Giorgio Buccellati




The Institute
Field projects
Reports on field projects
Community archaeology
Theory and digital analysis

CV and institutional links
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Within the Palace walls in 1999
at the transition from quilt draping (background)
to shaped tarps (foreground)
     Last updated: February 2021

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     My early studies of archaeology were with Michelangelo Cagiano de Azevedo and Aristide Calderini, also briefly with Roberto Paribeni, at the Catholic University of Milan, where I was studying classical antiquities (1954-58). My main interest at the time was for the texts of the classical tradition, and so the study of archaeology served especially as a companion for philology and history. But an important dimension I derived from those years was a sensibility for a descriptive and stylistic analysis of the architecture and of the objects, seen as both documents for historical analysis and as works of art.
     In 1960 I began courses in Near Eastern archaeology at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, with Pierre Delougaz and Helene Kantor (and Marilyn Kelly, who was to become my wife, as their assistant). But it was at the suggestion of Thorkild Jacobsen that I was offered my first opportunity for field work – as epigraphist at Nippur in the 1962 season. The director was Carl Haines, and the chief archaeologist was Donald Hansen. Through the two of them I was exposed to a very matter-of-fact appreciation of the profound stratigraphic intuition with which they followed the equally intuitive work of the many shirgatis who were working with us. The situation was very tense in Iraq at the time (I left by mid January 1963, and Abd el-Karim Qasim, then prime minister, was killed in an uprising on February 8). We were quite isolated, with hardly any visitor (two memorable ones were Adam Falkenstein and Kurt Bittel). As a result, the four months of very close contact with Carl and Don were even more intense because of the isolation: I had a full immersion in field supervision and ceramic analysis, besides working on the relatively few texts that were found that year (which I then published in 1969).
     In 1966 Marilyn and I were married, and Marilyn organized a survey in the Palmyrene that suited our joint interests in the Amorites, and introduced me to survey techniques and to the beauty of the Syrian steppe. After the month we spent in Palmyra, and a long trip in Iran and Egypt, we went together to Nippur where we worked under the direction of James Knudstad. It was for me an exposure to another way of doing field work with Jim's admirable stratigraphic instinct, but still along the lines of my 1962 experience. In addition, this time I was responsible for the darkroom, which gave me a hands on experience on photographic documentation.
     In 1968, my third year at UCLA, Maurits Van Loon offered me the opportunity of joining him in the excavations at Korucutepe. James Sackett, my colleague at UCLA, offered me the possibility of benefitting from a UCLA Ford Foundation grant, which allowed me to take students to the field. Institutionally, it was a joint expedition, with Marilyn being in charge of ceramic analysis. But personally it meant for me a confrontation with a different kind of field work, with the standard type of control and documentation. I also owe it to Maurits to have shared with me his skills at managing a large staff: by osmosis, I was learning abut the task of directing a large project.
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The Institute

     At the same time, I became involved in plans for establishing an Institute of Archaeology at UCLA. I was in both the Division of Humanitiest through the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures and the Division of the Social Sciences, through the Department of History, and as a young faculty member I had developed good relationships with senior faculty in both divisions, particularly with Marija Gimbutas and Pierre Delougaz on the one side, Clement Meighan, Walter Goldschmidt, James Hill and James Sackett on the other.
     My experience as a go-between was my main qualification for bringing to conclusion the process of establishing the Institute, and then to serve as its first Director from 1973 until 1983. My main goal was to have it serve as an intellectual home ground for great diverse talents, and the intense interaction with each and every one of them was the occasion, for me personally, to develop a finer and more articulate sensitivity for the discipline than I could have ever had otherwise. So the insitutional commitment served as a strong catalyst in my intellectual life as well.
     The goal was met, and my initial statement, as quoted in the current Institute website, is still valid today:
     "The scope of [the Institute's] research interests reaches as far as there is something to recover from the soil which is meaningful for the understanding of our cultural past. In the pursuit of this goal we are creating, here at UCLA, something which is in line with the best archaeological tradition and yet is, at the same time, unique on the American scene. We do excavate in many parts of the world – as other institutions also do. We have a variety of leading scholars in the field – as other institutions also have. We offer a comprehensive program of instruction – as other institutions are also offering. But we go one step beyond.
     "The crucial difference is that we can talk to each other – anthropologists and humanists, ecologists and classicists, historians and prehistorians, and so on. From this a new school of thought is slowly emerging, which is giving flesh and blood to the ideal of a comprehensive interdisciplinary reconstruction of the human past. We are truly an Institute of Archaeology, writ large, without parochial limitations of geography or methodology."
     Lloyd Cotsen had been all along a close personal friend and had helped me in framing the vision for the Institute. So it was a genuine pleasure to see the early effort started in 1973 come to full fruition when, through his Endowment, the Institute acquired a new status and was reenamed as the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, where his financial support reflected the larger vision that we had deeply shared from the beginning.
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Field projects

     Following my earlier field experiences, I undertook to organize a number of independent field projects.
     In 1972, Marilyn and I conducted a reconnaissance in southern Iraq, with the idea of looking for a site where to start a UCLA field project. We had settled on Dilbat, which we intended to excavate in conjunction with Giorgio Gullini who had established a first class Italian Institute for Archaeology in Baghdad. The Iraqi authorities had given their agreement in principle, and Gullini came to Los Angeles to finalize plans. He was with us in early 1976, just at the time when our son Federico was born.
     Later in the same year, I went to Baghdad with one of my UCLA graduate students, Michael Desrochers, to bring some equipment and to make final arrangements, when the Iraqi authorities abruptly changed their mind, and did not issue the excavation permit. With a quick change of course, and with the help of Yasin al-Khalesi, we were able to redirect our efforts to Syria, where Marilyn and I started work at Tell Ashara, ancient Terqa in the fall of 1976. Clement and Joan Meighan of UCLA were with us, and helped us set up the organization of the project. In 1977, Jim Knudstad joined us as architect, and I continued to learn from his wonderful stratigraphic sense that had so impressed us in Nippur in 1968.
     After eight years in Ashara, we began to look for a different site in the northern part of the Jezirah. Mario Liverani and Ismail Hijara were with us at the time, and it was with them that we undertook several trips to the north. After briefly considering Tell Fekheriya, we settled on Tell Mozan, where we began excavations in 1984. I put my full energy in this project, from a pragmatic point of view (aiming to create ideal working conditions within a well equipped research environment) as well as intellectually (with the development of a "grammatical" approach to the excavations). I had set myself the goal of making it possible to live for longer periods of time at the site, so that research could go hand in hand with the excavation itself.
     In the process, I became more and more aware of the need to preserve not only the archaeological, but also the natural, landscape, that had remained untouched around Mozan in contrast with the semi-industrial development that had occurred around other sites. In 2010 I drew up a proposal for an Urkesh Eco-archaeological Park, some fifty square kilometers in extension. This met with an uncommonly enthusiastic response on all sides, so as to become a parallel acitivity to the excavations proper. Here, too, the intellectual returns are great: by focusing on the modern situation I have come to identify more easily with the ancients' perception of their environment.
     In 2011 war broke our in Syria, and it became impossible for us to continue excavations at Tell Mozan. This led me to increase my involvement in community archaeology.
     While working on the excavations of Terqa and Urkesh I also became involved in other side projects: the excavations at Qraya (until then unknown, and rich of Protoliterate material); the excavations at Ziyada (as part of the Syrian salvage project on the Khabur); a reconnaisance in the Caucasus (where we thought we might start excavations to obtain a better appreciation of potential links between Mozan and this distant hinterland). I went back to Georgia in 2017 and 2018 as a guest of the Italian Ca' Foscari Expedition, under the direction of Elena Rova, with whom my wife Marilyn was collaborating.
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Teaching: Supervision of doctoral dissertations in archaeology

1 1978 Daniel M. Shimabuku The technological aspects of food production, distribution, and consumption in southern Mesopotamia and Khuzistan during the period of early urbanization
2 1981 Kathleen F. Galvin Early state economic organization and the role of specialized pastoralism: Terqa in the middle Euphrates region
3 1993 Daniela Buia Historical implications derived from a descriptive study of the excavated structures and ceramics of a second millennium B.C. Near Eastern site, ancient Terqa
4 1997 Stephen M. Hughey KI: A Mesopotamian view of the place of positioning : ancient surveying, mapping and field engineering for floodplain waterworks and architecture
5 1994 Francis Deblauwe A spatial analysis of Mesopotamian buildings from the Late Bronze age till the Parthian period
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Reports on field projects

     The two sites of Ashara (ancient Terqa) and Mozan (ancient Urkesh) represent my major commitment in terms of time and my major publication effort.
     In the case of Terqa, I experimented with two new formats. The first was a modular series of preliminary reports, the second a parallel series of Audiovisual modules that anticipated the multimedia potential of the computer (1977-79). The Terqa website aims at showing the modalities of these two publication experiments. We have also resumed the publication of the Final reports.
     The rich publication program relating to Urkesh has been planned with a view towards privileging the online publication, which is all-inclusive in scope and pioneering in digital methodology.
     Both the Terqa and the Urkesh websites offer an online PDF version of all our publications, with a few exceptions where publishers would not grant permission to do so.
Terqa and other projects
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1967 Palmyrene
1969 Cuneiform Texts Nippur
1969 Korucutepe 1
1970 Korucutepe 2
1977 Terqa (AAAS)
1977 Terqa Preliminary 1
1977 Terqa Preliminary 2
1977 Terqa Audiovisual 1
1978 Terqa Preliminary 6
1978 Terqa Audiovisual 2
1979 Terqa Preliminary 10
1979 Terqa Audiovisual 3
1984 Terqa Final 1 (Intro)
1986-7 Epigraphic
1987 Terqa Data Base 1
1991 Ziyada report
1991 Ziyada Data Set
2011 Terqa Final 2 (Intro)
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1988 Mozan 1
1991 Mozan 2(Intro)
1996 Seals of the King
1997  Seventh Season
1998 Urkesh and the Hurrians
1998 Courtiers of the Queen
2000 Royal palace (MDOG)
2001 Bericht 13. Kampagne
2002 Große Schnittstelle
2001 Bericht 15. Kampagne
2003 LU E School Tablet (JCS)
2004 Monumentale Palasthof
2005 Hurrian Religious Center
2007 Figurines (UMS 5)
2009 Great Temple Terrace
2010 Urkesh Temple Terrace
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     Listed here are publications where I deal with the data from a more interpretive angle (though this is often found in the reports as well).
     One group treats in extenso specific topics that relate to the excavations: the rural landscape of Terqa (1990) or interpetation of the Qraya beveled rim bowls as relating to salt production (1990), the figure of the daughter of Naram-Sin (2002) or the question of ethnicity (2010).
     To a second group belong the more synthetic treatment of the site as whole (Terqa 1977; Urkesh 1995) or of the larger picture within which the site fits (Terqa 1988; Urkesh 2007).
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1977 New Harvests
1982 Asphalt in C14
1986 Epigraphic Finds
1988 Kingdom of Khana
1990 Rural Landscape
1990 Salt at Dawn of History
1991 Tell Ziyada
1997 Terqa (Oxford)
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1995 Mozan (RLA)
1995 Identification of Urkesh
1997 Mozan (Oxford)
1997 Urkesh First Capital
2001 In Search of Urkesh
2002 Tar'am-Agade
2003 Tell Mozan (Art First Cities)
2006 Browser Edition
2007 Hurrian Homeland
2008 Ceramics of Urkesh
2009 Architectural Logogram
2010 Semiotics of Ethnicity
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     It was out of a sense of dismay at the extreme fragility of the architectural remains that I developed a strong interest in conservation, arriving at common sense solutions that, originally planned as temporary, developed into relatively permanent. This went along with a concern for developing professional facilities for object conservation, in which I was assisted especially by Beatrice Angeli of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure.
     At the same time, I expanded my natural interest in communicating and explaining facts and meaning, through a committed effort at site presentation. In the process, I found great theoretical "dividends," as it were, which I have begun to develop in my publications, and to which I plan to devote more time in the coming years.
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2000 Archeologia, restauro (Kermes)
2003 Conservation at the Core
2006 Conservation qua Archaeology
2006 Presentation and Interpretation
2011 Acceptance of AIA award
2011 The Public Impact
2012 Conservation: Digital Monograph
2012 Presentation: Digital Monograph
forthc. The Maieutics of Archaeology
forthc. A Modern Face for an Ancient City
forthc. The Urkesh Countryside
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Community archaeology

     In 2010 we had the last season of excavations in Tell Mozan. In December 2011 my wife Marilyn and I went for a working visit to the site, and were able to set up an effective organization for the continuation of the work during the foreseeable future (though we did not foresee it would last this long). But it was the whole approach that we had followed during the whole duration of our work at Tell Mozan that ensured the success of the project during the following years, to the present. I have called this the Urkesh Extended Project. It builds on the effort at preservation and interpretation that I have outlined above; but it has gained in momentum precisely because of the terrible toll that the war has taken on the country: the distance had brought us closer.
     Soon, we will open a new website, devoted entirely to this new aspect of the project. For now, one can refer to the publications listed on the right, which include the catalogs of two exhibits, one held in Rimini in 2014 and the other in Beirut in 2017.
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2011 AIA Award
2011 Public Impact
2014 Dal profondo del tempo (publisher's notice)
2014 Dal profondo (Arabic translation)
2014 Courage among the Ruins
2015 Archeologia come presenza morale
2016 An Invitation to Tell Mozan
2017 Archaeology for a Young Future
2018 Millenni per l'oggi
2018 Millenni per l'oggi (Arabic)
2019 Millennia for today
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Theory and digital analysis

     The contrast between the two styles of excavation at Nippur and Korucu-tepe elicited in me an interest in question of method. This was further stimulated by two other factors: (1) my work on linguistic structural analysis, and (2) my interaction, at the Institute level, with similarly contrasting approaches to the study of archaeological remains. Besides the two Jims (Hill and Sackett), there were also other major representatives of the then burgeoning theoretical interest, notably Lewis Binford and Colin Renfrew, who were at UCLA for brief periods of time.
     For my part, I became more and more concerned in the theory of excavation, to which I have devoted a considerable amount to time and effort. And this went along with the concern for obtaining a more specifically intellectual grasp of digital techniques in the service of a grammatical articulation of the record. This is coming to fruition now with the completion of a first stage of the very extensive Urkesh website.
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1997 Field Encoding Manual
2006 Archaeologist on Mars
2006 Browser Edition
2006 (e)-tic and -emic
2007 Non-linear Archaeology
2010 Question of Digital Thought
2012 Grammar: Digital Book
2012 Digital Thought: Digital Monograph
2017 Critique Archaeological Reason
2020 Degrees of Digitality
2020 Archaeological Digital Narratives

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Page background

     The image used as the background for this page is the scan of a sherd's exterior surface from the excavations at Mozan (the same used for the Urkesh website).
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