Episode 62. Prize-winning assyriology: transcript

0:13  Jon Taylor

Hello, and welcome to the Thin End of the Wedge, the podcast where experts from around the world share new and interesting stories about life in the ancient Middle East. My name is Jon. Each episode I talk to friends and colleagues and get them to explain their work in a way we can all understand.

0:32  Jon Taylor

Welcome to the last episode of 2023. I wanted to make sure we end the year on a positive note. So here’s another new type of episode. I hope you like it.

0:45  Jon Taylor

For some years now, the IAA (The International Association for Assyriology) has sought to celebrate, and to support, colleagues in the early part of their career. Each year at the annual assyriological conference—the Rencontre—it presents awards for a range of achievements. 

1:04  Jon Taylor

I’ve had the privilege myself of being involved in some of the panels assessing submissions; although I should clarify that I played no role in this year’s awards. I can personally attest to the depth of quality of submissions. It’s incredibly impressive how good this work is. That in turn is really encouraging when we consider the future of the field. Of course, we need to do more to help scholars build their careers. We may talk about that in more detail in another episode. But right now, let’s take a moment to enjoy the excellence; to pay testimony to the hard work of our colleagues, and to celebrate their success. 

1:49  Jon Taylor

In this episode, I speak to this year’s IAA prize winners. We hear from four colleagues with very different projects. What were they working on, and what are they doing now? 

2:03  Jon Taylor

So get yourself a cup of tea, make yourself comfortable, and let’s meet today’s guests.

2:17  Clélia Paladre

Well, hello. And thank you; thank you for your invitation. That’s a pleasure. I’m Clélia Paladre, and I’m working on Iranian archaeology and glyptic. And today I’m lucky enough to be able to say that I’m working in the Louvre, on these problematics.

2:33  Jon Taylor

Wonderful, thank you. So recently, at the Rencontre in the summer, you won a prize.

2:39  Clélia Paladre

Yeah, well, I’m really really happy and honoured. I want the IAA annual prize for the best dissertation. Well in fact, I co-won the prize, because it’s exceptional, but we are two of us for this prize this year. So Tomoki Kitazumi and myself.

2:57  Jon Taylor

And what was your prize winning work about? What was your dissertation?

3:01  Clélia Paladre

Oh, that’s a big deal. My thesis deals with Iranian glyptic, so more precisely cylinder seal productions within what is known as the proto-Elamite phenomenon. In fact at the end of the forth [millennium], Iran enters history with the invention of a writing, with the proto-Elamite script. And several sites share a common material. That was considered as evidence for the existence of a common culture. But this definition raises a serious question. And today we speak more easily about “phenomenon” and not “culture”. Cylinder seals were an ideal material for streaming this phenomenon. It allows an access to a lot of different aspects and a lot of different knowledge, such as management practices, a network of exchange, craftsmanship, organisation and social habits. And more important, it’s the main iconographic sources for the ancient Near East.

4:05  Clélia Paladre

So the motifs that they display bring information that are about about the past. However, cylinder seals were never really studied to discuss the phenomenon. So in my thesis, I’ve tried to combine art history and archeology to highlight different interaction levels between societies, and cultural realities that were previously poorly grasped. So my work seeks to model the proto-Elamite phenomenon through time and space, and try to shed new light on this research field.

4:38  Jon Taylor

Are you able to say what the key results from your work are? What are your major conclusions?

4:43  Clélia Paladre

Yeah, sure. The major conclusion was to highlight a spatial production within the whole corpus of seals. So you’ve got different styles. I was able to identify different styles. And most of them were widely shared within the Near East. And at the end there’s nothing really specifically proto-Elamite. But one group one style was really particular with rules, code, precise, really something that was really, really circumscribed to the Iranian world. And this group of seals was really linked to the tablets, to the script. And so I was able to define a real proto-Elamite, culture a little bit different than the one that was common; this plain design–more circumscribed, more precise features. But yeah, that was the main result of this thesis.

5:34  Jon Taylor

Okay, wonderful. Part of the point of the prize … I guess the main point of the prize … is to allow you to publish your work. Are you able to say anything about your plans for publication?

5:45  Clélia Paladre

Yeah, in fact, I’m actively working on that. Even though there is so often not enough time. But we’ve discussed about the possibility of publication in the OBO series–so Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis collection–which will be really, really, really great.

6:02  Jon Taylor

Right, yes, it’s the worst question anybody can ask, isn’t it? {LAUGHS}

6:05  Clélia Paladre

Yeah, exactly.{LAUGHS}

6:08  Clélia Paladre

Well, I cross fingers, but yeah, I will be really happy to get that done soon. Pretty soon. Yeah.

6:14  Jon Taylor

Apart from that, what are you working on at the moment, then?

6:17  Clélia Paladre

Well, as I said at the beginning of this interview, I’m working in the Louvre right now. And there is two main parts in my job. The first one is the archives. So Iranian archives hosted in the Louvre, mainly photographic archives that are just amazing. So I’m trying to identify them and put them within a scientific thinking. Try to use these photos to illustrate contexts. Getting new knowledge about Susa, for example, the stratigraphic data, whatever. And the second part of my job is about the glyptic collection. We’ll try to do something new with the seals and the sealings. And that’s going to be a big, big job, yeah.

7:01  Jon Taylor

Yeah, yeah. Many congratulations; fantastic news.

7:04  Clélia Paladre

I’m really, really happy about this prize. I mean, PhD is like so difficult and sometimes so … you know, you’re so alone in your work … and so getting this prize after all these years of like, really, really hard work, and yeah, I’m proud and I’m really, really honoured.

7:18  Jon Taylor

Thanks so much for talking to us.

7:20  Clélia Paladre

Thank you very much. Thank you.

7:22  Tomoki Kitazumi

My name is Tomoki–Tomoki Kitazumi. I’m originally from Japan, but already almost 20 years, I’m based in Germany, in Berlin. My current affiliation is so-called Wissenschaftliche Arbeiter in Berlin. I mean, Free University of Berlin. Here I work mainly as a project researcher. I teach from time to time. And basically, I’m a Hittitologist. Since I had second major in Indo-European linguistics, I’m basically working on much more on the side of linguistics. So like dating of texts from the linguistics point of view, grammar research, or lexicographical studies, this kind of stuff. Name of the project where I’m currently working is Rethinking Oriental Despotism; about the research on the political structure in the ancient Near East.

8:29  Jon Taylor

Okay, fantastic. At the rencontre this year, you won a prize. Could you tell us what the prize was first, please?

8:36  Tomoki Kitazumi

Yeah, it was very surprising, I should say, but I got the best dissertation for the IAA-so International Association for Assyriology. The topic is translation activities and translation procedures in the Hittite Empire. So I worked on the so-called translated literatures and bilingual texts and trilingual texts. I wanted to figure out the complex language situation in the Hittite Empire. And I collected all the bilingual and trilingual texts from the Hittite Empire, as much as I can. But also some passages or texts which do not have any so-called Vorlage–so the direct original, let’s say so. But from the so-called location markers, so like some points which hint to that, which cannot be originated from the Hittite literature or Hittite empire.

8:36  Tomoki Kitazumi

While I was researching, I figured out that the history of translation in the ancient Near East … I mean, not only for the Hittite Empire, but in general … was not so well-researched. For my research, I consulted with many literature concerning history of translation. I thought “Okay, good. It would be good to place the history of translation, I mean at least from the perspective of the Hittite Empire”. I decided to put effort to place this history or culture history. I think I could pretty much place the history of translation, I mean, in the Hittite Empire, in the history of translation in humanity, let’s say, above all.

9:43  Jon Taylor

Uh-hm. Very nice. Congratulations for that. The prize is partly to help publish the PhD. So are you able to say anything about your plans for that: when and where you think you might be able to publish it?

10:35  Tomoki Kitazumi

Well, I’m actually trying to finish the publication manuscript until the end of the year, because as I was at the Hittitology congress two weeks ago, some people asked me, “well, you got that prize, so where can I read the manuscript of your dissertation, and so on? And indeed I also got not only these kinds of questions, but also emails, “where can I read this dissertation?” So on, and so on. So it seems that the need seems to be quite big. So I decided to finish up as soon as possible. So actually, well if everything goes right, then it could be published next year. But let’s see.

11:15  Jon Taylor

Yeah, absolutely. Well, good luck. I think a lot of people looking forward to this one.

11:19  Tomoki Kitazumi

Yeah, it seems so. And after the announcement of the prize, I also got many compliments. But at the same time, “by the way, where can I read it?” and so on. So it was a kind of mixed feeling, so I was very happy. And on the other hand, I’m like, “Hmm, okay, I should finish it as soon as possible.” But it’s actually great that the interest is already there, so to speak.

11:19  Jon Taylor

Yeah, that’s a good sign. So at the Rencontre you gave a talk around this topic, didn’t you? What did you talk about?

11:51  Tomoki Kitazumi

At the rencontre in Leiden I talked about the history of interpreters in the ancient Near East. So the topic is much related, but not the same. I tried to figure out what kind of role the interpreters took in the diplomacy in international context. Interpreters should be there, since we say that Akkadian was the lingua franca. But it does not, of course, mean that everyone spoke in Akkadian. So there were some people from the Hittite Empire or Egyptian empire, who could speak Akkadian. And, of course, there is famous treaty between Egypt and the Hittite Empire, the so-called Kadesh Treaty. And there should be someone who could mediate these empires. So we are unfortunately not too sure if the interpreters spoke Egyptian or the Hittite, or there is some kind of so-called relay translation. So there’s someone spoke Egyptian, and he translated into Akkadian. And someone in the Hittite Empire, who could understand Akkadian translated into Hittite. And this kind of stuff.

13:04  Tomoki Kitazumi

It’s much more complicated stuff. And I’m still working on it, actually. But fortunately, I could present the material at the Rencontre Assyriologique. And right after the presentation, the professor in Leipzig, Michael Streck, came to me and he said, “Well, the topic is interesting. So do you want to talk about much more in Leipzig?” So it was an invitation to a guest lecture. And of course, I said, “Yes.” It is also interesting for the project, because it’s not about the political structure, but it is something in-between. So someone was there to mediate Akkadian, Assyrians or Babylonians, and Hittites and so on. So it is also of relevance for our project.

13:56  Tomoki Kitazumi

And it’s actually not so personal, but I’ll say that I’m also a member of German Japanese interpreters colloquium in Berlin. So it’s indeed interesting to see the real situation of interpreters. And I myself never did these kinds of experiments, but in the colloquium, there are many professionals who are doing interpreters, I mean for German and Japanese. And in this colloquium, we take, for example, some YouTube videos, and let’s say, a speech about politician, or how to use kind of electronic machine and so on. So the context is very different, but it’s actually good for me, because I can learn German as well. It’s very hard, because the language register is totally different. If I read only the academic literature like Hittitology or Assyriology or Indo-European linguistics. But the language for interpreters, it’s much more situation related. And it’s of course important for today’s world. So it’s totally different. But it is good, not only for the language, but to know the … how can I say, other world, or so. The translation, the interpretation, they are still related today. So, in this sense, I have also connection now to the ancient period but also today. I think it’s also fascinating point of what I researched.

15:35  Tomoki Kitazumi

And actually, I’m continuing to research. And not only for the Hittite Empire, but in general, I think the language situation is always interesting to look at. Indeed there are translation studies scholars who write about the other topics, but they are much more on the side of translation history and they cannot read the original texts. Yeah, of course, it is difficult. So I thought, okay, good. I’ll try to make a bridge between us. So I hope some people from the other field might join in this, let’s say, big project.

16:12  Jon Taylor

Super. Thank you very much indeed for talking about your work.

16:16  Tomoki Kitazumi

Yeah. Thank you for the invitation again; thank you.

16:26  George Heath-Whyte

Hello, my name is George Heath-Whyte. And I’m a Research Associate at Tyndale house in Cambridge, UK, in Old Testament and ancient Near Eastern Studies, but effectively, I’m an Assyriologist.

16:37  Jon Taylor

Okay, over the summer, you attended the Rencontre and you were awarded a prize. Could you tell us what the prize was, please?

16:45  George Heath-Whyte

Yes, I won the International Association for Assyriology prize for best first article, for my article in Archiv fuer Orientforschung , entitled “Patterns of Life in the Babylonian Long Sixth Century BC.” I was very, very happy to win it.

17:02  Jon Taylor

Yeah, well, congratulations. Could you tell us something about that article, please? What were your main points of the article?

17:08  George Heath-Whyte

Yeah, so the article was a revised version of my master’s dissertation. And I wanted to know something more about how the Babylonians of the long sixth century BC, the time normally referred to as the Neo-Babylonian period, went about their lives. We know a lot about the society, politics, economy. But when we think about our own lives, things like the seven day week, and how we disperse our time within that, the fact that we have regular patterns of holidays and festivals. Those things are all very fundamental to our life. And yet, there’s a lot we don’t know, when it comes to Neo-Babylonian history as to how they ordered their lives.

17:48  George Heath-Whyte

And so inspired by the work of Alasdair Livingstone, looking at Neo-Assyrian patterns of life, I decided to basically tally up the numbers of documents in a fairly large corpus of Neo-Babylonian legal archival texts from private archives. Tally up the number of tablets dated to each day of the month, and each month of the year, as well as the number of plans made within those tablets for future days of the month, and future months of the year, to see what sort of patterns emerge. And it turns out when you do that some very interesting patterns do come out. So when they make plans for future days, most of the time, they’ll make those plans for set days that are five days apart from each other. So the 5th, the 10th, the 15th, the 20th, the 25th days of the month. Which may suggest the existence of some sort of five day week, it’s hard to work out exactly how that would work.

18:42  George Heath-Whyte

And when we look at the days on which tablets themselves were actually written in, we don’t see the same sort of five day pattern, but we do see that before the reign of Darius, there was one day in the month, the 22nd day of the month, that saw a statistically significant number of tablets written on it. And that was the 22nd day of the month, which I talk about how that was a day of the month dedicated to the god Shamash, obviously the god of justice, which fits quite nicely with what we know of the Neo-Assyrian period, where Alasdair Livingstone had shown that the 20th day of the month, also a day dedicated to Shamash, was important for doing business on. But that all changed in Darius’s reign when the 10th day of the month became important.

19:20  George Heath-Whyte

And then when we look at annual patterns, we see that agriculture and horticulture were very important months and associated with the barley and the date harvests were very, very busy months. Not just for people who owned date gardens or barley fields, but also for people who are owed barley or dates. But also the 12th month of the year, the final month of the year, was a very busy month. It seems that people wanted to get their business done by the end of the year. Those are basically the main things I found. I think there’s lots more to be done. I think it’s quite an exciting area of research to try and find out how they went about their lives, just the normal patterns of their life.

19:56  Jon Taylor

Mmm. That’s quite an interesting approach, isn’t it, taking the bulk of the documentation and looking at those patterns. Did you use technology to help you do that?

20:05  George Heath-Whyte

The corpus I used was basically just the online catalogue of the website called Nabucco, the Neo-Babylonian cuneiform corpus online. And they have a fully searchable online catalogue, which has the tablet numbers, the dates, the locations, and summaries of the text themselves as well. And so I took that, and I used Excel effectively to count the days of the month, months of the year, and to search through for when the plans were being made within those texts as well.

20:37  Jon Taylor

That’s quite cool. So there’s a lot of scope for further work. Is this work that you plan to do yourself? Or have you shown the way to go and leave it for somebody else to take it further?

20:46  George Heath-Whyte

My own research has moved away from patterns of life. I would be very interested to get back into it. But I think the methods I used are very similar to the methods Alasdair Livingstone used in the Neo-Assyrian period. I think they could be quite fruitfully used in other periods by other people if they wanted to. But I’m sure it’s something I’ll come back to eventually at some point.

21:05  Jon Taylor

Yeah, yeah. So what are you doing now then?

21:07  George Heath-Whyte

I am working as part of a team at Tyndale house in Cambridge. There’s four or five of us on the team. And we’re looking into naming practices in the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and in the broader Ancient Near East, with the eventual goal of seeing how naming practices in the Hebrew Bible fit in with what we see in extra-biblical texts from primarily the Levant, but also potentially in Mesopotamia as well.

21:33  George Heath-Whyte

And my part in that project is to collect and analyse all the personal names in Akkadian texts from Ugarit. So I’m working through all those texts. There’s loads of them. I’ve not worked with them before, and they’re great fun. The letters are absolutely fascinating. Entering all the names into a big database. We’re going to analyse all those names, all the prosopography as well. Publish them up-to-date name books and prosopography for Ugarit. I’m working with Ugaritic specialists. They’re working on the Ugaritic texts; I’m working the Akkadian texts. So hopefully that will be a really good resource for anyone who’s interested in Ugarit, regardless of whether they’re interested in the question of how that relates to Hebrew Bible. We’re hoping that will just be a really good resource in general. And then we’ll see what happens from that.

22:17  George Heath-Whyte

As well as that I’m working on the book based on my PhD dissertation, which is on the god Marduk and his portrayal primarily in the Neo-Assyrian royal inscriptions. Particularly the question of how in that corpus and in various other corpora, how was the divine name Bel used for Marduk? And I think the distribution of its use shows us something quite interesting about how this god was conceptualised, and how his relationship to his cult image in Esagil in Babylon was understood by the Assyrian kings in particular.

22:49  Jon Taylor

Brilliant. Well, thanks very much for your time, George. Best of luck with the future research.

22:53  George Heath-Whyte

Thank you very much.

23:02  Jon Taylor

I want to add a brief note here to record that the main subsidy prize was awarded to Hamaseh Golestaneh, for her project: “Persepolis Fortification Tablets: Epigraphic Practice and Analysis of Select Tablets.” Hamaseh wasn’t able to join us, unfortunately, but many congratulations to her on her success.

23:31  Annarita Bonfanti

I am Annarita Bonfanti. I got my PhD in 2022 at the University of Pavia. And I will start on September 1, as a visiting assistant professor at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at NYU. I am a member of the Archaeological Mission to the Southern Caucasus, which is led by Dr. Roberto Dan. And with him I am working on this project that I’m going to talk about.

23:59  Jon Taylor

Okay, so at the recent Rencontre, it was announced that you won a prize. Can you tell us what the prize was, please? And what was it that you won the prize for?

24:10  Annarita Bonfanti

Yes, sure. It’s the subsidies. It’s a subsidy for Cuneiform Studies and ancient Near Eastern Archaeology. And the project I presented is a project I’m carrying on with my colleague, Roberto Dan and the help of our archaeological team, which is the Achaeological Mission to the Southern Caucasus. And it’s part of a cooperation agreement signed between the History Museum of Armenia and ISMEO, the International Association for Mediterranean and Oriental Studies. This project is about a new study and a classification of the Urartian materials preserved within both the History Museum of Armenia and Erebuni Historical Archaeological Museum reserve.

24:50  Annarita Bonfanti

So as the first subject that we wanted to study, we selected the 71 bronze bowls with Urartian royal inscriptions, which were discovered in 1949 in the site of Karmir Blur. These are objects with a standardised morphology. So they are shallow bowls with minimal variations in size and shape with short epigraphs that allow their attribution to the rulers who commissioned them. And they also present the simple but very peculiar iconographic apparatus for each individual ruler, which is an element of great importance when we try to subdivide them chronologically in detail.

25:30  Annarita Bonfanti

The project we are carrying on provides for photographic and microscopic records of the objects, and also an autopic description of the morphology of each bowl, with precise measurements of size and weight, and also their decoration and the inscription of each bowl. What I find particularly interesting is that we can carry on a new analysis of the cuneiform writing employed on each bowl, with a tentative suggestion of the evolution in time and variations of the cuneiform writing on metal in Urartu, which is something that has never been done before, because most of the Urartian epigraphs are on stone and rock. So this type of study was made on this kind of epigraphs. But however, metal and clay objects are also particularly important in the study of cuneiform ductus. So yeah, basically, this is our project, and this is what we aim at with this study.

26:35  Jon Taylor

Thank you. So what is the end result of this research? Are you aiming for an article or book or display? What kind of thing?

26:43  Annarita Bonfanti

Yes, we would like to publish a whole book with detailed photographs of each bowl. But we are also preparing different articles and papers to distribute on scientific journals. We are also working with the History Museum of Armenia, for preparing more divulgative catalogue of these bowls to share with biggest public.

27:07  Jon Taylor

Brilliant. Well, thank you very much indeed.

27:09  Annarita Bonfanti

Thank you.

27:11  Jon Taylor

And congratulations again to all of this year’s prize winners.

27:16  Jon Taylor

Well, that’s all for 2023. I hope you enjoyed it. Thin End of the Wedge is 3 years old already. It has been a real pleasure for me to talk to our guests. And I’m optimistic that 2024 will bring both the reassuringly familiar and the refreshingly new. As ever, please feel free to send me your thoughts and comments. I hope you enjoy what’s left of 2023, and I wish you the best for the year to come.

27:48  Jon Taylor

I’d also like to thank our patrons. Enrique Jimenez, Jana Matuszak, Nancy Highcock, Jay C, Rune Rattenborg, Woodthrush, Elisa Rossberger, Mark Weeden, Jordi Mon Companys, Thomas Bolin, Joan Porter MacIver, John MacGinnis, Andrew George, Yelena Rakic, Zach Rubin, Sabina Franke, Shai Gordin, Aaron Macks, Maarja Seire, Jaafar Jotheri, Morgan Hite, Chikako Watanabe, Mark McElwaine, Jonathan Blanchard Smith, Kliment Ohr, Christina Tsouparopoulou, TT, Melanie Gross, Claire Weir, Marc Veldman, Bruno Biermann, Faimon Roberts, Jason Moser, Pavla Rosenstein, Müge Durusu-Tanrıöver, Tate Paulette, Willis Monroe, Toby Wickenden, Emmert Clevenstine, Barbara Porter, Cheryl Morgan, Kevin Roy Jackson, Susannah Paulus, as well as those who prefer to remain anonymous.

29:06  Jon Taylor

I really appreciate your support. It makes a big difference. Every penny received has contributed towards translations. Thanks of course to the lovely people who have worked on the translations on a voluntary basis or for well below the market rate. For Arabic, thanks in particular to Zainab Mizyidawi, as well as Lina Meerchyad and May Al-Aseel. For Turkish, thank you to Pinar Durgun and Nesrin Akan. TEW is still young, but I want to reach a sustainable level, where translators are given proper compensation for their hard work.

29:45  Jon Taylor

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