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Würzburg. Elisa Roßberger and Martin Gruber were appointed to two newly created junior professorships at the Chair of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at the University of Würzburg. Both research and teach in the subject of Near Eastern Archeology.

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Research and teaching in classical studies at the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) will be sustainably strengthened: As part of its strategic development, the Chair of Ancient Near Eastern Studies has raised funds for two new positions, both of which have been filled since autumn 2021.

Both cases are so-called “tenure-track professorships”. They will initially be filled for a limited period of time, but are linked to a firm commitment from the start: After a probation phase, there is a direct transition to a lifetime professorship at JMU.

The Volkswagen Foundation (Hanover) is funding the two junior professorships with one million euros over the next six years. In the time after that, the Mainz Academy of Sciences and Literature half financed one of the two positions. Further financial support comes from the tenure track program of the Federal Ministry of Research.

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Dr. Elisa Roßberger was appointed to a junior professorship for Digital Humanities for Near Eastern Archeology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Dr. Martin Gruber to a junior professorship for Near Eastern Archeology.

Both research the evidence of ancient cultures in an area that stretches from today’s western Turkey to Afghanistan and from the Caucasus to the Arabian Peninsula. These cultures – from prehistoric epochs to late antiquity – have shaped human history in many ways.

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Elisa Roßberger grew up in Chiemgau. She studied Near Eastern Archeology, Political Science and Ancient Near Eastern Studies at LMU Munich, Beirut and Tübingen. Early on in her studies she was able to take part in excavations in Jordan and Syria – from then on she was fascinated by the ancient Orient and its cuneiform script cultures.

As a doctoral student, she commuted between Tübingen and Munich: At the LMU she received a scholarship in the graduate school “Forms of Prestige in Antiquity”, and through the University of Tübingen she was involved in an excavation project in Qatna, Syria. In 2010 she completed her dissertation in Tübingen.

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As a research assistant and postdoc, Roßberger taught and researched at the University of Freiburg and at the LMU. Most recently, she was in charge of a project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in the eHeritage program for the digital development of cultural heritage.

She is continuing the BMBF project in Würzburg. It is about Near Eastern cylinder seals – small, cylindrical stone cylinders that people in the ancient Orient rolled on clay tablets, door and vessel closures. In this way, for example, sales of houses or land were sealed. “Not only officials and institutions had seals at that time, but also a great many private individuals,” explains the scientist.

Roßberger wants to develop around 25,000 seals and their unrolling on clay – consisting of pictures and cuneiform inscriptions – using digital methods. For this purpose, two-dimensional scans and drawings are processed with special software and machine learning methods. One aim of this work is to track down interaction networks between people, images and things: Which people used which seal motifs, how were they connected to one another? At the end of the project, in autumn 2023, there will be a publicly accessible online platform that will offer the specialist community and the interested public a variety of opportunities to explore ancient sources and serve as a basis for further interdisciplinary research. Elisa Roßberger teaches the students how objects, images and contexts of finds from Near Eastern archeology can be digitally developed, linked and conveyed.

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Martin Gruber studied Near Eastern Archeology, Assyriology and Prehistoric and Protohistoric Archeology at the LMU Munich. The native of South Tyrol was also a scholarship holder in the graduate college “Forms of Prestige in Ancient Cultures”. He received his doctorate in 2016. In the course of his career, he gained a wealth of experience in many excavations in different countries. With a further training grant from the German Archaeological Institute in Istanbul, he took part in long-term research in the Hittite capital Hattuscha (Turkey) and worked as a research assistant in excavation projects in the Caucasus and Iraq. He will continue his field research in Hattuscha at the JMU. From summer 2022 he will undertake a partial excavation at one of the western city gates. “Geophysical measurements have shown that there must be remains of buildings there,” says the researcher. As the boundary between the city and the surrounding area, the area around city gates is particularly interesting from an archaeological point of view. The excavation project in Hattuscha is to run for at least six years. It offers future generations of students a field of activity for archaeological internships and theses. Of course, this also applies to Elisa Roßberger’s projects: “We want to develop new Bachelor and Master courses in Near Eastern Archeology with a strong digital component at the JMU,” they announce. The first students can presumably enroll in the winter semester 2022/23.

Another project by Martin Gruber is based in the Caucasus. With funding from the Gerda Henkel Foundation, he has been researching the remains of an almost forgotten culture in Azerbaijan that is around 3,000 years old since 2020. It was discovered as early as the 19th century when the first archaeological investigations were carried out in the course of mining work started there by the Siemens company.

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Numerous graves were uncovered and, among other things, rich bronze gifts and ceramic vessels were found, sometimes also large burial mounds with chariot and horse burials. “To this day, little is known about this culture,” says Martin Gruber.

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