September 26, 2014 § 2 Comments
It is supposed to be 85 degrees here in Grand Forks today, so the early fall warm spell continues to linger over the region. In fact, it’ll be so warm today that I’ll likely abandon my house-top office and decent to the lower floors in search of cool air.
This morning, though, my office has captured just enough of the overnight chill to be comfortable. So, before the sun comes up and chases me below, I’ll get to a little list of quick hits and varia.
- Some Google Glass videos of the South Stoa Mosaic Restoration in Corinth.
- Stolen and recovered Italian antiquities on show in Delaware.
- Digital challenges facing the Hellenic Ministry of Culture.
- Andrew Reinhard’s Ph.D. proposal for the University of York focusing on the intersection of video games and archaeology.
- More about Alexis Zoumbas from The Paris Review (by Chris King) and from the New York Times Magazine by Amanda Petrusich. Who drew the short straw?
- Some photos of Iraq then and now.
- Medieval is the new black.
- Raiders of the Lost Ark in black and white and without sound.
- Marilyn Hagerty reviews Applebee’s.
- Robin Lane Fox, noted ancient historian, on plant hunters.
- The Big Ben of skateboarding.
- Maybe we shouldn’t ban laptops from the classroom.
- What I’m reading: Federal Writers’ Project, North Dakota: A Guide to Northern Prairie State. 1938.
- What I’m listening to: Aphex Twin, Syro; The Velvet Underground and Nico; Nick Drake, Pink Moon.
September 25, 2014 § 1 Comment
My first month of sabbatical is behind me, and I have a few notes to share about how I’m adapting to it. To be clear, I feel very fortunate to have this time away from teaching and service responsibilities, and I am not suggesting that my workflow or practices reflect a universal experience with sabbatical. And I certainly hope that my comments don’t sound unappreciative of the opportunity to take time to focus on research and out of classroom activities for a year. On this blog, however, I’ve long maintained a thread related to my personal workflow, and the comments below relate to that rather than represent some universal critique of the sabbatical practice.
Last spring, I blogged about how I planned not to waste my sabbatical. Here are my notes so far:
1. Space and Place for Work. This year my office on campus is being used by my replacement so I don’t have access to my usual workspace. Fortunately, my lovely home has an office space that serves just fine for my purposes. I have windows, plenty of desk space, a decent stereo, and a table for piling books and paper in no particular order. What my home office lacks is opportunities to interact with my colleagues and students.
While I understand that it is popular to see these interactions as “distractions” and “interruptions,” my time on sabbatical so far has convinced me otherwise. In fact, I have to say that I am understanding far better recent office design trends that emphasize common space at the expense of the isolated office. One of my greatest challenges so far this year is the lack of opportunities to interact on a daily basis with my colleagues and students.
2. Priorities. I am not someone who works better under pressure. If I don’t have a paper completed at least a week before I deliver it, I slip into unproductive panic mode. As a result, I schedule my productive time very deliberately. During the academic year, I know that I have 35 hours of productive research and writing time each week usually distributed over three, ten-hour days during the week and usually about five hours over the weekends. The other 30 hours per week are dedicated to teaching and service responsibilities. I’ve tracked that using the clever Reporter app for iPhone.
What I didn’t realize is that those 30 hours of teaching, grading, and meeting are the key to my week. By limiting the hours I turn over to research and writing, they force me to prioritize my days. Right now, I am struggling to structure my days in a rational way because I have no pressures requiring me to evaluate and organize my research responsibilities. More time to work has not made me less productive, I’m writing and reading more than ever, but it has made my work less clearly directed toward a goal.
3. Taking Breaks. Without the regular interruptions provided by students and colleagues (not to mention that my wife worked in the same building!), I have to force myself to take breaks or risk running out of energy and concentration before the middle of the week. Fortunately, we have a dog that becomes quite insistent on going for walks about 11 am every day. A walk through the neighborhood and a trip to our fantastically depressing dog park usually clears my mind enough to promote a productive afternoon.
4. Shiny Objects. One thing that I’m struggling to figure out is whether I should allow myself the freedom to chase what one colleague has called “shiny objects.” I’ve spend a little over a week on the Tourist Guide to the Bakken, which is a fun project, but it was clearly not part of my pre-sabbatical agenda. In fact, it originated while I was taking a little break on a Wednesday afternoon and since then it has become a 12,000 word manuscript. It’s been a fun project that has allowed me to bring together lots of odds and ends from my time in the Bakken, but at some point it will impinge on my existing projects. Without the pressure of classes, the schedule of the semester, and the regular drain of meetings, I hope I can make the right decision and manage balance the appeal of new projects against the time and energy I’ve invested into existing projects.
September 24, 2014 § 2 Comments
The title of this blog is blatant click bait, but I do want to talk about the Bakken and my current project. I spent most of the last five days putting fingers to the keyboard and trying to finish a draft of my Tourist Guide to the Bakken. My primary intent was to create a basic, descriptive itinerary focused on a series of routes through the oil patch.
Here are the routes:
Route 1: Minot to Ross
Route 1a: White Earth
Route 2: Ross to Tioga
Route 3: Tioga to Williston
Route 3a: Wheelock
Route 3b: Wildrose and Crosby
Route 4: Williston to Watford City
Route 5: Watford City to New Town
I’ve also worked on a basic introduction to the Bakken and to the concept of industrial tourism. For the former, I provide a brief history of the industrial landscape in Williams and McKenzie counties arguing that the arrival of the railroad in the first decades of the 20th century initiated a period of booms and busts that continue to this day. This seeks to put to bed the idea that western North Dakota was some kind of pristine prairie and replace it with the idea that industrial practices fundamentally shaped the post-statehood landscape of this region. I then briefly discuss the impacts of the 1951-1959 and 1978-1985 oil booms on settlement and population in the region. I also made this nice chart based on state data for spud dates:
The first, and rather rough draft of the introduction also worked through the concept of industrial tourism. I locate it at the intersection of three trends (1) industrial archaeology, (2) the reuse and preservation of industrial monuments, and (3) “urban” exploring and abandonment porn.
The Society for Industrial Archaeology has worked to elevate the standing of industrial monuments in the eyes of archaeologists and the public. Some of the growing appreciation for industrial past stems from more and more industrial sites crossing the informal 50 years barrier to become eligible for official heritage recognition or enrollment in the National Register of Historic Places. The increased number of industrial sites requiring archaeological assessment before redevelopment has accelerated development of the fields of historical archaeology (or archaeology of the contemporary world).
Both the recognition of an industrial past as part of a shared history and the monumental scale of certain kinds of industrial buildings (train stations, factories, warehouses, et c.) has led to the redevelopment of these spaces in ways that commemorate historical industries. Cities now have warehouse districts, science centers in refitted factories, and museums in neoclassical train stations. At the same time, still function industrial sites like the Hoover Dam continue to attract hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, and many factories continue to offer occasional tours to the curious public.
Finally, the interest in abandonment porn, urban exploring, and “infiltration” has a clear industrial focus. Sites like the Packard Plant in Detroit and the Belle Isle Power Station outside Richmond, Virginia have become famous with urban explorers who trespass and take risks to photograph and document the recent industrial past. Many of the photographs seek to capture the failed grandeur of these buildings as either romantic commentaries or as ironic gestures.
As the West moves toward a post-industrial future, the industrial past and present become opportunities for critical reflection on a set of values that simultaneous celebrates the achievements and even virtues of industry at the same we push it out of sight and mind into the third or (ironically termed) “developing” world. The concept of the developing world serves as a useful reminder that historicizing an industrial past implies a path to a present development that we export as freely as industry itself.
So, my Tourist Guide to the Bakken seeks to focus attention on the diminishing historical present by approaching it through the eyes of the tourist. It’ll ask the question (always tacitly) whether our industrial present justifies arguments grounded in an industrial past by superimposing the two. What kind of future do we see in the rapidly vanishing present?
I hope to have a draft of the tourist guide ready by October 4th and to ground truth it over a few days then.
Oh, and I guess I do owe everyone baited to clicking on this link a list of the seven wonders of the Bakken Oil Patch. Williston might be a bit overrepresented, but this list is provisional and I more than open to any suggestions!
1. Hess Gas Plant – Tioga.
2. Indoor RV park at Watford City.
3. The Bakken Buffet
4. Target Logistics Williston Compound (Williston North Lodge, Bearpaw Lodge, Williston Cabins)
5. Whispers Gentleman’s Club – Williston
6. Williston Foxrun RV park
7. Williston Walmart
September 23, 2014 § 1 Comment
As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I’m not much of a book writing person. Most of my ideas can be most profitably explored at about 10,000 words. Every now and then, I figure out some idea or concept or gimmick that deserves more words, and over the next month or so, two of those ideas will appear in book forms. Of course, none of this would be even remotely possible without the collaboration of coauthors, editors, and colleagues.
One of the most fun parts about getting a book together (you know, more fun than page proofs or sorting out that one last figure that requires attention!) is writing and receiving little blurbs that are used for marketing new books.
My coauthors and I wrote the little blurb for Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town. American Schools of Oriental Research Archaeological Report Series Number 21:
Pyla-Koutsopetria I presents the results of an intensive pedestrian survey documenting the diachronic history of a 100 ha microregion along the southern coast of Cyprus. Located around 10 km from the ancient city of Kition, the ancient coastal settlements of the Koutsopetria mircoregion featured an Iron Age sanctuary, a Classical settlement, a Hellenistic fortification, a Late Roman town, and a Venetian-Ottoman coastal battery situated adjacent to a now infilled, natural harbor on Larnaka Bay. This publication integrates a comprehensive treatment of methods with a discussion of artifact distribution, a thorough catalogue of finds, and a diachronic history to shed light on one of the few undeveloped stretches of the Cypriot coast.
I’m also on the verge of releasing my first book as publisher: Punk Archaeology.
The process has been a bit slower than expected, but I invited some sympathetic voices to provide some short perspectives on the book.
The first is from Brett Ommen, hobo academic:
The <Punk> of Punk Archeology exists as acipher, an empty signifier. The value of this volume lies in its commitment to variously loading <punk> with meaning based on the epistemic uncertainties that mark human civilization and its study. This volume traverses the supposed rules of theory and praxis, of art and science, of conservation and change, of information and meaning by way of the unruly <punk>. <punk> helps these authors locate their work and our world, not because it functions as a particular concept but instead because it refuses any particular mode of divination. As such, Punk Archaeology offers all academic fields a lesson for utilizing the anarchy of the cipher to negotiate the perils of disciplinary rigidity.
The second is from photographer, geek, and author Kyle Cassidy:
Archaeologists are at home in the dirt. They start the season respectably enough, in khaki’s and sensible shoes, but after four weeks of living in a tent and sifting rocks for bits of bone all day they’ve stopped shaving (if they ever did to begin with), possibly eschewed grooming altogether and no longer resemble anything you’d expect to see in the front of a classroom. When an archaeologist needs to get a wheelbarrow of backfill across a trench, they build a bridge out of whatever’s lying around; they do it this way because they’re in the middle of nowhere and they know the swiftest way between point A and point B is to do it yourself; because the coyotes aren’t going to do it for you and the board of trustees isn’t going to do it for you. This DIY attitude is how they manage to transport & house two faculty members and five grad students in Syria for three months for less than one lab in the med school’s spent on glassware during the same time period.
Archaeologists rely on themselves because they have to. They are the cassette tapes of academics; played through one speaker, loudly, and full of passion, blasting a song that so many people can’t understand the words to, but are moved by experiencing. Punk Archaeology is filled with this music: In Richard Rothaus’ “Punk Archaeoseismology”, scientists try to understand the destruction of a town 1,600 years ago by racing to Güllük, Turkey the day that it sinks into the sea, killing every single inhabitant, during a terrible earthquake. It is as personal and visceral as any Xeroxed Zine because it is ultimately about science poured from the crucible of very personal chaos. Colleen Morgan’s account of continually explaining her tattoos to workers is an explanation for everyone in the sacrifices we all make to identify our tribe. Kostis Kourelis’ singling out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s unheralded place in the creation of Punk and New Wave reminds us of Philadelphia, Turkey and it’s likewise mostly forgotten place in Byzantine history — archaeologists know better than most anyone else that kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall and the small things that are meaningful to us now won’t even be footnotes in eighteen hundred years unless someone tracks them down.
This book is about archaeology, and more than that, it’s about music, but when you peel back all the power chords, the distorted guitars, the sweat, the frenetic drums, Ramone’s stickers and the cheap beer, most of all, this book is about trying to fit broken pieces together to make sense of a world in which you are constantly reminded that everybody dies in the end, because you’re looking at veritable mountains made up of their triumphs, their failures, and their very bones.
September 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
Ok. I admit that it wasn’t exactly a pallet plant since the company no longer manufactures pallets there, but pallet plant is alliterative (in the most crass way) so more suitable than “a visit to a pallet redistribution facility.”
The guys at API Pallets here in Grand Forks were very generous with their time when even through Bret Weber and I encroached on their lunch break on a rainy Friday afternoon. They showed us around their facility and explained that pallets come in on trucks from “Canada” and are rated and then shipped out to clients throughout the region. They get a small quantity of pallets from local merchants, like the local pasta plant, but most of their inventory comes from other distribution centers. Their biggest client is a logistics firm in Casselton, ND situated on an important transportation corridor for rail and truck traffic through the northern plains.
As for the pallets themselves, we learned that API rates pallets with three grades. A1 pallets are clean, have no splinting or splitting, and have evenly spaced deck boards. One of the most interesting moments involved the guy using his fist to demonstrate the ideal width between deck boards. I’ll return to this. B1 and B2 pallets have light damage or have repairs. Irregularly spaced deck boards, the insertion of blocks to support broken stringers, or obvious splitting and splintering throughout leads to lower ratings. The difference in price between an A1 and B1/2 pallet is about $3. They do repair pallets to raise them to either A1 grade or B1/2 grade on site.
One thing Bret and I began to think about it the way in which the size of a pallet (48 x 40 inches) has impacted life in the Bakken (and elsewhere). For example, modular housing units like the most common in the Bakken are designed to move by rail or truck. Pallets, of course, are designed to fit inside containers, semi trailers, and rail cars and move about the country carrying standardized loads. The existence of this regular unit of measure and the tendency in the Bakken to use this scale to organize human activities, whether it is life or work, provides a highly visible means of standardizing the space of human activities.
It was heartening, then, to see the guy at the pallet plant use his fist to measure the distance between the deck boards. This gesture returned the pallet to the human scale.
The guys there also commented on the various stamps added to pallets to mark them as being used at a particular farm or factory. Since the pallet pool is an open pool, meaning that whoever possessed the pallets had the right to resell them, these stamps were meant to mark out simply one stage in the pallet’s life and to manipulate the standardized form of the object without compromising its functionality.
Finally, our reuse of pallets is important because it defies the functional expectations of these objects and reshapes them to our human existence rather than the opposite.
September 19, 2014 § Leave a comment
We may have one more day of summer today with temperatures set to reach a balmy 86 degrees here in North Dakotaland. Do society a favor and don’t call it an “Indian Summer” or “Altweibersommer.” I’m just going to call it a warm day in late September. And, don’t worry, Grand Forks will be back to its sleepy, bucolic fall decline by the end of next week.
In the meantime, when you’re not enjoying the warm days and the gentle patter of a late summer rain, please do enjoy these quick hits and varia.
- Some old photographs from the Athenian Agora.
- A stolen icon from Cyprus appears in Switzerland.
- The digital Loeb is go.
- Go and read Scott Gallimore’s and Shawn Graham’s great posts on craft in archaeology.
- Digital Roman Forum.
- Bargain basement prices on Hesperia!
- The original Pride of Amphipolis and I can’t help but be tickled by this.
- Eric Foner’s Civil War MOOC is free from Columbia.
- A requiem for the iPod Classic.
- The death of adulthood (just before I felt like I was there too!).
- Scot Hull has redesigned Parttime Audiophile. I’m not sure that I love it.
- What I’m reading: M. Dixon, Late Classical and Hellenistic Corinth: 338-196 BC. Blackwell 2014.
- What I’m listening to: Duke Ellington, Ellington at Newport 1956.
I can groove to Duke.
September 18, 2014 § Leave a comment
This is the second installment in a series of blog posts focusing on craft in archaeology. Here’s a link to the call for submissions. The posts will explore craft in archaeology from the perspective of field practices, analytical and interpretative frameworks, and social impacts on the discipline. The posts will appear every Thursday for as long as we get contributions and compiled into a e-book by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota.
Scott Gallimore, Wilfrid Laurier University
The idea of archaeology as craft is intriguing. Archaeology is a discipline which combines a number of elements from the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. We ‘borrow’ methodologies perhaps more so than any other field, combining them to form a coherent body of theory and method. Archaeology is not standardized across the world, however, and a number of sub-fields exist, divided by geographical and chronological boundaries. Classical Archaeology is interesting to consider in the context of craft, given its strong historical connections to art history and antiquarianism. Scientific perspectives, such as New Archaeology, have not had as strong an influence on classicists as in other areas of archaeology. How does this affect our view of Classical Archaeology as a craft?
This post will focus on one aspect of Classical Archaeology as craft: the analysis of pottery. Ceramic specialists are an important component of any project, often dealing with the most robust and copious body of material collected. In many ways, pottery analysis adheres strongly to ideas of craft as they are espoused in the article by Shanks and McGuire (1996). Consideration of the use of an apprentice structure for training specialists, the increasing integration of technology, and the place of pottery specialists within the hierarchy of archaeology, for instance, sheds light on this issue. The analysis of pottery in its present form arose out of nineteenth century methodologies and, in many ways, adheres to this structure. It is not stagnant, however, and is a craft that continues to evolve. The discussion below will hopefully show the benefits and difficulties with this evolution.
An Apprentice Structure
Since the formalization of Classical Archaeology as a discipline, the training of scholars to become specialists in the analysis of particular materials has followed an apprentice system. Pottery analysis, for example, relies on passing knowledge from experienced to non-experienced scholars. This adheres to the ‘traditional scheme of archaeological fieldwork’ according to Shanks and McGuire (1996: 84). Labs often have one or two trained specialists who are assisted by students. The students gain experience working with the ‘masters’ and in some cases may even become specialists themselves.
Shanks and McGuire note that the alternative to the apprentice structure, the factory model, has developed mainly within the jurisdiction of contract and rescue archaeology (1996: 84). The apprentice structure, which promotes the training of students as one of its primary goals, is not as effective in the context of Culture Resource Management. Instead, hiring pre-trained students who can then be assigned to various tasks which in combination bring about an efficient completion to a project is preferable. Proponents of this model within the academy tend to be associated with the New Archaeology, with its greater emphasis of scientific approaches to the discipline.
For Mediterranean archaeology, is a factory model feasible? The primary goal of this model is to increase efficiency by standardizing the methodology and dividing tasks across a series of workers. It favors a top-down structure where the project director or directors would be the only ones familiar with every aspect of the work. To one extent, some aspects of this model already exist within our own field. I am likely not alone in sometimes feeling separated from many components of a project by spending most days in a lab. There is a disconnect that arises from focusing on a specific set of data collected by a project. On most projects in the Mediterranean, however, it is unlikely that many individuals have a command of every task being completed. Directors often spend most of their time in the field or in the lab and may not be familiar with the other. Most directors do not view themselves as CEOs of project who require oversight into every minute detail. Thus, even though pottery specialists may feel marginalized at times, we are not alone in this feeling.
Pottery analysts are also moving toward a greater degree of standardization. This is particularly true for the study of fabric, as noted below, and is apparent in other ways, such as the use of distinct terminology. We can only push this so far, however. For decades, pottery analysis was not a standardized field and the number of unique typologies and descriptive methodologies that arose makes almost any overarching standardization impossible. The study of Roman pottery has many of examples of this phenomenon. If we take amphorae, for instance, many of the most common vessel types encountered across the Mediterranean have a remarkable number of names. The Kapitän II, a third–fourth century A.D. wine container perhaps produced in or around Asia Minor, is also known as the Niederbieber 77, Peacock and Williams class 47, the Benghazi Middle Roman 7, the Zeest 79, the Kuzmanov 7, and the Hollow Foot Amphora. Trying to research a vessel type when it is part of so many different typologies can almost be an act of futility. It also suggests that no matter how much standardization is introduced into pottery analysis, there must also be flexibility to engage with these historical precedents and to train students in understanding the complex past of the discipline.
The history of pottery analysis in Mediterranean archaeology indicates that an apprentice system is still the best system for training individuals to study this material. Hands-on practical experience under the supervision of an experienced instructor is necessary both for learning about the standardized practices that are now in use and about the myriad variations to these practices that appear in older publications and that are still relevant to the field today.
Technology and Pottery Analysis
In his proposal for this blog series, Bill Caraher noted that one significant issue for understanding the role of craft in archaeology is the ever-increasing presence of technology. He asked whether the use of this technology could ‘…marginalize opportunities for engagements grounded in craft.’ Pottery analysis is not immune to the technological revolution. Consideration of how this affects ceramic specialists is lacking, however. One risk with engaging more with technology is that it will erode away traditional skill bases in favor of more efficient (but not necessarily more effective) methodologies. Assessment of the types of technology employed by pottery analysts, and their goals in doing so, suggests an opposing view. Use of technology may actually augment the skills we are required to possess since effective use of this equipment requires keen understanding of the material we are studying.
An example of the interaction between pottery specialists and technology can be found in the study of fabric. In the preface to their book Amphorae and the Roman Economy: An Introductory Guide, David Peacock and David Williams make the following comment:
Another feature of this book is the stress upon fabrics as well as forms, because we feel that a consideration of both facets is essential if amphorae are to be identified with the precision that now seems necessary in economic analysis. We make no apology for including details of the characteristics of fabrics as they appear in the hand specimen and under the microscope, for this aspect is all too often neglected (1986: xvii).
For a pottery specialist working in the Mediterranean today, the assertiveness of Peacock and Williams’ view toward including details about fabrics is surprising. Now it would be the scholar who does not engage in fabric analysis who would have to apologize and justify his or her position. The study of fabric has become an essential component of ceramic analysis and one that has been aided greatly by technological innovation.
A number of archaeometric methods, both chemical and mineralogical, have been brought to bear for analysis of fabrics. Petrography is the most ubiquitous. Developed originally as a tool for studying soil and stone, petrography has a long history in the study of archaeological ceramics. Anna O. Shepard was an early proponent during her work in the southwestern United States (1942). Petrography was also in use by Classical Archaeologists around the same time (e.g. Felts 1942). The technique was not widespread, however. It is only within the past two decades that Mediterranean pottery specialists have come to include petrography as a standard part of their analytical program. Much of this is owed to Peacock who promoted the advantages of petrographic analysis in much of his early scholarship (e.g. 1970: 379).
Petrography has several advantages over other archaeometric techniques. It is relatively inexpensive, for instance, which is an important consideration within the present climate of dwindling funding. The technique also provides a wider array of data about ceramics than most archaeometric methods, a detail noted by Peacock: ‘…the potential of petrology has been widely appreciated but recently other methods, more readily automated, seem to be favoured, even though the results may not have the same range of archaeological implications’ (1977: viii). In addition to providing information about the fabric that can lead to determinations of provenance, petrography can shed light on manufacturing processes, including the selection of raw materials, firing techniques, forming processes, and decoration (Peterson 2009: 2). More data is never a bad thing, which is perhaps why petrography has become so popular.
We must also consider Peacock’s comment about many of these techniques being automated. In other words, to what extent do pottery specialists actually engage with this technology? Petrography is again an interesting example since much of the analysis is done by trained petrographers and not by pottery specialists. We see the results of the study and incorporate them into our own analysis of the finds, but do not necessarily stare into the microscope on a regular basis. How does this affect our view of pottery as a craft? Is there a risk that archaeometric methods like petrography are beginning to replace the need for qualified specialists to examine ceramic assemblages? The answer to the latter question must be no. We can consider a scenario, for instance, where a ceramic assemblage is laid out with the intention of taking samples for petrographic analysis. A pottery specialist trained in analysing macroscopic qualities of fabric and shape is far more effective at selecting a representative sample of sherds from the pile. Moreover, the increased desire to use scientific techniques for studying pottery now requires pottery analysts to be much more vigilant in their study of the material. Detailed descriptions of fabric are now the norm in addition to careful division of the assemblage into known and unknown fabrics, with further subdivisions based on identified or suspected regions of production.
The need for more standardization and greater detail in fabric analysis is of great benefit to the discipline. One element of pottery studies that has always been frustrating is the poor quality of macroscopic fabric descriptions in much of the literature. They tend to relate vague overviews of color, inclusions, and texture. Comparing such descriptions to material under analysis or across different publications often proves disappointing. Efforts to develop standardized descriptions are helping to alleviate this and more and more publication of petrographic data and photographs of fabrics facilitate comparisons between sites and regions. Portable digital microscopes have also been helpful for improving the quality of fabric photographs in publications.
Concern that technology may erode the skills of individuals engaged in pottery analysis is not tenable. Even if pottery specialists do not engage with this technology directly, effective use of these methods prompts pottery specialists to improve their own descriptions and analyses of the material to ensure the best data possible is obtained by use of these techniques. Barring the invention of a Star Trek-like scanner that instantly provides all necessary details about a sherd, no amount of technology will replace the need for trained specialists to examine material by hand in a lab. Thus, the craft of pottery analysis should continue to exist in its present form for at least the near future.
A Field Divided
The use of technology may be beneficial to pottery analysis as a craft, but there are other issues to consider. One topic that appears several times within the article by Shanks and McGuire is the degree of hierarchy present within archaeology (1996: 82, 84). They observe that ‘we divide the practice of archaeology into those of us who manage and sit on committees, synthesize, generalize, and theorize and those of us who sort, dig, and identify’ (1996: 82). Pottery analysis would tend to fall into the latter category. Since the term ‘hierarchy’ has connotations of rank and status, a fact discussed explicitly by Shanks and McGuire, we must consider how this affects our view of pottery analysis as a craft.
At a basic level, there are three primary goals during the analysis of a ceramic assemblage. All relate to types of data that can be extracted from the material: chronology, function, economy. Pottery is the most important tool for dating in both excavation and survey. The make-up of an assemblage provides information about activities carried out at a site or within a specific structure and the origin of this material can shed light on economic patterns. Pottery specialists collect and organize this data. What happens afterward is where issues of hierarchy come into play.
Standard models of publication in Mediterranean archaeology would seem to support Shanks and McGuire’s view of an established hierarchy. In multi-author site reports, analysts present their data, but rarely offer significant synthesis of this material. That synthesis is left for project directors or other scholars who pull together disparate strands of information. Even when site reports involve multiple volumes, with artifact classes presented as separate monographs, pottery specialists often do themselves disservice. A typical pottery volume in Mediterranean archaeology is organized into a contextual introduction that describes the project in question, a detailed catalogue of finds, and a succinct overview of economic implications. It is the final section which reinforces the position of pottery specialists more as identifiers rather than synthesizers. Those final sections tend to range from several paragraphs to several pages and rarely go beyond a superficial treatment of the material. Detailed synthesis is left for other volumes in a series or for other scholars engaged in overarching studies of a region or period. There are a few exceptions (e.g. Peña 1999), but most studies fall into this type.
The analysis of pottery is a craft that requires mastery of a number of different skills. Focus on typology, chronology, function, and provenance, however, can serve as a barrier to moving beyond description into more detailed interpretation. Time constraints are also relevant since it takes a significant amount of time to process the hundreds, if not thousands, of kilograms of pottery produced by many projects. As the ability to obtain permits becomes more difficult across the Mediterranean and with pressure mounting to disseminate results more quickly, limitations on time, and thus on the ability of pottery specialists to interpret the collected data, will only increase.
At the end of their article, Shanks and McGuire argue that archaeologists have an ‘…obligation to take responsibility for what we do and produce’ (1996: 85¬–6). Pottery analysts working in the Greco-Roman world do appear well aware of their purpose within an archaeological project. We produce vital data to complement and augment interpretations developed out of field work and the processing of other materials. The question I am asking here, though, is whether pottery specialists should take on more of the responsibility for interpreting this data. We have the closest connections to this material, engaging with it day after day. Is it not possible for the identifiers to also be synthesizers and vice versa?
The hierarchy and strict division of archaeologists into different specialists has also led to another critique of the discipline. In an article from the late 1990s, Penelope Allison addressed one of the problems inherent in the analysis of material culture by archaeologists. She began with a concise summary of the standard procedure with which artifact analysis is approached by Mediterranean archaeologists:
At present, a common pattern of post-excavation activity is to divide the excavated artefacts into what are now well-established categories. Each category is then assigned to a different “finds specialist” for organisation into a typology which is ultimately published in the excavation report. The categories are largely selected on criteria attributable to the formal or manufacturing characteristics of the artefacts (1997: 77).
Allison’s main critique is that this methodology does not reflect how objects and individuals interacted in antiquity. In other words, separating pottery from glass, bone, architecture, etc. hinders rather than helps us to reconstruct ancient behavior. It was Allison’s own frustrations in reading through countless site and artifact reports during a study of households at Pompeii that led to this appraisal. A related difficulty is the fact that after pottery, most artifact classes are relegated to the category of small finds and given far less rigorous treatment. This pattern has been steadily changing over the past few decades, in no small part thanks to a book published by James Deetz on the importance of small finds in American archaeology (1977), but the disparity is still evident.
For Allison, a more appropriate procedure involves a holistic approach to studying the archaeological record. All material culture, including pottery, should be analyzed and presented together. She advocates the use of database management programs to organize these vast and disparate sets of data, a process which has now become standard practice for many archaeological projects. Scholars interested in domestic architecture have been the primary proponents of Allison’s ideas, following her seminal study of Pompeian households (2004). This includes Brad Ault’s work at Halieis in Greece (2005) and Ben Costello’s recent study of the Earthquake House at Kourion, Cyprus (2014). Most field projects, however, continue to separate their finds and bring in multiple specialists, who are not always present at the same time.
Allison proposed this alternative to traditional practice in Mediterranean archaeology fifteen years ago, but for pottery analysis there has been little movement to modify its traditional structure. It is a sub-field that has seen its own skill set expand over the past two decades with the greater integration of technology. The accusation of pottery specialists being myopic in studying a single class of artifacts is perhaps tenable, but is myopia a bad thing if it means the ability to extract the maximum amount of information from a ceramic assemblage? Can an individual who spends equal time learning about ancient pottery, glass, bone, metal, wall painting, architecture, etc., be expected to understand ceramic fabrics at a level that is currently expected among pottery specialists? Will becoming a ‘Jack of all trades, but master of none’ improve our overall ability to understand the archaeology and history of the ancient world?
These questions are difficult to answer and in many ways require much more discussion and debate among archaeologists. There are palpable benefits to the approach espoused by Allison, but there is also risk that the skills of pottery and other specialists would erode if they were required or expected to become knowledgeable about numerous classes of archaeological material. Allison’s call for use of database management programs may provide the best answer for a compromise. The use of tablets, for instance, allows members of an archaeological project to access a variety of data, often updated in real time, that bring together disparate elements of a project into a more cohesive whole. Pottery specialists can quickly scan the details of an excavated deposit before reading the material. Excavators can assess the chronology of layers already dug to help them understand the stratigraphy of deposits while still in the field. Perhaps breaking down boundaries in Mediterranean archaeology should focus more on sharing information rather than blurring the lines between specialized knowledge. As a craft we have come to rely greatly on our degree of specialization. Other types of finds should be given more robust treatment, but this should not constrain the need for detailed analyses of ceramic assemblages.
Pottery specialists working in the Mediterranean are achieving a greater degree of professionalization as they develop more standardized protocols and methodologies. There is also a strong element of craft within the field of pottery analysis in Classical Archaeology. These elements are not mutually exclusive and their combination enables ceramic experts to provide robust data for use by other members of their projects. Further development of this craft is possible, particularly with respect to pottery analysts taking on a greater role as synthesizers. Shanks and McGuire note that ‘Craft is productive work for a purpose’ (1996: 78). Pottery analysis in Classical Archaeology adheres to this definition and, in its current manifestation, is successful at justifying its purpose.
Allison, P.M. 1997. ‘Why do Excavation Reports have Finds’ Catalogues?’ In Not So Much a Pot, More a Way of Life: Current Approaches to Artefact Analysis in Archaeology, C.G. Cumberpatch and P.W. Blinkhorn (eds.). Oxford: Oxbow Books 77–84.
Allison, P.M. 2004. Pompeian Households: An Analysis of the Material Culture. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA.
Ault, B.A. 2005. The Excavations of Ancient Halieis, Volume 2. The Houses: The Organization and Use of Domestic Space. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Costello IV, B. 2014. Architecture and Material Culture from the Earthquake House at Kourion, Cyprus (BAR Int. Ser. 2635). Oxford: Archaeopress.
Deetz, J. 1977. In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday.
Felts, W.M. 1942. ‘A Petrographic Examination of Potsherds from Ancient Troy’. American Journal of Archaeology 46: 237–44.
Peacock, D.P.S. 1970. ‘The Scientific Analysis of Ancient Ceramics: A Review’. World Archaeology 1: 375–89.
Peacock, D.P.S. 1977. ‘Preface’, in Pottery and Early Commerce: Characterization and Trade in Roman and Later Ceramics, D.P.S. Peacock (ed.). London: Academic Press, vii–viii.
Peacock, D.P.S. and D.F. Williams. 1986. Amphorae and the Roman Economy: An Introductory Guide. London and New York: Longman.
Peña, J.T. 1999. The Urban Economy during the Early Dominate: Pottery Evidence from the Palatine Hill (BAR Int. Ser. 784). Oxford: Archaeopress.
Peterson, S.E. 2009. Thin-Section Petrography of Ceramic Materials. Philadelphia: INSTAP Academic Press.
Shanks, M. and R.H. McGuire. 1996. ‘The Craft of Archaeology’. American Antiquity 61: 75–88.
Shepard, A.O. 1942. Rio Grande Glaze Paint Ware: A Study Illustrating the Place of Ceramic Technological Analysis in Archaeological Research. Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution of Washington.