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Resourcing Archives: New Research on Old Data—Reception and Formation in Late Antique Syria-Palestine

The Oak Room, Fellowship House
March 29, 2019
08:30 AM to 05:00 PM
Byzantine Studies Workshop | Konstantina Karterouli, Gideon Avni, and Alan Walmsley, Organizers

Academic and national institutions are the holders of extensive inventories documenting cultural assets and historical landscapes. Recent global initiatives have invested efforts in the preservation of this body of material and raised awareness on the major significance of archives in understanding the past. The rise of the internet has facilitated the systematic display, searchability, and easy accessibility of archives—a process still in its infancy—while new geospatial and other digital technologies have provided a wealth of additional data points. Dumbarton Oaks has recently acquired a large collection of photographs that offer a comprehensive record of Syrian late antique heritage in the 1990s. This collection forms part of a global network of archival resources stored in a number of institutions in the US, Europe, and the Middle East that document the late antique Syria-Palestine. Collectively, these archives present invaluable scholarly evidence that has hardly been used in a systematic manner in Middle Eastern studies. This essential data should be incorporated with the evidence of field research conducted in more recent decades, as well as with data resulting from new technologies and systems of recording, to advance research in the face of the abrupt stop of fieldwork in Syria and the destruction of documentation.

The workshop will be divided into three sessions, each focusing on a distinct research theme, and demonstrating different modes of engaging archival and digital data. The first session (“Settings”) will lay down the broad metrics of the discussion, focusing on urban and regional settings. Specifically, participants will be asked to contemplate questions such as adaptive responses to social change as reflected in the urban landscape, and the interaction across urban and rural areas via networks of agricultural and pastoral societies. A crucial variable to engage is the question of time and diachronic processes. The second session (“Sites”) will deal with sites as case studies that combine fieldwork research with archival material. One of the goals of this session is to advance the interpretation of the archaeological record through close attention to indicators of late antique processes of reception and new development seen in the areas of architecture and the study of material remains. The third session (“Sacred landscapes”) will explore the making, and long histories, of sacred landscapes as seen in art and epigraphy, addressing questions such as the shifting social, economic, political, and cultural dimensions of religious sites and continuities and discontinuities in the production of material culture. The goal of the workshop is to further develop the current understanding of processes of transformation in late antique Syria-Palestine by focusing on the dynamic relation between reception and formation, which ties into contemporary research on adaptive and agile societies more generally.


  • Gideon Avni (Israel Antiquities Authority and Hebrew University of Jerusalem), “Landscapes as Palimpsest: The ‘Ancient Lands’ Myth and the Evolution of Agricultural Landscapes in Syria-Palestine in Late Antiquity and Medieval Times”
  • Jesse Casana (Dartmouth College), “Lost Landscapes of Late Antiquity: Regional-scale Archaeological Documentation using Historical Satellite Imagery in the Northern Fertile Crescent”
  • Michael Decker (University of South Florida), “Archaeology and the Demography of Northern Syria in Late Antiquity”
  • Asa Eger (University of North Carolina at Greensboro), “Antioch: Transformation and Memory of a Medieval City”
  • Pierre-Louis Gatier (Université Lyon), “The Christianization of the City of Heliopolis (Phoenicia Libanensis): New Thoughts on Old Documents”
  • Konstantina Karterouli (Dumbarton Oaks), “Reception and Formation in Late Antique Syria-Palestine: Research on Sacred Landscapes and the Discourse of Big Data”
  • Anna Leone (University of Durham), “The Middle Euphrates and its Transformation from Late Antiquity to the Early Arab Period: The Case of Dibsi Faraj”
  • Katharina Meinecke (German Archaeological Institute, Rome Department), “‘Syntactic Innovation’ in Late Antique Architectural Sculpture in Syria and Beyond”
  • Alan Walmsley (Macquarie University), “Thoughts on Thought: Archaeological Sites, their Interpretation, and Archives”
  • Ann Marie Yasin (University of Southern California), “Ruins as Raw Material: Architectural Adaptation and Lived Experience in and of Byzantine Syria”

General Discussion Moderators

  • Antoine Borrut (University of Maryland)
  • Robin Darling Young (Catholic University of America)
General view of Complex of St. Sergius, al-Rusafa (late 5th century CE with later additions). Part of Frank Kidner Photographs, 1983–1999.