Category Archives: Student Blog Post 2

Jingling Change

The bulla are incredibly interesting pieces of culture to look at. Firstly, consider their dual accountability. Not only is the bulla marked with the transaction, but it also contains the physical representation of that transaction. It’s like a back up plan in and of itself. If the writing on the outside is presumed to be incorrect, then just break open the bulla and count the tokens on the inside to see the actual value of the transaction. There in lies another safeguard of the bulla in the sense that the tokens contained within the hollow ball are also marked with what was traded. It’s a backup plan for the backup plan. In my opinion, the only people who would  think of such an elaborate system of recording transactions are people who are incredibly paranoid of getting something wrong or people who have an exasperatingly close eye for detail. Also, one must consider the rather unorthodox size of this method of record keeping. These bulla were not paper receipts but instead clay balls. Balls, like a baseball. I’m slightly peeved if I have too many quarters in my pocket, let alone having to find a place to store the clay ball that recorded how much I payed for a gift. As such, the bulla is just one example of how important record keeping was to the people of the Uruk-period.

The other incredibly obvious example of record keeping is the whole concept of writing itself. If it’s not obvious how important writing was to the people of Mesopotamia just consider that among all those city states composed of different people who all worshiped different deities and who all had different kings, they all shared the same written language. They even had a different verbal tongue from ethnic group to ethnic group, yet they still kept the same written word. This was all to have a uniform style of record keeping.

This also proves just how vast the inter-geographical trading of the Mesopotamian people was. Since multiple spoken languages were involved, which is usually something that covers an incredibly large area difference, especially for the Uruk-period, it just shows how important transaction records were since they all agreed to keep to a common written language. It also proves the importance of trade to the people of Mesopotamia since they were in agreement to go through the hassle of making sure they were in concordance with each specific ethnic group in the idea of transactions.

The Pyramids of Egypt

Before taking this class, I had read enough about the Pyramids of Giza that I thought there was not much more for me to learn about these pyramids. With this class, I have come to learn so much more about the Pyramids of Giza, and the pyramids of Egypt in general, than what I had previously known.

Sneferu is one of the many Egyptian pharaohs whose life, and whose pyramids, I previously knew nothing about. It is amazing all that Sneferu was able to accomplish throughout his reign as pharaoh. The fact that he was able to build three pyramids in his lifetime, when most pharaohs only built one, is a testament to the power that Sneferu must have had in order to convince the state to invest all of its time and money into these three pyramids. I was interested to learn that even the great pyramid builders like Sneferu made mistakes in their pyramid building, evident with his Bent Pyramid at Dashur.

Prior to this class, I knew little about the interior of the Egyptian pyramids. So, in class, it was interesting to learn about the pyramid texts and funerary texts that have been found on the walls within these pyramids, and to learn about the duat, the spiritual world with which these texts are associated. According to the Egypt Uncovered: Chaos and Kings Video that we watched in class, the size of the pyramids also served a spiritual function, that is, that the imposing, hard to miss nature of the pyramids ensured that the pharaohs who built them would forever be remembered, and in this way, they can live eternally.

I find it interesting that pharaohs back in the 4th dynasty were documenting their history, and Egyptian history, through the biographies and kings lists they had written on the walls of their tombs. It is fortunate that pharaohs did this so that today, we may have an easier time understanding Egyptian history.

I was previously unaware that those who built the Pyramids of Giza were farmers; I had always thought these pyramids were built by slaves. The level of social organization that was achieved in building these pyramids is astounding, that those in power were able to round up enough laborers not by force, but instead workers willingly contributed their labor as a means of fulfilling their tax quota.

Learning about Heit el-Ghurab, the settlement site for the laborers who built the Pyramids of Giza, also really interested me. I had never heard of Heit el-Ghurab prior to learning about it in class, which is really too bad, because this settlement site played such a large role in the building of the Pyramids of Giza. Heit el-Ghurab is truly a reflection of the amount of man power needed to build these pyramids, that a settlement site was needed to house all of the laborers, and a testament to the time needed to build these pyramids, so much time that a long term settlement site was constructed for these laborers to live.

Looking Beneath the Surface

I love that this class focuses on comparative studies between the different ancient states that existed throughout the world. Many people love talking about how ancient states were so similar to one another, implying some type of global connection or some other thing that we are not yet aware of, but they don’t bother to dig a little bit deeper and discover that all of them vastly different. I remember reading a while back that writing in Mesopotamia grew out of the necessity to facilitate records and financial transactions; however, I wasn’t aware that writing in ancient Egypt served an entirely different purpose, that it was for state-oriented affairs, such as ceremonies, commemorations, and even incantations that help Pharaoh in the afterlife. It’s fascinating to learn about the genesis of ancient states.

The other thing I was surprised to learn was the processes that gave rise to agriculture in both lands. Egypt had the fertile Nile, but the people of Mesopotamia had to basically manufacture their fertile grounds through irrigation an d the digging of canals, which required cooperative labor and a degree of central control, leading to dependency on farmers.  While this is probably one of those issues that, in the grand scheme of things, is not important, but I’ve read people debating which rose first, ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia. I’ve read some literature that says Eridu is considered to be the first city, while others disagree and say otherwise.

Something else I read a while back and found interesting was that many temples and other structures were made to be open spaces. Professor Wattral mentioned large public temples, and I recall reading that everything was open to the public; everything was treated as some type of public ritual. Even mundane transactions were done in the open and treated in a ritualistic manner. I may be simplifying this too much, but I don’t have the book in front of me to double check. I’ve always been fascinated with Mesopotamia because it is supposed to be where administration began; where writing began. The earliest form of mathematics were said to originate in Mesopotamia, along with astronomy, and I think that was during the time of Babylon. Images of the Assyrian library of Nineveh are conjured, and I think of all the literature and knowledge that was obtained and kept at the library. Mesopotamia makes me think about the tower of Etemenanki, which many scholars believe is the Tower of Babel mentioned in the Bible. Mesopotamia is truly wondrous.

Blog 2: The Importance of the Temple in Mesopotamia

As Professor Wattral said in class, life in the cities of Ancient Mesopotamia were largely based on and around temples. The temple was the most important and integral building in the city and it provided people with many things. A market place to sell their goods and make a living, a place to socialize, and a place to make votive offerings to the Gods or patron God of the city. Sometimes, temples were also  used to store grains and other goods. So what were these temples like?

Well, to emphasize their importance and make sure everyone could see the temple, it was usually placed atop a fairly large mound, or ziggurat. A Ziggurat is a manmade multi-tiered structure that is part of a temple complex and took quite a few man hours and good organization of labor to construct. It was also usually rectangular in shape and the tiers got smaller as the ziggurat got taller. A relatively long ramp or staircases usually led to the top of the Ziggurat. It is essentially a manmade hill or mountain. Ziggurats kind of resembled the Step Pyramids of Egypt, which were the precursors to Pyramids as we know them now, although their design did not really change.

The main reason ancient Mesopotamians built ziggurats has its roots in religious beliefs. They built them to make the temples closer to the heavens and therefore closer to the Gods. This is tied to the belief that Gods appeared on earth at the highest point in the land. So, since Mesopotamia was relatively flat, ancient Mesopotamians has to make their own mountains where the Gods could come down to the mortal world. In class, we talked briefly about the Anu Ziggurat in the Anu district of Uruk III. It was a temple dedicated to the Sky God and is also called the White Temple because of the white-washed walls in the temple. It was also worked on quite frequently over time and underwent many expansions.

Since there were not really many rock quarries or stone building materials in Mesopotamia, , unlike Egypt which had abundant limestone deposits with which to build, ancient Mesopotamians used another building material to make ziggurats, mud brick and the tamped earth method. This is why many ziggurats today look like piles of sand or dirt with only parts of the original outer wall still standing. Temples on the other hand were often built with limestone, which was most likely imported, maybe even from Egypt. Also, larger and more important temples, like the Anu Temple complex, often had more elaborate construction procedures, such as plastering and a greater use of limestone, to show not only how important it was, but also how much power the Anu district and Uruk had at the time.

 

Europe’s oldest footprints found in England

Off the English coast near Happisburgh, near Norfolk, archaeologists of the Queen Mary University of London and the British Museum, and the Natural History Museum, uncovered the oldest remains of footprints in Europe confirmed by photogrammetry and a 3D image analysis of the surface taken by the team of archaeologists.  Techniques like those are what helps archaeology thrive today, being able to see the surface more clearly and find remains left behind when we can’t see them with our own eyes. The land that used to stretch past today’s shore held rich resources and an abundance of animals, perfect for a group of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers looking for food to survive. This find is a rare one, with there only being two other known archaeological sites with footprints, one at Laetoli in Tanzania, at 3.5 million years ago, and the other at Ileret and Koobi Fora in Kenya, at 1.5 million years ago. Another reason for their rarity is the fact that they survived hundreds and thousands of years environmental change over time. And if the team of scientists hadn’t come upon those sets of footprints when they did, they probably wouldn’t have been found due to the erosion from the incoming tide. And I find it important to take advantage of the shores of Europe and try and find the archaeological sites that could be just a few waves away from being gone forever.  Most of the Paleolithic and Mesolithic sites are underwater now because of the rising sea level, erosion, and environmental changes when they used to have land where the seas of today are now. So it’s up to the archaeologists of today to make sure they find and preserve sites like the footprints at this one before they disappear. The information we are losing on our shorelines are very prevalent to the understanding of the people and cultures of the past. The evidence of up to five different sets of footprints, from a child up to a UK adult size 8, were left and preserved in the mud over 800,000 years ago. Their presence indicates the first set of humans in northern Europe found today and, “their discovery offers researchers an insight into the migration of pre-historic people hundreds of thousands of years ago when Britain was linked by land to continental Europe.” Not taking action and actively looking for sites like this one in Happisburgh will result in the lose of a plethora of information that can help us further understand the lives of the people from 800,000 years ago.

 

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140207134521.htm

Mesopotamia

My knowledge of ancient civilizations has historically been very weak. Prior to taking this course, I only had some basic knowledge about the lifestyles and religious practices of the ancient Egyptians and a very limited amount of intellect when talking about other places like Mesoamerica, prehistoric parts of Africa, and Mesopotamia. To be honest, before writing this blog post, I couldn’t think of anything significant about Mesopotamia and I wouldn’t even know where to start when discussing it’s chronological history from rise to fall.

Due to my lack of information about Mesopotamia, I went did a little brisk research. Apparently, the place is famous for being called the “Cradle of Civilization” and the original home for what we now know as the modern day human society. It looks like the Sumerian people are considered to be the first ever ‘recorded’ civilization in human history and, like many emerging societies, they started off as an agriculturally based culture that focused primarily on their crops. They developed more intense and massive techniques for farming, and as time progressed, they developed methods for writing and a style for their buildings and architecture.

I’m a little confused about the classification of different cultures within the Mesopotamian region, though. I’ve ran into articles that discuss the Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian empires and their involvement within the region of Mesopotamia, but they couldn’t have all been living peacefully within the same area, could they? History shows that competition for resources and land can lead to massive war and conflict between neighboring tribes, chiefdoms, empires, states, etc. in order to gain control of certain resources. I have a feeling that the different empires ruled over different periods of time and periodically seized certain areas of the greater Mesopotamian region as conflict arose and time permitted.

It’s intriguing to think that early Mesopotamians used methods of writing for primarily economic and accounting purposes. It’s very smart and totally makes sense to do so, but it’s remarkable that the largest percent of tablets, rocks, and objects with markings on them show evidence for being used to record transactions and the like. It seems like every time that we talked about scripts, records, and general writings that came from Ancient Egypt, they were more centered around telling a story (religiously or culturally) about kings of the past, how to get into the afterlife, and historical events that happened years prior. It’s just intriguing to think that the Mesopotamians were using written language for more modern-day realistic and practical uses instead of conveying a story.

Importance of Museums

For this blog post, I want to talk about an article that was posted on Twitter recently. This article deals with the importance of Museums.

I chose to discuss this because I think it makes an important point. I think that often times anthropological and archaeological work is seen as pointless or not as fruitful as other research. There is only so much we can take from the past and apply to the now and the future. I am of course not of this opinion, but it is an opinion that I think sometimes gets voiced a little too loudly. An important aspect of this field of study is the wonderful things we get from the work – for example, museums and the programs that come along with them.

This article addresses various different aspects of the community that the museum benefits. First, as I mentioned before, the programs that museums create for children with autism, older adults with cognitive impairments and even veterans and military families. Next, the article indicates that ‘museums are trustworthy’. What exactly does that mean? To me, society is filled with uncertainty and differing opinions. Museums hold the artifacts and actual facts of the past. The level of purity of these objects and information is refreshing. In addition, museums hold actual tangible objects or reconstructions of the past, which is more reassuring and real to us than reading about the past in a book or in a Hollywood movie. Surprisingly, or not so surprising, museums are quite popular and viewed positively by the public. They are point of agreement for many communities; we can differ on many things, but can still enjoy and see the value of history held in a museum. Next, museums are educational. Going along with what I have said before, museums hold trustworthy artifacts that teach us a lot. They teach us what people have been like in the past, how societies may be different from what we know, and they teach us about how things we know today have come to be. More than just teaching us, they literally show us in tangible and often interactive ways. Museums are also a wonderful asset for schools. They give the opportunity for students to get excited about learning. The adventure of a field trip and the hands on nature of learning in a museum is inspiring to children and an effect that could not be replicated without museums. Lastly, something that I had not previously thought about, museums provide a lot of economic benefits. Think of all of the people that are employed because of museums. Not just the security guards, or check-in desk personnel, but those hired to keep museums clean, to advertise for the museum, to preserve the artifacts inside, to brainstorm new ways to present the information and artifacts, the people who do research on the items and put together the pieces of the stories of the past, and all of the people needed on actual sites where these items are excavated. That’s a lot of jobs. In addition, there are a lot of jobs and other economic factors involved with the travel associated with visitors to the museum. I’m not an expert in economics, but there is a lot of action going on there because of museums.

The final topic of this article was the current state of museums. It is proven that museums serve all sorts of communities in all sorts of ways, but unfortunately funding is waning, and museums have not been exempt to the economic stress we’ve all felt these past years. I think that one reason this is is exactly what I started this post out with – a bit of a lack of respect of the field that brings museums to us. I hope that the future will bring more awareness and appreciation for the work done in this field.

 

American Alliance of Museums
http://aam-us.org/about-museums/museum-facts

Ancient River States

One interesting thing that will be worth noting as we move on in the semester (and one that I imagine has already begun to be touched upon in lecture) is how a vast number of the earliest and most prominent ancient states all originated as river cultures. River cultures are, as one might infer, largely agricultural nations or cultures that are based- both economically and physically- around rivers or other large bodies of water.  We’ve already witnessed ancient Egypt as it arose alongside the Nile, and now that we’ve begun discussing ancient Mesopotamia I’ve no doubt that we will be discussing it along with the rest of the fertile crescent that lies between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  Other particularly noteworthy ancient river cultures that will likely come up in the course of this class include ancient China and the Yellow River, and ancient India along the Indus.

River cultures were the most common centers of human growth for many reasons. First of all, drinking water is a necessity to life and living in close proximity of it can be a godsend, especially in the more dry or arid parts of the world near the equator (like many of these ancient river states were). The rivers also provided food in the form of fish or other animals who would come to the river to eat or drink. Economically speaking, rivers were vital in ancient times as they made it easier to transport goods between cities along the river or, later on, with other ancient states.

Perhaps most importantly, like its namesake, these rivers are what made the land in the fertile crescent capable of growing anything at all. These rivers would form the basis of what would later become irrigation, leading to the development of the agricultural society! And we’ve already covered in class how important agriculture was to the development of ancient states: it gave people a steady source of food capable of sustaining a population, a location that made sedentary life possible, and eventually social castes and specialized workers all arose from this.

It really was all about the agriculture for most ancient states, and the river basins most of them were situated in provided the much needed resources to make farming possible! I will be interested in seeing how the later ancient river cultures we discuss in lecture depended on their own body of water of choice to survive.