Kiersten Neumann, From Raw to Ritualized: Following the Trail of Incense of the Assyrian Temple

February 26, 2020 | 4:30PM
Haskell Hall, Room 315

Please join the Interdisciplinary Archaeology Workshop for:

Kiersten Neumann,

Curator, Research Associate, Oriental Institute

From Raw to Ritualized: Following the Trail of Incense of the Assyrian Temple  

 Wednesday, February 26, 2020

4:30 – 6:00 p.m.

Haskell Hall, Rm 315

5836-46 S. Greenwood Ave. 

Food & Beverages will be served! 


Abstract: From the moment a temple’s foundations were laid in the space designated since time primordial to the daily offerings presented to the gods, incense played a fundamental role in marking the sensory landscape of the Assyrian temple of the first millennium BCE. Fumigation offered a way to purify the land prior to laying foundations, the smell of timber characterized construction and renovation, while incense burners and oil stands emitted potent aromas as nourishment for the gods throughout the life of the temple. Exploring the ways in which aromatics were employed within the context of ritualized practice demonstrates their ability to transpose activities and materials into a realm beyond the earthly, into the domain of the divine and otherworldly. A deeper understanding of the cultural value and meaning associated with these resources and their affect on people’s senses can be achieved by looking at the means by which, as well as the contexts within which, such aromatic materials were acquired. Visual and textual sources provide commentary, for example, on the regions from which cedar was obtained, exposing a long-standing conception of such landscapes as distant, wild, exotic, and otherworldly. Comparable associations logically extend to the olfactory components of cedar in the context of ritualized practice, the smell of burning cedar transplanting a person beyond their earthly surroundings. We might extend this train of thought further to the social context of both the acquisition and use of such olfactory substances, the raw materials being obtained during royal military campaigns, as tribute given to the king—an intermediary between gods and men, and by way of elite exchange, while temple practice was staged within the similarly elite context of the royal court.