Saturday Seminar Series: Ideology and Belief

Ideology and Belief

Welcome to the June Saturday Series. This winter we are traveling back in time from early Islam to Chalcolithic Ghassul looking at manifestations of ideology and belief over a 6,000-year period. The series starts with an examination of theideology of the Ghurid dynasty in 12th Century Afghanistan and a case study of Late Antique Jerash exploring the interaction of politics, popular culture and the church. We will move on to the competing royal ideologies of Neo-Elamite Iran and the Neo-Assyrians, and the intersection of political power and
its expression in the architecture in the Southern Levant. Funerary beliefs and practices in the Middle Bronze Age Levant and their intersection with political ideology will be considered along with the splendid Karnak temple hypostyle hall, focusing on the decoration, architectural design and religious experience. The connection between politicalideology and funerary architecture in the Middle Bronze Age Levant will be discussed and the series will finish with a new interpretation of the mysterio us wall paintings from the Chalcolithic site of Ghassul.

3 June 2023

Lecture 1: The Power and the Folly – the flawed ideologies of the Ghurid dynasty in twelfth-century Afghanistan

Dr David Thomas

Sydney: Saturday 3 June 2023 | 10am-11am

Abstract: The little-known Ghurid dynasty burst onto the geo-political scene of central Asia when its army torched the Ghaznavid capital of Lashkar-i Bazaar in 1149 CE. Within a few decades these so-called ‘mountain brigands’ and ‘petty chieftains’ had usurped their more illustrious neighbours and claimed territory from eastern Iran through to Bengal in India. Drawing upon his own research and fieldwork at the UNESCO World Heritage site of Jam in central Afghanistan, and more recent historiographic studies by other scholars, this talk will propose that the rapid rise and fall of the Ghurid dynasty was, at least in part, due to their flawed ideologies and parochial worldview.

Dr David Thomas is well-known to many NEAF members primarily for his work on the Pella Project in Jordan andtalks about the archaeology of Afghanistan. David spent over five years digging across north Africa, the Near East and central Asia, before completing his PhD at La Trobe University in 2012. His book, The Ebb and Flow of the Ghurid Empire, was published in 2018 through NEAF’s imprimatur Adapa Monographs and Sydney University Press. David is currently continuing his long-standing collaboration with Prof. Nicholas Postgate of the University of Cambridge, co-editing a volume arising from the recent colloquium which marked the centenary of Sir LeonardWoolley’s first season of excavations at the city of Ur in Iraq.

Lecture 2: The Archaeology of Christianity in the Levant

Dr Margaret O’Hea

Sydney: Saturday 3 June 2023 | 11am-12pm

Abstract: Religion is one of the earliest topics to be explored by archaeologists. Although the material culture of Christian institutions in the Near East – churches, monasteries – has been thoroughly explored for more than acentury, archaeology still yields some surprising gaps and overlooked elements. Today’s talk will focus on a case study from the well-known city of Jerash, to see how politics, popular culture and the church may have interacted in Late Antiquity.

Dr Margaret O’Hea, apart from being a field archaeologist (often at Pella in Jordan), specialises in the analysis of glass in the ancient Near East – how it was used, in what proportions to other media of utensils, and how those uses changed over time and across regions. Most of this work is centred upon the Roman-Byzantine and early mediaevalperiods in Jordan, Syria, southern Turkey and now central Greece. Occasionally, Dr O’Hea is given the opportunity to study earlier material, and she has published on glass in the Iron Age.

Dr O’Hea teaches at the University of Adelaide and is also the Director of our Departmental Museum of Classical Archaeology.

10 June 2023

Lecture 1: Neo-Elamite Royal Ideology in the shadow of the Neo- Assyrian Empire

Dr Elynn Gorris

Sydney: Saturday 10 June 2023 | 10am-11am

Abstract: During the early to mid-first millennium BCE, the Ancient Near East was dominated by the Neo- Assyrian Empire, led by powerful rulers who had built their legacy and authority on a well-designed royal ideology. The creation of this royal narrative did not only justify the king’s position of power, but also served as a tool for supporting the king’s long-term political ambitions. These political ambitions often clashed with rulers of neighbouring states, especially with those of the Neo-Elamite kings who had a fundamentally different perception of royal power. In thislecture, we will explore the royal ideology of the ‘Kings of Anshan and Susa.’ We will take a closer look on how thesekings transformed the Neo-Elamite royal narrative into a tool that united a politically and ethnically diverse landscaperesulting in centuries of resistance against the Neo-Assyrian Empire.

Dr. Elynn Gorris is currently a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Global Research Fellow in Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia). She works on the history of the Persian Gulf during the early to mid-1st millennium BC. More specifically, in her monograph “Power and Politics in the Neo-Elamite Kingdom” (2020) she studied the diplomatic ties and political treaties between Elam and Mesopotamia. Currently, dr. Gorris investigates thecommercial networks between the ancient Persian Gulf states (Mesopotamia, Elam, Dilmun, Magan), for which shehas conducted extensive fieldwork in the Middle East (Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates).

Lecture 2: A Monumental Obsession: Bit hilanis in the Southern Levant

Pru Sheaves

Sydney: Saturday 10 June 2023 | 11am-12pm

Abstract: Monumentality is expressed in the northern Iron Age Levant through large public buildings commonly known as bit-hilanis. A bit-hilani is a specialised palace structure found in Aramaean and Luwian city-states in a wide geographical arc from the Mediterranean coast to upper Mesopotamia. This talk will examine the bit hilani at Tell Halaf and the bit hilani at Zincirli. Using these as archetypes, the palace in Area B at Bethsaida and Palace 6000 at Megiddowill be reconsidered and their possible identification as bit hilanis re-examined.

Pru Sheaves is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney. Her thesis will examine Gilead in the Iron Age to assess the potential development of a distinctively Gilead polity. Pru has been a volunteer at the University of Sydney Pella Excavation Project since 2015 and has previously volunteered at the University of Sydney Central Asia Program inUzbekistan. She is also a Board Member of the Near East Archaeology Foundation (NEAF). Her research interests include funerary practices, women in the Iron Age Near East, monumentality in the Iron Age and the domestication of the horse.

10 JUNE 2023

Lecture 1: Decoding Complexity in Karnak’s Hypostyle Hall

Dr Gillian Smith

Sydney: Saturday 17 June 2023 | 10am-11am

Abstract: Since its construction during the Ramesside Period (1292-1077 BCE), the Hypostyle Hall at the Temple of Amun-Re at Karnak has stood as a monument to the ingenuity, wealth, and power of Ancient Egyptian civilisation. For modern visitors, the complexity and grandeur of the Hall stands as a physical testament to the scope and limits of human thought. Within the discipline of Egyptology, however, until late into the Twentieth Century, the enormity of the Hall, particularly the height of the walls and columns, had hindered the recording and publication of the reliefs decorating its interior surfaces. Consequently, the academic study of the Hall has trailed behind its fame. In recentyears, the publication effort of the Hall has steadily increased laying important groundwork into the relationship between the art and architecture, the ritual function, and symbolic meaning of the Hall. This paper will summarise the key findings of the research project which focused on the integration of all architectural elements into a comprehensive study. It will be shown that by way of its location at the entrance to the temple, its architecture, anddecorative program, the Hypostyle Hall acts as a permeable boundary between the secular and sacred.

Dr Gillian Smith is an Egyptologist specialising in temple architecture and art of the Ramesside period and obtained her PhD in 2021 from Macquarie University (MQU), Her thesis, which is currently being prepared as a monograph, drew on traditional Egyptological and art-historical theories as well as architectural theory to investigate the design and ancient experience of the Hypostyle Hall at Karnak temple. She has been an archaeological field team memberon MQU’s Theban Tombs Project and has completed her own field research at Karnak Temple, Luxor. With an interest in public engagement, Gillian was a co-founder and co-ordinator of Studying the Past, the education and engagement program for MQU’s Department of History and Archaeology.

Lecture 2: Thoughts arising from a Re-Examination of the British School’s Excavations of the Middle to Early Late Bronze Settlement at Tell Fara South in the late 1920s.

Dr Paula Phillips

Sydney: Saturday 17 June 2023 | 11am-12pm

Abstract: The relatively unknown site of Tell Fara South in what is now southern Israel/Palestine, was excavated by the British School of Archaeology from 1927-1930, under the direction of Flinders Petrie and in his absence, James(Leslie) Starkey. Perhaps not surprisingly, the recent re-examination of this large-scale project, focused on the Middle to early Late Bronze Age occupation of the site, has raised more questions than it has answered about many thingsincluding issues of belief and ideology, both ancient and modern. Who were these people that sought to establish this settlement in the Middle Bronze period (MB IIB-LB II), and what can we learn about them from the surviving traces revealed in the British fieldwork.

Secondly, what of the set of ideas and beliefs that underpinned how the excavation itself was conducted

now a century ago, the ramifications of which are still in some ways, being felt today.

Dr Paula Phillips undertook her PhD research under the supervision of Dr Andrew Jamieson (UniMelb) and DrStephen Bourke (UniSydney). Paula’s research re-examined the Middle Bronze Age material from the original BritishSchool excavations at Fara South, recovered from the settlement and the contemporary burial grounds. The project sought to better understand the nature of the Middle Bronze occupation at the site and the role Fara South played within the context of the broader southern Levant and Eastern Mediterranean world at this time.

24 JUNE 2023

Lecture1: Rethinking Life and Death in the MBA Southern Levant

Dr Holly Winter

Sydney: Saturday 24 June 2023 | 10am-11am

Abstract: This lecture will argue that the Courtyard Palace form, typical of the MBA southern Levant, has as itsprimary function the housing of elite/royal burials and their associated and ongoing mortuary and memorial practices. These complexes are known from numerous sites across the Southern Levant, having a northern origin inthe Western Palace at Ebla. Taken together with the acknowledged significant funerary role for the monumentalSymmetrical Fortress temple complexes, this suggests that death and its commemoration played a larger part in MBA urban life than previously acknowledged.

These ‘houses for the dead’ were permanent and prominent fixtures in the city landscape and formed the physical locus for the ongoing commemoration and honouring of the elite dead, to ensure stability, wealth, and fertility for thecity and its ruling elite lineages. The term ‘Funerary Palace’ is suggested as an alternative identifier for the Courtyard Palaces, given their purpose and ongoing role in court ceremony. This paper will outline the key concepts central to this thesis, illustrated with examples drawn from Courtyard Palaces of the southern Levant, and their northern exemplars.

Dr Holly Winter is a Near Eastern archaeologist with ten years’ experience, including fieldwork, research, conference presentation and lecturing in the Middle East, Europe, the United States and Australia. Her interests centre on the Bronze Age Near East, and include architectural history, funerary rites and burial customs, urbanism, and trade and international relations. She convened the Inaugural MAARC conference workshop on Monumentality in the Ancient Near East in 2021 and convened the Near Eastern Seminar Series (NESS) at the University of Sydney from 2018-2021. Holly has been a Board Member of the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation (NEAF) since 2020. Presently, she is employed as a Senior Archaeologist in historical archaeology and heritage consultingin Sydney and has recently completed her PhD on Bronze Age monumental funerary architecture at the University of Sydney.

Lecture 2: Artists and an Aniconic revolt? A review of the 6000-year-old wall paintings from Teleilat Ghassul, Jordan

Dr Bernadette Drabsch

Sydney: Saturday 24 June 2023 | 11am-12pm

Abstract: The collection of frescoes from the Chalcolithic (4700-3700 BCE) township of Teleilat Ghassul, Jordan, are vital signposts for our understanding of early visual communication systems and the role of art in preliterate societies.The polychrome wall murals include scenes of stratified and complex society, and possibly early examples of landscape vistas and astronomical observations. These artworks were produced by specialists using the buon fresco technique and provide a visual archive documenting an unknown culture. This presentation will consider the place these pictorial artefacts hold in the prehistory of art, the social role of their creators and their intriguing dissolution.

Dr Bernadette Drabsch is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Newcastle and specialises in visual humanities. She has a BA in Ancient History, Honours in Natural History Illustration and a PhD in Design. Her PhD on the wall paintings of Teleilat Ghassul introduced a new methodology for contextualising and analysing ancient artworks. Bernadette hasbeen an archaeological illustrator at the University of Sydney’s Pella Project for 15 years and has recently co-created the Central Darling Heritage Trail app.


Near Eastern Archaeological Foundation
Level 4, CCANESA Madsen F09, University of Sydney NSW 2006 Australia
+61 2 9351 4151