Objects, Media, and Moviemaking: Narrating the Alamogordo Atari Expedition

It took me much longer than I imagined to get to this point, but I finally have something scholarly to show for my adventures at the Atari Expedition in Alamogordo, New Mexico. For something less than scholarly, you can read this.

This is not a final product, nor will it be the last word, but I feel like I have finally wrangled the maelstrom of ideas and experiences into a cohesive (if not coherent), presentation. The paper linked below represents my efforts to bring together five areas of thinking. First, I wanted to present a formal, archaeological description of the excavation of Atari Games from the Alamogordo landfill. Second, I wanted to do this in a way that explicitly references the complexities of both academic and popular archaeological narration. Third, I wanted to acknowledge the influence of the archaeology of the contemporary world on how we document 20th century archaeological work and the complicated and complicating concept of contemporaneity in understanding our recent past. Fourth, I want to recognize the materiality of the games themselves and demonstrate that this materiality influenced the way in which we narrated their discovery. Finally, I wanted at least to reference the growing and sophisticated field of media archaeology and demonstrate that the media, message, and materiality all contributed to our view of the Atari Alamogordo excavations.

This is too much to do in a single paper, but in the spirit of “always leave them wanting less,” I attempt to tell a compelling story amid a dense and complicate analysis. And I wrote this all in about 3 weeks.

This article would not have come into existence if not for the persistence and infectious enthusiasm of Andrew Reinhard and that Archaeogaming crowd. Richard Rothaus’s good humor, experience, and inventiveness ensured that we documented things “on the ground.” Bret Weber provided all sorts of intellectual and “social” support. And Raiford Guins provided an academic framework for the understanding of these artifacts in their material and cultural history. None of these people are to blame for this jalopy of an article draft. 

What I desperately need now is feedback. The citations in this article are minimalist and the argument is tangled. I recognize that I need to include figures. The conclusions is more of a concession of defeat than a brilliant synthesis and the introduction serves as a christening in which the ceremonial bottle of champagne fails to break. That all being said, I do think that this is salvageable, but not without help.

Please help. 

Here’s a link to the paper in Hypothes.is so you can comment on it. Or, if you’d rather, feel free to download it and shoot me feedback (or despair that I have a Ph.D.).  

Finally, where should I send this? 

More on Codex: Books, Performance, and Archaeology

I was initially drawn to Micah Bloom’s Codex project because it combined two elements that have become more or less central to my life: books and archaeology. At our book launch event last Friday, I realized that Bloom’s project had even more in common with my interests than I had initially recognized. In a short presentation Bloom unpacked the process of developing both the Codex book and short films that came from his efforts to document the books scattered about the Minot landscape.

If you don’t know Micah Bloom’s Codex, do go and check it out now.

In a brief back-and-forth in Minot, I asked Micah if he was inspired by recent work in “archaeology of the contemporary world.” I was inspired to ask after he discussed the particular care that he and his team took to document the scattered books both in situ and to number, label, preserve, and photograph the collected books systematically. Moreover, his team donned hazmat type as you can see in this clip from his film, and approached each artifact with extraordinary care

He admitted that he wasn’t particular familiar with this frequently theoretical (or at least conceptually ambitious) branch of archaeological work. He was inspired, however, by various manuals and technical literature that he found on for dealing with toxic objects, biological waste (including bodies), and other potentially contaminated (and contaminating) detritus. In other words, he used technical literature as a guide to performing real archaeological fieldwork, not in order to produce a thoroughly and systematically documented record of the 2011 Minot flood, but capture the particular sanctity of the books left behind in its receding waters. Performing archaeological work demonstrated care.

Archaeologists like Michael Shanks have long recognized the confluence of archaeological work and performance, and, indeed, theater. Without delving too deeply into this inspiring, if complex set of ideas, I have always struggled a bit to understand the relationship between the superficiality of theater – that is the concession in theater that the actors and the audience both have to suspend disbelief and recognize the actors as acting their parts – and archaeological methods, which ideally guide actions even when no one is looking. This isn’t meant to denigrate the work of actors and the depth of the characters that they portray or the promote the idea of the archaeologist as a singularly and consistently principled practitioner (but I’m sure most of us say that we try to be). The desire to keep our scarps straight is not just a cosmetic act that reinforces the scientific (scientistical?) precision of our work, but a practical way to make the stratigraphic relationships between various depositional events more visible. An actor may embrace certain aspects of a character off the stage (perhaps as part of an approach inspired by method acting), but this is fundamentally secondary to role played on the stage. There is always a risk, then, in emphasizing the performative in archaeology that we succumb to the artificiality of the aesthetic and as Michael Shanks has realized “abstracted from what is being represented, removed in an escape from social and historical reality, from anonymous popular masses, from the messy vernacular human and natural detail…”

Micah’s work offers an intriguing complication to this risk. Not only did he document his work to bring order to the messy chaos of flood recovery speak to a particular moment in time (and an effort to resolve what must have been a pervasive feeling of disrupted existence), but he also documented the books themselves in ways that are not immediately visible in his published work. For example, he disclosed that he has photographs of hundreds of books in situ and once he and his team collected and documented them. He also has a database (technically a spreadsheet) of close to 800 books recovered, identified, photographed, and documented from his work. Unlike the public facing work of the film and book and installation, these aspects of the Codex project, like the method actors behind the scenes routine, remains out of sight (at least, for now). 

Since Micah’s presentation, I’ve been turning around in my head how to make at least some of this archive available. Whether this archive will produce new archaeological, historical, or cultural knowledge is difficult to say, but it does reveal the depth of Codex as a form of authentic archaeological engagement with the world. 


I was pretty intrigued to read Stefano Campana’s recent article in Antiquity on the concept of “emptyscapes.” This concept describes the areas in the landscape that do not produce a recognizable signature of ancient artifacts whether this is a ceramic scatter or visible architecture elements. Archaeologists have often regarded these spaces as the “connective tissue” of the ancient world where activities like travel, extensive agriculture and pastoralism, or other low intensity or episodic activities occurred. As a result, archaeologists were initially quick to define these spaces as “off-site.” More intensive pedestrian survey practices have served to populate these landscapes with both artifacts and activities and to start the process of blurring the distinction between on-site and off-site spaces in the Mediterranean world. Back in the dayDavid Pettegrew, Dimitri Nakassis, and I argued that emptyspaces – especially those produced by limited visibility – required archaeologists to increase the intensity of field walking (e.g. narrower walker spacing, total collection circles and the like), if they wanted to produce meaningful assemblages from the “hidden landscapes” that often left only the faintest traces in the countryside.

Even with greater intensity of field walking, we still recognize that some spaces in the landscape produce so few objects that it is impossible to discuss their character in antiquity even in the most general way, and these spaces remind us that absence of evidence is not evidence for absence. 

Campana and his team have attacked the problem of emptyscapes by ratcheting up intensity even further by conducting large-scale geophysical work across areas that produced very little archaeological evidence. The emptyscape team was selective in where they worked, of course, identifying territory outside of the cities of Rusellae, Grosseto, and Vetulonium in Tuscany. They selected areas that produced very little material particularly from the Roman, Late Roman and Medieval periods and the emptyscapes project sought to use more intensive techniques to determine whether it was possible to tease evidence for past human activity from these empty landscapes. 

Needless to say, they did produce some intriguing results including evidence for road networks, burial landscapes, and small fortified settlements that intensive pedestrian survey otherwise overlooked. In fact, their results were very impressive and expanded what we can learn about the landscape beyond artifact scatters. Of course, the emptyscapes team note that ground-truthing through excavation will offer even greater resolution and opportunities to understand the interstitial places that their geophysical work revealed.

The applicability for this kind of large-scale remote sensing practice will vary depending on local topography, settlement patterns, soil conditions, and geomorphology, of course, but anyone following the increasingly sophisticated technology and practices associated with remote sensing knows that the potential is there. The bigger concern, of course, is that every form of intensification reduces the scale of intensive pedestrian survey (or steeply increases the resources necessary to document each hectare). Increasingly powerful computing and streamlined data collection tools in the field do make it easier to collect geophysical data and to correlated datasets produced by various techniques from LiDAR to field walking, magnetometry, and even small-scale excavation. I still suspect that they won’t allow us to escape the accusation of “Mediterranean myopia” leveled against Mediterranean intensive survey practitioners over 15 years ago. As survey archaeology increases in intensity, we can say more about smaller and smaller areas. Historically, particularly in the New World, survey archaeology excels at speaking broadly about regions that are often hundreds of square kilometers. Sampling strategies established to accommodate the scale of regional level projects mitigated the challenge of  emptyscapes as they limit the impact of environmental variability. Expanding the scale of intensive survey, however, does less to control for variation in the visibility and “diagnosticity” of particular classes of artifacts. If you miss certain classes of artifacts leaving gaps in your survey area, so amount of sampling for area is likely to resolve that without also developing sampling strategies that accommodate the range of likely artifact types present in a survey area. Large-scale geophysical work does just that by allowing the archaeologists to see beyond the surface of the ground and the usual scatter of durable, largely ceramic and stone objects and to sample subsurface features as well. At the same time, even the largest scale geophysical work offers a window into a much smaller area that regional level intensive survey. The real value of this practice lays not in its ability to fill a particular gap in the surface record, but in its ability to document emptyscapes at scale. 

Environment and Society in the Ancient World

Dimitri Nakassis pointed me in the direction of the most recent issue of History Compass which features a series of article the environment and society in the Ancient World. These article are best read as short essays on the state of the field with distinctive takes on the scholarly conversation rather than groundbreaking works of original scholarship. Considering both the immense outpouring of recent work on the historical (and modern) environments and challenging body of technical tools and discussions necessary to understand this scholarship, this issue was a good idea and a nice place to start for anyone interested in the “environmental turn.”

The two essays that caught my eye were Catherine Kearns article titled “Mediterranean archaeology and environmental history in the spotlight of the Anthropocene.” The article offers a nice review of recent work on the Anthopocene, the long term history of Mediterranean environments, and, then, a case study  from Cyprus where Kearns has done important work using the survey data produced from the Vasilikos and Maroni valleys on Cyprus. She argues that environmental changes contributed to the reuse of certain features like check damns in the upper reaches of these river valleys between 800 and 300 BC. These dates coincide with a period during which carbon stable isotope analysis revealed an increase in water on the island. These sites also provided access to copper deposits which represented an important source of wealth for the island. At the same time, the increased availability of water during this same period, contributed to increased agricultural productivity on the island to support copper mining and the emergence of the (new?) Iron Age polities that would come to dominate Cypriot society until the Hellenistic period.

Michael Decker’s two-part article on the environment in Late Antiquity offers a useful contribution to understanding the role that climate change and the environment played in the Late Roman world. Late Antiquity, of course, is full of paradoxes. On the one hand, it would appear that the Late Antique world experienced persistent and perhaps even increased economic activity, trade, and prosperity from the 5th to the 8th century. On the other hand, this period also witnesses significant political instability and relatively rapid religious and social change over the Mediterranean basin. As Decker notes, the alarming character of the political collapse in Late Antiquity often supported colonialist readings of the pressures exerted on the empire’s margins. In this reading, for example, the rise of Islam, for example, represented a political and religious response to the increased aridity of the Near East, the economic decline of the Roman core related to the deforestation of North Africa, and the failure of the Roman state in the peripheral provinces of the West correlated to cooler and dryer temperatures. Decker demonstrates how many of these views, at least for the East, contributed to and fed upon Orientalist assumptions regarding the character of nomadic groups living around the periphery of the Roman Empire.

The second part of his article considers new data that is being brought to bear on climate change at the end of the ancient world. While Decker stops short of arguing how this data will go beyond correcting the environmentally deterministic views of the end of antiquity in the past and provide new ways of thinking about how longterm trends in climate change changed the ancient world. But, he makes clear that there is significant promise in the analysis of finer-grained data.

These articles are a useful introduction to the growing impact and future potential of climate science and environmental studies in the ancient world. As with so much of this work at present, it is more promising than compelling, but it clearly marks a significant path forward for future research. 

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!


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!



#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.