Thoughts from ASOR


I am currently attending the conference of the American Schools of Oriental Research in San Francisco. ASOR is the main professional organization for archaeologists worldwide dealing with the Ancient Near East, including Israel.

It is always a full program, no more so than this year. Some presentations are very good, others less interesting. The ones that stood out for me , mainly becuase i was surprised by them were:
Bill Dever, Reflections on the Death of Biblical Archaeology
Bill Dever has advocated focussing on the wider Near East and not associating archaeology necessarily with biblical texts. But now he is concerned that we have lost the center. In the paper he called for a closer association of archaeology with history and pointed to pragmatism as a philosophical concept as a possible way forward.

Neil Smith Edomite Domestic Life: Excavations at Khirbat al-Iraq, a Late Iron II Village on the Steppe of Southern Edom.
I was surprised to find such an interesting report about excavations, set within a greater environment, but focussing at the local level. They excavated a one-occupation site, which seems to have been a public bakery of some sort, where meals could be served to many people. They discussed the wood ovens at length and used ethnographic studies of local women to understand the technology. I am still not 100% convinced that they excavated tabun ovens, rather than tannur ovens, but that is a somewhat detailed discussion.

Lisa Cakmak The Hellenistic Small Finds from Tel Kedesh, Israel: Personal Adornment as Archaeological Category
Through the investigation of personal adornment, such as beads and fibulae, she wanted to focus on the individual. What sort of people would have lived at this place? What can we know about them, about their attitude, from the small finds?

I gave a paper entitled Imagining the Past: The Use of Archaeology in Historical Fiction
Essentially I argued that we do archaeology to do history. And history is mainly conveyed in narrative form. One of the ways in which we can tell about the past is through fictional stories. I argued that those stories should be steeped in scholarship and take account of the data. I investigated the limitations and caveats of presenting the past through historical fiction. In a survey of historical fiction I concluded that the bad books are far greater in number than the ones who arrive at a well researched portrait of the past. That should not leave us to withdraw from the field, but to judiciously employ stories based on good research to describe the past. We can’t leave the field to fantasies.

There was also quite some discussion about the border between the Philistines and Judah. I think that will continue to be a hot topic for some time to come.

We’ll see what the rest of the conference brings.

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