Monday, February 17, 2020

Ancient Near Eastern Agriculture: Insights Gained from Archaeobotany

Speaker: Melissa S. Rosenzweig, PhD

February 23, 2020 • 3:00pm

Dr. Melissa Rosenzweig, Northwestern University Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology, will be our presenter at the February 23 meeting.

Her talk will address her area of methodological expertise – archaeobotany, and its application in the field of Near Eastern archaeology.

Archaeobotany is the study of human interactions with plants in the past. This scientific approach provides information on a range of topics, from human diet to agricultural production practices, to environmental reconstructions. 

For archaeologists of the ancient Near East, archaeobotany has been critical to understanding the origins of agriculture, the rise of cities and states, and the development of large scale crop irrigation. 
Dr. Rosenzweig’s work has focused on examining the intersections of agriculture and empire, and in particular the ways in which the Neo-Assyrian empire of northern Iraq (ca. 900 – 600 BCE) manipulated agriculture in its quest to pull off the largest territorial expansion the world had ever seen in the first millennium BCE. 

In her talk, she will review some of the archaeobotanical studies that she has conducted, and explain how data on plants can be used to understand imperial politics.
Dr. Rosenzweig is an anthropological archaeologist specializing in environmental archaeology of the ancient Near East.  Her research incorporates regional specialization in northern Mesopotamia and the Levant, methodological expertise in archaeobotany, and theoretical specialization in human-environment interactions.

Through her research on the ancient Mesopotamian empire of Neo-Assyria (ca. 900 – 600 BCE), one of the world’s earliest and largest imperial projects, she brings a focus on relationships of power and inequality embedded in agrarian lifeways.  Political ecology informs her archaeological analysis of the ways in which agricultural practices shape political subjectivities, foment imperial ideologies, underwrite colonial acts, and facilitate subaltern resistance. 

Dr. Rosenzweig received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago in 2014.  She was an NEH fellow at the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research for 2014-15.  From 2015 to 2018 she was an Assistant Professor of Archaeology in the Departments of Anthropology and Classics at Miami University in Ohio.

Her research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the American Research Institute in Turkey, the American Schools of Oriental Research, the National Geographic Society, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Her current fieldwork projects take place in Israel and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Her current book project, Under Assyria’s Green Thumb, is a multi-sited comparative study of cultivation practices at Neo-Assyrian settlements distributed throughout the empire.  Working from the position that land use practices always have political inflections, she analyzes macrobotanical remains recovered from several Neo-Assyrian sites for signs of imperial agrarian investment, environmental destruction or abandonment, and subject autonomy to discern the myriad entanglements of empire and agriculture.

Her teaching includes courses on Archaeological Theory and Method, Archaeology of Power, Old World Archaeology, Political Ecology, Environmental Justice and Environmental Anthropology.
CAS members invite the public to join us at 3:00pm for a social period and the talk at 3:30pm. 

The Palimpsest

from Bob Stelton 

Gunnar Tenglin Adventure

A frequently asked question of the archaeologist is “How do you know where to dig?” Field-walking remains reliable and has not been completely eliminated despite increasing dependence on and importance of high tech methodology.

In 1971, I was participating in a University of Iowa Seminars in Sociology, a program developed for high school teachers. I was excited by my selection to participate in the program and the Stelton family looked forward to an extended camping trip alongside the Skunk River while the pater familias filled his days with school stuff.
In class one day, the seminar director challenged the group with a call for a volunteer. Without a second thought I accepted a challenge to find and to interview a survivor of the Titanic.

April 12, 1912 was an anniversary observance date for the Titanic catastrophe, but I mused so what! How did that relate to our affairs in Iowa? Reason suggested that our seminar directors had some information to direct our search. But where to dig? We needed a starting point, we needed a library where we could dig up ideas.

A quick review of newspapers on file produced a feature story commemorating the Titanic sinking that included the name of a local resident, Mr. Gunnar Tenglin. A meeting with an elderly, but affable gentleman was arranged.

The Stelton Expedition was on its way to meet and to become history itself. Some legends were challenged.

Our meeting with Mr. Tenglin, who was a 3rd Class steerage passenger on the maiden voyage of the doomed Titanic, mostly corroborated accounts of the event and the aftermath, but not all.
 Tenglin disputed the account of the orchestra performing on the deck as the Titanic was sinking. He was also quoted that he heard a woman screaming moments before she threw a wrapped baby from an upper deck to a lifeboat below. The baby was not saved, and it rapidly sank from view. Gunnar was traumatized by the horror of the moment.

“Women and children first” –legendary law of the sea – but not aboard the Titanic. Gunnar Tenglin recalled instances he observed of men dressed as females ejected by the crew from lifeboats.
In class and, as agreed upon, I presented the Tenglin Adventure. There was a mixed, but pleased acceptance. I had been expected to interview a grand lady, who was a young girl, too young to fully understand her cause for celebration.

As for Gunnar, I would not meet with him again, and he passed on three years later.
In flights of fancy I wonder if he and other Titanic travelers ever meet in angelic seminars.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Discovering Evidence of Prehistoric Warfare

Dr. Marisa Fontana: ethnological findings enlighten archaeological research
~ report by Anne Wilson-Dooley ~

Our January 26th lecturer, Dr. Marisa Fontana, has been interested in archaeology since taking anthropology-archaeology courses in high school and within a few years had participated in excavations in Colorado, Michigan, Utah, and Pennsylvania. Her power point presentation and many questions and additions from the audience made for an excellent afternoon!

In graduate school, Dr. Fontana began her focus on southeastern US, a ‘much less studied region of North America’ and specializes in indigenous warfare in the precontact period.

Studies of warfare in prehistoric/precontact societies/regions are complicated by the nature of archaeological remains or absence thereof and there is much more to warfare than just the immediate acts of violence. Today there is much concern and respect for the Native American communities and their holding the remains of their deceased and the burial location sacred. In the past, physical human remains have been a major indicator of violence and the types/mechanisms of warfare.

Dr. Fontana focused on three types of warfare evidenced in ethnological and historical studies: raids/ambushes; massacres; and battles. To recognize these in prehistoric and precontact societies, archaeologists have to rely on direct and indirect evidence.

For direct evidence, often skeletal evidence is best but, as noted, in deference to Native American communities, this is often not available for continuing studies. As an example of skeletal evidence for raids, the trauma is often to the back side of the victim – the surprise element. For massacres, the evidence is often the burning or other desecrations of an entire village or maybe of political-social-religious structures. An example cited was the burning of a charnel house at the Georgia site of Etowah, with the skeletal remains ending up spread down one side of the mound that had been located on. She defined battles as often large scale conflicts with rules; challenges are often issued to the enemy. Dr. Fontana said that battlefields have been harder to locate than might be expected. Scholars are still trying to locate a particular battle location in Georgia, for example, and an audience member offered that the sites of a couple of battles from the Blackhawk wars in northern Illinois have not been identified.

On the indirect evidence side, defense is often assumed from the placement of sites in elevated locations or with limited/restricted access. Many of the Mississippian sites had stockade walls often with bastions and often with other walls around an entry area to help control access. There may be specialized tools that are associated with warfare – maces and projectile points with extra barbs. Perhaps there is evidence of a poison remaining that could have been used on weapons for hunting or warfare.

In the US, many sites are pre-writing but may have motifs – iconography on pottery, shell gorgets, or tablets that are indicative of warfare/weapons, a ‘squiggle’ line on a skull for scalping.

This was an excellent presentation on using ethnological studies to inform our developing understanding of prehistoric-precontact societies.