Theory and Practice in the Study of Mesopotamian Domestic Space
Brusasco, Paolo, Antiquity
This project combines the analysis of spatial grammar of houses with a sophisticated integration of archaeological, ethnographic and literary evidence. Such an investigation can only be carried out where sufficient material--verbal and non-verbal--survives for analysis to be effective. Early literate societies represent unique archaeological contexts for such research in that archaeologists can recreate an image of an entire ancient town by combining archaeological and textual information. In Old Babylonian Ur (2025-1738 BC)--excavated before the war by the Joint Expedition (British Museum and the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania) to Mesopotamia under the direction of Sir Leonard Woolley there are extensively excavated residential quarters where it is possible to investigate social space and the role of material culture, and written archives which provide an important second source of information on family structures (Woolley & Mallowan 1976).
Here I introduce a new way of assessing the sociology of these residential areas. House plans and cuneiform texts are studied separately in order to test conclusions based on one type of evidence against those based on the other. This methodology integrates techniques derived from the social sciences with the use of ethnographic analogy, and compares these results with the ancient textual evidence. While a better understanding of Ur family sociology is achieved through this study, its results may also prove useful for the analysis of archaeological contexts which lack the written documentation.
The archaeological evidence
The city of Ur, situated in the very south of the modern country of Iraq, is more or less oval-shaped, measuring approximately 1200 by 800 metres, and covering about sixty hectares. Within the city walls Woolley found four main residential areas of the Old Babylonian period: the AH, EM, MS, and EH sites (Figure 1). The AH site, about 150 metres south-east of the temenos (seventh century BC wall), is the largest excavated area of domestic architecture and it measures some 8000 sq. m. Woolley unearthed fifty-two buildings that are crossed by four main streets (Figure 2). The EM site includes fifteen houses located on four streets, and scattered over 2900 sq. m. (Figure 3), while the MS and EH sites contain respectively the remains of five houses in the south-east corner of the temenos, and a row of seven buildings some 30 m east of EM (Figure 4).
[FIGURES 1-4 OMITTED]
The houses were built of mud bricks with baked brick used for the foundations. The plan of an "ideal house" seems to have included a central open courtyard, around which the rooms were grouped. There was a main living room where the dominant family resided, generally located on the side of the courtyard farthest from the front of the house, and the secondary living room inhabited by an additional family (Brusasco 2000). The main living room formed with the chapel and the archive room an independent suite, while the other loci (i.e. kitchen, stairways, lavatories, workrooms) opened directly onto the central courtyard. The domestic chapel, in which cult structures and the family burial-vault were located, served for both the cult of the human ancestors and the household gods.
The construction of space
While social approaches to archaeology and to the analysis of space stem from the late processual and structural tradition (Renfrew 1973), developments in post-processual, interpretive archaeology have determined the approach used here in the study of the society-space relation (Tilley 1993; Shanks & Hodder 1995). The main tenets of the interpretive position are that the role of agents actively using material culture and space needs to be considered, and that cultural meanings are often understood in terms of practice. The sociologist Anthony Giddens has developed an influential theory of social change known as structuration theory (1979). …