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Spatial Ethnoarchaeology of Change in Mobile Pastoralist and Marsh-Dwelling Communities

Emily Hammer, PhD

Assistant Professor,  Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures Department

Price Lab for the Digital Humanities

University of Pennsylvania



Archaeologists face significant challenges in identifying the material remains and environmental impact of certain types of rural communities of the past, especially those of mobile pastoralists and marsh dwellers. They thus rely on ethnographic analogy to fill the gaps in our understanding of these communities. However, the available ethnographies and ethnoarchaeological studies of these communities often do not contain information relevant for important archaeological questions and only provide a snapshot of a narrow time frame. This talk is about how spatial ethnoarchaeology can help us overcome these limitations. Newly available sets of high-resolution archival aerial and satellite imagery covering several decades make it possible to see variability and seasonal change in “traditional” communities over longer time scales and larger spatial scales than those covered by conventional ethnographies. Their temporal and spatial coverage and their resolution shift what is possible in the integration of anthropology and remote sensing. To illustrate the method, I present two case studies in which I have used images spanning the late 1950s to mid-1980s to reconstruct the changing demography, social organization, mobility, and seasonal activities of mobile pastoralist camping groups in southeastern Turkey and of Marsh Arab villages in southern Iraq. The analysis allows for the reconstruction over decades of several different temporally-specific patterns and processes of seasonal settlement and movement that were poorly documented or invisible in earlier ethnographic accounts. The details provided through time-series mapping using historical images not only enhance earlier ethnographic interpretations, but also impact how archaeologists might employ ethnographic analogues in their interpretations of archaeological remains of historical Middle Eastern campsites and ancient Mesopotamian cities.



I am an anthropological archaeologist focused on landscape, environmental history, and complex societies in the Middle East and the South Caucasus. My ongoing projects contribute to three fields of enquiry: the archaeology of mobile pastoralism, comparative studies of early urbanism in Mesopotamia its surrounding highlands, and GIS methodologies for environmental and landscape archaeology. My talk at Stanford draws in part from my forthcoming book, The Archaeology of Pastoralism and Mobile Societies: Beyond the Grass Paradigm (Cambridge University Press).


Wed May 22nd 2024, 12:00 - 1:00pm
Building 500, Archaeology Center
488 Escondido Mall, Stanford, CA 94305
Event Sponsor
Archaeology Center
Emily Hammer