CAS Graduate Student Conference: Afterlives

Speaker Abstracts

Shaashi Ahlawat (University of Pennsylvania), “Afterlife of a Narrative of Ransacking: Nalanda and Beyond”

“When the savage Bakhtiyar Khilji sacked Nalanda, the library kept on burning for months.” The narrative like this on Khilji’s endeavor can be heard from locals and the site-guides appointed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) when visiting the excavated remains of Nalanda Mahavihara located in Bihar, India. The source of this narrative is understood to be Tabakat-i-Nasiri, a medieval text written by Minhaj-i-Siraj, considered to be a general history of foundation of Muslim rule in Bengal. However, scholars have time and again emphasized that when the text mentions ransacking of the “fortress of Bihar” (Hisar-i-Bihar), it nowhere specifies if it was Nalanda. Regardless of the evidentiary gap here, the event of ransacking by Islamic invaders has been used to explain the decline of Nalanda. In another development recently, it has been noticed that the narrative has seeped in through to the other sites around Bihar. It has become a convenient explanation for destruction of more and more structural remains. It is the afterlife of this narrative that haunts not only Nalanda but also the argument between Marxist and Nationalist historians over the disappearance of Buddhism from Bihar. In my paper, I trace the narrative from its colonial actors to its gradual flow across the generations. Sources for this study range from colonial archives to interview with locals and site guides from Nalanda. I also show how this problematic narrative impacts ASI’s introduction of the site to its visitors and more importantly to a wider audience through the dossier sent to UNESCO while competing for World Heritage List tag.


Evan Bassett (Emory University), “Garden of the West: Images of Gardens in Eighteenth Dynasty Non-Royal Theban Tombs”

This paper investigates the meaning and function of images of gardens in Eighteenth Dynasty non-royal Theban tombs. Inscriptions that accompany several such garden images indicate that the gardens pictured referred to a physical garden that the tomb owner had prepared during life and expected to enjoy again in the afterlife; and yet, through their visual structure and symbolism, these garden paintings also show clear signs of referring to an “other-worldly” landscape. One centrally important feature of these paintings highlights this point: the Heliopolitan sky goddess, Nut, is frequently depicted in these paintings as a tree goddess, welcoming and nourishing the tomb owner and his wife under her branches, an event that marks successful transition from the world of the living to the world of the dead. This paper will draw conclusions about how the liminal character of these garden images—their complex visual reference to both the worlds of the living and the transformed dead—sheds light on conceptions of the human afterlife among the Eighteenth Dynasty Theban elite. More specifically, this paper will argue that these images indicate an expectation that the afterlife would involve continued interaction with and enjoyment of landscapes familiar to the deceased from his life on earth. The paper will argue further that the physical spaces referred to by these images would have taken on new meaning—an afterlife of their own—at the time of the tomb owner’s death and transformation.


Gavin Blasdel (University of Pennsylvania), “Reading and reperformance in an Athenian document relief honoring Samos (IG I3 127, IG II2 1)”

In this paper, I examine the relationship between a relief and a set of three decrees that honor Samos on a stele at Athens (IG I3 127, IG II2 1). The original decree was set up on the Acropolis in 405/4 BCE. It was destroyed by the Thirty Tyrants in the aftermath of the Peloponnesian War, but re-erected in 403/2 BCE upon the restoration of the democracy. Two more decrees in honor of Samos were inscribed on this new stele, along with a relief that shows a dexiosis of Hera, goddess of Samos, and Athena, goddess of Athens. While the relief portrays a perfectly harmonious relationship between the two communities, in reality Samos was now ruled by an anti-Athenian Spartan oligarchy – a fact that the second decree recognizes. The third decree honors a Samian man and his sons alone. As Blanshard (2007) has pointed out, the narrative of the decrees seems to contradict and undermine the message of the relief. However, I argue that the act of reading actually gives a unified logic to the stele. By reading, the viewer reperforms the civic community’s original oral decision-making process that led both to the erection of the stele itself and its dedication to the gods in the form of an agalma. Thus, the decision to inscribe a document in stone intended to render the civic act timeless. In this way, the relief acts out in the divine sphere the hoped-for guarantee of the decrees’ perpetual efficacy in the civic realm. The stele, then, functions as a sort of plea to the gods both to restore the harmonious relationship the relief depicts and also to guarantee its continuation into perpetuity.


Michael Chen (UCLA), “Commemorating Elites within a First Millennium B.C.E. Egyptian Temple Context”

This paper on Late Period Egyptian healing statues wrestles with the interrelationship between elite commemoration and religious healing practices. These statues of private elite individuals, which are completely inscribed with magical healing spells and mythological scenes, heal the afflicted from scorpion and snake bites. Practitioners would pour water over a healing statue, which, through the principle of contagious magic, charges the water with healing properties. This healing water is then imbibed to cure the afflicted. Because these objects functioned within the temple space of the official state religion, this dataset illustrates how elites choose to insert themselves into a religious domain to create an alternative “afterlife” for themselves. I am investigating the biographical information and titulary of these individuals to understand how they effectively use magic to negotiate their relationship to the temple, toward religious belief, and in comparison with one another. In closely examining the design layout of the magical spells and biographical information on healing statues, it is possible to infer the relative priorities in display and decorum. This object type represents a novel approach in the longer tradition of Egyptian self-representation and demonstrates the impact that the shifting religious practices of the first millennium B.C.E. had on memory-construction.


Caleb Chow (Trinity International University), “A Missing Link in the Relationship between Ritual and Retainer Sacrifice in Early Egypt: Another Look at the Iconographical and Archaeological Evidence”

Although some scholars in the past have resisted the idea that human sacrifice was practiced in ancient Egypt, two forms of human sacrifice have been identified in pre-dynastic and early dynastic Egypt: ritual sacrifice where a person is sacrificed as part of a religious rite, and retainer sacrifice where servants of the king or noble are buried with their master. These two forms of human sacrifice are attested in the archaeological record of early tombs, but are they related or independent phenomena? This essay seeks to answer this question by analyzing the iconographic evidence from two labels of the tombs of Aha and Djer, the organization and architecture of the early dynastic and pre-dynastic tombs that show evidence of human sacrifice, and especially the scientific results from corpse analyses of the sacrificed victims. In doing so I demonstrate that while there is ample evidence to show that these two types of human sacrifice were indeed practiced in early Egypt, there is insufficient evidence to link the two types of human sacrifice. Consequently, in this paper I argue that until there is clear evidence from the skeletal remains of the sacrificed victims that shows a link between the iconographic and archaeological evidence, the two major types of human sacrifice should be seen as separate practices that may reflect different beliefs about the dead and afterlife in early dynastic and pre-dynastic Egypt.


Petra Creamer (University of Pennsylvania), “Providing Context to Tell Billa: Revisiting the Assyrian Burials”

The site of Tell Billa in modern day Iraq was once the ancient Assyrian provincial site of Shibaniba, serving as an economic and administrative center close to the heart of the empire. This important site was excavated by a team from the Penn Museum in the early 1930s, yet no comprehensive publication of the project’s work on the site exists. To further complicate matters, records from only one season of excavation at Tell Billa have survived intact to the present day. In my paper, I present the surviving documentation and the methods I am using to salvage the remaining data. As a case study, I focus on the burials from the Middle and Neo-Assyrian occupation levels from Tell Billa (c. 1400-600 BCE), with a discussion of how these burial traditions and the conceptions of the afterlife by the residents at Shibaniba fit into the larger Assyrian model of mortuary practices and beliefs. With this case study, I prove that even incomplete data can be salvaged and used in modern research. My methods connecting the excavation records and the objects in the Penn Museum from Tell Billa will potentially provide a model for similar cases of missing or incomplete legacy data.


Yitzhaq Feder (University of Haifa), “Death Impurity and Afterlife in Ancient Israel”

This paper will focus on the concept of death pollution in the Hebrew Bible as an expression of broader cultural theories regarding the nature of the soul and its continued existence after bodily death. This relationship is clearly articulated by the formula describing this impurity, ṭāmēˀ la-nepesh, which can be rendered “defilement by the spirit (of the dead).” The origins and implications of this conception are explored in light of biblical texts and West Semitic inscriptions, along with a consideration of archaeological evidence pertaining to burial practices. Drawing on cross-cultural comparisons (including ancient Mesopotamia, Greece and East Asia), this discussion will serve as the basis for dealing with the further question whether this type of pollution involved a fear of malicious spirits.


Caralie Focht (Emory University), “Creation through Destruction: Constructing Trauma in the Aftermath of Exile”

How does one live on after the death of one’s society? The biblical authors grapple with just that after the Babylonian destruction of Judah, despite the fact that archaeological evidence portrays a limited exile that primarily impacted Jerusalem and a small number of elites. Biblical trauma scholarship has become widespread in recent years as a subfield of biblical studies. However, the traumatic nature of biblical texts that scholars such as David Carr and Kathleen O’Connor have treated has been taken at face value. This paper, instead, deals with the constructed aspect of this trauma narrative. Jeffrey Alexander lays out a social theory of collective trauma wherein meaning in the aftermath of trauma is constructed by the group through symbols that are affectively tied to the trauma, that is, symbols that evoke emotions associated with the trauma. Drawing from Alexander’s work as well as other trauma theorists such as Kali Tal, I will go beyond the work of current biblical trauma scholarship. Rather than unquestioningly accepting the traumatic events that shaped the texts and canon of the Hebrew Bible, I will offer the conclusion that the events were constructed as traumatic for two reasons: 1) the people writing/editing the texts were the ones most impacted by the exile and 2) drawing on the exile helped to create a collective national identity. In short, the authors and redactors of the biblical text dealt with the death of their society by creating a new national narrative and passing it on to the collective.


Aviya Fraenkel (Bar Ilan University), “The 'Refa'im' in the Hebrew Bible and in Ugarit”

The Biblical description of the 'Refa'im' seems to be divided into two types: 1. Mythical guests of dead who are dwelling into the underworld; 2. An ancient people who was settled in the Transjordan. The 'Refa'im' are also mentioned in the Ugaritic texts. The 'Refa'im' in Ugarit were ancient dynasties of kings that their guests continued to exist in the underworld after their death, carrying a status of junior gods. After a comparison between the Biblical description of the 'Refa'im' and that of the Ugaritic texts, I would like to suggest a new aspect on the Biblical 'Refa'im', in it there is only one group of 'Refa'im' in the Hebrew Bible too. In addition, the mentions of the 'Refa'im' in the "historical books" of the Bible are exposing the moral attitude of the Biblical faith for these mythological figures. In order to re-characterize the attributes of the 'Refa'im' and their status in the Biblical faith, I would like to include in my lecture three methodological discussions: 1. A comparative study between the Biblical and the Ugarit texts; 2. A philological discussion on the unique vocabulary of the diverse descriptions of the 'Refa'im'. I would also like to offer some new meanings for these words; 3. A moral literary discussion about the Biblical attitude towards these figures, which their proper place is in the underworld, but they continue to exist in the land of Canaan during the Israeli period.


Ryan Franklin (Johns Hopkins University), “The Infidelity of Imperial Memorialization and the Afterlife of a Royal Daughter in Khariton' Kallirhoe and Khaireas

Raped and trampled by cavalry, the daughter of Hermokrates and wife of Dionysius I killed herself (Diod. Sic. 13.108.2-113; Plut. Dion 3.2; Xen. Hell. 2.2.24). Despite historical anonymity, she became the subject, even title character, of an ancient novel (Whitmarsh 2005). It, I argue, is about the infidelity of cultural memory (on personal memory see Montiglio 2013; illusions of presence, Mhealllaigh 2014). In Syracuse, a tyrant reifies and copies personal objects in a funeral (Smith 2005). Stripped of personality, they reference his power and evoke the Roman triumph (Khar. 1.3; cf. Schmelling 1974 for other allusions to Roman triumphs). In Athens, the author gestures at the Peisistratian destruction of the Kallirhoe Spring (1.11; πλησίον δέ ἐστι κρήνη, καλοῦσι δὲ αὐτὴν Ἐννεάκρουνον, οὕτω κοσμηθεῖσαν ὑπὸ Πεισιστράτου, Paus. 1.14). In Miletus, the satrap believes memorials are the perfect erasers (2.5.5). Only a female slave preserves Kallirhoe's story, something her icon pointedly does not (3.6.4). These and other examples show the unfaithfulness of imperial memorials. In contrast, Kallirhoe believes her child will have the precise likeness of its father and become a 'memorandum of a marriage,' even if the novel memorializes her bigamy (2.9.4). She seals her epistle to Dionysius with a sphragis and hides it in her kolpoi (8.4.13; 11 instances of kolpos as womb in LSJ). Kissed like her body, it is re-read and provokes erotic reciprocation despite what it says (8.5.15). Her memorials are unique as masculine and feminine, artificial and biological, authentic and fraudulent. While set apart from the oblivion of other memorials, the memorials of her and the author cannot be so tidily partitioned from imperial politics. Her second husband's name is implicated in the reproduction of royal names, his scribal profession is the author's too (1.1; 8.16; Diod. Sic. 13.96.4), and her letter generates a desire in him for hegêmonia and not the Platonic diakosmêsis of its intertext (ἡ περὶ τὰ τῶν πόλεών τε καὶ οἰκήσεων διακόσμησις, Plato Symp. 209b; πόλεων ἡγεμονίαν καὶ τὰς ἐν Μιλήτῳ Καλλιρρόης οἰκήσεις, Khar. 8.5.15). Within the framework set up by Whitmarsh (2008), that this ideal novel is less 'ideal' than often assumed, this talk shows the same, albeit in the new area of cultural memory.


Jialu Guo (Bryn Mawr College), “The Afterlives of Yue 越: Cultural Interactions and Culture Identities within the Han Empire”

The anthropologist Fei Xiaotong described China as “a single body with multitudous origins”, in which the “body” refers to the Chinese ethnicity. In the case of Han, the focus turned out to be the distinction between “Han Chinese” and “non-Han Chinese”. Under the model of imperialism, Han Chinese assumed themselves to have the imperium both politically and culturally. Even the Yue kingdoms could match the power of Han China at first, Yue culture seemed to be quickly sinicized after the fall of Nanyue and Min-yue. However, did Yue culture really disappear? This paper is going to examine a group of particular hill censers to argue that Yue identity at least survived into Eastern Han. This maintenance of identity might be used by the Yue descendants as the political resistance to the Han dominance to demonstrate their individuality, but ironically, the distinctiveness of Yue culture was also taken advantage by the Han ruler to emphasize the superiority of Han Chinese culture. This deliberate differentiation between these two culture identities made it possible for the potential micro cross-cultural interaction within the Han Empire. In this paper, these hill censers, all dated to be around the Wangmang period and excavated from the South China, will serve as the main material evidence and together with other archaeological and textual resources to illustrate the afterlives of Yue identity and to explain how the micro cross-cultural interaction between Yue and Han happened within the Han Empire, which is different from many previous scholarly interpretations.


Andrew King (University of Notre Dame), “The Death of the House and the Resurrection of the Church”

By using theories of life-history of things, this paper problematizes the identification of the world’s oldest church (i.e. the Christian structure of Dura-Europos from the mid-third century CE) as an example of the domus ecclesiae (“house-church”) by examining the structure’s periods and its changes within the Durene community. Two periods emerge: its life as a rather typical Durene house and its afterlife as a place of Christian cultic practices. The framework of periodization and alterations of the building is drawn from Igor Kopytoff’s work on cultural biography of material objects as well as Ruth Tringham’s application of the concept of lifehistory to domestic space: longevity of the physical house, (dis)continuity of its occupants, and its perception within a social group. Borrowing from both Kopytoff and Tringham, this paper argues that the alterations to the physical and familial domestic space (e.g. the paving of the courtyard, removal of the latrine, and the destruction of the living quarters) to create the Christian structure ontologically altered the building from a domestic space to a space for religious rites and activities. In this way, this paper suggests that the life of the domestic space ended when the alterations occurred; it ceased being a domus, and so it cannot be an example of the domus ecclesiae (e.g. 1 Cor 16:19; Rom 16:1-5; Acts 16:15, 40). With this theoretical framework in place, it is asserted that this Christian structure is the afterlife of the domus.


Cory Louie (University of Notre Dame), “To be Cast into Gehenna: Recovering the Damned Body in Mark 9:43-48”

In Mark 9:43–48, Jesus offers the striking injunction to amputate one’s own hand or foot or to gouge out one’s own eye as a precursor to entering eternal life, claiming it is better to enter “heaven” maimed than to be cast into Gehenna with two hands, two feet, or two eyes. While scholars have considered how early Christians would have heard this passage as it implicates the intact body in its heavenly admittance and potential for heavenly restoration, most have overlooked the rhetorical significance of the intact body that is cast into Gehenna. Consequently, most scholars read this passage as grounded in the comparison between a maimed body entering “heaven” and the broad undesirability of Gehenna as a place, entirely ignoring the frightful image of the condemned body’s post-mortem fate. This paper “recovers” the role and place of the body cast into Gehenna as an essential element to the logical balance and rhetorical force of the Markan argument. By contextualizing and re-reading Mark 9 in light of the prolific images of post-mortem bodily punishments prevalent in related Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Christian afterlife traditions, this paper argues that early Christian audiences would have heard this passage not only as it deters through the general undesirability of Gehenna, but specifically as an admonition predicated on the consequences awaiting the damned body once it arrives. The image of a two-handed, two-footed, or two-eyed body cast into Gehenna thus implicates and accentuates a body that anticipates corporeal punishment in the afterlife.


Chelsi Slotten (American University), “The Unintended Afterlife of Female Vikings”

History is written by the victors, or in archaeology by the society that undertakes archaeological excavation and analysis. This means that modern biases are often evident in these analyses and often, but not always, uncritically accepted in our work. My paper addresses the issue of modern gender biases being applied to the Viking Age through an analysis of the afterlives of Viking funerary remains. I will build on the groundwork laid by Elisabeth Arwill-Nordblach in her paper, "The Swedish Image of Viking Age Women: Stereotype, Generalisation, and Beyond." Specifically, I will be examining the 100 years of scholarship around the Oseberg Burial and comparing it to the recent article on grave Bj 581 from Birka, Sweden. I argue that a critical reflection on modern interpretations of female Viking funerary remains can reveal more about the biases in our society than the life of the deceased. This project, by critically engaging with changing modes of interpretation of female Viking funerary remains, reveals how objects of the afterlife can be appropriated to support modern interpretations of the past.


Cindy Susalla (University of Pennsylvania), “What’s in a Name? Views of (Re)Inscription in Ancient Rome”

Dio Chrysostom’s Rhodian Oration (Or. 31) has received a recent wave of interest, with analytical subjects ranging from how it speaks to modern “provenance theory” (Atwill, 2014), the position of the Greek polis under the Roman Empire (Bailey, 2015), and what it says (or, rather, does not say) about ancient “memory culture” (Ng, 2015). While these studies address questions surrounding the value and function of honorific statuary in Rome and Roman Greece, they pay little attention to the role of reinscription in such value-formation. As Dio makes clear, it is the alteration of the statue’s inscription which effectively transforms it into a recycled honor, not the re-working of the statue itself. My paper analyzes the value Dio Chrysostom places on inscriptions as heritage, with comparison to views of statue- and building-reinscription in Cicero and Suetonius. I argue that inscriptions, in Roman thought, bear meaning beyond simply the information they convey, and that Dio is consistent with other authors in representing reinscription as a particular form of heritage destruction to which Roman subjects are susceptible. Thus, this comparative examination of reinscription practices both offers a more nuanced understanding of what is at stake for Dio in his Rhodian Oration and sheds light on the politics of reinscription in imperial Rome.


Martin Uildriks (Brown University), “All fake? Unusual Egyptian Decorated Ceramics in Context”

In 1934, Guy Brunton published an article in the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, highlighting the peculiar character of decorations on some Predynastic Egyptian ceramics. These decorations deviate much from what we know of their more typical counterparts and as such Brunton argued all were modern reproductions. In 1977, the same journal published an influential article that attempted to support Brunton's stylistic claims with thermoluminescence testing. However, the resulting dates were arguably inconclusive, further complicating our understanding of idiosyncratic Predynastic styles versus modern fantasy reproductions. Since these vases are not easily understood, either as modern products or in relation to the larger corpus of common Predynastic ceramics, in this paper I will take another look at these vessels within the context of Antiquarianism. I zoom in on a few of such unusual specimens, but pay particular attention to a vase in the Birmingham Museum Art Gallery (U.K.), purchased in the 1960s at auction of Sir Henry Wellcome's collection. The shape of this vase is typically Predynastic while its decorations are clearly not. This dichotomy can only be understood within the context of a growing Egyptomania over the last 500 years. However, each unusual vase deserves individual evaluation and rather than considering all as 'fakes', I view some as illustrating the reception and an afterlife of the Predynastic period, namely that in the more recent past. I conclude that such items are intrinsic to our understanding of Egyptian material culture and their afterlives inside and outside its indigenous contexts.