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WED | MAR 16 | 5-7 PM (In-person) 

Art Museum

From the Ground Up: Insights into Ancient Societies from Material Culture

In parallel with the exhibition From the Ground Up, a panel of speakers present case studies from the ancient world which illustrate how material culture can be used to reconstruct an understanding of society.


Matthew Gordon (Department of History, Miami University). 


Darlene Brooks Hedstrom (Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, Brandeis University; Miami University PhD ‘01): A Fragment of Monastic Life: Recycling and the Long Life of a Storage Vessel in Egyptian Monastic Communities.

Steven Tuck (Department of History, Miami University): A Table Amphora, Roman Names, and Tracing the Rise and Relocation of a Roman Business.

Jack Green (Art Museum, Miami University): Exploring the Production and Context of an Egyptian-Type Vessel from Bronze Age Jordan

The program is made possible by the generous support of the Sweptson Fund (Miami University College of Arts and Sciences), the Middle East, Jewish, and Islamic Studies Minor (MEJIS), and is jointly coordinated by the Art Museum and the Department of History at Miami University.


Biographical summaries

Matthew S. Gordon is professor of Middle East and Islamic History, Miami University. He received his Ph.D. from Columbia University (1993). Publications include The Breaking of a Thousand Swords (2001); Ahmad ibn Tulun (2021); Concubines and Courtesans, co-edited with K.Hain (2017); and The Works of Ibn Wadih al-Ya`qubi, An English Translation (2018), co-edited with E. Rowson; C. Robinson; and M. Fishbein. Recent articles include “Slavery in the Islamic Middle East (c. 600-1000 CE)” (2021).

Darlene L. Brooks Hedstrom is the Myra and Robert Kraft and Jacob Hiatt Associate Professor in Christian Studies at Brandeis University. She holds a joint appointment as Associate Professor in Classical Studies (Chair) and Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. She graduated with a PhD in History from Miami University in 2001 under the direction of Dr. Edwin Yamauchi. Brooks Hedstrom is an archaeologist and historian of ancient and early Byzantine Christianity of the eastern Mediterranean world (circa 300-1000 CE) with a specialization in the archaeology and history of monasticism. Brooks Hedstrom's book, The Monastic Landscape of Late Antique Egypt An Archaeological Reconstruction, was the winner of the Biblical Archaeology Society's Best Popular Book in Archaeology for 2019. She is currently working on a project entitled Feeding Asceticism in Byzantine Monasteries: The Archaeology of Monastic Cooking, which was supported by a fellowship in Byzantine Studies at Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection (Harvard University). 

Steven L. Tuck is Professor of History and Classics, Miami University. He is the author of A History of Roman Art and many articles and chapters on Roman art. He also works on Latin inscriptions including his current research tracing survivors from the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79.

Jack Green is the Jeffrey Horrell ‘75 and Rodney Rose Director and Chief Curator of the Miami University Art Museum (2021 to present). He received his M.A. and Ph.D in archaeology from University College London (2001, 2006). He has held curatorial and administrative positions at museums at the University of Oxford, University of Chicago, and the Corning Museum of Glass, NY. He most recently worked on cultural heritage initiatives, research, and archival projects at the American Center of Research, Amman, Jordan. He is engaged in the Tell es-Sa’idiyeh Cemetery (Jordan) Publication Project with the British Museum.


A Fragment of Monastic Life: Recycling and the Long Life of a Storage Vessel in Egyptian Monastic Communities (Darlene Brooks Hedstrom)

The art of reconstructing broken pottery is a valued skill in creating museum exhibits. Fragments of pottery, known as ceramic sherds, are not often exhibited because they do not project to a viewer their complete form. Preference is given to ceramic vessels that are intact or at least easily repaired to present the wholeness of the original object. The exclusion of ceramic fragments means that we create a false image of ancient communities and overlook practices of recycling and repurposing, thereby limiting the lifespan and stories of ancient objects. 

Excavations of domestic settlements in Egypt provide some evidence of pottery sherds reused in construction, in the design of kitchens, and in correspondence, among other things. However, more evidence is found at sites not well known and only recently receiving archaeological attention: the monastic settlements of Egypt. The wealth of excavated material from monastic sites, dating from the fifth to eighth centuries, provides ample evidence for Late Antique practices of reuse that are not well attested at other domestic settlements. Thanks in large part to the disciplinary disinterest in monastic settlements in earlier generations, the ceramic fragments of monastic life document not only the practices of Christian reuse of materials, but also the long and variegated lifespans of ceramics beyond their initial form on a potter’s wheel. This discussion will look at the lifespan of a broken storage jar and its lifespan within a monastic site. 

A Table Amphora, Roman Names, and Tracing the Rise and Relocation of a Roman Business (Steven Tuck)

A terracotta table amphora found in Roman Campania provides vital evidence for the production and distribution patterns of a fish sauce business of the Pompeiian family of Umbricius Scaurus. Thanks to their practice of decorating the exterior of their product containers with a painted label that included the family name, the extent of their distribution can be traced. In addition to exploring their growing business in Pompeii their use of the painted amphora has allowed their family home to be identified with certainty. The main room of this large house was decorated with a floor mosaic punctuated by images of this same vessel. Their unique family name has also permitted us to trace the family’s fate after the destruction of the city by Vesuvius and see the attempt to reestablish the fish sauce business in their new community along with other Pompeiians. 

Exploring the Production and Context of an Egyptian-Type Vessel from Bronze Age Jordan (Jack Green)

An ancient cemetery stands on a low mound within the central Jordan Valley with burials dated from the 13th to early 12th centuries BCE (the Late Bronze Age) as well as the Iron Age and beyond. Within the Late Bronze Age cemetery, multiple objects were interred with human remains. Following excavations conducted by the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960s and the British Museum in the 1980s and 1990s, a picture of death rituals can be explored for this site in Jordan, hinting at food and drink offerings, precious liquids and unguents, and body ornamentation. Some material culture elements reflect Egyptian New Kingdom traditions hybridized with local Canaanite ones during a period of Egyptian imperial domination. This case study focuses on a vessel-type found frequently among the burials: the Egyptian-Type bowl. This simple type of ceramic vessel was mold-made, roughly shaped and slipped and was perhaps associated with Egyptian foodways and beer and bread rituals. Why were such ordinary, mass produced vessels made from local clays found so far away from Egypt where this type had originated? What might these vessels tell us about social identity, ethnicity, and elite emulation during this period of cultural interaction?