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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Preliminary Thoughts on Digital Practices in Archaeology

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Ethics of Access.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Ethics of Process

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Pulling Apart Publication

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

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

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

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


Three Things Thursday

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

Bakken Goes Bust

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

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

The UND Writers Conference

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

It looks great.

American School of Classical Studies at Athens Annual Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s our abstract:

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

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

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

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


NVAP II: Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside

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

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

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

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

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

Three Things Wednesday

I’ve been writing a bit frantically lately, and this morning, I don’t really feel it. So instead of some (in)coherent blogpost rant, I’ll offer three quick things that occupied my mind on my drive to campus this morning.

Forty Book February

This month was the first month in the history of The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota that we sold 40 books (actually 41)! Selling paper books has always been a rather small part of what I do at The Digital Press, but as recent, middling figures for the sale for ebooks have shown, people love paper. (That being said, downloads of our books outpaced sales by about 10:1).

The strong February sales were driven in part by Eric Burin’s edited volume, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College, but almost every book in our catalogue got some love this month. 

What is more interesting (at least to me) is that Visions of Substance: 3D Imaging in Mediterranean Archaeology edited by myself and Brandon Olson is the only book that did not sell a copy, despite being the most widely cited book in The Digital Press catalogue with close to 10 citations in a wide range of books and journals (Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, Antiquity, Journal of Field Archaeology, Studies in Ancient Art and Civilization). I suspect the price ($24) has something to do with it and this was an unavoidable consequence of the color printing. Maybe the topic of the book, which was meant to capture a particular moment in time, made the book easily dated?

Immigrants and Emerson 

Here in the Northland, we’ve heard an alarming number of stories about immigrants crossing the rural border between the U.S. and Canada out of fear of deportation. Crossing the border by foot in the winter has cost some of these individuals fingers and toes and nearly their lives. This terrifying new reality has put a profoundly human and local face on the global refugee crisis and got me and my colleagues, Richard Rothaus and Kostis Kourelis, thinking about whether an archaeology of these crossings could help us (and our communities) understand what we need to do to help people so desperate and afraid that they’d risk their lives to be free. Taking a page from Jason De León’s Undocumented Migration Project and our own experience working on the archaeology of the contemporary world, we’ve just begun to imagine ways in which we could realize an archaeology of care here in North Dakota.

We don’t have plans yet and recognize the need for collaboration on both sides of the border and the time and space to develop a thoughtful, humane, and systematic approach to the local side of a global problem. I’m looking forward to the forthcoming forum in the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology that will help frame archaeology’s role in the ongoing crisis.

Threshold Concepts

The next big thing in pedagogy (at least here in North Dakota) seems to be threshold concepts. While I won’t pretend to understand the theoretical or conceptual underpinnings of the idea, it seems to have something to with the idea or concept in a class (or even a discipline) that pushes a student from superficial bafflement to deep understanding. I like the idea because it so neatly describes the breakthrough point that most of us have experienced when studying, say, an language or a particularly tricky text that allows us almost suddenly to wrap our heads around what an author or even a culture is saying. The idea behind threshold concepts, from what I gather, is to recognize and foreground the understanding that creates this breakthrough experience.

A colleague got me thinking about the threshold concepts for history and how students think about arguments, facts, evidence, and theory. For many – even some of our M.A. students – history is about combining “facts” into arguments. This is a fine basic understanding, but runs the risk of essentializing historical evidence as static facts and viewing arguments as self-contained entities that do not rely on larger (and more complex) standards for their validity. After all, an argument is only as good within a particular regime of authority, style, discourse, and even political standing. 

Data, Interpretation, Publishing

I’ve been chewing on a blog post for a few days now and it just so happens that it coincides with the third installment of Dimitri Nakassis’s Archaeological Futures series over at his blog “Aegean Prehistory.” One of his more compelling points (and one that he has made several times in his blog) is that there persists a rhetorical divide between data collection and interpretation. Data collection continues to attract a particular kind of attention that generally focuses on issues of accuracy, efficiency, and productivity. In many ways, it represents a meaningful fork from a larger discussion of methodology prompted in large part by the emergence of New Archaeology in the 1960s and 1970s. The concern is that this emphasis on data collection as digital practice fragments how we talk about archaeological knowledge production and separates collecting datas in the field from analyzing them. If you’ve read my blog and some of my recent publications, you know my critical of this: slow archaeology.    

It is probably valuable to stress that this division between data collection and interpretation is artificial and represents a divide in how we talk about archaeological practice and not archaeological practice in the field. The most eloquent advocates for sophisticated, more accurate, and more efficient data collection methods are generally fine field archaeologists who continuously draw on embodied knowledge, best practices, and their own data to make decisions on the fly at trench side or during survey. 

The problem, then, becomes an issue of presentation. The generic divide between archaeological methods as an area of study and the analysis and interpretation of archaeological data has fostered what appears to be a divergent interests in the field. In practice, these interests deeply intertwined, of course, but on paper (so to speak!) they are not.

Last week, I excitedly touted the release of a digital version of our bookPyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coast Town. It’s free. Download it today

The chief asset of the digital version (aside from it being free and digital) is that a reader can “drill down” into the archaeological data upon which our arguments are based. This data was published by Open Context on their platform and was open and free. Earlier this week, Sarah Bond, introduced the Gabii projects remarkable 3D publication to a wide audience. University of Michigan’s press published the 3D book, which retails for $150, but the data on which the book is based is available for free. In other words, publishing practice has largely followed the scholarly conversation that separated data collection (and data itself) from analysis. The analysis in these cases, will run you about $150 for Gabii, and before we released our book for free, $75. To be clear, my point here isn’t to disparage either of these efforts or Open Context or Michigan. The material reality of archaeological publishing is such that the tools, skills, and infrastructure used to publish data remains distinct from those required to publish a traditional book. As a result, these two aspect of publishing have remained separate. While one could argue that archaeological publications long separated “data” which tended to appear in the form of catalogues as either separate volumes or in separate sections, digital publishing practices have seemingly expanded that divide. 

I’ve just started working on a pilot project to publish a 3D dataset that would require – in its current formulation – at least three and perhaps four different platforms ranging from a archaeological data publishing platform (like Open Context) to platforms best suited to publish 3D data, a portable digital version of the data and analysis that does not require a internet connection, and, perhaps, a paper version that – like we did with Mobilizing the Past – that offers a way for a read more at ease with conventional paper publications to access the digital elements of the project. To my way of thinking, this distributed form of publishing provides someone interested in this project with multiple avenues to access the data and the analysis and interpretation.

At the same time (and as some of my collaborators in this project have pointed out), this distributed model of publishing exacerbates the distinction between various forms of archaeological knowledge. The traditional codex (and page) represents the most familiar way to present linear arguments that move systematically from point to point to build their case. Data, however, is never as neat and linear as an argument, but the further it stands apart from the argument (whether through format, platform, or media) the less reciprocal or “entangled” the relationship between data and argument will appear. 

So as I look toward the future of archaeology, I’m simultaneously excited about the impact of technology on how archaeology is practiced and published and completely humbled by my inability to think about how an entangled discipline that preserves both the linearity of archaeological arguments and the non-linearity of archaeological practice would appear. 

Call for Papers: The Medieval Countryside

Years ago, Kostis Kourelis and I collaborated with a group of interested archaeologists of the Medieval Mediterranean to create an Archaeological Institute of American Interest Group. Since that time, the members of that group have hosted panels at the annual AIA meetings, collaborated on edited volumes, and served as a center of gravity for promoting Medieval archaeology.  

Last year, they hosted two panels dedicated to the archaeology of abandoned villages and they were really good. 

This year, they’ve proposed a panel on the Medieval Countryside. Here is the information:

Call for Papers

The Medieval Countryside: An Archaeological Perspective

Proposed Colloquium Session for the 2018 Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, Boston, MA, January 4-7, 2018

Organizer: Effie Athanassopoulos on behalf of the AIA Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology Interest Group

The proposed colloquium will examine the contribution of archaeology to our broader understanding of the medieval period in Greece and the Aegean region, especially rural settlements. Since the early 1980s, when large-scale, intensive surveys were undertaken in several areas of Greece, a rich and diverse database of sites and off-site material pertaining to the medieval period has been generated. Thus, for the first time we can approach the rural landscape, habitation and land use, from the perspective of archaeology. Prior to this development, we were constrained by the lack of textual sources, such as tax registers or monastic archives, which are available only for few areas. Archaeological surveys, along with excavations, have expanded our options and provided a more even geographical coverage.

However, the rich databases that have been generated by regional projects have not had significant impact on related fields, such as history, or existing narratives of Byzantium. Prominent publications in the field of Byzantine studies that include archaeological results tend to focus on excavations, with survey contributions rarely mentioned. So, why haven’t survey data been incorporated into broader historical themes involving settlement, land use, social history or cultural identity? Why hasn’t the promise of a broader impact of landscape archaeology projects materialized? What are the obstacles that discourage the engagement of a wider group of scholars with survey data? Is it simply a matter of time, because most survey projects have been slow to disseminate their results? What other issues need to be addressed?

The purpose of this session is to identify obstacles that have limited the impact of this body of archaeological work and propose solutions. The goal is to bring together past and ongoing archaeological projects that focus on the medieval landscape, initiate collaboration, facilitate comparative research, and take steps towards enhancing data sharing and dissemination.

If interested to contribute, please email the following information to Effie Athanassopoulos ( by March 3, 2017.

  1. Name(s), institutional affiliation and contact information
  2. Paper title and abstract (maximum 400 words) conforming to the AIA Style Guidelines



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