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Electives of Ancient Near Eastern Studies: ‘You can really get a closer look at the subject matter’

Are you interested in ancient Egypt, the rich cultural heritage of Mesopotamia or bliblical Hebrew and Aramaic? Students of all faculties can follow electives of Ancient Near Eastern Studies without prior knowledge or special entry requirements. Archaeology student Annely Arends talks about her experiences.

Why did you decide to take this course?

‘I’ve been interested in ancient Egypt from a very young age, as it has a special place in history. Because I was also interested in other ancient civilisations, I decided to study Archaeology. Unfortunately, there are few courses on Egyptology in the Archaeology programme, which is why I looked into taking classes from other programmes. This is how I found out about Ancient Near Eastern Studies’ electives.’

What did you find interesting about the electives?

‘I took the course Material Culture of Ancient Egypt and I like how it’s organised: there’s a good mix of lectures, practicals, and assignments. We spent a lot of time in the Museum of Antiquities, which meant that you got a better feel for the materials that you were working with. Another thing I really liked was that there were (relatively) few students. This allows you to have more contact with your fellow students and the lecturer, and it was easier to ask questions. I learned a lot during this course!’

Can you use the knowledge you got from this course in your Archaeology classes and vice versa?

‘I think this course matches my study programme very well. At Archaeology, we cover subjects broadly, whilst with the electives of Ancient Near Eastern Studies you get to take a closer look at the study material. Something I discovered during the elective I took, was that I had some basic knowledge on ancient Egypt, but that I knew very little about specific dynasties, pharaohs, or specific locations of ancient cities and graves.
That was also the case about the knowledge I had of ceramics, the material we mainly focused on during the course. In the Archaeology programme, we only spend two lectures discussing this specific material, as there are many other materials we have to cover such as bone, flint and organic material. During the elective, however, ceramics were the main focus and we looked at, for example, which production methods were used in Egypt. You can view the electives as a type of specialisation: you can truly get a closer look at the subject matter!’

Did you notice any differences between the two faculties in studying at Archaeology and Humanities?

‘You might think that at Archaeology, we only look at artefacts such as pottery shards and bones, and while this might be true for civilisations without writing systems, we do use a lot of ‘written’ materials. You can think of scriptures like cuneiform, Greek and Arabic inscriptions, and medieval texts and maps. I’ve only taken one course so far, which covered both Egyptology and archaeology, but there are some small differences. The main difference is that there’s more emphasis on the authors of publications and publishing research in general. The guidelines for writing essays also differ from Archaeology’s and. I’ve heard from other students that they needed to put more effort into writing and presenting than I had to in my first year.’

On the relevance of these electives

According to Ben Haring, university lecturer at Ancient Near Eastern Studies, it is critical that this kind of education is offered. ‘We owe plenty of things to the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria and Anatolia - many of which are so fundamental, that we don’t even realise it. Things like the first states and cities, and early writing systems, including the first alphabets. A great diversity of religions, which gave rise to Judaism and Christianity. And, of course, an extensive cultural heritage consisting of numerous monuments, works of art and documents, which these cultures have left us: on the spot and in museums worldwide. Without decent knowledge and research of cultural heritage, which we all consider to be very important, there’s no meaning.’

Want to know more about the electives of Ancient Near Eastern Studies? Check the Prospectus!

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