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Ancient Near Eastern Studies

Archäologie & Digital Humanities

Eine Förderung der VolkswagenStiftung (Förderprogramm "Weltwissen: Strukturelle Förderung Kleiner Fächer") und das Tenure-Track-Programm des BMBF erlauben es der JMU, am Lehrstuhl für Altorientalistik (Institut für Altertumswissenschaften) Juniorprofessuren (Tenure Track) für Vorderasiatische Archäologie (Schwerpunkt Anatolien) und für Digitale Geisteswissenschaften im Bereich der Vorderasiatischen Archäologie und der Altorientalistik einzurichten. Das Programm, das die Forschungs- und Lehrstruktur der Würzburger Altorientalistik nachhaltig stärken wird, startet 2021. Die Stellenausschreibungen für die beiden Juniorprofessuren sind erfolgt. Zum Tenure-Track-Verfahren an der Universität Würzburg siehe Tenure Track and der JMU.

Die Förderzusage erfolgte auf Basis eines Strukturkonzepts, das ausgehend von einer Stärken- und Schwächenanalyse die strategische Weiterentwicklung der Würzburger Altorientalistik mittel- und langfristig beschreibt. Auszüge aus dieser "Innovation and Consolidation Strategy" werden im Folgenden dargeboten.

1. Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Würzburg University

The study of ancient Near Eastern cultures, which was first established at JMU in 1916, explores formative periods of human history, from the advent of early urban complexity in the late 4th millennium BC to the first large-scale empires of the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians (from the Achaemenid to the Sasanian dynasties). The ancient Near East is the cradle of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; the Graeco-Roman culture developed in contact and exchange with the Middle East, a region that today, as ever, plays a cru-cial geostrategic role. Ancient Near Eastern Studies investigates the foundations of our own culture and provides an adjustment to the narrative of an exclusive ‘Western civilization’ that is much needed in current societal discourse.

1.1 Current situation of Ancient Near Eastern Studies (ANES)

Ancient Near Eastern Studies (ANES; Altorientalistik) at Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg is part of the Department of Ancient Cultures (Institut für Altertumswissenschaften), and shares the Department with four other sections: Egyptology, Comparative Indo-European Linguistics, Prehistoric Archaeology, and Classical Archaeology. The Department of Ancient Cultures forms part of the Faculty of Arts (Philosophische Fakultät), the largest Faculty of JMU and home to most of the humanities. The ANES section currently has one professorial position, one further permanent academic position (Akademischer Rat), and one academic position for early-career researchers (Akademischer Rat auf Zeit). All three ANES positions have a philological profile. These positions underpin the current BA and MA programmes in ANES (BA Ancient Near Eastern Studies; MA Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Cultures; participation in BA Ancient World; teaching export to other programmes, such as BA History).

1.2 Specific strengths

The ANES section has an excellent research record that is not only apparent from the publications of its permanent staff and the number of visiting students and researchers from abroad, but also manifest in the numerous externally funded research projects. Since 2011, the Würzburg ANES section has successfully applied for ten different DFG- and BMBF-funded research projects. Most importantly, Würzburg ANES successfully applied for the flagship Academy programme project "Das Corpus der hethitischen Festrituale: staatliche Verwaltung des Kultwesens im spätbronzezeitlichen Anatolien" (2016–36, lead: Daniel Schwemer in collaboration with Elisabeth Rieken, Marburg),  a long-term Hittitological research programme that has offices at the Mainz Academy of Sciences and Literature as well as at Würzburg and Marburg Universities.

As exemplified by its long-term Academy programme project and the focus of the majority of its externally funded projects, Würzburg ANES is an internationally recognized centre for the study of Hittite culture (Late Bronze Age Anatolia) and a leader in the further development of Hittitology, a discipline that, in Germany, is only sustained by two specific professorial positions in Hittitology. Hittitology at Würzburg stands out by its wide network of collaborations and, in particular, by its close cooperation with extra-university research institutions:

The project Das Corpus der hethitischen Festrituale has its main offices, the Hethitologie-Archiv, at the Mainz Academy of Sciences and Literature  and is in routine cooperation with the Digitale Akademie, the Digital Humanities department of the Mainz Academy.  Würzburg ANES leads the Hethitologie-Portal Mainz (HPM), the premier digital infrastructure for Hittitology and related fields, in association with the Mainz Academy.

Würzburg ANES closely collaborates with the excavations at the Hittite capital Boğazköy-Ḫattuša, led by the Istanbul department of the German Archaeological Institute (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, DAI). Andreas Schachner, the director of the excavations in Boğazköy-Ḫattuša and a full-time member of staff of the DAI Istanbul, is an adjunct professor of Würzburg ANES; Schwemer serves as the epigraphist of the Boğazköy-Ḫattuša project. The collaboration between Würzburg ANES and the DAI Istanbul not only pertains to the investigation of the Hittite capital, but also comprises common endeavours at the Arkeoloji Müzeleri in Istanbul (Babylon and Aššur collections).

1.3 Structural weaknesses

Whereas the current staff resources form a good foundation for the provision of the degree programmes in ANE philology, the position of ANES as a whole is precarious at JMU. This is due to two factors:

(1) The Department does not have a regular position in Near Eastern Archaeology (NEA), the necessary ‘sister discipline’ of ANES with regard to methodology, perspective, and objects of research. Thus archaeology has only an underdeveloped presence in teaching and research, seriously limiting the education of students in ANES and in the Department’s other archaeological disciplines. The situation also hampers research perspectives, not least with regard to interdisciplinary questions, within the study of ANE cultures and in the collaboration with other fields in the humanities and sciences.

(2) All research projects at Würzburg ANES have a strong digital component, ranging from digital text editions and various databases to innovative methods of metrological script analysis based on 3D models of cuneiform tablets (digital pattern recognition). This poses constant recruitment challenges, since traditional ANES study programmes rarely include Digital Humanities elements and Digital Humanities programmes are not tailored to the specific challenges of complex writing systems like cuneiform or the requirements of archaeological documentation and analysis. The lack of a position in Digital Humanities for NEA and ANES (specifically cuneiform studies) imposes undue limitations on the development of new research questions and strategies. More importantly, it impedes the further development of the degree programmes in a direction that will be crucial for the employability of their graduates.

2. Innovation and consolidation strategy

2.1 Consolidation of strengths for innovation and interdisciplinary integration

The innovation and consolidation strategy proposed here builds on the particular research strengths and extra-university network of Würzburg ANES (1.2) and addresses the structural weaknesses (1.3). It aims to transform the section’s current strengths, which rely on temporary third-party funding, into a long-term research and teaching structure that will ensure (a) the further development of innovative research questions and strategies; (b) the appropriate training of students in a context that demands a comprehensive education (including philology, archaeology, and cultural history elements) and the employability of graduates also outside the research and teaching sector; and (c) the establishment of JMU as a centre of research and teaching in ANE cultures that competes not only with regard to individual performance but also with regard to its structure as one of the internationally leading ANES/NEA departments. This can only be achieved by reshaping the ANES section into an interdisciplinary structure that closely collaborates with its partners in the extra-university research sector and comprises permanent positions in Near Eastern Archaeology (NEA) on the one hand, and in Digital Humanities (DH) with a special focus on NEA and ANES on the other hand.

2.2 Junior professorship Near Eastern Archaeology (NEA)

Within the proposed restructuring effort a tenure-track junior professorship (Juniorprofessur) for Near Eastern Archaeology will be established with funding from the BMBF Tenure-Track-Programm. With a successful evaluation, this position will turn into a tenured professorship (W2) after a six-year period.

In light of the current research profile of Würzburg ANES, which is characterized by a wealth of activities concerned with Bronze Age Anatolia, this position will have a special focus on archaeological fieldwork in Turkey and neighbouring regions, including the Caucasus, Iran, and Southwestern Central Asia (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan). The emphasis on the regions of the ancient Near East in the highland, mountain, and steppe regions beyond the river oases and lowlands of Mesopotamia will not only complement Hittitological research in Würzburg, but also contribute to increasing the diversity of NEA in Germany and furnish Würzburg NEA with a nationally unique research profile.

This distinct approach to establishing NEA as a new academic field at JMU pays tribute to the recognition that the cultural history of the ‘Southwest Asian core’ (Barry Cunliffe) or ‘Fertile Crescent’ should be reconstructed taking into account the great variety of its landscapes and its reach far beyond the regions defined by the modern states Iraq and Syria. Even introductions to the field of NEA that are explicitly restricted to Mesopotamia cannot avoid the significance of the evidence from its neighbouring regions – Anatolia not least of them. Recent  discussions of archaeological research in Southwestern Central Asia and of the multiple connections of this region to the core areas of NEA, highlight the many gaps in our knowledge and understanding of Southwestern Central Asia and its interactions with the cultural landscapes of the Southwest Asian core as part of the ‘greater Near East’.

2.3 Junior professorship Digital Humanities (DH for NEA and ANES)

With initial funding of the VolkswagenStiftung and in collaboration with the Mainz Academy of Sciences and Literature, a tenure-track junior professorship (Juniorprofessur) for Digital Humanities (DH) with a special focus on digital methods in Near Eastern Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies will be established. With a successful evaluation, this position will turn into a tenured professorship (W2) after a six-year period. In collaboration with the proposed NEA professorship, this position will fully participate in the establishment of the NEA research and teaching culture and infrastructure within the ANES section.

The shared appointment between JMU and the Mainz Academy will provide the appointee with a home both in a university department and in an extra-university research department (Digitale Akademie at Mainz Academy). In developing research questions and strategies, the junior professor will have the opportunity to collaborate not only with archaeologists and philologists at Würzburg, but also with DH experts at Mainz and the many research programmes hosted by the Mainz Academy, not least the project "Das Corpus der hethitischen Festrituale". JMU is a leading centre of DH in Germany, with BA and MA study programmes in DH.  Collaboration with Würzburg DH (in research and teaching) will be facilitated by the recent establishment of the Zentrum für Philologie und Digitalität (ZPD) at JMU.

While today any research design in NEA and ANES involves at least some degree of digital engagement with the cultural materials under study, DH developed as an academic field in its own right mainly out of the philologies with large text corpora that could be digitized with little difficulty.  Though DH as a discrete academic discipline will have an important role in the development of standards, generic models, and the critical reflexion of the use of digital methods in the documentation and analysis of cultural materials, the coming years will also see a re-entry of DH into the various disciplines of the humanities that employ digital methods, ensuring that a minimum level of data and coding literacy will be required of students and young researchers. In archaeology departments positions for ‘archaeoinformatics’ are beginning to be established,  but in ANES and in NEA as a particular archaeological discipline this process is still at an embryonic stage. In this context, the development strategy proposed here will mark an important contribution towards staking the claim of German NEA and ANES in the ongoing digital transformation of the humanities.

2.4    Research strategy

With regard to the further development of the research activities at JMU, the introduction of NEA and DH (for NEA and ANES) at JMU has two core objectives that are to be met by the end of the VolkswagenStiftung funding period: (1) Both fields will be firmly established with permanent senior positions that provide leadership and regularly generate their own research income. (2) In close collaboration with ANES, NEA at JMU will develop a unique research profile that is complementary to the current NEA research landscape at German universities. In doing so, the research strategy has to take into account the specific career conditions of tenure-track junior professors, in particular the coincidence of the VolkswagenStiftung funding period with the final qualification phase of these colleagues.

2.4.1 Strategic focus

In order to ensure a close collaboration with ANES and to further develop the Department’s distinct profile, the appointments will be sought by taking into account a specific strategic focus that is characterized by (1) the ability and willingness to conduct archaeological fieldwork; (2) a specialization in the historical periods of the ancient Near East and a methodological approach that recognizes the importance of the cooperation between archaeological and philological disciplines; (3) a research record that proves expertise in the archaeology of Anatolia and/or neighbouring regions as laid out above.

Establishing a new field of research by the appointment of junior professors, whose permanent appointment after six years is subject to evaluation, requires a nurturing environment that facilitates the implementation of initial research projects. It is therefore planned that a first archaeological fieldwork project be conducted at the Hittite capital Boğazköy-Ḫattuša, with the support of the Istanbul Department of the DAI and Andreas Schachner, the director of the archaeological mission at Boğazköy-Ḫattuša; additional funding would be provided by the VolkswagenStiftung grant. In the course of the six-year funding period, a second archaeological field project would be established (target regions: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan; possibly Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia). In this endeavour too, Andreas Schachner as well as colleagues from the international network will assist and facilitate at planning and implementation stage. Funding of the VolkswagenStiftung for the fieldwork projects will be provided over the whole funding period.

2.4.2 Initial fieldwork opportunities: Boğazköy-Ḫattuša (Central Turkey)

With funding of the VolkswagenStiftung and support of the DAI Istanbul, the junior professors will be able to set up a fieldwork subproject at the Hittite capital and UNESCO World Heritage site Boğazköy-Ḫattuša  in Central Turkey. The current research focus of the excavations at Boğazköy-Ḫattuša lies on areas in the northern lower town (a part of the ‘old city’ of Ḫattuša), where structures from the Middle Bronze Age (Old Assyrian period), the Hittite epoch and the Roman imperial era have been discovered. A second area of activity are the Hittite fortifications and royal citadel of Büyükkale with their monumental architecture and numerous epigraphic finds.

Between the citadel and the northern lower town, a largely unexplored part of the Hittite core site stretches across the so-called ‘northwest slope’ of Büyükkale, covering an area of approximately 15 hectares. The ‘northwest slope’ is naturally subdivided into several zones defined by the topography, which is characterized by rocky outcrops and terraces. The geophysical and archaeological surveys conducted in the years 2007–14 indicate a continuous settlement throughout the 2nd and 1st millennia BC over the whole area. Due to its natural subdivision into smaller zones, the ‘northwest slope’ represents an ideal object for well-defined subprojects that target a specific architectural complex and can be accomplished within a manageable period of time. Thus the geophysical survey shows that a large-scale, probably Hittite-period building situated on the terrace north of Ambarlıkaya overlooked the Budaközü river and controlled the northern entrance to the gorge between Ambarlıkaya and Büyükkaya. Other possible research objects include the cave of Ambarlıkaya, the terrace above the ‘House on the Slope’, and the area adjoining the Hittite-period granaries on the northwest slope.

2.4.3 Further fieldwork perspectives

Since the 1990s there is a growing recognition that an adequate understanding of the cultural history of the ancient Near East has to take into account the multiple interconnections between the civilizations of the Southwest Asian core on the one hand, and the surrounding highland and steppe regions on the other. Nevertheless, these regions are underrepresented in archaeological research and teaching at German universities. The introduction of NEA at JMU therefore seeks to establish archaeological fieldwork projects in Southwestern Central Asia (or the Caucasus) alongside the activities in Turkey outlined above.

The archaeological landscapes of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan offer a wealth of material culture for studying types of early urbanization, modes of interregional exchange and long-distance trade, as well as the making, maintaining, and collapse of empires from the Achaemenid dynasty to the end of the Sasanian period. Despite long-standing archaeological work at key sites such as Altyn Depe, Namazga, Gonur Depe, Djarkutan (Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex), Merv, Ai Khanoum, and Balkh, vast areas in these regions remain unexplored and offer multiple opportunities for archaeological research. Within the framework of such investigations it will be possible to develop models of different types of cultural complexity in order to complement our current concepts that are mainly based on sites in the Southwest Asian core region.

The historical depth, cultural diversity and numerous interregional links of Southwestern Central Asia open up many opportunities for interdisciplinary cooperation within JMU and beyond, not least with colleagues in Ancient History, Prehistoric and Classical Archaeology, Comparative Indo-European Linguistics, and Indology.

2.4.4    At the interface between archaeology and philology

Depending on her/his research focus, the junior professor in Digital Humanities will develop independent projects and conduct archaeological fieldwork, in particular with regard to their digital documentation and analysis methods. Digital methods provide new avenues for the collaboration between archaeologists and philologists, not least with regard to the reintegration of data dispersed by disciplinary boundaries into one shared virtual research environment. Thus the person in this position will be expected to be involved in the (further) development of (a) innovative research questions in NEA and ANES that can be addressed using digital methods (e.g., in the area of spatial humanities, digital modelling, landscape analysis, pattern recognition, story-telling); (b) methods for the analysis and presentation of digital 3D epigraphic documents and other archaeological objects (in collaboration with the project "Das Corpus der hethitischen Festrituale"); (c) tools for the digital edition and annotation of texts written in complex ancient writing systems (in collaboration with the project Das Corpus der hethitischen Festrituale and other digital editions in cuneiform studies under preparation at Würzburg ANES); (d) interconnected discipline-specific digital infrastructure tools (in collaboration with Hethitologie-Portal Mainz).

An attractive prospect offered by the permanent establishment of a position in DH with this specific focus on NEA and ANES would be the development of a virtual matrix for the integration of philological and archaeological data. A multi-layered virtual archaeological landscape, which includes the dimensions of space and time, can serve as the common digital environment for different types of raw data and semantic annotations. Thus the development and efficient use of digital methods and tools, such as space-time visualization in connection with data modelling and digital text corpus building, will be crucial for facilitating a sophisticated interdisciplinary collaboration between philologists and archaeologists.

2.5 Teaching strategy

The six-year funding period of the VolkswagenStiftung will be used for the planning and staged implementation of a teaching programme in Near Eastern Archaeology (NEA) and tailored teaching modules in Digital Humanities (DH) at BA and MA levels.

2.5.1 Establishing NEA degree programmes

The teaching strategy involves a revision of the current BA programmes in ANES and the creation of new BA and MA programmes in NEA. These study programmes will be two-subject versions, with NEA providing a half-programme as a major or a minor, a concept that corresponds to the current structure of the ANES study programmes. At JMU half-programmes are widely combinable, but students will be encouraged to combine their BA in NEA especially with other archaeological, ancient cultures, and digital humanities programmes. A number of course modules will be shared between the new BA NEA and the revised BA ANES, but the syllabus will be structured in a way that does not preclude the combinability between the BA NEA and the BA ANES. The new NEA programmes will also benefit from teaching imports and exports in exchange with the other archaeological programmes at JMU. The BA NEA will enable students to master archaeological methods and acquire a fundamental knowledge of the material culture of the various regions of the ancient Near East from the prehistoric periods to the age of empires; the programme will include practice-oriented modules (e.g., field trips; excavation experience; DH methods in archaeology).

2.5.2 Integrating DH elements into the ANES and NEA programmes

The new and revised BA and MA programmes in NEA and ANES will include courses that give students the opportunity to acquire competences in DH methods and techniques that are frequently used in NEA and ANES research designs. Topics will include, apart from general introductory elements: data modelling and the design of databases; text encoding and annotation in digital editions of cuneiform texts; the use of GIS for spatial and temporal analysis and visualization; digital presentation of research data and other research output (visualization, narrative, access, rights). The integration of these DH elements into the NEA and ANES programmes will significantly improve the wider employability of their graduates.

All DH elements will be taught as practice-oriented courses with projects that allow students to familiarize themselves with DH methods and tools by applying them to a concrete set of data and the relevant cultural materials. Since all courses will be taught in small groups, uneven previous knowledge can be addressed without great difficulty. There is no intention to compete with the existing BA and MA programmes in DH at JMU; rather it is hoped that the inclusion of DH elements in the programmes of the ANES section will encourage more students to combine especially the BA ANES with the BA DH.

2.6 Visiting scholars programme

The introduction of the new research areas and study programmes at Würzburg ANES will be supported by a visiting scholars programme. This will be of special importance in the second phase of the six-year VolkswagenStiftung funding period, when the new BA degree programmes will have started. The main emphasis of the visiting scholars programme will be on research collaboration and guest seminars by relevant experts who stay at JMU for several weeks or, exceptionally, for one whole semester. Visiting scholars would usually come from abroad in order to strengthen the international outlook from the start.