News FocusArchaeology

Near Eastern Archaeology Works to Dig Out of a Crisis

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Science  18 May 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6083, pp. 796-797
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6083.796

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The Near East, birthplace of farming, animal domestication, cities, empires, and writing, exerts a powerful pull on archaeologists. The region is also the birthplace of modern archaeology itself, which began in the 19th century amid the mounds of Mesopotamia. Yet at the Eighth International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East, the field's first gathering since the Arab Spring unleashed unrest from Morocco to Oman, researchers were worried about the future of archaeology's flagship subdiscipline. More than 120 foreign teams were abruptly shut out of Syria, Egypt is taking a xenophobic turn, parts of Iraq remain prone to violence, and Iran remains virtually sealed off. Even peaceful countries are more difficult for foreign archaeologists to access. Although about 600 scientists crowded the halls to listen to nearly 500 presentations, there was a note of quiet desperation in the air.