Some Other Reasons to Publish Your Archaeological Data

August 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

This week I finally sent along the data from our survey at Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus to Eric Kansa at Open Context. This was a bigger task than I had anticipated, but with the publication of the volume on our survey, it seemed like ideal time to make our data accessible to researchers on the web. Hopefully, the web publication of our data at Open Context becomes a companion piece to our survey volume allowing a critical reader to interrogate our claims more thoroughly than traditional paper tables and catalogues would permit.

I do not need to recite all the good reasons to make raw archaeological data publicly available. In preparing the data from our survey for publication, I did discover some  unexpected benefits to this process. 

1. How can there be so many holes in my data? At the end of every season, we spent a bit of time making sure that our data was in good order and that there weren’t massive gaps in our dataset. Reviewing the entire dataset, however, exposed myriad small gaps and irregularities that had crept into our data over the years. Most of these could be easily filled as we collected data in the field in a way that ensured redundancies, but because these little gaps in our data tables were not significant for our analyses, they remained almost invisible until we reviewed our data for publication. The notion that someone else would use our data in ways we could not entirely anticipate pushed us to apply a greater degree of scrutiny to our dataset and to produce a much cleaner copy.

As a little note, it took more time to fix the last few problems than it took to do large scale normalization. Hours before I submitted the data for review, I officially gave up on 23 records in our finds database. I decided just to live with .3% of our data being not entirely tidy. Reviewing and revising our databases also gave me a firm set of practical limits for the quality of our data.

2. Excavating Data. One of the more remarkable things that we discovered on reviewing our data for publication was the number of strange fields that we never used or used only sparingly. For example, our main survey database had three fields describing our orientation as we walked each individual unit. We had columns for bearing, “Direction To”, and “Direction From”. As our survey units were all orthogonal and each fieldwalker walked a straight line through the unit, I have no idea why there were these three fields. We also had a yes/no field for “Black and White Photograph”. Our project had used relatively high resolution (<8 megapixels) cameras from our first field season in 2004.  

These fields, then, must have entered our database from the earlier databases upon which it was based. The “Black and White” photography field must have originated in either the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS) database or the Sydney Cyprus Survey Project Database. EKAS originated in the mid-1990s and SCSP in the early 1990s, both prior to the widespread use of publication quality digital photography. Black and white photography remained the standard for archaeological documentation until around the year 2000. The “Direction to” and “Direction from” fields must have derived from the database of a project that anticipated more irregularly shaped units such as terraces or hill slopes. I suspect this came from the database used in the Australian Palaiokythera Archaeological Survey where we walked numerous irregularly shaped units. 

We removed these fields from the final dataset submitted for publication because they did not include any data (at all!), but it was intriguing to be reminded of the origins of our survey data structure through these residual components. 

3. Managing Misfit Data. As we prepared our data for publication we discovered that we had to make some hard decisions about misfit data that do not nest neatly in our larger survey datasets. For example, we collected data on several hundred features in the survey area. Each feature received a number, a GPS coordinate, and a brief description in a notebook. At some point the notebook entries were summarized in a brief table and merged with the GPS point data in our GIS, but these points were never reconciled formally with our survey units. In other words, these points were not part of the survey dataset either spatially or structurally.

As we prepared our data for publication, we decided against including the features dataset in large part because it was collected on a different spatial scale and in a fundamentally different way from our survey database. We used the features data to describe the landscape of survey area and even did some rudimentary spatial analysis with it, but in the end this data remained too awkward and complex to include with the survey data.

In contrast, we did find ways to integrate the lithic analysis and the study of organic remains from the survey area with our ceramic dataset even though this was data recorded outside of our standard data structure. Managing misfit data was a tricky task and as I am beginning to look ahead to my next survey project, I am already thinking how to ensure that our data integrates more seamlessly.

4. Many Copies Makes a Mess (without version control!). I know that one of the great principles of good data management is to keep multiple copies of data to insure against data loss. With easy access to vast quantities of storage in the cloud, it is now easier than ever to have redundant data storage. The only issue occurs when you have multiple copies of your data, managed by multiple scholars, and living in multiple places. It took more time for us to assemble a complete collection of survey unit photographs, for example, than to normalize the finds and survey database because our photographs lived on various hard drives and we lacked a definitive dataset. As I move forward with new projects, I am going to insist on a better system for maintaining definitive versions of our data.

None of these things should come as revelations to anyone who has dealt with archaeological datasets, but encountering all these little issues and making these decisions has compelled me to engage critically with the data collection, revision, and maintenance process one last time before embarking on a new survey project with a new data structure. Reviewing and revising our dataset for formal publication allowed us to understand the limits of our data collection processes and the structure of our data in new ways.

A Final Report of the 2012 and 2013 Field Seasons at the Site of Pyla-Vigla

August 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

It has taken us a bit longer than usual to compile a final report on our excavations at Pyla-Vigla in 2012. In fact, it took us so long to put something together we decided to combine our report for 2012 with our report for 2013. This brief article will likely appear in the newish Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections. Because the main phases of the site of Vigla coincide with the rise in the Hellenistic monarchies in the Eastern Mediterranean, Egypt and Cyprus remain closely linked during this period. In fact, the strategic relationship between Cyprus and Egypt persisted from at least the Hellenistic period until the 19th century. British interest in the island related directly to their control of the Suez canal and access to their possessions in the Persian Gulf and India beyond. 

We would usually publish regular reports in the Report of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus (RDAC), but it seems to be enduring a bit of a lull in production. The word in the trenches is that this journal will reappear in the next year or so as a wholly online affair. This is a good thing, to my mind, particularly if it accompanies the digitization of its modest back catalogue. For the archaeology of Cyprus, the RDAC was – for some time – the journal of record and I expect when it begins once again to appear regularly, it will be once again.

In the meantime, please enjoy our latest effort to describe and understand our work at Pyla-Koutsopetria. The main text here is mostly from Brandon Olson as are the GIS maps. 

Here’s the abstract:

Since 2003 the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project has systematically investigated a small region near the modern village of Pyla in southeastern Cyprus. Within this study region, the Hellenistic site of Pyla-Vigla is set atop a promontory of the same name, a toponym meaning “lookout.” Dating to the late 4th and early 3rd centuries B.C., the site was founded and occupied during a turbulent period in Cypriot history, one that saw the transition from rule by local city kingdoms to outright foreign imperial domination. Pyla-Vigla represents a key strategic position for warring Hellenistic kingdoms with interests in Egypt and those seeking to achieve superiority in the eastern Mediterranean. Recent archaeological work by the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project has shed light on the lives of those living at a Hellenistic fort in Cyprus. Documenting sites like Vigla provides a valuable perspective on day-to-day life in the armies that shaped the Hellenistic world.

Here’s the text:

Advertisement for Myself: Talk at the University of Texas

August 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

At then end of September I’ll be giving a talk at the University of Texas’s Workshop on Late Antiquity. The talk is on September 27th at 5 pm.

The talk will be my first effort to wrangle architectural analysis and a more thorough and comparative study of the large residual assemblage of pottery from the “South Basilica” at the site of Polis into something approaching a coherent form. The paper will hopefully become the basis for a article length submission to a decent journal in the midwinter. As you might expect, I’ll keep my dear readers in the loop as this proceeds. 

One more funny thing. I originally called the talk: Architecture and Assemblage at the Site of Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus, but my hosts at Texas thought that this wasn’t a particularly student friendly title. I agreed. So we tweaked it a bit to: 

Reconstructing Community from Busted Pots and Ruined Churches on Cyprus

The last three decades has been something of a golden age in the archaeology of Cyprus. From pioneering intensive surveys to meticulous excavations focused on rural sites that often fell outside the traditional scope of Mediterranean archaeological research, scholars of Cypriot archaeology have engaged current debates surrounding postcolonialism and hybridity, networks of exchange and connectivity, insularity, and the development of the ancient state. The theoretical innovation and methodologically significant fieldwork on Cyprus, however, has done little to project the island from the fringes of most archaeological conversations. While the marginal status of Cypriot archaeology might be understandable for earlier periods like the Cypriot Iron Age which many have seen as peripheral to larger trends in contemporary Aegean and Near Eastern societies, for later periods the robust and sophisticated assemblages produced by recent archaeological work present a solid platform for studying imperial administration, the Mediterranean economy, and the tensions between the local and the global in the context of empire.

This paper will take as a point of departure the ongoing work at the site of Polis-Chrysochous (ancient Arsinoë) on the western side of Cyprus where a team has worked to document both the architecture of one of two Early Christian basilicas and an associated assemblage of Late Roman ceramics. The architecture and assemblage from this site demonstrates the connections between the city of Arsinoë and other sites on Cyprus as well as southern Anatolia. At first glance, these links may appear an unremarkable consequence of the site’s location, but the character of the basilica and the nature of the assemblage reveals more than simply geographic determinism and hints at the material manifestations of the human decisions that constitute culture. The significance of the past 30 years of field work on Cyprus, in this context, becomes clear as it provides an almost unparalleled potential to analyze the material culture of a series of related, yet distinct, sites in the ancient world.

Here’s the classy poster:


More on the Little Fort at Pyla-Koutsopetria

July 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

After a couple of long, high-visibility posts this week, I wanted to offer something more bite sized. I’ve been working on wrapping up some of the odds and ends on the Pyle-Koutsopetria survey volume which he hope to have ready for final(ish) submission by the end of August. Among the final projects is putting together a short section on what we think is a Venetian or Ottoman period fortification wall.

I’ve blogged on this before, so it’s nothing revolutionary. But I do have a couple of decent plans prepared now.


Here’s the text:

During the first field season, field walkers discovered a short stretch of poorly preserved wall running approximately east to west parallel to the main road between Dhekelia and Larnaka. The wall itself preserved only small patches of poorly preserved limey mortar and unworked stone most likely quarried from the earlier remains. 20 m north of the course of the wall, the plough had cut through a section of plaster flooring revealing the ceramic packing below. Considering the proximity to the east-west wall, we assumed that this might be of the same date. The ceramics in the floor packing included coarse ware of Late Roman date.


The wall itself is overgrown with shrubs and largely obscured by earth. It appears to run for approximately 30 m east to west and it might include a small dogleg. The course of the wall appears to follow an early, but visible, holocene beach ridge perhaps consolodated by a now destroyed road bed. The location of the beach ridge indicates that most of the embayment was infilled, and if the beach ridge and the wall are contemporary, this feature likely post-dates antiquity.

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It seems probable that the wall here represents the remains of a small fortification described by Cesnola in the 1880s when he visited the site on his way to his summer home in Ormidhia:

“Here I found the stone walls of an oblong structure, not older than the Venetian occupation of the island. It had been a small fort mounted with three guns, the embrasures of which are still standing. Along the southeast coast there are several of these guard-houses, built near the shore on elevated ground, some of which, now dismantled and roofless, are of Turkish construction, and two or three hundred years old.”

The pirates, according to Cesnola’s informants, availed themselves to the the nearby cave which we call today Mavrospilios, where they would hold wealthy islanders for ransome. The small scatter of Late Medieval pottery in the area would tend to confirm Cesnola’s identification of these walls as part of a small coastal battery.

It is worth observing that the presence of such a coastal battery probably indicates the continued availability of the small inlet at the site. 


One more little section to add here is that the Venetian fort coincides perfectly with the “ruined church” on an earlier plan of the site. I’ve blogged on this before as well, but I fixed a little georeferencing bug to allow the map and my plan to overlap precisely. The only difference between our plans of the site is that I suggest that the earlier road passed in front of the fortification more or less along the line of the existing coastal road. The 19th century plan routes the roads behind the fortification. In both cases, the earlier road follows the route of the earlier beach ridge and probably marks the extent of the small inlet at the site when the fortification was constructed.


The South Basilica at Polis

July 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

We’ve officially renamed the EF2 basilica. It is now “the South Basilica” and we’ve officially moved from pondering ceramics and architecture on the ground to writing. 

And this is our first effort to bring together the results of over three years of study (and many years of field work by many people before then)!

We’ve been working on lovely new illustrations of the site plan and our basilica, and they’re almost presentable now:

Figure 1 WRC3


And here’s our most recent text:

Fortified Camps and Refuges

July 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking a bit about fortified camps and refuges lately. This is largely prompted by my TOP SEKRET project, but also prompted a bit by my reflections on our ongoing study of the site of Pyla-Vigla on Cyprus. The question I keep having is how does one distinguish a fortified camp from a refuge.

Camps, at least for the Classical to Roman period served to accommodate soldiers for a short period of time. In fact, the Romans built fortified camps at the end of every days march. These camps differ, of course, from the more long-term camps – occupied for a number of years or even longer – known from the Roman period at strategically significant places in the Mediterranean, along borders, or in areas where longterm garrisons were stationed.

James R McCredie Fortified Military Camps in Attica Hesperia Supplement vol 11 1966 pdf page 13 of 156

During the tumultuous Hellenistic period, numerous sites identified with short-term, strategic occupation appear across Greece, and a small number have been identified in Cyprus as well. Archaeologists have argued (pdf) that these likely served the needs of armies on the march or engaged in short-term fortification of the tactical locations or enemy territory. The argument for such episodic or short-term activities rests on two main features of these camps.

First, the material from such sites typically represents the short-term character of activities in these areas. Assemblages tend to be remarkably cohesive, largely utilitarian in character and chronologically unified.

Second, the fortification walls at these sites tend be rough, inelegant affairs. They rarely have proper ashlar polygonal or isodomic styles and often utilize natural features like rock outcrops or steep slopes to supplement the course of the wall. The remains of the wall, even if they seem imposing to us today, may have simply been the stone socles for mudbrick superstructures. 


If the camps had any easily defined buildings within their circuits, they tended to be simple in design and rather small. In Greece they clearly featured tile roofs; in Cyprus, the roofs might have been reed and mud. In short, these rough-and-ready fortifications lacked the monumentality of the famous Attic border forts or the Hellenistic fortification that dot the Ionian coast of Turkey.

Refuges are a less clearly identified type of fortification in the landscape. In fact, some scholars have interpreted fortified camps as refuges. The material evidence for a refuge would likely be similar to that produced by a short-term military encampment. Moreover, a refuge, set away from the main areas of settlement and more likely to be hidden than monumental would manifest similarly in the landscape. 

The best way, I suspect, to begin to make arguments for the function of remote fortified sites is to locate these places within larger settlement patterns and roads and routes through the landscape. Intensive survey has played a part creating dynamic landscape of settlement and movement in Greece and Cyprus. It seems possible that this work will present a way to understand rather modest, short-term, rural fortifications as well.

Analyzing Residual Ceramics in a Fill Deposit

June 26, 2013 § 1 Comment

I know this isn’t one of my best titles ever, but it describes what I am trying to do pretty accurately. As we move toward a comprehensive preliminary study of the basilica in area EF2 at the site of Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus, we want to be able to say something about some of the ceramic assemblages associated with the buildings. In particular, we have a massive fill level that we have tentatively associated with the second phase in the construction of the basilica.

The fill is dated by both coins and ceramics to the middle decades of the 7th century an consisted over 3000 pieces of broken pottery. Because the excavators did not save all pottery and tended to discard less apparently diagnostic artifacts, the fill consisted over over 40% fine ware (compared to 9% transport amphora sherds, 32% utility wares (primarily storage vessels and other less diagnostic coarse and medium coarse fabric sherds), and 15% kitchen wares). While it may be possible to reconstruct what they discarded into the pottery dump, for now we think that the assemblage is more or less representative of what was excavated.

imageCRS Sherds in the R09 Fill at Polis

The majority of fineware in this assemblage is Cypriot Red Slip (or, what we maybe should call Late Roman D Ware). The chronology of the assemblage represents almost the full chronological range of CRS production which began some time in the 4th century and perhaps continued as late as the 8th. Like many significant assemblages of CRS, CRS9 and its variants (largely identified by Henryk Meyza and his work at nearby Paphos) make up the largest percentage of our material. The particularly production long life of CRS9 (beginning in 400 and continuing with some variation to almost the end of the 7th century) might account for its preponderance in our assemblage.

Unlike many other sites on the island the Polis R09 Fill had an impressive quantity of CRS8 an CRS11 sherds.


These likely date to the final century (or 150 years) of CRS production. The size of CRS11 vessels and the distinct folded-over shape of the rim of many of the CRS11 basins found at our site may suggest a local production center, although the rim of the vessel shown above is similar and comes from Anemurium in Asia Minor.

Our percentages are similar to those produced by the nearby Canadian Palaiopaphos Survey Project, but they identified fewer CRS11 sherds.

imageCPSP CRS Assemblage

A nearly contemporary assemblage associated with two basilica churches excavated by Marcus Rautman at Kopetra on Cyprus also produced a similar distribution of forms.

imageCRS from Kopetra

The main difference between the CSPS and Kopetra assemblages are that they probably represent a wide range of depositional processes from discard to (perhaps) use. Our assemblage from trench R09 at Polis is probably all secondary discard and two steps removed from its primary use context. It was deposited as a single event, but the material likely derived from a range of domestic discards.

UPDATE: One more example, here are the different forms documented by the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project.


End of the Season Varia

June 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

At the end of a study season, I’m always left with various things that I’m all excited about, but I don’t have sorted out for a blog post.

For example, I usually have a satisfying photograph of the end from the last day at the apotheke (or storeroom) like this:

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The table is empty, and that’s a good thing, because it was usually filled with pottery under study or being catalogued.

I also have a few photographs that try to capture the range of activities during the season in a single shot. So, I have a photograph that shows off Brandon Olson’s illustrations of Late Roman fine ware like this. Scott and Brandon are looking at two chronologically contemporary, but physically distinct areas of the excavation for joins.


And I since we did some 3D modeling of parts of the basilica using Agisoft Photoscan, I invariably have some cool screen shots like those below. The first one is southwest corner of the narthex. If you look carefully you can see the lines of the original arched opening which was latter walled up with less well-sorted (and weight bearing) rubble walls.

Screenshot 062513 031844 PM

Here is another showing the buttresses in the north aisle of the church. You can see clearly how the eastern apses do not bond with the main wall of the north aisle. 

Screenshot 062513 032224 PM

One of the most useful things about modeling architecture using Agisoft is that we can show parts of the basilica at almost impossible angles without having to get a crane and reshooting photographs.

I also have a little gaggle of photographs that I like, but don’t really know what to do with. So I have this one of the “super moon” over the plataea of Polis at night. I like it because it looks a bit like a painting.

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Then I always have ridiculously beautiful scenes like this:

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Or like this:

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I don’t recall whether these two photos appeared on the blog.

It’s ok if you find this kind of thing empty and self-indulgent. I promise that I’ll  get back to more substantive blog posts over the next couple of days. I have some writing and thinking time in Larnaka before I head to Greece to check out an area where I hope to do some fieldwork next year.

Discovery in Pieces

June 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

Yesterday was one of my best days ever as an archaeologist. I didn’t discover some amazing new site. And I didn’t find some amazing or valuable object.  And my day didn’t involve out witting Nazis or mummies (or zombies).

Over the last few weeks, we have worked to establish dates and architectural relationships for the various parts of the basilica at EF2 at Polis. We figured out that the narthex and the south portico of the church were added to the building most likely date to the middle years of the 7th century. We found particular types of late Cypriot Red Slip pottery in a foundation trench associated with the narthex, and we know that the south portico – a long porch build along the south side of the church – had to date to after (or the same time as) the narthex. The south portico appears to have been cut into a massive rubble fill the extended north from the south wall of the church. (We’ve tentatively argued that this rubble fill was a response to a local drainage issue.

The other phase of the church that we’ve been studying involves the building of  buttresses along the walls along the walls of the main nave. The ceramics from deposits associated with these piers also date to the 7th century, but we had not been able to associate their construction with the building of the narthex and south portico. Until yesterday.

Yesterday, Scott Moore discovered a join between two pieces of a stamped Cypriot Red Slip plate. One piece came from the massive rubble course south of the basilica that narrowly pre-dates the building of the portico. The other piece of the same plate came from a foundation deposit associated with the construction of a buttress on the north wall of the nave. This sherd, then, connects the two major changes to the basilica: the addition of a narthex and portico and the reconstruction of the main nave.


The two pieces of pottery came from trenches about 15 m apart. The trench to the south of the south portico was excavated in 1985 and the trench in the nave in 1990. One sherd was inventoried as a find (which means that it stood out as something with intrinsic value) and one sherd languished in the boxes of context pottery. (We had to look through over 20,000 artifacts in the context pottery boxes to find this little guy!).

Bringing together the context pottery and the inventoried finds, two different episodes of excavation, and the narthex, portico, and buttresses of the main nave has unlocked the chronology of the church. It was a pretty good day.

Residuality and Fill Levels at the EF2 Basilica at Polis

June 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

One of the challenges that we faced working at the EF2 basilica at Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus was that so much of the ceramic evidence came from various kinds of fill levels at the site. In other words, we had very little material from traditional use contexts and an unbelievable quantity of pottery associated with either construction deposits or the massive rubble fill level that extends south from the basilica. While analysis of ceramics from areas of such relatively undifferentiated contexts has not always been the rule on archaeological project, recently decades have shown how the study of material in these fills levels can produce high-resolution snap shots of the certain components of a communities material culture.

R09FillNote the “Rubble Layer” in the scarp drawing

As we looked at the pottery from these levels we began to think about how to approach assemblages of ceramic artifacts produced by activities completely unrelated to the original to the original purposes of the objects. The artifacts present in the leveling and construction fills, for example, represent past activities at the site, habits of discard, and construction practices. They also provide chronological “type fossils” that allow us to date architectural features associated with the levels. 

Gavin Lucas in his new book, Understanding the Archaeological Record, puts it nicely:

“If we think about the archaeological record in terms of the residuals of assemblages, we must consider such residues as possessing the memory of the assemblage itself, insofar as the organization of the residue captures, however faintly, the organization of the parent. It is the residue of this organization that is being sought, not simply the elements or objects which were part of it.” (p. 211).

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve worked out way through the material in the fills that extend south from the basilica and have paid particular attention to the very common Cypriot fine ware (or table ware) called Cypriot Red Slip as well as contemporary imported pottery (see my post yesterday for more on this). Our intent is to analyze the residual ceramics in these fills much like we’d interpret survey data. In fact, we intend to compare the assemblage produced by this fill with assemblages from both similar contexts (especially those associated with the nearly contemporary basilicas at the site of Kalavassos-Kopetra) as well as the results of survey work in the larger Paphos and Polis area.

Our goal is to be able to speak to and from the architecture as well as the assemblage in our analysis of activity in the area of EF2 at Polis.

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