Debuting in the 2005/6 academic year, the Department of Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies is an expansion of the existing Department of Egyptology, founded at Brown in 1948. This new academic unit is still forming and operating on a relatively small scale, as its expansion takes shape. Plans for the new department involve widening the intellectual focus from ancient Egypt to all of Ancient Western Asia, also known as the Ancient Near East. Western civilization owes much to the Greeks and the Romans. But even earlier, the Ancient Near East was where societies first began exhibiting more complex forms of organization. Indeed, the region is occasionally called the birthplace of Western civilization. It was here, in Egypt and in Sumer, for example, that writing was invented five thousand years ago, around 3000 BCE. It was here that prehistory first ended. And it was here that the history of humankind began. As a field of higher learning, the Ancient Near East is represented in some degree at most of the world's great universities. Establishing Ancient Near Eastern studies at Brown is part of the University's Plan for Academic Enrichment, a commitment to higher learning in the humanities and the sciences. Research institutions committed to higher learning in the humanities and the sciences must include study of the origins of civilization, which at its core involves the mastering of both exotic languages and complex writing systems.
Geographically, the Ancient Near East covers almost the same area as what is now called the Middle East; a contiguous region in Northeastern Africa and Southwestern Asia, with the Red Sea as its center. Chronologically, Ancient Near Eastern civilizations span nearly four millennia, or about four-fifths of human history, from about 3000 BCE to late in the first millennium CE.
Various nations populated the Ancient Near East, each with unique cultures and traditions. Most prominent by virtue of the amount of surviving evidence were the Egyptians, owing to the profusion of hieroglyphic sources, and the Babylonians and Assyrians, owing to the abundance of cuneiform sources. Nations for which less evidence survives include the Elamites, Hebrews, Hittites, Hurrians, Nubians, Persians, Phoenicians, and Sumerians.
Brown's former Department of Egyptology was recognized internationally for its teaching and research in astronomy, chronology, and calendars (in collaboration with members of the Department of the History of Mathematics); Demotic, a stage of the Egyptian language; paleography and epigraphy; lexicography; and religion and literature, with special focus on the Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead.
Other Brown departments have excelled in the study of exact sciences in antiquity, especially ancient mathematics and astronomy. To strengthen collaboration between these related disciplines, the new Department of Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian includes Brown's former Department of the History of Mathematics.
Moreover, the new department will reinforce collaborations with other academic units at Brown devoted to the study of antiquity, including Ancient Studies, Archaeology, Classics, Judaic Studies and Religious Studies. And the new department will collaborate with Brown's recently formed Institute of the Archaeology and the Ancient World, which will serve as a home for the study of archaeology and as an interdisciplinary research and education program that links faculty and students studying various aspects of ancient studies.