David B. Stronach— 2004 Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement
Field archaeologist of consummate skill, esteemed scholar, and revered mentor to scores of younger practitioners, David Stronach is one of the great Near Eastern archaeologists of our time. Excavator of major historic sites in Mesopotamia, Iran, the Caucasus, and Anatolia, Stronach has illuminated the world of the early empires, especially of the Assyrians, Medes and Persians. It is through this research, amply published, that he has made his greatest contributions to archaeology.
Stronach's first significant excavation was in 1960 at the prehistoric site of Ras al 'Amiya in southern Iraq. This substantial early village demonstrated that the 'Ubaid culture had a continuous development on the alluvial plains of Mesopotamia. The excavation, rapidly published in the journal Iraq, demonstrated his emerging mastery of field technique.
Following his appointment in 1961 as Director of the new British Institute of Persian Studies in Teheran, Stronach significantly enlarged our understanding of the empires of the Medes and the Persians. At Pasargadae Stronach conducted new studies of the layout of the site, and demonstrated for the first time the distinctive nature of Achaemenid site planning and architecture. His studies of the Tomb of Cyrus the Great cast new light on the construction and significance of this renowned monument.
ln the late nineteen sixties Stronach began the decade-long excavation of the site that has brought him most renown, the Median sanctuary of Tepe Nush-i Jan. At this remarkably preserved site, with its fortress and Fire Temple, he has demonstrated that fire worship was embraced very early by the peoples of the Iranian Plateau. The distinctive structural features of these buildings have confirmed that the Medes and the Persians were architectural innovators and no mere copiers of Babylonian and Greek styles, as had long been believed. Above all, Stronach's excavations have illuminated the distinctive place of the Medes among the early high cultures of Western Asia.
As Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of California at Berkeley since 1981, Stronach has undertaken campaigns of excavation at other sites across Western Asia, partly to resolve key archaeological problems but also to provide training for his many graduate students. His brief excavation at Nineveh from 1987 to 1990 was extraordinary in its vivid demonstration of the impact of the assaults of the Medes and the Babylonians in 614 BC and again in 612 BC. All of those who have heard Stronach lecture on these excavations and have seen his slides of the exposed skeletons of the slaughtered Assyrian defenders of the Halzi Gate share a keen sense of the horror that attended the sack of this once great city. The results demonstrate once again that Stronach has always known exactly where to dig to get the information he needed, an ability that the rest of us can only marvel at.
Stronach's scholarly interests extend well beyond the topics of his own excavations. Among his other more distinctive contributions has been a series of remarkable papers on the early history of gardens in the ancient Near East. Drawing on his work at Nineveh and other Assyrian and Babylonian sites, Stronach has provided convincing evidence of the political as well as aesthetic importance of gardens for the rulers of the Mesopotamian empires of the first millennium BC. But it is his insights derived from his excavations at Pasargadae that resonate most strongly. For he has demonstrated clearly that Cyrus and his successors originated a type of monumental garden design, the symmetrical fourfold garden or chahar bagh, that was once thought to have been developed in the Islamic period 1,500 years later.
Throughout a long and distinguished career, Stronach has maintained the warmest of relations with diverse colleagues, students, and a wide circle of admirers, including the many officials of the antiquities' departments of the countries in which he has worked. He is a man of many friends and no enemies who is known as a gentleman and archaeologist of distinction across the world. It is with great pride that the Archaeological Institute awards David Stronach the Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement.