Three Good Reads

There has been a pretty entertaining and perhaps useful conversation about the future of Classical archaeology over the last few weeks and the blog posts and chat across social media and email has prompted me to read some things that I wouldn’t otherwise. (For a start on that, check out Dimitri Nakassis’s two part blog series here and here.)

First, check out Severin Fowles, “The Perfect Subject (postcolonial object study)” in the Journal of Material Culture 21.1 (2016). Fowles argues that the recent shift to objects as the focus for study in anthropology (but this could be expanded across the humanities and social sciences) is really a response to growing anxiety that speaking about and for other people (whether formally colonial or simply colonized by our academic gaze) has become ethically challenging. The article is a compelling critique of our recent fetishization of stuff.

Then, check out Susan Pollock’s “The Subject of Suffering” from American Anthropologist 118.4 (2016). It was the Patty Jo Watson lecture AAA annual meeting. This article circulated as we discussed the need for a new sense of ethical responsibility in Classical archaeology. Pollock argues that one aspect of this is the archaeology of suffering. In her discussion of the archaeology of a Nazi era site she emphasized the unexpected impact of objects associated with abject human suffering in her excavations and how this challenged long held ideas that archaeology should be objective, detached and scientific. It is an interesting contribution to our recent thoughts about an archaeology of care.

From the same volume of American Anthropologist, check out Mark D. Flemming’s “Mass Transit Workers and Neoliberal Time Discipline in San Francisco”. Flemming riffs on E.P. Thomspon’s well-known 1967 article “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism” as he explores the plight of mass transit workers in San Francisco arguing that the city supported by local citizen groups used attitudes toward race, a widespread view of civic employees as unproductive, and unrealistic schedules to undermine organize labor. The result is more short-term and part time workers in the San Francisco mass transit system who do not receive the benefits as full-time union workers. For Flemming, this case study reflects a wider transformation of labor, time, and work-discipline to accommodate a set of neoliberal values that further commodify and fragment human labor. 

And, if you still need something to read, do check out the free download of our 2014 book in the ASOR Archaeological Report Series, Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coast Town that I edited with my friends David Pettegrew and R. Scott Moore. Here’s a link to download the book. Every download makes a puppy smile!

Announcing the Digital Edition of Pyla-Koutsopetria 1: A Free Download

Over the past three years, I’ve been working with the good folks at the American Schools of Oriental Research (especially on the Committee on Publications) and Sarah and Eric Kansa at Open Context to produce a linked, digital version of our 2014 book in the ASOR Archaeological Report Series, Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coast Town that I edited with my friends David Pettegrew and R. Scott Moore. 

Here’s a link to download the book. All you have to do is to become a friend of ASOR which free. Do it! 

Scott Moore and I worked to insert hundreds of links throughout the book to our data which we published on Open Context at about the same time as the book appeared. These links are permanent, persistent, and unique which is super cool. This allows a reader to “drill down” into our data. I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago, but I’ll expand some of the main points here This is good for our data and for our readers for a few reasons:

1. Every Sherd. Ok, well, not technically EVERY sherd, since we did group identical artifacts together into batches. But since the batch is the smallest level of archaeological analysis for our project, a reader can look at exactly those sherds that led to to make a particular argument. Here is a sample of the batch table, and here’s a link to a Roman period kitchen ware rim.

2. Every Unit. Our batches coincide with units which is the smallest spatial division of our survey area. Over the last couple of years Open Context has become much slicker in dealing with spaces in a survey project. So it’s now possible to attach particular batches of artifacts to particular spaces or to query particular places for the artifacts present there. Here’s Unit 39, and here’s Batch 29 (a Late Roman 1 Amphora handle).

3. Every Type. We organized our artifacts using the Chronotype system which provides a local typology for each artifact recovered during the survey. This typology can be extraordinarily broad (for example, a Medium Coarse Ware, Ancient History which is a sherd datable only to the historical period (i.e. 700 BC – Today) with a medium coarse fabric)  or rather more narrow (like a Late Roman 1 type amphora). These can then be viewed across the units in the survey area.

This kind of linked archaeological publication, however, is just the start. There are a few things that a future model for this kind of publication could do.

1. Links from Data to the Book. At present, it is easy and useful to drill down from the rather traditional archaeological monograph into the data. It is not possible, right now, to drill up (?) from the data to our arguments. 

2. Beyond the Book. There are also precious few opportunities (yet!) to go from our work and Chronotype typologies into other bodies of published data. One low hanging fruit would be the Levantine Ceramics Project data which could be linked to our PKAP finds data to expand both datasets. As we look ahead to publishing data from the excavation at Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla, we hope to be able to link to both our survey and excavation datasets in a born digital publication.

3. Better Digital Circulation. Right now, this is a trial balloon designed to show what is possible leveraging existing platforms and a little DIY elbow-grease (like, inserting a bajillion links!). In the future, we need to look toward a better way to circulate the digital manuscript and to ensure it’s stability and persistence. Obviously, the friction of having to add your email and join a list is not terribly great, but it remains a barrier to access. More significantly, ASOR’s Archaeological Report Series does not have a standard way to distribute digital content and to make it discoverable on the web, and this makes sense, since this is a proof-of-concept type project, but in the future, we hope for a more robust method to make digital publications available from ASOR with as low a barrier to entry as possible!

Anyway, these are all exciting prospects for digitally publishing of archaeological data and reckon that this is a great way to celebrate “Love Your Data Week 2017

ARS 21  PKAP Linked SM Page 003

The Future of Classical Archaeology

My buddy Dimitri Nakassis is giving a paper in a couple weeks at a symposium at Smith College on the Future of Classical Archaeology. He (perhaps foolishly!) asked his rather large personal and professional network to chime in on what they thought he should include in a 40 minute treatment of this rather expansive topic.

I chimed in, of course, with a flippant reply on Facebook (complete with an imagined Apple advertisement). I’ve given it some more thought over the last few days and want to expand my thoughts below. As always, my view of the future of Classical archaeology is shaped by my view of the trajectory of higher education more broadly rather than particular disciplinary concerns. This probably gives it a bit of a fatalistic tone to my view of the future of our field which contrasts a bit with Jim Neward’s response to Dimitri’ prompt.

Anyway. Here are my thoughts (which sounded a lot better in my head this morning than they look on the page!):

1. Classical Archaeology and Higher Education in the U.S. At the risk of viewing Classical archaeology as a distinctly American field, I do think that changes in higher education in the U.S. will shape how American’s contribute to the field in the future. In fact, I think that the decline of Classics and the humanities more broadly at public, state institutions has the potential to create a less democratic discipline moving forward.

Now, I understand that Classics and Classical archaeology were not the most democratic fields in the academy from the start. At the same time, strong traditions in the humanities at publicly funded state schools did a wide range of students access to Classical education even at “second tier” state institutions. This was particularly significant for expanding access to Classical education in the second half of the 20th century. While the Classics and Classical archaeology is largely dead at the second or third tier level, political and economic pressures have pushed the humanities to justify their place at top-tier, publicly funded institutions as well. There are pressures on students as well. As state funding to public education declines, it becomes more expensive to attend state schools and students take on costly student loans to pay tuition, and this serves as a significant disincentive to study the humanities in which low starting salaries and decline in positions in Classics and Classical archaeology across academia will offer a significant disincentive. 

It goes without saying that Classical archaeologists trained at state schools of the various tiers have made important contributions to the field. If students are not exposed to Classics, Classical archaeology, and the humanities at these places, it will change the field (and, I suspect, basic aspects of American society).

Elite, private institutions will continue to produce Classicists and archaeologists and these individuals will likely come from upper-middle class and upper class families. They’ll have the opportunities to participate in excavations and surveys in the summer and refine their Greek, Latin, Ancient History and Art History in state-of-the-art classrooms with access to strong libraries, diverse technologies, and a socially homogeneous community predisposed to valuing traditional disciplinary learning. As much as I was one of these students, I cannot see it as being good for the field.

My concern is that students at these institutions (whatever our pious motivations) will represent the New Global Elite ™ who will look to replace the roots of Classics in Western colonialism, elitism and nationalism with variations on globalism and neoliberalism. It’s possible that I’m underestimating the culture of critique at elite private institutions (and I seriously hope that I am), but my fear is that the future of Classical archaeology will come to reflect the views of this global class with their skepticism of the the national project, technological solutionism, and openness to the free market as a model for the production and dissemination of knowledge. Maybe this is overly pessimistic, but it is hard to ignore the growth of (largely digital) practices designed to globalize archaeological knowledge at the expense of local communities and national interests that were initially established as bulwarks against colonial practices and now serving as barrier against a more recently version of a globalizing narrative.  

I suspect that I’m naive (or if nothing else, self serving) when I see public education in the U.S. as the basis for a challenge to globalization in our discipline. At the same time, I think that ensuring Classical archaeology has a more democratic and diverse base in the U.S. would serve at least to dilute the narrowing of perspectives, practices, and attitudes within our field.

2. Professionalization. While changes in the nature of American higher education may offer a less than rosy future for Classical archaeology, I think that we can take heart in the increasing professionalization of our field. It wasn’t that long ago (in academic terms) when the most significant projects in the Mediterranean world were funded by well-healed donors and conducted by wealthy (and largely male) excavators. While many of these men were fine and broad-minded archaeologists and scholars, there persisted an “old boys club” mentality in many areas of the discipline. Pressures from changes in American academia and the democratization of higher education has slowly pushed back against many of the worst abuses – from booze-drenched field projects to womanizing, backroom deals, and political intrigues – and slowly made archaeological field work and disciplinary practice more open, welcoming, and diverse.

At the same time, there is no doubt that we have more work to do. The dearth of women project directors, challenges faced by scholars with families and fieldwork, galling breeches of professional standards during job searches, interviews, and hiring processes, and the persistence of patronage networks that privilege personal academic connections over merit continue to bedevil the field. 

As the future of Classical archaeology is likely to draw from a narrowing pool of candidates, it puts all the more pressure on the discipline to put professional priorities ahead of personal ones to ensure that we can wring whatever diversity continues to exist from our discipline. If the increasingly democratic character of the American academy drove the the first stages of the professionalization project, the next stages of the process will require even greater intentionality among the future practitioners of our field.

3. Ethical Practice. Fortunately, there are some first-class people thinking about the ethical underpinnings of Classical Archaeology these days. In fact, I suspect that the future of Classical archaeology involves an even greater investment in what we could call the “ethical turn.” This involves more than simply challenging the historical basis for Classical archaeology, but also anticipating new challenges to the discipline which range from professionalization to the potential of digital practices, the growth of salvage and rescue archaeology, the threat of looting and the antiquities trade, and the storage crisis.

The interest in ethics is more than another “meta” discourses in Classical archaeology. My feeling is that future practice is as likely to be informed by a robust ethical critique as it is by the latest theoretical and social scientific approach. I think there is a growing awareness that practice in a fundamental way, and ethical practice in particular, is foundational to meaningful knowledge and not something limited to an archaeological ethics class or the requisite ethics panel at a major meeting. If we want archaeological knowledge to do good, then we have to do it in a good way.

So maybe the future of Classical archaeology has more to do with continuing the momentum that the field has enjoyed over the past 50 years to ensure that our work continues to reflect diverse and democratic approaches, professional behaviors, and ethical practices. Considering the challenges facing higher education and American society, that feels like a pretty tall task.

Convergence: Punk, Slow, and Care in a Digital World

Every now and then I start to worry that my interests are diverging and running away in every direction and leaving me adrift. With budget cuts, possible changing in our teaching/research balance, a shift away from graduate education, and many of my field archaeology projects entire their final seasons, I find myself like many “mid-career” faculty bereft of morale, motivation, and, frankly, direction. So I get to thinking about convergence.

Every now and then, I read something or turn an idea around enough in my creaking, void-filled, mind that I get what other people have often described as an “idea.” This weekend, I had a glimpse of how several tracks in my academic and intellectual development might actually be converging around a theme (or two maybe?) that a few blog posts this weekend helped me to recognize more fully.

I’m going to try to trace these out this morning and to make sense of what my various projects are trying to do and say.

Over the last few years, my colleagues and I have had some entertaining, and I hope useful, conversations centered on three concepts in archaeological research:

1. Punk Archaeology
2. Slow Archaeology
3. Archaeology of Care

I can’t take credit, really, for any of these, but I probably am as responsible as anyone for coining terms to describe them, and promoting the use of these terms.

Punk Archaeology celebrates the performative, DIY, and improvised aspects of archaeological field work and thinking. It has tended to focus a bit more on the archaeology of the contemporary world because this is where archaeological methods and practices have tend to break down when confronted with challenges such as modern abundance leading archaeologists to innovate on the fly, our work is less bound by the formal limits of the site and more publicly accessible, and contemporary observers are more willing to offer dissonant, alternative, and conflicting perspectives. As a result, punk archaeology – at its best – defamiliarized the familiar in everyday life (much like punk takes the basic structure of pop song and makes it something else) and familiarizes the unfamiliar in archaeological practice by putting it on display. In short, it can turn archaeology inside out.

Slow Archaeology is a critique of the role of technology in archaeological practice. I’ve argued that the Taylorist drive for efficiency has produced field practices that tend to fragment both how we describe material culture but also our experiences. At its most perverse, field work is reduced to “data collection” and digital tools are celebrated as ways to make the harvesting of “raw data” more efficient. There is no doubt that field work should be efficient and that technology will improve not only what we collect from the field, but also how we collect archaeological information. Slow archaeology, however, calls for us to maintain a space in archaeological field practice for analysis and interpretation and to be patient with these processes. Moving forward, I’d like to see slow archaeology celebrate integrative practices in archaeological field work that both bring together our fragmented techniques in the field and the information that these techniques produce.

Archaeology of Care. The archaeology of care is a term coined by my colleague Richard Rothaus and, like slow and punk archaeology, it offers a critical reflection on the practice and performance of archaeology. It stemmed from the observation that people who we encountered in the Bakken were genuinely moved by our archaeological and archaeological interest in their world and lives. While neither Richard nor I conceived of our project as a gesture to the people (or objects) that we studied, it became pretty obvious that archaeological work became a medium through which shared understanding of the past and the present are formed. For us at least, the archaeology of care was de-theorized and reflected our very practical experiences doing archaeology of and in the contemporary world.

It has taken me a while to recognize that these three moves in my archaeological thinking have focused on a number of shared themes centered largely on our practices in the field: (1) a focus on archaeology as performance and experience, (2) a tendency to recognize these experiences a bringing together people, data, and objects, and (3) a preference for DIY and an aversion to “technological solutionism” in its various forms.

These ideas have started to come together with another couple of “projects” that I’ve been slowly working on over the last few years. As readers of this blog know, I’ve invested a good bit of time and energy into The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. This emerged directly from my interest in punk archaeology (which became the first book from the press). It started as an experiment in DIY publishing and has slowly expanded into a project designed to the traditional fragmentation of the publishing process that separates the authors from the publishers. At my little press, we create an environment where authors, editors, and publishers work together to produce books at a lower cost than traditional commercial publishing, but with opportunities for more experimentation and control for the authors.

I’m pretty upfront with my authors that I am not a conventional publisher. As my more critical colleagues point out, my books tend to be a bit rough around the edges, my distribution channels remain a bit uncertain, and everything is essentially experimental. But for my authors and editors, this seems to work. If anything, I have more than enough books to keep my enterprise afloat, to hold my interest, and to keep me feeling that this is a meaningful extension of my approach to archaeology and archaeological knowledge production.

What prompted this sudden bout of introspection was a little article titled “Ed-Tech in a Time of Trump” by Audrey Waters. Go read it (and comment if you want; there is the start of a little comment thread). To summarize a complex argument, trends in Ed-Tech data collection are troubling for a number of reasons. First, Waters critiques the basic philosophy that if we collect enough data on our students we can customize our educational practices to produce particular outcomes. Most thoughtful educators realize that this is not how teaching or learning works just as most thoughtful archaeologists do not think that intensified scrutiny and technologies in how we collect “all of the datas” will produce better archaeological knowledge more efficiently. (Do check out Dimitri Nakassis’s refinement of my critiques of data at his blog especially here and here and here.)

At the same time, we are lured by the temptation of easy digital data collection especially in online courses or in courses with substantial online components. Universities have developed sophisticated data collection schemes as their infrastructure has become digital and student interactions with almost all services is mediated by tools that collect data to produce increasingly comprehensive digital profiles of students. Even with the protections offered by FERPA, universities have vast quantities of data on students that can be leveraged internally to encourage practices that “better” serve students. Students are consumers and the university has indulged in all the conceits of online consumer culture. In place of a culture of care grounded in complex experiences of teaching and learning, the university as an institution has fragmented students into bundles and clusters of data that can be arranged to anticipate and serve student and administrative expectations. This has particularly toxic potential as calls to “reinvent education” often look to technologies to create the appearance of doing more with less, while obscuring the reality that less almost always means less in education.

What is more troubling for Waters is that the calls to “reinvent education” or to “innovate” almost always rest on the assumption that current practices are flawed. The temptation is to identify the problems with education through scrutiny of “big data” rather than attention to small, daily practices. With the lure of big fixes residing in big data issues of security and privacy abound. What is more terrifying still is that for public universities, this data could easily fall into the hands of politically motivated leaders either on campus or at the state or local levels who could use students and faculty data for purposes that run counter to many of our values as educators, scholars, and public servants. Waters evokes the always chilling specter of Nazi data collection as an example for how the state can mine “big data” for nefarious purposes.

To be clear, I don’t see slow archaeology, punk archaeology, the archaeology of care, or The Digital Press as a bulwark against Nazism or as explicitly political statements, but I would like to think that the common aspects of these projects represent a kind of resistance to some of the more troubling trends in academic practices and higher education these days. Calling for greater scrutiny of practice in a time of big data, promoting DIY among students and colleagues, and demonstrating how integration, and care, rather than fragmentation and “analysis” can produce meaningful and significant results. 

Survey Methods and Efficiency

I was pretty excited to read S.T. Stewart, P.M.N. Hitchings, P. Bikoulis and E.B. Banning, “Novel survey methods shed light on prehistoric exploration in Cyprus,” in Antiquity 91 (2017) over lunch yesterday. First off, it had the words method, survey, and Cyprus in its title, which always hit me in the “feels.” Secondly, it deals with survey efficiency across complex landscapes on the island, and this reflects a challenge that we’ve faced on the Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP) over the past three field seasons.

Like any good article, it sent me through an emotional rollercoaster. 

Phase 1!

At first blush, I was horrified at the prospects of using predictive modeling to exclude certain units within a survey zone from intensive pedestrian survey in the name of efficiency. This felt like exactly the kind of technology-driven Taylorism that my recent scholarship has railed against. A slow archaeology embraces the kind of contingency, chance, and randomness that defies (at best) and taunts (at worst) efforts at efficiency. At its most absurd, this is discovering the most significant and time-consuming finds on the final scheduled day of field work.

The authors describe how they excluded units from survey because more recent geomorphological processes would obscure or destroy the late Pleistocene and early Holocene landscapes that would contain artifacts from the earliest periods of occupation on the island. In practice, survey archaeologists know that nothing is ever that simple. Modern, mechanized activity in the landscape is capable of removing meters of sediment to expose earlier paleosols, reworking the water flow across the landscape to erode through more recent deposits and revealing scarps and sites long buried, and even moving soils from elsewhere are depositing them and their accompanying artifacts in unexpected places. While all these contingencies require critical consideration when used to construct settlement patterns across the landscape, they can also provide unexpected windows into the past. 

Finally, intensive survey is about more than just looking for artifacts. By ignoring units that are unlikely to produce artifacts, they deprive themselves the opportunity to engage the landscape in a wholistic way. While it is fair enough observation that contemporary landscapes are different from earlier landforms, engaging the landscape compels the survey archaeology to recognize the diachronicity of all survey assemblages. An exposed late Pleistocene horizon is no less a component of the modern landscape than the earliest levels of the so-called Anthropocene.

In short, the urge to efficiency in their survey methods felt like a lost opportunity (at best) that risked insulating the archaeologist from the full context of even the earliest artifacts within a dynamic modern space. This modern space is where we as archaeologists encounter the landscape and produce our understanding the fine strands that connect our world to the ancient.

Phase 2!!

Then, I took a deep breath. What Stewart and her colleagues proposed is actually pretty cool. They created two models. One was a general model of landscapes in the Tremithos River Valley and the other was a more specific model based on their daily work in the field. This latter model was particularly interesting because it was iterative. Each day this specific model was updated with data from the field revealing the potential and power of a sophisticated GIS and data-management system.

More than that, my colleagues and I have argued in print that intensity matters in producing analytically meaningful survey assemblages. A system that takes into consideration data collected on the fly and allows the archaeologists to know where added intensity is likely to produce the most meaningful results – and if this system bore fruit – is exactly the kind of targeted and variable intensification that my colleagues and I have recommended in survey practice. So whatever efficiency is gained by using models, for me the gain is really in intensification. 

Phase 3!!!

Finally, sometime about 4:30 pm yesterday while I was on the second mile of my run, I realized that Stewart and her colleagues were probably not wrong in their approach. Having spent the last three seasons trudging through cobble-strewn fields along the banks of the Inachos river and finding nearly nothing (and learning as we went that some of these units did not preserve much of the ancient surface), I am acutely aware of the needs to treat the landscape with systematic efficiency. From sampling and collection strategies to field tactics, intensive pedestrian archaeology is inseparable from modern, industrial practices that extended from auto manufacturing the organization of universities. If industrial production can be designed around predictive models and machines that learn, then intensive survey will invariably absorb these same impulses and trend toward increased efficiency in the kind of archaeological knowledge that it produces. In fact, check out the first 100 or so pages of Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town (2014); we lay out explicitly how our sampling strategies balanced intensification and efficiency. 

In a very practical sense, much of our conversation over the past three on WARP is how to approach our landscape efficiently. We had the luxury of increasing the number of field teams every year and retaining our amazing group of team leader who develop more efficient field practices each season. As a result, we surveyed larger and larger amounts of territory each day and each week. This allowed us take risks and survey areas where we though it unlikely that we’d find significant artifacts scatters. This included steep, densely-vegetated, hill slopes as well as the valley bottom near the river where erosion and sedimentation conspired to obscure ancient surfaces.

Knowing what we know now about the geomorphology of the Inachos valley and the artifactual landscape (that is in hindsight), we probably would have deployed our survey teams differently. At the same time, walking the valley bottoms did prompt us to think more carefully about both modern land use and fragmentation as well as routes both along and across the Inachos river. These were important considerations as our survey was diachronic and all parts of the landscape could contribute to our larger arguments.

By the time, I was done processing this short article, I had come full circle. It’s a fine article and characteristic of the discourse in intensive pedestrian survey and reflective of both practical challenges and opportunities facing field work in the digital age. 

Lots to Read, just not here

These are busy days here in North Dakotaland. I’m working on the massive introduction that David Pettegrew drafted for the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology, putting the finishing touches on the paper version of Eric Burin’s Picking the President, maintaining some momentum on Codex, and trying to keep an eye on the news, navigate budget issues on campus, and generally remain sane.

The upshot of this is that I haven’t anything to write about today on the new blog. But fear not, if the constant flow of worrying news in your social media feed isn’t enough to get your restless eyes consuming words, go and check out what my long-time collaborator Richard Rothaus has to say in his review of Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America  Taylor Brorby and Stefanie Brook Trout, editors. (North Liberty, Iowa: Ice Cube Press, 2016) posted on the North Dakota Quarterly page. This book definitely has a place on our “Bakken Bookshelf” next to the Bakken Goes Boom and my forthcoming The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape (NDSU Press 2017) as well as recent Bakken classics like Lisa Peter’s Fractured Land: The Price of Inheriting Oil (Minneapolis 2014) (my review here) and After Oil from the Petrocultures Research Group (my thoughts here).

I’d be remiss if I also didn’t point to my other professional commitment, Eastern Mediterranean archaeology, and thank Susan Ackerman and the staff of the American Schools of Oriental Research for making a clear statement on recent moves my the new administration to hinder the movement of people – including numerous ASOR members – from countries where we have experienced hospitality, collegiality, and friendship. She and her staff also voice their support for both the NEH and the NEA which are at risk of defunding.

Please take the time to read the full statement by Prof. Ackerman and the ASOR staff and check out Richard’s review of Fracture. I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled blogging soon!


Over the past week or so I’ve been working my way through the recent special section on “Archaeology and Assemblages” in the most recent volume of the Cambridge Archaeological Journal 27 (2017). The section includes contributions from many of the same folks whose work featured in my recent review article in the American Journal of Archaeology last year, and while this review was a bit ham-fisted, it reflected recent interest in archaeological assemblages as a vital aspect of the relationship between objects and material culture in the past.

In archaeology, the term assemblage typically refers to either a group of similar types of artifacts or artifacts from the same period, or to a group of artifacts from a particular context. In survey archaeology, for example, we frequently discuss the surface assemblage as a body of artifacts from the plow zone that represent the various periods and functions in a particular region. More frequently assemblages refer to objects associated with excavated features that speak directly to this history or function of a building or a context. 

The papers in this special section embrace a recent trend toward expanding the meaning of the term assemblage to emphasize the role that the assemblage plays in understanding the agency of objects in both the past and in archaeological contexts. For the contributors to this special section, the relationships between the objects – articulated through any number of theoretical perspectives – form the basis both for archaeological practice and, by extension, the production of archaeological knowledge. Drawing on Manuel DeLanda or Deleuze and Guattari, assemblages constitute archaeologists, archaeological practices, objects, and past knowledge. These things only produce meaning together.

All the articles in this special section are worth a read, but a few resonated with me in particular.  

Oliver J. T. Harris, for example, considers the role that assemblages play in constituting scale in archaeology. Harris focuses on time and the challenging relationship between scale-events (either geographically or chronologically) and large-scale events. In particular, he looks to assemblage theory to mitigate the tendency in archaeology to see small-scale events as either part of long term “trends” in history or outliers, when incompatible with patterns seen across longer time periods which are considered to be normative in our understanding of the past. In our work with intensive pedestrian survey assemblages, we regularly confront the challenge of certain artifacts speaking to the past at a site in the broadest possible way (and we typically date these artifacts to broad categories like “Ancient”) and those which we can assign to more narrow chronological ranges (i.e. Late Roman). To integrate these two classes of artifacts into an understanding of a site, we have get away from a hierarchical reading of shorter periods as constituent of longer periods, in part, because we know that different types of artifacts mark different periods of production, use, and circulation. In effect, these different types of artifacts (at least in our scenario) produce different scales and speak to different questions that refract and intersect at various moments in the past and in our work as archaeologists. In other words, attentiveness to scale within archaeological assemblages can reveal worlds produced by both long and short term trends rather than divided between long term change and short term (and often ephemeral) events.

Yannis Hamilakis’s contribution reflects on the affective potential (and character) of assemblages. Drawing on Deleuze and Guattari, Hamilakis considers how assemblages extend from material object to include immaterial elements ranging from affect to sensoriality and memory to function. In particular, Hamilakis is interested in the multitemporal aspects of assemblages and, to my mind, his considerations evoke the temporal, sensorial, and material complexity of Christian liturgy. In the liturgy (at least in Orthodox theology), the immediate mystical experience of the divine intersects with the liturgy as a profoundly commemorative act. This experience is mediated through particular architecture, smells, sounds, and movement as well as the less material awareness of the significance of these acts. The interplay between the various experiences produces the affective power of the liturgical assemblage and reminds the archaeologist that the objects revealed through excavation or survey reflect only a fraction of the assemblage that produced meaning both in antiquity and in the present.

Obviously, this short post does little to unpack the significance of assemblage thinking in contributing to archaeological practice, but for those who follow recent trends in archaeological theory, renewed attention to the assemblage may well mark out an important contribution to our growing attention to artifact level analysis. By emphasizing the relations between practice and objects, the assemblage represents the level of archaeological thinking which produces archaeological knowledge, and as a result, deserves significant critical scrutiny.

Adventures in Podcasting: David Pettegrew, the Isthmus, and Corinthian Awesomeness

It was really exciting to have David Pettegrew come and hang out on the Caraheard Podcast earlier this month. For those who don’t know David, he is one of oldest professional collaborators and friends and our careers have become inexorably linked starting with the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS) and continuing through the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project and co-editing the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology.

For those who don’t know, David Pettegrew teaches at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. Years ago now, he came to the University of North Dakota to deliver the Cyprus Research Fund Talk titled “Setting the Stage for St. Paul’s Corinth: How an Isthmus determined the character of a Roman city”.

He’s a colleague of Jon Frey and worked at Isthmia where we overlapped with Ömür Harmanşah. David, Richard, and I are all students of Tim Gregory and worked at the Panhellenic Sanctuary at Isthmia.

We mention Tim’s publication of the Hexamilion Wall and Fortress at Isthmia, Kenchreai (and the work of Joe Rife and Sebastian Heath).

We mention the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project (and we’d be remiss not to include a link to  Effie Athanassopoulos’s newest book: NVAP II: Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside),

We also mention John Bintliff and Anthony Snodgrass’s work in Boeotia and the Kea survey project which continues to attract scholarly attention.

If you want to know where the Kraneion basilica is. It’s here. It’s much more fun than reading about it in James Wiseman’s classic book The Land of the Ancient Corinthians

If you want to know what Cromna is or was, you have to start with this article.

We talk about Jay Noller and our methods at the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey. To understand the folly of our ways (or our sneaky genius) start by reading this.

If you don’t know what slow archaeology is by now, you better ask someone.

We mention a bunch of other projects including WARP (Western Argolid Regional Project), our work on Ano Vayia as well as Tom Tartaron’s, the fort that I published with Tim Gregory on Oneion, and David’s famous “combed ware” article. For more EKAS related bibliography check out David’s bibliography at Corinthian Matters (but the link seems broken!).

Here’s a link to Pettegrew’s book, The Isthmus of Corinth: Crossroads of the Mediterranean World from University of Michigan press.



Richard thinks a book is old school if it uses footnotes. He’s post-citational.

Here’s David’s work on the Diolkos of Corinth, and here’s a rigorously researched ethno-archaeological reenactment of moving a ship over land.

We briefly mention Bill’s work on the the Justinianic Isthmus.

Finally, here’s a link to David’s fantastic Digital Harrisburg project.

Ceramics from Koutsopetria in Context

Last week, I asked for an extension on a blog post on the ceramics from the site of Pyla-Koutsopetri on Cyprus. My generous readers granted my the extension and, believe, I hope that you’ll find that you’ve been rewarded for your wait.

This is the final section in the first effort to prepare a draft of our work at the site of Koutsopetria in Cyprus which we excavated in 2009 and Dr. Maria Hadjicosti excavated in the 1990s. This excavation produced a significant assemblage of ceramic material that could be compared to a similar assemblage of material produced through intensive pedestrian survey of the plain. This comparison allowed us both to consider the excavated area in a larger context, but also to speak to the relationship between material below the plow zone and material on the surface.  

My earlier posts focused on the architecture and history of the site, so here is what we can say about the pottery: 

Despite being dominated by a Late Roman period building, the excavations at Koutsoeptria produced a robust assemblage of ceramics that speak to the long history of activity at this site. In this way, the excavation produced an assemblage that provides us with a useful comparative perspective on the data collected from the intensive pedestrian survey of this area and published in 2014. Among the most persistent critiques of intensive survey is that the relationship of the objects on the surface and those outside the plow-zone remains ambiguous hindering our ability to make functional arguments on the basis of artifact scatters (e.g. Sanders 2004). The formation processes and depositional history of assemblages in long-lived, multi-period sites set amid active and dynamic landscapes compound this further. At Koutsopetria excavations revealed how the persistence of residual material used in construction and floor packing, the cutting into earlier layers by later building and activity at the site, and hint at the effects of erosion and plow smear across the site created a diachronic surface assemblage. At the same time, the excavated assemblage revealed complexity that our sampling of the surface did not recognize. This complexity allows us to add meaningful detail both to our understanding of our survey assemblage and to an emerging ceramic signature present at historical period sites in the eastern part of the island.

Our discussion of the assemblage from Koutsopetria excavations relies upon two different excavation teams who sampled and analyzed ceramics based on two different strategies. During the 2009 excavations, we collected and analyzed all ceramics that were not tiles and sampled the tiles by type and extant part. It is unclear whether and how the excavation in the 1990s sampled artifacts from excavated contexts, but after excluding roof tiles from the samples, the excavation produced approximately the same number of artifacts (in 2009 we collected 3063 whereas in the 1990s they collected 3127) but much more artifacts by weight (2009 = 27778 and 1990s=82879) suggesting a more selective method of collecting ceramic material for analysis focusing on larger, presumably more diagnostic artifacts. Despite the disparity between the character of the two assemblages and the way in which they were produced, they are remarkably similar. From 2009, 68% of our material could only be assigned to the broadest possible category: Ancient Historic; from the 1990s this category of material was amounted to 59% of the assemblage by count.

The excavated area produced two discernible groups of pre-Roman material. There was a small assemblage of ceramics of Iron Age, Cypro-Archaic-Classical, and Cypro-Classical date which included coarse, medium coarse, and fine wares. These made up only a small percentage (far less than <1% by both number and weight) of the material from the excavated area and coincided with a similarly small number of artifacts associated with this period from the survey area generally. Most of this material is in secondary context and the fragments are quite small. The material likely entered into an excavated area from either Classical period activities along the base of the Vigla height where the survey documented a small concentration of Cypro-Classical age pottery perhaps from near an earlier findspot of the large, inscribed Cypro-Classical to Hellenistic period settling basin dedicated to Apollo Karaiates (Hadjisavvas 1993: 75–76, 83). Another possible location for Iron Age material is the site on the nearby Kazamas ridge or the earlier phases of activity at the fortified site of Vigla which may have been quarried for building material. During the Hellenistic period, the coastal plain saw greater activity, and this is reflected in the residual pottery from the Koutsopetria assemblage. Unlike Iron Age material which tended to be small fragments of fine wares, the material dated to either the Hellenistic period or one of the broader, related periods (Hellenistic-Early Roman or Hellenistic-Roman) tended to be larger and represent a more functionally diverse assemblage with the full range of coarse and medium coarse utility wares, amphora, kitchen wares, and fine ware. Of particular note was the long-lived (Archaic-Hellenistic) basket-handled amphora that appeared in excavated contexts and appeared both on Vigla as well as on the coastal plain. The link between these vessels and settling basin may hint at the importance of olive oil production in the area. The fine ware present was evenly split between Black-Glaze (21) and Color Coated wares (23), and this followed closely the division in the Hellenistic fine ware assemblage from the survey area suggesting that these may reflect the supply to the area during this period. The excavated assemblages did not produce kitchen or medium coarse wares that appeared in the survey although these artifacts did not appear in the immediate vicinity of the excavated area. The broader Hellenistic-Early Roman period, however, did produce a more robust assemblage. The challenge with more broadly dated material is that they tend to straddle the overlap between the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

The Hellenistic-Roman and Hellenistic-Early Roman assemblage from Koutsopetria made up just over 5% of the total assemblage from Koutsopetria. The assemblage is diverse and includes coarse and medium coarse utility wares, amphora, kitchen, and fine wares. The comprehensive character of this assemblage is consistent with finds from the survey area, but likely reflects the slow spread of settlement on the coastal plain over the course of the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods. Material from these long periods includes long-lived Rhodian type amphora, cooking pots, and fine wares types that persisted even Eastern and Cypriot Sigillatas replaced color-coated wares on local tables.

During the Early Roman period, the diversity and quantity of material from the site expands and this parallels neatly the expansion of material from this period in the survey area. The most significant distinction between the assemblage produced from excavation and survey does not appear to the be presence of Early Roman and Roman material, but the assemblage produced from excavation proved significantly more diverse. The excavated assemblage produced no examples of cooking pots or utility wares save a handful of Koan-type amphora, which were likely produced on the island. Some of this is the result of certain artifact types being shifted into broader categories. For example Rhodian amphoras which we identified as predominantly Early Roman in the survey, were dated Hellenistic-Early Roman in the excavation. The appears to be also the case for kitchen wares which were more commonly dated to the broader Roman, Hellenistic-Roman, or Hellenistic-Early Roman periods. As a result, fine ware represented the Early Roman period in the excavation. The most striking difference between the survey assembalge and the excavation assemblage is that Cypriot Sigillata comprised 28% (n=21) of the Early Roman fine wares from the survey, but only 4% (n=3) from the excavation. Other Early Roman fine wares – largely less diagnostic fragment of red slips – consisted of 27% of Early Roman fine wares from the survey (including a fragment of Arretine ware and Eastern Sigillata B) and 55% from the excavation. The remaining sherds were the common Eastern Sigillata A, but the excavation revealed six subforms (Form 19, 37, 38, 44, 65, and a lagynos) whereas the survey only produced a single recognizable subtype Atlante Form 4. It is worth noting that the 2009 excavations produced a small piece of Roman glazed pottery likely dating to the Early Roman period, but quite unusual and without parallel at sites in the region. The absence of Cypriot Sigillata from the excavation is consistent with relatively rarity of this type of Early Roman fine ware. At the nearby site of Panayia-Ematousa, near the modern village of Aradipou, Cypriot Sigillata accounted for only 8.8% of the total fine ware from the site. The absence of CS from the western part of the island may reflect the flow of ceramic materials from east to west with Eastern Sigillata entering the eastern part of the island from Levantine ports and CS circulating from the western production area. The majority of this material appears in secondary contexts, particularly in floor packing or fills, that reflect early patterns of activity in the area.

The broadly defined Roman period at Koutsopetria captures some of the transition from Early to Late Roman activity at the site. Like many places on Cyprus, the 3rd and 4th centuries are poorly represented in both the survey and excavation assemblage at Koutsopetria. The excavation, for example, produced no “pinched-handled” amphoras or forms of CRS or ARS with well-established 3rd-4th century dates. . There are a number of long-lived types of pottery that appear in the broadly dated Roman assemblage that might hint at at “middle Roman” activity at the site. For example, there are African Red Slip sherds that can be assigned to no specific type which makes it impossible to exclude the possibility of early forms existing at Koutsopetria, but no specific evidence for those early forms appeared. Among the range of undiagnostic coarse and medium coarse wares in Roman fabrics, the presence of a small number of long-lived micaceous water jars (Middle Roman 3 amphora) which appear from 1st to 6th century AD offer a glimpse of the middle Roman centuries. The presence of Roman lamps and cooking wares make clear that the coastal plain of Koustopetria was a settlement during the Roman period.

The Late Roman period is the most abundant from both the survey and excavation. The utility wares and amphoras from the excavated contexts are largely identical to those found in the survey. Late Roman 1 amphoras are predictably common in both contexts. The excavation also produced a small number (n=10) of Late Roman 2 amphora from the Aegean and Palestinian amphora (n=2 [check this]). The assemblage produced a significant quantity of kitchen ware sherds including a small number of rather late Dhiorios ware cooking pots that are likely the latest artifacts from the excavation and have comparanda from the survey of the coastal plain. As with most other periods, the fine ware from the Late Roman period provides the best opportunity to reflect on the diversity of material from our site. The two dominant categories of Late Roman fine ware were African Red Slip and Cypriot Red Slip with the former accounting for 48% of the Late Roman fine wares by count and 38% by weight and the latter being 44% by count and 53% by weight. The remaining 10% is made up of Phocaean ware and other rather less diagnostic Late Roman fine ware. It is notable that African Red Slip is significantly better represented in the excavated assemblage than in the survey assemblage. In the survey, ARS accounted for 17.4% of the Roman period fine ware whereas CRS accounted for 42.5% of the same total. The diversity of the two assemblages, however, speaks to their fundamental similarity. There are no ARS forms present in the excavated material that were not also present in the survey with ARS Forms 61, 67, and 105 appearing in both contexts. Likewise the CRS forms reflect the more common types CRS9 and CRS11 as well as the less common CRS8. Phocaean ware appeared in two forms PWH 10 and 5 and the very common PHW 3 was largely absent with only 1 possible example of that form. The presence of substantial quantities of African Red Slip pottery in the excavation assemblage supports two general impression from our survey. First, our local Late Roman fine ware assemblage was dominated by African Red Slip and Cypriot Red Slip suggesting that the site had ties both to regional production centers and Mediterranean wide trade networks. The small quantities of PHW in the excavated area does little to challenge the distribution of this type of pottery at the base of Mavrospilos and Kokkinokremos along the Late Roman coastline and coastal road. We have argued elsewhere that this concentration may mark the presence of warehouses associated with the site’s role as a emporion (Caraher et al. 2014, 295).

There is no compelling evidence for post-Roman material from the site aside from 2 fragments of early modern roof tiles. This is consistent with the distribution of the small quantities of later material in the survey which tend to be concentrated in units adjacent to the small Ottoman/Venetian coastal battery some 300 m to the east of the excavated area. The two tiles are likely the result of plow smearing, local road building, or even intruded during the excavation process rather than a reflecting evidence for a distinct later activity at the site. While it remains possible that some of the assemblage datable to nothing more narrow than Ancient Historic could include later material, it seems more likely that post-Roman activity on the coastal plain was limited and did not directly involve the collapsed church building.

Climate and Religion in the Late Roman Mediterranean

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reading about in the recent work on the climate history, climate change, and the Anthropocene. I’ve been sucked into John Brooke’s massive work, Climate Change and the Course of Global History: A Rough Journey (Cambridge 2014) and spent altogether too much time surfing the footnotes. To simplify a very complex and nuanced book, Brooke argues that large-scale climate change has had a direct impact on the development of human culture. In particular, he argues that “the structure of human history is distinctly “Gouldian”/punctuational, with long periods of relative stability (stasis) interrupted by well- de ned breaks best understood as episodic (not necessarily cyclical) global climate crises – Dark Ages, perhaps – increasingly augmented and surpassed by the eruption of epidemic disease and destructive warfare.” In other words, he human populations, culture, and society as stable and resilient. As a result, change has tended to come when particularly disruptive natural events (in contrast to the slow pressures of, say, population growth) push populations to adapt quickly. Not every natural catastrophe had this impact on human societies, but many did.

Last week, David Pettegrew took the first mighty swing at the introduction to our Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology.  He traced the history of Early Christian archaeology and left us looking ahead to a section on the future of the study of Christian material culture. One of the issues that Brooke’s book has pushed me to consider – as well as recent works (such as the admitted problematic works like Ronnie Ellenblum’s The Collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean: Climate Change and Decline of the East 950-1072 (Cambridge 2012)) – is the role of natural disaster in the rise of Christianity. There is a growing body of evidence that Late Antiquity saw a series of closely clustered natural disasters that ranged from earthquakes and the onsets of plagues to the end of the so-called “Classical Optimum” which was characterized by relatively stable climates and warmer temperatures and the start of 400 year period of greater climate variability. For Brooke and others (most notably Michael McCormick), nature has an impact on the transformations marking the end of the ancient world.

Notable among these changes was the rise of Christianity in the Mediterranean. It is difficult to deny the rate of cultural change that took place over the Late Antique centuries. For example, the accelerated growth of Christianity during Late Antiquity (i.e. after, say, 300) paralleled changes in pagan beliefs. In fact, many of the these changes took place side-by-side and created wonderfully diverse examples of pagan-Christian syncretism. This is not to suggest that either Christianity or paganism was stable and unchanging during its previous centuries. In fact, the internal organization of Christianity from its earliest days in cities around the Eastern Mediterranean adapted to persist in a politically hostile environment which included periodically intense persecutions often triggered by local natural (or social) disasters. The ability for Christianity to survive and adapt to attacks by communities who saw Christians as disrupting social cohesion or the relationship between the community and the divine, almost certain served it well as plagues, climate change, and political and military challenges beset the region.

The challenge for an archaeology of Early Christianity remains identifying evidence for the interaction of Christianity and climate change in specific instances.