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Thin End of the Wedge

Author: Jon Taylor

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Thin End of the Wedge explores life in the ancient Middle East. There are many wonderful stories we can tell about those people, their communities, the gritty reality of their lives, their hopes, fears and beliefs. We can do that through the objects they left behind and the cities where they once lived. Our focus is on the cultures that used cuneiform (“wedge-shaped”) writing, so mostly on ancient Iraq and nearby regions from about 3000 BC to about 100 AD. Thin End of the Wedge brings you expert insights and the latest research in clear and simple language. What do we know? How do we know anything? And why is what we know always changing? Why is any of this important today? We won’t talk to you like you’re stupid. But you won’t need any special training to understand what we’re talking about. This is an independent production by me as an individual. It is not supported by my employer or any other organisation I am involved with, and the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect theirs.
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Omar discusses the importance of studying gender as part of assyriology. What are the big themes now, and how did we get here? He focuses on two areas of special interest: masculinity, and eunuchism. What can we expect from the conference on gender  studies (GeMANE) hosted in Malta this April? And what is the context of assyriology in Malta?0:37 Introducing Ellie2:56 the importance of studying gender5:39 current trends8:59 gender beyond only women11:54 masculinities16:21 eunuchs23:58 organising GeMANE27:15 assyriology in Malta29:38 public engagementOmar's AcademiaOmar's university pageGeMANE 6Music by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
The site of Ur is easily one of the most important in Iraq. In this interview, originally recorded in late 2021, we hear from the person responsible for managing that site. Ali talks about Ur's significance, and its role in local life. What are the plans for the development of this key site? 4:18 introducing Lina7:02 importance of Ur7:34 what tourists can see8:39 information for visitors9:12 what Ur means to Iraqis10:15 excavations11:04 site conservation11:49 future of tourism12:19 cultural activities13:41 the Pope's visit16:42 future projects18:10 website for Ur19:00 how Ali became interested in archaeology20:14 advice for students now22:12 reasons for optimism24:24 closing thoughtsThis interview was originally recorded in September 2021, in Arabic. The interview was conducted by Lina Meerchyad and translated into English by her. The text is spoken by her and Terry Birkett.New website for the site of UrMusic by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
Enrique introduces us to a major new resource in digital assyriology: The electronic Babylonian Library. What does it offer and what are its aims? He discusses the issues facing the field and the potential of digital tools, including AI, to help solve them. To what extent can Babylonian literature be reconstructed now, and what we can do with it? 2:08 what is the eBL?4:59 how much Babylonian literature do we have?6:16 the non-literary fragments10:27 why launch now?11:50 what's the reaction / impact?15:05 what's the significance of eBL for your research on literature?18:14 what happens to eBL when the project funding ends? 19:11 how does eBL relate to other digital resources?22:02 impact of AI23:56 long term goalseBL websiteEnrique's university pageEnrique's Academia pageMusic by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
At the Rencontre in Leiden this summer, the IAA awarded its annual prizes celebrating the excellence of early career scholars. There were prizes for the best dissertation, best first article, and a research subsidy. I tracked down the prize winners to ask them about their work.  2:17 Clélia Paladre2:57 thesis on Iranian glyptic4:38 the Proto-Elamite phenomenon6:14 working at the Louvre7:31 Tomoki Kitazumi8:29 translating in the Hittite empire11:45 interpreters in the ancient Near East13:56 German-Japanese interpreters colloquium 16:26 George Heath-Whyte17:02 Neo-Babylonian patterns of life21:05 naming practises project23:31 Annarita Bonfanti24:50 Urartian bowls projectMusic by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
Shigeo shares the results of fieldwork at a site that was once a key city on the edges of the Assyrian empire. How do we know which city it was? He describes the key finds, and interprets their significance. What can we learn from a necklet?2:22 Yasin Tepe4:54 goals6:38 identification as Dur-Ashur9:12 results12:44 who lived there?13:44 inscribed necklet of a slave18:49 future work23:20 TsukubaShigeo's Academia Shigeo's ResearchGateMusic by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
Susanne pulls back the curtain on how exhibitions are made. She explains how the topic was chosen, and how that vision is translated into reality. How long does it take, how many people are involved, and just what needs to be done?2:17  about Back to School3:27  goals5:37  what's on show?7:16  star pieces10:10  recreating an ancient school11:05  how to display tablets17:06  why school and why now?19:10  return to Nippur and the Nippur Tablet Project23:51  audience testing25:50  how long it takes27:37  what does a curator do?29:33  the wider team38:40  workshops for children41:33  souvenirs for the giftshopSusanne's university pageSusanne's Academia pageSusanne's ResearchGate pageBack to School in Babylonia exhibitionexhibition catalogueThe Adventures of Inanaka and Tuni: Learning to Write in Ancient BabyloniaAugusta McMahon's talk on excavations at NippurThis special exhibition has been curated by Susanne Paulus, with Marta Díaz Herrera, Jane Gordon, Danielle Levy, Madeline Ouimet, Colton G. Siegmund, and Ryan D. Winters and with support from Pallas Eible Hargro, C Mikhail, Carter Rote, and Sarah M. Ware. This exhibition has been organized by the ISAC Museum: Susan Allison, Rob Bain, Denise Browning, Laura D’Alessandro, Anne Flannery, Marc Maillot, Helen McDonald, Kiersten Neumann, Josh Tulisiak, and Alison Whyte, with contributions by Erin Bliss and Judy Radovsky.Music by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
Louise discusses Ishtar, one of the most enigmatic and fascinating deities of the ancient Middle East. What characteristics were assigned to her, and what stories were told about her? What happened when Ishtar met Gilgamesh? Louise also discusses the reception of Ishtar and Gilgamesh. What do people find interesting about them now? She explains how being based in Australia influences her research.1:56 how many Ishtars are there?3:20 male or female?5:11 Ishtar in myths7:38 Ishtar as the archetypal or impossible woman 10:52 Ishtar and the king12:34 popular reactions to Ishtar14:03 hot take on Gilgamesh17:00 Australian context for research19:08 sharing research widely20:12 what's popular about assyriology?23:42 sources for the popular Ishtar26:13 what's new for you?Louise's university pageLouise's book on IshtarLouise's book on GilgameshLouise's book on WindLouise's Academia pageLouise's Instagram: @louloveshistoryMusic by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
This special episode is a follow-up on the big annual conference. I offer some thoughts on what happened, and on how things might be in the future. As part of this, I catch up with three colleagues who have appeared as guests. Two were among the very first guests, who kindly helped me start the podcast. It was a leap in the dark for all of us. Since then, there have been a lot of changes for Gina and Jana. The third is a more recent guest, but someone who will shape our experience at next year's conference. Saana offers her thoughts on this year's topic--inequality--and gives us some hints about what we can expect in Helsinki next summer. 2:14 Jon reflects on RAI Leiden11:02 Gina's thoughts16:15 Jana's thoughts25:14 Saana's thoughtsMusic by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
The organising team of RAI 68 Leiden introduce us to what we can expect from the conference. Why did they pick inequality as a topic? And how do they address inequality in the conference design? What role does live-streaming play in a modern Rencontre?2:03 about RAI 68 Leiden2:52 what's different?3:33 childcare support4:23 why "inequality" as the topic?5:41 live-streaming papers9:37 scheduling papers fairly12:41 building networks16:39 recognising contributions17:35 Leiden's RAI tradition18:44 what else?RAI 68 homepageMusic by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
Nicholas explains about imprisonment in ancient Iraq. Were there prisons? Who would be confined, how long for, and why? What would someone do in prison? And whose interest did confinement serve?2:08  confinement in ancient Iraq5:11  were there prisons?7:45  why would you be confined?8:53  for whose benefit?10:01  the religious dimension14:11  sources15:29  life in confinement18:15  labour in confinement19:58  could you tell if someone was imprisoned?21:17  jail terms23:54  the longer historical pictureNicholas's Academia page Nicholas's book on prisonsMusic by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
Agnès discusses the history of the field, and why that matters now. Cast collections were an important part of Spain's early interest in ancient Iraq. How did these collections form? Who was interested? What were they interested in? And why? The history of the field has also impacted how we interpret objects, and how we read ancient texts. What lessons does that teach us? 3:16  why study the history of the field?5:47  what is a cast?7:39  casts in 19th/20th century9:38  cast collections in Spain11:52  Spanish interest in ancient Iraq14:22  how objects were selected18:31  different options for different purposes21:24  impact of historical context23:13  historiography and gender studies28:32  impact in textual studies30:08  opportunities and challenges for us nowAgnès's Academia page Agnès's university page Music by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
Eckart has just published a new history of Assyria. What sources can we draw on? How reliable are they? He talks about Assyria's remarkable royal women and how they were remembered. What did the Assyrians achieve and what is their legacy?3:39 how have we heard of the Assyrians?6:42 biblical and classical texts as sources9:36 what do we need to know about Assyria?12:44 Assyrian royal women18:33 were the Assyrians really 'cruel'?23:44 empathy for the Assyrians25:31 their greatest achievements?28:03 Assyria's legacy32:33 Eckart's approach to history writing35:55 what's new?39:46 unsolved problemsEckart's university pageEckart's AcademiaHis new book is availableUS: https://www.hachettebookgroup.com/titles/eckart-frahm/assyria/9781541674400/?lens=basic-booksUK: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/assyria-9781526623812/Music by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
Parsa explains how decision-making took place in ancient Iraq. When you asked the assembly of gods for a yes/no answer to help you solve a difficult problem, how would they agree on what to reply? Why would these answers be time limited? And how would they make their answer visible in the entrails of the sacrificial sheep? 2:35 what is extispicy?6:25 who used it?11:17 how long was a divine answer valid?15:15 consensus decision making19:28 were all gods equal in voting?23:07 did gods each vote in their own organ?25:49 why decide by consensus?29:49 how much weight did an answer carry?Parsa's Academia pageMusic by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
 Birgül explains about her work using microscopic plant remains to understand life in ancient western Asia. What are phytoliths and how do we find them? How can such microscopic evidence tell us about building use, for example? And where do they sit in the archaeological toolkit? 3:12 what are phytoliths?5:14 sampling method8:02 dung11:43 limitations of phytoliths14:07 from the micro-scale to the big picture 16:59 combination with other methods20:59 training26:27 Birgül's projectsBirgül's Academia pageIf you would like to donate in support of the earthquake victims, Birgül suggests the following organisations: Ahbap: https://ahbap.org/Akut: https://www.akut.org.tr/en Music by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
Ali reflects on his long career. How did he become an assyriologist? What are his achievements, and what is his legacy to the next generation? How was his academic career shaped by the twists and turns of political events?1:56 from school to university7:14 student life at Mosul11:12 military service12:39 research assistant15:48 time in the UK25:21 military service again28:07 opening a department33:40 promotion37:55 the ISIL years42:30 after ISIL, heritage46:16 retirementMusic by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
Dr Basima talks about her new research on a Late Babylonian economic archive from Shatir. She explains about her teaching, and incorporating tablet handling sessions at the Iraq Museum. 2:03 an Achaemenid archive7:15 confiscated tablets9:53 locating ancient Shatir11:39 publication plans15:00 teaching at Baghdad University21:06 how did Basima become interested?23:51 thoughts about the futureMusic by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
150 years ago, a young George Smith made headlines around the world. He had pieced together an Akkadian version of the Flood story found on fragments of clay tablets. Who was Smith, and why did his discovery have such a dramatic impact? What happened to him next? And what is his legacy?We're joined by guests Sophus Helle, Gareth Brereton, Strahil Panayotov, Enrique Jimenez, Cornelia Wunsch, Mark Weeden, and Pippa Steele.3:23Smith finds a marvel13:46who was Smith?17:06Smith's 1st and 2nd expeditions22:02the fateful 3rd expedition27:43the mysterious Mr Mathewson33:29Carchemish and the Hittites40:25quarantine!42:58to Aleppo by horse51:10a tragic end56:22Mathewson's career58:09Smith's family1:03:10boo, a ghost1:06:50Smith's notebooks1:12:55Egibi tablets1:16:30statue of Kubaba1:21:29deciphering Cypriote syllabic scriptThe sad story of Boscawen can be found in Ruth Horry’s “Assyriology at the Margins. The Case of William St. Chad Boscawen (1855–1913)” in IRAQ 77 (2015) pp. 129-142You can read more about the Egibit tablets in Strahil V. Panayotov and Cornelia Wunsch, "New Light on George Smith’s Purchase of the Egibi Archive in 1876 from the Nachlass Mathewson", in: Melammu: The Ancient World in an Age of Globalization (2014)Music by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
150 years ago, a young George Smith made headlines around the world. He had pieced together an Akkadian version of the Flood story found on fragments of clay tablets. Who was Smith, and why did his discovery have such a dramatic impact? What happened to him next? And what is his legacy?We're joined by guests Sophus Helle, Gareth Brereton, Strahil Panayotov, and Enrique Jimenez.2:46Smith finds a marvel10:24who was Smith?14:26the fateful 3rd expedition17:26the mysterious Mr Mathewson20:58Carchemish and the Hittites25:50quarantine!27:44to Aleppo by horse33:50a tragic end38:10Mathewson's career39:35Smith's family and legacy42:33Smith's notebooksThe sad story of Boscawen can be found in Ruth Horry’s “Assyriology at the Margins. The Case of William St. Chad Boscawen (1855–1913)” in IRAQ 77 (2015) pp. 129-142 You can read more about the Egibit tablets in Strahil V. Panayotov and Cornelia Wunsch, "New Light on George Smith’s Purchase of the Egibi Archive in 1876 from the Nachlass Mathewson", in: Melammu: The Ancient World in an Age of Globalization (2014)Music by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
How can 3000 years of history, documented by a mountain of sources, be surveyed clearly in a single book? Amanda tells us all about her new history of the ancient Middle East. Why did she use micro-histories? Who among the people in her book made the biggest impacts on her?3:36 why micro-histories?7:46 finding the non-elites11:38 who did Amanda empathise with?13:22 who did she feels sorry for?16:56 who made her laugh?19:40 whose story to tell?21:43 history from limited data26:11 writing a synthesis30:26 why this book?32:52 the author's hopesAmanda's Academia pageAmanda's university pageAmanda's new bookMusic by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
Louise introduces us to the fascinating world of Babylonian textiles. How do we know about textiles when almost none survive? What were they made of and what did they look like? Who made them, and who washed them? What would someone's clothing say about them? 2:46 how do we know about textiles?8:02 what materials were clothes made of?11:17 how practical was wool as a material to make clothes from?12:59 who made clothes?15:45 were clothes plain or decorated?18:11 what would someone's clothes say about them?20:43 what clothes would someone have in their cupboard?22:29 who did the laundry?27:11 how fine were fabrics?29:44 what will fabric impressions tell us?Louise's Academia pageLouise's ResearchGate pageLouise's new bookMusic by Ruba HillawiWebsite: http://wedgepod.orgYouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSM7ZlAAgOXv4fbTDRyrWgwEmail: wedgepod@gmail.comTwitter: @wedge_podPatreon: http://Patreon.com/WedgePod
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