Monday 23 June 2014

Conferences: ICAANE IX - round-up

This is a regular International Conference on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, held in Warsaw in 2011, due to be in Vienna next time, but this year in Basel, Switzerland.

After Registration at Universität Basel on afternoon of Sunday 8th June, we were off to a fast start the next day with plenary lectures followed by four and half days of several simultaneous lectures on various parts and periods of the ANE. Sometimes hard to get from one place to another in time.

As the name implies, ICAANE is mainly devoted to pre-Classical archaeology, though there were several interesting lectures on Petra and the Nabataeans. Also of interest was a (disturbing) 3-hour session on Syria. Don Boyer gave a very informative and superbly professional (as you would expect) talk on his research on the water supply of Roman Gerasa which got a good reception and useful questions and comments.

I would not normally have gone to ICAANE which seldom gives much attention to the Roman Near East. This year, however, Dr. Ueli Brunner (Department of Geography, University of Zurich) – who gave a lecture in UWA about 18 months ago on his work in Yemen, had organised a Workshop on Kites. So I gave a lecture on Kites in the Harret Khaybar of west-central Saudi Arabia. The plan is to publish all these Kites papers as a book – a quick and high-profile publication will stimulate new research.

As always, a good reason for attending is for those conversations and contacts that grease the academic research engine. People you seldom see are right there for days and there is the opportunity to talk at length.

The University and Half-Canton of Basel each laid on a very pleasant reception and Dr Brunner took the Kites group for dinner in a delightful restaurant-pub in the back streets of Kleinbasel.

The weather was HOT – c. 35 every day. But Basel is delightful – 200 years of peace and neutrality is obviously a Good Thing. A little sight-seeing took us all at times to the Rhine where a recreation was to get into the river stream with clothes in an inflated backpack and let the current drift you downstream.

The Boyers and Kennedys joined up one afternoon to take the (free) public transport 12 km east to visit the superb ruins of the Roman city of Augusta Raurica, just outside modern August. You may remember a lecture to the Roman Archaeology Group of Perth on this town by Martina Müller a few years ago. More on this site later.


Wednesday 18 June 2014

Research: John William Burgon (1813-1888)

Petra – “A rose-red city, half as old as Time”

Not again! How many more times is that line going to be quoted by everyone who ever writes anything about Petra!

Many people do know the line and a good many could tell you it was from a poem written by John William Burgon (1813-1888) – ‘Dean Burgon’. Much less well-known is that Burgon had never visited Petra – or even the region. In 1845, a very mature student of 32, he entered a poem in the competition for Oxford’s Newdigate Prize. The theme that year was ‘Petra’, a place increasingly ‘in-the-news’ as a steady trickle of bolder western travellers undertook the immensely demanding journey, and wrote about it when they returned home. Burgon won on this – his third attempt, joining an illustrious list of winners over the two centuries including Oscar Wilde, Matthew Arnold and John Buchan.
Photograph of John William Burgon from: Goulburn 1892 John William Burgon late Dean of Chichester: A Biography with extracts from his letters and early journals, Vol. 1 (John Murray: London).
Even less well-known is that Burgon eventually did visit Petra - but not till 17 years later by which time he was almost 50. Two publications offer lengthy and – at the time published, fairly comprehensive lists of western travellers to Petra before 1914. Oddly, neither includes Burgon and a search through even other 19th century writers now easily found for free download, reveals no knowledge of Burgon’s visit …. while endlessly quoting his poem.