Taking to the Water: The Mystery about the Earliest Seafaring in the World

Speaker
John Cherry, Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, Brown University
Location
Greenburgh Public Library, Tarrytown Rd, Rte 119, Elmsford
Date
February 23, 2020
Time
2:00 pm  to  3:15 pm  

Until quite recently, archaeologists have supposed that the seas and oceans represented a barrier to human dispersal, and that islands were among the last places on earth to be colonized by people, only fairly recently, as part of the worldwide spread of modern humans. But is that picture still correct? Startling new data have come to light just in the last few years, in parts of the Mediterranean and in island Southeast Asia, that have been claimed as evidence for a far longer antiquity for seafaring, reaching back hundreds of thousands, and perhaps as much as a million years. Naturally, these claims have attracted widespread attention and much discussion — and not only among archaeologists. This lecture outlines what we know, with reasonable certainty, about patterns of global maritime dispersal in the past few tens of thousands of years, before turning to present the new evidence and its strengths and weaknesses. In trying to understand it, we will need to consider information (amongst other things) from ethnographic analogy, experimental seafaring, and our current knowledge of the relative configurations of land and sea over the course of the Pleistocene era. Some of the bold assertions made in the past few years require more supporting data before they can be accepted. That cautious conclusion does not detract from the excitement and importance of this fast-moving field of research in archaeology.

John F. Cherry is the Joukowsky Family Professor of Archaeology at the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World, Brown University. He received his Ph.D. in Archaeology from the University of Southampton (UK). His areas of specialization are Aegean and Mediterranean Prehistory, Caribbean Archaeology, Archaeology of the Southern Caucasus, Island Archaeology, State Formation, Regional Survey, and Lithic Analysis. He has excavated in Texas, Macedonia, Italy, Armenia, Montserrat and Great Britain. His forthcoming book is The Archaeological History of Montserrat in the Caribbean.

Short bibliography on lecture topic

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/04/neandertals-stone-age-people-may-have-voyaged-mediterranean

https://www.sott.net/article/388503-Have-humans-been-sailing-the-seas-for-a-million-years

Photo: Experimental voyages, like this one to Crete in 2014, show the scale of the challenges that faced early sailors (Bob Hobman)

 

 

Monumental Perspectives on the Maya: Royal Courts, Hierarchy, and Change

Speaker
Sarah E. Jackson, Department of Anthropology, University of Cincinnati
Location
Greenburgh Public Library, Tarrytown Rd, Rte 119, Elmsford
Date
March 22, 2020
Time
2:00 pm  to  3:15 pm  

This lecture explores the Classic Maya royal court and its members, through a focus on three carved stone monuments that depict various aspects of the court and its members. The royal court developed as a full-fledged institution within the context of the at-times tumultuous years of the Late Classic period (ca. AD 600-900), and research on its members and their roles reveal a strategically dynamic institution that was a productive locus of influence and power. The iconographic and hieroglyphic data explored in this talk shed light on the court as a political community, highlight the ways that this institution was variable and adaptable, and aid in identifying cultural metaphors that framed Maya understandings of the court.

Sarah Jackson is a professor and department chair in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Cincinnati. She received her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. from Harvard. Her dissertation topic was Deciphering Classic Maya Political Hierarchy: Epigraphic, Archaeological, and Ethnohistoric Perspectives on the Courtly Elite. She is the author of “Envisioning Artifacts: A Classic Maya View of the Archaeological Record,” Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory 24(2) and “Governing Polities: Royal Courts and the Written Landscape of Late Classic Maya Politics,” in Maya Polities of the Southern Lowlands: Integration, Interaction, Dissolution in D. Marken and J. Fitzsimmons, eds. She has excavated in Belize.

Short bibliography on lecture topic:

Jackson, Sarah E., Politics of the Maya Court: Hierarchy and Change in the Late Classic Period (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 2013).

The Archaic Bannerstone Project of the Ancient Eastern North America

Speaker
Anna Blume, State University of New York, FIT
Location
Rye Free Reading Room, 1061 Boston Post Rd, Rye, NY
Date
April 26, 2020
Time
2:00 pm  to  3:15 pm  

In my talk I will present current understanding regarding when, where, and how bannerstones were made by Archaic North American hunter gatherers between 6,000 – 1,000 BCE. From what we know to what we can hypothesize, I will ask why these anomalous lithics were only made during this period, what they might have been used for and how and in what way we can compare and distinguish them from other carved lithic tools, seeing in them aesthetic works of refined, individual expression.

The Archaic Bannerstone Project is a resource for the study of the aesthetically complex, anomalous ancient Native American lithics known as bannerstones. Finely composed, carved, and polished works are usually associated with luxury items for a ruling elite. Bannerstones, however, were made within distinctly egalitarian societies raising questions about who made them, who were they made for, and for what purposes were they made.

Learning to see, study, and value the art and technology of bannerstones will bring us closer to the lived lives of ancient Native Americans of Eastern North America. This study, awareness, and appreciation of Ancient Native Americans in turn can open ways of seeing and respecting the vast history that links the past to the present.

Native Americans carved and carefully drilled holes through the center of these stones leading early 20th century archaeologists to believe they were meant to be placed on staffs as banners or emblems, thus the name bannerstone. Currently there is significant uncertainty about why these stones were made and what role they played in the lives of ancient Native Americans. What is certain is that bannerstones as a distinct category of stone carving are amongst the most aesthetically complex artifacts made by North Americans during the Archaic period.

Anna Blume is a professor in the Department of the History of Art and the coordinator of the Ethics and Sustainability Minor at the State University of New York, FIT where she has taught courses on prehistoric art and the ancient arts of the Americas for the past eighteen years. She received her Ph.D. from Yale and has been a recipient of a Fulbright, Ford Foundation, American Philosophical Society, and multiple SUNY grants to carry out field research in the making and meaning of art from Ancient Mesoamerica to the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys. She is author of “Ancient Architecture in the Mississippi Valley: Monumentality Seen and Unseen,” RES Anthropology and Aesthetics (69/70), and “Maya Concepts of Zero,” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (155). Professor Blume began an ongoing in-depth study of Bannerstones in 2016 working with the American Museum of Natural History collection of 462 stones. The Archaic Bannerstone Project was conceived by her as a way to bring these important carved stones to as broad a public as possible, to reveal the deep history of the creative imagination of the indigenous people of eastern North America.

A Wonder to Behold Craftsmanship and the Creation of Babylon’s Ishtar Gate

Speaker
Anastasia Amrhein, University of Pennsylvania and Elizabeth Knott, New York University
Location
TBD
Date
May 17, 2020
Time
2:00 pm  to  3:30 pm  

ISAW is pleased to present A Wonder to Behold, an exhibition exploring ancient ideas about craftsmanship and the power of clay, glass, and stone through the display of the surviving fragments of Babylon’s iconic Ishtar Gate and Processional Way. Featuring close to 150 brightly-colored large and small scale artworks from across the ancient Near East, together with raw materials in a variety of stages of workmanship, the exhibition considers the creation of sacred spaces and objects, including monuments, divine statues, items of personal adornment, and more. ISAW’s exhibition demonstrates how seemingly mundane materials were actually potent substances further transformed by expert craftspeople into a propitious and protective monument.

Made of thousands of molded and glazed clay bricks, Babylon’s Ishtar Gate and its affiliated Processional Way featured a multicolored array of divine beasts brought to life by craftspeople through the use of magical materials. Ancient Near Eastern master craftspeople were not only skilled technicians, but also artists, historians, and ritual practitioners who, along with other scholars and specialists, were known as “experts” (ummânū). Craftspeople were capable of creating artworks that manifested divine powers on earth, and the Ishtar Gate, offering entry into the imperial city, was designed to be one such magically activated monument. Representing the culmination of centuries of religious thought, technological discoveries, and artistic innovations from across the ancient Near East, Babylon’s Ishtar Gate is a testament to the transformative powers of materials and making. The monument remains, in the words of Nebuchadnezzar II (r. 604-562 BCE), who commissioned it, a “wonder” to behold.

Anastasia Amrhein is a guest curator at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. She is an art historian specializing in the ancient Near East and a PhD candidate at the University of Pennsylvania.

Elizabeth Knott is a guest curator at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. She is a historian specializing in the textual and visual remains of the ancient Near East and holds a PhD from New York University.