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Archive Archaeology at the Archaeological Institute of America's Annual Meeting

Archive Archeology: Preserving And Sharing Palmyra’s Cultural Heritage through Harald Ingholt’s Digital Archives kicked off 2021 by participating in the AIA’s Annual Meeting. The project was presented to colleagues world-wide as part of the virtual conference.

By Postdoc Amy C. Miranda.

On 5 January 2021, UrbNet’s Archive Archaeology project, funded by the ALIPH Foundation, participated in a colloquium at the Archaeological Institute of America’s (AIA) Annual Meeting, introducing the project to a world-wide audience. The colloquium, titled “Archive Archaeology and Cultural Heritage: Documentation in Conflict Zones,” was organized by UrbNet Centre Director Professor Dr. Rubina Raja, Assistant Professor Dr. Olympia Bobou, and Postdoc Dr. Amy C. Miranda as a forum for investigating and analysing how archival material can complement traditional archaeology, and offer alternatives to excavation when sites are inaccessible. Such discussions are particularly relevant to the preservation of heritage as many sites are in or near active war zones, leading to their destruction, or have been compromised  by the process of industrialisation and economic developments. Oftentimes archival material related to these sites is the only documentation available. The colloquium included presentations by scholars from the United States and Europe with content that spanned sites across the Mediterranean.

In addition to their role as colloquium organisers, Rubina Raja, Olympia Bobou, and Amy C. Miranda jointly presented their paper, “New Directions in Archive Archaeology: Unleashing the Potential of the Ingholt Archives (Palmyra),” which introduced the archive of Danish archaeologist Harald Ingholt (1896-1985) and suggested several exciting research directions. The authors gave some examples of recent work including the so-called tomb of Ḥairan, the Sarcophagus with Ba’laî and his family, and Palmyrene sculpture 61 .

The colloquium also included Emilia Oddo (Tulane University), whose paper, “Going Backward to Move Forward: Archive Archaeology and the House Of The Frescoes at Knossos,” examined the importance of publishing old excavations, their significant contribution to scholarship, but also the challenges of working with archival material. The next paper, “The Antiquities Provenance Research Project at the Getty: Structure and Strategies” was given by David Saunders, Nicole Budrovich, and Judith Barr (J. Paul Getty Museum) and presented their approaches for establishing the ownership histories of the objects in the museum’s collection. That paper also introduced the ways chosen for the dissemination of the collected information, including online resources. The next speaker was Scott McAvoy (University of California, San Diego), whose paper, “Presenting Archival Material with Web-Based 3D Technologies,” examined accessible methods to create 3D reconstructions from archival material that can be used across multiple digital platforms. This was followed by Patrick Michel’s (Université de Lausanne) study, “Digital Treatment of Paul Collart’s Archives on Baalshamin’s Temple; Challenges and Results,” which argued that archival material is crucial in the case of lost or damaged antiquities, while its online publication can offer immediate and direct accessibility. The final paper of the colloquium was given by Jen Baird (Birkbek, University of London). Entitled “The Site of the Archive: Responsibility and Rhetoric in Archival Archaeology,” the paper examined further the issue of data migration from the Middle East to the West from the mid-nineteenth century onwards.

The papers were followed by a dynamic conversation regarding data management and cultural heritage (issues such as the accessibility of archives, ethical considerations in publishing data, the importance and means of collaboration, and suggestions for how to grapple with large amounts of data), as well as the theme of “conflict” introduced by Professor Raja in her introduction to the colloquium.  Although archives may be imperfect, often offering only incomplete or fragmented records of the past, the colloquium demonstrated that archives do more than preserve memory for future generations. Archives are active – they are sites of encounter.

More about the project Archive Archeology: Preserving And Sharing Palmyra’s Cultural Heritage through Harald Ingholt’s Digital Archives is available at https://projects.au.dk/archivearcheology/.