Pasts Imperfect (1.26.23)
Ancient Art in a Global Context, Near Eastern Cats, Africa & Byzantium, and More
This week, archaeologist Erin W. Averett discusses a new book revisiting ancient art in a global perspective. Then, new studies look at the ancient origins and diffusion of domestic cats, a digital project pairs biblical art and scripture through commentary, the prejudices experienced by those teaching with an accent, a keynote lecture on Africa and Byzantium, and much more.
Ancient Art Revisited by Erin W. Averett
A new volume, Ancient Art Revisited: Global Perspectives from Archaeology and Art History, spearheaded by Christopher Watts and Carl Knappett, expands on papers originally delivered in the “Entangling Ancient Art: New Perspectives from Americanist to Classical Archaeology” session at the 2019 Theoretical Archaeology Group meetings. The editors hope to inspire dialogue among archaeological subfields and between the disciplines of archaeology and art history in order to collaboratively advance our collective understanding of ‘artworks.’ Using Alfred Gell’s groundbreaking Art and Agency (1998) – particularly his focus on what art objects do instead of what they mean – as a springboard, the volume provides a forum for contributors to revisit past conceptions of art and to apply new theoretical approaches to case studies around the world. From different disciplinary perspectives using a range of art objects, these contributions explore key issues that recognize the significance of affect and agency, multi-scalar interpretations, assemblage logics, network formation, materiality, embodiment, and non-representational approaches in our understanding of how art functioned in different societies.
The ancient art explored here is global and not simply focused on the Mediterranean. Lisa Trevor advocates for a new, art historical analysis of mural art from ancient coastal Peru; Darryl Wilkinson challenges traditional views of naturalism through close study of Moche art; Severin Fowles documents the changing image logics of Archaic rock art in the American Southwest; and Christopher Watts interprets Iroquoian animal effigy pipes as products of an ontology centered on human-animal kinship. In a different experimental approach, Doug Bailey uses object autobiography to describe the lives of sherds from a vessel he destroyed at the TAG session in order to unpack and understand through analogy the colonial legacy of archaeology and archaeologists. Zainab Bahrani uses an inscribed Elamite chalcedony pebble to discuss the concept of a fused “image-text” that she argues is central to West Asian art; and Deborah Vischak investigates the significance of networks of artists, patrons, materials, things, and places among third-millennium painted panels of provincial elite tombs in southern Egypt.
My own contribution applies assemblage theory to interpret Cypriot sanctuaries filled with votive art as vibrant and changing assemblages; Irene Nikolakopoulou and Carl Knappett bring content and context together in their analysis of Aegean Bronze Age wall painting frames from Akrotiri on Thera; Anna Soifer investigates sixth-century BCE Roman antefixes in southern Italy by focusing on communities of practice and the affective properties of things. The closing chapter by Jennifer Stager uses a meso-scale approach to explore women and networks of care as depicted on and embodied in Greek pyxides (small lidded containers).
The introductory chapter is available via Google Play.
Public Writing and a Global Antiquity
An open access article in Heredity proves that, well, “Genetics of randomly bred cats support the cradle of cat domestication being in the Near East.” The study genotyped close to 2,000 cats and discovered that ~12,000 years ago (ca. 10,000 BCE) within the area of the Fertile Crescent, domestic cat origins began. Later, they spread “to nearby islands, and southernly via the Levantine coast into the Nile Valley.”
Notably, the scientists show that patterns of genetic diversity parallel human ones once humanity turned to farming, “suggesting [that] human history is written in the DNA of domesticated species.” To carry this research a few steps further, a new article in Antiquity maps the history of later domestic cats in central Europe from the Neolithic to the Medieval period. Clearly, ancient feline studies are quite ailour-ing at the moment. 🐱
In ancient world podcast news, Deborah Lyons was on the “Women Who Went Before” podcast to discuss Pandora’s box, as well as “ancient Greek myths, breaking cultural boxes, and why we should all strive to be killjoys.” Meghan Henning went on The Two Cities podcasts to address Hell & Disability in Early Christian Literature and Katharine Huemoeller is on the Partial Historians’ podcast to address the “representation of enslaved women during slave revolts in ancient Rome.” Listen up!
In the pages of The New York Review of Books, Josephine Quinn writes about “Alphabet Politics: What prompted the development of systems of writing?” In her essay, she reviews two new books: The Greatest Invention: A History of the World in Nine Mysterious Scripts by Silvia Ferrara (trans. by Todd Portnowitz) and visual theorist Johanna Drucker’s Inventing the Alphabet: The Origins of Letters from Antiquity to the Present.
Each book asks a familiar question about what, exactly, prompted the writing down of language. Although the traditional answer is usually the needs of the state and bureaucracy, Ferrara provides counter examples—from Cherokee Syllabary to Easter Island—to prove her claim that it was rather due to a deep human creative urge to communicate. In addition to discussion of both books, Quinn provides much analysis and contextualizing of the announcement last July that Linear Elamite has been deciphered.
Over at the Visual Commentary on Scripture (VCS), biblical scholar and historian Nyasha Junior has a new commentary titled “Silences” that examines the text of Abram’s flight to Egypt with Sarai in Genesis 12:10–20; 20:1–18. The commentary sits alongside three later works of art depicting the episode. As Junior notes, “Despite her silence, these artistic interpretations help us to raise questions about what [Sarai] encountered and the possible choices or lack of choices that she faced.” The VCS is a freely available online project that “provides theological commentary on the Bible in dialogue with works of art.” Art and scripture come together through this important tripartite approach.
On a side note? Please bookmark the fact that access to the Index of Medieval Art Database will become free on July 1, 2023.
In the gustatory annals of Eater, Stephanie Wong has a fascinating new essay on the history of drinking chocolate in Southeast Asia and Latin America that also looks at the impact of colonialism: “The Migration of Milo: How drinking chocolate made its way from Mesoamerica to the sweet shelf-stable powder that fueled my childhood.” As she notes, nostalgia can be a comfort, but can also be a trap.
Chocolate first made its way across the Atlantic when the Spanish arrived. The addition of sugar to drinking chocolate — likely stemming from Indigenous sweeteners like honey and maguey syrup — is material evidence of the insidious processes of colonialism…From the cups of Mesoamerican nobility to my grandmother’s shoebox kitchen in Singapore, drinking chocolate has punctuated people’s daily routines for centuries.
Artforum reports that Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz has offered his famed fourth plinth lamassu, “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” (2018) to the Tate Modern in exchange for the British Museum repatriating to Iraq one of its ancient Neo-Assyrian lamassu removed from Nineveh in the 19th century.
Within the Wabash Center’s blog series on “Embodied Teaching,” Ekaputra Tupamahu of Portland Seminary discusses “Teaching with an Accent: Sounding Otherness in the Classroom.” He notes that there are indeed prejudices towards instructors teaching with accents:
Linguistic prejudice is real. People who study language know that everyone has an accent…However, some accents are considered acceptable, and others are not. Who determines the acceptability of an accent? The issue is not whether one has an accent or not, but whether one’s accent is perceived as desired, or is frowned upon as “less than,” “foreign,” “uneducated,” or “uncivilized.” It is merely the hearer’s unfamiliarity with it, their discomfort, their sense of superiority, that deems an accent to be “foreign.”
Tupamahu notes that we can embrace otherness in our teaching and suggests not an erasure of the accent, but recognition and acceptance of them as part of our pedagogy. As he notes, “A teacher’s accent can function as a catalyst for the classroom’s open engagement with difference.”
New Antiquity Journal Issues (by @YaleClassicsLib)
International Journal of Cultural Property Vol. 29, No. 3 (2022) NB Christos Tsirogiannis, et al. “The Forger’s tale: an insider’s account of corrupting the corpus of Cycladic figures”
Religion in the Roman Empire Vol. 8, No. 2 (2022) Urban Religion in the Desert: Perspectives from Palmyra
Apeiron Vol. 56, No. 1 (2023) NB Scott Calloway “The Body, Experience, and the History of Dream-Science in Artemidorus’ Oneirocritica”
Renaissance Studies Vol. 37, No. 1 (2023) NB Carolin Alff, Anna Grasskamp “Cupids of Colour: Gods of African Appearance at Sixteenth-Century German Courts”
Rhizomata Vol.10, No. 2 (2023) Infinite Regress and Non-Contradiction in Ancient Greek
AION (filol.) Vol. 44, No. 1 (2022)
Vigiliae Christianae Vol. 77, No. 1 (2023)
Ramus Vo.51, No. 2 (2022) NB Hannah Čulík-Baird “Erasing the Aethiopian in Cicero’s Post Reditum in Senatu”
Latomus Vol. 81, No. 3 (2022)
Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies Vol. 62, No. 3 (2022) #openaccess
Kentron Vol. 37 ( 2022) #openaccess Violences de masse et violences extrêmes en contexte de guerre dans l’Antiquité
Cuadernos de Filología Clásica. Estudios Latinos Vol. 42 No. 2 (2022) #openaccess
Forum Classicum Vol. 65, No. 4 (2022)
Pecia Vol. 24 (2022) Du manuscrit à l'imprimé: Une autre modernité
AL. Rivista di studi di Anthologia Latina Vol. 13 (2022)
Convivium Vol. 9, No. 2 (2022)
Giornale Italiano di Filologia Vol. 74 (2022)
Peritia Vol. 33 (2022)
Revue d'assyriologie et d'archéologie orientale Vol. 116 (2022)
Gnomon Vol. 95, No. 1 (2023)
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society Vol. 88 (2022)
Mnemosyne Vol.76, No. 1 (2023)
Revue de philosophie économique Vol. 23, No. 1 (2022) Ethique et économie dans les philosophies anciennes
Manuscripts on My Mind No. 38 (2023) #openaccess
Ploutarchos Vol. 19 (2022) #openaccess
Oxford Journal of Archaeology Vol. 42, No.1 (2023)
Anatolia Antiqua Vol. 29 (2021) #openaccess
The Vatican Library Review Vol. 1, No. 2 (2022) The Alliance of Technology and Philology to Recover Vatican Palimpsests
Conferences, Lectures, and Call for Papers
On February 3, 2023 at 3:30 PM ET, Andrea Achi, Assistant Curator in the Department of Medieval Art and the Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will speak at Temple University on the art and visual culture of Africa and Byzantium (4th-15th centuries), the topic of her upcoming 2023 exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The talk is free and open to the public. This event is hybrid, but Zoom registration is required for virtual attendees. Register here.
On February 3rd and 4th, 2023, at the ULCA CMRS Center for Early Global Studies and online on zoom, the conference, Destroyed, Removed, and Reassembled: Book Collections in the Premodern World organized by Matthew Fisher and Devin Fitzgerald will take a global perspective on the varied fates of pre-modern book collections.
On February 7, 2023, there will be a launch event for the Pandemic Stories Report from 14.00-15.30 GMT. As they note, “The Report is based on data from a survey that collected the experiences of scholars of the ancient Mediterranean world (Classics and Ancient History) in Higher Education in the UK in the first eighteen months of the Pandemic, from March 2020 to September 2021. The report was written by Elena Giusti, Jennifer Ingleheart, Talitha Kearey, and Victoria Leonard.” For more info and to register: go here.
Thanks for reading Pasts Imperfect and Happy Lunar New Year! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.