Jessika Akmenkalns awarded National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant

UC Santa Barbara doctoral candidate Jessika Akmenkalns, supervised by Dr. Stuart Tyson Smith, will conduct research on how cross-cultural interactions and colonialism transformed cultural identities in hinterland communities in ancient Nubia (northern Sudan) between 2500 and 1000 BC.  Archaeology provides a unique window through which researchers and the general public alike can come to understand how colonialism and long-term struggles for political and economic power affect the daily lives of individuals and groups, both locally and on a broad regional scale. This research is particularly relevant in today's global political climate, in which ethnic, religious, and national identities bear significant impact on access to land, resources, and opportunities.  This project will contribute to a better understanding of these issues on a broad scale because investigations of colonialism crosscut the social sciences, including anthropology, sociology, history, geography, economics, and political science.  In addition, the project will provide university students with educational opportunities and scientific training, and the field and laboratory experience gained on the project will fulfill students' degree requirements.  The data collected as part of this research will form the basis of Ms. Akmenkalns' doctoral dissertation.

Previous research on cross-cultural interactions has focused on large, urban populations, or it has focused on the strategies of colonizing powers.  While it is certainly important to examine how such interactions impact major centers and powerful political entities, it is also essential to investigate how rural communities experience changing power structures and how they construct their community identities in opposition to those of foreign cultural groups.  The following research questions guide this project:  1) What was the extent of Egyptian presence or influence in rural Nubia before and during Egyptian conquest of the region?  2) What was the importance of local and foreign cultural traditions in expressing cultural identity before and during the Egyptian conquest?  3) What differences, if any, were present in elite vs. non-elite and urban vs. rural expressions of cultural identity in the region?  To answer these questions, this project will employ archaeological excavations at the sites of Hannek and Abu Fatima, which are located in the hinterlands of the ancient kingdom of Kerma in northern Sudan.  Researchers will investigate the remains of houses, public buildings, and tombs to examine ancient diet and health, as well as the production and use of pottery, tools, jewelry, and architecture.  These artifact types are useful in understanding cultural identities because they are integral to daily life and the routine behaviors that structure those identities.  Archaeologists will perform preliminary analysis on artifacts and samples during the excavation season, followed by additional in-depth analyses that will be performed in US laboratories, to include radiocarbon dating, ceramic and stone tool classification, and the analysis of dietary samples such as animal and plant remains.