Mleiha: The Unwritten History
Sabah A Jasim, Margarethe Uerpmann, and Hans-Peter Uerpmann
Medina Publishing, £25
Better known for the beaches and bright lights of Dubai, the United Arab Emirates also has many excellent Bronze and Iron Age sites, as well as evidence of human occupation as far back as 125,000 years ago; hence its emergence as an archaeological tourism destination. The finest of these sites is probably the pre-Islamic desert city of Mleiha, comprehensively excavated over 40 years, and opened to the public last year. This definitive yet highly readable account by three of the principal investigators tells its story. It is copiously illustrated with artefact and site photos.
From origins around 3000 BC, Mleiha is now recognised as a key regional centre in south-east Arabia in the centuries around Christ, a trading hub connecting Rome and India, and also a centre of civilisation in its own right – issuing its own coinage, with thriving agriculture based on the (alai irrigation system and a technologically advanced metallurgical industry. Its rulers built palaces, monumental structures, and elaborate tombs, demonstrating their status as well as a belief in the afterlife. Intriguingly, the coinage also suggests that Mleiha may have been ruled by a dynasty of queens, evocative of the Queen of Sheba in south-west Arabia.
Review by David Millar
The Ancient State of Puyŏ in Northeast Asia
Mark E Byington
Harvard University Press, £.47.95
Long-obscured by the competing national histories of north-eastern Asia, the enigmatic kingdom of Puyŏ has rarely been mentioned in scholarship in any language. Little was known about its archaeology, territorial sphere, or sociopolitical organisation. This is what makes Byington’s volume such an academic triumph. In the first study explicitly focused on Puyŏ, the Harvard professor translates diverse Korean, Chinese, and Japanese historical sources, and synthesises buried Chinese archaeological reports, some never published, revealing the dramatic rise and fall of a largely unknown state power in hilly plains of north-eastern China between the 3rd century BC and the 5th century AD. The book is clearly organised and succinctly written as Byington deftly balances a range of evidence from inside Puyŏ itself and from surrounding polities. He finds a particular strength as a myth-buster, demonstrating how several emerging states rushed to lay claim to Puyŏ legacy on its disintegration, and how allegorical foundation accounts were established and perpetuated in traditional Chinese and Korean historiographies that effectively concealed the memory of the oldest archaeologically attested state in the region. The book will appeal, therefore, to anyone interested in the archaeology and political history of Asia, the mechanisms behind the emergence and sustained maintenance of early inegalitarian state powers, and the broader processes through which history becomes influential propaganda and myth.
Review by Nicholas Bartos
Age of Empires: Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties
Zhixin Jason Sun
Yale University Press, £.45.00
During the 400 or so years of the Qjn and Han dynasties, China was transformed from a collection of warring states into an empire with a centralised government Age of Empires accompanies the exhibition of the same name at the Metropolitan (New York), exploring this defining period of Chinese history, as well as the role art played in both shaping a national identity and consolidating the emergent empire. A succinct yet comprehensive overview of the period provides historical context, before dealing with the exhibition’s themes from the military to popular beliefs. Finally, each of the exhibition’s 160 artefacts, which include animal figurines, textiles, and roof-tiles all brought together from museums and institutions across China, are explained to produce a fascinating glimpse of life under the emperor
Review by Rosie McCall
A History of Syria in One Hundred Sites
Y Kanjou and A Tsuneki (eds)
When Syria’s magnificent cultural heritage came under threat, editors Kanjou and Tsuneki mobilised more than 110 international academics, working in all regions of the country, to produce this exhaustive reference book Covering over 1.8 million years of history, the volume introduces 103 recently excavated Syrian sites through short summaries, with additional chapters about the significance of the Syrian past and its future legacy Though the book’s rapid production is apparent, with pixilated images and textual incongruities, it remains a wonderful source to be endless~ mined by scholars and enthusiasts alike.
Review by Nicholas Bartos
The Church of the East: An Illustrated History of Assyrian Christianity
I B Tauris, £.29.00
The Nestorian Church was named after Nestorius, the Patriarch of Constantinople (428-431), who neither founded it nor belonged to it. It is also known as the Apostolic Church of the East, and has a fascinating history, investigated in this comprehensive study into the origins and spread of Christianity in the East The book is an ambitious and enthralling exploration through 2,000 volatile years of conflicting religious doctrine. Scrupulous~ researched and beautifully illustrated, it examines the impact of competing theologies from Zoroastrianism to Catholicism, the arrival of Islamic rule, and the turbulence of recent history that renders the fate of the 400,000 or so Christians in the Middle East today more precarious than ever.
Review by Caitlin McCall
These reviews appeared in issue 84 of Current World Archaeology. Interested in having the magazine delivered directly to your door? Click here to find out more about subscribing to the magazine.