Near East

Sex, Lies and Omens
From ancient times to the present, Babylon has been associated with wanton sexuality. In the 19th century the very name Babylon was associated with "unnatural vice of every sort" and "sexual excess." Today the name of this ancient city can be found gracing lurid paperbacks, escort services, and adult book stores. The talk will trace the
history of this long standing belief and will use newly recovered sources to examine its merit. Ms. Ann Guinan

What the World Continues to Lose: The Artistic and Literary Riches of Iraq

While the losses from the looting of the Iraqi museum may be far less than the original -- and horrific -- estimates, scholars of ancient Mesopotamia aren't exactly basking in relief. Of the 100 treasured works that were on display in public galleries 21 are damaged and 30 are still missing. We estimate that 10,000 objects are missing from the conservation room and storage areas and a further 18,000 were damaged when the building was stormed. We can only hope these figures may yet be revised downwards. Among the missing is the white marble head of a woman, sculpted around 3000 BCE and considered to be on of the finest works of ancient sculpture. While the disappearance of objects in whatever number from museums and libraries is appalling enough, the losses from unexcavated sites are far greater -- and far more serious. Looters have been observed plundering sites throughout the country. As they dig for objects that have value on the international antiquities market, they destroy the data from which history is written. We can only imagine the knowledge we might have had, the questions that might have been answered, the texts that might have been recovered and restored. These antiquities are our common possession: they attest to the beginnings of human civilization, creativity and cultural consciousness. This lecture will discuss the losses in Iraq and in the process survey the rich cultural legacy of ancient Mesopotamia. It will be kept current as the situation changes.  Ms. Ann Guinan


“Petra: The Rose-Red City Half as Old as Time”
Nestled in a mountainous basin in a remote, rugged corner of Jordan lies the magnificent ruins of the ancient city of Petra, recently named one of the “New Seven Wonder of the Ancient World.” This richly illustrated PowerPoint presentation, using photographs taken during my own archaeological excavation work and subsequent travels at the site, takes the audience on a virtual tour of this “lost” city that dates back more than 2,000 years. Famed for its tombs and monuments, including a Roman theater capable of seating at least 5,000 people, literally carved out of the mountains of sandstone, Petra served for a time as one of the major trading centers of the ancient world. It also served as a backdrop for a scene in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Petra was abandoned after a series of earthquakes in about 400 AD and was not “rediscovered” until 1812. This virtual desert journey, based on my personal archaeological work and visits to the region in 1992, 1994 and 1997, also includes stops in nearby Wadi Rum, the spectacular canyon where portions of the famous movie, “Lawrence of Arabia,” were filmed, and at Aqaba, Jordan’s port on the Red Sea. Appropriate for all ages. Dr. Stephen Phillips

 

First You Take a Kipu Bird...Culinary Arts of Ancient Mesopotamia
Any homemaker you know might tell you to let the top crust hang "four fingers" over the edge of a chicken pot pie. But who will also tell you to singe the fur off a tail before adding it to the soup, or to squeeze juice from a leek? Only a cook from ancient Mesopotamia, that's who. Lucky for us, we have extant culinary texts from 1700 BC filled with tips, oddities, recipes and a fascinating look at how the ancients ate, cooked and laid down the foundations of modern Mediterranean cuisines. For a nominal fee payable to the speaker, this lecture can include samples from actual recipes. Ms. Ann Guinan

The Story of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk
Written 4000 years ago, the Mesopotamian, "The Epic of Gilgamesh" tells the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk whose aspirations for greatness for take him on an unexpected journey of self-discovery. With his companion, Enkidu, he embarks on a series of daring exploits. When his search for fame and glory results in the death of his beloved friend, Gilgamesh experiences adversity for the first time. Unbearable grief brings a dawning awareness of his own death and his quest changes to a desperate search for perpetual life. In heroic defiance of human realities he journeys to end of the world, where instead of finding immortality, he is forced to face the absolute, certainty of death and, with it, the terrible limitations of being human. He returns to his city with the wisdom to live fully and to rule justly and when he dies, he leaves a lasting legacy.

"The Epic of Gilgamesh," the definitive masterpiece of Mesopotamian literature, is a work of such surpassing sophistication and beauty that its words travel over time and reach audiences that its author, an anonymous poet, could never have imagined. This slide lecture, tells the story, places it in its Mesopotamian context, and analyzes the literary sources used by the poet to create his timeless tale of aspiration and limitation. Ms. Ann Guinan

The Past and Future of Fortunetelling
Whether Fortunetelling or divination is dismissed as intellectual foolishness or taken to be a dynamic system of knowledge, it persists as a durable human preoccupation. Every day people read their horoscopes, observe omens, and open fortune cookies. Astrology, palmistry, tarot card reading and other esoteric systems of divination, although no longer accredited disciplines, have ancient unbroken traditions and are still practiced today. A number of scientists have found the resurgence of astrology disturbing, responding with indictments and reproofs such as this from 1974: "Objections to Astrology" which was written by members of many fields and testified that the practice has no rational validity. However their demonstrations have proved ineffectual-astrology is alive and well and recently reappeared in reference to concerns for the safety of the Chief of State. The divinatory practices of other cultures (both ancient and modern) have been widely studied, while evidence from our own has largely been ignored. This talk provides an anthropological look at fortunetelling in our culture. Ms. Ann Guinan

The Skies Over Babylon
A thousand years before the birth of Greek science, the Mesopotamians discovered accurate methods for predicting the positions of celestial bodies. The zodiac is a direct legacy from ancient Mesopotamian astronomers. The division of the year into 12 months of roughly 30 days each, the days into hours, the hour into 60 minutes have their origin in Mesopotamian systems for measuring time. This talk is about observational techniques and astronomical achievements. It will examine the difference between astronomy and the related but distinct practice of astrology. Ms. Ann Guinan

Windows to the Self: Ancient Omens and Modern Psychology
What does it mean if you pull out hair from your beard or if you habitually say "I know?" What kind of future can you anticipate if you divorce your wife and she continues to live in your house? A collection of omens written in the cuneiform script from King Ashurbanipal's library in the ancient Assyrian capital of Nineveh are studies of human behavior. The ancient scribes who recorded the omens were often drawn to the same acts that interest modern students of human behavior. Thus, the scribes assumed that there were signs of a person's future to be found in slips, blunders, and unconscious mannerisms. They examined sexual proclivities, marital abuse, and family quarrels. While the clay tablets were excavated over 100 years ago and shipped to the British Museum, many were broken into fragmentary pieces. Only recently has a detailed reconstruction brought this compelling source to light. A comparison of the way ancient and modern peoples confront the complexities and quirks of human behavior shows the differences are as illuminating as the similarities. Ms. Ann Guinan

Ancient School Days
A house where one goes in blind and comes out seeing (Sumerian Riddle.) Learn what it was like to be a student in Ancient Mesopotamia. This talk will look at the curriculum and daily life of the Mesopotamian school. We will examine the pleasures as well as the problems of students who were learning the scribal arts. Ms. Ann Guinan

The Making of the Modern Middle East
With the War in Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict, our relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey, the Middle East is a critical region for American foreign policy and trade.  This slide lecture reviews the topography, history, ethnicity, and religion of the peoples of this region.  Taking a view through a long lens, this lecture explains why the conflicts that so plague the region developed as they did. Dr. Mitchell Rothman

Archaeology and the Bible
The Bible, Old and New Testaments, stand as the core documents of religious faith in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Archaeologists have long debated how the science of the past can and should be applied to these traditions. This slide lecture discusses the different viewpoints on what archaeology adds to Biblical study, using examples of key stories from the Biblical texts. Dr. Mitchell Rothman

The Real Indiana Jones: Early Archaeology in the Middle East
"Raiders of the Lost Arc" conjures for its audience the image of the occasionally scholarly, but always swashbuckling archaeologist and adventurer, Indiana Jones. In fact, the real-life stories of the earliest English-speaking archaeologists in the Middle East are often more vivid than those in the movies. In recounting the adventures of these pioneers, this lecture presents a picture of early Middle Eastern archaeology and of the men and women who laid a foundation for the modern science of archaeology. The talk includes excerpts from their memoirs, correspondence, and slides of original photographs and drawings. Dr. Mitchell Rothman

Cuneiform: The World's First Writing System
The next time you get fed up with bureaucracy, remember that without it, we might never have become a literate planet! Indeed, by 3100 B.C. the Sumerians, who developed the world's first writing system, were writing on clay tablets for purposes of institutional bookkeeping. These clay records from the 3000-year-long history of cuneiform writing are still being found. Yet, for nearly the last 2000 years cuneiform was a lost language. The story of its re-discovery and decipherment by 19th-century scholars has elements of both mystery and adventure. Ann Guinan

Noseless in Nippur
Mesopotamian temple caches of stone "worshipper" statues with their noses smashed, heads lopped off, arms and legs missing -- was this the rage of plundering armies, careless handling, or perhaps even deliberate breakage by temple officials? Even in fragmentary condition, these statues show us a variety of men and women from more than 4500 years ago, standing before the gods and goddesses pleading for long life. Slides of these appealing figures will give the background for an imaginative look at why they were smashed and where they were buried. Ann Guinan


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