and later Akkadian, both written in cuneiform, were the lingua franca. The more recently adopted English subtitle of the conference is "International Congress of Assyriology and Near Eastern Archaeology." Fields that are represented include linguistics, literature, archaeology, history, art history, etc. It is usually held in Europe but crosses the Atlantic every once in a while.

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