Cultures of Europe and the Near East: Research

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The Anthropology Department at The Field Museum has had a long history of fieldwork in Europe and the Near East. From Henry Field’s excavations at the ancient Mesopotamian city of Kish to James Philips’ field work in Egypt, to William Parkinson’s current research in Hungary and the Balkans, Field Museum researchers have been studying how human communities grow and become more politically and economically complex over time. 

The Kish Project, Mesopotamia, 1923-1933

In 1921, Stephen Langdon of Oxford University wrote to Berthold Laufer, then Chief Curator of the Anthropology Department of The Field Museum, to propose a joint Mesopotamian expedition. Laufer expressed The Field Museum’s interest, and in 1921-22 the expedition’s eventual chief financier, Mr. H. Weld-Blundell, conducted a survey of important sites in Mesopotamia, settling on Kish as the site holding the most interest and archaeological potential. In March of 1923, Mr. Ernest Mackay, protégé of the famed archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie, began the first season of excavations of the Joint Oxford-Field Museum expedition to Kish. Excavations continued during the winter months of the next ten years, from 1923-33, under the absentee direction of Stephen Langdon who, although serving as the director of the project, visited the excavations only twice, in 1924 and 1926. Mackay served as field director through the 1925-26 season, after which Mr. Louis Charles Watelin became field director. Watelin served as field director for the remainder of the project.

During the course of the ten years of excavation, work was conducted on seventeen different mounds both inside and outside the ancient boundaries of Kish. As was the custom of the day, the excavations were absolutely enormous in scale. Both Mackay and Watelin employed hundreds of local men and boys who worked at a break-neck pace to remove soil to depths of fifteen or more meters in trenches tens of meters on a side

The Kish Project, 2004-2006

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For the eight decades since their excavation, the collections from Kish have remained divided, with forces of fate, scholarly predilection, geography, and international politics precluding the production of a synthetic site report for the city. Accounts of The Field Museum-Oxford University Joint Expedition to Kish were originally published in the 1920s and 1930s by both Langdon (1924, 1930, 1934), who wrote a popularly oriented series, and Mackay (1925-1929 and 1931), who was responsible for a series of more scientific publications. However, Watelin died in 1934 and Langdon in 1937, with the result that no final site report was ever produced. McGuire Gibson (1972) and Roger Moorey (1978) both revisited the products of the excavation in the 1970s, and since these seminal publications, the archaeological assemblage from Kish frequently has been the subject of scholarly inquiry. Works have been produced on the private houses and chariot burials at Ingharra (Algaze 1983-84), on cuneiform texts from the city (Dalley and Yoffee 1991), on the physical character of its inhabitants (Rathbun 1975), and, most recently, on the nearby site of Jamdat Nasr (Englund and Grégoire 1991, Matthews 2002). Forthcoming works on the previously excavated Kish collection focus on the cylinder seals (Gibson, in preparation), and additional cuneiform tablets (Dalley, in press). However, a synthetic site report resulting from the 1920s and 1930s excavation is still lacking. As Kish may have been one of the first true cities of the world, and one of the first places to hold any sort of regional power, the lack of a final site report stands as a significant gap in the archaeological record of Mesopotamia.

The Diros Project, Greece

The Diros Project is an international, multi-disciplinary, Greek-American research project that addresses anthropological and archaeological questions that explores human social dynamics on the Mani Peninsula of southern Greece. Specificallly, we seek to examine the role of Alepotrypa Cave in the Mani Peninsula within long-term processes of cultural change associated with the European Neolithic, during which time agriculture lifestyles were introduced and people gathered in larger, more complex settlements. In particular, we seek to learn to what extent the Mani’s unique Neolithic trajectory – ranging from closed to open systems of engagement – and its remote geographic location – at the southernmost tip of the European continent – influenced the degree to which the region was integrated through time into different social, political, and economic interaction spheres. During the Neolithic the Mani Peninsula occupied an intriguing role in interactions between the Greek mainland, the Greek islands, and the greater Mediterranean region, but the nature of these interactions has not been examined from an anthropological, as opposed to a historical, perspective.

The Körös Regional Archaeological Project, Hungary

The Körös Regional Archaeological Project is a multidisciplinary, collaborative, research project directed by William A. Parkinson, of the Department of Anthropology, The Field Museum, and Attila Gyucha of the Field Service of Cultural Heritage, Hungary. Richard W. Yerkes of the Department of Anthropology, Ohio State University is field director, and co-director of the Körös Regional Archaeological Project Field School. The project brings together an international team of geophysists, geologists, geographers, botanists, and other specialists to undertand the various social changes that occurred in the Körös River Valley on the Great Hungarian Plain nearly 6,500 years ago, during the time when metals first began to be extensively exploited in the nearby Balkan and Carpathian mountains. This time period - the transition from the Neolithic to the Copper Age - is a time marked by significant social transformations in the organization of households and settlements throughout the Great Hungarian Plain. Unfortunately, our current anthropological understanding of these social changes has been clouded by a lack of research into settlements dating to the Copper Age. Over the last decade, the Körös Regional Archaeological Project has been conducting systematic research into the organization of Copper Age settlements near the town of Vésztõ in southeastern Hungary. As a result of our research, the economic and political organization of Copper Age societies is gradually becoming better understood, allowing us to understand the nature of the changes that characterize the end of the Neolithic in the region. This, in turn, allows us to model the dynamic social processes that occur within 'tribal' societies more generally.