Thoughts from ASOR 2012

I have just attended the Annual Meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. This year it was in Chicago. There were many interesting presentations, as usual. It certainly left me feeling as if there is a lot of good work being done in Near Eastern archaeology. There were many good presentations.

I listened to several presentations about the cities to the north of Lake Galilee, particularly about Bethsaida (Rami Arav) and Kinneret (Stefan Münger). Only recently have I become aware of the interesting history of this area, particularly during the Iron Age. It is likely that Aramaic kingdoms were established in this area, and that the cities were later taken over by the kingdom of Israel.

One interesting paper was delivered by Emad Khazraee on Archaeology of Archaeology: A Study on the Creation of Archaeological Knowledge in Practice. He looked at the discipline of archaeology from a computer science and information sharing perspective. He studied archaeology as an example of a scholarly field that is interdisciplinary and involves many researchers. This view from the outside was very helpful. He saw the archaeological endeavour moving from context (what is excavated) to text (what is being captured as data) to reconstructed context (creation of narrative). In archaeology, there are usually several players involved, working together, but within certain boundaries. For example, there is field work, object analysis, specialist analysis such as faunal material, curation, and meta-analysis. This division creates fault lines which are often difficult to cross. People working within these boundaries are often more comfortable within their own spheres and it is sometimes difficult to merge the individual narratives these people arrive at into a bigger narrative. The role of data bases is to facilitate the convergence of these narratives.
He indicated as one of the fault lines between system designers and archaeologists. System designers like to work within universal schemes, while archaeologists tend to work with the more particular. This can create tensions, which has to be taken into account when using and designing systems.

Another interesting presentation was by Gary Arbino. He argued that archaeological research of the Ancient Near East will always be interesting for evangelical Christians. This has to be kept in mind by archaeologists. Rather than trying to sensationalize some archaeological research by opposing it to Biblical accounts, archaeologists should keep avenues for dialogue open. This should be done through an awareness of some of the concerns of evangelical Christians. This awareness does not affect research as such, rather the presentation of such research. In the past decades, archaeological research in the Ancient Near East has often been presented in a polemical manner, opposing it to biblica narratives. That is often not warranted by the data and their interpretation.

On the topic of presentation, I have noticed an increased use of computer technology and visualizations to model space, give an impression of what ancient space would have looked like. Data is also more and more spatially presented. Overall, a very encouraging conference.

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