What’s an Assyriologist, and should it be on YouTube?

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Balk removal at Tell Tayinat, Turkey. Image credit: Rosanne Libermann.

 Hello everyone! I’m Megan and I’m…not an archaeologist. I feel the bizarre urge to apologize right now (which is, unfortunately, a hazard of being British), but I’m going to resist the urge and instead assure you that, while I may not be an archaeologist, I do use the work of archaeologists on a regular basis. I did spend a whole field season conducting site survey in southern Turkey, which involved being bent double in cotton and cornfields, picking up tiny pieces of pottery. The sole bit of excavation I’ve done was helping to remove a balk. Even that didn’t last terribly long, as I was incredibly stupid, didn’t drink enough water, and spent the rest of the day with heatstroke. I’m much, much better in libraries.

Close-up of cuneiform inscription on the Esarhaddon Prism.
Close-up of cuneiform inscription on the Esarhaddon Prism. Image credit: Megan Lewis

What I AM is an assyriologist – or at least, an assyriologist in training. I’m in the final stages of getting my Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies, specializing in the languages and cultures of ancient Mesopotamia, Mesopotamia, for those who have better things to do with their time than learn about obscure historical regions, is mostly modern-day Iraq, though my education has included parts of Turkey, Syro-Palestine, Egypt, and Iran. Assyriology most often involves the translation and interpretation of cuneiform texts. Cuneiform was impressed on clay tablets with a stylus, or inscribed on various objects such as stone monuments, jewelry, seals, vessels, and statues. My personal research focuses on the royal inscriptions of Mesopotamia, from about 2700-1595 BCE, investigating the relationship between the text of the inscription, the type of object that inscription was placed upon, and (where available) the findspot of that object. More on that in a later post 🙂

An image with the text 'It was aliens', featuring a stamp across it declaring 'citation needed'
The appropriate response to someone telling you aliens are responsible for any historical achievement. Image credit: Megan Lewis

I’m also one-half of the Digital Hammurabi YouTube channel, an educational resource that I run with my husband, Dr. Joshua Bowen (also an assyriologist. Yes, you should most definitely be pitying out children around now). As with several of the other contributors to this blog, we’re trying to bring academic research into the public areas, giving non-specialists access to information that is all-too-often hidden being academic walls of one kind or another. When you tell people that your work involves the Sumerian language, and their response is ‘Oh! You mean the aliens?’, then you know there’s work to be done. As part of DH we also run a crowd-funded research grant for Ph.D. students called H.A.P.S. (Humans Against Poor Scholarship)…but again, more on that later!

As I have at least two professional hats, you’ll be getting at least two different kinds of posts from me. Posts about writing my dissertation, conducting assyriological research, and being a Ph.D. student, and also posts about running a YouTube outreach channel and managing a grant. A little diverse, and not necessarily immediately relatable to archaeology…but I think you’ll be surprised at how often archaeology is the foundation for a lot of what I do.

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