Sam Harrelson

Prehistoric Proto-Writing System

While studying some of the oldest art in the world found in caves and engraved on animal bones or shells, paleoanthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger has found evidence of a proto-writing system that perhaps developed in Africa and then spread throughout the world.

Source: Stone Age Cave Symbols May All Be Part of a Single Prehistoric Proto-Writing System




Introducing the Assyrians

 

Layard’s discoveries caused a media sensation and captured the public imagination. This had a major impact on painting and applied arts, in the UK and beyond, during the second half of the nineteenth century, which led to a brief phase of ‘Assyrian revival’. The Assyrian sculptures at the British Museum largely remain today where they were first installed over 160 years ago.

Source: Introducing the Assyrians – The British Museum Blog

My work, Asia Has Claims Upon New England: Assyrian Reliefs at Yale, covers the American reaction (primarily northeastern colleges meant to educate ministers such as Yale, Harvard, Williams, Union Seminary, Amherst etc) to “Assyriamania.”

The British Museum has an incredible collection of Assyrian artifacts, as does the Metropolitan Museum in New York. However, these small (at the time) colleges were also collecting Assyrian reliefs not just for academic study or curiosity but to prove a point about the Bible to the young men they were training for a life in the ministry.

It’s a fascinating story and I hope to revisit it and do more exploration into the missionary-minded impetus behind collecting and displaying these archaeological (and theological) pieces.

Btw, in “Asia Has Claims…,” I was able to work with Prof. Samuel Paley to produce a computer animation (way back in 2001) that more accurately depicted what the throne room of Ashurnasirpal II’s palace would have looked like (the one drawn in the 19th cent for Layard that’s at the top of this post was waaaaay off).




Sumer and the Modern Paradigm

Modern artists discovered Sumerian art between the world wars, at a time when British and American archaeological missions were working in southern Iraq. But archaeologists like Leonard Woolley, head of the mission in Ur were less fascinated by their finds. They considered Mesopotamian art inferior to Egyptian and to Graeco-Roman art and thought Mesopotamian iconography was an expression of a violent culture. Sacrificed bodies found at the Royal Tombs of Ur were the proof that the Bible was right about the Mesopotamian barbarism.

Source: – ANE TODAY – 201802 – Sumer and the Modern Paradigm




Show and Tell: Handling Art at the Wurtele Center

My time with the incredible finds from Dura Europos at the Yale University Art Gallery are some of my fondest memories…

Walking alongside the shelves, one can step from intricate African sculptures to ancient Greek vases to Chinese porcelain to a collection of Picasso ceramics. Opposite the entrance and behind glass display cases are a series of white, metal sliding shelves. They are filled with, among other things, wooden staffs, tea cups and wall fragments excavated from Dura-Europos, Syria.

Source: Show and Tell: Handling Art at the Wurtele Center




James C. Scott’s New Book

James C. Scott is one of the scholars I always enjoy reading. I was introduced to his work Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts while in a (wonderful) seminary class on the Parables. The insightful connection that our beloved professor made between Jesus’ acts and words in his performance of the parables with the essence of what Scott described as “public” and “hidden” transcripts still resonates with me today anytime I read the Gospels.

I’m excited to read this work as well. Although it seems to have a similar topic as many scholarly takes on the how’s and why’s civilizations collapse, (anyone else notice how both academic works, as well as the entertainment world, is fascinated by dystopias and doom-and-gloom in this Age of Trump?) one of my ongoing fascinations and points of interests is the rise of civilization in Mesopotamia as well as the later “Sea Peoples” of Egyptian history. It looks like both of these topics make an appearance in Scott’s new work:

What if the origin of farming wasn’t a moment of liberation but of entrapment? Scott offers an alternative to the conventional narrative that is altogether more fascinating, not least in the way it omits any self-congratulation about human achievement. His account of the deep past doesn’t purport to be definitive, but it is surely more accurate than the one we’re used to, and it implicitly exposes the flaws in contemporary political ideas that ultimately rest on a narrative of human progress and on the ideal of the city/nation-state.

Source: Steven Mithen reviews ‘Against the Grain’ by James C. Scott · LRB 30 November 2017




Grain counting technologies

“The truth, Scott proposes, may be the opposite. What if early civilization was not a boon to humankind but a disaster: for health and safety, for freedom, and for the natural world? What if the first cities were, above all, vast technologies of exploitation by a small and rapacious elite? If that is where we come from, who are we now? What possibilities might we discover by tracing our origins to a different kind of ancestor?”

via “What made prehistoric hunter-gatherers give up freedom for civilization?” by Jedediah Purdy in New Republic




In honor of #nationalpetday here’s a fun piece on pets from ancient Greece and Rome

roman_dogs

The ancient Greeks and Romans were more lavish than the modern world in their expressed affection for beasts. Theirs was a splendid opportunity to know animal life at first hand, not because there were more animals, but on account of the very close relationship effected by polytheistic principles and religious customs.1 Both literature and art attest that there were but few animals not dedicated to gods or goddesses; since religion penetrated ancient life so deeply, it is understandable that animals were freely admitted into the house, and gradually attempts were made to transform even the fiercer beasts into pets and companions.

Source: Greek and Roman Household Pets — CJ 44:245‑252 and 299‑307 (1949)




Digital Repatriation or Theft?

“I would point to some of the recent trends in 3D scanning as potential new sites for digital colonialism, not just repatriation.  Is prosecution of stolen code related to contested heritage objects a form of digital colonialism?  Is keeping the code private, accessible only to the museum or scholars who obtain access a form of colonialism?  Is publicly releasing the code while holding tight to the physical object reinforcing colonialism?  As this episode tells us, the materiality of these cultural heritage objects holds meaning that cannot be extracted into bits and bytes.”

Source: The Nefertiti Hack: Digital Repatriation or Theft? | Early Christian Monasticism in the Digital Age

Amazing piece of performance art and a very needed conversation…




Don’t Buy Into the Myth of Human Progress

Integral calculus, like theology, are areas we imagine we have forward progress as humans… not always the case.

“What is perhaps more surprising is the sophistication with which they tracked the planet, judging from inscriptions on a small clay tablet dating to between 350 B.C. and 50 B.C. The tablet, a couple of inches wide and a couple of inches tall, reveals that the Babylonian astronomers employed a sort of precalculus in describing Jupiter’s motion across the night sky relative to the distant background stars. Until now, credit for this kind of mathematical technique had gone to Europeans who lived some 15 centuries later.”

Source: Signs of Modern Astronomy Seen in Ancient Babylon – The New York Times

 




Are we sure Chancellor Palpatine didn’t write this?

“Though imperialism is now held in disrepute, empire has been the default means of governance for most of recorded history, and the collapse of empires has always been messy business…Back then it was states at war; now it is sub-states. Imperialism bestowed order, however retrograde it may have been. The challenge now is less to establish democracy than to reestablish order. For without order, there is no freedom for anyone.”

Source: It’s Time to Bring Imperialism Back to the Middle East – ForeignPolicy.com

Yes, western imperialism and colonialism helped cause this mess. Surely there’s a better way forward than re-establishing such hegemonic (and veneer thin) powers in the region.