2013 Dissertation Prize Abstracts

In 2013, a total of three prizes were awarded. For pictures of the recipients, please see the Fall 2013 TAARII Newsletter, Issue 08-02.


The Donny George Youkhana Dissertation Prize (Ancient) Co-Recipients

Dr. Kim Benzel, “Puabi's Adornment for the Afterlife: Materials and Technologies of Jewelry at Ur in Mesopotamia"

This dissertation investigates one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 20th century – the jewelry belonging to a female named Pu-abi buried in the so-called Royal Cemetery at the site of Ur in southern Mesopotamia, modern Iraq. The mid-third millennium B.C. assemblage represents one of the earliest and richest extant collections of gold and precious stones from antiquity and figures as one of the most renowned and often illustrated aspects of Sumerian culture. With a few notable exceptions most scholars have interpreted these jewels primarily as a reflection in burial of a significant level of power and prestige among the ruling kings and queens of Ur at the time. While the jewelry certainly could, and undoubtedly did, reflect the identity and status of the deceased, I believe that it might have acted as much more than a mere marker and that the identity and status thus signaled might have had a considerably more nuanced meaning, or even a different one, than that of royalty or royalty alone. Based on a thorough examination of the materials and methods used to manufacture these ornaments, I will argue that the jewelry was not simply a rich but passive collection of prestige goods, rather that jewelry that can be read in terms of active ritual, and perhaps cultic, production and display. The particular materials and techniques chosen for the making of Pu-abi’s jewelry entailed methodological operations akin to what Alfred Gell has called the “technology of enchantment and enchantment of technology” and allowed these ornaments to materialize from their creation as a group of magically and ritually charged objects.


Dr. Katharyn Hanson, "Considerations of Cultural Heritage: Threats to Mesopotamian Archaeological Sites"

The destruction of Iraq’s cultural heritage gained public attention after the looting of the Iraq National Museum in 2003. However, little has been done to identify and investigate the current threats to Mesopotamian archaeological sites. Given that damage to cultural heritage endangers the very heart of what archaeologists do, it is critical to build a body of work that investigates the type and extent of damage to cultural heritage sites, that examines the context of the threat, and that analyzes the efficacy and availability of tools and tactics to protect endangered cultural heritage.

This dissertation seeks to explore the questions inherent in the destruction of cultural heritage in Iraq and Syria: What type of damage is occurring? How can we measure the extent of destruction? Why are these sites threatened? And ultimately, what can we do to better prevent the continued destruction of cultural heritage at Mesopotamian archaeological sites?

There are three main threats to cultural heritage in Syria and Iraq today: agricultural development, urban growth, and looting. Using a case study approach to investigate each of these threats, the dissertation will provide snapshots of the current status of cultural heritage protection in Syria and Iraq. The first case study focuses on agricultural expansion at Tell Zeidan; the second case study on the modern construction at and around Nineveh investigates damage caused by urban growth; the final case study examines the past and future threat of looting at Umma. Analysis of these case studies is framed within a broader discussion of the legal mechanisms related to cultural heritage preservation in Syria and Iraq, and provides a foundation for future considerations of and solutions to the primary threats to ancient Mesopotamian archaeological sites.



Dr. Arbella Bet-Shlimon, “Kirkuk, 1918-1968: Oil and the Politics of Identity in an Iraqi City"

In this dissertation, I use methodological approaches from studies of urbanism, oil modernity, nation building, and identity formation to analyze the relationships between urban change, oil, state integration, and the politicization of group identities in the multiethnic Iraqi city of Kirkuk from 1918 to 1968. I argue that, in early to mid-twentieth-century Kirkuk, the oil industry, Baghdad’s policies, and the British neocolonial presence interacted with local conditions to produce the crystallization of ethnic group identities within a nascent domain of local politics. I find that at the time of the formation of the Iraqi state in the early 1920s, group identities in Kirkuk were fluid and local politics did not align clearly with ethnicities or other self-identities. Instead, they were largely subsumed under relations between more powerful external entities. Kirkukis’ political loyalties were based on which entity best served their interests — or, as was often the case, were positioned against a side based on its perceived hostility to their concerns.

These political dynamics began to shift with Kirkuk’s incorporation into Baghdad’s domain, the beginnings of the Iraq Petroleum Company’s exploration just northwest of urban Kirkuk, and the end of British mandate rule. The Iraqi central government’s integration efforts exacerbated fault lines between emergent Kurdish, Turkmen, and Arab ethnic communities at a time when the city’s population and its urban fabric were growing rapidly. The oil industry, which provided the livelihood for a substantial percentage of Kirkuk’s population, became the focus of Communist-led labor organization. Consequently, the Iraqi government, the British government, and the oil company attempted to counter Communist influence through urban development schemes. The combination of urban growth and the expansion of discursive activities stimulated the emergence of a distinct civic identity and an accompanying arena of local politics in which Kirkuk’s ethnic communities were deeply invested. After the destabilizing effects of the Iraqi revolution in 1958, a cycle of intercommunal violence began in Kirkuk along increasingly apparent ethnic lines. Escalating conflict between Baghdad and the Kurdish movement for control of Kirkuk after 1958 fueled these tensions further. The reverberations of the revolution’s aftermath are still evident today.