Friday Varia and Quick Hits

October 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

It’s getting less warm here in North Dakotaland under clear fall skies. So far most of our trees have their leaves so we have a couple of more weeks before the brief window opens for fall colors. I’ll provide a report from out west next Friday.

This week has been fun at the Archaeology of the Mediterranean World headquarters. I formally made the leap from blogger to publisher with the release of Punk Archaeology. (It actually involved me leaping less than other people throwing me forward through the process of preparing a manuscript!).

It is FREE.

So far, we’ve had 585 downloads from my blog alone and another 380 from Scribd. There have also been a bunch of downloads from people posting links to the file from Twitter and Facebook. The massive national humanities councils network also Tweeted links and the North Dakota Humanities Council sent out the link to the download page in their monthly presser. I’m giving them credit for another 400 downloads, based on nothing other than my overwhelming desire to say we’ve been downloaded 1000 times. Our Punk Archaeology Facebook page has had about 65 more likes over this same time thanks to Aaron Barth.

The book is now available in paper from Amazon. Be the first to buy a paper copy. If you want a copy of the book in epub format, drop me a line in comments. I’m Kindlizing the manuscript even as we speak. If you like the book, go and write a nice review on the comments section. If you think this project is worst kind of self-aggrandizing poppycock, you should say that too. Finally, if you want a paper copy but don’t want to pay $28.50, I can fax it to you.

Enough of that, here are some quick hits and varia:

IMG 2107Heroic in Black and White 

Craft in Archaeology: Craft in CRM Archaeology

October 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

This is the third 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.

As an industry, Cultural Resource Management archaeologists have adapted to our commercial environment in order to expedite the identification of important historic properties. We tend to work through standardized methods and management plans. We’ve co-opted types to make interpretively dubious assumptions that allow us to categorize artifact assemblages with a cool, quick precision. We categorize artifact types, site types, feature types, and eligibility types. We like our types and we want them to be clearly defined so we can create workflows that can be easily applicable. We don’t have time for apprentices or interns that we would normally take under our wing; we just need to plug people into pre-existing positions. These hires need to ramp up to the necessary professional accuracy and speed as quickly as possible in order to meet our deadlines. Our budgets, of both money and time, rarely allow for a great depth of understanding.

Our innovations are largely one of technical process. We adopt new technologies that allow us to record data more precisely and quickly than ever before. When we do adopt technologies (such as geophysical prospecting and lidar), they are often employed to save the effort of fieldwork, rather than to simply expand the pool of data at our interpretive disposal.

We develop managerial tools that allow us to reduce the amount of workload. Predictive models are often used to determine where or how to look for archaeological properties, rather than being used by a project’s proponent to determine where to best locate their project in order to avoid historic properties. Program comments and agreements are developed to allow only a small percentage of sites to be tested.

I won’t argue that these tools aren’t appropriate for the tasks at hand, but they do illustrate the trend of efficiency optimization within the CRM industry. Where does all of this leave craft within the industry?

When Bill issued the call for posts for this Archaeology and Craft series, I had been working on a post for my blog that I felt was actually brushing against the topic of archaeology as a craft and the pervasive lack of it in the CRM industry. The working title for this post was/is “Standardization, Professionals, and Technicians.” In it, I was discussing what a professional archaeologist is.

There are a lot of definitions and criteria over what is a professional archaeologist. There are the Secretary of Interior qualifications, which is the prevailing definition in the industry. There are also those who argue that “professional” = “licensed” and thus, you can’t be a professional archaeologist because there is no licensing body.

Others use the “employed” criteria. If you’re paid to do archaeology, you’re a professional. This is closely related to the dichotomy of professional and amateur. The professional is trained through formal education and is the essential “keeper of the flame” for both information and also the technical aspects of the work.

I usually think about “professional” as opposed to “technician.” This is very similar to the SOI qualification definition that I mentioned above, but instead of qualifications, I’m thinking of the distinction in terms of process. Technicians follow a set process. Professionals develop that process. I think that an archaeologist who understands the process and the reasons for it. If the situation calls for a change in process, they can adjust it as needed. One could be a professional archaeologist and still hold a position with the title of “technician”. The opposite is also true. I’m sure we all know archaeologists who are ostensibly professionals, but fail to break processes when needed, sometimes even to devastating effect. 

Obviously, my notions of what makes a professional archaeologist overlaps considerably with the notions of craft as discussed by Shanks and McGuire (1996; the required reading for this post). For example they describe craft as “…a process of interpretation and involves taste and the judgment of quality; it is a process of design” (Shanks and McGuire 1996:78).

Standardization is needed in the CRM industry. Aside from the increases in efficiency, I think that the small samples that we use in the majority of CRM work (e.g. surveys and evaluations) could be very useful for improving our understanding of regions, but far too often are presented in ways that hinder incorporation of the data into wider analysis. Sites are not islands, yet we create islands of data that are not easily compared. The dangers of standardized methods are that we can follow them rote without much thought. It is the craft of CRM archaeology where we can design and follow processes, but alter those designs as needed.

Hellenistic Corinth

October 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

Over the last few weeks I’ve bee reading Mike Dixon’s new book: Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Corinth, 338-196 BC for a book review. As with so many of my plans, I had hoped to have a draft of the book review done by the end of September. It doesn’t look like that will happen, so instead, I’ll write a blog post that can serve as a rough draft of the review and to capture my impressions on the book before they get washed out by a million other little projects.

Dixon’s work on the Hellenistic Corinth was eagerly anticipated. His 2000 dissertation on interstate arbitration in the northeastern Peloponnesus became a convenient guide to the unpublished antiquities and general topography of the southeastern Corinthia. It was among the finest of a group of topographic dissertations focusing on the northeastern Peloponnesus in Greek antiquity. In this work he demonstrated that he was a conscientious reader of archaeological landscapes, and he brought this same care to his reading of the political landscape of the Hellenistic Corinthia.

There is much to like in this book.

First, it appears at a time when the Hellenistic world is enjoying a renaissance and the archaeology of Hellenistic Corinthia will get its share. The publication of Sarah James’ dissertation, the imminent publication of the Rachi settlement above the sanctuary at Isthmia, and David Pettegrew’s soon to be published monograph on the historical periods on the Isthmus, and even my own modest contributions to the fortification and topography of the Late Classical and Hellenistic Corinthia demonstrate the extent of scholarly interest in this period and this place. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Hellenistic period is the new Late Antiquity. 

Dixon’s book provides a single destination for the literary sources central to the basic narrative of the Hellenistic period at Corinth. This alone makes the book valuable to scholars of the Corinthia. Dixon’s argument that the Corinthian polis negotiated its relationship with its Macedonian rulers through the strategic deployment of eunoia, or reciprocal goodwill, is likely to attract critique, but it is consistent with how scholars like John Ma have understood the relationship between cities and Hellenistic rulers.

Dixon’s book is explicitly and almost exclusively political in scope, and he creatively weaves together the admittedly limited sources for the city’s political life throughout this period. At times, Dixon’s work feels a bit speculative. For example, his efforts to understand why Corinth did not return the actor Thessalos who had fled to Corinth after angering Phillip II for attempting to arrange a marriage alliance on Alexander’s behalf. Dixon offers several possible scenarios to explain why Corinth defied Phillip’s request despite having a Macedonian garrison there. Dixon proposes (albeit gently) that Thessalos could be a Corinthian and this accounted for his confidence in fleeing to the city. The reason for Corinth’s failure to comply and endangering eunoia with the Macedonian dynasty remains unclear, and Dixon’s speculation adds little substantive to his arguments. In fact, if more evidence existed for Corinth during this period, it would be tempting to reject the historicity of the Thessalos affair and the letter of Phillip as many scholars have and move on. In Dixon’s defense, he marks his treatment of this affair as speculative, and I tend to appreciate his willingness to explore the limited sources fully, but to others these red herrings may detract from his overall arguments.

More problematic in Dixon’s work is his tendency to read the behavior of the city as monolithic in its motivation. For example, I struggled to discern the strategy of eunoia from the goals of the Corinthian state. Even when a Macedonian garrison watched over the city of Acrocorinth, there must have existed factions within the Corinthian demos who sought not only different ends but also different means to these end. For example, in the complex political wrangling that involved Corinth’s relationship with the Achaean League and the political influence of Aratos of Sikyon, some of Corinth’s vacillating might reveal political factions within the city who had varied interests rather than the pivot of the entire city based on proximate military or diplomatic threats. 

While we lack the sources to confirm the existence of these factions, Dixon’s reading of the Corinthian politics assumes certain strategic understandings of power relations in the Hellenistic world. In recent years, the study of Hellenistic diplomacy and practical political theory has enjoyed renewed attention. My entrance into these debates came through Michael Fronda’s book on the diplomatic moves of Hannibal and the Greek cities of south Italy during the Second Punic War. Dixon’s book and arguments would have been stronger had he engaged some of this recent scholarship more fully to frame his work in a larger historiographic and theoretical context. Whether this would have revealed more nuanced readings of Corinth’s diplomatic history is difficult to know, but it certainly would have linked the history of this important city more clearly to ongoing discussions on interstate relations in the ancient world. 

I would have also enjoyed a more thorough treatment of archaeological work outside of the immediate environs of the city. Dixon’s dissertation and experience excavating at Corinth demonstrated his archaeological chops, and he dedicates a chapter to the archaeology of the Hellenistic period on the Isthmus. Most this chapter focused on major monuments and sanctuaries, and most of his critical engagement with recent archaeological work in the region appears only in his footnotes. For example, it would have been useful to understand how Dixon understood David Pettegrew’s recent skepticism toward the economic significance of the diolkos. I have also valued Dixon’s take on the various remains fortifications from the Late Classical and Hellenistic period throughout the Corinthia. Understanding the strategies employed by various Macedonian monarchs (and invading armies) to fortify or garrison the city’s chora might provide insights into how recognized Corinth’s military value in a regional context as well as their approach to protecting the city’s  economic foundation in the countryside.

In general, my desire for greater attention to archaeological detail and efforts to connect Corinthian diplomatic practices to ongoing discussions within the field reflect more my interest and the book that I’d like to see, than any shortcoming on Dixon’s part. 

Finally, (and I say this with the trepidation of someone who just published a book) I wish these Routledge books were better copy edited. While copy editing problems never obscured the meaning of the text, they were frequent enough to be distracting. Things like this, however, do not detract from the book’s over all value. It’ll be the first book on a new shelf in my library ready to receive the fruits of the impending Hellenistic revival.   

Punk Archaeology: The Book

September 30, 2014 § 5 Comments

I’m impatient. So, I decided to push the button and publish Punk Archaeology today. This is the first book published by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. We’re so punk that we don’t really have a webpage.

That being said, we’re also so punk that we will release a book here for free.

Download it here or here.

I have one favor to ask. If this book is something that you think sounds cool, spread the word. Facebook it. Tweet it. Ello it. Tell everyone you know about it. Since this press has no budget, no staff, no offices (and you might suspect no editors…), I need my readers to serve as our marketing wing. Blow up the internet, please.

PunkA cover 1


Punk Archaeology is a irreverent and relevant movement in archaeology, and these papers provide a comprehensive anti-manifesto.


This volume was made possible by a whole community of folks ranging from the relentless Andrew Reinhard who proofed this over and over and over again to Aaron Barth who put together the conference which produced these papers. The authors were great to work with except Richard Rothaus who insisted that we include his handwritten paper. (I kid, I kid). Support for the whole deal came from the Cyprus Research Fund, the Center for Heritage Renewal at North Dakota State University, the North Dakota Humanities Council, and the delicious beer makers at Laughing Sun Brewing in Bismarck. Administrators at the University of North Dakota are to be commended for raising their eyebrows politely and ignoring what I was doing.

This book would not have been possible without the efforts of Joel Jonientz who did the cover design and layout. I wish he was around to see the results. The book is dedicated to him.


Other Details:

The print copy should be ready to go by the end of the week and available at Amazon. I’ll post a link to that. It should cost around $30.00, but look like a million bucks. Make sure to order copies for friends and families as well as university libraries and private collections.

Here are links to the papers being read at the conference on Soundcloud thanks to Tim Pasch, Chad Bushy, and Caleb Hulthusen for recording the event:

And listen to Andrew Reinhard’s soundtrack here:

Here’s the book, folks:


The First North Dakota Oil Boom

September 29, 2014 § Leave a comment

The first North Dakota oil boom occurred at a difficult time in the history of the state. The boom raged from 1951 to 1960 so it appeared only briefly in the last few chapters of the Robinson’s History of North Dakota published in 1966. Of course, he had no way of knowing the subsequent impact of the discovery of oil on the history state, and, indeed, an honest historian today would be challenged to understand how and whether the most recent Bakken Boom will have a lasting impact on the state’s history. Moreover, the oil boom did not make an appearance in his wide ranging memoirs about his time at the University of North Dakota suggesting perhaps that boom did not dominate the headlines in the eastern part of the state during the 1950s.  

At the same time, Prof. Robinson did supervise an M.A. thesis in 1962 by Dominic Schaff titled “The History of the North Dakota Oil Industry.” I had the pleasure of reading his thesis this weekend and recommend it to anyone interested in the first decade of oil production in the state.

Here are some quick thoughts:

1. Schaff was a student of Robinson. Among the most telling aspects of Schaff’s work was his commitment to Robinson’s basic historiographic perspective on North Dakota summarized in Robinson’s famous “Themes of North Dakota History.” Schaff, for example, embraced the remoteness of the North Dakota and discussed at length how the logistics of shipping oil to market limited the opportunities for even the most well-funded companies involved in extractive industries. The construction of the Mandan refinery and the crude pipeline from Tioga to Mandan (and the refined oil pipeline from Mandan to Moorhead, MN) improved this situation to some extent, but the limited capacity of the Mandan refinery and the limited reach of the pipeline into the rapidly expanding oil field ensured that a substantial investment to move North Dakota crude and high prices on the global market.

Schaff makes brief mention of the workforce housing challenges associated with boom noting that, in Tioga, men were living in chicken coops and grain silos. He noted that Watford City schools, social services, roads, and housing stock also felt the crunch. These social challenges, however, formed an afterthought to Schaff’s predominantly technical and corporate discussion of the boom.  

2. Geography and Topography. As I work away on my Tourist Guide to the Bakken, I’ve begun to think a bit how to describe a productive landscape that is largely underground. Schaff’s thesis, as well as the work of other scholars, have helped me to understand the geography and geology of the Bakken counties better. I now think that any guide to Bakken would be incomplete without a discussion of such key geological features as the Nesson Anticline which runs in a north-south line south of Tioga, across the Missouri, and into McKenzie county. This formation attracted the attention of the first major investors in the North Dakota oil fields in the late 1920s and 1930s and saw several deep, exploratory wells. The first productive wells in the Bakken, like the No. 1 Clarence Iverson Well drilled by Amerada (which became Hess) near Tioga was into this formation.

On our trip out to the Bakken next week, I hope to be able to identify some of these formations visually so that a knowledgable traveler can at least see the surface manifestations of the  productive landscapes below the ground. 

3. Historical Markers and the Bakken Boom. As the first Bakken Boom of the 1950s is over 50 years old, historians naturally turn to thinking how to commemorate and mark this history in the landscape. The first wells and pumps that drew oil from thousands of feet below the surface are long gone, but it is nevertheless marked by a granite historical marker.  The gently rolling hills dotted with more recent wells and crops are hardly characteristic of tourist areas. At the same time, there is a global recognition of the challenges facing the communities, environment, and workforce in the Bakken. History and historical awareness provides one approach to mediating between global and local communities. Finding a way to mark the Bakken landscape with the evidence for the past oil booms embeds contemporary experience in a historic place. In particular, it recognizes that the landscape of western North Dakota has long been a place of booms and busts and its seeming isolation belies deep connections with global markets. The oil boom – as much as periods of agricultural prosperity – located the places and communities of Williams and McKenzie counties within a global context.

Would it be possible to prepare a North Dakota oil field for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places?    

For some information on the early days of oil exploration in the state, check out Clarence Herz recent North Dakota State University M.A. thesis and John Bluemle’s The 50th Anniversary of the Discovery of Oil in North Dakota (NDGS 2001).

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

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.

IMG 2056Contemplation

Sabbatical Notes

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. 


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