Cyprus in Global Late Antiquity

I’ve been working this week on adapting some of the paper that I gave at Dumbarton Oaks last month into a section in a short article with Jody Gordon. The article considers globalization as a paradigm for understanding Roman and Late Roman Cyprus. In my short contribution, I’m arguing that, in some ways, Late Antique Cyprus was indistinguishable from its neighbors in the region and, in some regards, represented a kind of Late Antique “non place” where most manifestations of distinctly Cypriot ways of life became manifest in the material culture of the wider Late Roman world. To make this argument, which frankly is a kind of “strawperson,” I explore both ceramics and ecclesiastical architecture on the island and argue that many of the key forms present are common in the wider region. 

The second part of the paper will complicate this perspective, by arguing that an emphasis on the global character of the Late Roman material culture of Cyprus obscures the variation across the island. If I can swing it, I want to suggest that our understanding of the global is, at least in the archaeology of the Roman and Late Roman world located at the intersection of issues of scale and the typologies through which we produce chronologically specific assemblages of material. I have more to do to get this contribution into shape, but if you’re interested in a draft, keep reading:

The Late Roman period on Cyprus shows so many of the hallmarks of globalization that it is tempting to read the Cypriot landscape as a series of premodern non places to appropriate the term that Marc Augé coined to describe the indistinguishable character of hotels, airports, and shopping malls in the globalized contemporary world (Augé xxxx). Indeed, G. Bowersock noted that the brilliant series of Late Roman mosaics from the House of Aion at Paphos depicting the life of Dionysos reflect a pan-Mediterranean fascination with Dionysos echoed in the 6th-century epic poem of Nonnos of Panopolis (Bowersock 1990, 49-53). In later Late Antiquity, Derek Kreuger has noted, the seventh century world that Leontios of Cyprus described in his lives of St. Symeon the Holy Fool and St. John the Almsgiver leveraged a range of features, economic and political realities, and landscapes that would be familiar to literate residents of Leontios’s native Neapolis on Cyprus, in St. Symeon’s Emesa, and St. John’s Alexandria where his lives were certainly read. The regular transit of bishops, pilgrims, and other Romans across the island ensured that Late Roman cities of Cyprus’s south coast formed part of a familiar landscape connecting the Egypt, North Africa, and the Levant with the Aegean. It is difficult to avoid the impression that whatever aspects of a distinctly Cypriot culture persisted into Roman period, by Late Antiquity, Cyprus emerged as a composite crossroads of Mediterranean influences.

The archaeological evidence from the island likewise reflects the global character of Cyprus during Late Antiquity. While there is no doubt that the basic settlement pattern that emerged over the course of the Cypriot Iron Age persisted into the 7th, 8th, and even 8th century, a new constellation of villages, ex-urban, and suburban settlements (e.g. Rupp 1997) came to complement densely urbanized southern coast of the island. Many of these settlements appear to have supported the place of Cyprus within the economy of the Late Roman Mediterranean. The ex-urban site of Ay. Georgios-Peyias near Paphos, for example, features warehouses that the excavator suspects to have supported the annona route from Egypt to Constantinope (Bakirtzis xxxx). The remarkable scatter of of Pyla-Koutsopetria may have emerged as an important harbor for the quaestura exercitus instituted in the mid-6th century (Caraher et al. 2014). The site a Dreamer’s Bay appears to be another significant entrepôt on the south coast of the island and recent work excavating warehouses promises to contribute to how we understand the island’s economic relationship with the wider region (GET CITE). The presence of kilns for Late Roman 1 amphora on the coast near the village of Ziyi provides more evidence for the role of ex-urban coastal sites in large scale agricultural produce from Cyprus during Late Antiquity. Even small sites like Kione on the Akamas Peninsula and the development of harbors Inland village sites such as Kalavassos-Kopetra situated in intermediate zones between the ore bearing Troodos mountains and coast also flourished in the 6th and 7th centuries (Rautman xxxx) and complemented ongoing extraction of copper from long-worked viens (Given et al. xxxx). A parallel development in the Karkotis valley documented by the Troodos Archaeological and Environmental Survey Project (TAESP) seems to have supported mine in the region of Skouriotissa (TAESP CITE; Rautman, Troodos xxxx). Rural settlement on Cyprus appears to have expanded in the Late Roman period leading Marcus Rautman to remark on the “busy countryside of Late Roman Cyprus” (Rautman xxxx) which appears to have prospered into the late 6th century. The intensity of settlement in the Cypriot landscape during Late Antiquity finds parallels across the Mediterranean world from the well-known “deserted village” of the limestone massif in Syria to the valleys of the Peloponnesus.

At a glance, the material culture of Cyprus tells a similar story. Cyprus saw a regular flow of imported fine or table wares particularly African Red Slip and Phocaean Ware (or Late Roman C ware). Archaeologists long thought that Cypriot Red Slip (Late Roman D ware) was manufactured on the Western side of the island perhaps near production sites of the earlier Cypriot Sigillata, but it now appears that most forms of Cypriot Red Slip were manufactured in Psidia (CITE). These fine wares, whatever their provenience, remain common in assemblages from across the Eastern Mediterranean, Egypt, and the Levant. It remains difficult to identify the provenience of the ubiquitous Late Roman 1 amphora on Cyprus, but it appears likely that a substantial percentage of this common form originated in the Aegean or Anatolia. The same can be said for its successor, the globular Late Roman 13 amphora, which also saw production on Cyprus, but appeared extensive in 7th and 8th century assemblages in the Aegean and most famously Constantinople (Hayes, Sarachane xxxx). Cooking pots, including the well-known Dhiorios type known from kilns excavated by Hector Catling at the site of Dhiorios from which these pots get their name. Paul Reynolds and his colleagues have noted that cooking pots both in fabrics common to Beirut and elsewhere in the Levant appeared in common ”Dhiorios“ forms as early as the mid-6th century and circulated widely. In sum, the standard components of Cypriot ceramic assemblages throughout Late Antiquity are common not just on Cyprus, but across the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean at least through the end of the 7th century or the first decades of the 8th century. If the Cypriot landscape follows a pattern common to economic expansion across the Eastern Mediterranean at the end of antiquity, the ceramic assemblages suggest that the local economies were either integrated at a regional level or at least sufficiently related for common ceramic forms to appear form multiple, contemporary production sites in the Aegean, Asia Minor, and the Levant.

Legacy Data, Digital Heritage, and Time: A Response

My old pal Andrew Reinhard of the American Numismatic Society and a PhD candidate at the University of York kindly agreed to comment on my post from yesterday. Because he interwove his responses to my original post, I thought it would just be easier to repost yesterday’s post with his comments included. His comments are in italics.

Over the last couple of weeks, I continue to think about the role of legacy data in archaeology. This is for a paper that I’ll give next month at the annual Archaeological Institute of America. I’ve started to work through my ideas here and here.

At first, I imagined that I’d give a fairly routine paper that focused on my work with notebooks at the Princeton Cyprus Expedition at Polis on Cyprus. As readers of this blog know, a small team of us have worked to analyze over 20 years of excavations at Polis and to move the data from a largely analogue, notebook system, to a relational database that we can query. This has not only allowed us to understand the relationship between the excavation, ceramic assemblages, and architecture, but also moved us toward a secondary goal of publishing the data from Polis.

This is something similar to what the American Numismatic Society has done with the notebooks of E. T. Newell. We have the printed notebooks, they have been scanned and tagged, are available as open access to the public, and give us insight into the first Golden Age of numismatics, both the people and the artifacts and related context. The trick is doing a third step: publishing what we’ve learned. We can do all of this cool, useful stuff post-digitization, but the results must be published both digitally and in print. More about the necessity of the analogue below.

At the same time that I was working on this stuff, I was also continuing to think about time and archaeology and reading some recent works including Marek Tamm and Laurent Olivier’s Rethinking Historical Time: New Approaches to Presentism (2019) as well as some turn of the century works like F. Hartog’s Regimes of Historicity: Presentism and Experiences of Time (2015). These works consider the changing nature of time and heritage in archaeology and argue that emergence of the contemporary “heritage industry” particularly after 1989 (and September 2001) demonstrates a changing notion of time in which heritage largely serves the various needs of the present. This contrasts to an earlier regime of time which emphasized the past as evidence for progress into the future.

I’m coming at the issue of heritage-time from looking at active software use. Classical civilizations found the archaeologist thousands of years removed from acts of creation, use, modification, discard, and destruction. Digital archaeologists find themselves watching as digital landscapes, sites, and artifacts undergo those stages over the course of an hour, often less. The notion of digital time is so absurd that we must observe it at the quantum level, understanding that Deep Time happens concurrently with things occurring literally at the speed of light. How are archaeologists equipped to handle an archaeology of the immediate? This issue is not limited to digital data, but also to anything that is mass-produced. The speed of waste now when compared to what it was 2,000 years ago is logarithmic. Archaeologists are yet not able to keep pace

It was interesting that the Tamm and Olivier book includes no sustained discussion of how the changing regimes of time influence the use of digital tools in archaeological practice.

I think it’s important to mention here that I see “digital archaeology” as having two major threads that are not independent of each other: 1) digital archaeology is archaeological investigation of anything facilitated by the use of digital tools, and 2) digital archaeology is the archaeological investigation of digital things, which can include, but is not limited to synthetic worlds, software of any kind, and the firmware, middleware, and hardware used to create, distribute, and allow access to those digital spaces.

This is all the more striking because the Hartog’s change in the nature of the past maps loosely onto our embrace of digital technology to facilitate to documentation and analysis of archaeological field work. One might argue that older techniques of documentation with their dependence on paper sought to create an archive that was designed as much for the future as for the present. We anticipated more sophisticated ways of analyzing our work and sought to document our practices, methods, and assumptions as carefully as possible. The practice of carefully archiving one’s field notes – typically on site – was fundamental to our notion of responsible excavation.

It shouldn’t matter why archaeological documentation is created, only that it is. At the point of its creation, archaeological documentation is of its own time, which can tell future researchers a bit about the conditions of the creation of the interpretation of archaeological data. Archaeological documentation, while of its own time, is also of all time, that is to say that it occupies past, present, and future all at once. Researchers at the initial point of interpretation will author documentation with conscious or unconscious political, social, and economic bias as they work to answer their research questions. They need to bear in mind, however, that while this interpretation is important in the present about the present and the past, that their interpretation will not be the only one. They will not have thought of all of the research questions. They will miss things in the data that only temporal distance from the project’s “conclusion” can yield. Ideally data should be agnostic and amoral, but data are anything but. Archaeologists can, however, write for the present knowing that future generations will revise the work and there’s nothing to be done about it.

More recently, digital tools become a key component to documenting field work. Archaeologists have produced what Andy Bevin has called a “digital deluge” of data from our surveys, excavations, and research projects. The need to archive this data has remained significant, but, at the same time, there’s a growing quantity of “legacy data” that past projects have accrued. The concept of legacy data demonstrates an immediate awareness of the division between past data practices (whether digital or not) and contemporary needs. The expanding discourse on data preservation practices, archival format, and “best practices,” “standards” and meta-data traces our anxieties in the face of rapidly changing technologies and protocols. The fear, I’d suggest, is less about the future of our data and more about its present utility. This follows the increasingly blurred line between the archiving of data and its publication. The potential for re-use in the present has shaped much of the conversation about legacy data. 

All data are legacy data, which includes data created and interpreted today. Any data “preserved” digitally are fugitive. Databases serve the purpose of now, one year from now, and maybe ten years from now. I remember talking to Sebastian Heath about the future of filetypes. Should we be concerned about what types of files we use for data entry, for publication? His opinion (and this was several year ago and might have changed, but I agree with him now and still) was that it didn’t really matter. If we want to access a legacy filetype badly enough, we’ll find a way. But ultimately this all depends on persistent electricity, internet, the “cloud”, and functioning hardware. All are doomed in the long view. So what are we going to do about it? I’d suggest paper versions of record. Super-engraved blocks of permanent material that will outlive every server farm? But then, if data ever survive that long, will future humans and non-humans (including A.I. entities) care? I don’t think it matters. It’s the moral obligation of the archaeologist to record, interpret, publish, and preserve data from any given project with as much care as possible on the unlikely chance that someone 100 years from now will return to it and be able to do something useful with it.

Legacy data, however, is about more than just reuse in the present. In fact, the formats, tools, and technologies that made data collected in the past useful in the past remain a key element to understanding how digital data came to be, how it was encountered, and how it was interpreted. The details about data how a project produced or collected – or the paradata – remain significant, but more than that, the technologies used to produce, store, and analyze data in the past are fundamental to understanding archaeological practice.

I find myself waiting for the publication of the historiography of 21st-century archaeological method and practice, but published in 2020, and not at the end of the century. Such an omnibus publication would surely advance the state of the discipline, prompting conversations about “best practices,” although what’s best for one type of practice might not be best for another kind.

Scholars of video games, of course, already know this. Rainford Guins in Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife (2014) for example, has considered the role of the arcade, the video game cabinet, the art present in a video game cartridge, and the design of the video game console as well as its place in the home. For Guins the game code is just part of the video game as a cultural artifact. He documents the challenges associated with preserving vintage arcade games and the balance between allowing the games to be played and the wear and tear of regular use on cabinets, controllers, and increasingly irreplaceable CRT monitors. The impulse to preserve “legacy games,” if you will, allows us to make sense of these objects as complex cultural artifacts rather than simply vessels for digital code. 

I think video game archaeologists (myself included) continue to fetishize the artifact over its context, and that needs to change, perhaps decentralizing the role of the game itself and instead placing it within a ring-of-context: what forces caused this game to be created, and where does the game slot in with everything else that’s happening at the point of its creation. We study the game-artifact as a way of participating in the greater knowledge-making of the past 50 years.

In an archaeological context, then, legacy data is about more than the code or the digital objects, but also about the range of media, technologies, tools, and practices that made this data possible. Our interest in the utility of digital data risks reducing digital heritage to an evaluation of present utility. If, as Roosevelt et al. famously quipped “Excavation is Destruction Digitization: Advances in Archaeological Practice,” we might also argue that our modern impulse to digitize or adapt legacy data is a destructive practice, “Digitization is Destruction.”

I don’t think so largely because in most(?) cases, the artifact or site once digitized still exists in its analogue form. Lots of copies keep stuff safe, so as long as copies of data are kept and openly distributed at the point of their creation, we theoretically should have “originals” floating around even as other copies are ported forward to other formats for contemporary use.

This isn’t to suggest that we stop engaging legacy data as important sources of archaeological information or that we only engage it using 30 year old IBM PC with a SCSY port Zip drive. Instead, I’m suggesting that our approach to legacy data gives us a useful way to reflect on the changing notion of time in archaeological practice and perhaps even speaks to the complicated relationship between archaeology and heritage practices. 


True, but I worry about the speed at which the recent past creates massive piles of stuff for archaeologists to inherit and inhabit. This “data deluge” can be sanely managed through the use of bucket cores as an analogy for the  sampling of data flows. For example, a game I am studying (Death Stranding) contains human-created items (signs, towers, roads, etc.) that are created and destroyed several times an hour. The archaeologist would need to sit at the screen 24/7/365 to record all that is happening. Now, over time, the same events happen in the same places, although with subtly different placements, volume of creation, and names of creators. Is it necessary for the archaeologist to mine all of the data all of the time, or, in the case of human-occupied digital environments, can one take a sample every day, week, or month, and be satisfied that the sample is representative? I think so, but in doing so we might miss out on those anomalies—a day of no creation, or a day of the creation of something odd/funny. Perhaps by sampling data often over a very long period of time, those anomalies will appear just as part of standard sampling. The only way to find out is to try.

Time, Legacy Data, and Flow

After a lazy couple of weeks with books, travel, and the holidays, I’m struggling a bit to get back into the swing of things. One step in that direction is starting to work “for realz” on my paper for the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting in January. (I probably need to start writing lectures for my two new preps in the spring, but one thing at a time!).

My paper is in a panel on the re-use of archaeological data, and when I wrote my abstract, I was all pepped up on the idea of flow. This hasn’t entirely changed, but I’ve recently started to worry about how time and flow work together. In particular, I’ve become interested in the way in which the concept of “legacy data” has shaped our view of digital archaeology in practice.

It seems to me that legacy data is a pretty broad concept. In 2008, Internet Archaeology published a useful survey of projects using legacy data. In the introduction to that volume Penelope Allison noted that legacy data in Mediterranean archaeology could include anything from Pausanias to late-20th century excavations notebooks. In other words, data needn’t mean literal data – that is granular or fragmented bits of digital information gathered from survey units or trench side – but also analog sources like photographs and notebooks, narrative sources such as those produced by early travelers and archaeological publications, primary paper sources of varying kinds and granularity, as well as information produced and stored in obsolete or antiquate “legacy systems.” The common feature of all these sources of data is that the archaeologists using these sources did not produce them. They are legacy because they were passed down from one generation (however defined) to the next.

In many cases, the research questions of interest to scholars who chose to work in legacy data differ from those of the archaeologists who produced the original dataset. This discontinuity often emphasizes the need to adapt the data from the past to the goals of analysis in the present. At its most challenging, this represents a kind of methodological disconnect that speaks both to “advances in archaeological practice” to appropriate the name of the SAA’s methods journal as well as new questions of interest to the contemporary discipline. In other words, long standing projects with consistent practices, methods, and research questions over time are less likely to produce “legacy data” than projects that formally conclude, experience some form of institutional or personal discontinuity, or change how they approach their archaeological work.

Since 2010, I’ve been working with a team of archaeologists to publish some of the work done by the Princeton Cyprus Expedition at the site of ancient Arsinoe in the village of Polis Chrysochous in Western Cyprus. We have focused on three main sources of data from the project – the excavated architecture, which includes two Early Christian basilica style churches, the ceramics and other small finds, and the excavations notebooks. These notebooks represent the legacy data component of our work at Polis and document excavation at the site over 20 years starting in the mid 1980s. These notebook constitute a kind of legacy data in part because many members of the team currently studying the excavation did not participate in the original work, but mostly because the excavations were not conducted in a formally stratigraphic manner. As a result, we have had to cautiously reconstruct stratigraphic relationships on the basis of descriptions in the notebooks and a general understanding of their excavation techniques which removed material on the basis of levels and passes which may or may not have clear stratigraphic definition.  

In this example, then, legacy data reflects a methodological discontinuity with contemporary archaeological practices. The progressive character of archaeological practices, then, creates the conditions in which legacy practices come into being. At the same time, we recognize that legacy data preserves evidence for past archaeological practices as well as for the deeper past embodied in the artifacts, architecture, and depositional processes that it describes. The deeper past that archaeology studies tends to be far more resilient than past practices manifest in legacy data.


Our approach to the Polis notebooks has depended in no small part on the work of Joanna Smith who worked to have the notebooks scanned and made available to us in digital form. This allowed us to study the notebooks remotely and to begin the process of reconstructing stratigraphic relationships from non-stratigraphic narratives.

The first step in this work was to create a distinct identifier for each excavation event. This identifier combined excavation year, area name, trench name, (both according to the Polis grid) level, and pass. In addition to this identification, we might have also included notebook number and page number. Many trenches had multiple notebooks and because the excavators did not proceed in a “last in, first out” method, it was possible for multiple contexts to be open at the same time. The notebooks recorded the daily work of the excavator and moved from context to context depending on their work. As a result, the excavation of certain contexts could appear on dozens of different, non-consecutive, pages in a notebook.

The individual contexts, identified by their year, area, trench, level, and pass, can then be arranged in relation to other excavated contexts, in an informal matrix (that I call a “Franco Harris Matrix” because so rarely can we establish immaculate relationships). We can then associate with these contexts our analysis of the finds and, in many cases, architecture. This has allowed us to propose a chronology for several of the buildings at the site and to construct assemblages of finds that allow us to make arguments for the economy and connectivity of the Late Roman community. Most of this work is done with relational databases that allow us to connect different kinds of data in various one-to-many relationships. 


At the same time, we are aware that our approach involves disaggregating the excavation notebooks. This essentially disrupts the narrative of excavation that these notebooks preserve. On a practical level, this made it more difficult for us to understand cases when multiple contexts being open at once led to the contamination. It also tended to obscure aspects of the excavation process that developed over the course of a season. In the Polis system it was possible for a level to be excavated in a series of irregular passes over the course of weeks resulting in the latter passes through the level being informed by the excavation of other contexts in the trench. Fortunately, it appears for now that these kinds of issues had only a minimal impact on the kind of coarse analysis that we have conducted so far, but future work, particularly in more complex areas of the site, may require greater attention to the organization of the notebooks themselves as a form of information on archaeological practices. 

This example demonstrates the complex ways in which our effort to join legacy data to contemporary data collection processes runs the risk of obscuring the character of legacy data as evidence for more than simply contexts, objects, and features from the past, but also as evidence for past practices. Part of the significance of the linked-data movement, for example, is that it privileges the interoperability of data. By encouraging the production of granular data, we now have datasets that support artifact level analysis across multiple sites. Open Context, for example, has helped my excavation and survey at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus to create a corpus of artifact assemblages identifiable at scales ranging from the individual sherd to the type, chronology, or archaeological context. Unlike our work at Polis, however, we designed this project with this kind of data publication in mind.

The publication of data from Polis invariably requires the re-arrangement of the legacy data to allow it to contribute to the larger “flow” of data being produced by contemporary archaeological projects. This streamlining and disaggregating will result in the obscuring of past practices that contributed to the status of this data as “legacy” as we work to ensure that it integrates with contemporary expectations and research questions. In many cases, our growing dependency on digital technologies, tools, and practices are responsible for reshaping legacy data.   


There is little disputing the significance of this kind of work for our field. Renewed attention to legacy datasets have allowed us to publish two decades of excavation at Polis in ways that make it useful both to understanding our site, and hopefully, in the near future, understanding the larger region. We have also be able to avoid many of the challenges associated with new field work which range from the cost in time and resources in establishing a new project to the pressing and ongoing realities of artifact storage, site preservation, and publication.

The study of legacy data also presses us to engage in the multiple of temporalities present in archaeological work. We can largely agree that archaeology has focused on material from “the past” and recognize that archaeological practices have changes and – by and large – improved since the disciplines founding in the 19th century. Archaeology remains a progressive science.

Legacy data also makes us aware of a third kind of archaeological time which I’ve tended to call “ethical time.” Ethical time in archaeology recognizes the persistent value of artifacts and data from excavations even when these no longer coincide neatly with progressive ideas of archaeological practice or clearly defined archaeological contexts or provenance. The practice of repatriation, for example, represents the ethical time in archaeology in that it embraces the potential for the return of artifacts to restore a situation that existed a historical past.

The study of legacy data offers similar opportunities for archaeologists in that we can find new ways to restore the significance of past field work. Like repatriation, which must often recognize the compromised situation of the repatriated artifact and the limits to our ability to restore the artifact to its archaeological context, the reuse of legacy data faces similar limitations. Releasing legacy data into the world of contemporary data flows often requires us to strip aways parts of its historical situation as part of an archaeological past to accommodate the information in a disciplinary present. We can hope that this compromise restores the legacy of the field work both to the meaningful world of contemporary practice and to our disciplinary efforts to understand the past.     

Archaeology Out of the Box

This spring, Bret Weber and I were invited to contribute to a volume called Archaeology Out-of-the-Box edited by Hans Barnard. Over the past nine or ten months, we’ve turned some ideas around in our heads in an effort to find something genuinely creative to say about our now mostly concluded field work in the Bakken Oil Patch

During the summer, I had the chance to read Lauren Berlant’s and Kathleen Stewart’s book, The Hundreds. The book entirely consists of short (hundred words or so) essays that bounced back and forth between Berlant and Stewart during the book’s gestation. As one might expect from these authors, the fragments throughout the book are affective and elegant. They don’t so much produce an argument as draw the reader across a range of emotional states and entice us to peer through narrow windows into the complex emotional lives of others.

While the substance of this book probably is not suitable for archaeology (although recent arguments for an affective archaeology are compelling), the form continues to intrigue me. So much of archaeological work deals with fragments, and archaeologists spend most of their time organizing these fragments of and from the past into relationships. This got me and Bret thinking about whether we could present our work from the Bakken in a way that preserved some of the fragmentary nature of both our evidence and our understanding of the oil boom, the folks who worked there, and its material culture. 

Over the course of our field work in the Bakken we collected over a hundred hours of interviews with workers, residents, and officials. These interviews have largely been transcribed. We also have a series of notebooks describing individual “man camps” that include counts of units, the condition of the facility, and various other notes that allowed us to track the changing material landscape of the Bakken. These notes and interviews have resulted in a series of publications. We also have over ten thousand photographs and hours of video shot during our time in the Bakken as well as the art produced through various collaborating photographers and visual artists. 

A plan for our “Out of the Box” project will be a series of 100 word (or less) passages mined from our interviews, notes, and publications. Because of limits on the number of figures, we can only use 3 to 5 images. The editors have asked that our article be between 3000 and 5000 words. This means that we can have no more than 40, 100-word fragments, to allow space for bibliography and a short (100 word!) introduction. 

Part of the what made our work in the Bakken successful (or at least intellectually stimulating) is that the team travelled together between our often dispersed study sites and talked about what we saw and how we understood the changing landscape of western North Dakota. The back-and-forth between me, Bret Weber, and Richard Rothaus shaped our perspectives and ultimately our publications. To capture this interaction as part of how we constructed and understood the Bakken, Bret and I will offer alternating fragments. Just as our conversations bounced back and forth ideas, evidence, and perspectives, our “hundreds” will also show how our different ways of reading, experiencing, and expressing the Bakken create meaningful assemblages.

Unlike traditional archaeological publications which connect evidence through various arguments for causality, our approach will be to allow the reader to connect our fragment of evidence speculating on our thinking, in part, or supplying their own understanding of the relationship between the fragments. A brief introduction will present the notion of parataxis and how it contributes to how we understand archaeological assemblages. I’d like to argue that an archaeology of the contemporary world relies particularly on parataxis in assemblages because it locates the archaeologist in the same time as our evidence. Because our ideas of causality rely on the diachronic nature of evidence and our own position outside of the time that we study, situating objects as contemporary with ourselves and one another makes constructing the traditional patterns of causality impossible. In its place, we invite the reader to respond to our fragmented assemblage immediately, to empathize, to allow evidence and experience to affect our perspectives, and to see the contemporary world not as the culmination of the past or as basis for a particular future, but as a series of encounters that can be emergent as well as foreclosed. 

Our archaeology out of the box is both a critique of archaeological epistemology as well as an offering of an archaeology grounded in the shifting ground of personal and shared experiences.

Sneak Peek: Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays

Next week, The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is really excited to publish Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays.

As a bit of an appetizer, we’re making the introduction to the book available this morning as a download.

Failing Gloriously and Other Essays documents Shawn Graham’s odyssey through the digital humanities and digital archaeology against the backdrop of the 21st-century university. At turns hilarious, depressing, and inspiring, Graham’s book presents a contemporary take on the academic memoir, but rather than celebrating the victories, he reflects on the failures and considers their impact on his intellectual and professional development. These aren’t heroic tales of overcoming odds or paeans to failure as evidence for a macho willingness to take risks. They’re honest lessons laced with a genuine humility that encourages us to think about making it safer for ourselves and others to fail.

A foreword from Eric Kansa and an afterword by Neha Gupta engage the lessons of Failing Gloriously and consider the role of failure in digital archaeology, the humanities, and social sciences.

If you want to read more about this book, check out Quinn Dombrowski’s Review on the Stanford Digital Humanities blog.

“I intend to keep a copy on my office bookshelf, and a second under my desk, in order to promptly replace the bookshelf copy when it’s been given away to a grad student, staff, or faculty colleague who happens to come by. If you’re a digital humanities “veteran”, you’ll laugh and cry and shudder alongside Graham’s tales of failure. If you’re a grad student or newer to digital humanities, Failing Gloriously and Other Essays provides a rare, honest, inside look into many facets of doing digital humanities. … There is much more work that needs to be done, on many fronts, to encourage, support, and reduce the personal risk associated with thoughtful analyses of failure, for everyone […] Shawn Graham’s Failing Gloriously and Other Essays is one step towards that better future.”

If this sounds interesting to you, go and download the introduction to the book now!

Best Practices in Digital Scholarship at ASOR 2019

I’m sitting in the Best Practices of Digital Scholarship panel at ASOR 2019.

Chuck Jones leads things off with a librarian’s perspective on the need for open access for a thriving academic ecosystem with particular attention to the role of libraries. He’s stressing the need to read author contracts carefully and to make sure that it provides for open access. He has pointed out the resources available via the Open Access Directory and Peter Suber’s various open access author addenda.

He’s also talking about the role that institutional repositories play, but also their limitations for scholars who are increasingly mobile and contingent. Disciplinary repositories then play a role in this system (e.g. Propyleaum DOK for largely German Egyptology scholarship). Now he’s offering a clear critique of and emphasizing that it’s not an open access repository and it’s making commercial use of content and serving as a node in the surveillance economy. Instead, we should consider Zenodo which does not have wide use among scholars of the humanities (but it welcomes the humanities). He also gives a shout out to the MLA’s Humanities Commons, which I personally use. We need to actively manage our identity (get an ORCID ID and use VIAF!). Also, check out this list of active open access journals

ASOR needs to take a stand on open access and, perhaps, have an open access statement!! Let’s do this. Plus some shout outs to Peter Suber’s work (which is available for free)

And CITE open access!

Now Kevin McGeough is speaking as chair of the publications committee and introducing the draft digital publication policy for ASOR. We’re collecting comments on this document right now. McGeough is demonstrating how the network of interoperable services provide a network in which digital (and analogue) scholarship can exist. 

Advertisement for myself: we started working along these lines with our linked volume of Pyla-Koutsopetria. You can download it here. This book does not necessarily adopt best practices and it has limitations, but it was a start in order to demonstrate what is possible with digital and analogue data.

McGeough is outlining some of the real limitations that ASOR needs to address moving forward with a system of digital and analogue publishing. Costs, technological issues, institutional frictions and other challenges remain real barriers to digital publishing of archaeological data. Financial barriers are, in particular, significant, but the benefits are as well.

Next steps, include making the content of this policy statement known, integrated with ASOR-CAP, critically engaging with our existing publication workflow, and, of course, money… It may be that ASOR is a bit on the “cutting edge” here, although the AIA statement on the role of digital publications (especially of data) in their tenure and promotion guidelines. There is a way to show that producing digitally rich archaeological publications needs to be aware both of best practice and working practices.

We need to remember that archaeologists have never found a wheel that we can’t reinvent.

Now Eric Kansa is talking about the exciting new world of surveillance capitalism! Highlighting the case of Cambridge Analytica and Russian advertising buys using analytic data from archaeological posts, particularly those in contested places, on Facebook. Open Context does not sell data. It also exists in a multinational ecosystem that provides both digital framework and a professional and disciplinary framework for disseminating archaeological data.

Excavations are not data mines!!! Instead, Kansa stresses that data is constructed. Now he’s showing a entity relation diagram to demonstrate the complexity of archaeological knowledge, data, and the knowledge making project. Open Context attempts to manage complexity using a series of common schemas, which still maintaining flexibility.   

Kansa is going to stress reproducibility and integration with publications. He shows an example of Early Bronze Age NumayraTel Dor, and PKAP. He’s also demonstrating how we can integrate data across platforms and projects to produce more dynamic, robust, and consistent datasets for analysis.

Now he’s bringing in the intellectual property context published data and FAIR: Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reuseable supported by Creative Common licenses.

Kansa is showing how data from Open Context is being re-used in a wide range of contexts from archaeological publications to computer programs, teaching (c.f. in particular Shawn Graham’s ODATE textbook project), government reports, augmented and virtual reality. 

Kansa is calling on us to increase our bootstrapping capacity through data literacy, increasing the quantity and quality of archaeological data, and normalize the publication of data. Also how do we ensure sustainability of our data (and their attendant institutions)? And how do we make sure our practices around data reflect our shared values.

Finally, Suzanne Pilaar Birch who is serving as a discussant with particular attention to open access publishing and publishing data on the tenure track. She noted that ASOR is in the forefront of digital publishing conversations and how important that the support from groups like ASOR is for moving forward. 

She points out that for-profit publishers are double profiting on open access articles when they charge a fee to publish a open access article in a non-open access journal. It’s not just that we publish open access is how and where we publish open access. While it’s easy enough to encourage scholars to publish in open access (just do it!), we must also recognize that at present, there’s a risk. Once again, institutions like ASOR needs to push to mitigate this kind of risk. There are real benefits to a willingness to take a risk, that includes visibility and being on the cutting edge.

There are also real ethical issues. Journals that are not open access often make it harder for research to get to scholars, activists, and communities where archaeologists work (particularly in the “global south” (my term, not hers).

Time and Archaeological Legacy Data

With the ASOR annual meeting not even begun, I’m already being gently nudged to think about my paper for the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting in January. Fotini Kondyli and Jon Frey have organized a panel on legacy data in archaeology, and according to the abstract that I wrote a few months ago, my paper will talk about flow and how scrutinizing the concept of flow can help us understand the archaeological argumentation and narrative.

Here’s my abstract

The more that I’ve thought about this paper, the more the first couple of lines in the abstract have stuck with me: “The notion of legacy data is an artifact of contemporary digital archaeology. Archaeologists define legacy data as information that is incommensurate with contemporary digital practices and standards.” 

This got me thinking about how legacy data fits into our notions of archaeological time. It seems to me that archaeologists generally have three notions of time in mind when they do their work. They tend to function in slightly different ways and can accommodate each other n varying ways.  

1. Archaeological Time. This is the basic framework for most archaeology. It assumes that the object of archaeological study is in a different time from that of the archaeologist. It allows us to see a past as “the past” and to think about what we do as “objectively” in the sense that it is fundamentally separate from who we are. The division between our time and archaeological time historically has tended to frame our object of study as part of the not-modern or pre-modern world. It’s not just the past, but a past that is distinct enough from the present to represent something discrete and worth studying through archaeological methods.   

2. Methodological Time. Methodological time represents the modern assumption that archaeologists are constantly improving our methods and practices. As a result, the archaeological knowledge that we have produced in the present is better than the archaeological knowledge that we have produced in the past. The best example of this kind of time is in the name of the SAA’s journal of archaeological methods: Advances in Archaeological Practice. Archaeological science, archaeological methods, and archaeology in general advances to produce a better, clearer, or improved view of the past.

3. Ethical Time. I am still attempting to understand completely what ethical time is an archaeologist. It manifests itself most frequently in debates over the repatriation of artifacts. Archaeologists understand, of course, that returning say a Greek or Egyptian artifact to the modern nation of Greece or Egypt does not under any systematic understanding of the word “repatriate” return an object to the same people or state or even cultural entity that existed in the past. We are not returning an object to ancient Greece and in some case, like the Parthenon Marbles, we’re not not even proposing to return an object to the same political entity from which they were taken. This is particularly complicated for debates over the repatriation of artifacts to say, Lebanon, from Turkish museums. In many cases, these objects became part of these collections when Lebanon or Syria were part of the Ottoman state. The Ottoman state no longer exists. At the same time, the post-Ottoman nations of Lebanon and Syria have claims to their pre-Ottoman past in the service of modern nation building and in the construction of narratives that produce a meaningful past to communities living in those areas.

This is a complicated time to understand as an archaeologist and unlike the more or less linear time of archaeological methodologies or the fragmented time, stratigraphic time of the archaeological past, ethical time in archaeology tends to be recursive, spiraling, and grounded in contemporary commemorative practices that many scholars will argue emerged in the second half of the 20th century as a counterpoint to the dour rationality of historical thinking that so often seems to contravene the work of nation building.

(4. Material Time? One could argue that archaeologists are increasingly coming to recognize material time especially as we have come to address the “material turn” in historical and archaeological thinking. This time reflects the varied ways in which material change and how we understand the persistence of particular material as fundamental to shaping the archaeological record. This is different from archaeological time because it recognizes that objects carry with them a multiplicity of times that allow them to exist both in the past and in the present.) 


Legacy data itself exists at the intersection of methodological and ethic time in archaeology. On the one hand, much of the conversation concerning legacy data – or publishing the results of past archaeological work – is grounded in the ethical assertion that because archaeology is, in some ways, “destructive,” (or perhaps better, involve “recontextualizing” material) we have an obligation to justify the recontextualization of this material through publication. Unpublished material, even if it remains secure in a storeroom, is no different than looted material in that its context is not made understandable. By publishing our work, we recontextualize material and “restore” it to a particular kind of time. This has nice parallels to the work of archaeologists to repatriate finds and restore these objects to a chronological and political context that benefits (generally speaking) a colonized community’s ability to produce a meaningful historical and commemorative narrative for their own society.    

On the other hand, legacy data presents a problem for archaeologists’ sense of methodological time. Because we have tended to see our discipline as always advancing toward new ways of recovering the past and contributing to the present, legacy data is often seen as flawed or, worse still, obsolete. Our field continues to privilege new projects, especially for the career advancement of early career scholars, at the expense of the long and frequently compromised grind of legacy projects.

My work at Polis is a great example of how legacy projects force us to think in three times at once. On the one hand, the Princeton Cyprus Expedition was probably the last major American excavation in the Mediterranean not to employ a stratigraphic system in excavation. Instead they dug in levels and passes which may or may not have been stratigraphic. They also regularly ignored “last in, first out” and had multiple contexts open at the same time. 

It is possible, of course, to restore some sense of stratigraphic control to the excavation because many of the excavators understood the concepts of formation and depositional processes. Moreover a simple application of the rules of superposition still apply allow us to broadly understand that lower levels are earlier than higher levels whenever we can safely assume some kind of controlled of systematic deposition. With a few basic understandings cobbled from the methods of contemporary archaeological work, we can start to reconstruct the past at the site of Polis. 

Moreover, this offers us an ethical way to recontextualize the excavated material at the site. The value of this material is that we can make it speak through contemporary methodological expectations to the past. 

Finally, we might even argue that our work to address the legacy material from Polis has pushed us to think about how various kinds of legacy data exist within their own material worlds. We started with the paper notebooks produced over the course of excavations at the site and the artifacts from the dig dutifully stored in wooden trays and paper boxes. We then converted these artifacts into digital objects in databases which allowed us to recombine them in new ways. We’ve also started to think about how to publish or at very least archive our digital data in ways that ensures that they are more widely available than paper copies of records and artifacts in storerooms. We also anticipate, in some way, that our digital artifacts might last longer than the paper records produced by the site. The time of the varying materials shape our strategies. 

Obviously all these ideas need further refinement and expansion, but there will be time for that…  

The Insular World of Byzantine in Review

On Friday, I enjoyed a day of thinking about Byzantium. The collegiality of all those involved and the polished setting of Dumbarton Oaks made it all the more pleasant. Luca Zavagno and Nikos Bakirtzis provided supportive and deeply knowledgable leadership and imparted the entire proceedings with a kind of thoughtful informality that encouraged wide ranging conversation.

The papers themselves, of course, were the stars of the show. They approached Byzantine insularity through perspectives ranging from literary sources to excavation, survey, ceramic study, architectural history and, sigillography. Many papers offered an integrated view of island space in the Byzantine view and emphasized how the changing political, social, cultural, and economic contours of the empire and the Eastern Mediterranean shaped the diverse roles played by Byzantine islands.

The papers prompted five lines of thinking.

1. In Search of Insularity. First, the papers nearly all acknowledged that insularity was not a clearly defined status for any space in the Byzantine world. Even places that clearly fit a geographic and topographic definition of insularity showed considerable variation for how they fit into the history of the Byzantine era. Large islands, as my paper proposed, could often demonstrate significant variation. Small islands were idiosyncratic in their own ways. In general, the papers skewed toward the larger islands of the Mediterranean which naturally produced the most evidence, but even here, they demonstrated a range of different historical trajectories owing as much to their location in the Mediterranean as their historical and strategic roles in the Byzantine world.  

2. Political Spaces. Despite starting with the idea that islands were spaces of dynamic cultural interaction as “hubs,” many of the papers emphasized the political role that islands played in the “long Late Antiquity.” Some fo this, invariably, has to do with the political character of the time frame under consideration. Since the conference looked at islands during the Byzantine period, it is difficult to avoid thinking in terms of the political life of the Byzantine state.

That being said, it was particularly intriguing to understand more clearly how the Byzantine state both depended on islands as “pillars of empire” and engaged with their distinct geographic character in a range of different and distinct ways. The strategic importance of Cyprus, Sicily, and Crete, for example, required unique forms of political and military governance designed in part to ensure the islands’ persistent utility to the state and the loyalty of the islands’ inhabitants.     

3. Changing Landscapes. There was less discussion of island landscapes over time than I would have expected considering the scale of rural and urban archaeology on Crete and Cyprus, in particular. To be fair, it appears that western islands – Sardinia, Sicily, and the Balearics – have seen less survey in the countryside, and this has limited what we can say about large scale change in settlement and land-use over time.

At the same time, part of the paradigm of island archaeology and island studies more generally is the persistence of some core characteristics of island life. On Cyprus, for example, the basic settlement structure of the island appears to have emerged at the end of the Bronze Age or beginning of the Iron Age to facilitate the extraction and redistribution of copper from the Troodos mountains. The persistence of this landscape both reflected the continued importance of the extractive economy for the island as well as historic investment of particularly places on the Cypriot coast. In short, insularity was manifest, in part, on the structure of settlement on the island. 

4. Connectivity. The study of islands in recent decades has emphasized the connectivity at the expense of their insularity. To my mind, this reflects our own fascination with our deeply connected society. In fact, we have increasingly come to treat connectivity as virtue in and of itself with isolated and insular being almost synonymous with backward, materially poor, and disadvantaged.

Ironically, recent scholarship on the Late Antique world has emphasized ways in which the connectedness of Late Antiquity introduced diseases to the communities across the empire. Moreover, the vulnerability of coastal settlements made them particularly vulnerable to attacks and their dependence on extensive networks of trade made them susceptible to economic disruption. In other words, isolation in the Early Byzantine and Late Roman period may not conform to our ideal vision of a dynamic, diverse, and deeply connected world, but it may have benefited local residents and formed the basis for the resilience of the Byzantine state over time. To be clear, I’m not proposing this as a well-researched perspective on islands in Late Antiquity, but as a hypothesis that was not very thoroughly considered by the papers at the conference (including my own!).    

5. Island Society. Finally, Nikos Bakirtzis noted in his concluding remarks that despite the range of interests and evidence available for the insular world of Byzantium, there was relatively little discussion of the nature of insular society during these centuries. There were, of course, some mentions of cultural and political interaction between Christians and Muslims on Sicily, which offered some provocative insights into Sicilian society in the 8th and 9th centuries, but beyond that, islands were largely reduced to economic and political stations within the larger Byzantine state. 

To be clear, this shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a criticism. It was a small conference and the papers cohered remarkably well. At the same time, it was clear that we only scratched the surface of Byzantine island society. The potential and gaps exposed in the papers offered a clear template and a number of provocative positions that will shape future work.

I’ve posted my paper here

An Island Archaeology of Early Byzantine Cyprus

My paper for Friday’s colloquium, The Insular World of Byzantium, is finally done. I’m not entirely happy with it. At best, it offers a minor update to some of the work I’ve been doing on Late Roman Cyprus and incorporates some arguments that I’ve worked on in our effort to publish the basilica at Koutsopetria. Unfortunately, it also draws perhaps a bit too heavily on stuff that Scott Moore, Amy Papalexandrou, and I published in Hesperia this past year. In other words, people who know my work aren’t going to hear anything that they don’t already know.

More bothersome is that I found myself really struggling with the concept of island archaeology in the case of Cyprus. The idea of connectivity has started to get on my nerves. Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading too much about flow and logistics in the digital world and have started to see our fixation on connectivity as a way to project a certain set of values from our world to the ancient world. Of course, I recognize that modern connectivity and ancient connectivity are fundamentally different, but, at the same time, there is a move to think about globalization in antiquity. This feels bound up in efforts to conflate modern and ancient connectivity and to naturalize social, political, cultural, and above all economic links across regions. This isn’t to suggest that these links didn’t exist, that they were somehow “bad” or that human society doesn’t share fundamental characteristics over the millennia. Instead, I suppose struggling a bit with the assumption that connectivity or globalization should garner the same weight in how we understand antiquity as it does in how we understand our world today. 

This is not something that I can resolve, of course, and to some extent all historians all operate under paradigms informed by our contemporary situation. I will continue to be vaguely unsettled by it even as I work within these paradigms.

Here’s a link to my paper and the associated “powerpointer.”

Here’s the final slide:

IMG 3916

Islands and Scale

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been working on my paper from next week’s Dumbarton Oaks colloquium titled The Insular Worlds of Byzantium. My paper is a bit of a rambling affair which seeks to consider whether island archaeology is a useful way to think about the island of Cyprus in the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period.

My paper looks at two fairly well-known sources of archaeological evidence: fine ware ceramics and the architecture of Early Christian basilicas. To narrow the scope of my study further, I also focuses primarily on two sites: Polis Chrysochous and Pyla-Koutsopetria. My paper begins (and stay tuned for a draft of it, probably early next week), with a reflection on island archaeology in the context of studies of the Mediterranean by Braudel and subsequent scholars informed by the Annales School concerns for geographically and chronologically expansive readings of history and archaeology.

I then pivot to the island of Cyprus and, narrowing my scope further, to the two sites of Polis and Koutsopetria. This shift from the macro to the micro paralleled the interest among Annalistes in detailed microhistories which might reveal the workings of long term trends (although it is telling that Braudel hesitated, in his master work, The Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, to connect the day-to-day events of Philip’s reign to the longer term trends that defined his Mediterranean World). 

As one might expect, the character of fine ware assemblages and Early Christian architecture at the two sites (and across the island) did not reveal a cohesive “island identity” for Late Roman and Early Byzantine Cyprus. Instead, it demonstrated variability across micro regions and connections with both other sites on the island and wide networks for change and culture. Island archaeology, of course, might suggest that the connections between these sites and the wider networks is a feature of insularity itself. At the same time, this is a rather low threshold for insularity or the interpretative significance of island archaeology. In fact, most island archaeologists consider the oscillation over time between phases of isolation and connectivity to be a feature of island communities. 

This led me to several general conclusions about scale and island archaeology. These are not profound, but they help me organize my thoughts for the final push in writing this paper.

1. Islands and Time. The insular character of communities on any given landmass is most likely visible only over the longue durée. Period specific studies of islands during, say, Late Antiquity or the Early Byzantine period is likely to only capture one phase of the oscillation between isolation and connectivity. As a result, the distinctly insular character of the population, developed in periods of isolation, may be in abeyance at any given period.

2. Insular Islands. Studying one or two islands may not be the ideal way to reveal much about  insularity for any particular period. Insularity might be best understood across larger groups of islands (as well as over long periods of time). Any one island at any one period of time might be more or less connected or more or less isolated. The range of isolation and connectivity is best understood only over a larger body of islands at the scale of, say, the Aegean or the Mediterranean. 

3. Big Islands. It may also be that larger islands will tend to look less like islands and more like “mainlands.” Small islands, with fewer sites, more limited immediate hinterlands, may have more insular trajectories through time. This got my wondering what the breaks are on the concept of insularity. In other words, what historically stopped large islands from functioning in the same basic ways as smaller island. On the one hand, the ecological and environmental diversity of an island like Cyprus might set it apart from smaller, less diverse islands. It also seems that a more nuanced understanding of overland transportation and the ways in which medium and long distance road networks provided forms of connectivity between sites in ways that are distinct from maritime networks.     

4. Periods of Insularity. Jody Gordon, Derek Counts, and Bernard Knapp have argued that during particularly periods in the history of Cyprus — the Hellenistic and Roman periods, the Iron Age, and the Bronze Age respectively — a hybrid character of Cypriot identity becomes visible incorporating both distinctively Cypriot elements (defined as such not be any kind of racial or narrowly ethnic criteria and more as elements consistently visible in Cypriot culture over the longue durée) and with aspects imported from outside of the island during periods of intensified culture contact. By the Late Roman period, however, the distinctive integration of long-standing markers of Cypriot identity and the larger Hellenized Late Roman koine appears indistinct at best. Perhaps we could argue that settlement patterns persisted and accommodated the rise of the Early Christian ecclesiastical hierarchy on the island. We might also point to a shift away from the islands close economic and social relations with areas along the Levantine Coast and toward the Aegean, Anatolia, or the Western Mediterranean, but there is no real reason to imagine these relationships as mutually exclusive.


As I noted, these are pretty rough notes toward a conclusion for a fairly ragged paper, but I think my paper is finally heading someplace if not productive, at least rhetorically complete.