Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Emily Hammer

Affiliation: University of Pennsylvania

Emily Hammer is Assistant Professor with the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Department, University of Pennsylvania, and holds her degrees from Harvard University (Ph.D.) and Bryn Mawr College.  Dr. Hammer is an anthropological archaeologist of the Near East and South Caucasia, and her research applies spatial analysis to material culture to investigate the territorial organization of ancient polities, the development of early cities, and long term changes in the interactions between culture and environment.  She is the recipient of a 2018 grant from the National Geographic Society, for “Wetlands and Early Mesopotamian Cities: Multi-disciplinary Investigations at Tell al-Hiba (Lagash), Iraq”, and current publication projects include “The City and Landscape of Ur: An Aerial, Satellite, and Ground Reassessment.” (in press 2019, Iraq).


After several decades of closure to foreign researchers, the heartland of the world’s earliest cities in southern Iraq has reopened for archaeological expeditions. The long research hiatus has meant that the archaeology of this region missed out on many important methodological and interpretive advances in the discipline, especially the use of many digital technologies for generating, collecting, analyzing, and sharing archaeological data and research designs aimed at reconstructing more holistic pictures of early cities and their surrounding environments, with an emphasis on the lives of everyday city residents as well as elites. Now archaeologists finally have the opportunity apply these methods and approaches in order to forge new understandings of early Mesopotamian cities. In this lecture, I discuss my recent fieldwork in 2017 and 2019 at two of the most important early Mesopotamian cities, Ur (Tell al-Muqayyar) and Lagash (Tell al-Hiba). Earlier work at both of these cities focused on excavating temples, palaces, and houses located in the city centers. With new fieldwork, I focus on investigating what the edges of these cities were like: What did people do on city fringe? How did the cities receive their water, and were they were surrounded by fields or marshes? New sources of historical aerial imagery, recent UAV (drone) photography, archaeological survey, and geological coring answer these and other questions, telling us a lot about the sizes of ancient Ur and Lagash and about the environments in which these cities emerged.

Declassified military imagery from planes and satellites plays an important role in landscape and environmental archaeology. The identification of ancient sites, fortifications, road networks, and irrigation networks in modern satellite images, like those viewable in Google Earth, is limited by the degree to which these features have survived the destructive effects of development and intensive agriculture in the last several decades. Historic imagery sources, especially large imagery archives generated by the US during the Cold War, provide archaeologists with a window into the past, before these processes took hold in many rural parts of Asia. In the mid-late 1990s, the archaeology of arid regions in Eurasia was revolutionized by the declassification of CORONA “spy satellite” photographs showing large swaths of the region in high-resolution, as they appeared in 1967-1972. Now Eurasian archaeology has a new source of even older high-resolution historical imagery: photos from U2 spy planes, captured 1958-1960. In this lecture, I present recent efforts to make U2 photos more accessible to archaeologists and historians and case studies showing how these photos can be used to shape archaeological and historical conclusions. Using this new data source has required considerable detective work in the National Archives. However, the outcomes have been significant for generating a wide variety of unique datasets. These datasets allow for a better understanding of environmental distribution of prehistoric hunting traps (“desert kites”) in eastern Jordan, the size of the early Mesopotamian city of Ur in southern Iraq and this city’s ancient water supplies, and the spatial demography of twentieth-century communities living the marshes of southern Iraq.

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