Last Days on Cyprus

I’ve had a remarkably productive two weeks on Cyprus that are really the culmination of almost 10 years of work at Polis-Chrysochous and close to 15 years of work on the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria.


Our work at Polis has culminated in a massive article that we learned had been accepted just before departing for Cyprus. The article primarily focuses on the dating of the South Basilica and the material from a particularly robust deposit of material in a fill. In response to some of the reviewers critiques we expanded and refined our catalogue to connect our objects to our dates even more clearly. We also included more objects that push our building into the final third of the 7th century and perhaps even hint at the 8th. These are hazy times in the history and architecture of the island so our work will not only shed some light on a particular site and a late assemblage, but also on the history of the island and the region during a rather tumultuous and seemingly obscure period in the island’s history.

On the other side of the island, we wrapped up work on material from the sites of Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla. The former is an Early Christian basilica probably dating to the late 6th-century and certainly in use in the early 7th century before probably collapsing sometime before the middle of that century. Vigla is a Late Classical to Hellenistic fortified site that produced a really nice assemblage of Hellenistic pottery from a clean up dump.

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The two sites featured prominently in our survey volume (which is still available as a free download!) and for the last five years, we’ve been working on a detailed description and analysis of our material from three seasons of our own excavations and two reasons of excavations by the Department of Antiquities in the 1990s.

While Polis has plenty more material to draw us back, our work at PKAP is more or less over. So we’re looking to pass some of that site onto scholars interested in excavating the Hellenistic site on a larger scale than we did over our three seasons. It’s been kind of a bitter-sweet visiting Vigla the last time and putting away crates of objects knowing that next time we see these sherds it’ll be to put them into permanent storage.

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  1. Melancholia and serious reflection here. And I had nothing to do with the project. Perhaps my bouncing around after every new shiny project is just a way of denying my own mortality.


    1. I’ve actually been thinking a good bit about this and have been turning over in my head a bit of an essay on growing old as an archaeologist and the role of fieldwork in our professional and personal identities. Next year will be the first year I go to Cyprus without an explicit mission to get something done for a particular publication. There remains plenty of stuff to do at Polis, for example, but I’m not really sure how to approach it and nothing I do there will likely involve (at least in the foreseeable future) fieldwork.

      On the one hand, as David has pointed out, there is something tedious about fieldwork and the attention to details – whether the daily schedule of work or the object in front of us or methods – is distracting from “big picture” thinking. Even in my most optimistic moments (e.g., I can recognize how difficult it is to think broadly, rigorously, and systematically, when fussing with a small problem like how to feed a project or whether a particular amphora handle is broadly Roman or Late Roman. In other words, something about fieldwork – especially intensive involvement in fieldwork – makes it hard to think big picture (at least at the same time).

      As a mid-career scholar, however, (, I have begun to expect myself to weigh in on big picture challenges in my field and step aside from some of the more mundane and fiddly day-to-day fieldwork. But, as David and I discussed, this is hard! First off, big picture thinking is hard! And, more to the point, it involves trusting that evidence collected and organized by other people is reliable after spending years attending to field methods, data curation, and publishing of our material in ways that promoted best practices (and implying – at least tacitly – that these practices require promotion. Most field archaeologists, at least in my experience, regard their methods as superior to those used in the past and by others). As a result, we have to relax our standards in a way or at very least rely on the work of other scholars in a way that maybe challenges the value of our own fixation on minute aspects of fieldwork. And I obviously recognize the value of legacy data in various forms and past field projects, and I’m not even vaguely suggesting the past work is inferior or inadequate for contemporary “big picture” questions. What I guess I’m trying to say is that we tend to see our own methods as better than the past and more suited for the kinds of questions that we seek to consider.

      At the same time, there is something about being in the field that defines what we do as archaeologists. Knowing that in two years, my fieldwork projects will be completed (and my own career trajectory as a field guy will be far less certain) is disconcerting. I worry that I’ll miss the spontaneity, immediacy, and routine of discovery and the thrill of the new that I’ve enjoyed for over 20 years. I worry that I’ll struggle to find solid ground outside the routine of archaeological work with its standards, procedures, and practices that shape not only my daily life while in the field, but also intellectual priorities. Heck, I’m even worried that my body will miss or forget the physical routine of summer fieldwork and the familiarity with certain types of embodied practices ranging from the stooped-headed walk of an archaeologist looking for sherds on the surface to the instinct for finding the gentlest sloping path on hike up a hill.

      We’re led to believe that growing old is something that just happens naturally. Each day, I feel a bit older and keep hoping that the enthusiastic, flawed, provisional, experimental, methodological knowledge will give way naturally to something a bit more wisdom-y. Maybe that starts next year, and the next four weeks of fieldwork is over? Maybe that’ll hit me next summer when I’m on Cyprus in a storeroom full of material and have to find a problem to solve or a question to answer (other than why do I keep eating ntonats)? Growing old is hard!


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