What Time Is This Place (Part 2)

This past weekend, I put aside some of my irrational qualms about reading an older book and dove head first into Kevin Lynch’s What Time Is This Place? (MIT 1972). I was stunned by how prescient the book appeared to be, and in my post yesterday started to observe how nearly every chapter explored issues that tangentially related, in some way, to my own research and interest.

I’ll continue that practice today starting with chapter 6. 

6. Boston Time. This chapter is a photo essay that starts with images of clocks in Boston before proceeding to trace the changing character of the city as it represents the changes in Boston time. The opening images invariably reminded me of Scott W. Schwartz’s new book, The Archaeology of Temperature: Numerical Materials in the Capitalized Landscape (2022) which I blogged about here. Schwartz notes the prevalence of clocks and temperature displays in cities and parallels the experience of time with temperature. Both tend to be represented in absolute (or at very least numerical) terms, but experienced in physical ways. As I write this its -5° F outside here, which is quite cold but not terribly unusual for this time of year. Such consistently low temperatures makes the 30° F days we experienced late last week feel downright balmy. In the same way that the 45 minutes that I’m waiting for the Eagles playoff game to start (I’m writing this on a Sunday), will speed along provided I continue to try to finish this blog post. If I were to put aside my computer, time would slow to a drag.

7. Change Made Visible. The chapter on the ways in which changes are visible, reminded me a good bit of my work with students on the Wesley College Documentation Project. In this project, we documented two buildings on campus between their abandonment and their demolition. The buildings were laced with evidence for the passage of time both in the ways that they were adapted over their century of use to the immediate decisions their most recent residents made when they decamped for the final time. At the end of our work in the building — immediately before asbestos mitigation began — we put on a concert in building’s former recital hall. The weeks before the buildings’ scheduled demolition, we had a short ceremony recognizing their memorial function on our campus. These events made the passage of time visible. You can see some of the work here.

8. Managing Transitions. In his chapter on managing transitions, it is hard to avoid thinking of the recent work on migrants of various kinds. In some ways, Lynch seems to anticipate some of the ways in which we thought about the spaces of “man camps” in Western North Dakota during the Bakken boom. These camps embodied a landscape caught in a kind of transition between low density rural settlements and the concentrated workforce necessary to support extractive industries. The ephemerality of the oil industry presented a landscape that we always only transitioning and contingent. The communities of the Bakken struggled to manage the contingency of the boom in part because the landscape preserved so little from previous booms to remind these communities how they adapted to the stress of demographic change. Elsewhere in the world the architecture of migration reflected the transitional state that migrants often find themselves as they depart economically, environmentally, or politically compromised homes and seek new ones.  

9. Environmental Change and Social Change. One way that Lynch’s work shows its age is when he talks about environmental change. In the 21st century, our mind naturally turn to thoughts about climate change rather than changes in our built environment. Lynch remains optimistic that build environments can transform social experiences. I’ve been watching my institution try to transform campus culture through architecture over the last decade. For example, the university has changed most classrooms into active learning type spaces and, as a result, students (and faculty) have come to expect both active learning and teaching techniques suited to these spaces. Alternately, the campus has invested in architectural forms and spaces designed to promote informal gathering, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, a consistent sense of campus. I’ve suggested that these two impulses — student space and a consistent campus — are not necessarily complementary. 

10. Some Policies for Changing Things. Kevin Lynch made his name as an urban planner so it is hardly surprising that he concludes this book with some reflections on policy. The most compelling of these is that suggestion that we think more deliberately about the temporary rhythms and routines we expect of our students and peers. As someone who is unnaturally preoccupied with synchronizing my own schedule with clock time, I have to admit that I’d struggle with a policy that allows greater freedom for individuals to organize their lives according to different temporal rhythms. That said, I don’t think it would be bad for me to have to encounter that. Even little things like allowing students to turn in papers in their own time and developing the patience to deal with people and processes that operate on different times serve as useful reminders that I should not reduce time to a fungible commodity, but as a deeply personal form of social experience. 

Reading an older book as a way to become aware of how the passage of time enriches and transforms how we read and understand a classic text is a wonderful reminder that as creatures of the present, we are never quite free from the past and recognizing the different rhythms of life and senses of time that operate around us should not be a burden. Instead, experiences different senses of time should enrich our experiences and our ability to appreciate our world.

What Time Is This Place (Part 1)

I have a phobia of reading old books. It’s irrational as most phobia are, but nevertheless guides my actions to an embarrassing extent. As a result, it took a particular nudge from my buddy Kostis Kourelis (and a generous copy of the book) to will myself to read Kevin Lynch’s What Time Is This Place? (MIT 1972). 

This book blew my mind. To make everything about me: this book was like a cross section of my recent interest in time, ruins, urbanism, campus life, and even teaching. It’s like I was simply living in a world sketched out by Kevin Lynch. 

The book in broad strokes is a meditation on time and place. Lynch fearlessly traces the role of time in our daily lives, our building environments, and, as you’d expect, our lived experiences. In particular, Lynch is interested in the experience of time as change.

Here are some running notes chapter to chapter. 

1. Cities Transforming. The first chapter considers change on the level of the city and the way in which people’s experience and idea of the city shaped the transforming of cities. It made me think a good bit about my work on the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission and our efforts to document (and in some ways influence) the transformation of the city of Grand Forks. For example, my wife and I produced a massive study of mid-century housing in the city that traced its transformation from a city largely anchored in its pre-war pedestrian plan to one defined by cars, post-war prosperity, and the rise of the suburb. You can read the report here

2. The Presence of the Past. This chapter is even more relevant for my wok on the GFHPC. It focuses on the role of ruins and material evidence for the past in creating a sense of presence in a community. This is literally the mission of the Commission, but as Lynch points out, one that is not as straight forward as preservation for the sake of preservation might allow. Over the past five or six years, we’ve talked more and more about the value of attempting to preserve and document buildings and districts not limited to the obvious or even elite building which often carry the burden of the past for a community. Instead, we have shifted at least some of our attention to apartment buildings, schools, commercial spaces, and (if I had my way) neighborhood bars that preserve the workaday landscapes of the city. We’ve also talked more about how to make present a past that has disappeared as a result of the city’s floods, urban renewal, and social change. What do we do to inscribe the memory of these places into the urban fabric?   

3. Alive Now. Lynch’s brilliant contribution to urban planning is that he foregrounded the experience of the city and sought to create urban forms sensitive to the needs of an individual. In this book, he considers time as more than simply made manifest on a collective level (so that everything doesn’t happen at once), but also experienced individually. As readers of this blog might know, I am obsessed with time both personally through my modest collection of watches (or my collection of modest watches) and professionally through my work as an archaeologist. It is hardly surprising that I’ve been fixated on the concept of slow as not only an antidote to the sense of urgency that suffuses so much of our professional life, but also as way to make explicit the tension between clock time and the time of experience. 

4. The Future Preserved. When Kostis sent me this book, he made explicit reference to the world of Sun Ra who has become an obsession for me. For those of you unfamiliar with Sun Ra, he is one of the founders of mid-century Afro-futurism which he expertly grafted to afrocentric views of the Black past (as his name suggests). As Lynch recognizes in this chapter title, there is a crucial need to preserve the past not only as a way to remember past presents, but also to remember past futures. The growing interest in Afrofuturism reveals the potential of past futures to shape present futures and to make us aware of how we have and have not lived up to our aspirations (however well intended). It goes without saying that continued struggle for racial equality offers a sobering context for mid-century Afrofuturism. It is also a good reminder that as much as we cringe or even protest at pseudohistory, pseudoarchaeology, and other “false” views of the past, the line between false pasts and false futures is a fine one indeed and the goals of both projects tend to intersect in the messy politics of hope. 

5. The Time Inside. One of the more fascinating chapters of the book considers how our internal sense of time clashes with external constraints. Anyone whose body resists the tradition of eight continuous hours of sleep is familiar with this feeling. I’ve speculated on this as it applies to the length and rhythm of the academic semester. Lynch clearly recognizes that time is a factor in learning and how and when we learn, remember, and think various not only as individuals but also collectively. Last year, for example, I started to notice how student workloads, commitments, and time often doesn’t serve to advance student learning.  Instead, the time for student learning is a constantly negotiation of space, finances, and other commitments. This is inevitable, of course, but it nevertheless reinforces how the personal time of student experience is not entirely under their own control.  

I’ll come back with Part 2 tomorrow!

Three Things Thursday: Survey, Oil, and Mild Anarchism

Every now and then, life happens in threes and that makes me wonder whether I’m blogging about my life or I’m simply living out a series of blog posts. In some ways, I suppose, it doesn’t matter, but it sure makes three things Thursday a bit easier.

My next few days will be focused (such as I can at all these days) on these three things:

Thing the First

My old survey buddy David Pettegrew has put together an article that offers a preliminary analysis of the Medieval material from the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey. This is a pretty exciting piece for two reasons. First, at some point in the distant past, it was originally intended to be a chapter of his soon to be completed book on the material from EKAS. When it dropped out of that volume, it wandered a bit in the wilderness before he found a home for it. 

Because these are hectic times for all of us, and writing about archaeology in the best of situations often takes a village, I offered to help get this article into final shape. One of the things that I’m working on is adding hyperlinks to the EKAS data in Open Context. This will allow the reader to drill down into the data from the article text, validate David’s arguments, and ask new questions from the raw material. This could mean looking at the data spatially in new ways, aggregating new assemblages based on material fro the same survey unit, or even connecting this data to other publicly available data sets. 

With David’s permission, I’ll share some of the linked assemblages new week.

Thing the Second

Last year, I wrote a short piece on the archaeology of petroleum production. My buddy Kostis Kourelis is pretty sure that the archaeology of oil will be next big thing. Oil is not only the quintessential modern hyper object, but also represents a type fossil for supermodernity. My article mostly just scratched the surface of the potential of an archaeology of oil as a key component of archaeology of the contemporary world as well as the kind of critical archaeology that offers new ways of understanding the modern age.

Part of the reason for this is because the article is destined for some kind of handbook of the archaeology of plastics. In fact, the editors and reviewers patiently pointed out, my article needed to connect oil and petroleum production to plastic more explicitly throughout. This was a fair point and I’ve been nibbling away at their helpful comments. 

In many ways, their urging that I connect petroleum production to plastics was more than just appropriate for the volume, but also useful for reconsidering oil and petroleum production as the definitive phenomenon of the supermodern world. The ubiquity of plastics in our everyday life is just one example of oil’s central place in our contemporary society. That said, plastic manufacturing and petroleum production rely on shared spatial footprints. The profoundly toxic sites of petroleum refineries attract similarly toxic petrochemical manufacturing plants that churn out the stock from which most new plastics are made. These plastic pellets then find their way into the world through some of the same infrastructure as our gasoline, heating oil, and other forms of petroleum that we use as fuel. In other words, plastic and oil share more than chemical DNA, but also leverage the same infrastructure that allows both to be always at hand in the contemporary world. Stay tuned for a plasticized draft.

Thing the Third

The third thing that I’m working on with a mid-February deadline is the revision of an article on a class that I taught as the centerpiece of the Wesley College Documentation Project. The article celebrated (I admit) the prospects of a “mildly anarchist” pedagogy that undermined the increasingly bureaucratized nature of both the modern university and archaeology as an industry. It attempted to embrace many aspects of slow, punk, and anarchist archaeology. Unfortunately, it also appears to have captured some of the more traditional elements of writing about archaeology as well. Namely the congratulatory nature of so many fieldwork publications that elevates the archaeologist from the deeply collaborative space of archaeological knowledge making to the august heights of heroic truth teller. 

This, of course, was the opposite of what my paper was intending to accomplish. I was hoping to celebrate the remarkable creativity that occurred over the course of a spontaneous, place-based, research program freed from much of the administrative oversight that can stifle the simply joy of wandering an abandoned place, thinking about the past, and working together to make sense of a building and its history.

That all said, the reviewers were probably doing me a favor by telling me to temper my congratulatory tone and do what I can to ground my excitement for the project in the dusty and incomplete world of reality. The last thing I want to do is to alienate a reader or conform to some kind of stereotype of ego-driven, tenured, middle aged, truth teller. Stay tuned for an updated and tempered draft. 

Three Things Thursday: Punk is Next, Buzz about the Bakken, and Hanging Out!

There’s a lot of stuff going on these days and I suppose it is better than getting bored, but it sometimes results in me feeling a bit scattered. Today’s “Three Things Thursday” is a reflection of my scattered feeling. I’m know some of this stuff means something to me and hopefully you’ll find it at least vaguely interesting.

Thing the First

Aaron Barth posted something on social media about distributing posters for our conferences on punk archaeology in January 2013. I figured this was a memory of a memory or something, but sure enough, punk archaeology is ten years old this year.  

For those of you who don’t know or don’t remember. Punk archaeology was this alternative conference, event, concert, gathering in Fargo, North Dakota. It produced a book and for a brief moment on one very cold and still night, an intense feeling of community. 

I’m not sure that it produced anything else. Maybe that’s all it was meant to do. Or maybe it could have produced something more tangible and substantial. It seems like ten years out is a good time to reflect on it.

Thing the Second

Resource booms are, by definition, abrupt and short lived. They strike communities that are unprepared and often dissipate before they’re completely understood. In fact, part of what makes booms so damaging and confusing is their unpredictability. Unfortunately, scholars often struggle to research unpredictable, abrupt, and short-lived events. Academic research agendas are like big ships or trains which take a long time to gain momentum, stop, or turn.

There’s been a bit of lag between the peak of the Bakken oil boom and scholarship designed to interrogate, unpack, and even understand it. I’m very much looking forward to Kyle Conway’s forthcoming book on Bakken hospitality. I’m also eager to read Mary E. Thomas’s and Bruce Braun’s edited collection Settling the Boom: The Sites and Subjects of Bakken Oil which should appear in coming weeks (paperback apparently in April)!   

I was very excited to be told about the completion of Nestor L. Silva’s Stanford dissertation, “Bakken Ecology: the Culture and Space of Fracked Farmland in North Dakota” (2022). Unfortunately, it is embargoed for two years, but I am dying (well, not literally) to get my hands on a copy of it.

If you have a contact at Stanford who can help me get a copy, I’d be very grateful!   

Thing the Third

Finally, I’m pretty excited for my friend Sheila Liming’s book to come out next week. The book is called Hanging Out: The Radical Power of Killing Time and she agreed to chat about it a bit over at the NDQ blog.

Check it out here.

Archaeology of the Contemporary American Experience in 200 Words

Readers of this blog know only too well the multi-year odyssey to write a survey of the archaeology of the contemporary American experience. And many of you know that this was pretty bumpy.

It turns out the retraining myself as an Americanist was not a straightforward process and coming to understand the nuances of archaeology of the contemporary world in the context of American historical archaeology (as well as the myriad related and intersection disciplines that fortify this approach) was probably biting off more than I can chew.

That all said, this project has made some headway and as part of the pre-publication paperwork, I’ve been asked to put together a 150-200 word summary of the book. Here’s my current draft:

The Archaeology of the Contemporary American Experience

This book is the first synthetic study of the archaeology of the contemporary American experience. This emerging field uses archaeological methods to describe, interpret, and critique the material culture and landscapes dating from mid-1970s until the present day. The Archaeology of the Contemporary American Experience begins in the New Mexico desert with the excavation of Atari cartridges from the Alamgordo landfill. It situates this work in the tradition of Bill Rathje’s Garbage Project, more recent work on the archaeology of consumer culture, and media and digital archaeology of the 21st century. 

The second half of the book takes the reader to the Bakken oil patch in Western North Dakota. By comparing the Bakken to modern industrial spaces and the region’s workforce housing migrant camps, military bases, homelessness, modern cities, and college campuses, the book explores the intersection of contemporary productive landscapes and landscapes of control and resistance. The archaeology of contemporary consumption and production situates the American experience in a global context and emphasizes the planetary consequences of our everyday lives. 

~

Wish me luck as I bring this project in for a landing!

A Small Book about Small Sites on a Small Island with Big Ideas

This weekend, I had the immense pleasure of reading Catherine Kearns’s The Rural Landscapes of Archaic Cyprus (2022). The book is fantastic (and I say this as someone who is both increasingly “Iron Age Curious” and has a more mature interest rural landscapes both on Cyprus and elsewhere).

Kearns’s considers the emergence of the rural during the Archaic period on Cyprus. This is a period famously known for the emergence of Iron Age polities that form the core the ten or so “City Kingdoms” on Cyprus during the Archaic and Classical period. Iron Age cities have long attracted the attention of archaeologists working on the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age on Cyprus. Kearns’s book flips this focus by looking at the emergence of rural communities during this period and how non-urban forms of life contributed to the formation of urban polities that became so prominent in the later Archaic and Cypro-Classical periods.

To do this, Kearns interrogates the faint traces of Cypro-Geometric and Cypro-Archaic material from the Vasilikos and Maroni valleys which were surveyed in the late 20th century. Kearns complements this legacy data with resurvey and excavation, but the bulk of the evidence for her arguments comes a careful study of material from these periods across the entire island.

Kearns sets her study of the development of rural landscapes and communities amid a careful and measured understanding of climate conditions, the local environment, and resources. I have to admit to lacking the technical understanding of much of what is necessary to reconstruct paleoclimate data, but she appears to approach such efforts with a full grasp of how difficult aligning climate data with historical developments can be. Her grasp of local environmental conditions and resources in Vasilikos and Maroni valley allowed her to demonstrate how household units created small worlds in the difficult centuries after the collapse of Bronze Age states in Cyprus. Moreover, she is able to provide some examples for how the  the worlds created by these household unites, despite their faint traces in the landscape, leveraged the use of gypsum, copper, wood, and arable soils to create a society that both supported larger urban agglomerations as well as negotiate their own changing roles in Iron Age society.

This is obvious a pretty casual reconstruction of Kearns’s complex and highly nuanced arguments. I honestly can’t do a book like this justice, but it did leave me with several take aways that were peripheral to Kearns’s main arguments, but nevertheless made me particularly happy.

First, Kearns clearly draws upon trends in contemporary environmental history including a prominent shout out to William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis (1991). This iconic masterpiece of contemporary environmental history traces the development of Chicago’s western hinterland in concert with the emergence of the city, its growing population, its industries, and its consumption practices. Cronon’s work marked a watershed in how we understood the relationship between the town and country in the US by demonstrating that the rural/urban divide was largely illusory. One could not exist without the other.

As someone probing the edges of contemporary environmental history lately, this got me very excited.  

Second, Kearns uses survey data in a thoughtful way. While there were moments where I wished that she had unpacked some of the methods used to produce the data that she so carefully analyzed, in general, I was pleased to see survey data being drawn upon in such a natural way. I feel like over the past decade, archaeologists have come to accept the inherent reliability of intensive survey data and felt less need to bracket archaeological landscapes created by survey methods with a heavy layer of methodological justification. The turn-of-the-century survey archeologist in me likes to imagine that this is the result of our careful rumination on the character of survey data. When I stop trying to make everything about my own work (see point one), I realize that Kearns just approached the landscapes of Vasilikos and Maroni valleys with a substantial portion of archaeological common sense.

Third, I was fascinated with how work like Kearns might contribute to how we interpreted the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla. While we had relatively little Iron Age material (and even less material that we could confidently assign to the Cypro-Archaic or much less Cypro-Geometric periods), the location of our site between territories traditional ascribed to Salamis and Kition makes it appealing to consider the locus for rural development outside of the control of any particular urban center. The presence of features in our landscape datable to the Iron Age complements its access to a significant agricultural hinterland, in possession of the topographic advantages of a significant coastal height, and nearby the Late Bronze Age site of Pyla-Kokkinokremos (with the potential for certain forms of landesque capital). We were guilty of attributing the site’s development to the emergence (or even persistence) of urban populations at Kition and Salamis. Kearns analysis urged me to consider whether our site emerged in the aftermath of the Late Bronze Age to Iron Age transition as the site of a rural community that ultimately contributed to the persistence of the community at Kition rather than as an extension of its efforts at rural control. 

In fact, we make a vaguely similar argument when we suggest that the expansion of the site in the Hellenistic to Roman periods reflected the breakdown of the centripetal influence of Salamis and Kition which would have encouraged the development of land that would have otherwise suffered from its politically and economically marginal position along the borders of states.

Fourth, the conclusion of Kearns’s book is a masterpiece in weaving together the often complex and hyper local strands of argument that she develops throughout her book. It demonstrates how the small worlds and faintly visible sites that she focused on in her chapters can propose a new narrative for the emergence of the rural landscape (as well as the urban areas) in the Iron Age. More importantly, though, she takes her arguments for the development of the rural and considers how these influence our view of the Anthropocene in its contemporary and its more expansive historical contexts (i.e. both “big A” and “little a” anthropocene). In other words, she demonstrates how specialized studies in how highly local communities (sometimes no more than family groups) adapted to climate change, local resources, and emerging political entities can contributed to creating a more variegated and socially responsible image of the Anthropocene. Understanding small scale adaptions reminds us that the increasingly global “we” that is responsible for anthropogenic climate change and obligated to resists or slows its progress is and was never as universal as the first person pronoun suggests. The causes, responses, and impacts of climate change in the past, in the present, and in the future are always local. And this is a brilliant reminder for anyone invested in understanding how to produce a just, responsible, and effective response to global climate change today.

Finally, there is no doubt that we live in an era of Big Books by Big Scholars on Big Topics. As I’ve said on this blog, I dislike big books and I cannot lie.

Catherine Kearns’s book is not a big book by any standard (although she is well on her way to becoming a Big Scholar). It’s runs to around 250 pages. Its deals with small worlds on a (relatively) small island situated as much at the margins of contemporary Mediterranean archaeology as it did in relation to past imperial polities. 

That said, this book is not small in terms of idea, significance, or impact. As someone who has a rooting interest in Cypriot archaeology, but no particular investment in the Iron Age, I read this book with more than a little enthusiasm! I’m sure that I’ll be annoying my friends and colleagues when I continue to recommend it to them over the coming years.

It’s the kind of book that one can read over a weekend, but whose ideas and provocations will simmer in my mind for years and it’ll have a bigger impact (at least in the small world of my mind) than any number of the Big Books by Big Scholars.  

More on the Grand Forks Greenway

One of the down sides of struggling with work/life balance issues is that even the most mundane things that I do have the potential to slide from “life” to “work.” For example, volunteering on the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission as the Commission’s archaeologist has fueled my interest in the history and materiality of the city. Walking my dogs along the Grand Forks Greenway, has spurred me to think more carefully about how the Greenway and the Red River of the North shapes not only the city’s past, but also its present relationship with its surroundings.

Sometimes these two interests coincide, such as when I find myself collaborating with another commission member, Paul Conlon, on an integrity survey of the 1950s era flood mitigation features in the city. It appears that most of these features were removed during the construction of the far more substantial post-1997 flood walls. Despite this disappointing discovery, Paul’s research and my rumination have led made it hard for me to shake a potential paper idea especially as I walk the dogs on the Greenways scenic paths.

IMG 8378

Right now, the paper is still at the “slowly crystalizing idea stage” which means that I have a title: “Cold War, Consumer Culture, and Climate Change in a North Dakota City.”

If I had to start to write the paper today, rather than, say, work on my syllabi for the spring semester, I’d start the paper with an overview of recent work on the environmental history of rivers with special attention to the goals of mid-century hydraulic programs such as the Pick-Sloan as well as more local initiatives designed to both protect communities and to provide water for recreation and irrigation. For the local situation, Kathleen Brokke’s dissertation will be an invaluable guide. She touches on the role of suburban sprawl and the growing desire for burgeoning urban communities to harness local rivers for recreation, but her work remains an expansive view of Red River region rather than an intensive one. Moreover, it appears that she doesn’t connect suburban sprawl of the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s to the region’s growing role in the Cold War. 

My goal with this imagined research wouldn’t be to re-produce Brokke’s expansive environmental history of the Red River, but to zero in on the relationship between the river and the city of Grand Forks. In particular, I’d be interested in understanding how efforts to control the Red River in Grand Forks in the 1950s emerged alongside the transformation of the city itself as it grew into its post-war form and its growing role as an important regional “front” in the Cold War. The vulnerability of Grand Forks to flooding should be understood in the context of the construction of the Grand Forks Air Force base in the 1950s, the expansion of the University of North Dakota in part due to its capacity to harness federal grants and to serve military veterans, and the influx of new residents drawn to the city by its post-war amenities and opportunities.

The Cold War, post-war consumer culture, and the long-term, geological history of the Red River provides three key vectors for understanding not only the history of Grand Forks, but also the form that this investment in controlling the flow of the Red River took. As I’ve noted a few times in the past, the form of the post-1997 flood walls themselves speak both to long-standing attitudes toward natural forces especially on the Great Plains and the role that the Army Corps of Engineers plays in attempting to exert control over “nature” in these contexts. 

This opens our work to a fourth vector that I would love for our article to explore. This vector would foreground the role of landscapes of control in the “late-modern” world. I have this idea that it might be a way to interrogate attitudes toward the Anthropocene. This is immediately relevant to the situation of the Grand Forks on the Red River of the North as six of the ten worst floods in history have occurred in the 21st century. More than that, the flood control systems put in place after the 1997-flood offer a visible, daily reminder of the separation, or even alienation, of humans from their natural environment. A subtle paper might observe that the flood walls, which evoke military fortifications, offer only on perspective on the relationship between the town and the river. Less visible, but every bit as important is the network of pipes and pumping stations that not only connect the city to the river for drinking water and the disposal of run off, but also prevent the river from reclaiming these same connections to flood the city. In other words, the very landscape of flood control in the city emphasizes the need to protect the community from the river itself while hiding away the deeply interconnected relationship between the city and the water. 

The flood walls, of course, contribute in strikingly visible ways to the modern ontological distinctions that locate in separate categories the “natural” and the “cultural,” “human,” or “man-made.” Scholars who have engaged with the Anthropocene as not only a term useful for defining a new geological epoch shaped by human actions, but also an ontological challenge to the view that human activities represent a separate category from the affairs of nature. The challenge of contemporary, anthropogenic climate change, then, is a direct critique of the Grand Forks flood walls themselves and their militarized station dividing the unruly power of the Red River of the North, for the neatly organized settlement of Grand Forks.

It strikes me, then, that post-war efforts to harness rivers and to control the flooding in Grand Forks offers a particularly compelling example of the way in which mid-century consumer culture created new landscapes that sought to reify the division between humans and nature by making visible the power of humanity to bring it under control. To be clear, the post-war generation was not the first to do this—gardens culture, for example, long celebrated the ability of individuals to present nature in aesthetically, economically, and politically productive ways— but the mid-20th century marked the first time that humans could manipulate the landscape on such a massive scale. Archaeologists of these decades refer to this capacity as a hallmark of supermodernity in which nowhere on earth escapes the human intervention. No expression of this is more dramatic than the ability to spit the atom. This capability plays a key role in the creation of Cold War landscapes in the American West. These landscapes not only relied on the atomic power of the post-war “military-industrial-academic” complex for its national relevance, but also demonstrated how the confidence unleashed by the atomic age could introduce new levels of prosperity and security for at least some Americans and some of their allies.

Of course, the promises of prosperity and security appear increasingly illusory in light of growing evidence for climate change. Perhaps here is where the efforts to control the flow of the Red River through Grand Forks offer the most poignant or even useful metaphor. The division between the town and the natural spaces of the Greenway, while compelling in our daily lives where it is easy (and even necessary) to imagine nature held at arm’s length, is no more absolute than the collapsing ontological division between humanity and the wider relational network in which we live on Earth. 

Baptisteries in Greece and Cyprus

For some reason baptistery projects take a long time to come out. This week, two baptistery related projects of mine somehow reached milestones. It’s a Christmas miracle.

The first is the MASSIVE Cambridge Guide to the Architecture of Christianity edited by Richard A. Etlin. I had only a tiny contribution to this gigantic and long simmering project: “Early Christian Baptisteries.” From what I can tell, I started working on this project in 2010 or so. In fact, this project took so long to come to pass that you have to go to my OLD blog to find a draft of the published manuscript: You can read that draft of it here. You can check out the table of content here. I’m particularly pleased to have slipped an image of the Lechaion baptistery into this article!

Yesterday, I completed a draft of another long simmering project on the Early Christian baptisteries of Cyprus. It is a companion piece to one that David Pettegrew and I wrote on the Early Christian baptisteries of Greece.  

If you’re into baptisteries and into Cyprus, I think this as good a place as any to start. Note the bibliography at the end for key additional reading and reference!

The Baptisteries of Cyprus

Scholars have long recognized Cyprus as a crossroads in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Late Roman period. This location of the island between the Levant, Asia Minor, and the Aegean and its wealth during the Roman and Late Roman period shaped its distinct ecclesiastical and Christian history. The island’s location made it a predictable stopover for St. Paul (Acts 9:27; 11:19-26). Its connection to the Levant inspired traditions of prominent early bishops on the island including Paul’s companion Barnabas and the resurrected Lazarus. By the fourth century, the island sent three bishops to the Council of Niceae including St. Spyridon and by the end of the century produced the charismatic St. Epiphanius whose status a heretic hunter drew him to Constantinople to participate, albeit briefly, in the machinations surrounding St. John Chrysostom’s condemnation at the Synod of the Oak in 403. The prominence of Cypriot bishops in the first half-millennium of Christianity is just one indicator of the political and religious significance of the island. Indeed, the sudden discovery of the relics of St. Barnabas in the 5th century, helped bolster the island’s case for ecclesiastical independence from the See of Antioch and reinforce the uniquely autocephalos relationship between the Metropolitan bishop of Cyprus at Salamis-Constantia and the Patriarch in Constantinople. The prominence of the church and its leaders also fostered the growing number of relics on the island and helped make the island a place for pilgrims to stop on their way to the Holy Land. Even in the 7th century, as the Late Roman Eastern Mediterranean started to dissolve under the pressures of religious and political schism, Cyprus remained a key node in Christendom. Displaced populations, such as thousands of Armenians captured during the Persian wars, and displaced bishops, such as Cypriot-born St. John the Almsgiver who fled Egypt in advance of the Persian attacks on Alexandria, found new homes on the island. Throughout the Early Christian period, the island’s location, economic and political prominence, and ecclesiastical stature ensured that its churches were both impressive and diverse in style and shape (see Gordon and Caraher 2018; Mecalf 2009; Zavagno 2017).

Considering its geographic, political, and ecclesiastical context, it is hardly surprising that Cypriot churches drew freely on the architecture of the Near East, Asia Minor, and the Aegean coasts. This diversity of church architecture on the island suggests the presence of different communities with different liturgical practices as well as different groups of builders with access to different material and techniques. Like many places in the Mediterranean, the paucity of clearly dated buildings also means that our chronology of these churches remains provisional. Only a handful of the over 100 Early Christian churches on Cyprus have dates established on the basis of published archaeological excavations (for the most recent catalogue of Cypriot churches see Maguire 2012). As a result, it is difficult to discern development over time or to link architectural trends to the ecclesiastical history of the island. This is particularly disappointing as Cyprus’s location, distinct ecclesiastical history, and remarkable continuity has make it a useful for understanding the dissemination and transformation of church architecture in the Early Byzantine period.

Despite the large number of churches excavated on Cyprus, there are only six well-preserved baptisteries. Three are in the neighborhood of Metropolitan See on the island, Salamis-Constantia: Ay. Epiphanios in the city itself, Ay. Triada and Ay. Philon on the Karpas Peninsula. The are also two well preserved baptisteries at the Episcopal Basilica at Kourion and the coastal site of Ay. Georgios-Peyias. Most recently, the Department of Antiquities excavated a baptistery at the site of Petounta in Larnaka district (Georgiou 2013). There are several poorly preserved or poorly published baptisteries that add to this meager corpus. At the site of Shyrvallos near Paphos, salvage excavations revealed a baptistery in the early 1960s (Metcalf 2009, 459 with citations). An unpublished baptistery stands to the west of the basilica excavated east of the harbor at Amathous. There is also evidence suggesting a baptismal installations at the Chrysopolitissa basilica at Paphos.

The small number of baptistries excavated on Cyprus appears to be partly an accident of discovery and partly a feature of the island’s distinctive ecclesiastical landscape. The best preserved examples of baptisteries suggest that there was a tradition of monumental and architecturally elaborate structures that often stood adjacent to, but separate from the main body of the church. As a result, these monumental baptisteries tend to appear most commonly at churches excavated extensively. Urban contexts for many of the churches on Cyprus and salvage excavation practices has meant that excavators only occasionally opened the kind of exposures necessary to reveal the presence of a baptistery complex. It is hardly surprising, then, that three of the six well-preserved baptisteries are associated with churches located amid large scale excavations (Ay. Epiphanios at Salamis, The Episcopal Basilica at Kourion, and the baptistery basilica at Ay. Georgios-Peyia). Conversely, the absence of monumental baptisteries at Paphos, for example, which was an important ecclesiastical city with Biblical associations and the absence of any substantial Early Christian remains from the city of Kition (modern Larnaka) almost certainly reflects accidents of discovery.

That said, there is also some evidence that Cypriots developed smaller and simpler alternatives to the large-scale baptisteries present at the basilicas identified by large-scale excavations. These alternatives may have included mobile fonts, the use of annex rooms common to the Cypriot churches, or even space in the aisles, atria, or narthex. The presence of the remains of a baptistery in the south apse of the Chrysopolitissa basilica at Paphos and may well indicate the use of moveable baptismal fonts. Stewart suggests that a gap in the opus sectile floor in the north apse of Amathus Acropolis basilica might represent the remains of a displaced baptismal font at this building that otherwise lacks a formal baptismal space (Stewart 2013, 292).

The monumental baptisteries present on the island suggest adult baptism which perhaps correlates with the large-scale conversion of the island over the course of the 5th century. The baptisteries at Kourion, Ay. Philon, and Ay. Epiphanios are on slightly different orientations from their associated churches which would seemingly suggest either earlier or later construction. The excavators at Kourion and Ay. Philon, however, saw the similarities in form between the baptisteries and the basilicas at these sites as evidence for their close contemporaneity. Megaw largely dated the church at Kourion on the basis of coins found in foundation trenches and argues for a fifth century date for the basilica and links it to the prominent bishop Zeno who attended the Council of Ephesus in 431 (Megaw 2007, 158). Ay. Philon appears to have a similar date on the basis of numismatic evidence and the perhaps tenuous attribution of this church to Ay. Philon, a descendent of Ay. Epiphanios (Megaw and du Plat Taylor 1981). The church at Ay. Epiphanios was famously dated on the basis of the Life of Ay. Epiphanios in which God tells the fourth-century Bishop Epiphanios to build a church. This dates the church to the late 4th century at earliest and considering the scale and opulence of the building, it is probably safer to date the church to the early 5th century with modifications continuing into the 6th century. The baptistery is likely associated with the first phase of the building. The similarities between the baptistery at Ay. Trias and that of the nearby Ay. Philon (as well as the baptistery at Kourion and Ay. Epiphanios) would seem to support a 5th century date for that structure and coincides with the date assigned by Papageorghiou at least partly on the basis of a coin of Honorius (395-425) (Papageorghiou 1964, 372-374). The baptistery and basilica at Peyia with its Aegean influences is an outlier in terms of design, but seems likely to date to the 6th century if it is contemporary with its associated church (Papageorghiou 1985, 316). The baptistery at the site of Mazotos-Petounta produced coins dating from between the 4th and 7th century (Georgiou 2013, 123). Without additional context for these finds, it remains difficult to assign to this building a narrower date, but its general form suggests a fifth or sixth century date. These centuries represents a period of aggressive church building perhaps linked as much to the growing Christian population on the island at to efforts by Cypriot bishops to assert their independence from Antiochene authority at the Council of Ephesus in 431 (Maguire 2012, 138).

Richard Maguire’s 2012 dissertation offers the most convenient, recent, and thoughtful survey of the churches on Cyprus. He argues that the design of the four baptisteries – Ay. Epiphanios, Ay. Trias, Ay. Philon, and Kourion – served to support a processional baptismal rite (Maguire 2012, 97-139). To this we can add, albeit tentatively, the baptistery at Mazotos-Petounta. The basilica associated with this baptistery was not excavated, but it nevertheless shares sufficient similarities with the four studied by Maguire to be added to that group. He proposes a rite involving four spaces linked by corridors. A large atrium space allowed the catechumens to gather prior to the start of the rite itself. The candidate then proceeded into an apodyterion where pre-baptismal rites took place and the individual undress before moving to the font itself. Cruciform fonts suggest at least partial immersion and complemented the role of movement associated with the processional rite. The candidate would have walked down into the font by means of a staircase on one of the font’s cross arms and ascended, newly baptized, by another. They would then continue to the chrismarion where the newly baptized Christian received anointing with oil. Presumably then the fully baptized member of the church would enter the basilica and experience the full liturgy. Maguire suggests a link to the baptismal rituals and architectural forms at Jerusalem, Sidé in Turkey, Gerash, and the pilgrimage church at Qalat Sem’an in Syria. Considering the close, if sometime fraught, connections between the church on Cyprus and the ecclesiastical landscape of the wider Levant, this seems plausible. Moreover, the character of Cypriot baptisteries do appear to emphasize processional movement through a series of discrete spaces that mediate the converts liturgical and physical entry into the church.

A mild outlier of this group is the baptistery at Peyia. Its circular font is unusual for Cyprus, with only the poorly preserved font at the site of Shyrvallos in Paphos sharing this shape. The location of the Peyia baptistery to the west of the atrium rather than connected to the main nave may hint at an alternative baptismal liturgy, the use of the atrium as the start of the baptismal processional route, or just constraints imposed by the neighboring buildings. A similar arrangement is apparently present at the still unpublished basilica near the harbor at Amathus which might have reflect the physical limits of the church’s situation near the coast (Keane 2021, 52).

The association of baptisteries with the seats of bishops has largely been a given on the island. The close association of the imposing church of Ay. Epiphanios with the bishops of Salamis-Constantia make it the obvious cathedral. The size, location, and opulence of the Kourion basilica, baptistery, and residential space makes it the cathedral of that city. The baptistery at Peyia likely seems to be associated with a cathedral as is evident in the presence of a synthronon at the church and the adjacent elite residence plausibly associated with the bishop. The later synthronon at the site of Ay. Philon and the elaborate annex rooms may well indicate that it was also a probable cathedral. At the same time, the presence of a baptistery some 20 km away from Ay. Philon at the site of Ay. Triada suggests that some non-cathedral churches may have been also equipped with baptisteries on the island. Metcalf suggests that the church and the baptistery at Ay. Triada predated the more elaborate cathedeal at Ay. Philon and the bishop moved his seat sometime in the fifth century (Metcalf 2009, 275). It is more difficult to explain within the limits of contemporary evidence why some cathedrals lacked obvious baptisteries. The scant evidence for architecturally distinct baptisteries at the massive basilicas at Paphos, including the largely unpublished Chrysopolitissa church, may suggest that in these contexts baptisms took place using moveable fonts or less substantial installations that stood within the liturgical space of the church itself. This would allow us to understand, for example, the Chrysopolitissa as the cathedral of the city despite its lack of a formal baptistery.

The handful of baptisteries on Cyprus reflect a certain amount of continuity of design, ritual and tradition likely centered on around the seat of the metropolitan bishop at Salamis-Constantia. There are, however, some indications for the perennial tension on the island between local practices and broader regional influences. The presence of an Aegean-style baptistery at Peyia on the western side of the island suggests that the influence of the church at Salamis may have had its limits. While this would be hardly surprising, the relative paucity of excavated baptisteries on Cyprus makes speculative any conclusion surrounding the traditions and practices broadly operating on the island. The likely use of moveable fonts which may have left only faint traces in the archaeological record, chronological ambiguities, and the limits to many excavations, further complicates our understanding of ancient practices on the island. The remains that do exist, however, suggest that Cypriot baptismal rituals centered on processional movements similar to those found elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Bibliography

du Plat Taylor, J. and A.H.S. Megaw. 1981. Excavations at Ayios Philon, the Ancient Carpasia. Part II. The Early Christian Buildings. Report of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus, 209-250.

Georgiou, G. 2013. An Early Christian baptistery on the south coast of Cyprus. Cahiers du Centre d’Études Chypriotes 43: 117-126

Gordon, J. M., and W. R. Caraher. 2018. The Holy Island. In D. K. Pettegrew, W. R. Caraher, and T. Davis, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. Oxford University Press. 475-494.

Keane. C. 2021. “More than a Church: Late Antique Ecclesiastical Complexes in Cyprus.” Ph.D. Diss. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich.

Maguire, Richard. 2012. “Late Antique Basilicas on Cyprus sources, contexts, histories.” PhD diss., University of East Anglia.

Megaw, A. H.S. ed. 2007. Kourion: Excavations in the Episcopal Precinct. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks.

Metcalf, M. 2009. Byzantine Cyprus 491-1191. Nicosia: Cyprus Research Centre.

Papageorghiou, A. 1964. Ἡ Παλαιοχριστιανικὴ καὶ Βυζαντινὴ Ἀρχαιολογία καὶ Τέχνη ἐν Κύπρῳ κατὰ τὸ 1963. Ἀπόστολος Βαρνάβας 25: 153-162, 209-216, 274-284, 349-353.

Papageorghiou, A. 1985. L’architecture paléochrétienne de Chypre. Corsi di Cultura sull’Arte Ravennate e Bizantina 32: 229-334.

Stewart, C. 2013. Military Architecture in Early Byzantine Cyprus. Cahiers du Centre d’Etudes Chypriotes 43: 287-306.

Zavagno, L. 2017. Cyprus between the Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (ca. 600-800): An Island in Transition. London: Routledge.

On the Edge of a Roman Port

I have to admit that today’s blog post is a bit of a hot take on the very recently published volume: On the Edge of a Roman Port: Excavations at Koutsongila, Kenchreai, 2007-2014 edited by Elena Korka and Joe Rife. I’m not going to come out and say that this is the perfect holiday read, but runs to 1376 pages (about 400 pages longer than the new Cambridge Centenary Ulysses for some casual perspective). Like Ulysses, it’s probably best to realize that this is not a book that one can read in a single sitting.  

That said, it is an interesting and, at least for those of us invested in the Corinthia, an important book. It describes three major campaigns of excavation at the coastal site of Koutsongila on the littoral of the Eastern Corinthia. Koutsongila stands just to the north of the site of Kenchreai and features not only the northern and eastern extent of the Roman settlement but also a per-urban graveyard. The site primarily saw activity from the first century BC to the 7th century AD and then again during World War II when the Germans fortified the Koutsongila ridge with gun emplacements and trenches. The project directors embraced a diachronic approach that understood the importance of later activity at the site both in its own right, but also as contributing to site formation processes and how they understood the earlier material.  

It is also a significant book for those of us invested in thinking about the future of archaeological publishing. My hot take will introduce this work and offer some thoughts after spending four or so hours with it yesterday afternoon. In other words, this is not a review or even a definitive “take” on the book, but a series of excited observations inspired by my first few hours with this volume.

Here goes:

1. Lavish. This book is almost absurdly lavish. The cover is spectacular, graphics are sharp and abundant, and the pages are glossy. The design draws on the familiar format of the journal Hesperia which makes sense since this is a volume in their supplement series. 

The book runs to two volumes which together must weigh close to 10 lbs. As a result, this is very much an office, library, sturdy end-table book as opposed to “a work room in Greece” or “toss it in your carry on to use in the field” book. This is a bit of a shame since the detailed catalogue would be nice to use on the pottery bench.

Fortunately, the book will appear at some point in digital form via Jstor. 

More fortunately, much of the finds data is available via Open Context including this sexy little piece of Slavic Ware, which can then be located in its trench and locus (or excavation unit). Unfortunately, I can’t seem to figure out whether the also recorded deposit numbers (that is stratigraphic units) as part of their published dataset. It wouldn’t be very hard, though, to create a concordance of deposits to loci to allow a user to access all the material defined by a particular depositional context.

I do wonder whether the digital version of the book will include hyperlinks to the online data. This could be  massively helpful (or even something that a clever user retrofits at a later date).

2. This Is the End. Over the last year or so, I’ve been chatting with a bunch of folks about the future of archaeological publishing. Hecks, Jennie Ebeling and I even wrote a little “Op-Ed” about it in Near Eastern Archaeology. Generally speaking, we’ve been talking about whether it is worth planning volumes as the final or definitive publication of an archaeological project or whether we should start to think in terms of a wider range of interrelated outputs.

The Koutsongila volumes are traditional archaeological publications in their most refined and “late” form. Even the impeccable design and layout sensitivities of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens publication office, however, fell short of making this a genuinely user-friendly publication. The brilliantly reproduced illustrations, for example, often were hard to connect to the text or appeared several pages before they were discussed.

This is not a criticism of the layout!

This is just the reality of a visually rich publication attempting to accommodate equally robust textual interpretation and analysis. In fact, the ASCSA publication office even included key artifact illustrations (for example) in two places — once near the description of their context and once in the catalogue — so that the reader doesn’t have to flip back and forth between two volumes. This is thoughtful, but also must have been very demanding on the design team. Even with this kind of thoughtful detail, however, my effort to coordinate the illustrations with the text was not instinctive or natural. 

My point here is that the codex — even at its apogee — is not always well suited to reproduce in an intuitive way the complexities of archaeological information and the densely interwoven threads of archaeological knowledge making. This may be as far as our ability to adapt the codex form to intended task can take us. 

3. The Octagon. My hot take did go beyond my critique of the book’s form and consider its substance. The excavations at Koutsongila revealed a fairly lavish octagonal building dating to the 5th and 6th centuries that the excavators quite plausibly associated with some kind of Christian ritual activity at the site. Its connection with the surrounding cemetery and its octagonal shape make it plausible to assume that the building has connections to a local elite family or individual or even perhaps a local martyr cult. From what I could gather, the octagonal building does not have anything that they could plausibly associated with liturgical furnishings. So it seems unlikely to be a church. At the same time, its visibility and its contemporary date with the construction of a basilica on the south mole at Kenchreai suggests that it contributed to the Christianization of the town’s landscape and almost certainly reflected the growing prestige of town’s Christian community. It is interesting to note that the baptistery at Corinth’s western port of Lechaion is also octagonal in shape and plausibly associated with the martyr cult of St. Leonidas. Closer to Corinth, remote sensing near the still unexcavated so-called amphitheater church showed evidence for an octagonal anomaly that might be a baptistery. It seems that the Corinthians have a thing for octagons and the reproduction of this form at Lechaion, near Kenchreai, and perhaps at Corinth would have contributed to the experience of a Christian landscape.

4. Resilience. The excavators at Koutsongila do a great job demonstrating the resilience of the community over the 700 years of ancient activity at the site. By tracing the long life of structures at the site, the excavators demonstrate how the community adapted them constantly to changing needs and situations. 

Their ability to offer these kinds of observations and arguments emerges from the incredible care that the excavators took to document the material at the site. This includes analyzing of 220,000 objects (which must form an important dataset for making arguments about the kinds and proportions of material present at the site over time) and excavating with a keen eye for the human (and natural!) depositional processes  that shaped the site. As a result of this care, they have demonstrated how much it is possible to say about the long history of the site on the edge of a Roman port.

5. Koutsongila in Context. One of the great things about having such a thorough and thoughtful publication from a site in the Eastern Corinthia is that it raises the bar for everyone working in this region. More than that, it also presents a corpus of buildings, material, and developments that will invariably create a backdrop for analysis of, say, the analysis of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey, the ongoing work of the Michigan State Excavations at Isthmia, and the ongoing work at the Corinth Excavations itself (not to mention ongoing field and publication work at Nemea, at the Saronic Harbors Archaeological Research Project, at the Lechaion Harbor and Settlement Land Project, and projects elsewhere in the region).

Even as my “hot take” cools to more tepid temperatures, On the Edge of a Roman Port: Excavations at Koutsongila, Kenchreai, 2007-2014 will continue to provide the kinds of fundamental data that will fuel  hypotheses ready to be tested, challenged, and confirmed with material, histories, and buildings across the region. I’m looking forward to digging into more of the book over the holidays!

More New Work on Early Christian Attica

At the end of the semester, I tend to experience a bit of priority creep as the number of “do right now” projects (grading, end of semester deadlines, and so on) begins to encroach on the “do sometime soon” or “wouldn’t it be cool to do?” projects. That kind of ontological ambiguity which is only heightened by the symbolic weight of the end of the year and gnawing fatigue that comes from the end of a semester causes bad decision making.

All this to say, I kept reading around some of the very recent work on Early Christian Attica. 

Three more things as a follow up to my post from yesterday.

First, I finished reading chapter 6 titled “Aspects of Christianity in Athens, Attica, and Adjacent Areas” in Cilliers Breytenbach and Elli Tzavella new book, Early Christianity in Athens, Attica, and Adjacent Areas, from Paul to Justinian (1st-6th cent. AD) published by Brill as the first volume in a series called Early Christianity in Greece (ECG).

It’s a really nice synthesis of the archaeology, textual, and epigraphic data with a view toward producing the kind of study that would support comparative analysis of Christianization both in Greece and the wider Eastern Mediterranean world. This kind of generalizable study is particular commendable for a city like Athens where archaeologists have tended to celebrate its uniqueness (especially in the Classical period) and the number and intensity of excavations and the city’s 19th and 20th century history creates a sample that calls into question how representative the city would be even for the later periods. That said, the sober analysis of Breytenbach and Tzavella drawn from cemeteries, epigraphy, architecture, and texts reveals a region that underwent gradual conversion to Christianity (perhaps punctuated by episodes of violence). 

The attention to cemeteries and associate inscriptions, on the one hand, allows the authors to probe social and economic organization of the Christian community on a granular level by noting the prevalence of family burials and the range of professions named in Christian epigraphy. They could contrast this with the story of monumental architecture which traced the consolidation of worship, certain aspects of the economy, and ecclesiastical authority around church buildings. Whether churches absorbed the function of civic and pre-Christian cults or developed a completely distinctive range of functions is left to the reader to decide.

Second, one particularly useful observation made in Breytenbach and Tzavella’s work is that the absence of monasticism in Greece has perhaps been overstated. Epigraphic evidence from Athens, Megara, and Argos suggest that monastic communities did exist in Greece despite the absence of architectural evidence for monasteries. To be honest, fourth fifth century monasticism appeared across a wide wide range of architectural forms from rural villas to urban palaces, massive purpose built monasteries, and scattered, ephemeral, and informal hermitages across the Eastern Mediterranean landscapes. The absence of explicit material traces for monasteries in Greece is no more surprising than the absence of evidence for house-churches or other spaces associated with an emerging Christianity that had not fully accommodated its institutionalize shape.  

Third, I very much enjoyed Georgios Deligiannakis’s “From Paganism to Christianity in Late Antique Athens: A Re-Evaluation” in Ilinca Tanaseanu-Döbler and Leonie von Alvensleben’s Athens II: Athens in Late Antiquity (2020). Deligiannakis turns his keen eye to the evidence of Christianization at Athens and in Greece and argues that despite the privileged position that Greece has enjoyed in the history of ancient religion, the evidence for the Christianization of Greece does not appear to be much different from the process as experience elsewhere in the Eastern Roman Empire.

He makes a few keen observations that I think benefit any archaeologist serious about Christianization in Greece. First, he observes that the absence of chronological control over the construction of Early Christian churches in Greece makes them a poor indicator of Christianization as a diachronic process. The excavation of a house church in Messenia which may have remained in use into the fifth century reveals that Christian communities may have continued to meet in a wide range of spaces even as monumental basilica-style churches sprouted across the landscape. 

He also argues that, if we accept Mango’s proposed fifth-century date for the conversion of the Parthenon into a church (rather than the more conventional seventh-century chronology), this changes significantly how we see the Christianization of Athens. Rather than assuming that the pagan cult practices tenaciously hung out against a Christian onslaught, it suggests a city that recognized its pagan past as part of its Christian present and rather than seeking to erase pre-Christian monuments sought to integrate them into the Christianized symbolic and ritual landscape. This finds parallels both in Greece (at Delphi and Olympia, for example, although these are not necessarily chronologically locked down) and at sites such as Aphrodisias in Anatolia which likewise saw a 5th century conversion of a temple.

That said, Deligiannakis points out that this doesn’t mean there were no episodes of violence between Christianity and paganism, but instead these appear sporadic and episodic. This not only proposed the kind of nuanced landscape that includes various individuals and groups with different levels of believe and commitments that manifests itself in different kinds of interactions. I was heartened to see that Deligiannakis took seriously my colleague Richard Rothaus’s work in the Corinthia (as well as Tim Gregory’s reading of the Christianization of Greece). 

There are a number of other interesting and useful pieces in the Ilinca Tanaseanu-Döbler and Leonie von Alvensleben volume including some that seek to survey recent developments (with particular attention to work done by Italian scholars) in the archaeology of Late Antique Athens. If this were to ever become a serious research concern for me, I am sure that I would eagerly devour these works. Even though that is unlikely at present, I will certainly consider the contributions in both of these volumes as I return to work in the Corinthia this spring.