A Survey of Archaeological Excavation Manuals

In the lead up to the publication of the Corinth Excavation Archaeological Manual, I surfed the web a bit and found pulled together this little list of about 25 manuals that I could find doing simply Google searches on the internet. Of this group, only 6 are published manuals (in the broadest sense) included the classic J.P. Droop manual from 1915 and the frequently cited Dever and Lance manual from the late 1970s. Droop, Badè, and the Blakely, O’Connell, and Toombs’ manual are available online.

The rest of the manuals in this list are more or less grey literature in archaeology and, at least from my perspective, fairly ephemeral. To do my part, I pointed the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine at all of the manuals that might have a less than stable URL to create a little bit of an archive. Of particular note are the state manuals for various kinds of archaeological and cultural resource assessments. Each state has their own manuals that include the various procedures for producing official reports on archaeological sties, historical buildings, and landscapes. I’ve chosen to include just a few in that section. If there are particularly exemplary state manuals that my colleagues working in CRM and in the U.S. might recommend, I’d really like to add them,

Finally, the project manuals are a genuinely mixed bag and I’m under no illusions that these are somehow representative of the field (although I do think that they are basically representative of what is readily available on the web). I am interested in expanding this list especially for projects in the Mediterranean archaeology and in Italy and the West. For now, I think emphasizing manuals in English will manage to keep this collection reflective of broad trends in Anglo-American archaeological practice, but I could be convinced otherwise. It is notable that there are only two easily discoverable manuals from Greece (Corinth and Ayia Sotira) and only one from Cyprus (the TAESP survey manual from 2003, but the PKAP Manual, should we find it; I did find our useful lexicon of PKAP terms, though.) Notable among the project manuals is the MoLAS manual and a manual compiled by Gavin Lucas for work on the Fornleifastofnun Íslands.

Finally, this page is largely exploratory, but it is also to test the waters for the idea of a series of published excavation manuals from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. While I think that the great flurry of work in archaeological methodology (fueled, in part, by New Archaeology) has perhaps passed, I still think that elevating some particularly representative or even exemplary manuals from the realm of grey literature might be justified.


Additions to the list?

Drop me a line or make a comment! 


Published Manuals:

J.P. Droop, Archaeological Excavation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1915.

W. F. Badè, A Manual of Excavation in the Near East: Methods of Digging and Recording of the Tell en-Nasbth Expedition in Palestine. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press 1934.

Jeffrey A. Blakely, Kevin G. O’Connell, Lawrence E. Toombs, The Tell el-Hesi Field Manual. Cambridge, Mass. : American Schools of Oriental Research, 1980.

Martha Joukowsky, A Complete Manual of Field Archaeology. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, CA. 1980.

W. Dever and D. Lance, A Manual of Field Excavation: Handbook for Field Archaeologists. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 1982.

S.J. Dockrill, Old Scatness Excavation Manual. Lerwick: Shetland Heritage Publication 2007.


State Manuals

Scott Anfinson, SHPO Manual for Archaeological Projects in Minnesota (2005).

Oregon State Historic Preservation Office. Guidelines for Conducting Field Archaeology in Oregon. Salem, OR 2007.

Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Guidelines for Conducting Historical Resources Survey in Virginia. Richmond, VA. 2011.

Archaeological Resource Management Section (ARMS) of the Heritage Resources Branch. Avocational Archaeology Field Manual. 2nd Edition (Saskatchewan Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport. 2008) 

Parks Canada. Archaeological Recording Manual: Excavations and Surveys. Version 1.0. 2005.


Project Manuals:

Museum of London Archaeology Service, Archaeological Site Manual. Third Edition. Museum of London 1994.

Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, The Crow Canyon Archaeological Center Field Manual. 2001.

Gavin Lucas ed., Archaeological Field Manual: Fornleifastofnun Íslands. 3rd Edition. 2003.

Michael Given, Ian Evans, Tracy Ireland, Vasiliki Kassianidou, A. Bernard Knapp, Carole McCartney, Nathan Meyer, Jay Noller, Paul Pelosi, Luke Sollars, Neil Urwin, Kristina Winther Jacobsen, and Sevina Zesimou, Troodos Archaeological and Environmental Survey Project: Field Manual. Fourth Season. 2003.

Greg Jackman and Richard Tuffin, Archaeological Procedures Manual. Port Arthur Historical Site Management Authority. Version 1. 2005.

Tel Gezer Excavation Manual. Unedited and Preliminary Draft. May 2006.

Todd W. Bostwick and Steve Swanson, South Mountain Rock Art Project Field Manual: Recording Rock Art as Archaeology in the South Mountains, Arizona. Revised Edition 2007.

Corinth Excavations, Archaeological Site Manual. 2008.

Scott Brosowske, Texas Archaeological Society Field Schools: Ochiltree and Roberts Counties, Texas. Revised May 2009.

Surrey Archaeological Society: Excavation Recording Manual2010.

Larry G. Herr, Excavation Manual Madaba Plains Project. 2011.

Norvic ArchaeologyThe ROMFA Archaeological Recording Manual. 2011.

Todd W. Bostwick, Verde Valley Archaeology Center Field Excavation Manual. Verde Valley Archaeology Center. Camp Verde, AZ. 2013.

Brett A. Houk and Gregory Zaro, The Chan Chich Archaeological Project Field Manual. First Edition. Papers of the Chan Chich Archaeological Project, Number 9 Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work. Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas. 2015.

Totah Archaeological Project Field School: Excavation Manual. N.D.

Mary K. Dabney, Nemea Valley Archaeological Project Field Manual for the Ayia Sotira Excavation. N.D.


A Forthcoming Book from The Digital Press: Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual

This week has been pretty great. Yesterday I put the finishing touches (well, hopefully) on one of the most complex book projects to come through my little press: Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual. The manuscript has been sent to the printer (so to speak) and proofs are apparently ready to be sent.

As I have discussed earlier, the layout of this book was pretty tricky and even yesterday, the formatting complicated even very simple edits. The result was a marathon book making session that resulted in the final draft of the book being sent off just moments before I had to go to a meeting. Phew!

The good news is that the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual will be read next week in digital form and, with any luck, in print shortly there after. Just to prove it, the cover is ready:

CEM CoverPrinting

The back cover reads:

The Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual is first major field manual published from an American excavation in Greece and among a very small number of manuals published from the Eastern Mediterranean in the last generation. The appearance of this book is timely, however, as there is a growing interest in methodology and the history of excavation practices across the entire discipline of archaeology. Moreover, Corinth Excavations has long held a special place among American archaeologists in Greece as the primary training excavation for graduate students associated with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. As a result, the field manual has a particular significance and influence among American excavators and the archaeology of Greece.

Published as a technical field manual, an archival document, and a key statement of practice from a major excavation, the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual presents a guide for daily procedures at the Corinth, a complete record of documentation forms used in the field, and a practical glimpse into the functioning of a complex, major, project. The manual is a landmark text appropriate for the university student, the scholar of methodology, and the working field archaeologist from the excavation team of a Corinth Excavations.

All of the authors have worked on the excavations at Corinth in various capacities. This manual was developed under the directorship of Dr. Guy Sanders by former field directors Alicia Carter and Dr. Sarah James. Additional contributions come from past and present Corinth staff including assistant director Dr. Ioulia Tzonou-Herbst, architect James Herbst, conservator Nicol Anastassatou, and archaeo-botanical specialist Katerina Ragkou. The authors would also like to recognize the contributions of the many ASCSA students that used earlier versions of this manual for their valuable feedback over the past 10 years.

As a little sneak peek, here’s a link to the downloadable packet of forms associated with book.

More on another new book tomorrow.

An Introduction to Early Christian Archaeology

My colleague and friend David Pettegrew and I have been working on a massive Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology project for the last 30 (or, like, 3) years. As an upshot of this, I’ve been able to re-familiarize myself scholarship on Late Antique and Early Christian archaeology. It is also a fortuitous time for me to renew my interest in this field. Over the past decade there has been a remarkable outpouring of good and, more importantly, interesting scholarship in this field. 

As we worked on the various manuscripts and the introduction to the Oxford Handbook, David and I got to talking about writing a short introduction to Early Christian archaeology, and we have accidentally written close to 30,000 words as a start. Over the last few weeks, we’ve also been working on grant applications to support this project. 

Here’s a rough sketch of our ideas so far:

The book will be concise (<100,000 words), emphasize the role of archaeological methods in constructing Christian identity, and intended for an audience of both scholars and students of the Early Christian world.

This book is significant in two ways. First, the field of Early Christian archaeology largely falls outside of the Anglophone academic tradition. While scholars in France, Germany, Italy, and Greece have organized the use of material culture and archaeological evidence to study Early Christianity into a distinct and thriving field (see Deichmann 1983; Frend 1996; Bowes 2008 for surveys), scholars from North America and the U.K. who have focused on objects, architecture, and materiality in the Early Christian remains scattered across the disciplines of history, art history, Early Christian and Biblical studies, and Roman, Late Antique, and Byzantine archaeology. As a result, there has been a tendency for religious studies and archaeology to talk past each other despite some recent efforts to align research questions and various classes of evidence (e.g. Koester 1995; Friesen, Schowalter, and James 2014; Harrison and Welborn 2015) or to offer an encyclopedia overview of Early Christian material culture (Finney 2017). For example, a recent volume in the Brill series Late Antique Archaeology asked the question of whether the study of Late Antiquity (generally dated to the fourth to seventh centuries AD) warranted a distinct archaeological method (Lavan and Mulryan 2013). Applying a similar question to the archaeology of Early Christianity opens both archaeology and Early Christian studies to new opportunities for reciprocal critique. The relationship between material culture and belief, the architecture of Christian ritual, and the construction of Christian identities in landscapes densely populated with pre-existing religions, monuments, and memories push the theology of the incarnation, relics, and Christian materiality from theological works and scripture to real objects, buildings, and places. An Introduction to Early Christian Archaeology looks to continue efforts begun in the Oxford Handbook to examine the confluence between Early Christian archaeology as a field and the study of the Early Christian world as a topic of transdisciplinary interest.

The second aspect that makes this work significant is that it intends to emphasize a greater degree of methodological rigor than many previous surveys. The Anglophone academic tradition can take credit for many key advances in archaeological method in the past century from stratigraphic excavation to New Archaeology, intensive pedestrian survey, phenomenological approaches to the landscape, and reception theory in art and archaeology. The application of these methods in an explicit way to Early Christian material culture introduces a more critical approach to objects, buildings, chronologies, and narrative than currently common in world archaeology. The intent of this project is to expand the interpretative potential of Early Christian archaeology by grounding it in contemporary methodology. For example, archaeological methods have offered a revised, later date for the monumentalization of the Christian landscape around the city of Corinth. The later date of several buildings has suggested that they might not reflect the rapid, fifth-century expansion of Christianity in this provincial capital, but rather the growing investment in monumentalizing theological positions in the vigorous Christological disputes of the sixth century. Case-studies like these will demonstrate the value of rigorous archaeology for both a specialist audience looking for survey of how archaeology expands what we know about Early Christian society as well as a more general audience seeking to understand how a critical, contemporary approach to Christian material culture can expand our understanding of the spread of Christianity in the ancient world.

This project extends form my work on Early Christian place (Caraher 2014a), architecture (Caraher 2014b), ritual (Caraher 2015), and memory and abandonment (2010) primarily in the hinterland of the city of Corinth. This important Roman, Late Roman, and Early Christian city had a Christian community from the first century AD and appeared in both the New Testament and both contemporary and later non-canonical works. The community becomes visible in the archaeological record in the fifth century with the construction of a series large and elaborate of basilica-style churches and through the appearance of a corpus of Christian inscriptions. Since 2003, I have also worked on two sites on Cyprus with significant Early Christian phases. The site of Pyla-Koutsopetria included a partially excavated Early Christian basilica with features distinctive to the northeastern part of the island (Caraher, Pettegrew, and Moore 2014; Caraher, Pettegrew, and More, in preparation). The site of Polis-Chrysochous, on the far western side of the island, includes two basilica-style churches, extensive burials, and a substantial body of material culture (Caraher, Papalexandrou, and Moore 2013; Caraher and Papalexandrou 2012, Caraher, Papalexandrou, and Moore, under review). Like Corinth, Cyprus also appeared in the New Testament as well as in later hagiographic, historical, and epigraphic traditions as well as leaving behind a significant archaeological record (Caraher and Gordon, forthcoming).

This work as well as the Oxford Handbook will form the basis for An Introduction to Early Christian Archaeology which will be a collaborative project with David Pettegrew at Messiah College with whom I have worked on several projects for more than a decade. Over the last four months, we inadvertently prepared a 30,000-word introduction to our Oxford Handbook. While this introduction is currently being compressed to about 8,000 words to fit the requirements of that volume, it nevertheless offers an initial framework and basis of collaboration for the short book that we intend to produce. Our current plan for the book includes the following chapters. Each chapter will emphasize a particular issue central to the study of Early Christianity from an archaeological perspective and include both a survey of key monuments, evidence, and arguments as well as a brief case study highlighting how archaeological approaches can expand how we understand the Early Christian world:  


Introduction. The Archaeology of Early Christianity (historiography, approaches, and concepts)

Chapter 1. The Empty Tomb: The Archaeology of the New Testament (texts and archaeological contexts in the New Testament world)

Chapter 2. The Intangible Church (Christianity and the archaeology of religious communities in the first-second centuries)

Chapter 3. The Living Dead (Christianity and the mortuary archaeology in the third century)

Chapter 4. Building the Kingdom (Analysizing Early Christian architecture in the fourth to sixth centuries)

Chapter 5. The Quest for the Holy (Christian objects and identity from late fourth to sixth centuries)

Chapter 6. Sacred Landscapes (Constructing of Christian landscapes in the fifth to sixth century)

Chapter 7. Christian Capitals (Christianizing urban space in the sixth-seventh centuries)



Bowes, K. “Early Christian Archaeology: A State of the Field.” Religion Compass 2.4 (2008): 575–619.

Caraher, W. 2015. “Epigraphy, Liturgy, and Imperial Policy on the Justinianic Isthmus,” in “Bridge of the Untiring Sea”: The Corinthian Isthmus from Prehistory to Late Antiquity (Hesperia Suppl. 48) ed. E. Gebhard and T. E. Gregory.

-, 2014a. “Patronage and Reception in the Monumental Architecture of Early Christian Greece,” In Approaching Monumentality in Archaeology. IEMA V. James Osborne ed. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2014.

-, 2014b. “The Ambivalent Landscape of Christian Corinth: The Archaeology of Place, Theology, and Politics in a Late Antique City,” for Corinth in Contrast: Studies in Inequality. Eds. S. Feisen, D. Schowalter, S. James. Leiden: Brill.

-, 2010. “Abandonment and Religious Continuity in Post-Classical Greece” The International Journal of Historical Archaeology 14 (2010).

Caraher, W., A. Papalexandrou, R.S. Moore. 2013. “The South Basilica at Arsinoe (Polis-tes-Chrysochou): Change and Innovation in an Early Christian Basilica on Cyprus,” Cahiers du Centre d’Études Chypriotes 43: 79-92.

-, under review. “The South Basilica at Polis on Cyprus” Hesperia.

Caraher, W., and A. Papalexandrou. 2012. “Arsinoe in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages,” for Polis: City of Gold. Eds. W. Childs and J. Smith. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Caraher, W., D. Pettegrew, R.S. Moore. 2014. Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research.

Caraher, W., D. Pettegrew, R.S. Moore. In preparation. Pyla-Koutsopetria II: Archaeological Excavation of an Ancient Coastal Town. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research.

Caraher, W., D. Pettegrew, T. Davis, eds. Forthcoming. Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Caraher, W. and J.M. Gordon. Forthcoming. “Early Christian Cyprus,” in W. Caraher, D. Pettegrew, T. Davis, eds. Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Deichmann, F.W. 1983. Einführung in die christliche Archäologie. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

Finney, P.C., ed. 2017. The Eerdmans Encyclopedia of Early Christian Art and Archaeology. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Frend, W.H.C. 1996. The Archaeology of Early Christianity: A History. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.

Feisen, S., D. Schowalter, S. James eds. 2014. Corinth in Contrast: Studies in Inequality. Leiden: Brill.

Harrison, James R., and L.L. Welborn. 2015. The First Urban Churches I: Methodological Foundations. Atlanta: SBL Press.

Koester, H., ed. Ephesos, Metropolis of Asia: An Interdisciplinary Approach to its Archaeology. Religion, and Culture. Valley Forge, PA: Trinity Press International, 1995.

Two Articles on Early Christian Archaeology

This year, I’ve been returning to my roots and thinking more seriously about the archaeology of the Early Christian world. I’ve been reading a bunch of the recent work focusing on the intersection of Early Christian studies and archaeology, and surfing through some of my favorite journals to catch up on recent articles on issues like Christianization and the construction of Christian landscapes. I was fairly intrigued by Troels Myrup Kristensen’s article in the Journal of Early Christian Studies, “Landscape, Space, and Presence in the Cult of Thekla at Miriamlik” and Jacqueline Sturm’s, “The Afterlife of the Hephaisteon: the Interpretatio Christiana of an Ancient Athenian Monument,” in Hesperia

Troels’ article examined the creation of a Christian landscape in the complex space of Thekla’s shrine at the ancient site of Miramlik in Turkey. He interleaves the two, well-known texts associated with Thekla, the rather early Acts of Paul and Thekla, and the fifth-century Miracles of Thekla, with a sensitive reading of the region around Miriamlik’s landscape and history. The site of Miriamlik has seen relatively little formal archaeological investigate over the past century, but there remained plenty of significant archaeological analysis possible on the basis of what is already known.

For example, Troels notes that as late as the fifth century, the pagan landmarks remain sufficiently well-known to represent a significant foil to the Christian landscape constructed on the basis of Thekla’s miracles. He also unpacked potential political, religious, and even visual relationships between the site of Thekla’s sanctuary the nearby city of Seleukeia, the pagan sanctuary of the Sarapeion, and the surrounding productive landscape. The links between the city of Seleukeia and the sanctuary as well as between Miriamlik and the coastline defined more than simply routes of travel, but also the relationship between the site and pilgrims, local ecclesiastical official, and other travelers. Finally, Troels explores the experience of a pilgrim to the site and the contrast between the open space of the basilica-style church and the more enclosed and intimate space of a cave sanctuary (which evoked other cave sanctuaries in the region and in the Christian tradition)l  The article unpacks the complexity of the local landscape, the role of two prominent Early Christian texts, and the place of the cult of Thekla in both the experiences of visitors and in establishing new relationships in the region. 

Jacqueline Sturm’s article on the Christianization of the Hephaisteion is remarkable for several reasons. First, like the site of Miriamlik, the Hephaisteion has not seen significant new archaeological investigation for two generations. In fact, there has been little significant archaeological work on the Christianization of Athens in the last 50 years and most of the more recent scholarship has been a reconsideration of longstanding archaeological evidence with all of its limitations and ambiguities. Sturm’s article argues that the Centauromachy on the temple’s frieze was susceptible to an interpretatio Christiana which saw the battle as the conflict of good versus evil. This led to the temple undergoing a “gentle” conversion to a church in the fifth-century rather than showing evidence for more destructive forms of spoliation and conversion. 

Sturm does a nice job exploring the role of iconography in Christian practice and the context of the building in the Christianization of Athens. The challenge, as always, is chronology. No major Christian or Christianized monument in Athens has been dated on the basis of stratigraphic excavation. Instead, the evidence comes from a small number of literary sources (most notably the Vita Procli of Marinus), evidence for reuse of spolia from better known monuments, and the poorly understood role of historical figures like Eudokia and events like the Visigothic raid to punctuate the lives of various buildings throughout the city. Like the shrine at Miriamlik, the conversion of the Hephaisteion represents a negotiation between the needs of the Christian community, persistent notions of civic identity, spatial politics, and economic realities of the Late Roman world.    

Both articles consider some central themes to the study of Early Christianity through archaeology. First, they recognize the vital role of urbanism and pre-Christian religious practices in the ordering of Early Christian space. Second, both article understand the intersection of Christian visual culture and both texts and the wider monumental and iconographic world of antiquity. Third, they seem to understand that Christian landscapes and monuments are fundamentally social objects and the creation of Christian space relied on memory as a contemporary practice as opposed to some disembodied residue that clung to old things. Finally, the archaeology of Early Christianity involves both archaeology and material culture as well as the excavation of earlier field work with all of its limitations and potential.

Updates from The Digital Press: Digital Infrastructure

One of the biggest challenges for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is developing (or more properly discovering) the digital infrastructure necessary to support robust and persistent digital context to complement the traditional books. As long as books are just volumes distributed via Amazon in paper or made available as PDFs, a relatively simple system works. 

The challenges get bigger when it comes to coordinating media that exists as both a book – either in paper or in some simple digital form. As a mid-sized institutions going through some pretty significant budget cuts, we don’t have the resources to support an in-house repository (yet!), as a result, I need to use services and resources already available on the open web. Sorting this all out will be particularly significant in the next few weeks as two nearly completed projects require supplemental material. 

My instinct is to use the Internet Archive to support my relatively modest needs. For example, I am almost ready to announce that I will be publishing Corinth Excavations’ Archaeological Manual. This will be the first major, published excavation manual from a project in the Mediterranean published in the last 40 years (probably since the last edition of Dever and Lance’s A Manual of Field Excavation in the early 1980s). The book will include a digital supplement which includes the forms the the Archaeological Manual recommends using in the field. These will be reproduced in the slim book (around 170 pages), but at a size appropriate for the rather narrow (8.5 x 5.5) volume. In the supplemental material, we will make them available at full size to download. Since the entire volume will be CC 4.0-By, the plan is to put the supplemental material up in the Internet Archive for download with the idea that the Internet Archive can produce a persistent URL. But I obviously want to make sure that this will all work how I think it will work so when I include the link in the paper and digital volume, it will work for years to come.

Oh, and I started working on the cover. Corinth is a pretty conservative place and the Archaeological Manual is a pretty technical, specialist book, so I wanted to convey something of the conservative, technical nature of the work. I really like Gil Sans for the title, and think that anything bolder would look overwhelming. I used Times New Roman for the author’s names. There are a lot of authors on this manual so that was tricky.

CEM Cover 01

A similar issue faces my work with Micah Bloom’s Codex project. The book (about books… check out the link) also includes a video. The original plan was to archive the video in our newly minted institutional repository, but my instinct is that we won’t have this up and running by the time that the book needs to be produced in early May. So, like the supplemental material for the Corinth Archaeological Manual, I need a place to post the video that will provide a persistent link so that we can embed connect the book and the video. I’m hoping the Internet Archive can provide this.

With the SAAs beginning this week, I decided to create a little landing page for folks who are checking out The Digital Press for the first time. Just for fun, I’m embedding live views of the books from the Internet Archive. It’s not an ideal layout, but fun and dynamic way to show off The Digital Press’s archaeology catalogue. Here’s a preview


Finally, yesterday I mentioned that my graduate historiography class is working on a project relating to the humanities, history, and the UND budget crisis. Just for fun, I designed a book cover or a poster for the project. If figure it might help promote their work when we release it for local and then public comment. 

It’s nothing that’ll win a design award, but I like it: 

DefendingHistoryCover 01

As you can probably guess, this post is partly a cry for help, but also a little update on recent projects. If you can help, please do! If you’re curious about getting an advanced copy of forthcoming publications, do drop me a line! If you just want to insult my design skills, do that as well!

Three Thing Thursday: Cities of Salt, Digital Practice, and Borders

Maybe I’ll make a habit of this over the next few months. Or maybe not. (I’m tempted to be one of those bloggers who releases shorter posts throughout the day. In fact, I’m tempted enough to write those posts, but not as tempted to push them out over the course of the day.)

Anyway, here are three unrelated things that are flitting through my addled mind.

1. Abdelrahmen Munif’s Cities of Salt should be required reading in North Dakota. The novel describes the disruptions experienced in an unnamed Middle Eastern country with the discovery of oil. It begins in a verdant oasis which is destroyed and, then, moves on to a dreary coastal town where the American company houses Arab workers, many displaced from their previous homes in the oasis, in a series of man camps. The first camps were tents set up along the beach in neat lines and after they worked to construct an American-style town to accommodate the American workers, they were moved to a series of barracks where the lead used in the tin roofs dripped down on them during the day as it melted in the sun. Both the American-style town and the various camps for the Arab workers were set apart from each other and their surrounding by barbed wire and access control points. Munif set these in contrast to the oasis, which despite being a physically distinct environment from the surrounding desert, nonetheless saw the constant flow of caravans and other movement that emphasized its integration with the rest of the world.

While I haven’t finished the book, Munif provides a dynamic and deeply social portrayal on the way that extractive industries can disrupt the interplay between society and the environment. (For more on this, see my Tuesday post.)

2. The Character of Digital Practice. I spent a little time yesterday afternoon and last night fiddling with a paper that some colleagues and I will give at next week’s Society of American Archaeology annual meeting. One of the things that my co-authors, Derek Counts and Erin Averett, have really prompted me to think about some of the binaries that shape how we think and talk about archaeological work. For example, the distinction between data collection and analysis, between data and interpretation, between being in the field and being in the lab or in the office, between doing and thinking. These binaries both reflect long-standing philosophical divisions between, say, mind and body, here and there, and describing and interpreting, but they also represent differences in experience between being hot and dirty and tired in the field and being clean and rest and cool in one’s office or coordinating team leaders and trench supervisors on the ground and running statistical analysis on a dataset.

It is easy enough to characterize these binaries as false and unhelpful. For example, we understand that certain assumption, expectations, and structures of digital data collection directly shape the kind of archaeological interpretations and knowledge that we make. At the same time, these divisions are real and they do shape our approach to the tools – digital or otherwise. For me, negotiating this tension seems to be very close to the heart of how we understand digital practices in field archaeology. While I am always quick to lump all aspects of archaeology together as “interpretation and knowledge making,” I think that this kind of lumping might be reaching the end of its usefulness in the case of understanding digital practices in the field. Digital technologies do present ways to break through certain binaries, of course, but they also exist in a particular place and moment of archaeological practices.

3. Borders. Yesterday, I had the real pleasure of hearing Viet Thanh Nguyen speak about his work, including his 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Sympathizers. As a Vietnamese-American writer he talked a good bit about how various borders – physical, literary, and economic – served to define the limits of how a minority author could express himself or herself. He talked about how he worked to defy literary expectations and instead of writing, what he called “little brown realism,” he sought to write in a more self-consciously literary style. It was a novel written by a minority and the son of refugees that wasn’t a minority novel. 

He likewise discusses the roles of borders in defining groups and impeding movement while acknowledging that his family’s experience as refugees from Vietnam was made possible by Cold War politics and the favorable optics of the United States accepting refugees from a communist country. He also recognized that this kind of permeability of borders with information, culture, animals, tacos (yum!), and capital crossing from one country to the next. This permeability of borders, for Nguyen, held forth the future of the world where borders don’t exist. At worst, humans would flow like capital and best like culture.


Preliminary Thoughts on Digital Practices in Archaeology

Before you read my blog today, head over to Shawn Graham’s Electric Archaeologist and check out his critique of my idea of slow archaeology. I agree with 98% of what Shawn writes in his post; in fact, I started writing the following post prior to reading his. You’ll not that it is not a perfect response, but that’s ok.

I’ve been trying to systematize my ideas about digital archaeology in light of recent (and largely deserved) critiques of slow archaeology (for my most recent and formal publication on this, go here; for a bit of an idea how my ideas developed incrementally go here (and read this here)). This is just kind of a draft of ideas, but maybe it’s a helpful way to organize my own thinking moving forward.

The critiques that have stung the most are not that I’m some kind of Luddite archaeology with my dumpy level and notebook, but that slow archaeology by appropriating the popular “slow” moniker carried with it the elitist baggage of the slow food movement or the hipster movement or whatever. From my privileged position as a tenured professor with a number of successful (let’s say) field projects under my belt, I’m changing the rules of the game when I preach the benefits of archaeological practices that privilege reflexive practice over systematic “data collection” and digital analysis. Shawn Graham delicately hints that this kind of rhetorical posturing could represent a kind of gate-keeping that excludes a vast number of good, working archaeologists who spend their days interpreting data, racing before the bulldozers in salvage projects, or living hand to mouth as an adjunct professor.

Of course, this critique horrified me!  I have always considered my interests in digital archaeology as much a work toward ethical practices as methodologies. What has become clear to me at this point is that my ideas of slow archaeology and my critiques of digital practices have become pretty muddled (probably because I’ve been working them out in a very public way at conference, on this blog, and in conversations).

Here’s another effort to systematize my ideas and to bring to the fore the ethical issues not so much in response to Shawn’s critiques, but as a kind of counterpoint that argues for slow archaeology as an reflexive archaeology of care as much as prescriptive set of practices. 

My interest in digital archaeology centers three key, but interrelated issues. To my mind (right now), each of these has their own issues related to them, but also overlap with other categories in meaningful ways. A slow archaeology – or whatever – would represent a critique that runs through all of these categories.

1. Ethics of Access.

A few years ago, I wrote a paper for an AIA panel where I basically said that the digital revolution (or whatever) was pretty uneven in archaeology. Big projects could afford big, bespoke digital systems and small and midsized projects tended to use off-the-shelf solutions in ad hoc and DIY ways. At the time, I think that I imagined that this was a pretty disturbing revelation to many people (and in the spirit of Punk Archaeology). Small projects, in my mind, represented the future of archaeological work because, to my mind at the time, disciplinary and economic realities had long ago eroded the preeminence of large projects in our field.

In hindsight, I probably underestimated the degree to which big projects have set the standard for small and mid-sized projects. For example, my little project, PKAP, used a version of the Corinth Manual as a our field manual and adapted databases that had been in use for decades earlier on the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS).

Despite these reservations, I continue to think that access to digital tools remains a crucial concern. In the most obvious way, we can talk about how digital tools tend to be developed among wealthier academic projects in the Mediterranean and South America rather than local archaeologists (who, as we all know, innovate in different ways). At a conference once, a colleague once said (with a bit of a wry smile) that projects that couldn’t afford iPad maybe shouldn’t be doing field work. This was directed at academic excavators and there is maybe a kernel of truth there, but most archaeological projects in the world today still do not use tablets or iPads for economic and historical reasons. In fact, the rather lavishly funded (by global standards) archaeological project in Greece, the Western Argolid Regional Project, does not use iPad, in part, because we thought that the expense of maintaining iPad for 6 or 7 field teams over a 3-year season and attendant infrastructure was too high. 

Issues of access take on a more dire cast when we consider the extreme example of how digital technologies bring the tools of the surveillance state to our discipline with all of the panoptic exclusivity that this entails. At its most extreme, we have projects using drones and satellites taking images to track the progress of looting in war torn regions. At its most mundane, we’re talking about projects using “inexpensive” drones that allow archaeologists to map out landscapes in a ways that are both arresting and invasive.

New tools from iPads to drones are shaping both explicit models of “best practice” and our disciplinary expectations in ways that embrace both the spirit and costs of technological solutionism.

An ethics of access considers how uneven levels of technological knowledge and expertise functions at the level of the dig. For example, we all know projects where senior project directors don’t really “get” the database or the GIS and this has a significant impact on how the project is run on both a day-to-day level and over time. The fragmentation of digital data (as I’ll discuss later) quite literally reinforces the fragmentation of archaeological expertise which is both a vital part of the larger professionalization process of the discipline, but also challenge and a barrier for any model of knowledge production that seeks to synthesize specialist knowledge to produce holistic or totalizing views of the past. As professionalization is – first and foremost – an ethical concern, the transparency and compatibility of various forms of specialist knowledge, whether mediated by digital practices or not, intersect vitally with issues of access.   

Finally, there are also issues of who and how much access the “public” has to our data especially when projects are funded from pubic funds.

It seems to me that these are all issues of access that are not exclusively digital (after all access to material has always been a key aspect of archaeological knowledge making), but have emerged with particular vividness in discussions of digital technologies in the discipline.

2. Ethics of Process

I originally wanted to call this the “ethics of practice,” but I supposed that issues of access are important elements of practice as well. What I’m really trying to get at with this the issue of process is how digital technology has shaped the process of knowledge making in the field. I think this is where Mobilizing the Past has made the greatest contribution and where my views on things are both most out of sync with the field, but also perhaps least clever.

With slow archaeology, I tried to argue that digital tools are transforming how we produce knowledge “at the trowels edge.” The application of slow archaeology to this process was not to tell archaeologists that digital practices were bad, but to encourage archaeologists to think reflexively about digital technologies. This largely grew out of an anxiety that there are folks who want to see digital technologies as “tools” that are somehow value neutral or who offer a simple cost/benefit binary as a the best way to understand the adoption of a particular technology. In the most simplistic application of this “toolbox” mentality, digital technologies replace existing “analogue” archaeological practices with a cheaper, more accurate, and more efficient alternative. This level of methodology is not very helpful to my mind because the “tools” we use shape the knowledge we create.

On the other hand, I probably pushed the argument too far when I started to become overly fixated on archaeological knowledge making as a holistic or somehow integrative process from the first day of planning to the final publication. Of course, viewing archaeology “holistically” (or systemically?) is important, but I suspect that my tendency to understand the entire process of archaeological work as irreducible caused me problems. Archaeologists have long devoted critical attention to the various phases in the larger interpretative project, and practical attention to how technology transforms these processes is vital to understanding how the discipline is changing.

As folks know, I see most of how we talk about digital technology being shaped by either industrial practices like Taylorism or the empiricism of New Archaeology. Both of these things tend to like to fragment archaeological processes in the field and in analysis and interpretation, and I see a parallel between these processes and the way digital technology fragments data. Maybe there’s a parallel between Wheelerian pixelization of archaeological sites into Wheeler boxes and open area excavations?

The role of Latorian “black boxing” contributes to the ethics of process in archaeology (as well as to issues of access) and real conversations about how much control over archaeological processes digital technologies offer and how fragmented we make our sites remain of interest to me. How do we understand the dense networks of technology, interpretative assumptions, historical practices, and objects creating archaeological knowledge?

Perhaps the ethical issues, for me at least, involving the use of digital technology in archaeological processes center on how we talk about these technologies. I do not see archaeology as reducible to a series of practices and tools grounded in efficiency, accuracy, and economy. I am not even sure that I see archaeology grounded in the “proof of the pudding is in the eating” (although that does play a part). After all, we regularly make ethical decisions in practice and on a disciplinary level that do not require such proof. We don’t need to prove, for example, that greater gender balance in projects produces better results, for example.

So for me, (and this is why some of these critiques have stung a bit), slow archaeology or critical attention to processes and practices is not simply about producing better results, but about producing a better, more inclusive, and more reflexive discipline. 

3. Pulling Apart Publication

So if an ethics of process asks archaeologists to pull apart archaeological practices in the field to understand how both current and longstanding technologies have shaped archaeological knowledge, pulling apart the publication asks archaeologists to think about how the same digital tools will challenge how we understand the boundary between the published and the unpublished, the public and the private, and the provisional and the final.

I think the same pressures that have fragmented archaeological knowledge production at the digital trowel’s edge are fragmenting publications as well. For example, platforms such as Open Context are highly specialized and the needs for a project to present different kinds of data within particular technological contexts will continue, I suspect to drive a kind of specialization within publishing. I am really excited about Eric Kansa’s idea of slow data as step toward conceptualizing digital publishing in practical and ethical ways. 

I think there is some interesting cross pollination between folks working on the history of the book (I was particularly intrigued by Laura Mandell’s Breaking the Book (2015), but she essentially summarized a vast (and intimidating) body of recent scholarship that has located the book (and the scholarly article as well) at the intersection of particular historical, social, cultural, and technological circumstances (which I know can be said of anything)). But Mandell’s point (among many) is that the nature of the book itself produces a kind of authority. It’s physical shape, the role of publishers, authors, and even copyright promoted the integrity of the book or article as as source of authority.

Without becoming one of those people who call everything revolutionary or disruptive, I do think that digital practices will lead us – particularly in technical publications – to publish our work in different ways as we look to adapt the concept of publication to the structural strengths of digital technologies. Maybe this will allay Shawn’s concern that by adopting the concept of “slow” from the slow food movement that we are advocating a kind of anti-technological or worse intentionally impractical approach to archaeological knowledge or attempting to drive a wedge between “digital archaeologists” and “analogue archaeologists.” Nothing could be further from the truth! At its core, slow archaeology is nothing more than a targeted rebranding of long-standing conversations in archaeological methodology and reflexive practices. Slow offered a convenient foil to calls for increased efficiency and speed so closed aligned with dominant narrative of technological solutionism and the speed of capitalism.    


Three Things Thursday

I know, this is getting to be kind of lame, but whatever… I have a few fun little posts for this week that I’ll bring together here.

Bakken Goes Bust

First, everyone should go and read my buddy Kyle Conway’s recent work on the Bakken. He and I have been talking lately about producing something that discusses how the Bakken Goes Bust. In many ways, this is a follow up and expansion of our 2016 edited volume, The Bakken Goes Boom (2016).

So far, he’s written two posts with the hope that other people chime in, but as we’ve discovered, things are never that easy. So we’ve chatted a bit about a virtual conference on the topic, and I think that might work, but we’d have to figure out exactly how to structure it. 

The UND Writers Conference

The UND writers conference is the highlight of every spring here in the North Dakotaland. Even when I don’t love the theme or the speakers, the event is amazing. This year, I do like the them “Citizen” so check out the program and plan to wander over to UND’s campus. Here’s the director talking about this year’s conference.

It looks great.

American School of Classical Studies at Athens Annual Meeting

One of the strangest and (sometimes) wonderful things about archaeology is that archaeological knowledge disseminates in a wide range of ways. The annual meeting of the foreign schools in Athens is one of the bests ways to learn about ongoing archaeological work as each school summarizes the work of its projects over the course of the year. This information comes out in advance of international conference papers, published reports, peer-reviewed articles, and, certainly, final publication. There is something profoundly local about the practice of the annual meetings and the practice of presenting the results of the year in Athens ties the provenience of objects and the location of sites to the public venue where results and analysis are first disseminated.

I remember the first times I went to the annual meeting and the feeling that I had “insider” information that was not immediately available to people living outside of Athens. There was a feeling that archaeology was about being in that place.

 Of course, technology has changed this (and I thought about this change in a more systematic way here). You can watch the American School of Classical Studies’ Annual Meeting live stream here. It’s tomorrow at 7 pm EET (or 11 am CST). 

The Medieval Countryside at a Regional Scale in the Western Argolid and Northeastern Peloponnesus

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a call for papers for a panel  on the Medieval Countryside at the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting next January.

Life intervened and we missed the deadline to submit a paper. Fortunately, the organizer, Effie Athanassopoulos was merciful and nudged the deadline a bit for us.

Here’s our abstract:

The Medieval Countryside at a Regional Scale in the Western Argolid and Northeastern Peloponnesus

Dimitri Nakassis, University of Colorado
Sarah James, University of Colorado
Scott Gallimore, Wilfrid Laurier University
William Caraher, University of North Dakota

The study of the Medieval Mediterranean is paradoxical. On the one hand, scholars have continued to define the master narrative for the Medieval and Byzantine periods in the Mediterranean through politics and church history. On the other hand, few periods have seen as concerted an effort to understand the life and experiences of non-political classes from villagers to monks, mystics, and merchants. At the risk of simplifying a complex historiography, historians of the Annales school pioneered the study of everyday life in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. At the same time, Byzantine historians have drawn influence from concepts of cultural materialism to critique the co-development of particular economic and political systems and to recognize the fourth to fourteenth century as a period of rural transformation. This work has found common ground with landscape archaeologists who since the 1970s have sought to emphasize long-term, quantitative methods within tightly defined regional contexts to understand the tension between local and regional developments in the Medieval the countryside.

Recent work in the Peloponnesus and central Greece by the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project, The Argolid Exploration Project, the Boiotia survey, the Methana Survey Project among others, provides a methodologically-sophisticated, regional perspective on the Medieval countryside that is almost unprecedented in the Mediterranean. This paper add to this existing body of regional evidence based on three seasons of the Western Argolid Regional Project. From 2014-2016, this project documented 30 sq km of the Inachos river valley through highly intensive pedestrian survey. This work has revealed significant post-Classical activity ranging from Late Antique habitation to 13th century settlements and Venetian towers. These sites derive greater significance from both the impressive body recently published fieldwork on the countryside of the northeastern Peloponnesus and the well-documented histories of the urban centers of Argos, Nafplion, and Corinth. The existence of both rural and urban contexts in this region offers a unique opportunity to consider the tensions between town and country and rural life and urban politics in the post-Classical centuries. The result is a study of the Medieval countryside that probes the limits of the long-standing and largely urban and political master narrative while also demonstrating significant regional variation.


NVAP II: Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside

It was pretty exciting to read through one of the most eagerly await archaeological volumes of the last decade, Effie Athanassopoulos’s Nemea Valley Archaeological Project II: Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside (2016) published by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. The book is impeccably produced with lots of color, glossy pages, well-set and proofed texts, meticulous detail, and fine illustrations, maintaining the ASCSA’s standing as the most consistently elegant of the major archaeological publishers. 

The book itself is a hybrid, bridging the gap between the great second wave survey projects in Greece and more mature, contemporary attitudes to landscape and intensive pedestrian survey. Traditionally, intensive surveys in Greece are published in one of two ways: a series of articles dedicated to methods and particular periods or in a single, massive tome which approach the landscape in a diachronic way through various methods. Effie’s book is a single volume dedicated to the Medieval period from an intensive survey, and in this way is rather unique (or at very least comparable to F. Zarinebaf, J. Bennet, and J. L. Davis. 2005. A Historical and Economic Geography of Ottoman Greece: The Southwestern Morea in the 18th Century (2005)). Moreover, unlike Zarinebaf, Bennet, and Davis, NVAP II is strictly archaeological with only very cursory references to texts.

After an introduction of less than 60 pages, most of the book is dedicated to the intensive documentation of individual sites. This includes large and important 12th-13th century settlement site called “Site 600″ or Iraklio/Medieval or Turkish Fountain which extended over 34 ha and produced nearly 1000 potentially Medieval sherds as well as much smaller sites sometimes producing little more than a handful of Medieval fineware sherds. A number of the sites are associated with standing churches with a number of them (e.g. Site 501 and Site 509) also preserving evidence for agricultural production. What is interesting is that these sites are presented as from a survey archaeologists’ perspective with survey unit illustrations, ceramics, and brief descriptions that make almost no reference to standing architecture. In this way, Effie’s book differs from, say, Christopher Mee and Hamish Forbes’ Methana survey volume where significant attention was given to churches as architectural objects that stood apart – to some extent – from artifact level survey work. The significance of this approach in NVAP II is that it marks a shift in emphasis for Medieval archaeology in Greece away from its traditional focus on ecclesiastical architecture and toward the more mundane world of settlement. In this way, this book manifests a kind of confidence in the work of the survey and landscape archaeology which sets its own priorities and agenda without deferring too much to the past practice. 

That being said the majority of this volume is a well-presented site catalogue. This reflects in some ways the priorities of second-wave survey projects in Greece which were feeling their way forward from traditional gazetteers produced through extensive survey toward artifact level and distributional analysis. The greatest shortcoming of the book is the lack of distributional perspective that brings together the landscape of the Nemea Valley project into a single, methodologically integrated whole. While early articles from NVAP have stood as a significant contributions to the development of intensive pedestrian survey methods, this volume does not seem to return to methodology in a substantial way. This probably speaks the maturity of intensive survey in that not every presentation of survey results need be detailed treatment of methods and procedures. At the same time, I wonder whether some attention to methods might have given this book a broader relevance to current conversations about intensive survey. For example, the visibility of certain types of Medieval pottery, almost certainly shaped the kinds of landscapes that intensive survey recognized. Site size has prompted extensive methodological reflection over the past four decades and relates directly to how we understand function in the landscape. Geomorphology, routes and paths, micro-regional variations in climate, vegetation, and soils, all have shaped the distribution of artifact, settlements, and ultimately people across historical landscapes. So as much as this book reflects the growing confidence and autonomy of intensive survey as a mode for understanding the landscape, it also reflects an earlier tradition of site-based documentation with lavish catalogues, site maps, and illustrations. 

In both ways, it represents a significant contribution to the field.