2019: Alumni Medal

Piotr Steinkeller, PhD’77

  • Professor of Assyriology, Harvard University

Piotr Steinkeller began his academic education at the Warsaw University, Poland, where he studied Mediterranean archaeology and Assyriology. He came to the United States in 1970 as the recipient of a Humanities Special Fellowship from the University of Chicago. He then pursued Assyriology at the Oriental Institute, receiving a PhD in 1977. From 1974–81 he was a research associate at the OI, assisting his mentor, Ignace I. Gelb, on a number of research projects. In 1981, he joined the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, where he has been teaching ever since.

His academic interests center on ancient Mesopotamia during the third millennium BCE. Most of his work in that area is concerned with the manifold aspects of the socioeconomic life of Mesopotamia during that stage of its history, such as social stratification, labor, agriculture, taxation, law, trade, material culture, and the history of the ancient Mesopotamian natural environment. He has also written extensively about the political history of early Mesopotamia and Iran, the historical geography of Middle Asia, and the development of the Sumero-Akkadian religion.

Steinkeller has authored, coauthored, or edited 10 books and some 140 articles. His most recent books are History, Texts and Art in Early Babylonia: Three Essays (DeGruyter, 2017) and, coauthored with Steffen Laursen, Babylonia, the Gulf Region and the Indus: Archaeological and Textual Evidence for Contact in the Third and Early Second Millennia BC (Eisenbrauns, 2017).

He is a recipient of numerous awards, among them a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and an Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung Forschungspreis (2009). He is currently a Walter Channing Cabot Fellow at Harvard University.

Steinkeller is presently writing a book devoted to the history of Mesopotamia during the Late Uruk period (3500–2900 BCE), a formative phase of her history during which cuneiform writing was invented, and the time when the nation’s socioeconomic and religious institutions acquired their essential shape. By recourse to the textual, iconographic, and archaeological data, this work will offer a new assessment of these critical developments.