Image of the cover of the book "Size Matters"
Academia Archaeology Personal

Monumentality in Archaeology: Size matters


When I think back, I wasn’t paying so much attention. Back in 2017 I was invited to give a talk about some work on monumentality that I have done before. This work consisted of calculating building materials of ancient Sumerian architecture. In other words, I reconstructed and calculated which materials were used in what capacity. Monumentality in archaeology is interesting really. For instance, you can calculate how many people you need to build something. Similarly, you can calculate how long building something takes, when you have a specific amount of people.

However, when the two days of discussing and talking about monumentality where over, I was still sitting at the table. With me were some of the participants and the organisers, some of whom I already knew. They were discussing if and how they would publish the workshop. One of my former professors asked me if I would be interested in joining the group of editors. So I thought editing a book can’t be so much work: I review some of the articles and have something to write on my CV. Boy, was I wrong.

Editing a volume

Editing a volume does unfortunately not mean to only review some articles. In addition, it also means regular meetings with the other editors, writing introductions, organising deadlines and deciding on editorial decisions. This holds true for archaeology as well as other sciences. Don’t get me wrong, the work was interesting, but being an editor doesn’t really pay. What this means is, that you need to do this beside your daytime job and without any compensation. The reward however, was a volume with my name on it.

The volume consists of several introductory chapters by the editors and some responses by invited authors. We tried to find a definition to what monumentality is and what it was in former times. The second part of the book consists of projects from around the globe that tried to answer the same question. Monumentality was not the same in every culture at every point in time. Even today, we are not sure how to approach it.

Monumentality in Archaeology

Let’s have a look at something obvious like Mesopotamian Ziqqurrats. If we imagine them as they might have looked like, we probably agree, that these constructs where impressive monuments. One contributor of the volume however shows, how relatively cheap building a Ziqqurat was to a Mesopotamian king. Knowing this, we might also ask how Mesopotamians perceived the Ziqqurats themselves. Maybe, so the author, building a monument was more of an occupational therapy. Building programmes were to keep people busy in times where there was no harvest.

Mesopotamian Ziqqurat, Reconstruction by Walter Andrae
Reconstruction of a Ziqqurat in Ashur after Walter Andrae 1924.

The publication

In general the articles cover a variety of civilisations and timeframes and if you are interested in the topic, this volume does give you a good overview. It is a worthy follower of Osborne’s Approaching Monumentality in Archaeology (2014) and adds to the various ways in which monumentality can be perceived.

Image of the cover of the book "Size Matters"

Buccellati, Federico, Sebastian Hageneuer, Sylva van der Heyden, and Felix Levenson, eds. 2019. Size Matters – Understanding Monumentality Across Ancient Civilizations. Histoire 146. Bielefeld: Transcript.

Open Access PDF



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Sebastian Hageneuer

Hi! My name is Sebastian. I am an archaeologist, a university lecturer, freelancer, guitarist, and father. You could say I am quiet busy, so I learned to manage my time and energy to build good habits and still have space for myself and my family. Sounds difficult? Read here how I do it. Every Friday.

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