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Rita P. Wright, Professor of Anthropology

My research continues to be focused on the Near East and South Asia. This year (2014) the American Anthropological Association will hold its annual meeting in Washington D.C. and I have organized the session, Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage 2014 and Beyond. Throughout history, Afghanistan has stood at a crossroads of civilizations and a meeting of cultures visible in its monuments, especially from the Islamic, Buddhist, and Hellenistic periods. The names of great men like Babur and Alexander the Great have made their place in history there. Equally significant and less well known are the country’s pre- and proto-historic past that continues to be at risk. In the session, we will approach the years ahead by revisiting successful projects undertaken to preserve the country’s archaeological sites and material culture in museums and on the ground during years of conflict. Our call is the urgent need to join with Afghan scholars, American archaeologists with varied expertise and others to save Afghanistan’s past, as the country moves forward toward increased development and changed geopolitical realities.

It is with these concerns that I traveled to Afghanistan in July 2011 with my collaborator, Joseph Schuldenrein, a geoarchaeologist, to the sites of Mes Aynak, where a salvage project is taking place to preserve a major Buddhist site. The site is located on one of the world’s largest copper mines soon to be subjected to strip mining. My purpose was to explore the Mes Aynak landscape for evidence of ancient mining and settlement in the prehistoric periods, coincident with the extensive trade in copper and tin in the third millennium B.C.E. There are promising possibilities but conducting research in the field will have to wait and now revert to the laboratory. At the AAA meetings we will present preliminary results of a mapping project, Mapping on Afghanistan’s Archaeological and Natural Resources, co-authored by myself, Carrie Hritz, Vincent Pigott, Joseph Schuldenrein, and Reed Goodman. This paper chronicles part of Afghanistan’s global past, by compiling a gazetteer of archaeological sites and its natural resource. The map integrates publicly available satellite imagery and paper maps with past archaeological data sets in a GIS format. Collectively, these data record millennia-long, longitudinal shifts in human settlement, and present archaeological landscapes that have since disappeared. A preliminary analysis of Bronze Age settlement and its relationship to known natural resources suggests that prehistoric sites were spatially dependent, and indicate that, even at this early date, Afghanistan figured prominently in the Bronze Age economy of the greater Middle East. Finally, in 2013 I organized the conference, Afghanistan’s Cultural Heritage. Honoring Omar Khan Massoudi, in celebration of an Honorary Degree awarded to Mr. Massoudi at NYU’s 2013 commencement. Mr. Massoudi is the Director of National Museums of Afghanistan. The conference was funded by ISAW, the Department of Anthropology, the Center for Ancient Studies, and CNRS/NYU.

In a related project, I organized a Forum/Workshop at the Society for American Archaeological meetings in 2013 on the renewed interest among climatologists on the effects of climate change in South Asia. Colleagues conducting regional research in key areas of Pakistan and India were brought together to evaluate settlement histories, ecological variabilities and adaptations in the face of climate change (co-organized with Steven Weber and Joe Schuldenrein). The focus of this session was on establishing collaborative approaches that better document the relationship between climate change and human adaptabilities. Claims that climate change events provide useful models for resolving present-day debates necessitates understandings of the complexities of climate change, the historical component that documents human reactions to change and regional variabilities. I presented some of our results at a paper delivered in Stockholm, Sweden in July 2014, sponsored by the European Association of South Asian Archaeology and Art (EASAA).

The EASAA conference was my second trip to Stockholm. The first was in June 2013, when I was invited by the Axel and Margaret Axeson Johnson Foundation to contribute to a conference on Civilizations, the results of which are now published in Civilisation, Perspectives from the Engelsberg Seminar 2013 (2014). Contributors included twenty-nine scholars from around the world, who lectured on topics as broad ranging as prehistory and the modern era, present and past politics, and philosophy. I also joined a small group of four other scholars at a follow-on seminar. Thirty students and faculty from Upsala and Ludden Universities continued discussions on various aspects of civilizations, including the problem of American power, aspects of war and disarmament, philosophy and modernity, and the “decline” of the west. The seminars were held at Engelsberg Ironworks, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where some of the finest iron was produced in the 17th and 18th centuries, though iron production began there in the 13th century.

Several new publications in 2013 are available on the department website. They include “Commodities and Things – The Kulli in Context.” Editors, S. Abraham, P. Gulpalli, T. Raczek, U. Rizvi. Connections and Complexities: New Approaches to the Archaeology of South and Central Asia. Left Coast Press:47-62.; “Gender in Southwest Asian Prehistory.” Co-authors Diane Bolger and Rita Wright, Companion to Gender Prehistory, edited by Diane Bolger, 372-394. Wiley-Blackwell.; and“Sumerian and Akkadian Industries: Crafting Textiles.” In H.E.W. Crawford, The Sumerian World. Routledge Press: 395-417. There are three other articles in press for 2014, along with a number of others that have lingered in the editor’s mailboxes!