Friday, December 02, 2016

Review of Lavan and Mulryan (eds.), Field Methods and Post-Excavation Techniques in Late Antique Archaeology

Luke Lavan, Michael Mulryan (ed.), Field Methods and Post-Excavation Techniques in Late Antique Archaeology. Late antique archaeology, 9. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2015. Pp. xiv, 687. ISBN 9789004277021. €75.00.

Reviewed by Louise Blanke, Wolfson College, Oxford (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

The study of late antiquity has been transformed by new insights gained from field projects. To evaluate the historical significance of this new material, we need to discuss the methodologies that resulted in its procurement. This is a common topic in other archaeological disciplines, but one that has largely been omitted from the late antique debate – this volume sets out to redress this issue. The volume was inspired by two conferences held at King’s College London in 2008 and 2009. It contains eighteen contributions that are organised according to seven themes.

Of chief interest to PaleoJudaica:
II: ‘The regional development of field methods’. The book’s second theme aims to critically evaluate the long-term development of country-specific archaeological strategies. Magyar (123-156) provides an overview of late antique archaeology in Hungary, while Taxel (157-188) discusses the development of field techniques in Israel from the British Mandate to the present. Both papers provide important insights into the interplay between politics and archaeology. After WWII, Hungary’s inclusion in the Soviet Union resulted in the centralised regulation of archaeology. A countrywide standardisation of field methods was introduced and innovative techniques were encouraged, but limited access to Western scholarship combined with Soviet political control meant that social theoretical models were not applied. Magyar voices a strong critique relevant not only to present-day Hungary: the study of late antiquity is compartmentalised between different branches of university studies, and excavations are managed by local museums, working according to their own methodologies and recording systems, allowing only few opportunities for comparison. Taxel summarises methodological trends in Israel, focussing on technological advances as well as problems in past approaches at specific sites such as Oboda and Sobata, which were overly restored for tourism in the 1950s and 60s and almost ruined for further archaeological interpretation. Taxel only briefly mentions the focus on the biblical past, which has characterised much archaeology in Israel. It would have been within the scope of this book to include a critical evaluation of the consequences of this particular research aim on the treatment of post-biblical material.