Steve Renette

Research Interests

  • Archaeology and ancient history of southwest Asia, especially prehistoric and Bronze Age Iraq and Iran
  • Alterity & cross-cultural interaction, with a focus on mountain societies
  • Mesopotamian urbanism & the emergence of heterarchical, institutional organization
  • Ceramic analysis
  • Environmental archaeology & social-ecological systems
  • Commensality, feasting, and ancient foodways
  • Historical geography
  • Anarchist histories & history of resistance movements in the Middle East
  • Archive archaeology, particularly integrating legacy datasets with 21st century fieldwork projects

Current Projects

Monograph Project – “Resisting the State: The Formation of Mountain Identities in the Ancient Near East (ca. 4000-1500 BCE)”
My current monograph project explores the role of mountain peoples in the time of state formation and subsequent expansive imperialism in the ancient Near East between ca. 4000–1500 BCE. Taking an interdisciplinary approach by comparing archaeological, textual, and visual evidence, this book asks the question why diverse societies that were economically entangled (as evidenced by archaeological evidence and administrative cuneiform records) developed a profoundly antagonistic relationship, expressed through propaganda in various media (e.g. royal monuments; rock reliefs; mythological texts), that would last into the modern era. Inspired by recent anarchist histories, this book traces the enduring legacy of this conflict throughout history, for example in the form of resistance movements against incursions from centralized, hierarchical states, and how it permeated Western scholarship on mountain peoples. As such, this book aims not only to trace the origins of mountain societies in the ancient Near East, but also to provide a deep historical context for resistance movements of mountain peoples in the Middle East.

Kani Shaie Archaeological Project (KSAP)
With the increasing security in Iraqi Kurdistan, I initiated the Kani Shaie Archaeological Project in 2012 to document local socioeconomic and cultural developments in this largely unexplored region. Kani Shaie is a mounded site that holds the remains of a small local center during the Chalcolithic (ca. 5000-3200 BCE) and the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3200-2000 BCE), as well as repeated later occupation. This period in history saw the first appearance of cities and states in Mesopotamia, but their impact on local communities in the Zagros Mountains and interregional exchange networks crossing through this region remain poorly understood. Kani Shaie offers the rare opportunity to explore these formative stages ancient Near Eastern history with an almost uninterrupted sequence of occupation spanning almost 3000 years.
From its inception, KSAP set out to be a collaborative, international, and interdisciplinary project with a continuously growing team. The project has integrated new digital methods for archaeological fieldwork documentation and continues to explore ways to innovate. After a brief hiatus to process initial results and focus on publications, fieldwork is set to resume in 2021.
In 2018, KSAP teamed up with the French Archaeological Mission for the Sulaymaniyah Governorate to conduct survey in the Bazyan Basin. The goal of this ongoing project is to document the archaeological heritage that is undergoing continuous destruction by massive industrial projects (cement factories; oil refinery), intensive agricultural exploitation (greenhouses), and rapid demographic growth. Moving forward, I am particularly interested in exploring how the concern for archaeological heritage intersects or conflicts with the interests of different stakeholders in the valley, especially local economic development, but also a burgeoning environmental movement, emerging community interest in their local history, and the integration of recent refugees that migrated to this area following the destruction caused by ISIS in 2014-2015.

The Al-Hiba Publication Project (TAHPP) & Lagash Archaeological Project (LAP)
The site of al-Hiba in southern Iraq is the location of the ancient Sumerian city-state of Lagash. Between 1968 and 1990, Donald Hansen and Vaughn Crawford directed large-scale excavations at al-Hiba, exposing two major temple complexes and a craft production building of the Early Dynastic III period (ca. 2500-2300 BCE) as well as part of a public building of the Early Dynastic I period (ca. 2900-2600 BCE). Unfortunately, the enormous amount of archaeological data was never fully published, but in recent years, Holly Pittman at the Penn Museum initiated the publication project in order to make the records digitally available and to produce a final analysis of the results. As part of this archival archaeology project, I have conducted a full analysis of the ceramic corpus from al-Hiba. This study, which is set to be published as a monograph by Brepols in 2021, provides the first comprehensive ceramic typology from a southern Mesopotamian site covering the entire third millennium BCE since Delougaz’ 1952 publication of the Diyala pottery.

Mahidasht Survey Project (1975-1978)
As part of my dissertation, I also analyzed the unpublished records of the Mahidasht Survey Project, conducted by Louis Levine between 1975 and 1978 in the Kermanshah region of western Iran. This project conducted the largest, comprehensive survey data of one of the major plains within the Zagros Mountains. At a time when access to western Iran is restricted due to political reasons, work on legacy datasets such as these demonstrates the potential of archive archaeology to produce new data using digital tools that were not available at the time. While perhaps not as exciting as traveling to an archaeological site and conducting fieldwork, projects such as these offer opportunities for graduate students and undergraduate students interested in pursuing an archaeological career to gain research experience and to try out new analytical methods on an extensive dataset. While archive archaeology often tends to be a solo project, datasets such as these provide ample avenues for collaboration and student involvement.

Feasting and Political Competition in Early Dynastic Mesopotamian City-States
Finally, separate from my other projects, I also have a longstanding interest in how commensality and feasting practices were used to negotiate power relationships in ancient Sumerian city-states. The role of alcohol production has been a fashionable topic in ancient Near Eastern studies in recent years, while exciting new research into the reconstruction of foodways and actual recipes is emerging. This theme opens up numerous avenues for hands-on research and engaging teaching topics that I look forward to exploring further.

I’m an archaeologist and ancient historian interested in the emergence of different forms of complex social organization in relationship to the challenges and opportunities afforded by the natural environment. My particular focus is on how mountain communities of the Zagros region (present-day border region between Iraq and Iran) adapted to highland ecology, developed interaction networks through this fragmented landscape, and maintained their own identity in resistance to incursions from lowland states. I take an interdisciplinary approach combining archaeological datasets, cuneiform text sources, and visual evidence (e.g. rock reliefs; glyptic imagery). I am co-director of the Kani Shaie Archaeological Project (Iraqi Kurdistan), which explores the emergence of a local center on the border between the Zagros Mountains and the Mesopotamian plains during the Late Chalcolithic (ca. 4600 – 3200 BCE) and the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3200 – 2000 BCE). In addition, I am a member of the Al-Hiba Publication Project for which I have written a monograph on the pottery from the site of al-Hiba, the ancient Sumerian city of Lagash, spanning the third and early second millennium BCE. I remain involved also with the Lagash Archaeological Project, which has initiated new fieldwork at this southern Iraqi site since 2019.

Degrees

Ph.D. – Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, University of Pennsylvania, 2018
M.A. – Archaeology of Town and Country in the Mediterranean and the Near East, Leiden University, 2010
B.A./M.A. – Archaeology, Ghent University, 2007

Academic Appointments

Killam Postdoctoral Research Fellow – Department of Classical, Near Eastern, and Religious Studies, University of British Columbia, 2020-2022
Lecturer – Department of Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology, Bryn Mawr College (2020)
Lecturer – Department of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania (2018-2019)

Selected Grants and Awards

Rust Family Foundation Archaeology Grant for “Highland-Lowland Relations during the Early Bronze Age in Southern Iraqi Kurdistan: Post-Fieldwork Analysis of Excavations at Kani Shaie”, 2020
National Environment Research Council (NERC) grant for radiocarbon dating (NF/2019/2/5); co-applicant for “Establishing an Absolute Chronological Framework for the Late Chalcolithic (c. 4500-3000 BCE) Strata at Kani Shaie, Iraqi Kurdistan”, 2019
ASOR Mesopotamian Fellowship for “Documenting Threatened Archaeological Heritage in the Bazyan Basin, Sulaimaniyah (Iraqi Kurdistan)”, 2017
Graduate Fellowship for Teaching Excellence – University of Pennsylvania Center for Teaching and Learning, 2017-2018
Museum Fieldwork Grant from the Penn Museum for the Kani Shaie Archaeological Project fieldwork seasons 2015, 2016

Selected Publications

Books
(in press) Renette, S. Lagash I – The Ceramic Corpus from Al-Hiba, 1968-1990: A chrono-typology of the pottery tradition in southern Mesopotamia during the third and early second millennium BCE, ARATTA I, Turnhout: Brepols.

Edited Volumes
Chalikias, K., Pearce, A., Beeler, M. & Renette, S. (eds.) The Future of the Past – From Amphipolis to Mosul, New Approaches to Cultural Heritage Preservation in the Eastern Mediterranean, Archaeological Institute of America Heritage, Conservation & Archaeology Series Special Publications.

Journal Articles
(in press) Renette, S., Abu Jayyab, Kh., Gibbon, E., Lewis, M. et al. “Late Chalcolithic Ceramic Development in Southern Iraqi Kurdistan: The Stratigraphic Sounding at Kani Shaie”, IRAQ 81.

(in press) Renette, S. & Mohammadi Ghasrian, S. “The Central and Northern Zagros during the Late Chalcolithic: An updated ceramic chronology based on recent fieldwork results in western Iran”, Paléorient 46.1.

Renette, S. 2015. “Painted Pottery from Al-Hiba: Godin Tepe III Chronology and Interactions between Ancient Lagash and Elam”, IRAN 53: 49-63.

Renette, S. 2010. “A Reassessment of the Round Buildings in the Hamrin Valley (Central Iraq) during the Early Third Millennium BCE”, Paléorient 35.2: 79-98.

Book Chapters
(in press) Goodman, R., Renette, S. & Carter, E. “The Al-Hiba Survey Revisited”, in: Nadali, D., Polcaro, A. & Pittman, H. (eds.) Ancient Lagash: Current Research and Future Trajectories, OREA, Vienna: VÖAW.

Renette, S. 2019. “Stratigraphy”, in: Rova, E. (ed.) Associated Regional Chronologies for the Ancient Near East: Tigridian Region, ARCANE 5, Turnhout: Brepols, 31-62.

Renette, S. 2014. “Feasts on Many Occasions: Diversity in Mesopotamian Banquet Scenes from the Early Dynastic Period”, in: Altmann, P. & Fu, J. (eds.) Feasting in the Archaeology and Texts of the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near East, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 61-86.

Conference Proceedings
(in press) Renette, S. “The Historical Geography of Western Iran: An archaeological perspective on the location of Kimaš”, in: Gorris, H., De Graef, K. & Tavernier, J. (eds.) Susa and Elam II. History, Language, Religion and Culture, Mémoires de la Délégation en Perse 59, Leiden: Brill.

Renette, S. 2018. “The Early Bronze Age Zagros Interaction Sphere: A View from Kani Shaie”, in: Azizi Kharanaghi, M.H., Khanipour, M. & Naseri, R. (eds.) Proceedings of the International Congress of Young Archaeologists, Tehran: Iranology Foundation, 90-102.

Tomé, A., Cabral, R. & Renette, S. 2016. “Kani Shaie Archaeological Project: New Fieldwork in the Bazyan Valley, Sulaymaniyah”, in: Kopanias, K. & Macginnis, J. (eds.) Archaeological Research in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Adjacent Areas, Oxford: Archaeopress, 415-422.

Renette, S. 2012. “The Trans-Tigridian Corridor in the Early Third Millennium BCE”, in: De Graef, K. & Tavernier, J. (eds.) Susa and Elam. Archaeological, Philological, Historical and Geographical Perspectives, Leiden: Brill, 43-50.