May 24, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Scott Moore and I started work yesterday at the Larnaka District Archaeological Museum. Our first goal was to develop a method for processing the over 700 lbs of ceramic excavated in 2012 from what appears to be a stone lined storage bit abutting a Hellenistic fortification wall. Brandon Olson our Hellenistic ceramicist shows up in June to analyze these finds. Scott and I arrived a week earlier to pre-sort and pre-process as much of the material is possible to expedite the process.
The photo is out of focus and that worried me at first until I realized that the photo was fine (maybe), and I was out of focus. This little vessel resting for a time inside a tiny cup is probably a miniature and miniatures are most frequently associated with cult activities. Up to this point, we have not found any other evidence for cult activity at this site, but we know that there were sanctuaries nearby (here and here). The prominent location of the coastal height of Vigla where this material derives make it an appealing possibility.
After the first day of work in the dusty museum, I took an afternoon nap and awoke to a lovely dusk. At the end of our street, just above the Mediterranean rooflines, a few windmills turned languidly on the hills outside of Larnaka.
May 23, 2013 § 1 Comment
It feels much earlier (or later?) than 7 am right now as I push through jet lag to prepare another little spread of quick hits and varia for my readers. To continue where I left off on Wednesday, William Gibson describes jet lag in his 2003 novel Pattern Recognition as “the dire and ever-circling wolves of disrupted circadian rhythms.” That may be a bit overwrought, but it feels sort of accurate this morning.
- An owl in Athens.
- A couple articles by Joanna Smith and Szymon Rusinkiewicz on using and producing 3D models at Polis on Cyprus here and here.
- Along similar lines, this is really funny and critically essay on the problem with state birds.
- This is a cool faculty research seminar at my alma mater.
- This is a ringing endorsement for peer review. (via Dimitri Nakassis). Is this really the best that the world can do right now?
- MOOCs and the end of reform.
- How to cite social media in MLA and APA style.
- No go zones for Soviet citizens during the cold war.
- Neil Gaiman and Kyle Cassidy discuss creativity.
- Top 50 Oil and Gas people to follow on Twitter.
- Follow the adventures of Kyle Cassidy and Bret Weber in the the Bakken this weekend on Twitter at #OilCampsND.
- Great Deadspin article on how UND can lose its mind over little things.
- What I’m listening to: Daft Punk, Random Access Memory; The National, Trouble Will Find Me.
- What I’m reading: Polis and PKAP Notebooks.
May 23, 2013 § Leave a Comment
This is a post that might appear sometime in the next little bit on the ASOR Blog!
This past summer my excavation on Cyprus experimented with using iPads to document our excavations in the field. Since 2003, I have co-direct the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project with Prof. R. Scott Moore of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Prof. David K. Pettegrew of Messiah College. Over this time, the three of us designed our archaeological methods, in-field procedures, and data structure. During the 2012 season, we embraced the opportunity to test and refine a web application developed by Prof. Sam Fee at Washington and Jefferson College. Messiah College generously loaned us the iPads. Our trench supervisors and excavators embraced the experiment. And Sam was willing to work within with our existing data structure, databases, and ontologies.
By iPad standards, the cleverly named PKApp was simple in design. It drew upon relatively little of the iPad’s sophisticated hardware or processing power. We did not have the resources or the funding to develop a robust server-side or mobile digital infrastructure. In fact, the simplicity of our application’s design and the limited resources available to our project is probably the most significant aspect of our work. If a small and otherwise unremarkable project can develop a bespoke iPad application, it prompts us to consider how the techniques, procedures, and methods used to collect archaeological data are no long just the purview of digital project or technophile excavators. Digital archaeology is no long a particular subset of archaeological practice, but fundamentally coterminous with careful documentation in the field.
That we could develop and deploy an application demonstrates that we have officially entered a period of rapid technological change for archaeological data collection. Mobile computing has well and truly begun to replace old fashioned pen and paper notebooks. Responses to this change range from nearly unbridled enthusiasm to concerns about how the technology actually works and how our current infrastructure will continue to adapt to rapidly growing digital archives.
Here are my three thoughts along these lines:
1. Practical Realities.
Sam Fee presents the technical details for our application in the March 2013 issue of Near Eastern Archaeology. From the user’s perspective, however, the application is straightforward and uncomplicated. It provides places to enter the basic data collected over the course of excavation as well as open text fields to record descriptions of the stratigraphy and features.
The application ran on iPad tablets, but could have run on any tablet computer (or laptops) with only some small tweaks. The iPad proved durable and effective in the field. The screens held up against the glare of the Mediterranean sun, and the batteries survived the rigors of a full field day without any issues. The application worked flawlessly as well, collecting data entered by student and depositing it nightly in a designated email account.
Just to be certain, we continued to document our trenches on paper forms. This made sure that we had a complete record of our trenches in the event of a technology failure. None occurred.
2. Methods and Procedures.
The most remarkable thing about collecting data in a digital form at the side of the trench is that we have much better control over the quality of data that our trench supervisors records. We can control the entries into the database to ensure, for example, that soil descriptions are done according to standard Munsell categories, we can prevent anyone from incorrectly numbering a stratigraphic unit, or we can ensure that trench supervisors record elevations in an appropriate format. This ability to smooth data on the side the of the trench and to avoid problematic entries improved the quality of data from the moment that we began to use the application.
At the same time, however, we created an environment where the trench supervisor typed his trench descriptions. For most academics typing – even on the cramped, on-screen keyboard of the iPad – is at least as fast as writing so speed of recording was not an issue. What did pose a challenge was understanding how a typed record of a trench might differ from a handwritten record. We noticed for example that it was easier to delete a description that proved to be incorrect or inaccurate than it would be in a notebook. In fact, as many projects, we encouraged trench supervisors to strike through mistakes in their notebooks and forms to preserve a record of how their thinking changed over time and to share scratch paper and even informal notes prepared in the field. When a trench supervisor deletes a record that change is gone. Technical details like this gave us pause as we considered how digital tools could inadvertently change the kind of data we record from the field.
3. Digital Archives.
Once we produced data in digital form, we had to think hard about how we plan to preserve it for future generations of researchers. Traditional archives exist for the preservation of paper and pen documentation, and while a new generation of digital archives has begun to emerge, the standards and technologies needed to preserve and make available digital records remains in flux. We haven’t necessarily settled on a digital repository for our data, but we will almost certainly save our data to a number of institutional repositories.
The need to have a long term digital archive, however, is just part of the issues surrounding born-digital data in archaeology. With born-digital data, the process of archiving goes from being something that occurs at the very end of the project to an ongoing concern. Each day on PKAP, for example, we sent the data recorded on the iPads to a cloud service for archiving. For the daily archive, we sent our data directly from the iPad to the commonplace service of Gmail. The data was then accessible to the project directors who could back it up on their laptops and create multiple copies ensuring that our excavation data almost simultaneously exited in multiple places. This was a satisfactory and free short term solution, but hardly a long term step to ensuring a persistent record of our work.
The remarkable thing about our use of iPads, development of a web application, creation of methods and procedures to facilitate data collection, and use of a digital archive is that none of us on the project – except Sam Fee – are “digital archaeologists”. Despite our only rudimentary familiarity with the complexities of application development and implementation, the entire experiment was remarkably painless, low cost, and produced results that were better and more secure in most ways than our use of pens and paper. The democratization of digital data collection in archaeology marks a sea change in how the field works in basic ways. Digital tools are no long the domain of sophisticated projects with substantial budgets and dedicated specialists, but there for any project willing to create strategic alliances and to take the plunge. As I noted at the top of this blog post, the days of digital data capture in archaeology are no long in the future, but upon us.
May 22, 2013 § Leave a Comment
By the end of today, I’ll be winging my way to Cyprus for my summer field season. Unlike almost every year since 2004, I won’t do any new fieldwork this summer and, instead, spend my time preparing material for study, studying past seasons, and scouting for new adventures. As I have posted already, I have a busy summer with a number of projects requiring attention. At the same time, the summer gives me a bit more time to spend reading books both for pleasure and for professional development. I usually prepare an ambitious reading list and only scratch the surface, but part of the fun is preparing this list, right?
I am going to keep working my way through the classics of “cyberpunk” fiction. As I have noted before, cyberpunk should be the preferred genre among punk archaeologists. Not only did the major contributors of the genre influence punk rock – think here about Gibson’s sprawl or John Shirley writing songs for the Blue Öyster Cult, but the cyberpunk genre is explicitly materialist. The experiences of technology and landscapes frame most of the plots for these works. In 2011, I was enamored with George Alec Effinger’s Budayeen trilogy (When Gravity Fails, A Fire in the Sun, The Exile Kiss). These books capture both the gritty materialism of most cyberpunk works and locate it in a exotic Orientalizing setting. Byzantium is never far in these works. My plan is to read A Fire in the Sun and The Exile Kiss this summer. (As an aside, if you have a long flight or plan to retire for a time to an exotic resort, take John Shirley’s A Song Called Youth Trilogy with you. It’s dark, punked out, and bizarrely prescient.)
I will also try some Gary Ballard, particularly his Bridge Chronicles Trilogy, in part because he self published his works, and they have garnered some acclaim. (Also Ballard does not have a Wikipedia page. How bizarre is that?). If Ballard is the most recent contributor to the genre, Alfred Bester is perhaps its founder. So plan to give him another chance and try to read his The Stars My Destination (1956) because I need to give one of the great fathers of the genre another chance. I tried to read The Demolished Man (1953) a few years back and – like many readers – I became completely lost in it (not in a good immersive way). To wrap up my cyberpunk reading, I’m going to revisit William Gibson’s Neuromancer. I have recommended it a good bit over the past couple years, but I have no read it since the mid-1990s. It’s not that long. So I’ll re-read it.
Lest my less frivolous colleagues begin to worry, I am going to read some academic works as well. I’ve started G. Lucas’s Understanding the Archaeological Record (2012) three times but have not had the space to finish it. So that’s on the docket. The same goes for Tim Ingold’s Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge, and Description (2011). I know I should also read Drew Wilbourne’s Materia Magica: The Archaeology of Magic in Roman Egypt, Cyprus, and Spain (2013), but I don’t have a copy yet.
Finally, I am teaching Byzantine History this fall fro the first time since…. 2008?… and I need to surf through some of the more important survey’s of Byzantine history produced since then. My first stop will be Haldon, Jeffreys and Cormack’s (eds.) Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Studies (2008) and then onto J. Shepherd’s Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire (2008) and Haldon’s A Social History of Byzantium (2009) as well as Av. Cameron’s slim volume, The Byzantines (2006). Filial loyalty will require me to assign Timothy Gregory’s A History of Byzantium (2005) for the class.
I want to read Richard Hell’s autobiography, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp (2013), but musicians autobiographies so often leave me cold. My wife bought me a copy of David Katz’s excellent Solid Foundation: An Oral History of Reggae, but I’m going to save that for July when I can sit in my most comfortable chair. Finally, if any editor is reading this post, I do know that I should be reading for a review Butrint 4: The Archaeology and Histories of an Ionian Town (2013). I’m on that. Really.
May 21, 2013 § Leave a Comment
One of the great pleasures of working at a school with a smaller Ph.D. program is that we get stretched to fill roles a bit outside our core area of expertise. This past week, for example, I was asked to be the third reader on a comprehensive exams for a student in the joint University of North Dakota – North Dakota State Ph.D. program in history. My area of expertise was … public history. Whereas I have take one graduate class (audited actually) in archaeology (so I feel qualified to opine widely in that field), I have never actually taken a course in public history and read only sporadically in this field.
In any event, sometimes an outsider to a field can provide some new insights, and maybe these questions reflect that:
Select one question for each category. Write as much as necessary to explore the issue thoroughly. Take 4 or 5 hours to do this or whatever is customary.
I. Archaeology as Public History
1. Recently, archaeology and public history have experienced a bit of convergence as both fields have sought to make their research more accessible to an interested (and often funding) public and accept more responsibilities to the communities in which they work. Discuss the main similarities and differences in the how these two fields have approached engaging the public.
2. Both archaeology and public history have seen the museum as one of the key tools for engaging the public and disseminating information. The museum, of course, as an institution has changed through time as have the fields of archaeology and history. Some have argued that archaeology’s “object-based epistemology” resonates more with earlier models of the museum whereas history’s approach to the past has more in common with the contemporary museum that understood networks or contexts as the main way in which objects produced knowledge. As both an archaeologist and a public historian, how do the different approaches to how objects produce meaning inform the organization, presentation, and function of museum exhibits?
3. Both archaeology and public history have embraced (or, perhaps better, recognized) what some scholars have called “the spatial turn”. What this means is that space, landscapes, streetscapes, geography, and architecture, have played a key role in defining historical social relationships (think Delores Hayden, H. Lefebvre, or M. de Certeau here). How have the two fields sought to make past spatial realities visible to the public especially in dynamic circumstances where the social, architectural, and natural topography have changes significant? How have their approaches differed and how are they similar?
II. Public History
1. More and more history programs are offering courses, certificates, and degrees in public history at the graduate and undergraduate level. What are the key concepts that you’d introduce in an undergraduate course in public history? How would the concepts differ if the course was taught at the graduate level? How would you balance theoretical and methodological aspects of public history and the practical aspects of the field?
2. Over the last three decades digital methods have come increasingly to influence the practice of history. In scholarly practice, digital tools have increased the speed and scope of research. In the realm of public history, the internet, mobile devices, and the social media have the potential to expand the audience for historical research, empower new content creators, and combine content from a wide range of sources. Using specific examples, how has digital media transformed the practice and theory of public history? What does the future of a digital, public history look like?
3. Public historians have often positioned themselves as gate keepers between disciplinary knowledge and the general public. Indeed, the very term “public” history implies the there is a “private” history that the discipline has kept from the public view. How has public history worked to both expose the process of historical study to a wider public and occlude its own practices behind disciplinary barriers and claims of expertise and authority? How can the discipline break down these barriers without undermining its own authority? Be specific.
May 20, 2013 § Leave a Comment
This past week I spent a few days scouting in the Bakken in advance of the North Dakota Man Camp Project’s first field season of the summer at the end of the month. He will be going out to the Bakken to administer a survey on behalf of another agency. This agency asked that we administer the survey on the basis of our camp typology and was open to adding some questions to the survey to help with our research. (For the uninitiated, we argue that there are three types of camps, cleverly named Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3).
We hope to also do some interviews, and Kyle Cassidy will once again join the team to do some more photography of the characters and landscapes of the Bakken. This is a bit nerve wracking for me because I’ll be in Cyprus while Bret is heading up our research team, but I think we’re on the same page technically and conceptually.
This past week’s trip was the first I made since writing the first draft of an article on our work. There is something about writing that makes my observations all the more tangible and real. So it felt some addition pressure to check on some of the observations that I made in the article on our trip this week.
1. Camps and Abandonment. One of my favorite arguments (which I think was initially offered by Richard Rothaus) was that Type 3 camps might leave the greatest signature in the landscape because they are the least integrated with the modern methods of trash disposal and have the least investment in any particular place. The short duration of many Type 3 encampments would obviously moderate the accumulation of substantial quantities of discard, but the circumstances of their abandonment could have a more significant impact on the materials left behind. I’ve written about this before here.
We revisited the Type 2/Type 3 camp that we initially documented in August 2012 and returned to in February 2013. This camp had been abruptly abandoned in the winter of 2013 and there was a significant assemblage left behind. When we returned to this camp this week, we discovered that the most conspicuous trash was removed from the site. Plastic silverware, beer cans (Coors Light), bottle caps (Corona), fragments of broken styrofoam, pieces of a small grill, and a few other objects. The cement brick fire pit that was still visible in February. was disassembled and moved to another location near some other RVs in the area leaving only the ash deposit from the past fires behind.
We also noted signs of abandoned or declining map camps throughout our study area. We observed a “dry” Type 2 (that is a Type 2 with electricity but no water) that had numerous open lots after being nearly filled in August 2012. We also observed a Type 2 that had been completely abandoned and was strewn with trash, abandoned RVs, fragments of insulation and bit of architecture most notably the plywood mudrooms leaned against the side of many RVs. We would have spent some time documenting this camp, but the gentleman onsite seemed pretty uninterested in having us around. Fortunately, Bret Weber left his business card with the man so if he changed his mind, he can let us know. He was the one of the few unpleasant characters we have encountered in the Bakken.
2. Where are the Type 3 camps? The proximity of the Type 3 camp described above site to a group of new apartment buildings probably accounts for why it was so thoroughly cleaned up. Many Type 3 camps, however, are less conspicuous (and perhaps this is by design as some of them are probably unpermitted or even squatters). Others are incredibly short term and last only as long as is necessary for a particular activity. The small Type 3 shown below, for example, stood at a construction site, drew power from generators, and had a ports-john nearby.
The small size, short duration of occupation, and sometimes hidden locations makes Type 3 camps particularly difficult to locate and document. These aspect of Type 3 camps perhaps also makes them significant and suitable for archaeological investigation.
3. Towns and Workforce Housing. Every time we go out to the Bakken we check out another small town that shows signs of infilling with mobile homes and RVs to serve as workforce housing. Certain patterns of land use in these towns are just beginning to appear. For example, two of our study sites developed around the closed schools in the communities. The available land around schools and the more robust utilities infrastructure probably accounted for this.
We also noted that old towns provide appealing locations for short-term workforce housing. First, most of western North Dakota is dotted with small towns in various states of decline. The two towns pictured above had populations of 80 and 97 respectively (from over 200 in their boom times). These town are linked to major roads, have utility connects and some (albeit modest) amenities, and land. Moreover, they tend to be out of sight allowing for a kind of unsupervised growth.
4. Seasonal Rhythm and Discard. The seasonal rhythms of camp life in Type 2 and Type 3 camps are particularly visible. We noted, for example, piles of plywood and foam insulation around the camps as residents de-winterized their units. We could also sometime tell if a RV entered the camp recently based on evidence for winterizing.
5. The Next Step. The more we traveled the area over the past year, the more we feel like we have a technical handle of what is going on in terms of the oil boom. This last week, we made our way south to Killdeer and Dickinson, North Dakota and saw much the same kind of development and organization as we saw around Watford City and Tioga. It may be that the time of extensive research is coming to a close and the next step is to document one or two camps at a very high resolution. We’re making plans now for another field trip in August (funding permitting). So, stay tuned.