Three Cypriot Thing Thursday

Just a quick post today centered on three interesting Cypriot related things that have come through my news feed recently.

First, if you’re looking for funding to do research on Cyprus and at the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI), go and check out their website for a glorious gaggle of fellowship opportunities. As anyone who has worked on Cyprus for any length of time will attest, CAARI is the institutional heart of foreign archaeological work on the island. Its recently improved facilities include a spectacular new library for paper books and a air conditioners (egg nishnahs for our Australian colleagues) in the hostel. 

Second, if you find yourself on Cyprus this October, be sure to check out the Nea Paphos and Western Cyprus Colloquium. It is being held in celebration of Paphos being named a European cultural capital for 2017. My colleagues, Scott Moore, Brandon Olson, and I, will have a paper presented by the inestimable Joanna Smith who will probably single handedly represent the recent flurry of activity at Polis in Western Cyprus. Here’s a link to the program.

Finally, my buddy David Pettegrew sent along a little article from the Cyprus Mail recently that announced that the tennis courts which have long stood to north of the Larnaka District Archaeological museum and the to the east of the excavated area of the ancient harbor of Kition. The goal is to make this site more visible to visitors and, perhaps, expand the excavated areas while also creating a new welcome area. The site of Kition is among the most under appreciated on Cyprus largely because its tucked in and around the modern city of Larnaka. The last few years, however, have seen a concerted effort to make the site more visible and understandable to the visit and when the museum reopens with redesigned and expanded displays, I suspect the Kition will return to its rightful place among the ancient cities of Cyprus.

UPDATE: To this we can add a conference to celebrate the centenary of Honor Frost’s birth to be held at the University of Cyprus from October 19-24! Titled “Under the Mediterranean” the program looks at Frost’s legacy of underwater research on ancient harbors across the Levant and Cyprus.  

Ottoman Peasants and their Local Elite

I’m always excited to read something my Michael Given who has published a series of intriguing articles unraveling the complexities of the Cypriot landscape during the Ottoman period. I was particularly intrigued by his recent piece in the Journal of Islamic Archaeology 4.1 (2017) titled “Global Peasant, Local Elite: Mobility and Interaction in Ottoman Cyprus.”

As the title suggest, the article looks to invert the old paradigm of local peasants and global elite by observing that peasants on Cyprus understood their place in an economy that was far from local. By looking at the way in which peasants speculated on their cotton crops, moved goods to profitable markets across the island, and negotiated rents and loans from landowners, Given contributes to a larger conversation that recognizes peasants as active participants in their own economic lives. Recent scholarship in the Mediterranean has sought to revise the idea that peasants were “people without history” or, more frequently in the eastern Mediterranean, figments of history that had somehow persisted in the Early Modern era. Given’s peasants are unapologetically historical individuals who recognize the contingencies present in their own economic strategies and existence. 

Given’s work has recently interested me for two reasons. First, as I’ve blogged about before, he has explored Ivan Illich’s idea of conviviality in the context of Mediterranean landscapes.

More importantly, in this case, is Given’s interest in mobility in the Mediterranean landscapes and particularly the role of monopati, cart tracks, and roads not only in linking together communities but creating spaces for economic and social activities. That these routes were more than simply passive links between communities and activated opportunities for interaction along their routes offers a way to understand the formation of seasonal settlements along these routes as preserving and building upon the common space of the roads. While it may be self-evidence, a model that understand roads themselves as space of interaction reminds us that road do more than manifest interaction between settlement “nodes”; they create settlement “nodes” as well. (My work in the Bakken allowed me to observe this phenomenon accelerated into hypermodern realty (in a kind of literal dromology); I’m now eager to read Erin Gibson’s work on roads that I first noticed in the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology and which I now see that she’s expanded to North American cart roads!).    

Our work in the Western Argolid Regional Project has likewise focused on road and tracks through our survey area that preserved the course of Early Modern routes that were partly bypassed by modern paved roads. The appearance of seasonal settlements along these routes tied the season movement of flocks from villages outside the region demonstrated the dynamism and movement present in the early modern landscape. The presence of threshing floors around the larger of these indicated that these settlements were more than simply winter pastures for flocks, but also served as anchors for fields in the region and the processing of the late summer harvest. These seasonal settlements also provided access to markets at Argos (and the Aegean) and further diversified opportunities for villages like Frousiouna which stands at the head of a north-south valley oriented toward the Corinthian Gulf. 

Updates from The Digital Press

The last few weeks have been busy ones for The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. We are in the process of negotiating a collaboration with the University of North Dakota’s venerable literary journal, North Dakota Quarterly, to see it become a more nimble and digital publication.

North Dakota Quarterly

We have also agreed to work with an innovative new digital journal of archaeology and material culture, Epoiesen, edited by Shawn Graham at Carleton University in Ottawa. These collaborative projects represent the core values of The Digital Press as they look to bridge the gap between traditional publication and innovation and embrace the best potential of digital tools to create new ways of sharing knowledge.   

Epoiesen and Updates from The Digital Press

We are also excited to report the ongoing success of our 2016 publication, Mobilizing the Past for the Digital Future: The Potential of Digital Archaeology edited by Erin Walcek Averett, Derek B. Counts, and Jody Michael Gordon. It has been cited across a wide range of academic journals Journal on Computing and Cultural Heritage, Digital Applications in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, Journal of Archaeological Science, Open Archaeology, Internet Archaeology, The American Journal of Physical Anthropology, and Advances in Archaeological Practice. Yesterday, a review appeared in the American Journal of Archaeology, the leading journal of Mediterranean archaeology in the U.S. The book has been out for less than a year!

Print

I was also excited to see William Caraher’s and Kyle Conway’s edited volume The Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota get cited in Rick Ruddell’s Oil, Gas, and Crime: The Dark Side of the Boom Town (2017) and a thoughtful article by Thomas S. Davis in English Language Notes titled “Anthropocene Insecurities: Extraction, Aesthetics, and the Bakken Oil Fields.”

Introducing The Bakken Goes Boom The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota

We’re also hard at work on a range of other projects. We’ll have an update soon on the digital publication of Micah Bloom’s Codex. The limited, hardcover, print edition is already making its way out to cultural institutions, and the trade paperback is well into production. We’ve scheduled a book launch event at Minot State on November 5th and in the process of getting one schedule here at UND in the fall. Hopefully we can live stream these.

If you don’t already, please follow us on Facebook for the latest news and updates!

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#IrmaSyllabus, #HarveySyllabus, #HurricaneSyllabus

As I watched Hurricanes Harvey and Irma surge through the Gulf of Mexico, I got to thinking about the environmental, historical, political, and academic context for these “megastorms.” We can easily add Sandy, Katrina, Rita, Irene, Andrew, Matthew and various other “natural” catastrophes to this list. This year, in particular, we can expand our view of disasters to include flooding in Southeast Asia which have killed over a thousand people and displaced a million and the fires in Montana that have caused millions of dollars in damage and covered the western U.S. in smoke.

Among the more intriguing developments in recent years has been to put together syllabi that allow the public to explore the complexity of recent events. These syllabi are often generated quickly and produced by collectives of scholars and public intellectuals and have accompanying hashtags. The best known of these being the #StandingRockSyllabus and the #CharlottesvilleSyllabus.

I rarely do this on the blog, but I am wondering what a #HurricaneSyllabus would look like?

My interests are historical rather than climatological or even strictly environmental, and, as a result, I’m interested in the historical circumstances that shaped the impact of these events and their local and global contexts. My instinct would be to divide the syllabus into five weeks:

Week 1: The environmental context for Harvey and Irma.
B. Fields, J. Thomas, and J. Wagner, “Living with Water in the Era of Climate Change: Lessons from the Lafitte Greenway in Post-Katrina New Orleans,Journal of Planning Education and Research 37.3 (2017), 309-321.

Kevin Fox Gotham and Joshua A. Lewis, “Green Tourism and the Ambiguities of Sustainability Discourse: The Case of New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward,” International Journal of Social Ecology and Sustainable 6.2 (2015).

R. J. Niven and D.K. Bardsley, “Planned retreat as a management response to coastal risk: a case study from the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia,” Regional Environmental Change 13.1 (2013), 193-209.

R.A. Pilke, The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change. Tempe 2014.

Week 2: The geographic context for storms: settlement, economics, race, and history.
Check out some of the material tweeted by Prof. Andrea Roberts at Texas A&M with the hashtag #HarveySyllabus.

Federick C. Cuny, Disasters and Development. New York 1983

Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World. London 2017.

Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Chose to Fail or Succeed. New York 2014. 

Daniel A. Farber, James Ming Chen, Robert R.M. Verchick and Lisa Grow Sun, Disaster Law and Policy. 3rd Ed. New York 2015.

Lafcadio Hearn, Chita: A Memory of Last Island. 1889

Week 3: The storm timeline: preparation and first responses.

Week 4: Rebuilding
D. Haeselin, Haunted by Waters: The Future of Memory and the Red River Flood of 1997. Grand Forks 2017.  

Anthony Loewenstein, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe. New York 2017. 

Week 5: History and Archaeology of the Storms
M. Bagwell, “After the Storm, Destruction and Reconstruction: The Potential for an Archaeology of Hurricane KatrinaArchaeologies 5 (2009), 280-292. 

M. Bloom, Codex (forthcoming, but preview available here).

S. Lee Dawdy, Patina: A Profane Archaeology. Chicago 2016. 

Hurricane Digital Memory Bank.  

Timothy H. Ives, Kevin A. McBride & Joseph N. Waller, “Surveying Coastal Archaeological Sites Damaged by Hurricane Sandy in Rhode Island, USAThe Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology (2017), 1-23.

Obviously my syllabus has some massive gaps, but please help me flesh this out in the comments section below or with the Twitter hashtag #HurricaneSyllabus.

Cypriot Landscapes

I finally grabbed a few minutes to read Giorgios Papantoniou’s that Thanasis Vionis’s recent article in Land, “Landscape Archaeology and Sacred Space in the Eastern Mediterranean: A Glimpse from Cyprus.” It is a among the first articles to emerge from their “Settled and Sacred Landscapes of Cyprus” project which has focused on the area to the west of Larnaka. This article focuses for the most part on the sites around Kofinou in the Xeros River valley in Larnaka District.

This space is interesting to me because it is situated in a very similar location to our site of Pyla-Koutsopetria. Kofinou is approximately 20 km to the west of Larnaka and slightly more inland where as Koutsopetria is 10 km to the east of the Larnaka and a coastal site. They both, however, stand near what many scholars have thought to be the boundaries of the ancient city of Kition and situated along major land routes through the ancient (and modern) countryside (so even if we conceive of ancient borders between states as less lines on the map and more markers along routes of contact, we can understand both Kofinou and Koutsopetria as marking likely edges to the political authority of Kition into the countryside).

The article got me thinking about three major things (and I’m sure a reading of the article by someone less easily distracted by their own archaeological commitments on the island!):

1. Landscapes. The first four pages of the article unpacks the wide range of theoretical perspectives that hang precariously on the concept of landscape in Mediterranean archaeology. For anyone interested in Mediterranean landscapes, this is an almost ideal primer and it broadly frames the work of the Settled and Sacred Landscapes of Cyprus project. The complexity of landscapes as spaces defined by economic, political, social, and religious activities recognizable through archaeological methods informs the following analysis of the Kofinou region. The awareness that landscapes are diachronic and diverse incorporating different spaces and places at various times and both informing and being the product of myriad experiences. I only wish that the authors made more apparent how the complexities of recent archaeological approaches to landscape inform their reading of the sacred spaces of Kofinou.

2. Site Size and Population. Among the more intriguing aspects of this project is the authors’ willingness to draw upon methods grounded in processual archaeology. In other words, despite the complexities of recent theoretical reflections on landscape and their dependence of post-processual understanding of lives and experiences spaces and places, Vionis and Papantoniou look toward intensive pedestrian survey to understand the extent of settlement at a site. Their site of Kofinou is approximately 13 ha and could support a population of 250-300 families on the basis of available arable land in the vicinity. This was compared to our estimate of 40 ha at Pyla-Koutsopetria from which they estimated a population of perhaps as many as 1000 families. 

Whatever one thinks of their estimates population and site size, I’m not entirely convinced that the same formula could be scaled to Koutsopetria. Without getting pedantic, I wish they authors had been more explicit in how they arrived at site size estimates (and this probably applies to our estimated site size as well) and how these can be compared across the island. More than that, though, it would be interesting to consider the functional differences between a site like Kofinou and our site at Koutsopetria. If, as the authors suggest, the Kofinou site is a settlement, then the estimates based on arable land and artifact scatters may well speak to population. In contrast, we’ve argued that Koutsopetria is a small emporion and perhaps a transshipment site for agricultural produce (particularly olive oil and perhaps wine) from the region. In other words, much of the build up space of the site would not have been settlement at all, but warehouses, production facilities, and, of course, the ecclesiastical compound associated with the excavated basilica. This isn’t to suggest that people didn’t live at Koutsopetria, but it’s functional purpose would serve to define its extent. The absence of massive quantities of cooking pots at Koutsopetria, for example, tends to suggest that much of the space was not concerned with habitation or settlement, but storage and processing of good for export.

3. Diachronic Landscapes. I was particularly intrigued by their effort to think about the diachronic landscapes of Cyprus and to balance the various aspects of places from geology and topography, to history, memory, and long-term structural organization of Cypriot sacred and settled space.

Border zones like Kofinou and Koutsopetria have seen both historical investment starting as early as the Iron Age with sanctuaries which inscribed the landscapes with persistent places even after the political and economic contingencies of border zones abate. The appearance of a Early Christian basilica at Koutsopetria, for example, might have less to do with successive Iron Age and Hellenistic sanctuaries and more to do with diachronic landscape of the place and accretion of successive rounds of material investment that built upon both the practical realities of a natural embayment, proximity to inland passages, and the presence of easily defensible coastal heights, and the social and cultural realities of marking the landscape with fortifications, sanctuaries, and settlements.

The relationships that form these diachronic landscapes are likewise variable and depend upon the place of the site and island within larger networks. Indeed, their very visibility and definition often relies on the presence of recognizable artifacts imported to the site or monument types familiar based on their presence elsewhere on the island or in the region. In other words, the diachronicity of landscapes is something that includes the archaeologist in the longterm history of sites as well as its location in Cypriot landscape and its place within the relational structures of disciplinary knowledge.

More on Haldon’s Empire That Would Not Die

I really enjoyed John Haldon’s latest survey of the 7th century, The Empire that Would Not Die (Harvard 2016). It navigated a very successful balance between the details of 7th-century political life and the broader economic, environmental, demographic, and diplomatic conditions that structured the later Roman state, and it stands as a valuable complement to his earlier works on this period.

The main geographic focus on the book was Asia Minor and to a lesser extent, the Near East. This makes sense not only because this is where much of the best-known political and military action took place, but also where Haldon’s own archaeological fieldwork focused. It is in his analysis of the events along the Empire’s eastern frontier that be brings the most subtle and nuanced view of the relationship between what is taking place on the ground in terms of settlement, movement of people, the landscape, and urbanism and imperial and church politics. It is in these areas – as well as in the capital – where Haldon can trace the intricate web of social, political, economic, cultural and religious connects that constituted the persistent fabric of the Eastern Roman Empire and preserved it from succumbing to massive external pressures and internal confusion. He does not overlook resistance to the Empire or to Imperial policies in Africa and Italy, for example, and does not overstate the stability of a particular Roman identity across the Empire. Nor does he wade too deeply into the prickly archaeological controversies that have muddled our ability to discern clearly small-scale and local changes that took place over the course of the “long 7th century.” In other words, his analysis of this period and the persistence of the Empire as a political institution avoided the worst of the thickets associated with the study of this period.  

He also largely avoided talking about the Balkans and the southern Balkans, in particular. To my mind, Greece offers a particularly intriguing problem for understanding the persistence of Roman rule in the Eastern Mediterranean. Not only was it subject to hostile military attacks and experienced demographic decline and change, but the persistence and extent of Roman military, political, and religious institutions flickered on and off unevenly from the late-6th to 8th century. As readers of this blog by now know, part of the issue is the absence of textual sources for the region and this is compounded by an uneven and complicated archaeological record shaped by a century-long confidence in the catastrophic impact of the so-called “Slavic Invasion.” Late Antique archaeology on Cyprus had the “Arab Raids;” Greece has the Slavs. 

At the same time, the 7th century in Greece has seen a remarkable reconsideration over the past decade and the settlement patterns of this region as well as the continued functioning of urban institutions – at least in the coastal zones –  is coming into better focus. It is increasingly clear that many rural settlements and structures continued in use from the 6th to the 7th centuries and show signs of adapting to different economic networks and the political and military disruptions of these centuries. Our understanding of the relationship between city and countryside, however, remains subject to decades-old biases that either see the rural areas as dependent on cities (and vice versa) or see urban areas as the tenuous links to Roman authority in the region. If the Roman state persisted in urban areas, then the links between town and country outline the structures through which the Empire endured in the southern Balkans and perhaps preserve evidence for the changes in structures over time that provided the Empire with the adaptability to survive the disruptions of this era. 

Do check out Hugh Jeffery’s review of the book here, and, if you want, my earlier comments here.

Performing Destruction: Confederate Statues and Iconoclasm

It is with great trepidation that I’m going to wade into the world of current political events, but I feel totally lame hanging around on the sidelines and feel compelled to offer my perspectives on the current controversy surrounding the removal of Confederate war memorials across the southern states. 

But first, go and read Rosemary Joyce’s really excellent response to calls for archaeologists to somehow be involved in the discussion of the removal of these moments.

And before reading further, I want to be entirely clear that I am not apologizing for these monuments, their place in the painful and massively destructive history of American race relations, or those who insist on their preservation. By all means, remove these statues, undermine violently any claim that the Confederacy, the Civil War, or the political leaders from the South were somehow heroic in their treason, and by removing these moments, subvert the tragic racial, social, and political history that surrounds the placement of these statues in the urban fabric of the South. I’m likewise not advocating for a moderate approach or for compromising with groups who are clamoring for their preservation. 

What I’m trying to do with this post is to offer my view of what archaeologists and historians could do to unpack the complexities surrounding the histories of these monuments and current tensions surrounding their legacy and their removal. This is adapted from a Facebook comment.

What has interested me the most about the current debate surrounding the removal of these statues is that there has only been spotty discussion of how various groups are actually removing these monuments. For, example in North Carolina, the state has filed charges against a group for illegally toppling a Confederate Memorial. In Baltimore, the city voted to remove four Confederate memorials and the act of removal was done with far less pomp, taking place in the middle of the night. In New Orleans, the removal also took place at night with the workers wearing body armor. In New Orleans and Baltimore, the removal of the statues seems to have been funded by the city; in Gainesville, the county offered the United Daughters of the Confederacy a chance to acquire the statue of “Old Joe” when they voted to remove it and that group moved it to a cemetery outside of town. It seems to have taken place during the day without any protests or problems.  The New York Times offers a thorough list with very interesting photographic documentation (worthy of a study in its own right).

I think there is far more significance to how these statues are being removed – both procedurally and physically – than what the statues mean. In fact, I worry that we’re sort of fixated on reinforcing the historical meaning of these monuments in order to make the political work surrounding their removal a socially acceptable gesture of restorative justice rather than seeking to understand how the statues produce meaning in public spaces. In other words, we have tended to privilege the original intent of the statues (which was morally repugnant) over their lives as monuments in living cities. This is not to suggest that we allow these monuments to stand and it certainly is not to suggest that these monuments don’t continue to represent a painful, immoral, and tragic history particularly for the black community or that they don’t, in part, carry forward the intent of their racist makers. What I guess I’m responding to is that archaeologists have tended to complicate this kind of historicism and locate objects and monuments in relation to changing perceptions and attitudes. By reading the meaning associated with these statues in such an intensively historical way, we’re promoting a gestural and spectacular approach to transforming contemporary culture. This isn’t bad unto itself, but it evokes certain elements of contemporary “slactivism” that sometimes function to detract from the real hard work of changing racial attitudes. If we can just remove the monuments, then we’ve done something.

(And again, this isn’t to detract from the hard work behind removing these monuments or even the impulse behind it, but to question whether these kinds of performative acts are more about political capital than the hard grinding work of social change which so often is invisible. Maybe, the removal of these monuments reflects and celebrates this work? Maybe it’s a clarion call telling the rest of us how much more we have to do? What does this moment really mean?)

At the same time, the removal of these statues is a far more potent act than whatever repressive, offensive, and racist meaning that the statues themselves carried. This isn’t to marginalize unduly their role in the history of race in the U.S. or the brutal work of white political leaders and communities in the southern states to negotiate a politically and culturally expedient identity in the face of the demographic, economic, social and political changes of the early-20th-century. Instead, I’m reflecting on some of Ömür Harmanşah’s work on the destructive acts performed by ISIS (albeit for a despicable and terrible cause). To my mind, the public acts of removing the statues matter far more than the statues themselves or some utopian notion that ALL the Confederate memorials in public spaces could be somehow removed. As an aside, this seems unlikely, probably impossible, and possibly even undesirable as neglect and even irony can sometimes be more potent tools than iconoclastic performances. As an alternate gesture, think of the so-called “Arlington House” (or the National Robert E. Lee Memorial) which offers a far more nuanced and complicated expression of Lee’s legacy bound up in the changing political and cultural understanding of Lee and the Civil War. 

There is an undeniably element of political theater in the removal of these statues as I suspect there was in their commissioning and original placement. And, again, to be clear I’m not proposing a moral equivalency here between those working to remove the monuments and the motivations that led to their placement. If archaeologists – and historians – are to invest energy in the critical reflection on these monuments, perhaps we should work more to understand them not as static indicators in the landscape, but as part of inherently political and performative character of place making. This impact and implication of this kind of gestural politics is the kind of complicated discursive process that archaeologists and scholars of visual culture have reveled in over the past several decades. My hope is that archaeologists can get beyond debating the historical significance of these monuments, whether and how they should be documented, and whether they should be preserved or destroyed, and move toward understanding how the moment of removal and the impact of their present/absence makes meaning for their communities and the nation. 

Slow and Ethnoarchaeology

Somehow I missed this recent article on ethnoarchaeology as slow science in World Archaeology. Jerimy J. Cunningham and Scott MacEachern argue that the ethnoarchaeology offers a counterweight to fast science driven by big data. This contributes to some of my recent ideas on slow archaeology.

The clever argument that Cunningham and MacEachern make is that ethnoarchaeology can work to create a space for archaeological thinking outside of dominant narrative of modernity (as well as capitalism). For most working archaeologists, this includes our desire to fragment knowledge, promote efficiency, and develop typologies. The rise of big data – and data-driven archaeology – fits well within this trajectory as it promotes streamlined acquisition of bits of information and the granularity and fluidity to support its large scale aggregation. I am not necessarily suggesting that big data and data-driven archaeology is bad, but that it does fit within a particular disciplinary, social, economic, and even political discourse. As the authors contend, big data is often part of a larger direction in archaeology that promotes large-scale projects, resource intensive computing and analytical practices, costly archiving protocols, and exacerbates the divide between a small number of highly-resourced projects who work to set global standards and a large number of poorly provisioned projects that either conform or exist at the margins of the discipline. To my mind, this reflects the intersection of contemporary, institutional archaeology, as well as long-standing historical practices dating from the origins of the discipline. 

I have argued for a “slow archaeology” as a way to critique this trajectory and to promote a sense of disciplinary self awareness (and I’ve been fortunate for some of my ideas to be advanced and developed by others who are far smarter than I am!). Cunningham and MacEachern align themselves with the slow science movement – particular scholars like Lisa Alleva, Olivier Gosselin, and Isabelle Stengers – and argue that the ethnoarchaeology offers a way to escape the modern pressure and trajectory of archaeological practices and processes by studying explicitly the complexity of traditional practices and modern lifeways. This allows us to grasp paths in the modern world that are not as neatly shaped by the pressures of capital, industrial production, and progress, but hold fast to craft practices, for example, as a means to communicate certain values that lack expression or are marginalized in the market.

Returning then to the idea that archaeology traces the trajectory of modernity, ethnoarchaeology offers a space to critique the impact of modern thinking not by denying its impact, but by understanding how it shapes what we do. In this way ethnoarchaeology, slow science, and slow archaeology share a concern even if they deviate in terms of methods.

 

Photogrammetry and Archaeological Practice

Phil Saperstein’s and Sarah Murray’s recent article in the Journal of Field Archaeology is remarkably useful for anyone considering using photogrammetry or structure from motion techniques to document an archaeological site. The authors argue that for the efficiency and precision of photogrammetric techniques to make a significant impact on archaeological documentation practices, archaeologists need to demonstrated greater rigor and transparency in the implementation of these techniques in the field.

Their article outlines key considerations for developing more rigorous field procedures for using photogrammetric techniques. For example, the article advocated for the use of coded targets to improve the efficiency of modeling and the accuracy of the resulting images. The authors provide a useful primer on focal length, aperture setting, and camera equipment which is useful to anyone using photography to document buildings, objects, or spaces. Anyone thinking about using photogrammetry in the field should consult this article. I know that I would do things a bit differently had I read this prior to our field work this summer.

There are three interesting things, however, that this article does not really consider, and I think that these speak to certain tendencies in archaeological methodology and, perhaps, how the discipline “works” in the field at a procedural level.

First, it was curious that there was little discussion of actual software in the article. On the one hand, this is understandable. The requirements of a particular software package, of course, are subject to change, and it was probably worth downplaying specific software in the interest of keeping the article timely. At the same time, the authors do make clear that the software that makes photogrammetric images possible is complex and opaque. This article offers a primer on understanding how to make useful images in the field, but it does not extend to understanding how these images are processed. This division remains a key difference between traditional archaeological illustration practices which are relatively more transparent, and our new use of technology to document sites.

Second, the article focuses on field practices and does not extend to the publication and dissemination of the images produced through these techniques. Like the software used to analyze issues, there tends to be a discontinuity between image production, analysis, and publication in archaeology. With the increased use of digital tools in the field and the growing interest and reliance on processed and 3D images offers unique challenges to archaeological publications that continue to emphasize 2D media for technical and traditional reasons.

Moreover, the producing photographs that are also data used in analysis has additional challenge of making sure that the data is available for independent confirmation of the analysis or future study using new and more advanced software. While archaeologists are never obligated to disseminate data publicly, a requirement does exist to archive properly both the photographs themselves as well as the results of photogrammetric analysis. Archiving digital photographs is relatively straightforward using existing standards and technologies; archiving photogrammetric or 3D models offers some new challenges. I’ve tended to see the needs to archive the results of photogrammetric analysis as something that extends directly from its use in the field and maintaining the continuity of metadata for each image is part of carefully executed field work.

Finally, (and readers of this blog know to expect this), I do wonder whether even a technical article like this could benefit from going beyond arguments for efficiency to include a stronger sense for the interpretative goals and potential for this kind of work. Accuracy and precision, for example, are always relative to the interpretive or analytical needs. Field efficiency is likewise dependent upon the desired interpretive outcome.

The authors do present a nice matrix for deciding whether photogrammetry is possible at a site, but this nevertheless depends on the kind of questions that archaeologists are asking. An article focusing on field practices cannot anticipate every possible interpretative outcome, but the authors have extensive experience with these kinds of technologies and could offer some substantive case studies.

In the end, these quibbles are mostly me saying that I’d prefer this article to be different rather than saying that the article isn’t good. It’s really good. Go read it.

Bottle and Privies in North Dakota: An Indigenous Archaeology

My Friday afternoon house cleaning was interrupted last week by a knock on my door. A 20-something guy in a sleeveless t-shirt and jeans asked if I was an archaeologist and if I would look at a couple of artifacts that he had purchased. I’m a curious guy, so of course I wanted to see the artifacts (and the last few times people have asked me to identify interesting artifact, they’ve ended up being pretty weird things and that’s even more fun). I’ve found that North Dakotans, in general, have an interest in archaeology and history 

Needless to say, I couldn’t identify objects that he had acquired, but as we talked, he explained to me that he made a living excavating 19th and 20th privies and selling and trading the bottles that he finds in them. He explained that he had excavated over 500 privies in his career, how he found them, and that he did so with permission of property owners. 

My gut reaction was the same as any archaeologist might have: “ugh, please don’t do that.” Instead, I asked him frankly whether me telling him to stop would cause him to stop. He said “no.” At that point, I felt like we could have a more open conversation about his methods, practices, and goals. I’m assuming, for the most part, that he was being honest with me about his approach to finding privies and that his reasons for excavating them. 

1. Passion for Bottles. He explained that his real motivation to dig up privies was not to make himself rich on excavated artifacts, but because he just really liked bottles. This wasn’t some kind of naive passion either. He clearly understood the history and typologies of glass bottle making in the region and could identify, date, and link bottles to particular places of manufacture and circulation.

2. Methods. His approach to finding privies was remarkably sophisticated. I let him prospect in the backyard of my late-19th house. He used a home made spring-steel probe with a hollow handle and started with depressions in the backyard working outward from an axis formed by the backdoor of the house. As he worked the backyard with his probe, he described the various sounds that the probe made as it passed through subsurface levels identifying some the grinding noise as “stove ash” and unsuccessfully searching for a lightly compacted area that would be the house’s outhouse. 

He also described successful efforts at using the old plat books for towns and then going to the now abandoned townsites and mapping in the individual lots on the ground. Then, it would be possible to find the location of the houses and their privies for excavation. This is a genuinely sophisticated and thoughtful approach to mapping a site prior to excavation.

Finally, he has started to take GPS points for each of his privy sites over the past year or so, mapping in over 100 privies that he’s excavated in the Red River valley and he can, in many cases, connect bottles to particular sites.  

3. Excavation. It is clear that his excavation practices are not stratigraphic, but this isn’t to say that he didn’t make careful observations about the formation processes that created privy shafts and their deposits. For example, he understood that privies were sometimes cleaned out leaving layers of earlier material on the bottom. And he recognized the different shapes of privy pits and the levels of backfilling and post-abandonment activities that formed a cap on the privy,

In short, his understanding of stratigraphy and formation processes demonstrated that he wasn’t just digging holes looking for artifacts, but recognized how artifacts made their way into deposits and how artifacts served to date individual depositional events.

4. Publishing. We talked a good bit about his collection of bottles from the Red River valley in eastern North Dakota and his desire to make his collection better known. While one could assign questionable motives here – a desire to improve the value of his collection or to gain renown or whatever, our conversation demonstrated a certain earnestness. He wanted to publish his collection because he understood its value, and he recognized its value because as a collector and a kind of archaeologists, he noticed a gap in the academic tradition that he used to identify and date his finds. Publishing his work is a way to make what he does useful and to preserve his work for future generations.

 

While I don’t condone his methods, I found his approach to his passion fascinating and I was impressed with how developed his methods and practices were. His work demonstrated a deep familiarity with a very limited kind of archaeological context and gave me renewed appreciation for the wide range of indigenous archaeological practices in use. My hope is to encourage him to give his records over to an archive, to publish what he knows, and to think about how to make his collection serve the public good. We’ll see how far I get!