AMME Seminar: Rediscovering Ancient Near Eastern Pasts

10.3.2021
The theme of the previous Ancient and Medieval Middle East Seminar was Rediscovering Ancient Near Eastern Pasts. As usual, the seminar was held online via Zoom.

 The first speaker was Professor Billie Melman from Tel Aviv University. Professor Melman has recently written a book Empires of Antiquities: Modernity and the Rediscovery of the Ancient Near East, 1914-1950 (Oxford University Press). The book focuses on how the perception of ancient Near East in Britain changed between the world wars.  This was a time of not only British colonialism, but also a period of time when new conceptions and consumption penetrated the everyday life of people. Britain and France became ruling empires and through different mandates they also became new regimes of antiquity and archaeology. These mandates were based on the fear that remnants of ancient world were disappearing. They believed that only sovereign countries were able to protect these remnants in less sovereign countries. This has raised the question of who own these remains of ancient Near East.

Dr Rick Bonnie’s (University of Helsinki) talk was inspired by what he had learned when researching Finnish archives and museums for the Making Home Abroad museum project. Near Eastern studies in Finland go back to the 1860s and the first Professor of Assyriology was appointed in 1895. But even before that Finnish museums and collectors have owned artefacts from Egypt and Mesopotamia. Especially many regional museums had these items, but lot of these items have been lost because of fires or war. The majority of ancient Near Eastern artefacts in Finnish museums have been brought from Egypt, and most of these items are quite small. This is because majority of the items were brought by Finnish artists, such as Akseli Gallen-Kallela, when they traveled abroad. But there are some interesting Mesopotamian artefacts in Finland as well, such as a Babylonian roll seal. The Finnish National Museum also hosts few cuneiform tablets. Few unassigned objects have been discovered from Finnish collections. One of them seems to be a fragment of the Sennacherib prism and another a Middle Assyrian clay tablet that might contain a text that is previously unknown.

The Home Abroad Museum project is funded by Finnish Cultural Foundation. The goal of the project is to make museums easy to access for all and the project will host multiple pop up museums all over Finland. At the moment various items are being 3D scanned. You can see some of these scans on Finnish Heritage Agency’s Sketchfab page.