The Study of the Ancient near East in the 21st Century: The William Foxwell Albright Centennial Conference

Article excerpt

The Study of the Ancient Near East in the 21st Century: The William Foxwell Albright Centennial Conference. Edited by Jerrold S. Cooper and Glenn M. Schwartz. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1996, x + 422 pp., $39.50.

This collection of 16 articles plus "Prologue" and "Epilogue" was published as a "permanent record" of the William Foxwell Albright Centennial Conference, held at the Johns Hopkins University in May 1991. The articles are organized under six subheadings: (1) "The Contextualizations of Near Eastern Art," (2) "The Integration of Archaeological and Textual Data," (3) "The Technological Revolution in Archaeology and its Ramifications," (4) "Philology and the Study of Ancient Literature in the Postmodern Academy," (5) "From Ebla to Deir Alla: New Paradigms for the Early History of Semitic Languages and Scripts" and (6) "Ideology, Propaganda and National Consciousness in the Ancient Near East." A dedicatory article to the conference's honoree, "William Foxwell Albright: The Man and His Work" by Peter Machinist, completes the volume.

The prologue by the editors outlines the background of the conference and a descriptive outline of the tome's contents. In the initial article, "Constructing Context: The Gebel el-Arak Knife," Holly Pittman compares the artwork on the famous knife of predynastic Amratian/Nagada I Egypt (4th millennium BC) with various artifacts of the Late Uruk phase in Mesopotamia. Pittman defines the cultural interplay as one of Egyptian borrowing of "visual formulas" but not of ideas or meanings. In Betsy M. Bryan's, "Art, Empire, at the End of the Late Bronze Age," she demonstrates how the various art forms of the 18th, 19th, and 20th dynasties in Egypt evidence political shifts in Canaan, whereby city-state rulers from locales such as Megiddo and Tel elFarah utilized Egyptian art motifs in their decorated wares as forms of individual self-expression rather than client vassalage.

Richard Zetter, in "Written Documents as Excavated Artifacts and the Holistic Interpretations of the Mesopotamian Archaeological Record," calls for an integration of the archaeological record with the work of Semitic scholars so as to assure a more holistic approach to understanding ancient Near Eastern societies.

In his trend-arresting article, "Toward a New Periodicalist and Nomenclature of the Archaeology of the Southern Levant," Israel Finkelstein calls not only for a shift in period designation, replacing the present Neolithic-Bronze-Iron nomenclature with Formative-Proto-Urban-Urban-Intermediate-Proto-National States-National States, but also for the shifting of some of the traditional dates for the periods. For example, he suggests that the last phase of the MB be extended to through the 16th century BC, or even into the 15th century with the campaigns of Thutmoses III.

Recent developments in technical fields of underwater archaeology and archaeometallurgy are the subject of "Underwater Archaeology in the Near East: Past, Present, and Future" by George F. Bass and "Near Eastern Archaeometallurgy: Modern Research and Future Directions" by Vincent C. Pigott.

In "Sailing to Babylon: Reading the Dark Side of the Moon," Piotr Michalowski describes the present status of the field of Assyriology in light of recent trends in literary analysis. …