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Prof Ann Brysbaert participates in Getty Foundation’s initiative

A new and recently started Getty Foundation project, Material Entanglements in the Ancient Mediterranean and Beyond, aims to forge connections among Mediterranean and Eastern scholars who rarely come into contact with one another’s work. Ann Brysbaert is one of the 25 invited specialists investigating the mechanisms and outcomes of cultural interactions.

Aspects of materiality

The research involves studying representative artifacts and ensembles, s.a. monumental complexes and small-scale “treasures” with mixed contents of multi-regional objects. The full project team originates from 14 countries all over the world and break down different aspects of materiality (scale, technologies, iconographies, forms and color) and examine them individually and in concert with one another.

The Mediterranean is the area par excellence to study cultural interactions and entanglements, and has a long tradition of doing so for most of its prehistoric and historic periods and contexts. This two-year project (2018-2020) expands its territorial scope by including and exploring the less well-known regions of Western and Central Asia from the Middle Bronze Age to the Sasanian Period (c. 2000 BCE – c. 650 CE).


The first workshop, which took place from 1-10 October, 2018, in Athens, formed a very intensive and lively floor for debate, exchange and discussion, and offered a constructive platform in which the start-up presentations and their discussants bridged the geographical divides among the three continents of the Old World. A second workshop next year will bring together the more advanced research of people in another series of round table discussions, site visits and presentations.

Reflectorless total station measurements of the stone construction work inside the Tiryns tholos tomb, Argolid (Greece).


Having taken part in the first workshop recently, Prof. Ann Brysbaert, who joined with a side-project of the larger ERC-CoG SETinSTONE project of which she is principal investigator at Leiden University, is very enthusiastic about this collaboration.

“Initially, several of us were wondering how people who work, for example, as far apart as Bactria in the 4th c BCE would connect to prehistorians in Egypt. However, because we are all fascinated by the socio-political and economic underlying causes for people-material interactions, we felt uninhibited to discuss this from the morning until late at night. Both PIs organized this first workshop with so much time for discussion that everyone felt really satisfied about the very intense days spent together. Often in more traditional conferences the discussion time is limited to a 5 minute Q&A and we all want more of such time; here we got plenty and it shows clearly how beneficial this can be. The way we spent our time not only led into sharing and cross-fertilizing views, ideas and approaches, but also sparked off exciting new collaboration opportunities and still ongoing online debates between many of us.”

Keeping the debate going

This is also the plan of the Principal Investigators, to keep the debate going until the next workshop, and it seems to flow by itself due to a very strong research narrative, informed by both luxury and everyday objects and features. The sharing, exploring and assessing of both existing and new theoretically informed frameworks (several agency theories, iconography, object biographies, materiality studies, post-colonial studies), and practically shaped approaches (typologies, stylistic studies, scientific analyses, 3D documentation techniques, experimental replication), help the team members to further their and each other’s understanding of complex materials, technological processes, styles and forms that shaped and were shaped by intense and complex socio-political connections between groups at various and intercrossing levels of their daily existence over time.

Further reading

As part of the Getty Foundation’s Connecting Art Histories initiative, the Materials Entanglements Programme’s website lists further information on participants and their individual projects, and regarding the workshops.

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