A Bridge

June 25, 2014 § Leave a comment

This is mainly to start a blog post with the line that I want you use at the beginning of an important article:

“The study of Ottoman bridges in the Western Argolid remains in its infancy. The goal of this brief article is to bring attention to a small, but important body of Ottoman bridge work in this region.”

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This lovely arch spanned a small ravine and carried a switchback kalderimi road down a low saddle to the village of Lyrkeia and our survey area. The stone work is lovely consisting of local grey limestone faces with smaller stones used as chinking. The arch itself is made of thinner stones arranged carefully with a substantial quantity of pebbly white mortar.

The road that leads to this bridge runs on its own carefully wrought terrace through olive groves. The is evidence that the bedrock had been cut back to let the road pass more easily. The bedrock was close enough to the surface to allow it serve as paving for part of the route, and it probably made this particular field appealing for use as a road (and less than appealing for agriculture!).

Sometimes a Cave 2

June 24, 2014 § Leave a comment

Last week I posted about how sometimes a cave is just a cave.

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This week, I can post that sometimes a cave is a super cool cistern from the modern period with a great view and an opportunity to practice my field drawing skills.

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Sorry to miss posting for a few days, my usually reliable MacBook Air is on the blink, so I’m slumming in PC land.

Photo Friday on the Western Argolid Regional Project

June 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

After another week of the Western Argolid Regional Project, I’m once again prompted to ask whether this is over yet. This isn’t to suggest that I’m not having fun, but to say that this has already been a long field season!

But we’re hard at work. As you can see, Scott Gallimore, one of the directors, is hard at work documenting the upper reaches of our survey area on Mt. Braimi south of Lyrkeia.

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This one is from one of our team leaders, Machal Gradoz. Her field team is lined up in a field of wheat:

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A selfie of myself in the reflection of water in a cistern: 

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Red fruit crates in a green apricot grove:

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A less welcoming sign hanging from an olive tree:

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The Argive Heraion is one of the top three sites in Greece for the clarity of the archaeological remains, the archaeological (and political) questions it has inspired, and, above all, the view:

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Dawn on the way to the survey area. It almost makes that 5 am alarm sound sweet:

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The walk to dinner last night:

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My after dinner constitutional:

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Three Thoughts from the Western Argolid Regional Project

June 19, 2014 § Leave a comment

I know it’s cliche, but archaeology provides a good context for thinking. Over the last few weeks, I’ve gotten some good thinking done. In fact, my colleagues, The Directors of the project, have been extremely patient interlocutors this summer. I am convinced that an important part of archaeology remains the close and continuous intellectual and social contact between participants. In fact, I write about that very thing in the context of digital archaeological practice here.

Since it’s the middle of the middle week of the survey season on the Western Argolid Regional Project, and thanks to “a non-serious, fatigue-related, incident”, I’ve been stranded in my lux-u-ary apartment for the last two day, I’ve scrawled down a few thoughts about a few things:

1. Team Leaders. One of my arguments in favor of a return to a “slow archaeology” is that we have created an increasingly atomic view of the archaeological process. Our dependence on forms, digital data collection, and methodology to produce archaeological knowledge has inhibited our ability as archaeologists to understand and represent the complex interrelationships between objects, context, architecture, and landscape. In short, our tendency to parse archaeological knowledge ever more finely in the field has created a practice that runs counter to the integrative goals of the discipline. 

My fear is that archaeologists no long have a complete grasp of the archaeological universe, but only their little part of it. Our graduate student team leaders this summer have undermined my argument by demonstrating the ability to move fairly easily from the detailed documentation of a unit to the more expansive view of the landscape necessary for mapping units. Moreover, these team leaders not only have field experience, but also have experience with GIS and databases. Their training has prepared them to do more than simply collect data carefully in the field, but also to analyze it using the increasingly robust tools available to archaeologists. This shift in training is remarkable and suggests that the computer lab has become as much a place of analysis as the field.

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2. Internet Objects. One of my favorite finds so far this season was a very modern, mould-made, ceramic roof tile with the website of the manufacturer’s on it. Since it is not permitted to publish a possibly ancient artifact in a digital format prior to the end of the season, I can’t show you the artifact here, but I can offer a link to its digital object which has already been published. (Director’s Note: Actually Bill could show it, if he had a photo because it’s not an antiquity.) It is easy, then, to go and check out the location of production, the specifications of the tile, and even the cost. More interesting than that: the tile is a physical icon for a virtual object. This relationship between the tile and the website, however, is only temporary. When the website disappears, changes location, or is updated, the link between the particular tile and the virtual object is changed or broken.

 There is significant talk these days about the internet of things where physical objects and virtual objects exist side-by-side. The roof tile might be one of the humblest examples of these interconnections, but one that nevertheless demonstrates the archaeological complexities of the internet as a mediating entity between objects separated by vast distances and connected by unstable, mutable links.

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3. Performing Archaeology and the Rhetoric of Fieldwork. We’ve had some interesting conversations at the dinner table and in the field about how archaeological field work employs performative positions grounded in traditions of masculinity. The “work hard, play hard” attitude, for example, which characterized an earlier, almost pre-professional model of archaeological field work clearly drew upon premodern labor practices. Experience in the field produced through apprenticeships to senior archaeologists counted as much as training and the ability to conform to social expectations of field practice.

There is a need to perform field work in such a way that conforms to social expectations that exist outside of formal methodological assumptions. For example, despite almost a half century of discussions of archaeological sampling and the limits to archaeological definitions of space and the landscape, there continues to be pressure for full coverage survey and grueling excavation schedules that produce more data than will ever be published in a project director’s lifetime. The “mo’ fieldwork, mo’ knowledge” paradigm holds its appeal to archaeologists, in part, because the discipline remains ambivalent toward modern practices even as it embraces technology and “scientific” practices in the field.

 So at the same time that the discipline is modernizing field practices and defining the landscape or trench as a series of tick boxes, numbers, and fields on a form, archaeology continues to have this patina of premodern practices that rely a largely hidden set of social expectations about doing archaeology “the right way”. It should come as little surprise that an “old boys club” are responsible for much of this unwritten pressure that still shapes certain aspects of the discipline. I have a longer post of this in the slow cooker where I try to work out some of the issues, but I think I need a few more conversations with my conspirators here on WARP to get the argument worked out.

Three Thoughts from the Western Argolid Regional Project

June 19, 2014 § 1 Comment

I know it’s cliche, but archaeology provides a good context for thinking. Over the last few weeks, I’ve gotten some good thinking done.

Since it’s the middle of the middle week of the survey season on the Western Argolid Regional Project, and thanks to “a non-serious, fatigue-related, incident”, I’ve been stranded in my lux-u-ary apartment for the last two day, I’ve scrawled down a few thoughts about a few things:

1. Team Leaders. One of my arguments in favor of a return to a “slow archaeology” is that we have created an increasingly atomic view of the archaeological process. Our dependence on forms, digital data collection, and methodology to produce archaeological knowledge has inhibited our ability as archaeologists to understand and represent the complex interrelationships between objects, context, architecture, and landscape. In short, our tendency to parse archaeological knowledge ever more finely in the field has created a practice that runs counter to the integrative goals of the discipline. 

My fear is that archaeologists no long have a complete grasp of the archaeological universe, but only their little part of it. Our graduate student team leaders this summer have undermined my argument by demonstrating the ability to move fairly easily from the detailed documentation of a unit to the more expansive view of the landscape necessary for mapping units. Moreover, these team leaders not only have field experience, but also have experience with GIS and databases. Their training has prepared them to do more than simply collect data carefully in the field, but also to analyze it using the increasingly robust tools available to archaeologists. This shift in training is remarkable and suggests that the computer lab has become as much a place of analysis as the field.

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2. Internet Objects. One of my favorite finds so far this season was a very modern, mould-made, ceramic roof tile with the website of the manufacturer’s on it. Since it is not permitted to publish a possibly ancient artifact in a digital format prior to the end of the season, I can’t show you the artifact here, but I can offer a link to its digital object which has already been published. (Director’s Note: Actually Bill could show it, if he had a photo because it’s not an antiquity.) It is easy, then, to go and check out the location of production, the specifications of the tile, and even the cost. More interesting than that: the tile is a physical icon for a virtual object. This relationship between the tile and the website, however, is only temporary. When the website disappears, changes location, or is updated, the link between the particular tile and the virtual object is changed or broken.

 There is significant talk these days about the internet of things where physical objects and virtual objects exist side-by-side. The roof tile might be one of the humblest examples of these interconnections, but one that nevertheless demonstrates the archaeological complexities of the internet as a mediating entity between objects separated by vast distances and connected by unstable, mutable links.

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3. Performing Archaeology and the Rhetoric of Fieldwork. We’ve had some interesting conversations at the dinner table and in the field about how archaeological field work employs performative positions grounded in traditions of masculinity. The “work hard, play hard” attitude, for example, which characterized an earlier, almost pre-professional model of archaeological field work clearly drew upon premodern labor practices. Experience in the field produced through apprenticeships to senior archaeologists counted as much as training and the ability to conform to social expectations of field practice.

The need to perform field work in such a way that conforms to social expectations that exist outside of formal methodological assumptions. For example, despite almost a half century of discussions of archaeological sampling and the limits to archaeological definitions of space and the landscape, there continues to be pressure for full coverage survey and grueling excavation schedules that produce more data than will ever be published in a project director’s lifetime. The “mo’ fieldwork, mo’ knowledge” paradigm holds its appeal to archaeologists, in part, because the discipline remains ambivalent toward modern practices even as it embraces technology and “scientific” practices in the field.

 So at the same time that the discipline is modernizing field practices and defining the landscape or trench as a series of tick boxes, numbers, and fields on a form, archaeology continues to have this patina of premodern practices that rely a largely hidden set of social expectations about doing archaeology “the right way”. It should come as little surprise that an “old boys club” are responsible for much of this unwritten pressure that still shapes certain aspects of the discipline. I have a longer post of this in the slow cooker where I try to work out some of the issues, but I think I need a few more conversations with my conspirators here on WARP to get the argument worked out.

Photo Friday on the Western Argolid Regional Project

June 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

It’s the end of the first full week of WARP, and I am glad we only have a few more days of field work left this season. 

So I stepped up my efforts for photo Friday in celebration of our vigorous activities.

First, I’ve been trying to capture the “essence” of survey archaeology. For me and for most of our dedicated team of field walkers, intensive pedestrian survey means forms and maps:

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The look is familiar to most survey archaeologists. The head is inclined over a form:

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I have also been trying to capture the range of things that Greek farmers hang from trees:

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Finally, I’ve been working on some photographs of fields that convey the range of different textures and soils encountered in a field day:

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From Atari to the Argos: Mediterranean and Modern Archaeology at UND

June 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Last month, I was prompted to write a little press statement for office of university relations at the University of North Dakota. It appeared on UND’s home page today with a little story. What made this even cooler was that my story appeared at the same time as the announcements that a paper by one of our undergraduate’s, Joe Kalka’s, had won the Merrifield Prize.

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It’s always interesting to see how the office of university relations changes my text. Here’s the original:

Less than a month after excavating the famous Atari burial ground in Alamogordo, New Mexico, Bill Caraher traveled to the small sea-side village of Myloi, in the region of Argos, Greece to start his newest field project. The Western Argolid Regional Project is a collaboration between scholars at the University of Colorado, University of Toronto, and Wilfred Laurier University to study the archaeology of settlement and movement in a valley in the rural Greece. Caraher was invited to participate in this project as a specialist in Mediterranean archaeological survey, Geographic Information Systems, and data management.

The work in Greece is very different from his punk archaeology adventures in the New Mexico desert where he encountered a media circus surrounding the well-publicized excavation of thousands of Atari game cartridges from a landfill. The three-day dig in New Mexico attracted international media attention and even earned mention in the Grand Forks Herald.

“Being part of the team supervising and documenting the Atari dig in New Mexico was great. It gave me more first hand experience working in late-20th century archaeological contexts. This is work at the fringes of the traditional disciplinary definitions of archaeology which has tended to privilege the ancient or at least ‘really old’ artifacts.

“The Atari dig, however, can speak to us a in a very immediate way about how we live today. The rapid pace of change in contemporary world propels objects from being things we can’t live without to things that we cast aside, want hidden away from us and buried in a landfill. Archaeologists tend to study things that were, for whatever reason, cast aside, but with the Atari dig we had a chance to witness and participate in the rapid cycling of culture where something as common and popular as Atari games is desired, discarded, and, then, excavated as cultural, and historical artifact. So for us, the process of discard and discovery creates a cultural artifact, and the interest of the Smithsonian in some of the excavated games confirms the enduring importance of what we did and what it produced.”

His work in the Argolid, Greece is more consistent with what we imagine as traditional archaeological practice. The field project will focus on a valley that connected to prominent regions of the ancient world. Caraher will help manage the archaeological data both in the field and in the digital realm. He will draw upon over a decade of running his own projects on the island of Cyprus:

“Unlike the Atari dig where we basically has to combat the idea that what we were doing wasn’t archaeology because the objects and processes that we studied were so recent, work in Greece has to challenge the idea that the seemingly remote and picturesque Greek landscape has never been modern. In fact, the valley we’re studying has been a significant thoroughfare for thousands of years including today where Greece’s most modern highway runs along its north slopes. This should lead us to see the valley as unchanging over time, but to push us to understand how this region functioned in different economy regimes, political powers, social and religious systems over time. So to put it another way: by saying that the ancient is so similar to the modern, we’re observing not that the rural world of modern Greece is somehow static, but rather that we have every reason to assume that rural Greece in antiquity was every bit as dynamic as our modern age. The ceramics scattered across the surface of the ground are antiquity’s Atari cartridges and can tell us about how people lived and worked in the Classical, Hellenistic, Roman, or Medieval periods.”

The progress of the Punk Archaeology movement, his work on Greece and Cyprus, in the digital world, and all sorts of other stuff appears almost daily on his blog:

His work this summer can be followed on the hashtag #WestARP on the Twitters.

Sometimes a Cave is Just a Cave

June 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

This past week, I went on a little hike up the side of a hill to look at a cave situated to the west of a high saddle in the mountains that bound the south of our survey area in the Western Argolid. The cave, of course, was natural and was probably used at some point as a shelter for local shepherds, their flocks, and their dogs (judging by the remains). 

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The high saddle and pass associated with it probably did not serve as a high traffic route even for shepherds taking their flocks to the mandres in the surrounding uplands. The route is too steep. 

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The walk itself, though, was worth it. It took me up through dense maquis beyond the highest and now neglected terraces to areas frequented by goats. The slopes of the valley were quiet except for the wind and an annoyed hawk floating in the updrafts.

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The survey teams disappeared into olive groves, terraces, and fields of wild oats.

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The trip down, of course, is always a bit more challenging then the trip up the hill. On the way up, there are certain economies of effort that lead to calculated decisions in how to ascend a hill. You tend to scrutinize the possible routes because the cost in ascending the wrong way is substantial and immediate.

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Descending is another matter. I find that I tend to chose my paths more impulsively and get stuck moving carefully over steep rocks, entangled in impenetrable barriers, and negotiating sprawls of scree. 

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It was a pretty exhausting hike, but we now have a set of notes on the hill, the cave, and the route up to the high saddle.

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We’re off to the region around Lake Stymphalia and the lovely Cistercian Abbey  of Zaraka today since it’s Pentecost and everything is closed. Look for updates on this trip and some other #WestARP adventures tomorrow.

Photo Friday: The First Week in the Western Argolid

June 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

We started fieldwork this week on the Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP) and so it is only natural that I share some photographs of our time in the field.

I really like the valley-edge view of our survey area particularly the bands of olive trees on the sides of the valley above the village of Lyrkeia in the distance.

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This is the view from where we generally eat dinner. The hill of the Palamidi outside of Nafplio is in the distance under the large cloud. It’s a great view, but generally we’re too tired to enjoy it much.

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I’ve been trying to get a photo of the teams working in the field that shows the paperwork side of things. This is my best so far:

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The project directors, Dimitri Nakassis and Sarah James, have their dog with them in the field on most days. The dog is cute and named Holly. This is my best picture of the dog so far:

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Survey Units are Unique Like Snowflakes

June 4, 2014 § 1 Comment

I had a mini database meltdown on the first day of field work and data entry. The specific problem with the database mostly involved how we were using it (and the limits on the particular tool we chose to use), but it highlighted the relationship between the unit as space and the unit as a procedural unit in intensive pedestrian survey. To put this another way, we can only walk the same unit once, and we are thinking about how to make our database reflect this.

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We began the process of creating new unique number for each field by creating a value that reflected the space of the survey (keyed to a polygon in our GIS) and the procedure we used to walk the unit. We identified four procedures: standard survey, grab samples, resurvey, or unsurveyed (used to describe, for example, a fenced area or a unit that is too close to the edge of a sheer cliff). 

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As I thought about this unique identifier for each unit in our database (and in our analysis), I got to wonder whether we need to refine this identification of a unit more. For example, there is the slim possibility that we could resurvey a unit more than once. So perhaps we should use as our unique identifier the space of the unit, the procedure, and the team leader. After all, this would allow us to distinguish as unique, different engagements with the unit led by different individuals. Even this might not be enough. If we’ve learned anything from Big Al Ammerman, it’s that you can never walk the same survey unit twice. Maybe we need to make the unique identifier the unit number, procedure, team leader, and date. 

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This is all a good bit to think about on the first day in the field, especially when it was damp, overcast, and muddy. Maybe it was being out in the field, however, and away from the blue light of the computer screen that prompted me to think about how we imagine space. It could also be that I managed to help to screw up mapping a few units as I got my survey legs back. Nothing like real fields in a changing landscape to shade my understanding digital contexts.

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