Mesopotamia
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Instroduction
Mesopotamia

Giorgio Buccellati – October 2020
Mesopotamia
A broken tradition
Mending the brokenness
The invention of Mesopotamia
Data and methods

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Mesopotamia

     If there is a mold to the modern conception of the world, to rules of social living, to the expression of thoughts in writing, its first explicit traces will be found in the "Fertile Crescent," the ancient Near East, along the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates. In Mesopotamia.
     As more and more fragments of homes and temples, pottery and tablets are freed from the grip of the earth, we begin to decode the patterns of our cultural imprinting. We come to a better understanding of our civilizational make-up, of – ourselves.
     This grandiose vision of history depends on an incalculable amount of data, all of which have come out of the ground over the last two centuries. Which presents us with two equally immense problems: how do we account for the quantity of data retireved, and how do we make sense of them so as to recover the inner meaning of a culture that had disappaered under its own collapse.

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A broken tradition

     Mesopotamia is in fact a "broken tradition." This concept helps us to understand the distance that separates us and, at the same time, the proximity that we can achieve.
     The culture of Mesopotamia is a broken tradition because there are no living carriers for it, in fact there have not been any for over two millennia. We cannot ask questions of a Mesopotamian. We can only ask quetions of the material fragments of its culture which have come to rest in the matrix of the soil.
     So the first task is to document the brokenness. That is where the role of archaeology emerges in all its significance, not only as the activity that uncovers the fragments, but also as the enterprise committed to making sense of them.

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Mending the brokenness

     Recovering this culture, as it stands behind the brokenness, has been a great scholarly endeavor for some two centuries now, and a very successful one.
     We now have a firm and clear knowledge of this ancient culture. Paradoxically, in fact, we know more about their history and prehistory than the ancients themselves could have ever claimed. And this is thanks to the archaeological work of excavation and to the concurrent work of interpetation during the last two centuries.

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The invention of Mesopotamia

     Etymologically, "invention" means "discovery." We can thus use the term in its double sense.
     Following the etymology, we "find" in the ground the pieces of the material culture of this ancient and now broken tradition. This refers to the effort of recovering the data and documenting them – to the grammar.
     Following the current meaning of the term, we "invent," i. e., we re-imagine the culture as it was when alive, unbroken. This refers to the effort at interpeting, at ever higher levels of analysis, the data – to hermeneutics.
     Digitality is adding a new dimension to this research, in spite of the limitations of the digital medium, and to this is dedicated our cluster of websites.


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Data and methods

     This is not a general site about Mesopotamian civilization. It is rather a cluster of websites that provide extensive substantive data about specific aspects of this civilization.
     It deals with archaeology as the process whereby the primary data are recovered.
     It deals with texts as a privileged category of artifacts that have been brought to light by archaeology and give us the most direct evidence of the self-awareness of the ancients.
     It deals with the scholarship tradition in the field, which has, over the last two centuries, succeded in constructing a unified vision out of the fragments recovered.
     It also aims at forcefully proposing the very structure of a website, with all its browser capabilities, as a model of scholarly communication.

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