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Afterthoughts: cataloguing material from the 1968 survey

A chance meeting between an Israeli archaemetallurgist and an Iranian student led to the transfer of the collection to the Institute of Archaeology with the support of IAMS. What follows are observations and personal experiences I had cataloguing the samples received in 2002 from the 1968 survey. Here was a collection of artefacts, which had been stored in Israel from a survey in Iran headed by an American attaché, and later subject of a dissertation for an Iranian student, at a time when Iran was/is at loggerheads, over its nuclear energy programme, with a threatening Israel and America.

Apart from travel reports by Wertime and Tylecote, the only other published report is the results of analysis undertaken on the geological samples collected during the pyrotechnological survey of Iran, Afghanistan and Turkey. The report locates ores and minerals, including uranium in Iran from a site no longer accessible due to modern day development and mining. Whilst cataloguing the collection, I felt that the vulnerability of artefacts and their supporting data alongside the socio-political and economic context of this collection warranted closer study.

The Near East

The Near East has been of great interest to Europe for some time, their sense of ancient identity was/is largely informed by the Bible and Classical authors, which alongside the desire for resources and ancient trade routes drew them to this region originally. Followed more recently by constant tampering with the geopolitics of the region over the past few centuries. As scientific archaeological investigations in the Middle East increased, the west had discovered over the last century that a multitude of mechanisms of civilisation, from farming technology, to early metals, writing, early state societies and empires had evolved in the east.

Wertime had already been active in the region for several years, both in his professional capacity as Cultural Attaché at the US embassy in Iran, and in his very own quest for the birthplace of ‘pyrotechnology…use of fire to fabricate plasters, ceramic pots, bricks, metals, glazes and glass’ (Wertime 1973, E07, p. 120). He was not swayed by the argument of ‘independent invention of metallurgy in Europe’ (Goodway, 1983). The search for the earliest developments in pyrotechnology led him to organise various expeditions in the 1960 and 70s covering Turkey, Afghanistan, Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, and Iran. Wertime selected excellent expedition members whose wisdom he sought to explicate the superbly selected sites he was able to negotiate passage to, in his capacity as a diplomat.

Iran was the focus of his studies in the 1960s during which time he surveyed most the country. In 1961, with the Iran Ministry of Mines, he made a metallurgical reconnaissance of archaeological sites in the North, followed by a trip in 1962, together with Cyril Stanley Smith. In 1966, a survey covering ‘The Great Persian Desert’ was carried out as an adjunct to the excavations by Caldwell at Tal-i-Iblis. They did a rapid and wide-ranging survey of old mining and smelting sites in Iran, with the intention of looking for archaeological evidence, traditional lore and pattern of settlement. A further reconnaissance in 1967 was coordinated with Lamberg-Karlowsky’s field survey. Wertime had gained considerable experience alongside knowledgeable scholars of the region before planning the 1968 survey, which was the largest and most ambitious of them all.

The story of the survey

Wertime raised funds from the National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institute, and took some time organizing the 1968 expedition. The expedition members in his first proposal were not all present during the expedition, and the scholars who did attend were not present at all the sites or countries. There was no co-ordinated sampling conducted by the group; as far as could be established from the participants, several members of the group collected material according to their own briefs and interests. The majority of sites were archaeological in nature, however, some represent modern cities, local bazaars, museums and modern production centres. Bingham mentions how wherever an audience could be found, a display would be put on of the kind of material the team were interested in, with the curious invited to comment and mention where they may have seen any of the material being displayed (pers comm. Bingham F04). The ethnographic and experimental approaches employed by Wertime was modern for its time.

Klinger accumulated a systematic collection of rock and soil samples for his geological prospection work; Matson collected ceramic sherds. Both Klinger and Matson took their collections to the United States, the ceramics are in the Matson Museum in Philadelphia. The three archaeometallurgists collected slags, ores, furnace remains and other metallurgy-related material. The archaeometallurgical collection remained in Turkey due to the antiquity laws of the country. Rothenberg managed to meet the minister of mining who gave him a permit and they were transferred to Tel Aviv. Tylecote took some samples with him to England, and the rest were left in Rothenberg’s store in Israel for safekeeping.

Matson, Brill, Tylecote and Pleiner had written preliminary reports soon after the expedition, copies of which Professor Pleiner had thankfully kept and are now stored at the IoA. Tylecote and Wertime published travel reports on the expedition. Tylecote also carried out research (unpublished) on the samples Rothenberg had sent him. Other than these no attention was paid to the artefacts as they languished in dusty boxes.

Having organised visits to important sites, by such a varied team including, glass, metal, and ceramic specialists accompanied by a geologist, structured follow up analysis of the data collected, would have resulted in valuable insights into the early development of pyrotechnology, which Wertime sought in the region.

Wertime’s choice of travellers and sites was impeccable, his ethnographic and experimental approaches provided a closer understanding of ancient practices. The chief failing of this expedition was the lack of planning and provision for the post survey storage and analysis of samples. Site names were not decided upon but thankfully numbers were used; nevertheless it made it really difficult to associate the site numbers with the names. This confusion was felt by members themselves; Tylecote and Pleiner discuss this in personal correspondence after the survey (Pleiner, B06). They discuss their eagerness to start analysis, and the issue of site names, with Tylecote finally suggesting that Wertime should decide what site names to use (Tylecote, B06). No decision on publication was taken, “We never took any useful decisions regarding publication and Ted said do it if you want to” (Tylecote, B08). Tylecote writes this in a letter to Klinger. After the ‘wrap up look’ (A01, p2) and the publication of his own report Wertime appears to have lost interest in the artefacts. There were clearly internal dynamics with so many great minds travelling together. ‘The expertise of our expedition were beyond mutual reconciliation’ (Wertime, 1976, E03 p491).

Artefacts have a history once removed from below or above ground/water. The stories around the 1968 material highlight the fragility of artefacts and their supporting data. Archaeology is a discipline requiring material; we locate it, observe it, collect it, note it, curate it, analyse and interpret it; however many scientific tools get used for archaeology it remains fallible to human error and chance. Archaeological data is vulnerable in the face of human failings and natural disasters, ever decreasing space and funds, ever growing bodies of freshly collected data, scattered supporting data especially from excavations and surveys further in the past. John Wertime had given his father’s field notes to Wertime senior’s friend, who had died and so Wertime’s notes are lost in time and space. Brill mentions in his email to me in 2003 that all his photographs and prints were at the Corning Museum of Glass, which flooded in 1972, destroying his documents, leaving all but ‘one little note book’ (Brill, correspondance F02). The flood was discussed in a book “The Corning Flood, Museum under water” (Martin G.H. 1977). Sadly the same fate befell the Prague Institute in 2003, and had Professor Pleiner not sent his notes for the 1968 expedition shortly before that, his invaluable notes would also have been destroyed by the recent flood. Such a loss would have made it virtually impossible to put site names to the numbers on the sample boxes from the 1968 survey. Klinger had other worries, not having analysed the samples collected on the 1968 survey, he blamed it on his pride in wanting to do the work himself and a fire that held back work at his laboratories (Klinger, B12). As for storage, I had problems storing the artefacts once they arrived at the IoA. These are largely artefacts associated with metal production and robust, not in need of conservation measures, however, new boxes were needed and thus ordered, on which sticky labels were placed with site name and numbers, on both the boxes and their lids. After a year the labels started peeling off the boxes, I ended up painting the numbers on with nail polish, which has worked so far. Despite careful handling of the objects I must confess that whilst handling the obsidian from Turkey it slipped once and has been chipped slightly. More recently the Tel Iblis bilingual site report has gone missing from the appendix.

The above problems are by no means unique to this expedition or time. Some of the problems have been addressed. In field work today a more systematic approach to recording field observations and data has been adopted. However, analysis and publication take funding and organisation, requiring dedicated people with the time and the will. An organiser losing interest (for what ever reason) or pride standing in the way of better decisions are still with us today, problems which are compounded by multiple other peripheral facets surrounding archaeology.

Socio-economic and political context of the 1968 Survey

The more letters and notes I collected, the more intrigued I became about the socio-economic and political aspects of this journey.

Archaeology embraces and requires many fields of knowledge, for it is the roots of these varied disciplines that it seeks, being made up of so many specialists from different fields, the social aspects of archaeology are ever present, at times resulting in conflict of ‘great minds’. There were clearly tensions in the group. Wertime himself alluded to the problems of reconciling the different specialists’ needs (1976, E03, p491). Bob Brill, who always felt treated well by Wertime, in his email mentions that, “Ted was a difficult person with a dark side-complex and flawed individual” (Brill, F02). In an email from Sam Bingham the photographer there is clear indication of some of the problems the team had. He speaks of moving fast, using a route that had ‘independent determinants’, with Wertime’s passion leading the way, and the interests of the other members taking a back seat. He recalls friction leading to fascinating debates partly caused by the other team members feeling Wertime was “not qualified to be as egocentric as he was” (Bingham, correspondance, F04). Sam Bingham describes himself as “tacked on at the last minute (grossly under qualified) as photographer and camp cook” (ibid), having just lost an eye in Vietnam where he had been a freelance journalist.

We may be collecting material to represent and explain the past, but we do so with the permission of governments today, funded today, and in the social and academic climate of today. What archaeology has to say and its uses have increased with the authentification of the discipline over the past century. Developments that include the use of archaeologists in World War I and II for reading of maps, an archaeology that increasingly makes use of scientific and ideological developments in other fields to enhance its reading of the past, archaeologists called into modern murder scenes with their understanding of stratigraphy, an archaeology whose tales of the past are being increasingly accepted by the general public, and misrepresented by those with agendas, an archaeology that by now should accept its deeply political nature. The politics of the discipline was bought into sharp focus by Professor Ucko in the 1980s (Ucko, 1987), and has been subject of study since.

We must continue to look at the politics that is within archaeology, and increasingly at the role of archaeology in the political arena, and the uses and abuses of the discipline, past and present. Archaeology deals with the past, a commodity that raises interest in claims of ownership and authenticity, leading to and/or fuelling various struggles of today, which are paralleled by the ever-increasing economic value of cultural heritage. Apart from natural disasters, artefacts are vulnerable (especially exhibition pieces) in the face of ever-growing conflicts worldwide, which sees cultural heritage being targeted by the desperate or warring factions with an agenda, not to mention the demands of the illicit market for antiquities. In former Yugoslavia, in the early 1990s the Serbs attacked and robbed Mostar Museum, and the Croats stole the remaining goods. No governmental assistance was given to the museum (Council of Europe, 1996). In cases of bitter ethnic rivalry cultural heritage takes on an almost macabre status. The 2002 allied offensive in Iraq saw the destruction and theft of many pieces from the unprotected Baghdad Museum. The lack of regard and in some cases blatant disrespect for the archaeology and heritage of the nation by the invading forces, including the placing of military barracks on known ancient sites, alongside the disbandment of the army and police forces of the country, have created unprecedented rise in looting, the literal erasure of all the pasts of Iraq. Meanwhile looted materials are finding their way into private collections in the Far East, Europe and America.

The contemporaneous nature of the discipline is well illustrated by the 1968 survey. Wertime was a powerful character who seems to have achieved most of his goals; this, one gathers from his son Richard’s memoirs (Wertime R. 2000, F07). During his time as Cultural Attaché to the USA embassy during the 60s and 70s in Iran and Athens, Wertime had managed to carve out a “Parallel career as a serious historian of metallurgy” (ibid, p35). This I believe he managed due to his love of ancient technology and excellent choice of fellow travellers on all his expeditions. However in 1968, having carefully selected luminaries in their field, who had collected valuable samples, Wertime made no attempts to take a systematic approach to the expedition and when it ended he showed no interest whatsoever in the artefacts retrieved. When Tylecote had asked for funding to work on the samples Wertime had not been interested. It is intriguing that Wertime in his time as cultural attaché in Iran, in pursuit of his scholarly interest, managed to survey most of Iran in his search for early pyrotechnology.

Wertime was the organiser, a diplomat and a respected scholar, who led a very interesting life and left very mixed feelings behind. Martha Goodway of the Smithsonian made me realize quite how difficult it would be to get hold of anything from his estate due to internal family dynamics. His son Richard Wertime’s retrospective not too loving account of his father, entitled “Citadel on the mountain: A memoir of father and son”, gives us a hint of Wertime’s possible past. His son Charlie on a trip to India had discovered a book written in English and published in China ‘Who’s who in the American CIA’, with Theodore Allen Wertime mentioned. (Wertime, F07, p4).

Reading a letter from Wertime to Tylecote, the language he employs makes it clear that he is well aware of the tensions in the region. Regarding his choice of expedition members for the survey of 1968, in a letter to Braidwood, he writes “I hope the Turks don’t choke over this.” (Wertime, B01). When writing about another project in the region, he says “This time we should institutionalise relationships in the area…As a beginner what are the chances Beno would invite some Iranian, Turkish and Greek archaeologists at his digs in Negev or Sinai?” (Wertime, B07) Then there is Professor Rothenberg, on whom I would not like to pass judgment, and must thank for curating the artefacts and organising their passage to the IoA. However, it was interesting examining the expedition members thoughts about each other through their correspondence. In a letter addressed to Tylecote in 1969, Klinger the geologist writes, “What do you hear from the devious Doctor Rothenberg? He has probably been spying on the Arabs, in the guise of an archaeologist” (Wertime B07). I am certain this was said in jest, however the reality of the multiple uses governments have for their scholars’ knowledge is indisputable. When I spoke to Professor Matson (one of the team members) I brought up the subject of spying, he said that he made a point of never giving names of persons he met abroad. It would seem Professor Matson was well aware of his government’s interest in other nations and their set up (Pers comm.2003).

Klinger in 1968 was collecting samples to determine the geological make up of the region surveyed, originally to better understand the distribution of the elusive tin. After not finding funds for analysis he turned to the US Geological Survey, who paid for the most conclusive report to come out of this ‘pyrotechnological’ survey. The 267 page report described it thus, ‘The results cover potential for elements used in antiquity …… and of use in the present development of the economies of the three countries” (Domenico et al, D02, p5).

Whilst the Near east was slowly learning to harness its resources to improve the lives of its populations, the west was busy researching energy sources in the area, and becoming fearful of its reliance on the region’s natural resources. Over a matter of three decades the Near East has become unstable and thoroughly war ridden, with a sizeable contribution to its woes made by destructive, hypocritical, avaricious western policies.

In 1968, at the time that this survey took place, roads were being built in Afghanistan mile for mile by the Americans and the Russians, in their attempts to win favour with the government. Wertime mentioned to Brill that the Russians had constructed a tunnel that happened to be wide enough to accommodate two passing columns of the largest Soviet tanks (Brill, F02). It is interesting to note that 11 years later the Russian tanks would be rolling in, followed a decade later by the Americans who arrived to displace the Taliban regime who they had propped up to fight their old red enemy.

When not busy exporting wars there are economic battles over commodities. Matson mentions in his 1968 notes, the replacements of many pottery forms with plastic substitutes. He goes on to comment on the life ways encountered on the journey “Entering Turkey you can see modernisation but still evidence of older ways….with Iran under the Shah less oriented towards western ways” (A05, p9). It is interesting in a letter to Tylecote, to glimpse Klinger’s view of modernity in the US in 1973: ‘As you have undoubtedly read, we are having a period of inflation in the U.S. I will be busy planting more vegetables this weekend. So far, have planted peas, beans, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes………. I try to pack all this stuff into 30 x 3 foot plot. The supermarket prices are incredible; a small head of lettuce costs 69cents and is reportedly going up to 99cents………………..I’m not used to so called modern times!’ (B12).

‘Modern’ times require the exportation of democracy and changing ancient life ways, which inadvertently make one a good consumer in the global market, be it purchase of plastics, ammunition or suits to wear to the big boys tables and be heard. Whilst in the West ceramics become cutting edge of technology, organic foods increase in value, old life ways become more attractive again, questioning the consuming industrial waste which the West exports with increasing aggression, with us all affected by their profit driven ways.

The Middle East not only had a glorious past but also a potentially rich future, which was never fully realised, and looks less and less likely with the onslaught on the region continuing unabated and increasing its destructive momentum, as the west engages in and supports insidious and pointlessly destructive actions, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Lebanon, acts that seem highly inflammatory. Iran and its archaeology are under on-going threat from US and Israeli allusions to military attacks for their civilian nuclear energy facilities. Since the early 1970s, Europe and America had been vying for contracts to build atomic energy plants in Iran. Forward wind a quarter of a century and American and Israel are trying their most destructive worst to ensure that Iran does not get nuclear energy capability. The geological report of the 1968 pyrotechnological survey happens to also mention sources for uranium, which is presently being extracted at one of the sites covered in this survey, which is no longer accessible to archaeologists.

European scholars and missionaries have often followed their governments into varied lands. Be it in the New World, Africa, or parts of Asia, Euro/American institutions seemed to have left varying scars after up to 500 years of interference. Scientists in particular are reluctant to see the political uses/abuses, social implications and economic interests, which make up the context of their work. Western scholars must consider their role in all this, what they may have contributed to the mire, and how they can develop the means to help actively redress the imbalances caused by their governments.


below are references to texts not included in the appendix (sources A01, b02 etc..) to the collection
Martin J.H. 1977 ‘The Corning Flood: Museum Under Water’, Corning Glass museum.
Ucko P. 1987 ‘Academic Freedom and Apartheid, the story of the World Archaeology Congress’. Duckworth, London.
Council of Europe 1996. Committee on Culture and Education, January 1996, 9th Report on War Damage to Cultural Heritage in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Strasbourg.

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This page last modified 4 December, 2007 :: © text: Roya Arab :: © coding Xander Veldhuijzen :: This website was supported by the Iran Heritage Foundation (IHF) and the Institute for Archaeo-Metallurgical Studies (IAMS).

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