Unfolding a Mountain

One of the particularly challenges that we faced on the Western Argolid Regional Project was how to understand a site at a rock shelter known as Daouli. The site featured a series of fortified rock shelters complete with cisterns and what we interpreted as “gun slits” (actually loopholes) that overlooked the Inachos River valley in the neighborhood of the village of Lyrkeia in the Argolid. The fields around these fortifications produced some Late Roman and Final Neolithic pottery as well as modern material. The fortifications themselves proved difficult to date; they are likely 19th century, but graffiti in the plaster of at least one cistern included dates from the 1940s.

Last weekend, I finally finished Niels Henrik Andreasen, Nota Pantzou, Dimitris Papadopoulos, and Andreas Darlas’s Unfolding a Mountain: A historical archaeology of modern and contemporary cave use on Mount Pelion. (2017). A used copy is available now for $21 on Biblio.

The book is really great. 

It describes a two year survey of caves on Mt. Pelion and considered the range of recent and contemporary uses of the caves through a variety of lenses ranging from archaeological survey, ethnography, epigraphy, and regional history. Mt. Pelion is the rugged and beautiful stretch of mountain that extends roughly southeast of Volos. There are a number of villages on the island, a narrow gauge railroad, orchards, overgrown terraces, stone mansions, and caves. 

The book does a few things that were really helpful. 

First, they demonstrate the wide range of ways that caves have been used in the modern and contemporary period. These range from a field hospital during the Greek Civil War to occasional shelters for shepherds, temperature stable storerooms, hermitages, and even periodically for housing new arrivals on the peninsula. The varieties of use reflect the cave’s location, their shape and size, and the changing political, economic, and social situation on the peninsula over the course of the 19th and 20th century. 

Second, they document the caves, related material culture, and graffiti carefully. Historical archaeology in Greece remains in its infancy, and while many projects recognize the significant of modern and contemporary material culture, most continue to document it in a rather less systematic and intensive way that ancient or medieval material. In Unfolding the Mountain, modern graffiti and stacked stone walls are documented with almost the same care that an ancient inscription would receive. Joanita Vroom’s study of the modern and contemporary ceramics emphasized that we still do not have the same chronological resolution for modern pottery as we do for certain periods in antiquity or, more accurately, other sources of evidence for the recent past offers more precision than we can extract from the long-lived ceramic forms.  

Graffiti on the other hand, often included specific dates or, at very least, years, which provided the authors with a more precise, if not entirely consistent, proxy for cave use during the 19th and 20th centuries. While they did acknowledge that the epigraphic habit changed over time, with certain decades less well represented than others, graffiti nevertheless offered insights into the broad patterns of cave use on Mt. Pelion.

The ebb and flow of resources, migrants, and challenges (including Italians, Nazis, Allies and the combatants in the Greek Civil War) shaped the use of the mountain over time. The agricultural practices and the construction of the railway drew Albanian migrants to the mountain and these workers left their marks on caves where they sometimes resided during their short-term stays in the region. Resistance fighters during the German Occupation and the Civil War used the caves to hide weapons, command posts, and hospitals. Miners and shepherds modified caves in various ways when there were markets for goats (and their cheese) and Pelion stone. 

What’s more striking, in their account is how today many of the caves have slipped into obscurity. Their informants described the mountain as “closed” and even denied the existence of caves in its rugged heights. The absence of grazing goals and cultivated fields outside the immediate vicinity of the villages has allowed the caves to disappear into tangled webs of vegetation. Pave roads, the end of transhumant practices, and fewer large flocks have also resulted in access to the caves being impossible. The authors readily acknowledged that their sample of caves only represented a fraction of what likely existed but was lost to knowledge or now too difficult to access.

As someone who has spent a good bit of time at the margins of the cultivated area in the Argolid and Corinthia, I’ve found it impossible to miss the signs – terraces, buildings, cisterns, wells, paths, et c. – that early modern agriculture and habitation was once far more extensive than it is in the 21st century. As a result, our intensive survey methods, wedded as they are to the flatter, more open, and often still cultivated fields of the valley bottoms and lower slopes around modern villages, can produce a pretty distorted view of the earlier land use. In fact, our tendency to conclude that modern and pre-modern land use and settlement were similar often owes itself, at least in part, to the part of the landscape that we can easily sample. 

The Pelion team does a nice job connecting this sampling bias to larger regional trends and demonstrating how the mountain, its villages, caves, and fields responded to larger regional and transregional trends, which, in turn, defined how archaeologists can understand the mountain today. 

WARP Field Manual: A Manual for an Intensive Pedestrian Survey

Over the last month or so, I’ve been puttering around with the field manual from the Western Argolid Regional Project. This was an intensive pedestrian survey conducted in the Inachos River valley from 2014-2016 (with study seasons in from 2017-2019).

We produced a field manual that we then updated as the project went along. In an effort both to contribute to the small number of publicly available field manuals from field projects and to make our project a bit more transparent, we decided to tidy up our manual and make it available via tDAR.

Some of my long-time readers might remember that a few years ago, I was keen to formally publish as many field manuals as I could via The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. We formally published on field manual, the iconic Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual in 2017 and it has been a solid and consistent performer, download over 1000 times and used in any number of university and college classrooms. We also prepared a little archive of archaeological field manual and you can explore it a bit here.

This work generated some tepid interest in formally publishing field manuals, but nothing came of it. In fact, even my WARP colleagues were pretty ambivalent about publishing our manual. I did typeset the WARP manual together so that if someone wanted to publish it, they could. We also made it available under an open access CC-By license.

In any event, you can download the WARP manual here. It’ll be up in tDAR in the next week or so and I’ll share that link as well.


Industrial Archaeology Again

This weekend, I read the most recent issue of IA: the Journal of Industrial Archaeology (2017 [2020]). This is a journal that has hung out at the fringes of my scholarly awareness for about a decade now, but this is the first time that I actually just hung out with an issue (and it’s PAPER no less!). 

I’ve been working on a chapter that looks at industrial archaeology of the contemporary world (as well as ruins and the archaeology of contemporary cities) and wanted to do a high altitude survey of what’s been going on in the field of industrial archaeology over the last 20 years or so. The issue is pretty idiosyncratic, so it’s not necessarily a great place to find a survey of the field (for that kind of work, check out Hilary Orange’s recent review article in Post-Medieval Archaeology or in Patrimonio: Arqueologia Industrial).

Instead, I was completely charmed by Jeff Benjamin’s article, “Ariadne’s Gift: The Archaeological Record of Industry” which considers industrial archaeology in the context of the Anthropocene. Ariadne’s gift, of course, was the ball of string given to Theseus which allowed him to find his way out of the labyrinth built by Daedalus’s to imprison the Minotaur. For Benjamin the archaeology of the industrial past offer a way to unravel the history of the anthropocene and, more importantly, provide ideas for how to escape from the prison that environmental degradation and climate change have created for humanity. The diverse range of approaches and foci present in archaeology – from considerations of identity to awareness of ecological context, ability to work across temporal scales, and sensitivity to the performative and affect – allows the archaeologist of industry a distinct perspective on our contemporary situation. Moreover, the development of an archaeology of industry, allows us to understand industrialization as an event with its own chronological and temporal boundaries that is both compelling and – at times – repelling to the researcher.

Benjamin’s description of the archaeology of industry embodies many of my own experience doing research in the Bakken oilfield where I am simultaneously enthralled by the scale, complexity, and aesthetics of oil production while at the same time repelled by its socially, environmentally, and economically divisive and destructive potential. The ability to recognize and understand the industrial as a bounded object or event while also the fundamental structuring situation of our contemporary existence offered a distinctive position for both critique and understanding. We recognize in industrial practices and industrial archaeology the event horizon of our own way of life. 

The second article in the issue is also worthy of note, Jonathan Gardiner’s “The Industrial Archaeology of the Archaeology Industry.” While I haven’t made my way through this article in a thoughtful and deliberate way yet, it appears to be another contribution to the growing number of articles that explore the archaeology of archaeology as both a discipline and practice. The tendency for archaeologists to occlude (or at least not treat with the same critical attention) the archaeological evidence for past archaeological work not only speaks to the certain notions of archaeological time in which all archaeological work becomes essentially contemporary, but also to our own tendency in disciplinary practice to “black box” many processes that give rise to our scientific knowledge.

More on this in the future.  

Protests and Graffiti

My current chapter from my halting book project on the archaeology of the contemporary American experience is lurching forward once more. I gots some words, as the kidz say. 

The chapter is on “Ruins, Industrial Archaeology, and Cities” and my chapter weaves its way through the post-industrial city, race, and protest and will eventually deposit the bewildered reader somewhere near the intersection of urban archaeology and environmental history. Good times.   

The critiques of ruin porn offered by scholars such as Ryzewski (2014) and Paul Mullins (2012; 2014) emphasize that the removal of individuals from ruin photography, and these criticisms find parallels with recent work in industrial archaeology. As LouAnn Wurst (2016), Paul Shackel (2009) and others have noted the emphasis on technological advancement in industrial archaeology has tended to marginalize the role of labor. By drawing industrial archaeology more fully into the field of historical archaeology, scholars have turned more attention to the role of industrial labor in shaping communities, class, and individual identity. Projects such as the Randall Maguire’s Colorado Coalfield War project sought to center the project on labor relationships both in the archaeology of the early 20th-century Ludlow Massacre site and in its modern effort to engage with organized labor in the region. Michael Roller’s (2018) research in and around the coal mining toward of Pardeesville, Pennsylvania considered the long reach of structural violence at the intersection of race, labor, and class in Pennsylvania’s anthracite region which continues to play a role in the lives of contemporary residents. Various short term efforts to revive the economy in the region has involved shifting the economy to increasing casual labor. Situated amid the decaying industrial structures of the coal industry, light industrial work and warehouses offered short-term and irregular employment opportunities for these communities, and capital from outside the region see in these post-industrial communities pools of low-cost labor.

Roller connects these processes to various efforts at urban renewal in the late 1960s and early 1970s, for example, which sought to transform the increasingly abandoned commercial districts of “coal patch” towns by demolishing buildings condemned or identified as “blighted” and polices that encouraged the redevelopment of urban spaces and concomitant development of post-industrial suburbs. Part of these efforts involved determining the place of the region’s industrial past in its future directions. The material landscape of both the mining industry as well as the strategies employed by residents to negotiate a livelihood in the highly contingent extractive economy and the region’s post-industrial present. The arrival of a new wave of immigrants from Central America and the Caribbean, drawn to the region by its low cost of living and availability of low skilled and light industrial work, soon met with local resistance and racial animosity. Ironically, many of the attacks against the new arrivals came from former Eastern and Southern European immigrants who came to the region to work for the coal industry a 150 years earlier. Roller’s work recognizes the complex relationship between capital, race, and nationalism inscribed on the industrial and post-industrial landscape.

Protests and Graffiti 

Such nuanced views of the impact of capital on communities and identity follow trends well-established in historical archaeology (e.g. Shackel 2009; Wurst 2014). In the archaeology of the contemporary world, this has not only manifested itself in the archaeology of industrial and post-industrial but also extends to the archaeology of protest against the way that these systems define race, class, gender and other forms of identity. As occurred in the context of the Cold War Nevada Test Site, the protests encompassed not only the testing and development of nuclear weapons, but also the appropriation of traditional range lands from the Western Shoshone and post-war American nationalism and consumerism (Schofield). The contemporary Greenham Common Airbase protests in the UK operated at the intersection of Cold War tensions and gender (Schofield and Anderton 2000) as the camps surrounding the airbase were occupied by women and children. As Schofield and Anderton observe, the uniquely gendered aspect of these protests sought to taunt the hyper-masculine militarism of the base with sexual chants, in some cases, and using the fence to display knitting, children’s clothes, and other items associated with traditional women’s life in a mock effort to beg the men in the base to allow women to repair the present and prepare for the future. Schofield and Anderton likewise recognized that the association of women, gendered tactics, and protests at the Greenham Common paralleled similar strategies developed by women during the 1984 coal workers strike and the Prostitution Collective movement that began in the mid-1970s.

The archaeology of protests is beginning to recognize the complex responses to the economic and racial challenges facing American cities in the late-20th and early-21st century. Crystal R. Simms and Julien Riel-Salvatore (2016), for example, examined the sanitary conditions of the Occupy Denver, which was part of the larger Occupy Wall Street movement, in response to claims by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper that the OD protesters were a public health and safety risk. While Simms and Riel-Salvatore faced the challenges facing any archaeological project seeking to document an active and occupied space of habitation (cf. White 2020 on similar challenges at Burning Man), they nevertheless demonstrated that many of the generalizations regarding the OD protest camp reflected it transition from a protest site to a homeless camp. In fact, their research project recognized that they collected most of the data on sanitation and safety from when chronically homeless individuals occupied the site rather than when it occupied by political protestors. The prevalence of drug paraphernalia, for example, and an outbreak of scabies seem more likely associated with challenges associated with long-term homelessness than the protestor’s encampment An effort to document the material culture of the Occupy Movement in New York’s Zuccotti Park produced photographs and descriptions which appeared on a website, were displayed and curated at Columbia University’s Archaeology Lab and featured in conference papers. While this work appears to have produced no formal publications, the assemblages and photographs demonstrate the wide range of behaviors connected to the Occupy Movement’s temporary camps and as well as patterns of distribution associated with their disruption by police. The desire the break up protest camps reflects the desire on the part of the authorities to challenge the message of the protestors by representing their actions as unsanitary and irresponsible as well as to undermine the impact of their work by breaking up the camps and obscuring their mark on the urban landscape.

The ephemeral nature of protest events, the opposition of authorities, and the complexity of protestors goals and organization often make systematic archaeological documentation of even large protests difficult. Beisaw and Olin (2020) recent call to document the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) Protest in North Dakota rests on both the disciplinary responsibility toward recognizing the diverse range of Native American claims to land and their history of protests. The authors frame their call by presenting a critical study of the efforts to preserve the Native American occupation of Alcatraz island from 1969-1971. The occupation of the island, the abandoned prison and its grounds was among only the most visible efforts of Nation Americans to reassert claims to traditional lands both in California and across the US. In recognition of the significance and visibility of this protest, the National Park Service who now manages the island as a national monument has preserved painted signs on the walls of the prison and has developed with Native American activists and scholars an exhibit room in the penitentiary museum. For Beisaw and Olin, however, the removal or failure to preserve many traces of the Native American occupation of the island and the absence of consistent interpretative signage renders this significant act of protest difficult to understand and obscure to the casual visitor. Unlike the relatively ephemeral protests of the Occupy Movement, the more literal occupation of Alcatraz Island would have left more persistent traces that could be preserved and presented to visitors. The intensity of the DAPL protests may well have left a similarly visible material trace that would offers a vital counter narrative to prevailing media view which characterize the protest camp as occupied by professional agitators seeking to escalate a conflict with oil companies and the local authorities. A more humane, diverse, and nuanced presentation of this site would complicate perceptions could call into question the close alliance of capital and militarized law enforcement and their claims to represent public order in ways that evoke the violence of the Colorado Coalfield War of the early 20th century.

Genealogy of Mediterranean Survey Archaeology

An article by Michael Loy has been making the rounds lately, and my colleague Grace Erny brought it to my attention this morning. It so happens that I’ve also been talking a lot of Greek survey (and Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey) with my old friend David Pettegrew lately because he is working on a book that brings together the analysis of survey area with the publication of EKAS data. We’ve also been working on preparing a preliminary report for the Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP) and working to locate it relation to earlier work in the field.

Loy’s article makes an effort to trace the development of Mediterranean intensive pedestrian survey primarily in Greece and the Aegean over the past 50 years. The method is largely anecdotal and focused on the relationship between project directors starting with the three early systematic survey projects: the Minnesota Messenia Expedition (1961-1968), the Cambridge-Bradford Boeotia Survey (1978-1991), and the Southern Argolid Exploration Project (1972-1982). From these projects, Loy identifies the “Cherry-Davis Network” from which sprung any number of significant intensive surveys in Greece with primacy given, perhaps, to the Namea Valley Archaeological Project and the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project. He also notes several other genealogies existed “outside” this network including the “Chronotype” family of projects associated with Sidney Cyprus Survey Project, the Troodos Archaeological and Environmental Survey Project, EKAS, the Australian Palaiochora-Kythera Survey Project, the Saronic Harbors Archaeological Research Project and Western Argolid Regional Project. Sadly, my little survey on Cyprus – the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project – slipped through the cracks here!

There are many ways to critique this article. On the one hand, the article reflects the relationships between project directors and gives some sense for how professional collaborations create genealogical relationships in disciplines defined as much by field-developed craft as the formal publication of methods, procedures, and practices. In fact, one thing that is striking about the development of intensive pedestrian survey as how quickly it intensified between the earliest project — like the MME and the Southern Argolid survey — and their siteless survey successors from the later 1980s (NVAP and PRAP being key examples).

On the other hand, this kind of network analysis overlooks the bottom-up influences that often influenced the development and transmission of survey methods. Individuals like Tim Gregory, who was my advisor, were often overlooked as significant participants in the functioning of these networks. Tim’s career intersected with both the Southern Argolid Exploration Project and the Cambridge Bradford Boeotia Project though his work at Thisvi in Boeotia. His surveys of islands in the Saronic Gulf and the Gulf of Corinth where he worked with P. Nick Kardulias (who studied with William Dancey, a key player in the development of siteless survey, in the anthropology program at Ohio State) grew from his work in Boeotia and the Southern Argolid respectively. Kardulias’s and Gregory’s work also intersected in their collaborations to survey and excavate the Byzantine fortress at Isthmia and to survey any number of small sites in the Eastern Corinthia. Tim’s and Nick’s work also intersected on Cyprus where Tim briefly worked on the later pottery from Athienou Archaeological Project’s Mallora Valley Survey Project directed by Nick and Ohio State anthropology professor Rick Yerkes.   

When the Eastern Korinthia Survey began, it also drew upon participants in the Southern Argolid project and NVAP such as the ceramicist Daniel Pullen who became co-director of EKAS when Fritz Hemans’s stepped down. These influences combined with those of sometime Corinthian archaeologist James Wiseman through Tom Tartaron and Carol Stein, respectively, who had worked with Wiseman on the Nikopolis Survey and who served as the field director and as a team leader respectively. Tom had also worked on the Berbati-Limnes Archaeological Survey. Neither the Nikopolis Survey nor Berbati-Limnes appear in Loy’s networks. 

Long, undoubtedly annoying, conversations with Tom Tartaron helped me, David Pettegrew, and Dimitri Nakassis develop our ideas about intensive pedestrian survey. As did conversations with Rob Schon who had worked on EKAS and both PRAP and SCSP and directed an experimental team on EKAS also informed my views on intensive pedestrian survey. More directly, my project with David Pettegrew on Cyprus was co-directed by R. Scott Moore who was a fellow Tim Gregory student with me and David, and worked with Tim at Isthmia and with the SCSP. We used the Chronotype system, in part, because we were all familiar with it from EKAS and SCSP where the data structure and sampling processes were refined and critiqued. Here the behind the scenes work of Richard Rothaus, another Tim Gregory student, who designed the survey database and at the same time was working with Nick Rauh on the Rough Cilicia Survey Project in Turkey. Versions of Richard’s database were used on PKAP, APKAS, and WARP and structured how we thought about survey units, walker transects, and descriptions collected via text fields, pulldowns, and check boxes. 

WARP brought together two directors who had experience on EKAS – Dimitri Nakassis and Sarah James both of whom also had worked with Michael Cosmopolos on the Iklaina survey project as well (if I’m not mistaken). Scott Gallimore, the third director, cut his teeth on the Gallatas Survey under Vance Watrous on Crete. Sarah James also worked closely with Guy Sanders at Corinth and, on WARP, often mediated between the siteless approaches embraced my Dimitri (and myself) and Guy Sander’s more critical position regarding survey methods in general. Scott Gallimore’s work on the rather different Gallatas survey provided an additional perspective that shaped our work.

Update: As Dimitri reminded me in this little Twitter thread, he also was a student of John Cherry and Sue Alcock at Michigan  and worked with Jim Wright in Nemea connecting WARP with the “Cherry-Davis-Wright” network as much as the SCSP/EKAS lineage.

It’s telling and significant that graduate students who worked with us on WARP have now worked on other survey projects in the Aegean basin and have undoubtedly transmitted certain ideas as well as contributed their own critiques to the development of field practices.

None of this is meant to necessarily contradict Loy’s top down view, but to complicate the implicit assumption that survey directors define the discipline in such an explicit way. A more subtle reading of survey project (which would involve more complex genealogies that extended well below the level of project director) would reveal a more dynamic space for the foment and transmission of ideas. Instead of the dendritic networks presented in the article a more rhizomic understanding of how ideas and practices shaped intensive survey. 

Indeed, one of the things that always attracted me to intensive survey is its relative simplicity in practice and its largely non-destructive nature encouraged a more egalitarian attitude among its practitioners. Moreover the granularity of survey data and its digital format allowed projects to open up the process of analysis to more participants than many traditional excavations. As a result, it would seem that the character of intensive survey in the Mediterranean would reward the development of genealogies that looked beyond the hierarchy of project directors and first authors. This is not meant to take anything away from Loy’s work, but to suggest that he has just scratched the surface of the networks and relationships that have shaped contemporary survey practices in Greece and the Aegean.

Ruins, Industry, and the City

I have two chapters left to write in my book project (and a conclusion or epilogue or some such thing). One of the chapters will be a case study on my work in the Bakken oil patch that will be a pendant to the chapter on the Atari excavations which appears as chapter 1. This should be a relatively easy chapter to write and will start with a section on the archaeology of extractive industries.

The other chapter will be a bit more ambitious. It will survey recent work on the archaeology of contemporary ruins, industry, and the city and ideally – if I can pull this off – bring together some of the threads begun in the first part of the book. For example, the chapter will invariably consider how attitudes toward modern ruins have come to interrogate their relationship to waste, to capitalism and consumer culture, and between the natural and man-made world. With any luck, this chapter will dovetail with the last chapter on the Bakken and extractive industries. I’m still a little nervous because this reorganization makes a departure from my proposal which I have otherwise followed slavishly. My hope is that I can give myself more space to deal with the archaeology of cities and industrial ruins which are a far richer field than I may have initially anticipated.

This chapter will also allow me to indulge my penchant for cultural history when I parallel our growing fascination with industrial and urban ruins (perhaps nowhere more obvious than in the emergence of so-called “ruin porn” and the urban exploration movement) and archaeological of the contemporary industrial and urban world. 

The following is a very, very rough draft that presents some of my current ideas.

Since the 1980s, if not before, industrial ruins have fueled the popular imagination. The dystopian backdrop of Blade Runner (1982), RobCop (1987), and Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys (1995), as just a few examples, were set against the post-industrial ruins of Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Philadelphia. The use of power stations, abandoned factories, and urban decay as the setting for the future leveraged obsolete industrial spaces in the contemporary world as the backdrop for gritty critiques of technology’s anticipated failures. The popularity of these settings echoed the rise in “industrial” rock music that literally drew inspiration the sounds of late-20th century machines and the acoustics of empty and abandoned industrial spaces. Bands like Joy Division, Chrome, and, perhaps most famously, Nine Inch Nails connected punk rock’s urban despair to the grinding sonics of increasingly abandoned factories in cities such as Manchester and Cleveland.       In this way, films and music have popularized an aesthetic cultivated in the science fiction of J.G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick in the 1960s and 1970s which looked toward the future with skepticism. 

In the early 21st century, decaying industrial landscapes continued to attract sustained attention. The emergence of “ruin porn” style photography to emphasize the failure of modernity by featuring the ruined hulks of modern structures ranging from factories to schools, translations, and neighborhoods. The interplay between the abundant light, shadow, sharp edges, and angular features and the presence of trash, discarded objects, rust, decay, and seemingly disorderly nature embodies many of the tensions that exist between our persistent optimism in science, economic growth, and modern ideologies of progress and our growing awareness of the failures of capitalism, the uneven price of progress, and ecological and environmental disaster. These associations likewise made abandoned buildings appealing backdrops for artists exhibitions, theater, and music performances that sought to complicate arguments for rigid boundaries between work and play, science and art, capitalism and gifts, and the past and the future. The transgressive character of these industrial ruins proved irresistible to urban explorers who found ways to infiltrate abandoned buildings who transferred the longstanding temptation for places of unstructured play from natural environments of woods, fields, and streams to the industrial ruins. As Tim Edensor (2005) brought to the fore in his book on Industrial Ruins, modern industrial ruins fueled the imagination by stripping away the structures designed to channel human behavior into predictable, formal, and productive outcomes. Of course, they have also been commodified again as ruin porn attracted well-heeled voyeurs in the practice of “toxic tourism” (Pezzullo 2007).         

The potential of industrial ruins as unstructured places for imagination, play, and transgression, found formal expression in projects like Richard Haag’s Gas Works Park in Seattle (1972; Whitehouse 2018) or, more recently, Latz + Partern’s Landschaftspark is in Duisburg-Meiderich in the industrialized Ruhr Valley of Germany (1991; Edensor 2005; DeSilvey 2017) established municipal parks in and around abandoned industrial ruins. These parks used industrial ruins as historical monuments, aesthetically interesting structures, and opportunities to emphasize the re-naturing of industrial landscapes. Caitlyn DeSilvey’s attention to the Landschaftspark emphasized that the industrial ruins were not static, but always undergoing change and paralleled the ongoing decay of the park with the similar processes at play at the Orford Ness military installation. Over time, the decay of these former industrial and military structures made a convivial home to significant plant and wildlife species. The blurring the line between the human and the natural environment finds echoes in Jeff VanderMeer’s fictional Southern Reach trilogy (2014) which combines an abandoned coastal town and light house with run away nature in an apocalyptic landscape. Anna Tsing’s Mushroom at the end of the World (2015) found in the matsutake mushroom evidence for life in the ruins of industrial forestlands. 

The prominence of ruins at the center of contemporary critique should not imply industrial landscapes are always welcome by their communities. The city of Detroit, for example, has increasingly challenged views of its urban landscape as decaying, abandoned, and forlorn. The desire to rehabilitate, demolish, and rehabilitate the sites of urban ruins continue longstanding efforts to make urban spaces economically and social productive by defining them in readily understandable ways. Archaeologists of the contemporary world have often found themselves in the vanguard of those interested in documenting abandoned and decaying places before they are destroyed. For example Krysta Ryzewski has worked with a diverse contingent of scholars and community members to document and save buildings associated with Motown in downtown Detroit. Larry Zimmerman unsuccessfully encouraged the Minnesota State Historical Society to preserve and display graffiti found in the Washburn flour mill prior to its reconstruction as the Mill City
Museum in Minneapolis (Zimmerman 2014).


Finalizing a Survey Field Manual

A few years ago, I casually floated the idea that projects should publish their field manuals. This was in conjunction with the publication of the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual (by Guy Sanders, Sarah James and Alicia Carter Johnson) by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. There was a pretty tepid response with a number of project directors agreeing that this was a good idea in theory, but no one took me up on the suggestion and submitted a manuscript.

I’m still very open to the idea and I’d love to publish a manual from any of the iconic excavations in the Mediterranean! Field manuals represent the crucial link between methods (and methodology) and field practices that often have a significant impact on the kind of knowledge a project produces. They also provide insight into project and situation specific constraints, offer a kind of paradata (as well as metadata) for the project’s data, and give some indication of the work conditions and work rhythms present on site. Manuals also have pedagogical value as both evidence for how students learn archaeology on the ground and as examples in the classroom for how methodology plays out in the field. Finally, a publicly available field manual provides the kind of transparency that is good practice for the discipline. 

As part of The Digital Press’s project to publish the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual we also published an archived list of project manuals which is available here.

Part of the challenge, of course, in publishing a field manual is that field manuals tend to be dynamic documents that change over time. Even for a relatively short project, such as our Western Argolid Regional Project, the manual underwent a number of changes over its four seasons of use. We were particularly fortunate to have active and engaged survey team leaders who provided not only input into the manual itself, but also helped us revise it each year. As a result, publishing a final manual is not as simple as just formatting a document and sending it to an archival repository like tDAR. We spent some time (by we, I meant, mostly Sarah James) revising our manual and providing some additional context so that a working document can be useful to someone not familiar with all the ins-and-outs of our specific project, its history, and goals. This morning, I’m going to go through it one last time and provide a brief preface that situates this finalized manuscript in the history of our project and our field work. 

Here’s my draft of the preface:


Field manuals are living documents which not only are adapted over the life of a project to suit the needs of each field season, but are interpreted daily in the field and workspaces of a project. This document is no different.

This finalized manual from the Western Argolid Regional Project is an effort to produce an honest version of the manual that both reflects the day-to-day practices of the project as well as our regular efforts to adapt the manual to the needs of the teams and slight shifts in our methods. As a result, this is a composite document that conflates and combines any number of adjustments offered by team leaders particularly during the first two field seasons of the project. For example, we developed our site revisit procedures over the first two seasons and settled on a procedure during our time in the field. There were also adjustments made to how we documented artifacts in the project storeroom in response to requests from local officials. We have included these changes in this document to reflect our practices in the field and in artifact processing. We made these changes in consultation with our team leaders who are the co-authors of this finalized text because the both made this manual work in the field and made the text itself better.

We also added an introduction that provides some broader context for the project, its goals, and its methodology. We have also added a number of appendices that reproduce our unit form, a field guide to surface visibility and conditions, and a list of abbreviations for artifact types within the Chronotype system.

The goal of publishing this document is to preserve a record of our field practices as well as to offer a resources to other projects looking to follow similar methods in their work. In the interest in making the genealogy of field practices somewhat easier to trace through grey paper documents such as field manuals, we have released this under an open-access, by-attribution, share-alike license. This allows anyone to use freely the text of this manual, but requires that this manual be cited and any future documents based on this manual to be made available under a similar open access license.

Three Things Thursday: Ruins, Books, and the Quarterly

Things are a bit busier than usual these days, so I thought I’d share some of the stuff rattling in my office with a little Three Things Thursday.

Thing the First

I’m pretty sure that I won’t write it, but someone should really pull together a review essay on recent books about ruins. I’m hoping to finish a short review of Martin Devecka’s Broken Cities (2020), which I’ve drafted here, and a few weeks ago, I read and enjoyed Filipe Rojas’s The Pasts of Roman Anatolia (2019). I read and found useful parts of Simon Murray’s 2020 book, Performing Ruins, which stands at the intersection of archaeology, drama, and social critique. It wouldn’t be difficult to add Rodney Harrison and Colin Sterling new edited volume Deterritorializing the Future: Heritage in, of and after the Anthropocene (2020) or the massively collaborative Heritage Futures: Comparative Approaches to Natural and Cultural Heritage Practices (2020) volume to the list. Lynn Meskel’s  A Future in Ruins: UNESCO, World Heritage, and the Dream of Peace (2018) fits the theme on the basis of its title alone (I’ve blogged about it here) and Francisco Martínez’s and Patrick Laviolette’s book Repair, Brokenness, Breakthrough: Ethnographic Responses (Berghahn 2019) would fit into a larger conversation about ruins and ruination as well. Finally, Susan Stewart’s book, Ruin Lessons (2020) has been languishing on my “to read pile” for most of the year and I just need to suck it up and read it.

Obviously not all of these books consider ruins in the same way which perhaps makes a kind of comparative review a bit awkward. On the other hand, the range of different approaches to ruins could make a kind of oddly compelling essay in the right hands. 

Things the Second

It’s always great to get some media coverage for a book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. This week the Williston Herald published a nice interview with Kyle Conway about Sixty Years of Boom and Bust: The Impact of Oil in North Dakota, 1958-2018. One thing that struck me about this article is that not only did it do more than just rely on the book’s press release, but it also — and perhaps more importantly — drove traffic to the book’s webpage. More than that, this traffic resulted in downloads. For an open access press like mine, downloads are a pretty precious commodity because they mean books are getting into people’s hands.

The Digital Press is also excited to announce that One Hundred Voices: Harrisburg’s Historic African American Community, 1850-1920 is now available from The Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Proceeds from the books sold there will go to support the maintenance of the Commonwealth Monument. If you’re thinking about buying this remarkable little book, now is a great opportunity to buy it and make a difference.

Finally, over the past six months, Eric Burin’s edited volume, Picking the President: Understanding the Electoral College (2018) has become a surprise best seller for The Digital Press. Following on this success, Dr. Burin was invited to host one of Humanities ND’s “Brave Conversations” about the electoral college. The event is online and, frankly, a bit pricey at $50 for a non Humanities ND member, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it! You can check it out here.

Thing the Third

This time of year is, for the foreseeable future, NDQ time. This means I spend hours processing contributions to the Quarterly, organizing paperwork, and putting the volume into some semblance of order. I detailed my process here.

What makes this all tolerable is that I also get a chance to spend time again with our accepted submissions. This means re-reading the poetry, fiction, and essays that make their way into each issue of the Quarterly.

My excitement usually gets the better of me and I begin to share some of the content from the issue on the NDQ blog. This morning, I shared two of John Sibley Williams’ poems. Go and check them out here.


Last week, I finally got around to reading Michael Given’s recent article in Epoiesen titled “Walking from Dunning to the Common of Dunning.” Over the course of a 5 hour walk loosely following the 18th century cattle route through the Scottish countryside, Given records his walk using a GPS, a GoPro camera mounted on his backpack, still photography, and a notebook. His goal was to communicate his experience of being in this particular landscape by documenting the interaction between the sounds, sensations, features, wildlife, climate, and his moving body over the course of his walk. As he had been involved in fieldwork in this landscape for the past decade he also encountered a range of memories associated with his time in the field with students and colleagues. The article is vivid and compelling and also free. Go and check it out here.

I walk a good bit both in Grand Forks and in my summer job as an archaeologist (and I’ve blogged about it here, here, herehere, here, here, and here). Plus for the last four years, I’ve had the companionship of a pair of dogs who prefer to be walked separately and who have many clumps of grass the require sniffing. This year, in particular, I’ve gotten in the habit of going for 5 to 10 mile walks a few time a week punctuated by the occasional run and bike ride. Unlike Given’s walk, these are not purposeful walks from one place to another. I don’t document each walk them carefully or think intensely about the interaction between my body and its landscape. In fact, as often as not, the walks are circuits where I end up at the same place that I started. And on many days, I’m not especially attentive to the experience of my walk or my surroundings. A few times recently, I’ve even listened to music or a baseball game on my walk, effectively shutting out the local landscape entirely. 

Given’s article got me thinking a bit about the difference between habitual walks such as those that I make nearly every day and the carefully documented trek that Given recorded in his article. Obviously, denizens of the Dunning landscape would have made the walk more regularly than the archaeologist. I’d even guess that Given made parts, if not all, of this walk regularly during field work, but these walks were likely less remarkable and carefully documented than the walk described in this article. At the same time, these less remarkable walks undoubtedly informed his encounter with the landscape during his highly documented trek to the Dunning Commons. He makes just such a point by telling us about memories that he had of earlier times along the route during field work or even the lines of site between places made significant through their archaeological work. Like the time-lapse video embedded in his article, this well documented walk collapses the experience of many other walks, encounters, and activities into a single, 5-hour event event. 

Every now and I imagine teaching a class on the Grand Forks Greenway. The class would consider the various histories that intersect in this contemporary urban park. Most of the time, I think about this class during my walks along the Red River (of the North) and along the sunken remains of roads (and amid the foundations depressions of homes) that once defined out the Lincoln Park neighborhood. I don’t know the names of most of the trees – although some elms continue to help mark out the roads and cottonwoods run along the course of the river. I also don’t know the names of the animals, although grey and red squirrels, prairie dogs, foxes, deer, frogs, turtles, the occasional snake, a wide range of birds, and something that might be a beaver have occasionally popped out to say hello.

I’ve walked various paths through the Grand Forks Greenway all year around and traced the edge of “Lake Agassiz” during spring (and the occasional fall) floods when my paths are inundated. I’ve also waded through the snow, slipped across the ice, and walked delicately atop the packed snow of cross-country and snowshoe trails. I’ve even walked along the route of the froze Red River in the mid-winter when the ice is several feet thick. 

I keep thinking about writing an article on the Red River in Grand Forks that draws on these experiences and combines them somehow with perspectives gleaned from environmental history and archaeology. Given’s article offers a nice point of departure as my ideas begin to solidify. If you’re an observant walker, do check it out!   


Over the weekend, I read Sylvian Fachard, Sarah C. Murray, Alex R. Knodell and Kalliopi Papangeli’s article on the late Classical fortress at Eleutherai in the latest issue of Hesperia.

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The fort is not only spectacular, but it also brings back one of my fondest memories of my time as the “Melonaki” at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. For whatever reason, I was asked the lead the day trip for the Regular Program to Panakton, Aigosthena, and Eleutherai. I suspect it was because of the important Early Christian basilicas, including the remarkable and oft-overlooked double-basilica at Eleutherai. (That’s an ASCSA joke there). Anyway, the weather was beautiful and sunny at Aigosthena, but by the time we were set to go to Eleutherai, it was raining and grey. There’s something about the wet cold of winter in Greece that is every bit as brutal as the sub-zero days here in North Dakotaland. We stopped the bus near the base of the fort where there was a bakery and most of the students got coffee and were clearly intent on hunkering down for the rest of the day. Ever mindful of my duty, I gently insisted that we ascend the track to Eleutherai and discuss on site the long-standing debate on whether the fort was Athenian or Boeotian, hunt for the handful of low polygonal walls, and discuss the role of rural forts in the Attic countryside. The students politely ignored me and made it clear that they’d prefer to stay on the warm and dry bus with their coffee. I then begged a bit more insistently that they join me on the walk to the fort and they as insistently declined. Finally, I just went with maybe one or two students who felt bad for me. I suspect that the rest of the students eventually felt sorry for me as I wandered up the track in the steady drizzle to examine a fort as grey as the winter sky. Most of them eventually made it up to the fort and enjoyed some dramatic scenes of the fort in the low clouds. To this day, the attempted ASCSA mutiny reminds me of my limits as a teacher and that maybe not every fort in Attica is interesting in the rain. 

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This has nothing to do with the Fachard et al. article which is just as interesting on a rainy Sunday afternoon as it would be in the bring sun of an Attic summer. Not only do the authors produce a new stone-by-stone plan of the fort, but they also resolve some long-standing issues with its chronology and construction technique and its role on the Athenian-Boeotian border. They also contribute some useful observations regarding rural fortification in general which will help the WARP team make some progress on its stalled article on the fortifications of the Western Argolid. 

I won’t try to summarize the article’s 75+ pages; after all, I think that you can download the article for free from JSTOR. Instead here are a few highlights.

First, the authors not only prepared a plan of the fort, but they also conducted an intensive pedestrian survey. This survey which was part of the larger Mazi Archaeological Project documented the distribution and chronology of artifacts present around the fort. While artifact densities were predictably high, the percentage of diagnostic pottery was rather low (<15%). This was presumably in keeping with the utilitarian function of the fort and its rural setting over time. They did count almost 10,000 fragments of tile which was unsurprising. The team also collected grab samples from around various features. 

Overall, the rather small assemblage of diagnostic pottery confirmed their argument that the fort saw the most intensive activity during the Classical and Hellenistic period with limited evidence for Late Bronze Age activity on the hill, a gap in the Archaic period, and some indication of Late Roman and later reuse of the fort based as much on architectural evidence as ceramic finds. Their analysis here was more or less compelling, but I am curious about the 85% of the material that was not collected and whether it might fill in some of the chronological gaps at the site.  

Second, they do a masterful job identifying an earlier phase of fortifications at the site and tracking the various fragments of polygonal masonry and earlier lines of walls to demonstrate that the fort likely had an earlier Classical form that was replaced during the same period with the impressive coursed trapezoidal-rectangular masonry that is now visible.

Along similar lines, they also note evidence for later activity at the site including signs of Late Roman rebuilding perhaps as part of the larger effort to fortify the Greek countryside in the 6th century. Eleutherai would have been an ideal site of refuge for the nearby Late Roman settlement during times of instability. I would have loved to understand a bit more specifically the distribution of evidence for modern activity at the site particularly during World War II and the Greek Civil War when the fort guarded the road through the Kaza pass and saw military action.  

Third, the authors do an amazing job demonstrating that despite the size and substantial character of the fort, it would have likely cost relatively little to construct (at least compared to other forms of military investment in the Classical period such as manning and maintaining a fleet of triremes). In fact, the authors argue that the rural garrison needed to man the fort was a much greater expense than the resources required for the fort’s construction. To be more specific, the authors estimate the cost of the building the fort was roughly equal to the expense of maintaining a garrison of 200 soldiers at the fort for a single year. They go on to propose that “It was therefore pointless to build a fortification in the chora without the means to garrison it over the long term, and indeed an unmanned fortification represented a risk if another polity took control of it” (p. 526).

I’ll have to mull this over a bit. While Eleutherai is an impressive fort, the Greek countryside is dotted with less imposing, but undoubtedly similarly functional fortifications that one could hardly imagine being garrisoned regularly. The argument that forts where relatively inexpensive to construct, then, might account for their regular appearance at strategic points. It might also suggest a high tolerance for the risk that an opposing force could gain control of a fort to gain a strategic advantage. The mitigating factor would be that the expense of maintaining a garrison at a strategic location (and general limits on ancient manpower) which might eventually lead a state to cede tactical superiority in the name of economy.

Finally, for many the question of which side constructed and controlled Eleutherai is a matter of some academic interest (although perhaps not enough to warrant walking up to the fort in the rain of a Greek winter). The authors argue persuasively (at least for me, who doesn’t really care one way or another) that the fort is Boeotian. I now regard this matter as settled.

I do hope that they lavished similar attention on the double basilica of Early Christian date to the southeast of the fort! It’s a remarkably unusual building for southern Greece and suggests that something odd was going on in the area in Late Antiquity. 


As per usual, Hesperia did an amazing job producing a text largely free of errors and sharp and clear illustrations. More significantly, they published an article that ran to nearly 80 pages (without an artifact catalogue!). There are fewer and fewer places for scholars to publish an article at this length. For archaeology, though, such long articles vitally important to our field in that they allow us to present often complex evidence in a thorough way and present the kind of analysis and interpretation that is key for the creation of new knowledge.