Re-imagining the Basilica at E.F2 at Polis-Chrysochous

November 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

Tomorrow I head off to the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. You can check out the full program here (.pdf).

Our panel is at 8:20 AM on Friday morning:

5C City of Gold: Archaeological excavations at Polis Chrysochous, Cyprus

Theme: This session details the exhibition, City of Gold: Tomb and Temple in Ancient Cyprus (Princeton University Art Museum, October 20, 2012–January 20, 2013), about the cities of Marion and Arsinoe that underlie modern-day Polis Chrysochous, and some of the research developed during the period leading up to the exhibition.

CHAIR: Joanna S. Smith (Princeton University), Presiding

8:20 Daniel Kershaw (The Metropolitan Museum of Art),
“Design Process and Evolution for the Exhibition, City of Gold: Tomb and Temple in Ancient Cyprus, in the Princeton University Art Museum from October 20, 2012–January 20, 2013” (20 min.)

8:45 Nikitas Tampakis (Princeton University),
“Digitally Reviving the Buildings of Marion for Museum Display” (20 min.)

9:10 William A. P. Childs (Princeton University),
“Cypriot Aesthetics” (20 min.)

R. Scott Moore (Indiana University of Pennsylvania),
Brandon R. Olson (Boston University)
Tina Najbjerg (Independent Scholar),
“Chasing Arsinoe: A Reassessment of the Hellenistic Period” (20 min.)

William Caraher (University of North Dakota, Grand Forks)
Amy Papalexandrou (The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey),
“Re-imagining the Basilica at E.F2 at Polis Chrysochous” (20 min.)

Of course, I know my dear readers expect a sneak preview of our paper. Our paper is essentially a slightly tweaked and truncated version of the Polis section of my paper delivered at the University of Texas earlier in the fall. (If you must, you can compare it here.) This paper reflects four seasons of tireless work by some very dedicated collaborators (R. Scott Moore, Brandon Olson, and, of course, Amy Papalexandrou) and the enthusiastic support of the project director Joanna Smith and her predecessor Willie Childs. The ideas in this paper are heading toward a 10,000-12,000 word report for publication that summarizes four seasons of work at the South Basilica. Each iteration involves sharpening our ideas just a little bit.


Polis, Peyia, and Amathus Basilicas in a Comparative Context

November 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

This past year, I’ve done a bunch of work on the South Basilica at Polis and written a few papers on it with my colleagues R. Scott Moore and Amy Papalexandrou. In these papers I’ve suggest that our basilica looks a good bit like the Acropolis Basilica at Amathus. In fact, I’ve even blogged about it.

I’ve followed several scholars who observed that the Acropolis Basilica was more or less square with a core that’s 13 m x 13 m. The aisles are 3 m wide and the main nave is 6 m wide forming a 1:2:1 ratio quite common on Cyprus.


My colleague Amy Papalexandrou kept cautioning me on my argument suggesting that superimposing a crude 13 x 13 x box over the dimensions of the church at Polis was not really the kind of careful measurement that these kind of proportional arguments typically depend. I soldiered on with my argument, hoping that repetition alone would make my argument stronger.


This weekend, in preparing my paper for the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting, I revisited my argument and looked more carefully at the South Basilica’s plan. The most significant observation that I could make was that the nave and aisles were closer to 14.5 x 11.2 m than the visually compelling, but not very useful 13 x 13 m square. This is basically identical to the North Basilica at Peyia and similar in size, but not proportion, to the church of Ay. Kononas on the Akamas peninsula (14.3 x 12.4) which was ironically much closer to the 1:1 ratio of the Amathus Acropolis Basilica.

The North Basilica at Peyia (or Basilica III):

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf

Ay. Kononas on the Akamas:

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf

Good dimensions are difficult to find for the North Basilica at Peyia, but it appears to be closer to the proportions of the South Basilica at Polis with the width of the nave being around 4.5 m comparable to the approximately 5 m wide at Polis. The aisles were a bit narrower at Polis, but the proportions of the width of the nave to the width of the basilica are roughly the same (2.24 for Polis and 2.49 for Peyia). The church at Peyia lacked a portico like both the South Basilica at Polis and the Amathus Acropolis Church. Moreover, the west wall of its narthex at Peyia has a tribelon rather than the  arched openings present at Amathus and Polis. These differences make it difficult to see these churches as the products of the same work crew although the similarities proportions may hint at similar units of measurement. 

Unfortunately, neither the church at Peyia nor the church at Amathus have seen complete and final publications so our understanding of the phases of construction and archaeological dates remains incomplete. The North Basilica at Peyia and the Acropolis Church at Amathus are unlikely to date earlier than the end of the 6th century and are more or less contemporary with the South Basilica at Polis. 

Coastal Sites and Maritime Trade

November 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

Two interesting articles landed on my desk over the last few days. D. Pullen’s report in the Journal of Maritime Archaeology on the site of Kalamianos in the the Korinthia and Justin Leidwanger’s article in Journal of Roman Archaeology documented a 2nd-3rd century shipwreck at the site of Fig Tree Bay on Cyprus.

Pullen argues that the impressive coastal site of Kalamianos represented interest of Mycenae in establishing a harbor on the Saronic Gulf in the Late Bronze Age. Situated adjacent to the site of Kolonna on Aigina and perhaps representing the decline in that polity’s political and military influence in the area, Kalamianos was a substantial and apparently urbanized (ing?) site situated at a peninsula that provided two relatively secure anchorages. Above the anchorages near the important Byzantine church of the Panayia at a place called Stiri stood a contemporary fortified site. This site clearly provided security for the harbor town as well as offering impressive views of the Saronic and its coastlines.

The site of Kalamianos expanded rapidly between LH IIIA to the LH IIIA2/B period, and Pullen suggests that the growth of this town must have been spurred by an external power, probably Mycenae, at this precise moment. The similarities in construction and architecture of both the site of Kalamianos and the nearby fortified site of Stiri as well as the site’s location suggests that Kalamianos established a Mycenaean presence on the Saronic perhaps to compete with a similar, contemporary site a Palaia Epidavros to further south which likely served the needs of states at Tiryns, Asine, or Midea.

In contrast, the world described in Justin Leidwanger’s study of the small shipwreck at Fig Tree Bay in eastern Cyprus was shaped, in part, by small scale coastal commerce that depended upon local producers, small harbors, and small ships. The shipwreck documented by Leidwanger was a mere 5.5 tons and found in shallow waters amidst shallow reefs and eddying currents. The maritime world represented in the small wreck at Fig Tree Bay was substantially decentralized and dominated caboteurs. The range of amphora in the ship suggest that its contents derived from the coast of Cilicia or southwest Syria, but the presence of relatively unusual amphora (Gauloise 4) suggests ties to Western Mediterranean as well. The destination for these vessels was unclear, but I’d like to think it planned to stop at Pyla-Koutsopetria before making its way along the south coast of the island. It seems likely that the assemblage of material onboard this small trading craft reflects stops at small ports throughout the region.

These two article represent the two prevailing (and in no way mutually exclusive) models of maritime trade. Pullen argues for Kalamianos that administrative and political imperatives exerted a significant control of trade in the Saronic Gulf, and the rapid growth and short life of Kalamianos is a direct result of Mycenaean policies. Our site of Pyla-Koutsopetria near Fig Tree Bay on Cyprus likewise expanded quickly in the late Hellenistic and Roman period. The location of Pyla-Koutsopetria at the margins of the of the powerful Iron Age kingdoms of Kition and Salamis limited its development. The site’s location was both militarily vulnerable, as the fortification at Pyla-Vigla demonstrated, but the presence of borders in the area likely limited the economic catchment available for the development of the harbor. The political, administrative, and economic restrictions on expansion of the site only abated with the end of the Iron Age political autonomy and the arrival of Hellenistic and Roman control over the island. The site does not seem to have ever been officially part of the larger administrative structure of the island. The small coastal trader who lost his ship at Fig Tree Bay was taking advantage of the political cohesion of the Eastern Mediterranean and stoping at small sites like Pyla-Koutsopetria that emerged outside of direct administrative control.  

Results from an Accidental Resurvey at Pyla-Koutsopetria

October 28, 2013 § 4 Comments

One of the benefits of preparing the data from the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project for publication in Open Context is that Eric Kansa has forced the us to remember all these little irregularities in our dataset. One that Eric noted this past week was that our crack survey team re-surveyed a group of units in 2005 that we had originally surveyed in 2004.


The reason for this had to do with plotting units in an open plowed field about a half a kilometer from our benchmark. In 2005, we accidentally plotted in units that overlapped entirely with a set of units surveyed in 2004 and caught the mistake when we produced our grid in our GIS. The result of our mapping glitch is that we resurveyed 6 units from 2004 in 2005.

This mistake produced some interesting results because it allowed us to compare the same general area under two very different field conditions. In 2004 the units were covered in fresh grain stubble and surveyed very late in the afternoon under unfavorable raking light conditions. The survey sheets noted that the glare from the grain stubble and that one unit (maybe 180) was the LAST UNIT of the season. The surface visibility of the units was around 40 (43.3 on average).

A year later, the units were almost completely clear of stubble with just a slight scatter of weeds. The visibility was 100% and we walked the units about an hour (and a month) earlier. The walkers did not mention glare or any other difficulties identifying the ceramics on the surface.

The results were almost too good to be predictable. The 2004 units produced 1292 artifacts per hectare and the 2005 units produced 2484 artifacts per hectare. Remarkably these units produced slightly over 50% more material in 2005 reflecting the improvement in visibility in something close to a linear fashion.

The units produced assemblages that are reassuringly similar. The 2004 survey produced 8 chronological periods and the 2005 units produced 14. Some key periods were represented in 2005 and absent in 2004: Archaic (1), Hellenistic-Early Roman (2), Early Roman (1), Late Medieval (1), and Ottoman sherds (1), but in all these cases it was no more than two sherds. The other periods that appeared in 2005 were all broad units (with time spans over 1000 years) like post-prehistoric and Medieval-Modern. From a chronological perspective, all of the narrow periods that appeared only in 2005 were accounted for in broader chronological periods in 2004 (e.g. Medieval and Roman) except the single Archaic sherd.  

Despite these new periods, the overall chronological distribution of material from both sets of units was similar. The 2004 units produced 35% Late Roman pottery and the 2005 units produced 39%. The Roman material was about 5% for both surveys.

Interestingly, the survey in 2004 produced twice as much diagnostic fine ware than the 2005 survey, but otherwise the proportions were almost identical with utility wares (coarse, medium coarse, and amphora sherds) accounting for 83% of the assemblage in 2004 and 86% in 2005. Kitchen/Cooking wares accounted for 4% and 5% respectively.

The take away from this little analysis is that despite the significant difference in the number of sherds counted and collected, the two assemblages were nearly identical with only a handful of sherds appearing in 2005 that made any chronological or functional difference in the area.

Pretty cool, huh?


Talking About Machines and thinking about archaeology (and teaching)

September 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

One of the great things about travel is that I got a chance to read a couple of books. I finished up a fairly recent classic of modern anthropology Julian Orr’s Talking About Machines. Situated at the intersection of Clifford Geertz’s “thick description” and Bruno Latour’s work on the agency of machines, Orr’s classic records the way in which Xerox technicians talk about their work, the machines they service, and their customers. In his field work, he followed a group of technicians to service calls, in the lunch breaks, and with their colleagues. The technicians detailed the both the routines that defined their workday but also the ways in which they adapted to the challenges of balky or difficult machines. The tension between repair procedures proscribed by corporate manuals and those preferred by the technicians is particularly interesting. The heart of the book is the idea that information between technicians is typically shared through informal stories rather than formal meetings, technical documents, or corporate training hierarchies.

Since its publication the book has influenced discussion of situated learning and, my new little obsession, communities of practice. Emphasizing the informal spaces and practices of learning that fed the formation of communities, Orr’s book shifted the emphasis from various well-defined structures to practice. This got me thinking in three directions.

1. Communities of Practice on Cyprus. In the paper I gave this week at the University of Texas, I rather meekly alluded to the idea that artifact assemblages and architecture might reflect communities of practice. This idea intersected with P. Horden and N. Purcell’s notion of the microregion, best developed in their substantial monograph, The Corrupting Sea. They argue that microregions are the basic spatial unit that defines social and economic interaction in the Mediterranean basin. The reason for this has to do with the high degree and intensity of regional variation across the Mediterranean and the concomitant interdependence of these microregions.

An approach that would challenge this structural understanding of Mediterranean social geography is on that sees networks of practice. Indeed, these networks could and likely did follow microregional lines as environmental conditions would clearly shape practice. On the other hand, networks of practice could easily follow the organization of craft or even social space of craft people. The difference, for example, between the distribution of certain kinds of churches on Cyprus and the distribution of certain kinds of ceramics suggests that the communities of practice constituting these two phenomena are quite different. The microregion is mediated by communities of practice that function along a range of different spatial connections that link together groups defined by shared skills, consumption patterns, and other social relationships.

2. Field Work. I was struck by how similar the stories used by Xerox technicians were to those that circulated among archaeologist. The genre of “war story” has clear parallels in both archaeology. War stories represented a way that technicians communicated solutions to particularly vexing problems, displayed technical prowess, and, ultimately, defined practice. Among archaeologists, war stories often serve established professional competence, to demonstrate the resolution of problems associated with the tricky social environment of encountered in excavations, and to communicate solutions to stratigraphic or documentation problems. While archaeologists maintain a robust body of technical literature (and technicians as a rule do not), war stories nevertheless make up a particularly significant aspect of archaeological discourse.

I can recall, for example, telling stories about a having to cut back massive amounts of scarp to protect excavators whose trench was deeper than initially expected, about having to arrange an apology to a very senior archaeologist who we offended during some of our work, and about the stratigraphic situation of some particularly significant finds. Most of these war stories are situated at the fringes of the kind of formal methodological debates suitable for publication, but do at least as much to establish professional credentials and to communicate social wisdom. Most importantly, however, are the war stories surrounding the use of digital technologies in the field and our methods for adapting technological tools for specialized use. Perhaps it is the disparate nature of archaeological publications describing and proscribing the use of digital tools in the field (or perhaps it the community in which I am a part) that leads to the prevalence of digital war stories. Whatever the reason, it certainly defies our expectations that the application of technologies will produce approaches to communicating in and about the field that rely more on practices embedded in craft than more industrialized modes of knowledge transfer.

3. Teaching. One of the things that remains baffling to me is how students organize themselves both inside and outside of class. My experience in the Scale-Up room has suggested that forced communities – at tables or in smaller pods – work to some extent, but these communities tend to be fragile and top-down.

What would be superior to these top down methods for creating communities of practice is to understand how students organize themselves and socialize outside of class. It seems to me that the most significant challenge in how we understand the Scale-Up room is how do we balance imposing classroom order against allowing students to express their own communities of practice. Among Xerox technicians, the lunch tables and the time before meetings are where communities of practice happen. The formal meetings and stylized manuals contribute very little to this discourse. 

As our university has articulated “gathering” as one of the priorities of the Exceptional UND initiative, it would be particularly useful to understand how they have conceived of student gathering and the formation of communities. My most cynical perspective on student behavior sees their communities of practice oriented  around spaces of resistance. For example, our department has a lounge space for students, but, in general, students prefer to sit in the hallway and carve out space for work and study in ad hoc ways. I know, however, that there is more to student behavior than simply defying authority just as Xerox technicians did more than simply delay the start of regular meetings with the war stories. 

Reconstructing Community from Broken Pots and Ruined Churches on Cyprus

September 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

This is a rare and exotic double post! 

Anyone who has seen me around campus knows that I’ve been obsessing with a paper that I’m delivering under the Friday night lights (um… sort of) at the University of Texas on Friday.

This paper is really just the start of three separate things. One is a longer article on our work at Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus probably for Hesperia. The other is for an article on connectivity during Late Antiquity grounded in the ceramic data from Cyprus and my two projects at Polis-Chrysochous and Pyla-Koutsopetria. Part of this paper looks toward something a bit more conceptual and in some way is an extension of a paper that I wrote a few years ago and delivered in Austin that looked at resistance in an “ambivalent” countryside of Late Antique Corinth. The topics are different, but the approaches are similar and reflect my recent interest how archaeology can reveal social cohesion and conflict.

Here it is with the Powerpoint slides at the end:

Sherds and Churches: Late Roman Pottery on Cyprus

September 16, 2013 § Leave a comment

The last couple of week, I’ve been working on the paper that I’ll give at the University of Texas next week (egads!). An important component of the paper involves comparing the Late Roman ceramic assemblage from the area around the South Basilica at Polis-Chrysochous with the contemporary assemblage from the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria with a particular emphasis on the local and imported fine ware.

The assemblages are different. A substantial residual assemblage at Polis produced a substantial quantity of Cypriot Red Slip (CRS) and almost no African Red Slip (ARS) or Phocaean Ware (PHW). the assemblage at Pyla-Koutsopetria was largely (60%) CRS with significant quantities of PHW and ARS. The reason for this difference is difficult to understand. On the one hand, it could be that the residents at Pyla-Koutsopetria simply preferred ARS and PHW to CRS. On the other hand, it could be that the quantity of CRS reaching the eastern part of the island was smaller making it more expensive and less able to compete with imported fine wares. This assumes, of course, that CRS is produced on the island (and there is some evidence that it was not) and that CRS, ARS, and PHW all have a comparable basic cost that shift depending on supply and access. In other words, one type of pottery is not radically more expensive to obtain than another.

It is worth noting that on Cyprus, CRS tends not to travel far inland. For example, the site of Panayia-Ematousa lies inland from Pyla-Koutsopetria. The assemblage of fine ware there is predominantly PHW (nearly 60%) with CRS and ARS accounting for 20% and 15% respectively. The coastal site of Maroni-Petrera produced an assemblage of Late Roman fine ware consisting of over 80% CRS. Inland, however, at the village site of Kalavassos- Kopetra, the quantity of PHW and ARS account for over 40% of the assemblage and CRS closer to 35%. In comparison to the nearly contemporary assemblage present at Polis, the Kopetra assemblage has fewer examples of large vessels like the thick-walled CRS Form 11 basin and CRS Form 8 dish and more examples of the somewhat smaller, very common, and long-lived CRS Form 9 dish. A similar trend is apparent when we compared CRS forms from the survey around the inland site of Palaiopaphos and the residual assemblage from Polis. In fact, almost no CRS Form 11 vessels seem to have made it inland to vicinity of Palaiopaphos. It would seem that “finer” CRS vessels moved inland more readily than thicker-walled and “chunkier” vessels.

My paper set out to make the argument that the assemblage of pottery present at different sites reflected a set of practices that defined these communities. The practices that produced these assemblages were not simply social or economic, but a combination of both. My current hypothesis goes as follows: 

It would appear that CRS was most desirable in coastal communities near the southwestern corner of the island, most likely nearest its production base or the major point of arrival on the island. Presumably, that this point it was affordable in comparison to its imported rival fine wares produced in either North Africa (ARS) or Asia Minor (PHW). It goes without saying that if inland communities had access to PHW and ARS so did the coastal communities through which this imported pottery moved. When CRS, ARS, and PHW reached inland communities, however, the cost of transporting CRS from the coast increased its price and made its competitors more appealing. When overland transport leveled the playing field between the various forms of Late Roman fine ware available, contemporary communities seemed to prefer PHW and ARS at least as frequently as CRS. 

The result of this is that the tables of residents in inland communities would have looked rather different from those of communities along the coast. The decision making that led to this distinct assemblages hints at the processes that create culture.

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