ARCANE Project

Modus Operandi

The ARCANE project aims at synchronising the third millennium BC regional assemblages of archaeological material in the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean, with the goal to produce a reliable relative and absolute chronology.

To reach this aim, it was decided to review the complete material culture, but to examine it under the specific point of view of chronological variation, leaving aside other historical and archaeological problems. A common methodology will be used by all regional groups, and participants will try to develop, in the course of the project, a common terminology in order to define both periods and different types of material.

The proposed methodology is based on three main points: 1) to concentrate on stratigraphically safe contexts and sealed assemblages (e.g. in situ material on floors, material inside a room sealed by the collapse of the roof, undisturbed, not reused graves) and on complete objects; 2) to analyse complete assemblages (combinations of co-occurring artefacts): these have to be studied together, in order to establish the co-occurrence of different types of objects in the different phases; and 3) not to limit the study to already published material, but to include as much as possible unpublished material, provided by the directors of excavations and their collaborators, which will be involved to different degrees in the project Work will proceed in successive steps: first at a regional level, by establishing regional periodizations, then at a supra-regional level, by synchronising the different regional periodizations. Finally, a general synchronisation will be attempted at.

Each of the twelve regional groups is composed of one or two team leaders and a number (6 to 10) of topic coordinators, each of which will deal, e.g., with pottery, metals, glyptics etc. of the region. The team leaders will contact the directors of the excavations in the area, who will be asked to provide relevant data about their excavation, according to a common set of files which will be distributed to them. In particular, they will be asked to provide the complete documentation (stratigraphy, finds, graphic documentation etc.) about a number of selected loci, which are considered to be both stratigraphically secure and especially characteristic of, and significant for the definition of, a specific chronological phase. In the following study, these loci will be used as the basis for the regional stratigraphical sequence of the region. In addition to this, excavators will also be asked to provide more general information on the third millennium sequence of their site, and on different categories of finds. This information, together with data from old publications and stratigraphically less secure contexts, will be used at a later time, to implement the chronological frame built on the basis of stratigraphically sure assemblages.

Each regional group will organise a number (one or two) of workshops, in which excavators, or their representatives, will be invited to present and discuss their data. Terminology and methodological tools will be discussed as well, so that the information provided by each of them to the regional coordinator will be in agreement with the aims of the project.

On the basis of both the new received data and of published material, the topic coordinators of each regional group will define the types (and the associations of types) characteristic of each phase. During this stage of the work, they will interact both with the other topic coordinators of the same regional group, and with the topic coordinators dealing with the same kind of material in the neighbouring regions. It is also suggested that they should contact the scholar responsible for the publication of the material of the most important sites in the region, in order to obtain additional data, and exchange views, with them. Although all available material will be considered in some way, it is important to stress that the aim of the project is not to include every excavated artefact or fragment, but to focus on those coming from stratigraphically secure contexts, thus privileging quality over quantity. Material from less secure contexts can be included for types of objects which are quite rare, or whose historical value is quite high (cuneiform tablets, seals, sealings, etc). In this case, the procedure will be to try to link them with stratigraphically secure material.

In principle, material from all excavated sites may be considered. However, sites providing the most reliable sequences, and single-phase sites (which may be useful for the definition of phase assemblages) should be preferred, especially for areas in which the number of excavations is considerable. At a later date, one may try to integrate the remaining sites in the obtained periodization.

Information concerning subjects (glyptics, written evidence, C14 and environmental data) which are the topic of transversal groups will be communicated by the team leaders of regional groups (or by the referents of each regional group) to the team leaders of transregional groups who will also process these. Information will be exchanged among the members of the project both during the different workshops, and by means of the web site of the project, and also in more informal ways (email, visits to excavations, etc.).

At the end of the first stage, each regional group will produce a synthesis of its results, in the form of a volume containing a proposed regional periodization (anchored, as much as possible, to a sequence of C14-based absolute dates for the region), a synchronic table demonstrating the stratigraphical sequence of the main sites, and a number of short contributions, with illustrations, on the different categories of objects characteristic of the material culture of each period. Attention should be paid not only to the presence/absence, but also to the frequency of each artefact type (the same artefact can be present in two or more successive phases, but with different associations and in different quantities).

Special attention will be paid to creating a common terminology and to clearly define the various categories of objects, wares etc., in order to avoid continuing confusion among different types. No analytical studies or complete database will be published within the official framework of the ARCANE project, though single participants may publish the detailed results of their analysis elsewhere.

The proposed periodization will be the responsibility of the regional team leaders, but will be agreed with all the members of the group. It was decided that all regional groups will follow the same procedure, according to which, as a temporary solution, the different phases of each region will be named according to progressive numbers, following the region designation: e.g. EJZ 1, 2, 3, ETG 1, 2, 3, etc.

During the second phase of the project, the same methodology will be used for synchronising the different regional periodizations. Interregional workshops will be organised, in which the scholars responsible for neighbouring regions will compare their artefact assemblages. In this phase, attention will focus, on the one hand, on types of objects (glyptics, cuneiform tablets, metals, etc.) which have a wider geographical distribution, encompassing different regions, and on the other hand on imports (e.g. on the exceptional occurrence of special wares and pottery types beyond their production area). C14 data will also be of utmost importance in this phase, since they will allow groups to establish whether similar assemblages in different areas are contemporary or of slightly different date. The same is also true for environmental data. Therefore, the role of the four transversal groups will be crucial in this phase.

At this stage, if the main changes in assemblages in different regions will be found to be synchronous, the provisional regional periodization may be revised, and a common phase definition may be proposed. A number of volumes will be published, containing the results of these interregional workshops.

The last, and final phase of the project, will consist of a general synthesis. This will be elaborated in the course of a final conference, in which a new general periodization, or a synchronisation of the different regional or transregional periodizations, will be proposed. This will result in a final volume with a general chronological table, short contributions about the periodization and chronology of the different regions, illustrations of the different regional assemblages, and distribution maps for some widespread types of artefacts.

ARCANE Project
Modus Operandi
Regional and
Transversal Groups
Publication Phase
New Periodization Table
ARCANE Database
Database Tools
Meeting Reports
Review by E.S.F. independent experts