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Valentina Azzarà’s Leiden Experience: “I work on the big picture”

Recently, Valentina Azzarà joined the Faculty of Archaeology as a postdoc in the Archaeology of the Near East research group. She mostly focuses on the archaeology of Eastern Arabia, especially Oman. “I literally fell in love with the place.”

LEaDing Fellow

Valentina has been passionate about archaeology since her childhood. After studying Conservation of Cultural Heritage at the University of Bologna, she moved to Sorbonne University for a PhD in Archaeology-Ethonology-Prehistory. “My thesis focused on domestic architectures and the organisation of the household in Early Bronze Age Eastern Arabia.” After finishing her PhD, she became a postdoc at the Maison de l'Archéologie et de l'Ethnologie, after which she came to Leiden University as a LEaDing Fellow.

A beautiful place

An expert of pre- and protohistoric periods in the Middle East, Valentina mostly focuses on Eastern Arabia, especially Oman. “The first time I landed in the Sultanate of Oman I was 21, we were in the middle of nowhere for three months – no internet, no phone, no actual roads for many kilometres around – and I literally fell in love with the place.” She has worked at and directed field work projects in many areas and sites since then, but she has always come back to Oman. “Now, I direct my own archaeological project in Oman, at Ra's al-Jinz. Literally one of the most beautiful places on earth.”

The area of Ra's al-Jinz. Photo: Alexandre De Rorre

Building Complexity

Participating in many expeditions, from North Africa to Central Asia, Valentina’s experiences have had a significant impact on her research focus. “The traditional earthen architecture of these regions sparked my interest in the materiality of buildings, which met my interest in architecture as a cultural construction.” This shaped her current postdoc project at Leiden University. “I now work on the characterisation of earthen building materials and techniques in Eastern Arabia throughout the Early Bronze Age.” Through her project Building Complexity, she tries to understand how past populations built social, cultural, and economic complexity through building technologies.

National Geographic Society

The excavation Valentina is directing in the natural reserve of Ra’s al-Jinz, Oman, gives her new data to work on the rise of social complexity in Eastern Arabia. “The site has a long sequence of occupations, spanning from the second half of the 4th millennium to the very end of the 3rd millennium BCE.” The expedition was made possible by a grant of the National Geographic Society. “Thanks NGS!”

Working on the big picture

Valentina sees herself continue to work on the archaeology of architecture and settlement. “I will work on the big picture, because that's what I do. I think I can define myself as a generalist, putting together the work of the specialists.” While she is not sure yet whether she will go back to Paris after her postdoc runs out, or try to settle in the Netherlands, she will continue her research. “I will follow the opportunities.”

Pass on the trowel

In this series we ask a staff member to pick a colleague of whom they would like to know more. Valentina Azzarà passed on the proverbial trowel to Genner Llanes Ortiz. He will be interviewed for the newsletter of March 2019.

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