Congratulations! To the winners of IAA prizes

At the General Meeting of the IAA in 2017, the winners of three IAA prizes were announced: the IAA Dissertation Prize, the IAA Prize for the Best First Article Written After the PhD, and the IAA Subsidy for Cuneiform Studies. The winner and runner-up of the IAA Dissertation Prize will present their research in the next issue of the newsletter. Here we bring you instead a peek at the work of Johannes Hackl, Elena Soriga, and Odette Boivin. Congratulations to them all!

Johannes Hackl
Winner of the IAA Prize for the Best First Article Written After the PhD.
Article: Forthcoming. ‘Zur Sprachsituation im Babylonien des ersten Jahrtausends v. Chr. Ein Beitrag zur Sprachgeschichte des jüngeren Akkadischen.’ In S. Finck, M. Lang and M. Schretter (eds), Sprachsituation und Sprachpolitik in Mesopotamien. AOAT. [accepted for publication]

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My general area of expertise is the study of Neo- and Late Babylonian legal and administrative texts, both in terms of legal and socio-economic history, Akkadian grammar, as well as Babylonian epistolography of the first millennium BCE. Thus, my published scholarship has been largely philological in nature and has included the study of private and institutional archives, the analysis of various grammatical phenomena and the edition of numerous Babylonian texts. Furthermore, I have also published on the linguistic interference between Babylonian and Aramaic, Akkadian phraseology, and socio-onomastics on the basis of female personal names during the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid periods.

A significant focus of mine has been dedicated to the study of Late Babylonian grammar, a hitherto largely neglected area within Assyriological studies. My work on textual material from the Late Achaemenid and Hellenistic periods (until the very end of cuneiform tradition) has proven to be of importance in order to come to a better understanding of the linguistic situation in Babylonia towards the end of the first millennium. In addition, I collaborate with a project dedicated to a reassessment of the Behistun Inscription directed by Wouter Henkelman. Together with Michael Jursa, I am preparing a new edition of the Babylonian version of the inscription.
In my dissertation, I studied a group of roughly 1250 published and unpublished texts, of which ca. 420 were presented in edition. The aim of this study was twofold. The first part of the thesis investigates the diplomatics of the Late Achaemenid and Hellenistic archival texts from Northern Babylonia, i.e., the intrinsic (textual) and extrinsic (physical) aspects of the tablets that result from certain conventions as well as techniques that were employed by the Babylonian scribes when drafting legal or administrative records. The second part focuses on the socio-economic background of the archive holders that can be reconstructed on the basis of this corpus. The results of the first part not only led to a methodological refinement in dating undated or imprecisely dated tablets of that period, but also have proven the value and utility of diplomatics as a hitherto widely neglected discipline within Assyriology. The second part of the thesis shows that the major temples in Northern Babylonia were subject to fundamental changes regarding the temples’ administration and organisation.

My study was the first to demonstrate that the prebendary system as it is known from earlier periods had been abolished in Northern Babylonia and, secondly, that the temples’ political power had been shrunk to mere self-administration. These findings are important for several reasons. The abolishment of the prebendary system not only constitutes a process of organisational restructuring, but also the dismantling of an institution on which the Babylonian urban elites largely depended in both economic and social terms. Structural changes on such a scale are likely to have been prompted by major social and economic upheavals during the 5th century BCE, possibly even harking back to the time of unrest at the beginning of the reign of Xerxes. In addition, it seems reasonable to assume that the members of the priestly families of the 6th century BCE were deprived of their property (and ousted from the cities?) by royal intervention, as they are no longer visible in our sources dating from the Late Achaemenid period. This, in turn, is reminiscent of the punitive actions of the previous Assyrian and Babylonian rulers who frequently resorted to the practice of deportation and exile of insurgent subjects.

As the data collected within the framework of my PhD studies prove to be a significant resource for further investigations, part of my current research focus falls into the area of diplomatics and related disciplines (such as paleography and sphragistics). Also, I am planning to apply the methods developed for the study of Late Achaemenid and Hellenistic archival texts to other corpora, especially to those of earlier periods in order to refine, improve and supplement the work of archival reconstruction.

In addition to diplomatics, I am continuing my work in the area of Late Babylonian grammar. At the moment, I am preparing a study on the syntax of Late Babylonian with a strong focus on diachronic developments, Aramaic influence and dialectal variation. Studies of this kind help to achieve a better understanding of linguistic developments during the last subphase of Akkadian, but also aim to bring the latter into the focus of current Assyriological research. This is of great importance because despite the extraordinary rich corpus of Late Babylonian texts, the language of these texts has been subject to little research to date.

Elena Soriga
Runner-up for the IAA prize for the Best First Article Written After the PhD.
Article: 2017. ‘Mari(ne) purple: western textile technology in Middle Bronze Age Syria,’ in H. Enegren & F. Meo (eds), Treasures from the Sea: Sea Silk and Shellfish Purple Dye in Antiquity. Ancient Textiles Series 30, Oxford: Oxbow Books, p. 79-95.

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I am an Assyriologist and an environmental archaeologist who specialises in reconstructing the relationships between past societies and the environments they lived in, with a particular focus on Bronze Age Near Eastern and Mediterranean material culture, everyday life, and craft technology. My research relies on the study of cuneiform texts dealing with fauna and flora, foods and food practices, textiles, chemicals, tools and ornamentation, adopting interdisciplinary, comparative and experimental approaches.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Naples “L’Orientale” and an exchange student at the Institut für Altorientalistik of Freie Universität (Berlin), I studied Ancient Near East Languages and Civilisations. Then, as a graduate student at Naples I studied Anthropology and Cultural Ecology and concentrated on the textile technology and wool production of Middle and Late Bronze Age Mesopotamia, Syria and Levant. I participated in archaeological excavations in west-southern Cyprus and gained extensive experience in archaeozoological analyses and ethnoecological studies.

Throughout my PhD at “L’Orientale” of Naples, which was completed in 2016 with a multidisciplinary thesis entitled Natural Resources of the Bronze Age Textile Technology: Economic, ecologic and symbolic role of the raw materials involved, I worked on Sumerian and Akkadian textile terminology (raw materials, tools, techniques, colours and final products) and carried out projects aimed at the reconstruction of ancient Mesopotamian recipes to dye the wool with the collaboration of the Institute of Biomolecular Chemistry of the Italian CNR.

I am currently setting up research projects focusing on the natural origin of soaps, dyes, mordants and other chemicals used in operational sequences to process wool fibres and to finish textiles in 2nd millennium Syria and Levant through a cross-disciplinary methodology which involves diachronic and synchronic comparison with other Mediterranean cultures sharing similar environments and socio-economic patterns.

My article calls into question the controversial issue of the chronology of the introduction of sea-purple into the Ancient Near East, through a rigorous lexicographical and ethnolinguistic analysis of the early occurrences of the names of red and blue dyes in cuneiform tablets from Early and Middle Bronze age archives, which takes into account contemporary data from zooarchaeological, archaeological, and iconographical sources. I carried out a review of the first evidences of sea-snail purple production in Eastern Mediterranean by re-examining evidence of malacological records and dibromo residues from archaeological context of 2nd Millennium BC Aegean and Levant and emphasise economic and cultural exchanges between the cities of the Eastern Mediterranean islands, the Levantine coast, and the Middle Euphrates valley, in the Syrian hinterland, well-documented by Middle Bronze Age texts from the Royal Palace of Mari.

The article relates the early appearance of the syllabic writing tabarru, documented for the first time in Mari economic texts, and the concomitant circulation of Minoan and Cypriote pottery and loom-weights in the Levantine coastal sites of the network engaged in textile trade with Mari. After the Mari mentions, dated back to the end of the 18th century BC, the term is indeed attested only since the middle of 2nd millennium BC, namely from the period in which heaps of crushed murex shells, tatters of sea-purple dyed fabrics and dibromo residues found in dyeing facilities start to testify a local production of the dye and the word to designate a kind of dark-red dye used to dye luxurious textiles for the royal family members and the élites.

In the course of the article, I therefore seek to understand whether tabarru has to be actually intended as a kind of sea-purple or not, by investigating the raw materials and the techniques connected to the dye in Mari economic accounts and quoted in Neo-Babylonian recipes to dye wool in tabarru colour and trying to rebuild the dyeing process by archaeochemical experimental tests. Finally, the article proceeds to cross the textual and experimental data with the ones collected from the ethnographic studies. The comparison with later sea-purple recipes from the Roman and Hellenistic periods allows me to state that already in the 1st millennium BC sea-purple was faked or adulterated with other animal and vegetal dyes requiring the use of mordants.

The mention of alum beside tabarru in Mari texts is thus not able to rule out the hypothesis that the fabrics coloured in this dark red hue could be dyed with a fairly substantial proportion of genuine sea-purple that, at the time, the commercial exchanges with Crete and Cyprus made available. In my article’s conclusion, I therefore suggest that in the absence of further archaeological and archaeomalacological investigation, the published material available for every kind of sources permits us to strongly suggest that sea-purple began to circulate in the Ancient Near East already in the first centuries of the 2nd millennium BC, thanks to the success of the Mediterranean fashion in the Levant and the consequent local introduction of the most innovative and exotic elements of the western textile technology, namely the warp-weighted loom and the purple-dye produced from sea-snails.

Odette Boivin
Winner of the IAA Subsidy for Cuneiform Studies
Project: “The Archive of the Sons of Labashi in the British Museum”

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I received my PhD at the University of Toronto in 2016 with a dissertation on the mid-second millennium First Sealand dynasty. I came to Assyriology after studying and working as an engineer in Germany, France, and Canada. After part-time undergraduate studies on the Ancient Near East in Montréal, I undertook an MA in Assyriology at the University of Toronto, during which I also took part in archaeological excavations in Jordan. In the course of my doctoral studies, I spent one semester at the University of Heidelberg. A revised version of my dissertation, The First Dynasty of the Sealand of Mesopotamia, will be published by De Gruyter in 2018.

Since mid-2016, I have been a Postdoctoral Fellow at the department of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto where, besides my research, I teach history and Akkadian. After focusing mainly on aspects of palatial economy and administration in the Sealand kingdom, as well as on the transmission of the memory of the first Sealand dynasty in historiographic sources, I am now undertaking the study of a largely unpublished first millennium archive, that of the sons of Labashi; this archive had first been identified by Paul-Alain Beaulieu in the 1990s while working in the Yale Babylonian Collection. I was awarded the IAA Subsidy for starting off this project with a four week stay at the British Museum in August 2017 to study tablets belonging to the archive.

The project will include the edition of the texts and an analysis of their contents, which promise interesting information on the fate of the city of Larsa in the sixth century, a period otherwise poorly documented and understood in the history of the southern Babylonian cultic centre. It will also shed light on the interactions between the state, the private sector, and temples, as well as on the close economic relations between the Larsean temple of Shamash and the Eanna temple at Uruk.

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