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What Allows Human Language? Seeking the Genetic, Anatomical, Cognitive, and Cultural Factors Underlying Language Emergence

What Allows Human Language? Seeking the Genetic, Anatomical, Cognitive, and Cultural Factors Underlying Language Emergence

February 1-28, 2023
June 1 - July 31, 2023

 

Organizers:

Inbal Arnon (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Liran Carmel (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Language is unique to humans: while other species possess sophisticated communication systems, none approach the complexity of human language. Importantly, what allows this unique ability is still not understood. What is clear, however, is that the answer lies in the combination of multiple cultural, cognitive, genetic and anatomical factors. Recent years have seen significant advances in our understanding of the genetic and cultural properties of archaic human groups, our knowledge about the complexity of nonhuman communication systems, and our ability to test questions about human and language evolution using big data sets and novel computational tools. These advances have the potential to provide novel insights about three crucial questions, which will be the focus of this group: (a) the timeline of language evolution, (b) the factors involved in its emergence, (c) the extent to which human language is qualitatively different from nonhuman communication systems.

Answering these questions requires integrating across multiple research fields and scientific communities. The research will address them from an interdisciplinary perspective, by bringing together researchers working on the genetic, anatomical, cognitive, and cultural underpinnings of archaic and modern humans, alongside researchers of animal communication and cognition. Such a conversation can generate new answers on the long-debated question of how language emerged, and why it has only emerged in humans.

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Meta Reasoning: Concepts, Open Issues and Methodology

meta reasoning

Meta Reasoning: Concepts, Open Issues and Methodology

September 1- December 31, 2022

Organizers:

Rakefet Ackerman (Technion–Israel Institute of Technology)
Valerie Thompson (University of Saskatchewan)

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Metacognitive processes accompany people’s thinking while investing mental effort towards achieving their goals (e.g., making decisions, learning, solving problems). Metacognitive Monitoring reflects feelings of (un)certainty about how well a particular thinking process progresses. Research has demonstrated that monitoring guides further action, such as acting, thinking further, seeking help, or giving up. Miscalibration arises when monitoring relies on unreliable cues (e.g., ease with which information comes to mind) and may misdirect investment of cognitive effort, leading to epistemic failures (e.g., errors, belief in fake news).

So far, metacognitive research has been mostly focused on learning—mostly remembering and knowledge retrieval—and thus often called Meta-Memory. Much less is known about metacognitive processes involved in higher-order reasoning. Relative to memorising or retrieving a piece of information, reasoning typically requires more time and effort, and involves a combination of cognitive processes (including memory). For this reason, we have recently developed a Meta-Reasoning framework in an invited review paper in the prestigious journal Trends in Cognitive Science (Ackerman & Thompson, 2017).

Meta-Reasoning research is nascent. New insights and research methodologies are accumulating, and we are now in the process of establishing a research community. A first step in this direction was establishing a web site and list serve (https://meta-reasoning.net.technion.ac.il/). This research group is the next step, aiming at bringing together experienced researchers with diverse expertise and a proven track-record in offering out-of-the-box research approaches. Our collective goal is to develop concepts, measures, research and research programs for pushing the Meta-Reasoning domain forward.

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New Christian and New Jewish Discourses of Identity between Polemics and Apologetics: Rhetoric and Representation from the Late Middle Ages to the End of the Early Modern Period

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New Christian and New Jewish Discourses of Identity between Polemics and Apologetics

September 1, 2022 - June 30, 2023

Organizers:

Claude Stuczynski (Bar-Ilan University)
David Graizbord (University of Arizona)

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The Research Group will be devoted to the multi-disciplinary study of how and why New Christians (Iberian Jewish converts to Christianity and their descendants who were living as Christians) as well as New Jews (New Christians who adopted normative Judaism, mostly in the Western Sephardi Diaspora) understood (1) their own identities, (2) Jewish and Christian identities in particular, and (3) identity in general. The group will approach these authors as simultaneous targets and creators of polemical and apologetic writings within a time span covering the end of the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries.

The research will pay special attention to the historical generation, content, and contexts of narratives belonging to various (sometimes intersecting) genres, as well as their influence as unique genres. The researchers will especially analyze these narratives as their creators addressed questions of self- and communal identification—its nature, formation, boundaries, and manifold functions. All discussions will pay attention to the construction of the narratives as reactions to anti-Jewish and anti-converso argumentation, or, depending on the case, as spontaneous initiatives to argue for Judaism against Christianity and/or to support the “Men of the Nation,” also known as the “nação” (Nation), a group comprising New Christians and New Jews. This will be a unique occasion to bring together scholars from the fields of Iberian studies (Spain, Portugal and the Iberian colonies) and Jewish studies, medievalists and early-modernists, historians and literary scholars, to map, contextualize and understand polemical and apologetic discourses and explore their impact in framing New Christian and New Jewish identities.

By comparing the New Christian or converso phenomenon to the New Jewish or Western Sephardi experience through this particular prism, we invite comparisons: both to understand the specific contexts and idiosyncratic discursive configurations and also to identify overlapping continuities and analogies between the New Christian and the New Jewish “condition.” In other words, we believe that this will be an innovative way to better understand what it meant to be a member of the Iberian/Sephardi “Hebrew nation (nação)”.

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The Sociology of Contemporary Jewish Mysticism in Comparative Perspective

[RG #115] The Sociology of Contemporary Jewish Mysticism in Comparative Perspective

September 1, 2008 - August 31, 2009

Organizers:

Jonathan Garb (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Philip Wexler (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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The research group seeks to address the vibrancy of contemporary Jewish mysticism, both as a social movement and as an emerging research field, as well as the absence of comparative and social scientific study of this exciting temporary development. Our goals are to draw on the significant strength of the academic expertise of the group members in the sociology and social psychology of religion, the study of classical and contemporary Kabbalah and the comparison between mystical systems. We believe that this will serve to support and enrich the work of Israeli researchers who are exploring numerous case studies, yet without a strong theoretical and comparative foundation.

Some of the central themes we will explore include: topics in Jewish mysticism, with an emphasis on contemporary and "modern" Jewish mysticism; studies in comparative mysticism, where we will explore both historical and contemporary questions, especially in Buddhism and Christianity, but also with regard to Islam; more general issues that touch on the theory and method of the study of mysticism. Within this last category, we will explore sociological, anthropological, social psychological and psychological questions that traverse the specific traditions and modern expressions of the varieties of contemporary mysticism.

 

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Interconnections and Regional Narratives in Mediterranean Archaeology (ca. 1700-700 BCE)

[RG #114] Interconnections and Regional Narratives in Mediterranean Archaeology (ca. 1700-700 BCE)

September 1, 2008 - February 28, 2009

Organizers:

Aren Maeir, Bar-Ilan University
Amihai Mazar, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Assaf Yasur-Landau, University of California, Santa Cruz

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The tension between pan-Mediterranean tendencies in history and archaeology as opposed to perspectives more oriented to the uniqueness of each regional narrative has seldom been discussed in relation to the Bronze and Iron Ages in the Eastern Mediterranean. Our research group will tackle key questions of trade, migration and other interactions in the eastern Mediterranean, ca. 1700-700 BCE, by reconciling insights from both studies that concentrate on regional archaeologies, with those dealing with intercultural contacts such as trade, migration, emulation, military conflicts and diplomacy.

 

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Mathematical Modelling of Biological Control Interaction to Support Agriculture and Conservation

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Mathematical Modelling of Biological Control Interaction to Support Agriculture and Conservation

February 1, 2022 – June 30, 2022

Organizers:

Tamar Keasar (University of Haifa)
Eric Wajnberg (INRA)

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Global crop losses due to arthropods amount to 18-26% of the annual production. Efficient and sustainable pest control strategies are needed to reduce these losses. Many tools for controlling insect pests are available. Among them, biological control by insect natural enemies (predators and parasitoids) has recently gained renewed interest because of environmental concerns and problems encountered with the use of pesticides. Biological control has a long history of use in pest management and has been outstandingly successful in many instances. Nevertheless, such successes remain limited in number and failures are often under-reported. Moreover, biological control programs are still widely practiced as trial-and-error enterprises, rather than being guided by theory-driven principles.

The deficiency in theory-based biological control practices is not only due to insufficient basic information. A wealth of knowledge exists on the behavioral mechanisms employed by insect natural enemies to find and exploit their hosts/prey, as well as on their population dynamics and evolutionary adaptations to their environments. Moreover, a variety of modeling approaches are available to describe these processes and to predict their long-term population-level effects. These include tools such as static and dynamic optimization, game theory, stochastic dynamic modeling, matrix models and genetic algorithms. However, theoretical and empirical knowledge are often being advanced independently, limiting the interplay between the two fields and hence the connection between theory and practice.

Our study group will span the continuum between theoretical approaches (behavioral, population and community ecology) and application (biological control). Our main aim will be to bridge the existing gaps between the well-developed theory of interactions between insects and their natural enemies, and the optimization of the efficacy of biological control projects in agriculture and conservation. This interdisciplinary group will comprise mathematical biologists and experimentalists interested in close collaborations. 

Photo credit: Hans Smid (www.bugsinspace.nl)

 

 

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Purity and Pollution in Late Antique and Early Medieval Culture and Society

Purity

Purity and Pollution in Late Antique and Early Medieval Culture and Society

September 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022

Organizer:

Yaniv Fox (Bar-Ilan University)

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Late antique and medieval cultures were preoccupied with cleanliness. Everything they held dear was susceptible to corruption, a concern that weighed heavily on the minds of contemporary writers. Early Christians were driven to produce a response to Jewish and pagan perspectives on the question of purity and pollution very early on. As Muslims advanced into Christian lands, they too came into contact with competing notions of purity and pollution and were made to respond.

Views on purity and pollution reflected a wide range of cultural preoccupations and have been employed to effect profound social changes in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The concept of pollution is therefore a useful lens with which to observe late antique and medieval societies, whose most central convictions were often anchored to the complementary concepts of purity and impurity. For Christian communities, the liturgical year divided time by alternating between sacred and profane. Jewish and Islamic dietary laws restricted the body’s access to nourishment by forbidding certain foods and drinks, regulating the production of permitted food, and controlling bodily purification cycles. In Christianity, access to the shrines of saints and to their relics was gained only after a meticulous process of physical and emotional cleansing. Similarly, handling a Torah or a Qur’an were actions that had clear consequences in terms of purity and pollution. 

The pure/impure dichotomy is pervasive in contemporary compositions, from all fields of knowledge. Medicinal texts were aimed at restoring balance to the ailing body and expelling contaminants. This was also a prevalent motif of thaumaturgically themed episodes in hagiographies, which depicted the discharges and convulsions of the impure body healed by the presence of the saint. Heresiological and theological texts defined the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy and orthopraxy, condemning divergent expressions of the faith as agents of contamination. The detailed discussions of hypothetical ablution scenarios in Islamic ṭahāra legislation reflect a similar concern. 

The objective of the research group is to investigate how the concept of pollution was understood and applied by late antique and medieval authors, with a focus on the period spanning from the fourth to the thirteenth centuries, in all regions in which Jews, Christians, and Muslims wrote during this chronological timeframe. Thematically, it is interested in expressions of pollution in such areas as dogma, diet, medicine, sexuality, law, and violence.

 

Yaniv Fox: Featured Fellow>

 

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Sensing the Truth: Changing Conceptions of the Perceptual in Early Modern and Enlightenment Europe

Rembrandt

Sensing the Truth: Changing Conceptions of the Perceptual in Early Modern and Enlightenment Europe

September 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022

Organizer:

Yaakov Mascetti (Bar-Ilan University)

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The proposed research group intends to provide an interdisciplinary framework for a scholarly debate and a further understanding of the relationship between the sensory sphere and conceptions of epistemology and of devotion in the early-modern and enlightenment periods. Our primary goal will be to present ideas of touch, sight, hearing and tasting against the background of the philosophical, scientific, religious and literary discourses from the 15th to 18th centuries. Such representations of the senses contributed to relocating the idea of truth from the objective to the subjective sphere, though the figures in our study often show the fundamental insufficiency of that dichotomy, challenging and at times proposing alternative models.

Motivated by the significantly growing scholarly interest in the cultural history of the senses, and by new trends in the history of science and philosophy, this group will address, problematize and challenge our understanding of the ways in which emergent philosophical and scientific conceptions of visual and aural perceptions played a role in changing devotional practices such as sacramental ceremonies, methods and forms of meditational attention, while they also fashioned exegetical practices and currents in the literary and visual arts of the 16th and 17th centuries. Despite the steady growth in interdisciplinary studies of the early-modern, circles of the kind we propose are rare, and which we believe can make a difference in the complication of our idea of what a field of research is. Our main contribution will thus be methodological, to historians, literary scholars and specialists in other disciplines, as we will show, from a number of perspectives, that a cultural matrix is composed of a variety of interacting idioms, modes of speech which provide specific utterances with a spectrum of diverse intentions. Thus we will present conceptions of taste as the relation between the physical sense of taste, and taste as a metaphorical term used to denote various forms of knowledge and judgement (including, but not only, aesthetic taste).

Early modern taste played a key role in the cultivation of humanist erudition, in the so-called ‘scientific revolution,’ in theological debates about how best to access divine truth, and in the experience and articulation of intersubjective knowledge and sexual desire. Similarly, between the late middle ages and the Renaissance, touching truth came to play a central role in conceptions of truth, knowledge and the conveyance thereof in visual arts. The centrality of vision for the philosophical, theological, and artistic spheres has been widely discussed and continues to occupy a primary role in the cultural history of the senses. This research group intends to bring these scholarly strands together and create an interdisciplinary platform within which the entanglements of discourses may lead to a more exhaustive understanding of the senses and their role in the perception of truth.

 

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Computability: Historical, Logical and Philosophical Foundations

[RG#143] Computability: Historical, Logical and Philosophical Foundations

September 1, 2015 - January 31, 2016

Organizers:

Jack Copeland (University of Canterbury)
Eli Dresner (Tel Aviv University)

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The theory of computability was launched in the 1930s by a group of logicians who proposed new characterizations of the ancient idea of an algorithmic process. The theoretical and philosophical work that these thinkers carried out laid the foundations for the computer revolution, and this revolution in turn fuelled the fantastic expansion of scientific knowledge in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. 

The 1930s revolution was a critical moment in the history of science: ideas conceived at that time have become cornerstones of current science and technology. Since then, many diverse computational paradigms have blossomed, and still others are the object of current theoretical enquiry - massively parallel and distributed computing, quantum computing, real-time interactive asynchronous computing, relativistic computing, hypercomputing, nano-computing, DNA computing, neuron-like computing, computing over the reals, computing involving quantum random-number generators. The list goes on; few of these forms of computation were even envisaged during the 1930s' analysis of computability.

The fundamental question tackled by the group is: do the concepts introduced by the early pioneers provide the logico-mathematical foundation for what we call computing today, or is there a need to overhaul the foundations of computing to fit the twenty-first century?

 

 

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The Poetics of Christian Performance: Prayer, Liturgy, and their Environments in East and West (5th to 11th Century)

[RG # 144] The Poetics of Christian Performance: Prayer, Liturgy, and their Environments in East and West (5th to 11th Century)

September 1, 2015 - June 30, 2016

Organizers:

Bruria Bitton-Ashkeloni (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Derek Krueger (University of North Carolina at Greensboro)

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This interdisciplinary research project is exploring the performance of prayer, liturgy, and hymns among a variety of Eastern and Western Christian traditions from the end of Antiquity to the Middle Ages. Focusing on the history and environments of worship shifts the emphasis in the comparative study of Christianity beyond the history of doctrine.

The timeline extended from the Council of Chalcedon in 451 - when the great division between Eastern Christianities took place - to the eleventh century, just before the cultural upheaval brought about by the Crusades. The geographical framework includes Christianity's religious centers - Palestine, Constantipole, and Rome - and its periphery - East Syria and Medieval France. New models of piety, the ways in which people imagined their interaction with the divine, and the rise of asceticism in the late antique Mediterranean world brought forth new conceptions and patterns of worship. Novel religious performances played a vital role in shaping Christian identities in Byzantium and the Latin West as well as encoding specific poetics and theories of how religion should function. Bringing together historians of religion, art, architecture, and music, the project is focused on religious performance as a way to re-narrate the history of Christian religious culture in the East and West in its social and intellectual contexts.

 

 

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A Lasting Vision: Dandin’s Mirror in the World of Asian Letters

[RG #145] A Lasting Vision: Dandin’s Mirror in the World of Asian Letters

September 1, 2015 - January 31, 2016

Organizer: Yigal Bronner (The Hebrew University)

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Dandin’s Mirror of Poetry (Kāvyādarśa), a Sanskrit work on poetics composed in South India around 700 CE, is one of the most influential treatises ever produced in Asia.

The work was translated and adapted into a variety of languages in the south of the Indian peninsula and the island of Sri Lanka (Kannada, Tamil, Sinhala, and Pali), travelled to Southeast Asia (Burma and Indonesia), was repeatedly translated in northern and central Asia (Tibet and Mongolia), and may even have exercised influence on poetic praxis in China. Moreover, it is hard to overstate the profound impact of Dandin’s Mirror, which, in distant corners of Asia and at different times, consistently emboldened new literary beginnings.

 

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The Concept of Urban Change

[RG #116] The Concept of Urban Change

September 1, 2008 - August 31, 2009

Organizers:

Ronnie Ellenblum (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Gideon Avni (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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The past fifty years have witnessed significant development in the study of the structure of urban centers. Dozens of cities in a variety of geographic regions and cultural environments have been studied, and their shape and society reconstructed.

Concurrently, the disciplines of urban archaeology, urban geography and urban history were defined and developed, enabling an integrated study of historical sources, archaeological remains and the analysis of geographic, architectural and regional data.

However, the theoretical interpretation of ancient and historic cities is still conditioned by the chronological and sociological paradigms established as far back as the 19th and early 20th centuries. Thus, for instance, the classification of cities into Eastern, i.e. "Oriental/Muslim/Middle or Far-Eastern" cities as opposed to "Occidental", i.e. European and North American ones is based, to a large extent, on the 19th century's neo-classical interpretation of historical economy. The accepted periodization of urban history into "Biblical", "Greek", "Roman", "Medieval" or "Early Modern" periods also reflects the ideologies, theologies and identities that created them. In many cases they are culturally or ethnically conditioned and cannot be justified outside of the specific culture that created them. Urban history is sufficiently complex and continuous to sustain different cultural definitions and different types of biased periodizations. As a result, the characterization of specifically defined types of cities such as "Muslim", "Medieval" or "greek" cities became almost self-evident, and the terms themselves, let alone the periodization that created them, was rarely contested.

In light of these conceptual paradigms, our research group will examine the processes of cultural, political, social and religious changes in both past and contemporary urban contexts. Adopting a multidisciplinary apprach and a wide chronological range, the members of the group will address an array of changes in urban structures, such as the formation of new centers of political might, structural changes of the public spaces, the creation of architectural icons, and the expansion and collapse of urban tissues, all in relation to major political, cultural and religious changes.

 

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Contesting Liberal Citizenship: New Debates and Alternative Forms of Democracy and State Power in Latin America

[RG #117] Contesting Liberal Citizenship: New Debates and Alternative Forms of Democracy and State Power in Latin America

March 1 - August 31, 2009

Organizers:

Mario Sznaider (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Luis Roniger (Wake Forest University)

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The goal of our research group is to examine the changing context of procedural, representative and liberal democracy in Latin America, analyze the contesting modes of democracy that have crystallized in the region, and evaluate their implications for a redefinition of citizenship models and alliances.

Latin America has long been a laboratory for comparative research. With its 20 independent polities, it provides a shared ground for systematic analysis into the resilience or breakdown of formal democracy against the background of contesting models of citizenship.

While in the days of the Cold War these models were relatively clear-cut and impacted on the region, generating the contrasting projects of reform and revolution, in the last two decades Latin America has witnessed both a renewal of democracy and the diversification of democratic experiments. The international presence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, the election of an indigenous president in Bolivia and female presidents in Chile and Argentina, and recent policy decisions in Cuba, reflect the profound changes these countries have undergone, raising questions that are of far more than just regional interest.

Our research group brings together experts on various dimensions of citizenship in Latin America with a record in comparative research to reflect on the challenges affeting liberal democracies, as derived from the shift from corporatist to neo-liberal citizenship regimes; the increasing recognition of group rights and multiculturalism, evident with the potent rise of new indigenous movements; the emergence of participatory forms of anti-politics in situations of policy ineffectiveness and institutional collapse; the increasing use of plebiscitary democracy as a means of attaining political legitimacy; and the persistent challenge of mass citizen mobilization to existing forms of limited democracy.

 

 

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Ancient Arabia (from 1st Millennium BCE to the Emergence of Islam) and its Relations with the Surrounding Cultures

[RG # 118] Ancient Arabia (from the 1st Millennium BCE to the Emergence of Islam) and its Relations with the Surrounding Cultures

September 1, 2009 - July 31, 2010

Organizers:

Joseph Patrich (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Michael Lecker (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

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Arabia (the Arabian Peninsula) may no longer be terra incognita, but many aspects of its history remain unknown. The study of the history and culture of this territory is still in its infancy. One of the difficulties in properly evaluating the historical evidence about the ancient Near East is that modern Europeans or westerners approaching it inevitably do it with a host of confused and half-formed preconceptions about the "Orient", as Fergus Millar has noted in his book The Roman Near East 31 BC - AD 337.

In the last three decades an ever growing amount of new archaeological data, including a wealth of new inscriptions in many languages and scripts (Akkadian, Aramaic, Nabataean and South Arabian) has been gathered from sites in Saudi Arabia, the Yemen, the Persian Gulf, Sinai, the Negev, Jordan and Syria, as well as from sites of the cultures bordering with Arabia. Moreover, many texts in classical Arabic are now more accessible than ever before through various electronic media.

The group will evaluate the state of our knowledge about Arabia and the prospects for future research.

 

 

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