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Household Studies in Complex Societies
(Micro) Archaeological and Textual Approaches

Embodiment, agency, and the lived experience all involve, to at least some extent, actions and interactions situated in time and space. Moreover, these situated actions and interactions are shaped by the space in which they take place as much as by the people involved. In this sense, the house, or more broadly, the lived space, becomes an agent in the construction of social identity. Movement through interior and exterior spaces, degrees of visibility, and the design of houses and other living areas are all ways that domestic space becomes a meaningful locale. (Hendon 2004, p. 280)

Organizer, Miriam Müller
The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
1155 East 58th Street, Chicago, IL 60637
March 15-16, 2013


By analyzing specific house structures, artifact assemblages, production, and consumption, interaction of different members of a household or co-operation between families, much can be learned about the structure of a society. The house is therefore crucial for the understanding of past societies and can change the way a specific culture is perceived. The purpose of this seminar is to emphasize the significance of household archaeology for the investigation of Near Eastern cultures and of other cultures in a comparative cross-cultural approach with the help of texts and new micro-archaeological techniques.

Integrating contemporaneous text sources can reveal important information on the appearance of a house, house inventories, tenure, and changes in ownership or highlight a specific structure of the household. Texts can support or negate the picture gained from the excavations (e.g., Gates 1988). Furthermore, micro-archaeological techniques have advanced and are increasingly recognized as valuable means to detect specific features within architecture. The now more detailed analysis of smaller parts of sites and the meticulous collection of small finds and faunal, botanical, and soil samples with their actual findspots enables scholars to reconstruct common peoples’ activities and interaction within their ancient homes. Room functions can be detected by means of specific installations, room inventories, and molecular evidence for particular activities such as refuse disposal or cooking (Kent 1987, 1990). Finds not only contribute to understanding functional purposes, but can also “speak” about the rank and wealth of their owner. The composition of a household, family concepts, and even gender can possibly be deduced (Hendon 1996). Structural analysis can give evidence about access restrictions, hierarchy, or different spheres within a house (Hillier and Hanson 1984). Production of food and specific crafts can reflect the subsistence economy of a household (Hirth 2009). Ethno-archaeological data can clarify the use of a specific space or artifact assemblage (Kramer 1979, 1982; Kamp 2000). The choice of a specific house form and layout, the disposition of cultic facilities, and the application of certain customs are just three of the many aspects of household archaeology that reveal information about the inhabitants. The idea of this seminar is to mingle the results of new research from Mesopotamia and Egypt, Anatolia and the Levant, Greece and Italy, as well as the Mesoamericas in order to broaden our perspective on what can be gleaned on the micro-scale level and the implications that emerge from this research for the reconstruction of the macro-historical framework.


This seminar encompasses three major aspects: the theory of specific house forms, the archaeology of households, and the significance of material culture. The first aspect is mainly concerned with the physical unit, namely, the architecture, as well as theories concerning the formation of specific houses and their origins. The archaeology of households concentrates on sociocultural factors that lead to specific compositions of households and their expression within the architectural surroundings. The material culture presents household activities, informs about room functions, and can also influence the residents’ interaction.

A primary goal of the seminar is to assess the focal point — the house — in an adequate way. Yet overall, small-scale archaeology was not given much importance or stimulus in the early days of scientific excavation. It was disregarded in favor of the discovery and investigation of grand architecture, temples, and palaces, and wealth and luxury in tombs. The macro-historic view was considered to be more significant than history from below. Thorough excavation of houses and registration of the smallest artifacts and their context in relation to the surrounding architecture are time-consuming and less spectacular. With new developments and approaches in archaeology within the last fifty years this view has changed and it is now possible to use information from many sites in the Near East to gain a more differentiated perspective on settlements and housing.

Although large settlement sites were excavated in the Near East in the beginning of the twentieth century (e.g., Babylon, Assur, Amarna), a detailed record on the actual findspots of small finds and artifact assemblages was not given much attention. The detection of room functions was based only on the location of the different rooms within the dwellings, and specific features such as ovens, altars, or bath installations. Scholars focused on the architectural framework of domestic buildings and tried to build models on the different lines of origins and development of domestic architecture (Andrae 1927, 1930; Koldewey 1911; Ricke 1932). With a growing interest in settlement archaeology and the micro-scale level focused on the individual in the 1960s, the study of domestic architecture turned from a more static description of house forms and functions to an investigation of the social sphere of a house and its inhabitants. For this purpose detailed analyses of single units within the settlement community were necessary and later on scientific approaches were integrated in order to detect traces of past activities that are invisible to the naked eye. Since the 1980s, household studies has been a growing field of research in archaeology.

The definition of a specific house form underlies multiple influences and various authors have determined different sets of factors that constitute the development of a house. Early investigations, such as Rapoport’s influential House Form and Culture (1969), contain a mixture of the theory of house form and household before the latter was clearly distinguished by scholars in the 1980s. Thus Rapoport defines sociocultural factors as primary for the formation of the house and separates them from secondary physical factors such as climate, material, and technology. In Rapoport`s view, the structure of the family, the position of different family members, and their basic needs and social contacts are considered to be pivotal in the development of a specific house form. In addition to the analysis of the house form, household archaeology contributes information about activities inside the house that are primarily expressed through material culture and can yield evidence about the social stratigraphy and behavioral patterns of the inhabitants. In the early days, scholars described the composition of a household as shaped by its common activities: production, distribution, transmission, reproduction, and co-residence (Wilk and Rathje 1982; Wilk, Netting, and Arnould 1984).

After thirty years of research the principal category of household archaeology is, broadly speaking, the study of activity zones detected by specific installations within the house and the distribution of finds, followed by a functional analysis of different areas/rooms. These two steps give way to a social analysis in terms of household size and the position of different members of the family, the examination of the economy of a specific household and the way symbolism within houses expresses status, identity, and ethnicity of the inhabitants (e.g., Pfälzner 2001). Whereas other scholars agreed on a different range and classification of the above-mentioned criteria, but worked with essentially the same parameters (different articles in Kent 1990), a tendency to neglect any strict catalog of primary and secondary factors emerged. A general consensus is achieved by stating that the formation of houses is dependent on a whole range of different categories and that their interplay has to be analyzed individually for a certain culture, region, and period. Although publications are increasingly becoming manifest, the current state of research on house architecture and household archaeology is distinctively different.

Scholars specialized in Mesoamerican archaeology led the field (e.g., Charlton 1969; Flannery 1976). Household studies in ancient Near Eastern cultures were not as numerous in the beginning of this new direction in archaeology. In particular prehistoric and preliterate societies, periods with rarely preserved whole structures were investigated within the field of household archaeology (view the majority of chapters in the recently published conference proceedings by Foster and Parker 2012). Within the last two decades, publication on household archaeology has increased, especially for the regions of ancient Mesopotamia and the Levant (e.g., Roaf 1989; Postgate 1990; Pfälzner 2001; Otto 2006; Yasur et al. 2011). They equally reflect the implementation of scientific analyses which are also widely applied in Mesoamerican archaeology (e.g., Terry et al. 2004). More work has to be done in ancient Egyptian settlements in terms of household archaeology although recent publications illustrate the tendency to bring the archaeology of houses into sharper focus (Kemp and Stevens 2010; Marchand and Soukiassian 2010).

Taphonomy of Finds

Classical antiquity has yielded the exceptional case of Pompeii. Destroyed by a volcanic eruption in AD 79 and buried under heaps of ash, the ancient town of Pompeii is the standard example for the examination of houses and households (e.g., Allison 2004) as it is preserved in a moment of ancient life “faithfully mirroring the activities that took place in those architectural spaces” (Schiffer 1985). A similar case can be made for the Mayan center Cerén, also destroyed by a volcanic eruption around AD 600 (Sheets 1992, 2002). The Mayan site of Augateca was attacked and burned by enemies around AD 800 and the inhabitants left most of their belongings in their houses (Inomata and Stiver 1998). Also the Western town of the northern Syrian site of Bazi, part of the Hittite realm, was destroyed by a fire in the early twelfth century BC and yielded exceptional house inventories (Otto 2006). But these extremely fortunate circumstances for the reconstruction of daily life at these sites are only the exception. In the majority of cases household deposits are formed by a complex system of processes and one can never be entirely sure whether the artifacts were used or produced at their findspots or deposited there for reasons of storage during the process of abandonment, or for reasons we can no longer determine (Schiffer 1976, 1983, 1987). It is therefore extremely important to distinguish between artifacts found in use, storage, and discard contexts, and artifacts from floor levels or fill, in situ, or disturbed contexts.


Combining regular excavation techniques with micro-archaeology provides an insight into household activities that are invisible to the archaeologist’s eye. New scientific analytic techniques, such as soil and bone chemistry or paleobotany, can produce answers in terms of activity areas, waste management, nutrition, health, climate, trade routes, provenience, and migration (Weiner 2010). Micromorphology and micro-debris studies have become an increasingly important tool for the understanding of past activities and the use of space (e.g., Shillito et al. 2011).

Goal of the Seminar

The seminar has two primary goals. The first is to present new research in the field of household studies, in particular the application of new micro-archaeological techniques. Integrating contemporaneous textual evidence, the seminar aims at providing a comprehensive view of the nature of households and will hopefully contribute to a better understanding of ancient societies and how they functioned on the micro-scale level. The second goal — one that has been central to the Oriental Institute Seminar series — is to generate an interdisciplinary dialogue that will raise important questions. We hope that the papers will give a broad range of case studies and a profound idea of the different approaches toward the interpretation of households as well as address theoretical issues concerning the use of specific data (e.g., ethno-archaeological information). The sessions of the conference are arranged according to specific topics and key questions in the area of household studies such as activity-area analysis, social stratification, ethnicity and identity, private and political economy, and urban-rural interaction and core-periphery relations. Questions such as mono- or multifunctional rooms, different activity zones, change in room functions, gendered space, the composition of a household, nuclear or extended families, markers of status or ethnicity, household religion, subsistence economy and surplus production, small-scale crafts and business as opposed to state-controlled trade, house partitions or a second story will be discussed on the basis of several case studies from different regions and periods.

Determining the micro-history of a specific place adds an invaluable source of information to the macro-historical perspective. In assessing the nature of private houses and the composition of households much can be learned about the structure of a society, the implications macro-historical factors have on the micro level and vice versa. By comparing projects from different regions, cultures, and periods the seminar aims at providing a stimulus for including advanced methods and applications from micro-archaeology, integrating texts, and the investigation by parameters of household archaeology for new approaches in archaeology.

Participants (Respondents**)

  • Felix Arnold (German Archaeological Institute, Cairo, Egypt)
  • Heather D. Baker (Institut für Orientalistik, University of Vienna, Austria)
  • Aaron Brody (Badè Museum of Biblical Archaeology, Pacific School of Religion, Berkeley)
  • Paolo Brusasco (Dipartimento di Archaeologia, University of Genoa, Italy)
  • Jens-Arne Dickmann (Archäologische Sammlung, University of Freiburg, Germany)
  • Kristin De Lucia (Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin)
  • Peter Miglus (Institut für Vorderasiatische Archäologie, University of Heidelberg, Germany)
  • Nadine Moeller (The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago) **
  • Miriam Müller (The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)
  • Lisa Nevett (Department of Classical Studies, University of Michigan)
  • Adelheid Otto (Institut für Ägyptologie und Altorientalistik, University of Mainz, Germany)
  • Peter Pfälzner (Abteilung Vorderasiatische Archäologie, University of Tübingen, Germany)
  • Nicholas Picardo (Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University)
  • Lynn Rainville (Sweet Briar College)
  • Cynthia Robin (Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University) **
  • David Schloen (The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago) **
  • Kate Spence (Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, UK)
  • Neal Spencer (British Museum, United Kingdom)
  • Elizabeth Stone (Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University) **

Participant Abstracts and Bios

Felix Arnold (German Archaeological Institute, Cairo, Egypt)
Title: “Clean and Unclean Space in Houses on Elephantine”
Abstract: The definition of function is a difficult endeavor, not only in archaeology. Aside from a few exceptions such as a bath or a kitchen, how can we determine the function of spaces in a house, ancient or recent? In general, activities such as eating, sleeping, or playing do not leave a significant physical imprint, and are not even confined to specifically allocated places. The architectural design of houses often reveals little beyond a distinction between rooms of representation and rooms of seclusion (more public and more private space). How can archaeology contribute further to the definition of function? The excavation of houses of different periods in the city of Elephantine in southern Egypt suggests that archaeology may contribute a further distinction, that between clean and unclean space, spaces inhabitants aspire to keep clean and spaces where such an aspiration is deemed of lesser importance.
Bio: Felix Arnold is an architect and archaeologist working both in Egypt and in Spain. He is currently conducting excavations at Elephantine, Dahshur, and Córdoba for the German Archaeological Institute. He has contributed to the study of domestic architecture of various periods, including the Middle Kingdom (Lisht), the Late Antique period (Elephantine), and the Islamic period (Abu Mina in Egypt as well as Almería and Córdoba in Spain). A history of the Islamic palace architecture in the Western Mediterranean is currently in print.

Heather D. Baker (University of Vienna, Austria)
Title: “Family Structure, Household Cycle, and the Social Use of Domestic Space in Urban Babylonia”
Abstract: This paper examines the relationship between house and household in first-millennium BC Babylonia, drawing on both textual and archaeological evidence. It builds on previous research by the author which has focused on elucidating the Babylonian terms for parts of the house and correlating these with architectural forms, based on comparison with the excavated ground plans of contemporary houses. Now that the key sectors of the house can be identified by name, it is possible to investigate the textually attested scenarios in which these terms occur in order to build up a more detailed picture of how the house was shared between different members of the extended family and also, in some cases, with outsiders. Room function is taken into account where possible, but the focus is rather on the social use of space — a topic that is more accessible, given the nature of the written sources and the state of the available archaeological evidence. The cuneiform tablets present detailed information on the physical configuration of individual properties and their immediate surroundings. They also tell us a great deal about the composition of the household and the circumstances surrounding property transfers, with cases involving inheritance being particularly informative. Family "dossiers" in combination with the contemporary archaeological evidence form the basis for a "micro-historical" approach to the study of the Neo- and Late Babylonian house and household. In line with this approach, the paper uses case studies drawn from the corpus of everyday documents from Hellenistic Uruk to examine household composition and processes of household transformation. 
Bio: Heather D. Baker is an Assyriologist who has also trained in archaeology and has participated in numerous excavations in Iraq and elsewhere. Her work focuses on the social, political, and economic history and material culture of first-millennium BC Mesopotamia, with a particular interest in Babylonian urbanism and the built environment. She is currently leading a research project on the Neo-Assyrian royal household, funded by the Austrian Science Fund. Publications include The Archive of the Nappahu Family (Archiv für Orientforschung 30. Vienna: Institut für Orientalistik, 2004), The Urban Landscape in First Millennium BC Babylonia (forthcoming), and (as editor) four fascicles of The Prosopography of the Neo-Assyrian Empire (Helsinki, 2000–2011).

Aaron Brody (Badè Museum of Biblical Archaeology)
Title: “Living in Households, Constructing Identities: Ethnicity, Boundaries, and Empire in Iron IIB-IIC Tell en-Nasbeh”
Abstract: This study investigates aspects of the identity and ethnicity of the inhabitants of household compounds in late Iron Age Tell en-Nasbeh, who buried deceased ancestors in nearby family tombs. Earlier household archaeological studies researched ceramics and small finds in their original architectural contexts in order to reveal aspects of daily life in this large fortified village. Were the pillared houses at Nasbeh the residencies of nuclear or extended families? Data presented allowed me to define a particular five-building compound as the home of three nuclear families whose houses were physically linked. Shared resources of these three nuclear families, revealed through household archaeology, suggested that this compound housed one extended family. But how did this extended family, and others at the settlement, construct its ethnic identity? In general, regional studies of the southern Levant make assumptions about ethnic identities based primarily on texts. For the period of the Iron II these texts are mostly found in the Hebrew Bible, a curated anthology of sacred writings. Tell en-Nasbeh of the late Iron Age is usually equated with the biblical settlement of Mizpah, located on the northern border of the region of Benjamin in the Kingdom of Judah. We might assume that the inhabitants of the Nasbeh household compounds self-identified as Israelite, or Judean. But what is the view from the material culture of the households and tombs from the site? I discuss modes of diet, dress, language, and ritual as markers for constructing the identity, including ethnicity, of the Iron II inhabitants of Tell en-Nasbeh. As the region was under imperial control throughout the Iron IIB-IIC periods, the effects of empire on local identity construction are also be explored along with notions of boundaries as an important locus intensifying ethnic self-awareness.
Bio: Aaron Brody is the Robert and Kathryn Riddell Associate Professor of Bible and Archaeology and the director of the Badè Museum at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. His fieldwork has been conducted primarily at Bronze and Iron Age sites on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, with participation in projects in the Negev, Akko plain, and in northern California. His primary research interests include archaeological interpretations of the society, religion, and economy of ancient Canaan, Phoenicia, and Israel; archaeology and the study of religions; “race,” ethnicity, gender, and sexuality in archaeology and the biblical world; and maritime/underwater archaeology. Recently his research has focused on household archaeology, household religion, metallurgy, and interregional trade at Tell en-Nasbeh, the site that forms the principal holdings of the Badè Museum at Pacific School of Religion. Publications include “The Archaeology of the Extended Family: A Household Compound from Iron II Tell En-Nasbeh” in Household Archaeology in Ancient Israel and Beyond (Boston-Leiden: Brill, 2011) and “New Perspectives on Levantine Mortuary Ritual: A Cognitive Interpretive Approach to the Archaeology of Death,” in Historical Biblical Archaeology and the Future: The New Pragmatism (Sheffield: Equinox, 2010).

Paolo Brusasco (University of Genoa, Italy)
Title: “Interaction between Textual Materials and Social Space in the Definition of Family Composition in Babylonia”
Abstract: The main argument of the paper is that nonverbal meaning plays a relevant role in the structuring of human societies, thus questioning the predominance of textual meaning and ethnographic/Eurocentric frameworks generally employed in the interpretation of past behavior and architecture. By using the extraordinary evidence from south Mesopotamian residential space — second-millennium BC houses from Ur and Nippur — where both house layouts and family archives were recovered, as well as ethnographies from modern Near Eastern societies, it explores how verbal and nonverbal meanings interact in the archaeological past. In line with theorists such as Pierce, Derrida, and Wittgenstein, as well as recent studies in social psychology and corporeal semantics, it is claimed that nonverbal, spatial signs have a profound bearing on the ways ancient textual meanings are construed. This has positive implications for archaeology because it implies that, even in the absence of archival information, we can infer from the archaeological data and spatial layouts their symbolic/social meanings. In order to deduce behavioral responses, different physical cues and their redundancy in space are taken into account: activity area analysis is integrated with social psychology “approach-avoidance” models and space syntax analysis of houses. Further, through the evidence of house projects, house clay models, actual house plans, and various kinds of family archives and legal texts (e.g., Code of Hammurabi), the author shows how different semiotic systems may produce alternative perspectives of the world in relation to issues of power, gender, and prestige. This may contribute to theory development and improve our understanding of how we should critically use social techniques and ethnographic analogy to reconstruct family sociology and household development through time.
Bio: Paolo Brusasco is professor of archaeology and art history of the ancient Near East at the University of Genoa, Italy. Former research fellow at the University of Cambridge, UK, he has supervised several excavations in Iraq, Syria, Italy, and other Mediterranean countries. His current research interests focus on the interaction of archaeological and textual materials, the sociology and psychology of domestic/urban space, the formation, development, and collapse of complex societies, as well as on issues concerning the impact of war on archaeology and conservation in Syria and Iraq. His publications include Family Archives and the Social Use of Space in Old Babylonian Houses at Ur (Mesopotamia. Florence: Le Lettere, 2000), The Archaeology of Verbal and Nonverbal Meaning: Mesopotamian Domestic Architecture and Its Textual Dimension (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2007), La Mesopotamia prima dell’Islam (Milan: Bruno Mondadori, 2008), Babilonia: All’origine del mito (Milan: Raffaello Cortina, 2012), Looting the Past: Syria’s Cultural Heritage under Attack; Another Iraq? (Padua: Edizioni, 2012).

Jens-Arne Dickmann (University of Freiburg, Germany)
Title: “Crucial Contexts: A Close Reading of the Household of the Casa del Menandro at Pompeii”
Abstract: Usually the archaeology of households in Roman society has investigated the contexts of daily life from top-down taking the perspective of the owning dominus who used his “home” to organize large-scale receptions, to welcome amici or socii or to invite familiares and their close friends. Since neither women’s nor children’s rooms are really recognizable, family life within the Roman house has remained in the dark so far. This is true for the staff and slaves and their families as well. We have to admit that we know surprisingly little about the organization of the household in detail. Partially this problem is caused by the — as far as modern standards are concerned — insufficient documentation of many excavations. Thus a promising research will depend on the deliberate choice of archaeological contexts as case studies that nevertheless offer the chance of a deepened analysis. And we have to learn that only a very few houses of the Vesuvian area were excavated in a way that still gives us this opportunity. In my paper I concentrate on one of the biggest houses of Pompeii, the Casa del Menandro, which was dug by A. Maiuri in the late 1920s but has been ideally reexamined by English colleagues under the direction of Roger Ling in the 1980s and 1990s. Starting from the architecture of the house and a thorough analysis of its building history, which contains several phases, the focus will shift to the finds, their findspots, and ways of distribution inside the house. At this point the problem of context and its definition arises and it will be underlined that contexts do not exist on their own and do not show clear borders. Instead they are formed by the researcher’s interests and are closely linked to certain presumptions. In case of the Menander-House at Pompeii it can be demonstrated that a close reading of the architecture and infrastructure, the objects, and inscriptions offer a surprisingly clear impression of the basic organization of the grand urban household. Not only the social formation but also the remarkable degree of craftsmanship and experience gets into sight. A final shift to the Pompeian hinterland and the organization of villae rusticae highlights the specificity and the much more differentiated structure of its urban counterpart.
Bio: Jens-Arne Dickmann holds the position of curator of the Collection of Antiquities at the University of Freiburg. His research interests include the investigation of domestic architecture in the Vesuvian cities and, in particular, the micro-scale approach to single households by integrating texts and the archaeological record. He is leading a research project on the reinvestigation of the Casa dei Postumii and the Insola 16, regio IV funded by the German Archaeological Institute in Rome and the Bavarian Academy of Science in Munich. Jens-Arne Dickmann is the author of Domus frequentata: Anspruchsvolles Wohnen im pompejanischen Stadthaus (Munich: Dr. Friedrich Pfeil Verlag, 1999), Pompeji: Archäologie und Geschichte (Munich: C. H. Beck, 2005), co-editor and author of Pompeji, Nola, Herculaneum: Katastrophen am Vesuv (Munich: Hirmer, 2011), and co-editor of Kunst von unten? Stil und Gesellschaft in der antiken Welt von der 'arte plebea´ bis Heute (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2012).

Kristin De Lucia (University of Wisconsin)
Title: “Micro-archaeology and the Identification of Household Multi-crafting among Lakeshore Communities in Pre-Aztec Central Mexico”
Abstract: In this paper, I present a micro-archaeology approach to investigating household production strategies using data derived from Early Postclassic (AD 900-1150) houses from Xaltocan, Mexico, an island capital in the northern Basin of Mexico. I examine household production strategies by integrating multiple lines of evidence including micro-artifacts and soil chemistry, to document a diversity of household production activities, including the manufacture of goods that are typically archaeologically invisible such as foods and perishable goods. Next, I consider changes in subsistence practices through time in order to understand changes in household scheduling and labor allocation strategies through time. The results indicate that households in Early Postclassic Xaltocan not only pursued diverse economic strategies, but also engaged in multiple types of production activities, including the manufacture of food products and other utilitarian goods derived from lake resources. I conclude that households were fundamental to economic and social development in ancient political economies and were enmeshed in broader systems of power and networks of exchange.
Bio: Kristin De Lucia recently received her PhD from Northwestern University and currently holds a National Science Foundation Minority Postdoctoral Fellowship and a position as Honorary Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology of the University of Wisconsin. Her research has investigated household production and consumption strategies in the Early Postclassic regional center of Xaltocan (Mexico) as well as questions of social identity, gender, and the emergence of social inequality in ancient states. Kristin De Lucia's current work focuses on a comparative analysis of household strategies in small rural villages and tributary communities in the Basin of Mexico. She is the author of “A Child’s House: Social Memory, Identity, and the Construction of Childhood in Early Postclassic Mexican Households” in American Anthropologist 112/4 (2010).

Peter A. Miglus (University of Heidelberg, Germany)
Title: “Private House or Temple: Decoding Patterns of the Old Babylonian Architecture”
Abstract: During the recent excavation at Bakr Awa (Iraq), a large city in the western foothills of the Zagros Mountains, an Old Babylonian building was investigated which had been already partially excavated about fifty years ago. The former excavators supposed it to be a temple. Its re-interpretation as a big private house against the background of the southern Mesopotamian architecture shows a special aspect of the cultural and social relations between the core and the periphery of early second-millennium Mesopotamia. This paper addresses questions of development of Old Babylonian private architecture and possible shifts in the meaning of objects and structures through the integration in a new cultural environment.
Bio: Peter Miglus is the chair of the Department for Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of Heidelberg. He specializes in Mesopotamian architecture of the third to first millennium BC, and his research centers on the spatial organization of domestic space. He is the author of Städtische Wohnarchitektur in Babylonien und Assyrien (Baghdader Forschungen 22. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 1999), Das Wohngebiet von Assur: Stratigraphie und Architektur (Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichungen der Deutschen Orient–Gesellschaft 93. Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 1996), as well as other contributions concerning the excavations at this site. Together with E. Strommenger he has published Tall Bi’a/Tuttul – VIII: Stadtbefestigungen, Häuser und Tempel (Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichungen der Deutschen Orient–Gesellschaft 103. Saarbrücken: Saarbrücker Druckerei und Verlag, 2002). His most recent project has led him to the Shahrizur Plain in modern-day Kurdistan (Iraq).

Nadine Moeller (The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago) **
Bio: Nadine Moeller is assistant professor of Egyptian archaeology at the Oriental Institute and Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations/University of Chicago. She has participated in various excavations in Egypt and has been directing the Tell Edfu Project since 2001. Her primary research interests are urbanism and settlements in ancient Egypt as well as socioeconomic and political aspects of ancient Egyptian society. She is currently finishing a book on ancient Egyptian urban society and urbanism, which focuses on the archaeological evidence dating from the Predynastic period up to the Second Intermediate Period. The archaeological data from the New Kingdom until Roman times will be the focus of a second volume.

Miriam Müller (The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)
Title: “An Ancient Egyptian Middle Class as Revealed in a Neighborhood of Tell el-Dab’a/Avaris”
Abstract: Excavations at the Eastern delta settlement site of Tell el-Dab’a (ancient Avaris) have yielded a wide variety of domestic architecture in different parts of the town, the ancient capital of the Hyksos dynasty in the seventeenth and sixteenth centuries BC. Residential areas in the city center and the periphery as well as uniformly planned workmen’s villages, densely built neighborhoods, and higher-class estates give an insight in the everyday life of an ancient Egyptian city. On the margins of the Egyptian empire, close to the eastern Mediterranean, in particular the Levant, the population of Avaris formed a multicultural mix of settlers from the neighboring regions. The analysis of a residential area (F/I) that emerged from my PhD research reveals the picture of a very well-off society with families living on big estates including a large mansion and considerable surrounding grounds as well as large storage facilities. Surprisingly, the inhabitants do not seem to be attached to the ancient Egyptian bureaucracy. The tombs in and around the houses, clearly designating the interments of the deceased members of the different households, do not yield any titles or governmental affiliations. The households’ income depended largely on farming, possibly animal breeding, and small-scale industries that enabled them to accumulate considerable wealth. This insight in an upper middle-class society from the archaeological context is so far only poorly attested in ancient Egypt. Backed up by contemporaneous texts it is hoped that more evidence will come up in future excavations stressing the significance of this part of the population for the ancient Egyptian society.
Bio: Miriam Müller is the Oriental Institute 2012–13 Post-doctoral Scholar. She received her MA from the University of Heidelberg (Germany) and recently finished her PhD at the University of Vienna (Austria), where she worked on the material from the Austrian Archaeological Institute’s excavations in Tell el-Dab’a (Egypt). On the basis of the documentation and finds of a residential area she explored the field of household archaeology and its benefits for Egyptian archaeology. Her interest in the field formed the idea for suggesting an interdisciplinary symposium at the Oriental Institute to foster new discussions in the field and bring together a broad range of specialists from Europe and the United States. Miriam Müller has participated in excavations in Egypt, Israel, Austria, and Germany.

Lisa C. Nevett (University of Michigan)
Title: “The Use and Abuse of Artifact Assemblages in Classical Greek Domestic Contexts”
Abstract: Attempts to identify activity areas in classical Greek houses have often had to rely on the evidence of architecture alone, since information about assemblages of finds from different spaces is rarely available. In the few cases in which finds have been inventoried, we have been tempted to assume that the items from house floors represent the residues of activities taking place in individual rooms at the time when the house was occupied. Nevertheless, recent studies of artifact distributions from domestic structures in other cultural contexts, including Roman Pompeii, have suggested that the relationship between the households that once occupied a structure and the artifactual residues archaeologists find when they excavate it, is not nearly as straightforward as this model would imply, and that artifact assemblages are not necessarily a good guide to the way in which space was used. Even the more sympathetic discussions of the Pompeian material have rejected the notion of a one-to-one correlation between artifacts and activity areas. In this paper I explore some of the problems and potential posed by assemblages of artifacts as sources of information in classical Greek domestic contexts. I argue that while earlier approaches were overly positivist in their thinking, such material still has an important role to play in the context of a wider, more integrated, and more theoretically aware, approach to Greek domestic material culture.
Bio: Lisa C. Nevett is professor of classical archaeology at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on domestic architecture, using the construction, decoration, and articulation of space within Greek and Roman houses to shed light on broader social questions such as relationships between men and women within Greek and Roman households, and patterns of interaction between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples at the fringes of the Greek and Roman worlds. She is the author of House and Society in the Ancient Greek World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) and Domestic Space in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). Together with Bradley Ault she edited Ancient Greek Houses and Households: Chronological, Regional, and Social Diversity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005). In 2012 Lisa Nevett organized a conference aimed at highlighting theoretical approaches to Greek archaeological material of the first millennium BC.

Adelheid Otto (University of Mainz, Germany)
Title: “How to Reconstruct Daily Life in a Near Eastern Settlement: Possibilities and Constraints of a Combined Archaeological, Historical, and Scientific Approach”
Abstract: Nothing makes an archaeologist happier than a settlement which has been destroyed by fire before the inhabitants were able to save their belongings. This paper discusses the extent to which the interpretation of room and house function is possible even when these apparently ideal conditions are given (the “Pompeii Premise”). Such is the case at Tall Bazi in northern Syria, where the still-existent inventory allows insights into social and economic household activities, especially because the archaeological evidence relates to contemporaneous texts and ethnological analogies. Nevertheless, the reduction of the systemic inventory by natural processes and by historical developments — in this case, the deliberate plundering of the settlement — must be taken into account. Written sources and experimental archaeology can help to a limited extent in deducing the missing equipment and inventory of households, as well as interpreting the function of apparently “empty” rooms, table-like structures, and large vats. Furthermore, the analysis of approximately forty houses that disposed of primary inventory casts doubt on the frequently assumed relation of house size to the economic or social status of the inhabitants.
Bio: Adelheid Otto is professor of Near Eastern archaeology at the University of Mainz and the co-director of the excavations at Tall Bazi, Syria. Among her research interests is the use of domestic and sacred space, which she studies by using a combined historical, scientific, and theoretical approach. She is the author of Alltag und Gesellschaft zur Spätbronzezeit: Eine Fallstudie aus Tall Bazi (Syrien) (Subartu 19. Brepols: Turnhout, 2006) and of “Defining and Transgressing the Boundaries between Ritual Commensality and Daily Commensal Practices: The Case of Late Bronze Age Tall Bazi” in Between Feasts and Daily Meals: Toward an Archaeology of Commensal Spaces (eTopoi Special Volume 2, 2012). The interpretation of the Bazi houses led her to initiate an interdisciplinary research group on ancient brewing; see, for example, “Interdisciplinary Investigations into the Brewing Technology of the Ancient Near East and the Potential of the Cold Mashing Process” (co-authored with M. Zarnkow and B. Einwag) in Liquid Bread: Beer and Brewing in Cross-Cultural Perspective (Berghahn: New York and Oxford, 2011).

Peter Pfälzner (University of Tübingen, Germany)
Title: “Activity-area Analyses of Room and Grave Contexts in Third- and Second-millennium BC Syria”
Abstract: This lecture discusses the explanatory power and the methodological problems of activity-area analysis on the basis of case studies at two Bronze Age sites in the Near East. One case study refers to the Early Bronze Age houses at Tell Bderi (northeastern Syria). Here, the household activities of a third-millennium BC urban population are reconstructed on the basis of objects and installations in each room of a house. Ethno-archaeological research supported the archaeological interpretation. This leads to a reconstruction of the economic and social structure of households. However, methodological constraints of this approach need to be critically evaluated. They fundamentally determine the applicability of this approach to other sites. As a second case study, the activity-area analysis of a burial site is presented. Its results are contrasted to the study of households in the first case study. The example chosen is the royal hypogeum at Qatna (western Syria), dating to the Late Bronze Age. Here, the same methodology is applied for reconstructing ritual activities within the six rooms of the grave complex, composed of an entrance corridor, an ante-chamber, and four grave chambers. The distribution of objects and installations enables the reconstruction of a variety of activities carried out at specific points within the complex. This analysis strongly contributes to the understanding of burial rituals and the cult of the dead in ancient Syria. Thus, the explanatory power of activity-area analysis for tombs can be demonstrated. Again, it is important to point out the methodological problems and constraints of this approach in order to discuss the general applicability of this method for grave contexts in archaeology.
Bio: Peter Pfälzner is the chair of the Department for Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of Tübingen and the director of the excavations at Qatna (Syria). One of his major research projects deals with the study of urbanism in upper Mesopotamia in the third millennium BC. He is the author of Haus und Haushalt: Wohnformen des dritten Jahrtausends vor Christus in Nordmesopotamien (Damaszener Forschungen 9. Mainz: Philipp von Zabern, 2001), in which he investigates houses and households of several sites in Syria and specifically focuses on the use of ethno-archaeological data for the interpretation of ancient household models.

Nicholas S. Picardo (Harvard University)
Title: “Hybrid Households: Institutional Affiliations and Household Identity in the Town of Wah-sut (South Abydos)”
Abstract: Conclusions drawn from the archaeology of settlements and domestic buildings have played a pivotal role in interpreting social and administrative processes of Middle Kingdom Egypt. This is especially true for the late Twelfth Dynasty. Studies of this period have approached these topics mostly from the top-down vantage points of state agendas and globally defined social structures. Consequently, the late Middle Kingdom is frequently characterized as a time of intensive state control, from the highest royal offices down to the town and even household levels, a view reinforced by a dramatic expansion of administrative offices and titles in the historical record. Per this model, elite households in state-established settlements could act as nodes of a national regulatory system, particularly with respect to subsistence infrastructure. When the late Twelfth Dynasty pharaoh Senwosret III established a royal tomb and mortuary temple at South Abydos, he also provided local personnel with a newly founded, formally planned town that exemplifies several of the late Middle Kingdom trends identified above. Both the royal mortuary institution and the town itself carry the abbreviated name of Wah-sut (short for Wah-sut-Khakaure-maa-kheru-m-Abdju, “Enduring-are-the-Places-of-Khakaure-True-of-Voice-in-Abydos”). Archaeological investigation has been undertaken at Wah-sut by the Pennsylvania-Yale-Institute of Fine Arts, NYU Expedition to Abydos since 1994. This paper applies the concept of “house societies” to this state-sponsored town with emphasis on the bottom-up perspectives of individual houses, especially the structure known as Building E (excavated by the author). This approach highlights aspects of the material record that reflect facets of household identities that, like the king’s mortuary institution, were intended to be perpetuated across multiple generations of household membership. Special attention is devoted to distinguishing “extroverted” versus “introverted” expressions of identity, as well as the extent to which Wah-sut’s institutional character influenced each. This household perspective may then be gauged against contemporary archaeological and textual records. The results provide insight into the dynamics between such “hybrid households” — domestically oriented groups situated in an overtly institutionalized setting — and the broader social and economic milieus with which they interacted.
Bio: Nicholas Picardo is an Egyptological research associate with the Giza Project in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University. A specialist in household archaeology, he holds a BA in anthropology/archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania. He has excavated in Egypt at Abydos, Giza, and Saqqara, and he is field director of the South Abydos Settlement Excavation-E Project (part of the Pennsylvania-Yale-Institute of Fine Arts, NYU Expedition to Abydos), which is the basis for his forthcoming doctoral dissertation research. Prior to joining the Giza Project at Harvard, Nicholas was a research associate with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, as a member of the Department of Art of the Ancient World and the Giza Archives Project. His most recent teaching endeavor was as visiting instructor with Brown University’s Department of Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies. His publications include scholarly articles and encyclopedia entries on topics that concentrate on his research interests, including ancient Egyptian houses and households, settlements, society, and religion.

Lynn Rainville (Sweet Briar College)
Title: “Everyday Life in an Assyrian City: Micro-archaeological and Ethno-archaeological Approaches to the Study of Activity Areas”
Abstract: In this paper I summarize results from seven years of micro-archaeological investigations at Ziyaret Tepe (an Iron Age city situated along the edge of the Tigris River). My research originated as a study of household archaeology. It soon became clear that the excavation techniques commonly employed at urban sites were not adequate for recovering the ephemeral evidence from daily activities. Instead, I integrated archaeological and geological techniques (more frequently used at prehistoric sites) and developed a method that I refer to here as “micro-debris analysis,” the analysis of micro-artifacts (objects under 1 cm). I use this technique to study activity areas and socioeconomic variability among households in an Assyrian city, ancient Tushhan, modern-day Ziyaret Tepe. Archaeologists usually investigate activities by analyzing larger artifacts, features, and architecture. These analyses are limited by removal of artifacts upon site abandonment, poor preservation of features, and difficult-to-observe architectural modifications. Micro-artifacts, however, provide a unique window on activity areas because small items are more likely than larger ones to remain where they were dropped, lost, or produced. Several different approaches are applied to interpret this data, including ethno-archaeological research and an assessment of the impact of formation processes on the archaeological record of domestic structures. The results from the micro-archaeological investigations are combined with traditional data to provide information about domestic technologies, craft specialization, and household activities. Together, this data allows us to create more accurate models to explain domestic economy and social organization in Upper Mesopotamian cities.
Bio: Lynn Rainville is a research professor in the humanities at Sweet Briar College. She received her PhD in anthropology with a focus on Near Eastern archaeology from the University of Michigan. Her research interests include households, urbanism, micro-archaeology, mortuary practices, and American slavery. She has directed micro-archaeological studies at several Early Bronze Age and Assyrian sites in Turkey and Syria. Her first book is based on the earlier time period, Investigating Upper Mesopotamian Households Using Micro-Archaeological Techniques (Oxford: Archaeopress, 2005). Her next book, Hidden History: African American Cemeteries in Virginia, is due out in 2014 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press).

Cynthia Robin (Northwestern University) **
Bio: Cynthia Robin is associate professor in anthropology at Northwestern University. She specializes in the study of the everyday lives of ordinary people in ancient Maya society with particular attention to household and gender relations. Since 2001 she has led an international multi-disciplinary team that is studying the 2,000-year history of the ancient Maya farming community of Chan (Belize) with a focus on the application of micro-archaeological techniques. Cynthia Robin is the author of various articles on Mayan household archaeology including “New Directions in Classic Maya Household Archaeology” (Journal of Archaeological Research 11/4, 2003) and editor of (co-edited with Elizabeth M. Brumfield) Gender, Households, and Society: Unraveling the Threads of the Past and the Present (Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 18, 2008) as well as of Chan: An Ancient Maya Farming Community (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2012).

David Schloen (The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago) **
Bio: David Schloen is associate professor of Syro-Palestinian archaeology at the Oriental Institute / Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago. He specializes in the archaeology and socioeconomic history of the Bronze and Iron Age Levant (ancient Syria and Palestine). David Schloen is the author of The House of the Father as Fact and Symbol: Patrimonialism in Ugarit and the Ancient Near East (Studies in the Archaeology and History of the Levant 2. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2001), where he focuses on Bronze Age models of society in the Levant integrating texts with the archaeological record and a case study of Late Bronze Age households in Ugarit. Since 2006, David Schloen has been the director of the Neubauer Expedition to Zincirli (Turkey).

Kate Spence (University of Cambridge, UK)
Title: “Ancient Egyptian Houses: Architecture, Conceptualization, and Interpretation”
Abstract: This paper considers the value and status of the interpretation of domestic architecture in the light of recent advances in archaeological and scientific methodologies. Drawing on the Egyptian domestic architecture from the New Kingdom and earlier, I argue that architecture remains an essential source for understanding the conceptual structure of domestic space and the nature of social interaction. The significance of temporal change in domestic architecture is also discussed.
Bio: Kate Spence is a lecturer in the archaeology of ancient Egypt at the University of Cambridge. Her research interests include the historical archaeology of Early Dynastic and New Kingdom Egypt with a focus on architecture and the built environment. Her current project aims to examine closely the provision and experience of comfort in the past, and the way in which this intersects with the construction of social identity, relationships, and behavioral norms in relation to the domestic architecture of ancient Egypt. Kate Spence is the author of “Settlement Structure and Social Interaction at El-Amarna” in Cities and Urbanism in Egypt (Vienna: Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2010) and “The Three-Dimensional Form of the Amarna House” in The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 90 (2004). She has conducted extensive research on the large settlement site Amarna. Her excavations in Sesebi (co-directed with Pamela Rose) are focused on Egyptian colonialism in New Kingdom Nubia.

Neal Spencer (British Museum, United Kingdom)
Title: “Amara West: House and Neighborhood in Egyptian Nubia”
Abstract: Amara West, administrative center of Egyptian-occupied Upper Nubia (Kush) in the 13th through 11th centuries BC, has been the subject of a British Museum research project since 2008, focusing on lived experience within the urban environment, set within a broader environmental and bioarchaeological framework. The well-preserved housing in the town site provides the potential to pursue three rich seams of research relating to house(hold) archaeology. Firstly, the opportunity to investigate a neighborhood (E13) which developed across two centuries. This is revealing episodes of widescale remodelling, interspersed with more common, and perhaps more typical, architectural adjustments and modifications to spaces (and their functions?) within individual houses. In its final form, the neighborhood provides evidence for what was deemed essential or desirable in a dwelling. Food-processing facilities and storage capacity; color and decoration; space, light, and upper storys; provision for household cult; and varying levels of access/display/privacy might all be desirable elements in a house, but how did the presence (standing or partly demolished) of older buildings, among other constraints, influence the built form of houses? Secondly, the site offers the potential to explore continuities and rupture with assumed contemporary traditions in Egypt proper. How closely was the urban fabric of Egyptian settlements replicated in this settlement in Nubia? What elements persisted as the settlement developed from a planned town to a more densely occupied, and (seemingly) more culturally heterogeneous, urban environment? Finally, the development of an extramural suburb allows investigation of how inhabitants responded to the opportunity of building upon previously unoccupied ground, less constrained by space and the architectural palimpsests present within the walled town.
Bio: Neal Spencer is Keeper of the Department of Ancient Egypt & Sudan at the British Museum, and director of the ongoing research project and fieldwork at Amara West in Sudan ( He has previously worked at contemporary sites in Egypt, notably Kom Firin. His publications include “Cemeteries and a Late Ramesside Suburb in Amara West” in Sudan & Nubia 13 (2009), “Nubian Architecture in an Egyptian Town? Building E12.11 at Amara West” in Sudan & Nubia 14 (2010) and “Archaeobotanical Research in a Pharaonic Town in Ancient Nubia” (co-authored with P. Ryan and C. Cartwright) in British Museum Technical Research Bulletin 6 (2012).

Elizabeth Stone (Stony Brook University) **
Bio: Elizabeth Stone is a professor with specialization in the archaeology of the Near East in the Department of Anthropology at Stony Brook University. She has focused her research on issues relating to early complex societies in the Near East, especially Mesopotamia. From her early dissertation research on houses and households, she extended her interests into explorations of neighborhood organization, urban organization, and most recently to an understanding of the structure of both urban and rural settlements. She has approached these issues using a combination of textual and archaeological data, also using remote sensing (both aerial photography and satellite imagery) and GIS for spatial analysis. She has directed excavations (with Paul Zimansky) at 'Ain Dara (Syria), Mashkan-shapir (Iraq), Ayanis (Turkey), and Tell Sakhariya (Iraq). Elizabeth Stone is the author of Nippur Neighborhoods (Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization 44. Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 1987) and (co-authored with Paul E. Zimansky) The Anatomy of a Mesopotamian City: Survey and Soundings at Mashkan-shapir (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2004), as well as the editor of Settlement and Society Essays Dedicated to Robert McCormick Adams (Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA; Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 2007).


Miriam Müller (Organizer)
Oriental Institute, University of Chicago
1155 E. 58th St., Chicago IL 60637

Tel: (+1) 773-702-7497


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Revised: February 14, 2013

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