Constructing Social Group Identity from Sherds – ANEE Forum Meeting

8.12.2021
How can we study social group identities in general and the imperial elite in particular, when the only evidence we have are archaeological remains and writings on clay tablets from a long-gone period? The Centre of Excellence in Ancient Near Eastern Empires (ANEE) tries to do just that with an emphasis on how these group identities changed as the period of interest covers more than a millennium BCE.

There are many ways to define social group identity. A flexible definition is that group identity can be hypothesized based on the position of an individual in the social environment and the connections created between individuals participating in events together.

A working definition of the imperial elite can refer to its power and wealth, whereas the relations to the elite define the marginal groups. If you were among the imperial elite, you did business with various individuals, and there are deeds, transactions, letters, and so forth to document the actors and their material culture.

The ancient texts 1) reveal the networks between individuals, documenting in-groups and out-groups, 2) yield information on the material culture and artefacts associated with the individuals, and 3) record the semantic range of Akkadian words associated with the groups and their culture.

ANEE has three teams covering Digital Humanities Approaches, Sociology, and Archaeology. The team focusing on Archaeology provides information on material evidence in the form of artefacts and ecofacts to which Historians provide context through the study of written documentation. The written documentation lets the Digital Humanists construct networks of persons forming the imperial elite so that the Sociologists can study the identity of the imperial elite through artefacts associated with the elite in contrast to artefacts typically associated with other groups.

In the ANEE Forum meeting in December 2021, members from all three teams discussed two forthcoming overview papers with research questions that have been investigated using the ANEE portal and the recently published “Oracc in Korp” data base, hosted by the Language Bank of Finland.