Our projects

Our projects

Ancient Cultures Research Centre’s overall theme of examining cross-cultural interaction via close analysis of texts and artefacts is advanced through five research programs. Our individual research projects sit within these five programs.

The centre supports and houses projects on topics stretching chronologically from Predynastic Egypt to the medieval world, and geographically from Western Europe across to China.

Markers of Authenticity

The Markers of Authenticity research network runs a seminar series that hosts conversations about the markers of authenticity in human experience of the contemporary and past worlds from a range of perspectives.

The Markers of Authenticity program also includes the following project:

Forging antiquity: authenticity, forgery and fake papyri

This project situates a full typology of forged papyri within an historical analysis of the development of forgery, authentication techniques and public debates over forgeries from the 19th century to the present day.

We are contextualising the technical study of fakes within authentication strategies in ancient papyri, traditional and emerging de-authentication practices, and the cultural context of forgery.

This will provide a tool for scholars and the antiquities trade to illuminate the parallel development of forgers’ and authenticators’ professional personae and skills which contribute to debate on who has the authority to pronounce on the past.


Dynamics of the ancient human environment

This program includes the following project:

Measuring meaning in Egyptian art: A new approach to an intractable problem

Tomb paintings are a primary source of information about life in ancient Egypt – but what was the original purpose of this art? Previous hypotheses have proposed a range of personal, social or religious functions, but the question remains unresolved.

Our ARC-funded project ‘Measuring meaning in Egyptian art: a new approach to an intractable problem’ aims to break through this impasse via an innovative visual and statistical analysis of wall paintings at the ancient cemetery site of Beni Hassan.

The results are expected to bring greater clarity to our understanding of Egyptian art and allow the first objective evaluation of its use as a historical document.

This program also includes the following projects:

  • The ancient Egyptians’ atypical relationship with invertebrates
  • A spring of silver, a treasury in the earth: coinage and wealth in archaic Athens
  • Strangers in a strange land: the ancient Egyptian mummies of Macquarie University
  • An environmental history of ancient Meir
  • Secrets of the ancient Egyptian embalmers: an archaeological, historical and scientific investigation of the origins and development of mummification.


Language, script and communication

This program includes the following project:

Words from the sand: A lexical analysis of early Greek papyri from Egypt

Our project has four central aims:

  • To produce a state of the art lexical analysis of early Greek papyri from Egypt, applying innovative methodologies and technologies.
  • To provide a powerful new tool for all types of research specifically on the papyri and generally on ancient cultures in Graeco-Roman Egypt.
  • To provide a key contribution to the larger study of the Greek vocabulary in the post-classical period, complementing current work on other phases in the history of the language and on contemporary corpora.
  • To contribute toward identifying the dynamics of lexical usage in different speech communities within multicultural societies, both ancient and modern.

This program also includes the following projects:

  • The Dictionary of Roman Biography project
  • Knowledge transfer and administrative professionalism in a pre-typographic society: observing the scribe at work in Roman and early Islamic Egypt
  • Idiolect and social dialect in the Zenon Archive
  • Translation and interpretation of the Confucian texts in the excavated 4th century BCE Guodian Chu bamboo slips from China
  • Communication and media in the development of the post-Roman/early medieval and Byzantine world (5th to 8th centuries).


Cultural contact and transformation in the ancient world

This program includes the following project:

Bribir Excavation project

Bribirska glavica is one of the largest and best preserved archaeological sites in the Western Balkans. The site was inhabited without interruption from the Neolithic period to the 18th century AD. The indigenous settlement grew into a town in Roman times, and habitation continued throughout Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.

Our research program at Bribir will shed light on the dramatic changes that took place in the urban societies of Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages in Dalmatia. The fieldwork objectives include:

  • The dynamics of occupation prior and during the Slav migrations in Dalmatia
  • The interaction between the epichoric settlements of the inner area of the Adriatic coast and the coastal cities
  • The evolution of urban planning from Roman patterns to medieval urbanism
  • The development of ecclesiastical institutions in Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages.

CI: Danijel Dzino

This program also includes the following projects:

  • Forgotten empire: the art and culture of the Elamite civilisation (ca. 4000–525 BCE)
  • Macquarie University Theban Tombs project
  • Immortal Egypt: Tradition and transition during the First Intermediate Period at Meir.
  • Understanding the barbarian in Late Antiquity

Religion and society in the ancient world

This program includes the following projects:

Dreams, Prophecy and Violence from Early Christianity to the Rise of Islam

How did leaders of late-antique Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities exploit dreams to bolster their own spiritual authority? The proposed project examines the nexus between dreams, prophecy and violence in early Christianity, and how that differed, if at all, from early Islam. It examines the works of Classical Greco-Roman, Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers over 1000 years, from the second to eleventh centuries CE, to show how they variously dealt with the interpretation of dreams.

This project will extend the existing scholarship up to the early medieval period, focusing attention on dreams and violence, especially between adherents of the major religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Religious conflict has recently become a hot topic in late antique studies (see the collected essays in Mayer and Neil 2013), as has intra-religious violence (Shaw 2011) and inter-religious violence (Sizgorich 2009) in Late Antiquity. The role played by dreams and their interpretation has not yet been analysed, however. The different ways in which dreams were understood by Latin and Greek authors may be explained by the emergence of distinctive identities in the western and eastern churches, as these Christians sought to define themselves, first against Judaism and paganism, and then against Islam.

CI: Bronwen Neil

The History of Inebriation and Reason from Plato to the Latin Middle Ages

This project explores ideas about inebriation from Greek antiquity to the fifteenth century in order to reconsider the history of reason in western culture. It analyses the two distinct categories of inebriation and drunkenness in order to trace a radical transformation in Greek culture from a negative view of drunkenness as falling away from reason and losing self-control to the development of a positive, metaphorical sense of inebriation as a way of altering human consciousness and transcending the limitations of reason. The differentiation between inebriation and drunkenness, evident not so much in the terms employed by the Greeks (and later the Romans), but mainly in the consequences of wine consumption, is firmly established by Plato who describes Socrates as eschewing wine and drunkenness in favour of philosophical frenzy (Symposium 215b-218b). But while Plato celebrates inebriation as a metaphor for philosophical and spiritual elevation, Aristotle and the Stoic moralists, advise sober restraint and inspire Roman writers to employ drunkenness as a metaphor for erroneous spiritual quests.

Christian theologians drew heavily on the imagery of wine especially in its sacramental capacity to become the blood of Christ. In rejecting drunkenness as a vice and fall from reason, while praising wine as a means of transcending reason to communicate with God, Christian thinkers of late antiquity and the Middle Ages engaged systematically with classical philosophical traditions and found themselves oscillating between Aristotle and the Stoics on one side and Plato on the other in response to the debate on whether one should get drunk and whether certain kinds of inebriation might be worth pursuing.

The project explores the ideas and values underpinning the twofold tradition about inebriation in Greco-Roman literature and their reception in the Christian Middle Ages and the Renaissance up to the fifteenth century. Thus, inebriation provides a hitherto unexplored path to rewriting the history of reason urging us to consider our culturally-ingrained reactions to drinking.

CI: Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides

This program also includes the following projects:

  • Skilfully planting the trees of light, Manichaean texts in Chinese
  • Corpus Fontium Manichaeorum
  • Mission and inculturation: The Manichaean and Nestorian experience in China
  • Cosmology in the warring states period
  • Manichaean hymns and prayers in Chinese translation: an investigation of the gāthās in the Dunhuang hymn scroll
  • Papyri from the rise of Christianity in Egypt
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