by Amy Karoll
I am currently a visiting professor in the Writings Program at New York University-Abu Dhabi and was an NEH Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Center of Research from March to August 2021. I arrived at the American Center in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and fresh from receiving my doctorate in Near Eastern languages and cultures from the University of California, Los Angeles. My earlier studies included an MA in 2011 from the University of Arkansas in anthropology, looking at the transition from the Early to Middle Bronze Age in the Orontes Valley of Syria, and a BS in 2009 from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in archaeological studies. I have excavated and surveyed in various places across the globe, including Bolivia, Syria, Israel, Jordan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arkansas, and California. My PhD and ongoing research focus on landscapes of change and mobility during the transition from the Early to Middle Bronze Age.
In its broadest sense, my research focuses on flashpoints of change from a landscape perspective. The foremost aim of my project is to address the interrelationship between Early Bronze IV (EB IV) settlement locations and environmental niches. The primary objective has been to further analyze the Early Bronze Age IV (c. 2500–2000 BCE) from multiple perspectives in the Levant. This was done from multiple theoretical perspectives, focusing predominantly on models of resilience and methodologies associated with landscape studies including geographic information systems (GIS).
Most of my time at the American Center was spent cleaning and amassing archaeological survey data for the entirety of the Levant. In total, I now have a database of over 10,000 archaeological sites that have been surveyed in the southern Levant, ranging from the Chalcolithic through the Iron Age, with an emphasis on the transitional periods. The data came from Department of Antiquities websites, as well as surveys published by various research institutions. Some of my time during this fellowship was spent creating Python scripts to strip data and put them into a manageable database and a more manipulatable form. I used open-source Python libraries to help determine some logical patterns. Once regular patterns were established, the data were converted into comma-separated-value (CSV) tables, which are readable by Microsoft Excel. These data, which included geographic locations in the form of latitude and longitude, were then input into ArcGIS to create maps and establish spatial patterns for analysis (Fig. 1).
In addition, I visited archaeological sites and regions in Jordan that I had previously been unable to. The last time I was at the American Center of Research was during the winter, which limited the places I could go. During my fellowship at the center, I visited sites particularly in the southern parts of the country along the desert highway. Throughout my research, I noted that marginal zones and areas of transition were those that experienced the most impact during times of change. I wanted to better understand what types of resources these areas could maintain and wanted to see in person where they were on the landscape. A lot of my research to that point had been done with remote sensing and by analyzing satellite imagery. However, these portray only a small part of the picture, and a more extensive understanding of the areas was necessary to further my studies. Specifically, areas that are on margins of agricultural productivity, places that receive the bare minimum for dry farming at the 200–250 mm isohyet (indicating a so-called zone of uncertainty, a region in which agriculture that relies on rainfall is possible but risky), were occupied during this transitional period.
My favorite part of the fellowship was being able to drive to viewpoints and overlook the landscape about which I was writing. It was also an excuse to visit sites outside of my time period of focus. In particular, I went to Petra (Fig. 2). Several of the sites that I have in my data set are in the Arabah Valley. I hiked up the hill to the ad Deir Monument and just sat and looked over the valley. It was one of the times I could simply think about my research without having to worry about recording every detail of a site and making sure I got all the pictures just right. Sitting on the castle walls overlooking the valley, I thought about what it would have been like to travel here in antiquity. How did people access all the various environmental niches? What did they think about going along the few paths that went through the landscape? I do not typically write about or research phenomenological experiences of the landscape, but being at such a high point makes it hard not to think about it.
It was also fun to drive around and find the few safe paths through the landscape. I got to think about the logistics of travel and population movement. It is one thing to see two disparate points on a satellite image and to logically know there are elevation differences, steep slopes, and various other geological features to confront to get from one place to another, and something very different to try to drive between those two points. Even though I write about and study the EB IV landscape, it was not until I tried to physically traverse the landscape myself that I began to understand just how difficult it would have been. It gave me a much greater appreciation for the people that I study and their resourcefulness.
 On a map, a line that joins points that receive the same amount of rainfall over a certain period of time (—eds.)
Amy Karoll is a visiting professor in the Writings Program at New York University-Abu Dhabi. The University of California, Los Angeles, granted her doctoral degree in Near Eastern languages and cultures; previously, she earned a master’s in anthropology from University of Arkansas and bachelor of science in archaeological studies from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. The American Center of Research awarded her an ACOR-CAORC Pre-doctoral Fellowship in 2019 and, in 2021, an NEH Postdoctoral Fellowship. She has excavated and surveyed at sites in western Asia (Syria, Israel), South America ( Bolivia), and North America (the United States: Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arkansas, and California).