The relationship between past and present, is a problem raised in the first article of this series about popular Archeology. When accounts of Assyrian and Achaemenid imperial policies have an uncannily familiar ring modern archeological texts might indeed reflect the ideologies of their composition rather than their content. Archaeologists tend to see all materials from one context as contemporaneous. However, they may be altered items and texts from earlier times, and such modified objects or texts may tell us less about their time of production than that of their alteration, or "selective intentionality."

Did the late kings of Judah have all the freedom for ideological and political maneuvering some accord them? Could they decide themselves about their relationships to the "superpower" Assyria? And could it not be that decisions taken at the Assyrian court were to a certain extent dependent not only on power play and internal conflict, but on habitual practices? In these cases, intentionality and deliberateness emerge like islands out of an unaddressed sea of habitual practices.

On the other hand, where the habitual is explicitly discussed, its presence or absence is simply asserted - as in the claim that change in the Uruk period was slow, and that people were appreciating the growing polities as being in their own interest, no matter where they were positioned in society. Writing an account of the past is deeply influenced by our own deliberate or habitual ways of bestowing intentionality on some past people and withdrawing it from others, a subject that warrants much more explicit discussion in archaeology.

But what then are some of the elements modern Archeology can work with in case of the Middle East today?  

Levantine Neandertals and the Skhul/Qafzeh humans

Pleistocene humans, including the Skhul/Qafzeh humans and the Levantine Neandertals, both lived in small groups during periods when rapid climate change caused dramatic short-term changes in their habitats. Countless human populations must have become extinct, and it is possible, indeed likely that both the Levantine Neandertals and the Skhul/Qafzeh humans are among these evolutionary "dead ends." The sentimental need to identify a "winner" among the evolutionary players in the Levant makes it difficult for us to accept the nonancestral status of these fossils, but the Levant is a tough neighborhood. It is a region in which many species have been weighed and found wanting.

The hypothesis that early modern humans were not successful in their first attempt to adapt to the Levant and adjacent parts of Europe and western Asia refocuses our attention on the differences between the Middle Paleolithic Upper Paleolithic modern human adaptations as clues to later humans' adaptive radiation. The presence of well-entrenched Neandertal populations in the Levant, effectively blocking the major land route out of Africa, may have been a major stimulus to the development of Upper Paleolithic adaptations by modern humans along the Northeast African "frontier."

The first post-Middle Paleolithic modern human occupations of Eurasia, Australia, and the Americas all contain evidence for two novel behaviors, the use of high-speed/low mass projectile weapons and the establishment of extensive alliance/exchange networks reinforced by symbolic material culture.

The former suggest a devastating capability to attack a wide range of prey whose legacy can be seen in large mammal extinctions throughout these newly-colonized lands. The latter suggest a high degree of integration between language and material culture for which there is little or no prior evidence in human evolution.

One of the key differences between Neandertals and early Upper Paleolithic modern humans may lie not so much in possessing spoken language, but rather in modern humans' novel ability to invest meaning in material culture, and thereby to forge extensive alliance networks among otherwise small, isolated populations. It may be difficult for us to imagine living in a society in which material culture is not a medium for symbolic information. Yet, it appears that early modern humans and Neandertals lived this way for tens of thousands of years. In contrast, it is relatively easy to imagine how individuals living in such a society would be at an immediate and disproportionate evolutionary disadvantage in competition against individuals who belonged to such extensive social networks.

The appearance of these novel Upper Paleolithic adaptations marks a major change in modern humans' ability to displace rival human species. Throughout Western Eurasia, the appearance of modern humans together with Upper Paleolithic material culture precedes Neandertal extinction by only a few thousand years. Even in those parts of Western Europe where Neandertals adopted elements of Upper Paleolithic adaptations, doing so seems only to have bought them relatively little time and no detectable increase in their geographic range.

Unless there was some demographic catastrophe among European Neandertal populations that has left neither archaeological nor fossil evidence, the principal cause of Neandertal extinction appears likely to have been a change in modern human behavior. The most likely context for such a change is in the contest between Neandertals and early modern humans for the human niche in the Middle Paleolithic Levant.  

Figurines in the Middle East

Analysis and interpretation of the social and symbolic context of prehistoric anthropomorphic figurines has produced an extensive series of debates and discussions which explores questions of why people make figurines, what figurines "do," what figurines mean, and what we can learn about a society from its figurines.

But with so little contextual information published, it is important to highlight the unresolved nature of figurine research: specifically, how little we understand about the interrelationship between the size of communities, ritual and political action, and the social context of figurine manufacture, use, and discard.

First, why did Neolithic people represent ambiguity in the majority of their human figurines, and alternatively mark or not mark sex or gender attributes on a small percentage of human representations? There are several possible interpretations, including the masking or emphasis of individual or structural differences to help negotiate social and economic changes experienced by these early agricultural communities in which we witness the initial development of storage technologies, surplus economy, and social differentiation. Similarly, these people may not have conceptualized male and female bodily differences as important aspects in their worldviews in understanding what it meant to be a person in a body. Conversely, these differences may have been crucially important in everyday interactions, and therefore they found it important to mask them in creating idealized social memories of the way life should be.

A second question is why make figurines at all? We can draw on ethnographic analogies of bodily representation in ritual and non-ritual contexts to help us address this question, as the topic obviously holds important implications for functionalist interpretations. In a related way, we can also ask, "Why make different types of figurines (human, zoomorphic, or geometric)?" We argue that there is a definite shift in the manufacture of these figurine classes through the Pre-Pottery Neolithic, and that future exploration of this issue may enhance our understanding of the Neolithic.

Posing this last question leads us to our second point for consideration: the continued need for contextual analysis of figurines. It is unfortunate that in many cases, the development of grand models and interpretations of Neolithic figurines is founded on a remarkably poor consideration of context and archaeological data. There is, for example, only limited understanding of the manufacture, use, and discard of fig­urines. While many interpretive models of the Neolithic use figurine data from sec­ondary sources and there is very little contextual data published from the southern Levantine contexts, we do not feel any need to be pessimistic. Among others, Mary Voigt has demonstrated the utility of contextual studies of Neolithic figurines from Turkey and Iran, and has established a strong analytical approach that focuses on context.  


The advent of the state has given rise to many interpretations so lets look for a moment at Mesopotamia.

Basically the Mesopotamian state emerged about 5,000 years later than the first villages in the area. We may trace the slow evolution leading to the state and isolate six levels of organization prior to the state proper. Each may be characterized by its most salient feature:

•  in simple village societies decisions concerning the group were taken in common by heads of nuclear families under the care of an elder;

•  in complex village societies stem families appeared in order to limit the numbers of people responsible, and the right to take decisions was temporarily delegated to certain individuals until the elders were replaced by new generations;

•  in simple chiefdoms authority was further concentrated, and responsibilities were delegated to a few individuals (probably lineage heads) selected according to genealogy, so that the basic social unit reverts to the nuclear family;

•  in complex chiefdoms the same responsible people became isolated from com­moners and formed a class of their own;

•  city-states were characterized by the appearance of hereditary, royal power;

•  city-states ran into difficulties and ultimately declined as rivalry and

warfare arose among them, problems that were solved only through Sargon's conquest.

The criteria that differentiate these levels of organization depend on what one could call the structure of control of society. Such a perspective resulted from the sense that the most salient features of the data (whether architecture, burials, or movable items) allude to particular individuals whose status led to prestige and authority. This allows the unambiguous detection of the ranking of society, status differentia­tion, and corresponding responsibilities. The evolution of the structure of control towards greater hierarchy was not intentional and therefore cannot be attributed to a search for personal achievement. It is the society which, through its members and especially the most eminent ones, adopts the most appropriate solutions for mastering problems encountered, in particular the necessity of integrating increasing numbers of people. Indeed, the mode of production encourages population growth, while particular environmental conditions incite people to stay together. If the rela­tions between people and their environment thus appear so strong as to seem deterministic, it is because they are based upon numerous personal reactions which, leading in the same direction, tend to exclude any random drift.

Being the product of a particular class of objective regularities, the habitus tends to generate all the `reasonable', `common-sense' behaviors (and only these) which are possible within the limits of these regularities, and which are likely to be positively sanctioned because they are objectively adjusted to the logic characteristic of a particular field, whose objective future they anticipate. At the same time, `without violence, art or argument', it tends to exclude all `extravagances, that is, all the behaviors that would be negatively sanctioned because they are incompatible with the objective conditions.

As society increases in size, its structure of control must be reorganized. Insofar as responsible people are nominated according to general agreement (e.g., genealogical order), the trend towards inequality is due only to the need to face demographic changes. One of the most noteworthy implications of such a process is urbanization. The pristine state cannot come into being without some preliminary phase of urbanization, because it is the failing of integration at the urban stage that leads to state formation. The city-states of the alluvial plain became too similar to one another and too structured for a higher level of integration to appear spontaneously, and their vitality was consumed in enduring conflicts - until an exceptional leader took advantage of the situation to set up a new order for his own benefit.


The Bible as Narrative

The questions of the historicity of the biblical narrative on ancient Israel and the ability of archaeology to contribute toward a better understanding of the text have hovered like black clouds, over both academic research and public discussion.

The scholarly discussion as recently seen with reactions to The Da Vinci Code book, sometimes has drifted into a bad-tempered debate, characterized, unfortunately, by harsh language and name calling. Together with the offensive language have come the generalizations: one is expected to be a “nihilist” or a “fundamentalist”; nothing in between.

For example that the stories in Genesis are Judah-centric is reflected in the mocking of Ammon and Moab by mentioning (Genesis 19:30-38 – a J text) that the eponymous fathers of these nations were born of an incestuous union of a father with his daughters. And the Edomites and the Arab tribes in the south were portrayed as savages, compared to sedentary Judah. These perceptions, too, fit late-monarchic times more than any other period, including post-Exilic times, when some of these neighbors were quite insignificant.

Though the Pentateuch and the Deuteronomistic History were put in writing relatively late in Israelite history, most biblical scholars would accept that they include materials earlier than the time of the compilation. The problem is that in most cases the old memories are so vague, or so manipulated by the later writers, that the early realities in them are beyond recovery. Only archaeology can help, in certain cases, in identifying such earlier traditions. We wish to briefly demonstrate this with two examples, both from the Deuteronomistic History.

The excavations at Shiloh in the 1980s have shown beyond doubt that the site reached its peak of activity in the late Iron I, in the eleventh and early tenth centuries B.C.E. In the Iron II there was only meager activity at the site and in most of this long period it seems to have been deserted. It is clear therefore that the stories in I Samuel about the importance of Shiloh in premonarchic times cannot reflect late-monarchic realities. Rather, they must represent some sort of memory of the prominence of the site in earlier times.

The same holds true for the cycle of stories about the wandering of David and his men along the southern fringe of Judah. These narratives clearly fit a description of a band of Apiru (a term describing outlaws, uprooted bandits in Bronze Ages texts) moving in a sparsely settled region, far from the reach of central authority. This kind of background does not fit the period when the Deuteronomistic History was put in writing. At that time the area was densely settled, with no trace of Apiru reality left. Therefore, I see no alternative but to argue that the stories reflect what I have labeled before “the Amarna-like” situation in the Judahite hill country prior to the great demographic growth in the late eighth century B.C.E.

But recognizing the possible historical value of isolated elements is something very different from accepting the entire story of the rise of a united Israel from ear­liest times. Should we therefore consider the biblical materials on the formative periods in the history of Israel as ahistoric and therefore useless? The answer is both positive and negative.

Positive, because the biblical material cannot help us reconstruct this formative history. Negative, because it tells us a lot about the society and realities of the time of the writing. And this is the point which I have tried to empha­size throughout this chapter, that the main contribution of the “view from the center” is to demonstrate that these texts should not be read as a sequential history, from ancient to later times, but the other way around – from the time of the writing.

For example Archaeology shows absolutely no sign of a great tenth-century territorial state ruled from Jerusalem. First, tenth-century Jerusalem was no more than an Amarna-type highlands stronghold. Second, the Judahite countryside was very sparsely settled at that time. There were no human resources available for conquest and domination of large territories. And there seems no reason why the marginal, underdeveloped southern highlands would become a center of the only territorial state in the Levant; state formation in this region came only in the ninth century and was closely related to Assyrian expansionism. As far as recent radiocarbon dates indicate, the strata with monumental architecture in the north, which formed the basis for the reconstruction of a material culture of a great tenth-century state – mainly the Megiddo palaces – should be redated to the early ninth century B.C.E.

And there is more. In the northern valleys, the tenth century is characterized by a revival of the Canaanite system of the second millennium B.C.E. The main cities in this landscape, probably served as centers of city-state territorial entities. Almost all their features – pottery, metallurgical and architectural traditions, layout of the main cities, cult, and settlement patterns of the countryside around them – show clear continuation of second-millennium traditions. The tenth-century monarchs in Jerusalem could not have ruled, therefore, in the northern valleys. The idea that poor Jerusalem, with its sparsely settled hinter­land ruled over the far away, rich, and prosperous cities of the lowlands is an absurd one.

Biblical scholars have long acknowledged that the description of the United Monarchy, especially the glamour of the days of Solomon, draws a picture of an idyllic Golden Age wrapped in later theological and ideological goals. Indeed, in this case, too, it is not difficult to identify the landscapes and costumes of seventh-century Judah as the stage setting behind the biblical tale. The lavish visit of Solomon’s trading partner, the Queen of Sheba, to Jerusalem no doubt reflects the participation of seventh-century Judah in the lucrative Arabian trade. The same holds true for the description of the build­ing of “Tamar in the wilderness” and the trade expeditions to lands afar setting off from Eziongeber in the Gulf of Aqaba – two sites which were securely identified and which were not inhabited before late-monarchic times.

Troops of Cheretites and Pelethites, long assumed by scholars to have been Aegean in origin, should probably be understood against the background of the service of Greek mercenaries in the armies of the seventh century – certainly in the Egyptian and possibly in the Judaean armies (Finkelstein forthcoming). Many other items in the story (such as the frequent mention of copper and horses and the mention of Achish as king of a Philistine city in the Shephelah) also fit late-monarchic realities.

The tale of a glamorous United Monarchy had obvious power for the people of Judah. A new David had now come to the throne, intent on “restoring” the glory of his distant ancestors. This is Josiah, the most devout of all Judahite kings. He was able to roll history back from his own days to the time of the mythical United Monarchy. By cleansing Judah from the abominations of the nations and undoing the sins of the past he could stop the cycle of idolatry and calamity forever. He could reenact the United Monarchy of David before it went astray. So Josiah embarked on reestablishing a United Monarchy. He was about to “regain” the territories of the now destroyed Northern Kingdom, and rule from Jerusalem over the territories of Judah and Israel combined.

Now back to the tenth century. Neither archaeology nor the biblical text supply the slightest clue for the extent of the Jerusalem territory of that time. The only clue – if there is one – is the appeal of the Deuteronomistic Historian to the col­lective memory of his compatriots, that in the distant past the founders of the Davidic dynasty ruled over a territory larger than the traditional boundaries of the Southern Kingdom in late-monarchic times.

So the role of modern archaeology in the study of ancient Israel can be successfully utilized in this endeavor only after being liberated from the simplistic reading of the text, which made it a secondary character in the play and forbade it from raising its own, genuine voice.  

After the end of Western colonialism, the scholarly approach had to change, even if rather reluctantly, to give space to a multi-centered perspective on world history – even if the Euro-centered line of development still finds its place in secondary school textbooks. And in order to conceal the opposition of West vs. Orient, an opposition that became unpopular both in Western democracies and Asiatic markets, the specific connotations of oppressive despotism, burdensome bureaucracy, and military expansion gave way to a multifarious and largely meaningless use of the term.

The end of the Western colonial hold on the Middle East did not mean that the Western world renounced its political, economic, and historical pretensions. It simply means that another strategy has been assumed, namely the neo-capitalist one of controlling resources rather than territories, exploiting the low costs of local work-forces and stimulating local markets. Even archaeological activities in the Middle East have now – quite often – a neo-capitalist flavor, with salvage projects and regional planning programs in the service of local states. The old model of “imperial” political relationships, which reserved an active role for the ruling partner only, has been complemented by others such as  “underdevelopment,” “world system,”  “peer polity interaction,” or others that provide every component in a system with its own space and role.

The model of “underdevelopment”, based on an analysis of the modern world, states that development in the core of (economic) empires brings about a parallel process of underdevelopment in the exploited periphery. This model has received scant attention in the field of ancient Near Eastern studies, yet its relevance has already been hinted at above. Ancient empires, like early modern ones, are based on the exchange of different kinds of resources; but, in the former cases, such imbalance did not bring about a different rate of development in the center vs. the periphery. Nevertheless, these problems deserve a specific analysis that is still missing.

In contrast, the “world system” model has been influential in ancient Near Eastern studies, mostly applied to late prehistoric and protohistoric periods with particular insistence on the Uruk period, rather than to fully historical empires. The use of this label has been criticized in various ways. The “world” covered by the Uruk network is too small, and a label such as “regional system” would be more appropriate. Moreover, long-distance trade probably affected a minor part of the societies involved, which remained basically concerned with the exploitation of local resources in agriculture and animal husbandry.

The model of “peer polity interaction” (Renfrew and Cherry 1986) is in fact most useful in describing the Late Bronze state of affairs, for example, when half a dozen states of regional extent (Egypt, Hittite, Mitanni, Assyria, Babylonia, Elam) interacted through trade and diplomacy more often than through war, with the impossibility for any of them to assume wider control or even some form of hegemony. Yet each of the interacting states could have been convinced that it was the “central empire” in the system.

In any case it seems clear that the last two generations of scholars have also been, consciously or not, influenced by their socio-political setting, both in discarding old ideas and in advancing new models. But the task of unveiling (and confessing) our own bias is much more difficult than underscoring that which influenced scholars of past generations.


Analogies, Critical Evaluation of Hypotheses

Critical evaluation of hypotheses concerning function and meaning of archaeological feature(s) or practice(s) to be interpreted are among others:

1 Analysis of archaeological context (formation processes, spatial analysis, etc.) in order to reconstruct past systemic context.

2 Preliminary reconstruction of structuring principles of archaeological objects.

3 Preliminary reconstruction of ancient practice.

4 (Cross-cultural) search for comparable ethnographic examples.

5 Analysis of structure (or general structuring principles) underlying these examples.

6 Comparison of archaeological and ethnographic records (identification of similarities and differences).

7 Critical evaluation of the eloquence of the comparison: (a) relevance, (b) generality, and (c) “goodness-of-fit” must be assessed.

8 Reconstruction of structuring principles of archaeological objects.

9 Reconstruction of ancient practice.

10 Synthesis (structure, practice, function, meaning).  


The Concept of Time in the Ancient Middle East

The Sumerian notion of time, being an eternal cycle of ever-returning marker entities, it was also conceived as linear, having an overall direction in which it proceeded. Short of being envisaged as an independent force, it was embedded in a series of other coordinates of the visible world, most notably in space and in the disposition of its material components. To a certain extent, time was also a function of processes involving the discharge of natural fertility and represented thus a "living" affair. Time had a mythical, "eternal" interior of components that were unchanging and stabilized, and an outer shell or rather "atmosphere" of unstable and transitory phenomena which, though superfi­cial, did carry a certain amount of importance. This is borne out by the fact that at least from around the year 700 B.C.E., Babylonian astronomers took great pains to record with the utmost patience, night by night, details of the motions of the principal celestial bodies which must have represented just this kind of superficial and changeable evidence.

It does seem that once the Sumerian notion of time had become well-established, there was hardly anything to replace it in the minds of the successor populations of Babylonians and Assyrians. We can, then, at least attempt to question when the essential ideational concepts behind the Mesopotamian perception of time began to emerge.

To uncover the perception of time in one of humankind's earliest literate civilizations has raised more questions than it has answered. The Sumerians apparently had a peculiar manner of conceiving and handling time, a manner appropriate to them which has to be understood in its own right. This mental tool was sufficiently sophisticated to delineate both "eternal" (long-term) components of ancient Mesopotamian civilization and to accommodate the changes brought forth by the variety of common, everyday situations. It enabled Mesopotamian elites to create a basic spatiotemporal context for their society in which life was worth living, both for elite members and for the population strata whom they served and by whom they were served.

Chance has offered us the possibility to witness the emergence of this basic concept of time in its material incarnation (the cylinder seal) in the Middle Uruk period, at a moment just preceding the creation of one of the world's first literate civilizations. The rotation of the cylinder seal stands for circular/cyclical time; the linear extension of the image impressed by the seal represents a linear orientation, the "vector" of time. The cylinder seal's faculty of making an impression in a malleable surface stood for the basic unity of time and space; and the fact that supplies marked by the cylinder seals brought plenty to elite households indicated the filling capacity, or "fruition" of time. How far this perception of time reflected notions developed in the preceding, prehistoric age, or how far it represented a deep-reaching transformation of the mental apparatus of bearers of Mesopotamian civilization, must be determined by future research.

Bearers of the Hassuna and Samarra cultures decorated their products with patterns displaying rotation as the most characteristic principle. This seems to follow out of the prehistoric principle that within a world that is non-humanized and both potentially and actually hostile, only the point where human settlement is established represents a safe abode, a lynch-pin from which human civilization must be suspended and on which it can be anchored, and which constitutes a reference point for all human activities within its radius.

Representatives of the Halaf culture advanced further in the sense that theirs was a world of axial symmetry. Here prevails the vision of sedentary human populations, acknowledging a hierarchically ordered world centered, as before, on human settlements but, unlike in Neolithic times, perceiving them as embedded in concentric tracts of humanized landscapes, beyond the frontiers of which extended the wild, and therefore "in-human" and potentially dangerous landscapes. Thanks to studies by André Leroi-Gourhan, we know that while the perception of the world in nomadic societies knows only one certainty - the human encampment - nomads tend to see the rest of the world as a loose series of envi­ronments in no logical relation to one another, existing in a more or less haphaz­ard manner and not tied to any unifying structures. Such traits of human thought as the notions of center and periphery emerge only within the systems proper to sedentary societies. Such creations of Halaf-culture potters as bowls or plates bearing concentric flower- or rosette-like ornaments surrounded by concentric bands of chequered patterns may well visualize a notion of a "civilized" quadripartite world inclosed in a large circle of ever-flowing time.

What, however, was a truly fundamental invention was undoubtedly the cylinder seal, invented and introduced perhaps some time during the Middle Uruk period. In addition to its technological advantages, the cylinder seal represents a nearly perfect materialization of the Sumerian perception of the spatiotemporal structure of the world.

Being endowed with the capacity to impress images in the wet clay or any soft matter, and thus create a new form of materiality, it may not only function within a coordinate system of a different order than time, such as that of space, but it can actively create reality. At this stage of development of the human mind, practical operations involving the human environment tend to be performed both in actual fact and "magically," (also) by means of images; one approach is a prerequisite of the other.  

Mounts, Texts and Representations

It is the quest for answers that drives us to uncover the past and reassemble it into a complete picture. It is quite possible, even likely, that a researcher may never satisfactorily (with regard to her own expectations) fully achieve the most difficult step in modeling a sacred landscape. The appearance of a full-fledged cosmology reported in a site report, and written as if an informant sat for hours as the tape-recorder ran, would most likely be met with suspicion and even derision. The line between data-based inference and utter imagination must be carefully drawn and assiduously followed. However, it should never be doubted that spirituality and mysticism most probably played a significant role in the settlement practices and indeed in the remarkable stasis of place that created mounds as matrices of meaning across a sacred landscape.

Thus Middle Eastern mounds contain secrets to the past that will never be unearthed. The fact that these secrets may be conceptual rather than material in nature makes our work even more daunting. Ancestors and spirits may have been far from the minds of prehistoric inhabitants as they chose to settle and remain on a portion of soil for decades, centuries, millennia. But we, as the illuminators of the past, have spent too long envisioning mindless and faceless figures making decisions based purely on survivability and practicality. The past that we study was created by actors who thought about, emoted over, and believed in the natural world around them in terms that must have reached far beyond the functional. As we stretch our own minds beyond the functional, into the cognitive, we will surely be led to places that allow us to view those actors as living, breathing, thinking beings whose homes high atop a human-made hill evoked deeply-felt faith and emotion as they carried out their daily lives. To connect with even a fraction of that perception of the living landscape moves us exponentially forward as we carry out our roles as elucidators of those who made the past, for those who inhabit the present.  


Earliest documents from Anatolian soil have been exploited for evidence on such subjects as the early migrations of Indo-Europeans, the emergence of the Hittites, and the character of the Old Assyrian city-state. In relating texts to archaeology, however, they are most interesting on the subject of trade.

Thanks to the tablets found for example in Kültepe, one is in a  position of knowing what goods were being traded, who did the trading, and what institutions were associated with it. Assyrian merchants themselves, who were hundreds of miles from home and living in a foreign culture, apparently adopted the living styles of Anatolia and left very little indication of their presence, except for the cuneiform tablets and the seals and sealings associated with them. Yet when the various sources of evidence, textual and archaeological, are taken together, they provide us with a remarkably full picture of how this trading network functioned.

There are, of course also caveats and pitfalls in the application of these sources to historical and cultural understanding. The full potential of integrating textual and archaeological data has seldom been realized or even recognized. The overwhelming majority of cuneiform inscriptions were unearthed with little attention to their archaeological context, either before controlled methods of digging were understood or in clandestine excavations directed solely to acquiring marketable portable artifacts. The scholars working with the enormous body of material thus put at their disposal had little incentive for insisting on precise contextual infor­mation, nor providing it to their colleagues operating in the field.

Differences in the training, capacities, and objectives between the fields of Assyri­ology and Near Eastern archaeology have also retarded communication. Interpret­ing the texts is not always as straightforward as non-specialists might assume. Scribes, presuming knowledge that we simply do not have, leave out much infor­mation that we would dearly love to have. This is particularly true in letters, which are rarely dated and emerge from contexts that were well understood by the cor­respondents, but utterly opaque to us. It is often the exceptional things that get written down, not the routine, and we always run the risk of generalizing from very particular cases with texts. On the other hand, archaeology's strength comes from its concern with the most basic and recurrent elements of human existence. Granted that its data sets are invariably incomplete and often unrepresentative, they still embrace larger segments of society and broader chronological ranges than texts. The primary challenge here is to make reliable and convincing inferences on the basis of large shadows rather than individual points of light.  


The processes of artistic production, and the establishment of monu­ments in public settings, constituted material manifestations of elite ideology. These processes made possible public consumption of statements about societal order and proper governance. Ideological messages, however, were subject to renegotiation and renewal, challenge and change. Artistic changes therefore provide evidence and sometimes served as vehicles for the shifting sociopolitical and technological structures that stood behind them.

An analysis of iconography produces an assessment of what is, and what is not, represented, and the ways in which depictions may have served to reinforce elite authority. Study of icono­graphic change over time may reveal shifts in the structures of power or in their representation.

The media of artistic representations play a role in the selective dissemination of imagery through a population. We can ask what role material may have played in the expression of ideology. We must also consider how the circumstances of viewing, or the context of the representations, affected viewer perceptions of meaning, and even the identity of those viewers. Finally, compositional details such as (but not limited to) size, scale, position, pose, gesture, and inscription all had potential bearing on the reading of an image. These various components of artistic expression formed a comxpositional whole, but different makers and observers may have read from them distinct meanings. Both the artist/patron and the viewer held tools to generate and deduce meaning from representations; by applying the frame­work above, we may be better equipped to recognize the intended ideological content and its potential interpretation and reinterpretation in particular historical and sociopolitical circumstances.

Ideology is not monolithic: viewers, who brought their own perceptions to the interpretation of public art, had opportunities to develop alternative readings, or to resist the statements being communicated. At any time, multiple ideologies, sometimes "nesting" or complementary, sometimes conflicting, could be present.


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