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62nd Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale to be hosted by University of Pennsylvania
An ancient clay tablet in Sumerian cuneiform from the site of Nippur in Mesopotamia (now in Iraq), circa 1650 BCE, contains the earliest version of the Mesopotamian flood story.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- Clay tablets from the ancient Near East, bearing cuneiform, an ancient writing system in use thousands of years ago, were but curiosities until scholars began to decipher them in the mid-19th century. Since then, the decipherment of numerous tablets inscribed by ancient scribes—detailing everything from economic transactions, to literary and religious stories, historical sagas, medical prescriptions and recipes for beer—has opened up a treasure trove of information about some of the earliest human civilizations, the ancient Near Eastern cultures that grew up along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers ages ago.

Since its first Paris meeting in 1950, the Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale has drawn together Assyriologists—scholars who read and study cuneiform texts—and Near Eastern archaeologists from around the world to share new research and perspectives. From July 11 through 15, 2016, the University of Pennsylvania and the Penn Museum will host the 62nd Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, marking the fifth time the prestigious conference has been held in the United States, and the second time it has been hosted by Penn in Philadelphia. About 250 to 300 scholars and archaeologists are expected to attend from about two dozen countries.

“Hosting this international conference at Penn is a great honor, and a wonderful opportunity for Penn and the Penn Museum to share with colleagues both our history of ancient Near Eastern research, and our current efforts, which take place in libraries, archives, and in the field,” noted conference coordinator Grant Frame, Associate Curator in the Babylonian Section at the Penn Museum, and Associate Professor, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania.

Ur in the 21st Century
The first American institution to excavate ancient Near Eastern sites in Iraq in the late 1800s, the Penn Museum continues its deep engagement with Near Eastern research today. The Rencontre met in Philadelphia in 1988, when the theme was “Nippur, the Holy City of the Sumerians,” with a special focus on that important site, where archaeologists unearthed a massive ancient library of Sumerian texts.

“Ur in the 21st Century CE” is the theme of the 62nd meeting, and the spotlight is on the famous joint Penn Museum and British Museum expedition to Ur led by Sir Leonard Woolley in southern Iraq from 1922 through 1934. Conference attendees will have an opportunity to view the progress of the recent joint digitization project to provide an open access web resource about that site, and the tens of thousands of artifacts, field notes, maps, photographs and other records from the excavations. The Ur Digitization Project was made possible with the lead support of the Leon Levy Foundation.

Workshops, Papers, and Posters
The program will feature eleven workshops on a variety of topics from Ancient Near Eastern Art, to Ur and the Gulf, Intertexuality in Cuneiform Scholarship, and explorations of specific periods of history. One session will be held in memory of Åke Sjøberg (1924–2014), former Tablet Collections director at the Penn Museum and a renowned Sumerian scholar who initiated the Pennsylvania Sumerian Dictionary Project before the age of computers. Education is an important topic for the conference, and one workshop, geared to middle school teachers, will focus on Teaching and Assyriology.

More than 150 participants offer short papers, and a poster session invites sharing and discussion among scholars. Conference meetings are held on the Penn campus. All registered attendees have free admission to the Penn Museum, to explore its galleries and related exhibitions, including Iraq’s Ancient Past: Rediscovering Ur’s Royal Cemetery, Magic in the Ancient World, and the special exhibition The Golden Age of King Midas, featuring art and artifacts on loan from the Republic of Turkey.

In addition to Dr. Frame, the Penn conference committee organizers are Joshua Jeffers, Research Specialist, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations; Holly Pittman, Penn Museum Curator, Near East Section, and College of Women of 1963 Professor, History of Art; Lauren Ristvet, Dyson Assistant Curator, Near East Section and Associate Professor, Anthropology; Steve Tinney, Penn Museum Associate Curator-in-Charge, Babylonian Section and Associate Professor, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations; and Richard Zettler, Penn Museum Associate Curator-in-Charge, Near East Section, and Associate Professor, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.

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