ANEE Annual Meeting 2022 in Jordan

The fifth Annual Meeting of the Center of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires was organized in Jordan in August 2022. The conference part of the annual meeting took place in the beautiful Forest Reserve in Ajloun, followed by an optional excursion to Petra. The theme this year was Lifeways under Empire.

 Cabins in the Ajloun Forest Reserve. Photo: Jason Silverman.

Jordan was chosen for the location of the Annual Meeting so Teams 1 and 2 could get familiar with the area of Team 3’s ongoing excavations and to gain further knowledge on the geographic and cultural context of ANEE’s research. The Annual Meeting was organized at the Ajloun Forest Reserve, an eco-tourism complex located in the Ajloun highlands north of Amman. The Ajloun Forest Reserve is part of The Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature and their proceeds go directly to local people and environmental conservation. The forest reserve provided great conference facilities fit for our needs, comfortable cabins, breathtaking views, and incredible spread of meze and mains for every lunch and coffee break.

Before the annual meeting, some ANEE members took part on an excursion led by Philip Esler to visit sites from the time of Babatha, a Jewish woman from the second century CE whose cache of legal documents was discovered from the Cave of Letters. Babatha and her documents are one of three Levantine case studies in Team 2’s joint project on applying Bourdieu’s work to the Ancient Near East. The participants on the ‘Babatour’ excursion flew in a few days before the Annual Meeting and visited several locations from Babatha’s world: including but not limited to Rabba (Aeropolis in the Greco-Roman period, ruins of a Roman temple), Ghor as-Safi (a town by Wadi Hasa, largest water source flowing in the eastern side of the Dead Sea and the site of a historical sugar mill), and Machaerus (a Hasmonean fortress).

The Babatourists resting on top of Machaerus. Photo: Jason Silverman

While the Babatourists were saying their goodbyes to Babatha’s world, most ANEE members were making their way to Jordan from Helsinki – and facing some unanticipated challenges. Due to the ongoing consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, their flight was delayed significantly. As the delay led to missing the connection from Heathrow to Amman, the group flying from Helsinki was split in two: half took a connection to Doha and flew from there to Amman overnight, half stayed in Heathrow and flew the next day to Amman, arriving late at night to Ajloun. Consequently, only a handful of people made it to Ajloun for the first official conference day. Therefore, the conference schedule was restructured to compensate for the lost time and to allow for recovery from the stressful travel days.

Excursion to Team 3’s archaeological site

This year’s annual meeting programme kicked-off on the morning of 15 August, with an excursion to one of the sites discovered by our own Team 3 in their field survey earlier this spring. The name and location of the site cannot yet be revealed due to the risk of tampering of the site. Stay tuned for the future, however, because Team 3 made some intriguing observations in their field survey, and will be doing excavation work on the site this autumn.

On the site, the annual meeting group was able to experience what an ancient Near Eastern site can look like before excavation has been done. The group was shown how archaeological surveys are useful in locating new sites by scanning for certain shapes in the landscape, or identifying architecture and artefacts among the rubble. While no actual survey took place, all of ANEE participated in mock survey exercises to get a feel for the process.

After visiting the site, our group was received by colleagues at Yarmouk University where we were given a private tour of not only the fascinating Museum of Jordanian Heritage but also Yarmouk University’s Department of Archaeology’s archived collection. After lunch the tour continued in the form of an excursion to Umm Qais, a multi-period site known as Gadara during the Greco-Roman period. Particularly interesting was seeing the ongoing excavations carried out by Yarmouk University.

Hussein Al-Sababha of Yarmouk University presents their excavation work at Umm Qais over tea. Photo: Samuel Reinikainen

ANEE members in Umm Qais. Photo: Jason Silverman

Conference days

The first day of presentations began with sessions on Network Analysis, followed by sessions on Lived Experience. In Network Analysis sessions (papers from Stefan Smith, Marta Lorenzon, and Maija Holappa; Maria-Gabriella Micale, Helen Dawson, and Antti Lahelma; Repekka Uotila; Lena Tambs; Tero Alstola and Adrianne Spunaugle), ANEE members demonstrated with different archaeological and historical case studies how Network Analysis can be applied to study non-elite lifeways. Papers in the Lived Experience sessions examined mobility and identity strategies in the ancient Near East (Uzume Wijnsma; Stefan Smith; Jonathan Valk; Rotem Avneri Meir; and Adrianne Spunaugle). In addition to papers, some ANEE members (Lena Tambs; Saimi Kautonen and Joanna Töyräänvuori; Evelien Vanderstraeten; Marta Lorenzon and Benjamín Cutillas-Victoria) had prepared posters which were available for other participants to read during the conference. We were joined for dinner by our Keynote speaker Hani Hayajneh, professor and dean of the Faculty of Archaeology of Yarmouk University. After a traditional mansaf dinner – a Jordanian lamb dish with fermented yoghurt sauce and rice –, Hani gave a wonderful keynote address, where he joked that people usually nap after mansaf. The Keynote was titled “Yarmouk University and Near Eastern Cultural Heritage: Forty Years of International Research, Cooperation and Networking”, and in it Hani gave an overview of Jordan as a country, and presented the country’s intangible cultural heritage. He also outlined the history of archaeological research and education in Jordan and Yarmouk University. Hani finished his keynote by stressing the importance of international collaboration, and extended a warm welcome for more universities to come work with Jordanian universities.

Prof. Hani Hayajneh with his new Moomin mug. Photo: Lauri Laine

The two morning sessions on the second day were themed Gender and Ethics, the last two sessions were on Social Scientific Approaches to Lifeways. In the Gender session (papers from Katrien de Graaf; Ellie Bennett; and Saana Svärd) we heard papers on applying gender theory in different aspects of identities. The Ethics session (papers from Heidi Jauhiainen and Päivi Miettunen) discussed community outreach and active decolonisation of our disciplines. In the first session on Social Scientific Approaches to Lifeways, members gave papers on Levantine earthen building practices (Marta Lorenzon and Benjamín Cutillas-Victoria), stepped pools in Roman Palestine (Saimi Kautonen) and iconoclasm of monumental and royal imagery (Samuel Reinikainen). Overall, the papers presented in the conference covered a wide array of approaches to lifeways and provided a closer look on the individual research interests of ANEE members. In the last session, Caroline Wallis gave an update on the Baytuna -pop up exhibition in the National Museum of Finland. At the end of the second day, members were challenged to play games to discuss and examine keywords related to non-elite lifeways. In the evening, games continued with an ANEE-themed Trivia Quiz Extraordinaire – possibly a new tradition for future Annual Meetings!

The last conference day began with an update from Saana Svärd and Joanna Töyräänvuori on the recent contributions of ANEE on popularizing research on the Ancient Near East, regarding the Finnish book Muinaisen Lähi-idän imperiumit: Kadonneiden suurvaltojen nousu ja tuho  (2022, eds. Saana Svärd and Joanna Töyräänvuori, Helsinki: Gaudeamus), and the museum exhibition “Exploring the Ancient Near East“. The conference was closed with comments on the past academic year of ANEE from the SAB by member Katrien de Graaf.

The ANEE paper awards were given to:

Bennett, E. (2021). The "Queens of the Arabs" During the Neo-Assyrian Period. Helsinki: University of Helsinki.

Kletter, R. (2021). Meeting a Learned Society: The Archaeology of ASOR as Reflected in its Annual Meeting, Boston 2017. Asia Anteriore Antica 3, p. 173-193. Open access.

Miettunen, P. (2021). Our Ancestors Were Bedouin: Memory, Identity and Change: The Case of Holy Sites in Southern Jordan. Helsinki: Finnish Oriental Society.

Group Photo of ANEE members who participated in the AM 2022. Photo: Jason Silverman

Although the official part of the conference was over, some ANEE members headed south to Petra for an optional excursion. Another blog post detailing the excursion experience will be posted soon!

A heartfelt thank you to everyone who participated in the unforgettable Annual Meeting!