CRANE SYMPOSIUM: Archaeological Data Analysis and Cross-Project Collaboration

The Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and Archaeology Centre of the University of Toronto warmly invites students and faculty to attend our upcoming Symposium on Archaeological Data Analysis and Cross-Project Collaboration (Claude T. Bissell Building 205, March 27-28). Sessions will cover everything from computational approaches to reconstructing ancient environments to the rise of the Islamic State in Syria and its implications for the region’s cultural, archaeological, and architectural heritage.

Organized by the Computational Research on the Ancient Near East (CRANE) Project, this interdisciplinary symposium will be of interest to researchers in many fields, including anthropology, geography, history, archaeobotany, geology, museology, computer science, forensic science, information science, and the digital humanities. We welcome the participation of anyone interested in new techniques in spatial, geographical, chronological, or anthropological data visualization. All sessions are free and open to the public.

Join us to explore the role of Big Data in modern archaeology. Learn more about the current crisis in the Middle East. Meet new colleagues and potential collaborators. For more information, please see the attached program or visit

Sorcery in the Soil: Finding Magic at Graeco-Roman Karanis in Egypt by Andrew Wilburn

Andrew Wilburn

We often imagine magic around every corner of the ancient village: old women who curl fingers around thumbs to avoid the evil eye, ill townspeople seeking out spells and cures from the local wise woman at the edge of town, or ne’er do-wells enchanting young girls with more than their good looks. Indeed, individuals in the ancient world frequently employed magic to achieve solutions to everyday problems as well as unusual crises. Continue reading

From Mastodons to Parliament: Conserving the Archaeological Past of Toronto by Ron Williamson

The first European settlement of Toronto was simply a continuation of patterns that had been in place for thousands of years. The Aboriginal occupants of the encampments and semi-permanent villages that lined the former water courses in the City left no written record of their lives. Their legacy consists of the oral histories and traditions passed on to descendants and the surviving traces of those settlements. This talk will summarise this rich archaeological record and discuss how the City of Toronto is ensuring its conservation.

The Legacy of Peking Man: the Story of Human Evolution in East Asia by Dr. Chen Shen

Dr. Shen 85 years ago, a group of hominid fossils, including 5 late-mysteriously-missing skulls, were named the “Peking Men” by the Toronto anthropologist Davidson Black. Since the 1920s, the Peking Men has been  included in the history of Anthropology and archaeology, and has been mentioned throughout numerous classrooms as part of the theories associated with the origins of human beings. Today, what the legendary  human fossils can tell us about the story of the human evolution in East Asia? In this talk, Dr. Shen will share preliminary results of recent fieldwork at the Zhoukoudian site near Beijing.


“Seamanship and Sailing Rigs in the Ancient Mediterranean” by Julian Whitewright, University of Southhampton

It is often stated that the sea is central, in more ways than one, to our understanding of the Mediterranean World, particularly in Antiquity. At the heart of this lie the unprecedented levels of maritime connectivity between people and cultures afforded by the sea and the ships and boats that plied the waters of the ancient world. Our understanding of those vessels has been greatly expanded in the last half a century through a wealth of archaeological evidence that has allowed a detailed understanding to be developed of the construction of such vessels, the goods and products of trade and the trade routes themselves. Continue reading

Footwear and Families in a Roman Fort: The shoes of women and children at Vindolanda – Prof. Elizabeth Greene

The Roman fort at Vindolanda has one of the largest assemblages of archaeological leather in the Roman world. The most common artifact–shoes of all shapes and sizes–are found in almost every occupation level (AD 85 to the 4th century) and in several types of environments. Shoes offer a wealth of information for archaeologists today, most importantly demographic information, which has allowed us to understand far more about the people that lived in this military community. This talk will introduce the site and its anaerobic archaeological environments that preserve leather, and give an overview of the collection of Roman shoes found on site. Discussion will focus especially on the shoes that once belonged to women and children and the implications this has for our understanding of Roman military settlements.

“Framing Victory: Salamis, the Athenian Acropolis, and the Agora” – Dr John Papadopoulos, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA


Although long considered the most significant architectural project of Classical Athens, the Periklean building program still has much to reveal. In questioning modern conventions of viewing buildings on the Acropolis, this presentation reappraises how victory monuments were observed and perceived in the fifth century BC. The starting point is to show that the Mnesiklean Propylaia, the ceremonial gateway into the sanctuary on the Acropolis, is also a monumental exit that frames the island of Salamis, the location of a watershed event in the history and topography of Athens—the defeat of the Persian armada in 480 BC. Instead of seeing the Propylaia as an anomaly, it is argued that it was instrumental to a new tradition of using architecture to orchestrate sightlines between monuments across the city. Buildings on the Acropolis worked in tandem with the stoas in the heart of Athens, the Classical Agora, to create a ritual topography that showcased Athenian heroism and triumph. This analysis therefore widens the canonical perspective of the Periklean program, proposing for the first time that it extended to and incorporated the Classical Agora.

“Myth and Fantasy in Roman Painting” – Dr Bjoern Ewald: Art Department, University of Toronto


“Roman houses were decorated with a wealth of figural and architectural imagery that is as attractive as it is alien to our modern aesthetic sensibilities. The talk surveys this rich and varied imagery and explores the meanings it may have had for ancient viewers. Particular emphasis will be placed on notions of myth and fantasy, as well as the ways in which the paintings reflected and distorted lived experiences and ancient role models.”

“High Altitude ‘Big Bang’: Formation Period Archaeology of the Lake Titicaca Basin, Bolivia”. – Dr Andrew Roddick, Anthropology Department, McMaster University


“The site of Tiwanaku, located on the edge of Lake Titicaca in the high planes or altiplano of the Bolivian Andes, has intrigued archaeologists for over a century. In recent years, however, we have seen an explosion of research both at the Middle Horizon (475-1100 AD) occupations at Tiwanaku, and neighbouring earlier Late Formative (300 BC-475 AD) sites. Questions concerning the “evolution of the state” and the “emergence of inequality” drive many projects, including that of the Taraco Archaeological Project (TAP). I have been part of this project for over 10 years, contributing to a more nuanced perspective to the environmental and historical processes prior to Tiwanaku hegemony. This substantial research, and of colleagues working in the region, has revealed a deep and complex past in the region, a palimpsest of social, political, economic and ideological processes. In this talk I discuss some of the recent research on this Late Formative Period. I highlight some of the practices of everyday life, including crafting, farming, and food consumption, and present evidence for regional ceremonial ritual traditions. I argue that while some of these social changes were gradual, there was a “big bang” – an explosion of sociopolitical, economic but also creative output, around the end of the 4th century AD that echoed across the highlands of Peru and Bolivia. I present some of the current explanations for this “big bang” and discuss some of the intra-community processes that lead up to one of the first forms of urbanism in the highlands of Andean South America.”

“Tribes, Seals, Statues, Diplomats, and Holdups–archaeological work in Iraq during the 1930’s.” – Dr Clemens Reichel, ROM and NMES University of Toronto


Archaeological work in the Middle East during the 1930’s attained an air of adventure and romance through numerous novels and movies, not the least through the character of Indiana Jones. A period of well-funded expeditions that undertook large-scale excavations resulting in groundbreaking discoveries, these years could indeed be classified as a “Golden Age” of archaeology. The Diyala expedition, conducted by the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute between 1930 and 1938, was one of the largest projects undertaken in Iraq. Using photographs and documents from the expedition’s archives this lecture follows this project’s remarkable story from its establishment, to its groundbreaking discoveries that still influence archaeological research today, the luxuries and hardships of life on site, and the expedition’s entanglements in European and Middle Eastern politics during the pre-World War II era.