Near Eastern Archaeology

samarra glass

UMMA 170: Samarra glass bottle fragment. British Museum Collection

The Museum of Anthropological Archaeology could not contribute to its global mission without strong representation in the Near Eastern civilizations. The first teaching collections were received as a gift from the British Museum in the early 1920s. The first major research collection, ceramics from the Plain of Antioch, was received in the early 1930s from Robert Braidwood (who received his B.A. from Michigan) of the University of Chicago. These were given to us expressly for the graduate studies of Frederick Matson, the first technical studies ever done of the earliest Near Eastern ceramics. Thus, from the beginning, the relation between use of collections in teaching and use of collections in graduate student research was established.

Professor Henry Wright has built up a unique series of archaeological collections from the Middle East and the western Indian Ocean relevant to the evolution of complex societies in these areas. In contrast to all other collections outside the Near East, which focus on complete objects of museological value, our collections contain representative collections of discarded debris from both surveys and excavations, which can be used to answer many different questions posed by social scientists regarding past behaviors. Thanks to the generosity of the Near Eastern archaeological services, the building of these collections continues to the present. During the past five years, we have accessioned a regional survey collection from the Persian Gulf—not only ceramic sherds, but maps, air photographs, and other records. We have also recently provided a home for a survey collection from the late Bronze Age to the Islamic period in southwestern Iran with its records. Finally, the Museum recently received a collection of sherds and stone tools from excavations at the inter-regional center of Tell Brak in Syria.

Among the collections that will be particularly important for undertaking future research and testing new explanations are the following:

Iran +

From Southwestern Iran, in addition to a small collection of Middle Paleolithic artifacts (ca. 2000) excavated from Kunji Cave (near Khorramabad, Luristan), the Division has collections from both surveys and excavations focused on the periods from 5500 to 1500 BC, documenting developments from the emergence of ranked societies to the rise of states and empires. We have full coverage regional survey collections from the central and southern Susiana plain in southwestern Iran, and selected study collections from adjacent foothill valleys such as Deh Luran and from the higher valleys of the Zagros mountains. In addition, from excavations at the town site of Tepe Farukhabad near Deh Luran, we have a 50% random sample of diagnostic ceramics, stone tools, animal bones, and other artifacts, as well as representative samples of soil and plant remains from the Susiana, Uruk Early Dynastic and Elamite periods. From excavations at the town site of Tepe Sharafabad, a village site on the Susiana plain, we have a complete sample of ceramics, stone tools, animal bones, and other artifacts, as well as representative samples of soil and plant remains from the Uruk and Middle Elamite periods. In addition, we have small samples of Partho-Sasanian and Islamic ceramics, important as reference collections for the study of Medieval and early Modern trade networks.

Click here to learn more about the Deh Luran Archaeological Project.

Iraq +

Our limited collections from the irrigated lands of Lower Mesopotamia are focused on the period of the first cities and states, dating between 4500 and 2500 BC, including samples from the only excavated village site from the heartland, the Early Dynastic civilization. In addition to small ceramic collections for technical analysis donated by Braidwood, we have the full technical documentation for the Southern Sumer Archaeological survey of 1966 plus ceramic samples of the Uruk Period from the surface of Eridu and Rejibah. We also curate the notes and fine screen samples from the Early Dynastic village site of Sakheri Sughir, ca 2800 BC, including all ceramic fragments, animal bones, and other artifacts, plus representative soil samples. Important as a reference collection for studies throughout the Near East and the Indian Ocean are a sherd sample from the pre-WWI excavations at Samarra, including ceramics of both the 7th millennium BC Samarra culture and the 9th century AD Abbasid caliphate.

Syro-Anatolia +

In recent years, we have augmented early collections from this area to provide coverage of the period from 4000 to 2300 BC in Upper Mesopotamia parallel to our coverage for the period of state development in southern Iraq and southwestern Iran. In addition to the original Braidwood collection of ceramics for Matson’s technical studies from his excavations at Tell Judaideh, Tell Kurdu, and Tell Taiyanat on the Amouq plain (under a League of Nations mandate at the time of the research, now part of Turkey), which cover periods between 6500 and 2000 BC, we now curate parallel collections of ceramics and flint tools from Tell Brak on the Khabur plain in eastern Syria, covering periods between 4000 and 2300 BC.

Egypt and the Southern Levant +

The Museum has relatively few collections from these areas, useful primarily for teaching purposes. From Egypt, we curate a collection of selected Neolithic stone tools collected from the Fayum early in the 20th century and a few sherd samples. From the southern Levant, we curate one very important Paleolithic collection, a large sample of stone tools from Tabun Cave near Haifa, excavated by Dorothy Garrod in the 1930s, and a few small ceramic collections.