Friday, December 9, 2011

A Christmas Bazaar and the Ethnicity of the Sea Peoples

Living in Athens provides for many opportunities to pursue various archaeological and related topics. One of the many roles I have taken on as a result is to serve as the President of the Friends of the Historical Archive of the Hellenic Archaeological Service. This Syllogos was founded at the beginning of the year to allow individuals interested in archaeology, archival research, philanthropy and meeting like-minded people to get together for fellowship and to help support the activities and needs of the National Archive.

The National Archive is located in a restored industrial building at Psaramylingou 22, a short street parallel to Peiraios, in the Kerameikos area. It contains the Archives of the Hellenic Archaeological Service since its inception in 1834. Besides the spacious archive storage area, there is a paper, drawing and photograph conservation laboratory, offices, a large display space for exhibitions of the documents, photographs and plans as well as a small lecture area.

On Friday, December 16th (19:30-22:30) and Saturday, 17th (10:00-16:00) the Friends will hold their first Christmas Bazaar for the Archive. At Psaramylingou 22 there will be a book sale (Greek and English, fiction, thrillers/mysteries, archaeological), baked goods, raffles, interesting items and knitted scarves, caps and wrist warmers by my wife Metaxia Tsipopoulou (Director Emerita, National Archive of Monuments). In honour of the occasion she will have a retrospective exhibition of her many knitting talents over the past 30 years.

One of the Friends’ fund raising efforts is a 2012 calendar that honours the first 100 years of the Archive. The images on the calendar are significant documents related to the advance of the archaeology of Greece between 1834 and 1934 with the signatures of famous archaeologists and politicians. This will be on sale at the Bazaar too! Truly a collector’s item!!!

I look forward to seeing you on the 16th or the 17th, so save the dates!!! All of the proceeds from the Bazaar will go to the Friends' ongoing support of the Archive and its needs. You can also sign up as a member of the Friends.

Book of the Blog
Ethnicity, like gender and social personae, is constructed by individuals and groups within the context of a given society at a given point in time. Generally this is done in reaction to the activities of other individual and groups. It is not immutable and its indiciae vary over time. The fluidity of ethnicity makes its delineation in the past a difficult, moving target. Even with available historical source materials this is not easy. In the protohistoric and prehistoric periods the challenges of determining the ethnicity of a particular population based primarily on material culture assemblages are nearly insurmountable.

A Dutch cultural anthropologist specializing in ethnicity in the Mediterranean Bronze Age, Wim M.J. van Binsbergen, and his doctoral candidate historian who studied the Sea Peoples, Fred C. Woudhuizen, have co-authored a synthetic work entitled, Ethnicity in Mediterranean Protohistory (BAR International Series 2256, Oxford, 2011). Their aim is to identify the ethnicity of the so-called Sea Peoples from an interdisciplinary approach. All possible sources of evidence are marshalled together to probe and to attack the breadth and depth of this perennial topic. These include myth, literary texts, historical sources, all manner of inscriptions, linguistics, settlement patterns, artifact distribution patterns, art, nautical design and religion.

Van Binsbergen attempts to provide in Part I a usable methodological approach for this study as well as a theory of ethnicity applicable to the Late Bronze Age Mediterranean basin. The latter, he claims, has been resisted by other scholars who prefer a “common-sense approach”. Thus, these scholars arbitrarily impose their abstract ideas on the material that they analyze. In contrast to this “etic” approach he argues in favour of “constructs [that] largely reflect (‘emically’) the concepts and interpretations which the historical actors themselves utilized in their time and place” (p. 61).

In Part II Woudhuizen presents his case study on the ethnicity of the Sea Peoples based on wide-ranging historical, archaeological and linguistic evidence. For him the ethnonyms of the Sea Peoples lie at the heart of the discussion. Van Binsbergen replies in Part III with his own shorter case study on the same topic with some different conclusions. In the final Part IV the two authors attempt to resolve their differences (which they cannot in many respects) and to counter assumed criticisms and alternative interpretations that will be put forward by other scholars. As to the ethnic origins of the various Sea People cohorts Woudhuizen sees them coming from nine different small core areas stretching from Sardinia to the southern Levant. Van Binsbergen, on the other hand, postulates two large core areas (with larger peripheries), one centered in the Nile valley, the Sinai and the southern Levant and the other in Anatolia. These correspond to the “core statial area of Egypt and Hatti”. In this way five of Woudhuizen’s provenances are covered by the two van Binsbergen areas.

Any ambitious far ranging synthesis inevitably leaves out material (in this case the detailed archaeological evidence for the movements and the settlement attempts of the Sea Peoples) and emphasizes aspects that reflect the author’s primary research interests (in this case theoretical discussions as well as myth and linguistic evidence). Many aspects of this volume are stimulating and/or provocative. Others are irrelevant and misleading. The extensive bibliography reflects these points. The numerous greyscale maps, drawings, charts, tables and reconstructions help the reader to visualize and to organize the myriad of datasets presented.

If you are interested in the question of ethnicity in the area of the Mediterranean basin between the 14th and the 10th centuries BC, regardless of your interest or not in the Sea Peoples, you should delve into this complex volume.

David W. Rupp

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