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Ariane Burke
Thursday, February 6

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Anthropology Department
New York University
25 Waverly Place
New York, NY 10003

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Rita Wright


Professor of Anthropology


B.A. 1975, Wellesley
M.A. 1978, Harvard
Ph.D. 1984, Harvard





Research Focus:

Since 1975 I have been conducting research in one of the most archaeologically rich areas of the world, on surveys and excavations in the Near East and South Asia (Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan). In addition, I have a research focus on southern Mesopotamia, employing secondary textual sources, and maintain a strong interest in cultural heritage and stewardship issues. My current field research is on the Indus civilization. I am Assistant Director of the Harappa Archaeological Research Project and Director of the Beas Landscape and Settlement Survey. These projects focus on the development of complex societies, urbanism and states, and the negotiation of power relations as they manifest on the local level (gender, class, ethnicity, age) and regional and inter-regional levels (technology, social boundaries, trade and exchange). The work is broadly comparative and incorporates theoretical elements from marxism, political economies, and feminist archaeology; methodologically, it includes materials analysis, especially ceramics, and landscape studies.

The discovery of archaeological settlements contemporary with pre-urban and urban phases of the Indus civilization was a basis on which I initiated a Landscape and Settlement Survey along the now dry bed of the Beas River near the city of Harappa. The archaeologists on the Beas team, shown on the image (l. to r.) are myself, Suanna Selby (Ph.d. NYU 2007), Susan Malin-Boyce (Ph.D. NYU 2006), Joe Schuldenrein (President, Geoarchaeological Research Associates), M. Afzal Khan (Curator, Lahore Museum) and Mark Smith (Ph.D., NYU 2007). Our results indicate that the Beas provided an ecological niche for the agricultural, craft and pastoral production in Harappa’s hinterlands; during the earliest phases of settlement, several small settlements (including Harappa) were occupied though only Harappa grew to a large city and additional small towns and villages were settled; a shift in monsoon and winter precipitation may have caused a disruption in the river discharge of the Beas near the end of occupation of settlements. The project was supported by grants from NEH, NGS and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.

I spent a number of years excavating at Harappa and studying ceramics from its pre-urban and urban occupations. These studies have been extremely useful in providing diagnostic chronological markers in my survey. My interest in the ceramics centered around issues of craft specialization and technology. Without doubt, Harappan potters possessed highly developed technical skills. Producing a limited number of morphological forms, they experimented with pigments, surface treatments and decorative effects and created simple but aesthetically pleasing vessels.

The image to the right is a “narrative” seal from the site of Harappa. The central figure strikes a pose that is similar to many others found throughout the Near East and South Asia (from Mesopotamia through Iran and in the Indus). Two aspects of this seal interest me. First, the central figure is female, a heroine, and is depicted on a number of seals in which a female is shown taming or in combat with tigers. The image has implications for gender concepts held by people in the Indus. Second, of equal interest is the replication of a well-known image across a vast intercultural space, attesting to the interconnected world among the several cultures known throughout the region.

The destruction of archaeological sites and the looting of antiquities is a continuing concern and something I have worked on through my affiliation with the Archaeological Institute of America. I have found that undergraduates are particularly interested in this issue. My course, Discovering Archaeology in New York City, focuses on the city’s cultural heritage, the ethical issues involved in the holdings of various museums in the city, and the antiquities dealers on its east side.

Three articles in Science featuring Dr. Wright as part of a special entitled Unmasking the Indus.

Scienceline interview with Dr. Wright

NYU Research interview with Dr. Wright

Recent Publications:

  • 2012. New Evidence for Jute (Corchorus capsularis L.) in the Indus Civilization. Co-authored: Rita P. Wright, David L. Lentz, Harriet F. Beaubien, and Christine K. Kimbrough. Archaeol Anthropol Sci. DOI 10.1007/s12520-012-0088-1. Download PDF
  • 2010. The Ancient Indus: Urbanism, Economy, and Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    The ancient Indus civilization was erased from human memory until 1924, when it was rediscovered and announced in the Illustrated London News. Our understanding of the Indus has been partially advanced by textual sources from Mesopotamia that contain references to Meluhha, a land identified by cuneiform specialists as the Indus, with which the ancient Mesopotamians traded and engaged in other forms of interaction. In this volume, Rita Wright uses Mesopotamian texts and, principally, the results of archaeological excavations and surveys to draw a rich account of the Indus civilization’s well-planned cities, its sophisticated alterations to the landscape, and the complexities of its agropastoral and craft-producing economy. additionally, she focuses on the social networks established between city and rural communities; farmers, pastoralists, and craft producers; and Indus merchants and traders and the symbolic imagery that the civilization shared with contemporary cultures in Iran, Mesopotamia, and the Persian Gulf region. Broadly comparative, her study emphasizes the interconnected nature of early societies.
  • 2008. Water Supply and History: Harappa and the Beas Regional Survey. Co-authored: R. Wright, R. Bryson and J. Schuldenrein. Antiquity, volume 82:37-48. Download PDF
  • 2006. Preserving the Cultural and National Heritages of Afghanistan: What has been and needs to be done. Co-authored: Philip L. Kohl and Rita P. Wright. In N. Agnew and J. Bridgland, ed., Of the Past, for the future: Integrating archaeology and conservation. Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute: 251-258.
  • 2005. The Emergence of Satellite Communities along the Beas Drainage: Preliminary Results from Lahoma Lal Tibba and Chak Purbane Syal. In C. Jarrige and V. Lefevre, eds., South Asia Archaeology 2001. Paris: Editions Recherce sur les Civilisations-ADPF. Co-authored: R. P. Wright, J. Schuldenrein, M. Afzal Khan, M. Rafique Mughal:327-335.
  • 2004. Geoarchaeological Explorations on the Upper Beas Drainage: Landscape and Settlement in the Upper Indus Valley, Punjab. Pakistan. Co-authored: J. Schuldenrein, R. P. Wright, M. Afzal Khan, M. Rafique Mughal. Journal of Archaeological Sciences, volume 31:777-792.
  • 2002. Revisiting Interaction Spheres—Social Boundaries and Technologies on Inner and Outermost Frontiers: Iranica Antiqua, vol. XXXVII:403-417.
  • 2002. Prehistory of Urbanism. In Encyclopedia of Urban Cultures. Cities and Cultures around the World. Vol. 1 Melvin and Carol Ember, editors: 3-11. Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier.