Research

Our team “Material Culture and Community Heritage” utilizes a material culture perspective to investigate the dialectics of empire and heritage in both ancient and modern local communities inhabiting the imperial fringes, and to provide a sustainable future for this material through engagement. This includes arranging a regional archaeological study in northern Jordan and developing a community archaeology project around fieldwork; studying materials, trade connections, and local identities across the fringes using a variety of archaeological analyses; providing public engagement with stored-away Middle Eastern objects in Finnish museum collections; and organizing a museum exhibition with Finnish partner museums.

Regional archaeological study

The team conducts a regional archaeological study in northern Jordan in collaboration with researchers from Yarmouk University (Irbid, Jordan). Our research is focused on the northern Transjordan along stretches of the King’s Highway and within the rural hinterland of the Greco-Roman Decapolis cities. As an overland route, the King’s Highway connected Egypt with the Euphrates, and it had continuous strategic significance during the first millennium BCE. Changes in political power and socio-economic circumstances were quickly reflected in changes in material evidence along the route. As with most regions on the imperial fringes, very little is known of the occupation history in northern Transjordan in general, and along the King’s Highway in particular. While the Decapolis cities have received a lot of archaeological interest over the last decades, the direct hinterland with which they interacted remains underexplored. 

In early 2020 we have initiated together with Yarmouk University researchers the Tell Ya’amun Regional Archaeological Survey (TYRAS) Project. While fieldwork on site was originally planned to start in late 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting travel restrictions in 2020 and 2021 has led to a postponing of these plans for now. Our regional study is being carried out as follows. We have been working on locating archaeological “hotspots” along the ancient road using GIS and high-resolution satellite imagery analyses. In addition, we aim to explore this gathered dataset of published and observed information using archaeological network analysis and modelling. Once the Covid-19 situation has improved and travel restrictions have been lifted, we plan to conduct several seasons of targeted fieldwork on key areas, using a high-resolution, systematic field survey and geophysical prospecting. 

Finally, we will make use on-site and lab-based analytical methods (e.g., pXRF, XRF, ICP-MS) to generate detailed information about artefacts and building materials that were manufactured, exploited, and transported in the hinterland of Tell Ya’amun in changing socio-political contexts. Material analysis can reveal changes in the extent and direction of cultural contacts, trade patterns, inter-communal liaisons and material traditions, which are often employed to establish political power or reflect changing cultural identities and socio-economic preferences.

Our team’s fieldwork also engages local Jordanian communities and scholars in the study and preservation of archaeological sites, thereby supporting their sense of ownership and stewardship. In collaboration with local communities, we will reciprocate with educational opportunities. Further, on-site material analysis will provide opportunities to raise awareness about ancient materials as treasure-hordes of archaeological and historical information.

Providing a sustainable future

Societal engagement and impact is ensured through a variety of venues, notably a larger museum exhibition in the National Museum of Finland (Helsinki) and the Museum of Central Finland (Jyväskylä) scheduled for mid-2022. The planning of this exhibition has led to a deeper engagement with ancient Middle Eastern objects in Finnish museum collections. One of our developing objectives (funded through the Finnish Cultural Foundation) is to work with these stored-away Middle Eastern objects and to bring them back into societal discussions in Finland, through 3D scanning and printing technologies, developing teaching toolkits, and creating popup museums in fringe communities across Finland.

Another line of study and work centers around the global illicit antiquities trade, which so drastically impacted Middle Eastern countries over the last decades. Members of our team have been developing outreach publications for Finnish professionals detailing the issues of working with cultural objects and manuscripts, teaching MA and PhD level courses on the subject, and are assisting in developing policies for scholarly interaction with cultural material.

Relationship with work packages

Our team engages most directly with work packages 2 (“Marginal and marginalizing regions”), 3 (“Rural life under empire”), and 4 (“Macro/micro identities”), while providing archaeological support in the case of work package 1 (“Imperial identities”).

Work package 2 concentrates on marginal and marginalizing regions. Empires cannot exist without marginal regions, therefore understanding them is essential for studying imperial dynamics. The work package compares marginal areas and former centres that became marginal, in order to explore how local elites interacted with imperial systems, and how that differed from the dynamics in more central regions (WP1). Through the Tell Ya’amun Regional Archaeological Survey project, our team supplies previously overlooked archaeological evidence for changing local conditions on the imperial fringes in northern Transjordan. Furthermore, materials analysis of artefacts and structures both in the TYRAS project and in researchers’ individual projects provides important information on local subsistence and adaptation, but also may reveal patterns of trade and contact with imperial heartlands and elsewhere.

Work package 3 focuses on changes in the essential matters of livelihood (e.g., subsistence practices, access to water, change and continuity in religious practices) in rural fringe areas of these empires. The TYRAS project aims to detail the aspects of rural life in an imperial fringe zone and the impact of changing empires. Considering the cross-regional significance of the King’s Highway and Decapolis cities near to our team’s TYRAS project, the material analysis offers high potential for revealing long-distance contact and trade, as well as evidence regarding lifeways of local, rural communities.

Work package 4 synthesises the results of the previous three WPs into a holistic view more useful to ANEE’s stakeholders. WPs 1–3 establish aspects of social group identities and lifeways in the urban centre and in rural margins. Yet, properly assessing the meaning of studies done in WPs 1-3 requires additional analysis that can explicitly interrelate the multiple methodologies employed. Aside from traditional post-fieldwork analysis, Team 3 will study its collected material data using network approaches and computer-aided tools, in close collaboration with the digital expertise of Team 1 members, and also integrate ANEE’s textual and social scientific results in its study of social group identities and lifeways. The aim of this study is to understand the dynamic interplay between imperial heartlands and fringe zones in the construction of local material identities over the course of several empires.