Near Eastern Art and Archaeology

Archaeological research is fundamental to the investigation of the origins and development of the world’s earliest civilizations. The University of Chicago has long played a major role in this enterprise, both in fielding archaeological expeditions in the Near East and in developing new approaches to the interpretation of what has been found. Students of archaeology in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations participate in archaeological fieldwork and in a rigorous program of academic study that equips them to become skilled recorders and interpreters of the immense cultural heritage of the Near East. Graduates of this program have successfully pursued professional careers in archaeology in a variety of academic and institutional settings.

The Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations is housed in the premises of the Oriental Institute, a separate research institution that is a major contributor to all fields of ancient Near Eastern studies. The Oriental Institute’s large museum collection, its public education programs, and its long-term research projects (including archaeological expeditions directed by faculty members) provide students with invaluable practical experience.

Each student is assigned a faculty adviser who designs an academic program that suits the student’s abilities and interests. Any of the archaeology program requirements listed below may be waived by the archaeology faculty as a whole in response to a written petition from the student, although this will be done only in special circumstances. Academic requirements that apply to all graduate students in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations are not repeated here; they are listed in the department’s “Rules and Requirements for the M.A. and Ph.D. Degrees.” Petitions for waivers of the departmental requirements must be submitted to the department’s Student Affairs Committee.

A minimum of 27 courses is required for the Ph.D. in Near Eastern archaeology. (The normal load is nine courses per year, or three per quarter.) Most students in the Near Eastern archaeology program study the Ancient Near East, focusing on the periods before the rise of the Greek and Roman empires. Others study the archaeology of the Islamic Middle East, focusing on the periods after the fall of the Roman empire. The requirements of the two subprograms are different.

Archaeology of the Ancient Near East

  1. Archaeological and Historical Overview (7 courses) Students in this subprogram must acquire a broad command of the archaeology and history of the ancient Near East. The introductory course sequence NEHC 30001-30002-30003, “History of the Ancient Near East I, II, III” must be taken during the first two years of scholastic residence, along with three courses from the sequence NEAA 30001-30002-30003-30004-30005-30006, “Archaeology of the Ancient Near East I, II, III, IV, V, VI,” one of which is offered each quarter (though not necessarily in sequential order). The NEHC and NEAA course sequences are offered in alternate years. Students in ancient Near Eastern archaeology are also required to take NEAA 30005, “Archaeology of the Ancient Near East-5: Islamic Period.”
  2. Regional Specialization (3 courses) Most students specialize in a single geographical region, e.g., Anatolia, Egypt, Iran, Mesopotamia, or the Levant (Syria-Palestine). Some specializations span regions. Each student must take a minimum of three advanced courses pertaining to his or her specialty and is also expected to engage in regular fieldwork or research projects relevant to it.
  3. Method and Theory (2 courses) Students are required to take NEAA 30051, “Method and Theory in Near Eastern Archaeology,” which provides an overview of various methodological and theoretical approaches relevant to Near Eastern archaeology. In addition to this survey course, students must take at least one other course that focuses on archaeological method or theory and is not region-specific. This course may be NEHC 30010, “Social Theory and Near Eastern Studies,” or an approved substitute that deals with social theory in relation to premodern societies. Or it may be a course that focuses on particular materials, e.g., archaeobotany, archaeometallurgy, art historical theory, bioarchaeology, ceramic analysis, landscape archaeology, or zooarchaeology. A course on the pottery of a particular region does not fulfill this requirement. Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are a fundamental tool for archaeological research. All students are expected to learn how to use GIS software either in formal coursework or more informally in the context of a research project. The Oriental Institute’s Center for Ancient Middle Eastern Landscapes (CAMEL) is an important resource for this purpose. The Oriental Institute also has laboratories for archaeometallurgy and zooarchaeology in which students can develop skills in those areas.
  4. Ancient Languages (6 courses) The study of premodern languages and texts is an integral part of research into the literate societies of the ancient Near East. Language training is therefore an essential component of the curriculum in Near Eastern archaeology. A minimum of six courses in one or more ancient languages is normally required, in addition to fulfilling the departmental requirement to demonstrate reading knowledge of two modern languages of scholarship (normally French and German). The ancient language courses may consist of an elementary sequence and an intermediate sequence of courses in a single language relevant to the student’s region of specialization, or a combination of two languages (e.g., three courses each in Akkadian and Sumerian for Mesopotamian archaeology). Some faculty advisers will require or recommend more than six courses of language instruction, depending on the student’s research interests and region of specialization. Conversely, a student may petition the archaeology faculty to reduce the ancient language requirement to three courses, replacing three language courses with a coherent set of three courses that focus on a particular scientific method relevant to Near Eastern archaeology (e.g., archaeobotany, bioarchaeology, ceramic petrography, zooarchaeology). These scientific courses would be in addition to the two method and theory courses required of all students. In addition to first-hand experience with textual sources in their original languages, students are required to become well acquainted with the major literary compositions and archives of the ancient Near East in English translation. Modern Middle Eastern languages (e.g., Arabic, Turkish, and Hebrew) are increasingly important as languages of archaeological scholarship; training in one of these is therefore strongly recommended in addition to fulfilling the ancient language requirement.
  5. Electives (9–18 courses, for a total of 27–36) Each student should take elective courses on the archaeology of Near Eastern regions outside his or her area of specialty, as well as courses that deal with other periods and regions. Elective courses in archaeological method and theory are in addition to the two required courses in method and theory described above. At least two of the elective courses must be taken outside of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. Archaeological courses and special lectures are available in the Departments of Anthropology, Art History, and Classics, in which there are faculty members who specialize in various branches of Old World and New World archaeology. Other courses and workshops of interest to students of Near Eastern archaeology are provided by the Center for Middle Eastern Studies and the Divinity School.
  6. Second-Year Evaluation The “Year 2 Review” of students’ academic performance is described in the “Rules and Requirements for the M.A. and Ph.D. Degrees” of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. As part of this evaluation each second-year student of Near Eastern archaeology will be interviewed by the archaeology faculty as a whole. This will normally take place during the latter part of the Winter Quarter. In the course of this interview the student will summarize his or her M.A. thesis and will answer questions about it and about other topics pertaining to ancient Near Eastern archaeology. Depending on the student’s regional specialty, additional examinations may be required at the end of the second year (e.g., students of Egyptian archaeology are required to take an examination in Egyptian language).
  7. Comprehensive Examinations After coursework has been completed and the relevant departmental requirements have been fulfilled, each student must take a set of comprehensive examinations whose topics are determined in consultation with his or her faculty adviser. These examinations must be taken before the end of the student’s fourth year in residence. A minimum of four comprehensive examinations is required on the following topics:
    1. Archaeology of the student’s geographical region of specialty.
    2. History of the student’s geographical region of specialty.
    3. Archaeology of a second geographical region in the Near East.
    4. Archaeology of a third geographical region or of a later period (e.g., Islamic)or an archaeological method (e.g., zooarchaeology) or archaeological theory.

    These are all assumed to be “full” examinations. The student’s adviser may require a fifth examination (“full” or “half”) on additional topics or languages relevant to the student’s proposed area of research.

Archaeology of the Islamic Middle East

  1. Archaeological and Historical Overview (8 courses) Students in this subprogram must acquire a broad command of the archaeology and history of the Islamic Middle East. Students must take NEAA 30005 "Archaeology of the Ancient Near East-5: Islamic Period," or one of the Islamic archaeology courses NEAA 30521-30522-30523 that cover Islamic Egypt, Syria-Palestine, and the Eastern Caliphates, respectively. One introductory course in the archaeology of the ancient Near East is also required; i.e., NEAA 30001 or 30002 or 30003. Students are required to take a three-course sequence in Islamic history or civilization, which will be either NEHC 30621-30622-30623, “History of the Islamic Middle East I, II, III,” or NEHC 30601-30602, “Introduction to Islamic Civilization I, II,” plus an advanced history course.
  2. Method and Theory (1 course) Students are required to take NEAA 30051, “Method and Theory in Near Eastern Archaeology,” which provides an overview of various methodological and theoretical approaches relevant to Near Eastern archaeology.
  3. Middle Eastern Languages (15 courses) Recognizing that Islamic archaeology is a discipline within a fully historical tradition, students must acquire a research facility in two Middle Eastern languages, in addition to fulfilling the departmental requirement to demonstrate reading knowledge of French and German. Normally, a student will take nine courses in Arabic and six courses in a second language (usually Hebrew, Persian, or Turkish). A fourth year (three courses) of Arabic is encouraged, although a student may prefer instead to study an ancient language or a scientific methodology.
  4. Electives (3–12 courses, for a total of 27–36) Students will normally specialize in one geographical region and will take a number of courses anticipating fieldwork and research projects pertaining to it. Students should take elective courses to complement their specializations, acquiring expertise in minor fields and/or methodological specializations.
  5. Second-Year Evaluation The “Year 2 Review” of students’ academic performance is described in the “Rules and Requirements for the M.A. and Ph.D. Degrees” of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations. As part of this evaluation each second-year student of Near Eastern archaeology will be interviewed by the archaeology faculty as a whole. This will normally take place during the latter part of the Winter Quarter. In the course of this interview the student will summarize his or her M.A. thesis and will answer questions about it and about other topics pertaining to Islamic archaeology.
  6. Comprehensive Examinations A minimum of five comprehensive examinations is required on the following topics:
    1. Islamic history and civilization (an oral examination given by a minimum of three faculty members based on a reading list prepared by the whole Islamics faculty).
    2. Method and theory in Islamic archaeology.
    3. Major field: the main geographical or historical area of interest.
    4. Minor field (half): a second geographical or historical area.
    5. Minor field (half): an area of expertise in Islamic history, numismatics, or art history, or a third geographical area.
    6. Note that the first three are “full” examinations and the last two are “half” examinations.