IHANE Epigraphic Studies

By Ilkka Lindstedt

UPDATED January 7, 2014.

In May–June 2013, me and photographer Hannu Aukia conducted epigraphic studies in the modern-day Jordan. The expedition was funded by the Finnish Institute in the Middle East and IHANE. We documented a handful of Ancient North Arabian (from roughly the 6th century BCE to the 6th century CE) and Nabataean as well as some early Arabic (7th–9th century CE) inscriptions and graffiti. These can be found, for instance, in ruins of Roman and Umayyad era castles, palaces, and caravanserai. The pictures, of which here only a handful will be included, can be seen online at http://www.flickr.com/photos/97275038@N06/sets/. Please note that the online database is still very much a work-in-progress.

We visited the following sites: Qasr Kharana, Qasr Uwaynid, Qusayr Amra, Qasr al-Hallabat, Hammam al-Sarakh, Qasr al-Azraq, Qasr al-Tuba, Wadi Rum, Petra, Khirbat al-Askar, Qasr al-Bashir, Wadi Mujib, Qasr al-Mushaysh, and Qasr al-Mushash (two different localities, al-Mushaysh being near the town of Karak, al-Mushash near Amman).

Here I will discuss three sites. First, Qasr Kharana, perhaps an Umayyad era building. Second, Qasr al-Mushaysh, perhaps a Roman era site, with underground dwellings. And third, Wadi Mujib, a valley containing hundreds of North Arabian graffiti and drawings.

Qasr Kharana, a very well preserved Umayyad era (661–750 CE) or earlier building. Although it looks like a castle for military use, it never served that purpose. What look like arrow-slits are actually ventilation holes, according to Stephen K. Urice.

Qasr Kharana, a very well preserved Umayyad era (661–750 CE) building. Although it looks like a castle for military use, it never served that purpose. What look like arrow-slits are actually ventilation holes, according to Stephen K. Urice.


Stephen K. Urice, in his “Qasr Kharana in the Transjordan” (Durham, 1987), dates the Qasr Kharana to the late seventh century CE. This is done by archeological, architectural, and circumstantial evidence. We managed to found two new early (seventh–ninth century) Arabic inscriptions. The Arabic inscriptions and graffiti will be published in the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy.

[The above section has been updated, with significant changes.]

The walls at Qasr Kharana are crammed with Ancient North Arabian graffiti. They do not seem to be in secondary context, that is, on stones that have been carried there from elsewhere, but in primary context.

Room 51 of Qasr Kharana.

One of the very interesting, and little, if at all, researched places was Qasr al-Mushaysh, about 50 km south-east of the town of Karak. Heavy mining activity was taking place near the ruins. Some kilometers away, we heard, and saw, many explosions. It is worryingly possible that the ruins of Qasr al-Mushaysh won’t be there after some years.

The ruins of Qasr al-Mushaysh.

The ruins of Qasr al-Mushaysh.

Qasr al-Mushaysh contained ruins of many different buildings, perhaps originally from the Roman era. There were also many underground dwellings. At the site, there was two Nabataean Aramaic and some early Arabic inscriptions.



We surveyed two underground dwellings which were, however, inaccessible because of sand gathered at the bottom.

We surveyed two underground dwellings which were, however, inaccessible because of sand gathered at the bottom.

Qasr al-Mushaysh contained many graves that had been opened and, presumably, robbed.

Qasr al-Mushaysh contained many graves that had been opened and, presumably, robbed.

An Arabic invocative graffito, in Kufic script (seventh–ninth century CE), found at Qasr al-Mushaysh. Note, at the top left, a picture of a camel, which might or might not be drawn by the writer of the graffito. Proposed reading: In the name of [God] O God! [Pardon] Abd Allah bn (… an unclear name) (two indecipherable lines) Amen, [Lord] of the World!

An Arabic invocative graffito, in Kufic script (seventh–ninth century CE), found at Qasr al-Mushaysh. Note, at the top left, a picture of a camel, which might or might not be drawn by the writer of the graffito. Proposed reading:
In the name of [God]
O God! [Pardon] Abd
Allah bn Hammad and
his parents and their offspring.
Amen, [Lord] of the World!

The most spectacular place we explored was undoubtedly Wadi Mujib. This huge valley could only be reached

Wadi Mujib from the window of our car.

Wadi Mujib from the window of our car.

through a rather badly-maintained dirt road, which seemed, at times, rather dangerous.


The real treasure awaits the explorer at the bottom of the valley, where basalt stones start to appear. These stones contain hundreds of drawings (usually animals). We also found, in addition to many modern Arabic graffiti, one invocative Kufic (i.e., early Islamic) inscription.

Basalt stone is especially good for inscriptions, because it is easy to carve and it weathers centuries without any erosion on its surface.

The purpose of our expedition was to document Ancient North Arabian and early Classical Arabic inscriptions and graffiti in situ. These can be accessed online at http://www.flickr.com/photos/97275038@N06/sets/.


Mr. Ilkka Lindstedt

MA, PhD (as of Jan. 21, 2014), Arabic and Islamic studies

Intellectual Heritage of the Ancient Near East project

University of Helsinki








The Intellectual History and Context of IHANE – by Erik van Dongen

George Smith (1840-1876)

George Smith (1840-1876)

The idea to study how ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform culture was connected to other cultures may seem obvious. We all know about the cultural importance of the Greeks who lived near there and the Arabs who conquered Mesopotamia, so why not find out what they got from Mesopotamia? Surprisingly, however, this question has received very little attention, and was often considered controversial when it did. The ‘trouble’ begun when the English assyriologist George Smith completed his translation of what he called ‘The Chaldean Account of the Deluge’. First read at a high-profile meeting in late 1872 (the audience included the British Prime Minster W.E. Gladstone) and then published in the Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology in 1873, the text speaks of a great flood, which was survived by just one family and all species of animals, who had taken shelter in a boat. Both regarding the general narrative and specific details of the story, the similarities with the biblical story of Noah are obvious. (We know now that the text Smith translated is in fact Tablet 11 of the so-called Standard Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic, in which Utnapishtim, the story’s Noah, tells Gilgamesh what happened.)

Friedrich Delitzsch (1850-1922)

Friedrich Delitzsch (1850-1922)

Scholars as well as the general public rushed to this and other texts to have a closer look at the similarities, and find out what they meant. In a world still much more religious than ours, this was bound to lead to heavy discussions. The most explosive of these was caused by a 1902 lecture given in Berlin by the prominent assyriologist Friedrich Delitzsch, called ‘Babel und Bibel’. In his lecture, which was another high-profile occasion, this time including the German emperor Wilhelm II, Delitzsch argued that Judaism and the Old Testament in large part derived fromMesopotamian traditions. This led to a heated discussion in Germany, both in public and in scholarly circles, which raged on until both World War I and changes in academic interests and approaches diverted attention elsewhere. In the meantime, however, a theory known as ‘Panbabylonism’ had appeared. It claimed that not only Judaism and the Old Testament, but also large parts of other ‘Western’ culture, ultimately derived from ancient Mesopotamia. Although never very popular, this school of thought placed a stigma on research on Mesopotamian cultural influences, which was now considered a topic only interesting for what could be called the scholarly variant of conspiracy theorists, i.e. people who see connections everywhere.

Hans Gustav Güterbock (1908-2000)

Hans Gustav Güterbock (1908-2000)

A few decades in the shades followed for our subject. The person responsible for getting it back into the light was the German hittitologist Hans Gustav Güterbock. In the 1930s, Emile Forrer, a Swiss scholar working in Berlin at the time, had discovered a Hittite text that bore strong similarities to the Theogony, a didactic poem about the creation of the gods and their fights for kingship ascribed to the Greek poet Hesiod. Although Forrer published a few articles on the subject, it really caught the limelight only when Güterbock published a full edition of the Hittite text in 1946, followed by a more widely accessible article in the American Journal of Archaeology in 1948. This text pointed out once again that Greek culture had not developed in isolation, but somehow had been in contact with surrounding cultures and had taken over elements from them.

Inevitably, some outlandish claims followed again, with scholars claiming in Delitzsch-esque style that Greek culture was largely derived from the Near East. Although this, too, did the field more harm than good, it could not stop scholars from continuing to explore the links between Greek and Near Eastern culture. The real breakthrough to mainstream academic research followed in the 1980s and 1990s. Various publications and scholars could be mentioned, but most important were a number of high-profile books and articles by the respected classicists Walter Burkert and Martin West. These put the subject of Near Eastern influences on Greek culture on the academic map as never before, which has since been further charted without pause by scholars from around the world.

Positive as this may sound, a few problems remain. First, many people are not quite ready to see Greece as being ‘just’ another part of the ancient world, connected to other areas as any region was. Ever since the Renaissance, Greco-Roman Antiquity has been seen as a special period in time, the first highpoint in history, and the alma mater of modern Western civilization. For some, the idea that the Greeks would have developed their culture in constant exchange and interaction with others represents an unacceptable challenge to their views, an attitude which continues to hamper research. Second, with all this talk about Greece, there has been little focus on the cultural position of Mesopotamia in the ancient world, except as a possible cultural feeding ground for the Greeks. And third, there has been even less attention for the cultural importance of Mesopotamia outside Greco-Roman Antiquity. Hence, extremely few studies investigate the appearance of elements of Mesopotamian culture in Iran in Parthian and Sassanian times, or in Arabic culture after the Islamic Conquest of the Near East.

Simo Parpola (1943-)

Simo Parpola (1943-)

This, then, is where the IHANE Project comes in. Actually, to understand its position we should go back to a little bit before its foundation. In 1999, the Melammu Project was founded by the Finnish assyriologist Simo Parpola. Recognizing the very same problems as outlined above, Parpola envisioned the creation of a project that would unite scholars interested in the question of Mesopotamia’s cultural importance, who could exchange ideas through a website and, especially, regularly organized meetings. Six such meetings have been held so far, and the seventh will take place in Austria in November, as was described in an earlier post on this blog. IHANE is closely related to Melammu: IHANE was founded by Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila and Robert Rollinger, two scholars first brought together by Melammu, and makes use of academic networks laid out through the various Melammu meetings. Nonetheless, through its focus on the connection between Mesopotamian and Arabic culture, IHANE also adds something new and vitally important, as the Arabic world so far has not featured very much in the Melammu activities.

And that’s where we are now! Hopefully, IHANE (and Melammu) can contribute its part to the history of research, so that a similar blog written twenty years from now will be able to remark how the foundation of the project helped create a sustained, serious interest in the cultural influence of ancient Mesopotamia!

Dr. Erik van Dongen, Part-Time Professor
Department of Modern Languages and Classics
Saint Mary’s University

Melammu Symposia 7

The Assyrian and Babylonian Intellectual Heritage Project (Melammu) investigates the continuity, transformation and diffusion of Mesopotamian culture throughout the ancient world from the second millennium BC until Islamic times. It is the perfect partner for the IHANE project. The symposia have in the past been important forums and now, after a pause of five years, professor Robert Rollinger and Dr Erik van Dongen (see an earlier post regarding them) have undertaken to organize the 7th symposia in Austria. “Mesopotamia in the ancient world: Impact Continuity, Parallels” will take place in Obergurgl, Tyrol, November 4-8th 2013.

The web pages of the conference have been opened here, and more information regarding the Melammu project you can find here.

Welcome to Helsinki-Tartu Workshop in Intercultural Studies

We are eagerly awaiting visitors from Padua and Tartu for our workshop in Helsinki (March 12-13). The presentations are open to public and everyone interested is very welcome to attend. The presentations will discuss many interesting topics relating to ancient Mediterranean. See below for exact time and place.

Tuesday 12 March (Unioninkatu 40 sali 13)

10.15-11.00      Opening lecture: Giovanni B. Lanfranchi (Padua): The Weapons Sent by Assur to the Assyrian King
11.00-11.45      Thomas Kämmerer (Tartu): Zur Königsideologie des Weltschöpfungsepos Enuma Elish

Lunch Break

13.15-14.00      Mait Köiv (Tartu): The Image of Archaick Greek Tyrants
14.00-14.45      Robert Rollinger (Helsinki): Assyria and the Fringes of the Empire – the Far West: The Aegean world
14.45-15.00      Vladimir Sazonov (Tartu): Royal Ideology of Esarhaddon: Royal Titles and Epithets

Wednesday 13 March (Unioninkatu 40 sali 27)

10.15-11.00      Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila (Helsinki): Assyro-arabica: On the Transmission of Mesopotamian Material to the Arabs
11.00-11.45      Saana Svärd (Helsinki): Women, Agency and Text in Mesopotamia

After lunch Break in Unioninkatu 40 sali 32

13.15-14.00      Peeter Espak (Tartu): The Position of Eridu in Sumerian Royal Ideology
14.00-14.45      Sergej Stadnikov (Tartu): Der Allher in der ‘Lehre des Amenemhat I
14.45-15.30      Raija Mattila (Helsinki): The Nabû Temple Archive in Calah

Inauguration of the blog

Welcome to the brand new blog of The Intellectual Heritage of the Ancient Near East project at Helsinki University!

This project has been in progress since 2010 and it is funded by the Finnish Academy and the University of Helsinki. Its aim is to study the cultural interaction and relations between the Near East and Europe from the first millennium BCE onwards. This general question is approached through individual studies in various fields, including history, philosophy and literature. Besides myself, the project now involves:

Prof. Dr. Robert Rollinger

Associate Professor Dr. Raija Mattila

Dr. Saana Svärd

Mrs. Inka Nokso-Koivisto, MA

Ms. Riikka Tuori, MA

Mr. Ilkka Lindstedt, MA

A former participant, Dr. Erik van Dongen, is now part-time Professor at Saint Mary’s University (Canada).

The various specialists working together in the project cover many disciplines, such as Assyriology as well as Greek, Iranian, Arabic, Islamic, and Hebrew studies. Together, we form a tight network of both senior and junior scholars interested in the same questions from different angles. We are also cooperating with colleagues in other Universities, first and foremost the University of Innsbruck.

It is our hope that studies in various cases of cultural contact and interaction will help to understand the relations between the Near East and Europe also on a more general level. The present blog is aimed at telling you about things that are going on in our project. So, keep us in mind! We will bring up interesting topics twice a month and tell more about what we are up to.


Jaakko Hämeen-Anttila, Prof.Dr.