Oscar White Muscarella— 1990 James R. Wiseman Book Award

Award Citation:

The Archaeological Institute of America is proud to honor Oscar White Muscarella as the second recipient of the James R. Wiseman Book Award for his outstanding recent publication, Bronze and Iron: Ancient Near Eastern Artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Oscar, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is internationally renowned for his scholarly contributions to the archaeology of the Iron Age in the Near East, particularly of Anatolia and Western Iran, and to our understanding of the cultural connections between the Near East and Greece in the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. Both inside and outside the community of scholars he has established a second reputation through his penetrating and forthright exposure of deception and forgery wherever it bears upon his primary research projects. He is one of that rare and valuable breed of scholars who are crusaders at heart. As a distinguished museum curator for many years it is inevitable that material culture should have always been his central interest, but never to the neglect of the wider perspectives revealed to him by initial training and experience as a field archaeologist.

Bronze and Iron epitomizes his outstanding contribution to ancient Near Eastern studies over the past 30 years during which the metalwork of the region has been his main concern. This is a catalogue raisonné in the great tradition of museum scholarship, in which the systematic study of objects is seen as a primary means for understanding not only the artistic achievement and craft skills of antiquity, but also the ideologies and values of the societies that created them. It illustrates how the best of such scholarship has always demanded a combination of the skills of the archaeologist with those of the historian of art and culture. Nor has Oscar, ably supported by colleagues past and present in the Metropolitan Museum Laboratory, not least Pieter Meyers, neglected the potential contribution now available through science for understanding composition, processes of manufacture, and authenticity. It is indeed a versatile performance, a major review of the subject, more than welcome after a century of widely scattered scholarship of very uneven quality. Oscar's knowledge of the existing literature is exhaustive, his critical analysis of it acute, his eye for significant details discriminating and his judgments as firm as may be hoped in the complex world of ancient Near Eastern metallurgy. He sums up like the most learned of judges and gives his verdicts with the conviction of a sworn jury: the evidence is carefully mustered, thoroughly assessed, and rigorously clarified.

The combination of the typical and the outstanding, which distinguishes the Metropolitan Museum collection, has allowed Oscar to explore many aspects of his subject. Indeed, diversity is the hallmark of the ancient Near East, fascinating to those familiar with it, all to often dispiriting to those who encounter it for the first time; but never less than challenging to those who seek to write about it in a way which both the scholar and the general reader may appreciate. It is perhaps the best measure of Oscar's success that professional scholars and amateur connoisseurs will both find here a model of the way in which museum collections of antiquities of this caliber should be presented in print for their instruction and enjoyment.

There has been a tendency to marginalize the study of material culture and technology in archaeological and anthropological studies in our generation. There are signs that the tide is again turning and an aspect of scholarship once at the heart of our discipline is regaining something of its old status. In presenting the James R. Wiseman Book Award to Bronze and Iron we honor an outstanding work of research, handsomely displayed to the world, which superbly illustrates the potential and vitality of archaeological scholarship practiced in and through our great museums.

 

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