Writing WARP

Over the last few months, I’ve been hiding from a line in a minutes from an early June meeting of the Western Argolid Regional Project: Preliminary Report… “ideally ready for submission by Christmas.” I had volunteered to take the lead in writing it and to marshal the contributions from various other folks on the project including two case studies. Needless to say, this hasn’t happened.

What makes it worse is that I’ve been thinking a good bit about how archaeologists write and archaeological publishing more broadly. Just this weekend, for example, I re-read Rosemary Joyce’s “Writing historical archaeology” in the Cambridge Companion to Historical Archaeology (2006). I also read Rachel Opitz’s recent contribution to the Journal of Field Archaeology titled ““Publishing Archaeological Excavations at the Digital Turn” (which I blogged about here), Amara Thortons,  Archaeologists in Print: Publishing for the People (UCL 2018)  (blogged here) and thinking a bit about Ian Hodder’s well-known article from AntiquityWriting Archaeology: Site Reports in Context.” While these works all offer different angles on the archaeological writing and publishing, they did reinforce to me that archaeological writing and publishing are undergoing some pretty significant changes, but that these changes are also situated grounded in the goals of archaeological work. (In fact, I’m going to try to marshal some of my ideas on that in a paper that I’m giving at a conference at the University of Buffalo next year.) 

At the same time, I spent a few hours wrapping up the layout of volume two of the Epoiesen annual which should appear from The Digital Press before the end of the year. The Epoiesen annual is an interesting challenge because it is publishing a web publication in paper (and PDF form). Instead of thinking of the paper format as a degraded representation of a web version, I’ve tried to think of it as a transmedia opportunity to take something that was originally imagined in one media (i.e. the web) and reproduce in another. While we don’t take many risks in how we present Epoiesen on paper, the potential is certainly there and the very act of translating from one media to the next forces us to think about how entangled ideas and material are and how the paper (or even PDF version) of Epoiesen will offer readers a different experience than the online version.

Advertisement! You can get the first volume of Epoiesen at the low, low price of $6. SIX DOLLARS. That’s cheaper than a beer in New York City or about half the things on the Starbucks menu. 

A similar challenge will face my little press as we work on our next major project – a volume in collaboration with ASOR that presents a digital catalogue of votive figurines from Athienou on Cyprus. We will present these artifacts both through a traditional catalogue and high-resolution 3D scans presented both as a 3D PDF and through an online catalogue published by Open Context. It’ll be a big project full of challenges at the intersection of the paper codex and dynamic media.

While this might not seem immediately relevant to writing a preliminary report for WARP, it will push me a bit think about what kind of information is most appropriate for a print report and what kind of information is better to publish as data later on. 

IMG 3456

On top of that, I took a couple nice long walks with the dogs this weekend and those always give me a chance to think about big and small picture stuff. I started to think about the challenge of writing a preliminary report as a problem of definition. When is a project sufficiently complete for a preliminary report to offer provisional, but relatively secure, observations on method and results? On WARP, I get pretty anxious when I think of all the work we have left to do to make sense of our data; at the same time, I know that the artifact and main data collection phase of the project is over. What we have now is going to be the basis of both what we say in the final report and future analysis. Preliminary reports are hard to think about because of their liminal status. Archaeologists like to be authoritative in what they say about their work and analysis, and a preliminary report acknowledges that this is not the final word on the area and its material. 

Finally, there is a fear of the blank page. Fortunately, WARP has published a good bit already – here and there – so there is a kind of basis of already-written material upon which the preliminary report can draw. At the same time, there is the additional pressure of taking our analysis and presentation to the next level. This means more bibliography, more analysis, and more conclusions. This also means making sure that the voices of everyone on the project (and to be clear, folks will help me with this report!) will have space in the report even when we don’t all agree on how and what our analysis mean.  

A Couple of Thoughts on the ASOR Annual Meeting

Institutions, particularly academic institutions, are slow to change. In most cases, this is a good thing. After all, universities and colleges are responsible for both their existing programs and students, and the degrees conferred to past students, the often long careers of faculty and staff, and the gifts of donors, loyalty of alumni, and responsibilities to communities. Professional organizations like the ASOR, or the American Schools of Oriental Research, are also prone to incremental changes rather than quick pivots and abrupt reorientations and tend to see the historical legacy of their organization on equal footing with its current relevance. Generally speaking, the organization of these institutions makes change difficult as well with complex bylaws, multiple committees, and various checks that prevent decision-making without general consensus. 

While in many ways the reluctance to change quickly is a good thing. For example, many academic organizations rely on a diverse portfolio of stakeholders for funding and lack a robust financial safety net. A misstep could lead not simply to a dilution of their historic mission, but to real financial and existential problems.

There were two big decisions that took center stage at the ASOR annual meeting. First, we continue to discuss the long-term relationship with the Society of Biblical Literature meeting which generally overlaps with ASOR and occurs in the same city. Since the American Academy of Religion annual meeting now also coincides with SBL and ASOR, it has become difficult for ASOR to find suitable accommodations in the same city. As a result, ASOR has to decide whether it needs to change when and where it holds its meetings. There are real practical implications to this since about a fifth of ASOR members also are SBL members and participate in both meetings.

This also has opened a conversation about how to make the meetings more accommodating to graduate students, contingent faculty, avocational scholars, and recent Ph.Ds who often have fewer resources and time to attend meetings. The cost of airfare, for example, was a concern especially if ASOR moved to a “second tier” city. At the same time, the cost and quality of accommodations were a concern in cities that tend to be airport hubs. Some fretted also about having to pick between ASOR and SBL and about the impact on the range and quality of papers at both conferences if they were to go their separate ways. 

While this might appear to be a largely practical matter of cost and convenience, it also has an intellectual component. Over the past 20 years, ASOR has changed and come to embrace more than the archaeology of the Levant and “Biblical” concerns, periods, and problems. A divorce from SBL would likely continue, if not accelerate, this trend and contribute to the ongoing transformation of ASOR members, its conference, and publications.

The other major conversation at the conference was about ASOR’s name: the American Schools of Oriental Research. They hosted a workshop on this topic at their annual meeting, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend. Fortunately, the issue was a constant topic of conversation throughout the meeting. The context for this name change is that the term “Oriental” is closely associated with colonialist practice as scholars like Edward Said has taught us. The concept of the “Orient” from which the name of organization (and countless others) derives carries with it a dense network of racial, cultural, political, and even economic associations that developed from the various branches of continental “Oriental studies” that defined and supported colonial practices. 

The persistence of the term “Oriental” in the ASOR name is a historical artifact laden with baggage that directly impacts the intellectual mission of our organization. We simply cannot be both “oriental” and post-colonial, for example. We can’t preach that we respect and value our colleagues and communities in Cyprus, Turkey, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt or anywhere else that ASOR affiliated scholars work, while also officially recognizing Orientalism in our name. It’s intellectually inconsistent and politically incongruous. 

The name has to change and there appears to be broad consensus on this point. A new name for ASOR, however, will certainly be the greater challenge. On the one hand, renaming ASOR will not eliminate the Orientalist past (and, frankly, present) of the organization, but it will de-emphasize its impact on our future. On the other hand, so much of our discipline of archaeology (and history) is grounded in the same intellectual and political moments that produced Orientalism (for example, the Enlightenment), if we can even consider Orientalism and archaeology to be genuinely separate things. Rebranding ASOR will show intent to challenge basic assumptions about archaeological ways of thinking, traditions, methods, and practices, but the job itself is far from over. If incremental changes within the disciplines that make up ASOR have led us to this point, then we have to hope that they’re part of a longer trajectory that bends toward practices that are more inclusive, dynamic, and liberating. 

Our ASOR Paper: A Small Production Site on Cyprus

Scott Moore and I finished our paper for the 2018 ASOR Annual Meeting this fall with alarming efficiency. The paper is titled “A Small Production Site at Polis” and offers a pretty detailed – albeit short – description of the area EF1 at Polis Chrysochous on Cyprus and some chronological notes regarding the material from the site.

EF1Phase1 01

What makes this interesting is that the site has pretty decent chronological controls thanks to a Byzantine lead seal associated with a burial that has a clear physical relationship with features at the site. This burial represents the latest activity at the site and dated to some time after the final decades of the 7th century.


The site itself has some decent deposits that allow us to date the earliest phase to later than the mid-6th century and the later modifications to it to sometime later than the early 7th, but earlier than the early 8th centuries (that is, earlier than the burial).

EF1Phase2 01

The assemblage is largely residual, but it still provides us with a useful cross-section of activity at the site in the 6th and 7th century which has some local significance in how we use ceramic assemblages to date activity across the site.

Check out our paper here.   

Also, do check out some of the buzz about the potential of a name change for ASOR. This is motivated by concern about the ambiguity of the name (what are the Schools of  Oriental Research?), the outdated (if not racist) use of the term “Oriental” to describe the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, and the fact that many ASOR members are not American or even affiliated with an American university. The challenge, I suspect, will not be agreeing to change the name, but agreeing on a new name… but we’ll see.

American Schools of Oriental Research Annual Meeting

The American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting starts tomorrow in Denver, Colorado. Generally speaking, I’m too socially awkward and introverted to enjoy these big meetings very much. They’re long and tiring for me and I dislike travel.

At the same time, over the past five years, I’ve come to feel more and more part of the ASOR community through my service on the Program Committee, the Committee on Publication, and as an academic trustee of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI). Despite my normal apprehension, I know that the meetings will be interesting and panels will remind me of why I became a student of the ancient Mediterranean.

Following Dimitri Nakassis’s lead, I ran the abstract book through Voyant tools (h/t to Shawn Graham for this idea!) and made the word cloud below from this dataset

BillCaraher 2018 Nov 10

I also pulled from the online program book the various panels on Cyprus this year. Nancy Serwint in the chair of the Cyprus sessions and they look good and filled with the usual suspects! I’m particularly intrigued to get an update from the folks at the Makounta-Voules Archaeological Project, which shared our hotel at Polis this last summer, and Tom Davis’s ongoing work at Kourion. Our paper, I’m moderately excited about our paper, which is at 4:50 on Friday. It is super empirical and descriptive, but has an interesting interpretative twist at the end. Come and check it out (or check back here tomorrow and read it!).

Friday, November 16th

6B. Archaeology of Cyprus I Evergreen B

Theme: The Archaeology of Cyprus sessions focus on archaeological, art historical, and material culture investigation and assessment covering the broad spectrum of Cypriot studies from prehistory to the modern period. 

CHAIR: Nancy Serwint (Arizona State University)

PRESENTERS: 10:40 Alan Simmons (University of Nevada, Las Vegas), “Sailing Neanderthals: Early Mediterranean Voyagers and the Role of Cyprus in Perspective” (20 min.)

11:05 Kathryn Grossman (North Carolina State University), Tate Paulette (North Carolina State University), Andrew McCarthy (University of Edinburgh), and Lisa Graham (University of Edinburgh), “Pre-urban Trajectories on the Northwest Coast of Cyprus: The First Two Seasons of the Makounta-Voules Archaeological Project” (20 min.)

11:30 Lindy Crewe (Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute), “Kissonerga-Skalia Bronze Age Settlement Excavation” (20 min.)

11:55 Christine Johnston (Western Washington University), “Import Distribution and Network Integration in Bronze Age Cyprus” (20 min.)

12:20 Ellis Monahan (Cornell University), “A History of Violence? A Reassessment of the Evidence for Internecine Conflict in Bronze Age Cyprus” (20 min.)

7B. Archaeology of Cyprus II Evergreen B

PRESENTERS: 2:00 Zuzana Chovanec (Institute of Archaeology, Slovak Academy of Sciences), “The Symbolic Landscape of Prehistoric Bronze Age Cyprus as Represented in Figural Representation in Ritual Vessels: A New Interpretation” (20 min.)

2:25 Thierry Petit (Université Laval), “The First ‘Ruler’s Dwelling’ in Cyprus? A Pre-Palatial Building on the Acropolis of Amathus” (20 min.)

2:50 Nassos Papalexandrou (University of Texas at Austin), “Tomb 79 Salamis, Cyprus: The Griffin Cauldron in Its Local, Near Eastern, and Mediterranean Context” (20 min.)

3:15 Georgia Bonny Bazemore (Eastern Washington University), “Aphrodite Aside: The Sanctuary of the Male Deity and the Religion of the Ancient Paphian Kingdom” (20 min.)

3:40 Laura Gagne (Carleton University), “Silencing the God Who Speaks: The Destruction of the Sanctuary at Lingrin tou Digheni”’ (20 min.)

8B. Archaeology of Cyprus III Evergreen B


4:20 Introduction (5 min.) 4:25 Nancy Serwint (Arizona State University), “The Terracotta Corpus from Marion/Arsinoe: How a Coroplast Thinks” (20 min.)

4:50 R. Scott Moore (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) and William Caraher (University of North Dakota), “A Small Production Site at Polis” (20 min.)

5:15 Lucas Grimsley (Southwestern Theological Seminary), Laura Swantek (Arizona State University), Thomas Davis (Southwestern Theological Seminary), Christopher Davey (University of Melbourne), and William Weir (University of Cincinnati), “Kourion Urban Space Project: 2018 Season Preliminary Results” (20 min.)

5:40 Ann-Marie Knoblauch (Virginia Tech), “Cypriot Antiquities, Cesnola, and American Cultural Identity in 1880s New York” (20 min.) 

An Abstract for 12th IEMA Conference: Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age

I’m behind with everything including finishing my abstract for the 12th annual IEMA Conference at the University of Buffalo. The conference is titled: Critical Archaeology in the Digital Age and from the looks of the preliminary program, it should be fantastic! 

My paper will be an effort to weave together my evolving thoughts on publishing and my interest in how digital approaches to both fieldwork and data dissemination are challenging the fundamental paradigms that shape how archaeology is practiced. Hopefully, some of my stuttering and stammering paper for the European Journal of Archaeology staggers its way into this paper.

Collaborative Digital Publishing in Archaeology: Data, Workflows, and Books in the Age of Logistics

Historically, the culmination of archaeological work was a final report or definitive monograph. In fact, publication has become an ethical imperative for our discipline and major excavations became known as much by their neatly arranged series of publications as monumental remains. For most of the 20th century, the expertise, care, and funds necessary to produce these publications represented a separate phase of knowledge making shaped by its own technical, economic, and practical limits.

In the 21st century, digital practices are transforming both archaeological practices in the field and the concept publication. The fragmentation of archaeological knowledge as digital data produces portable, sharable, remixable, and transformable publications that are less stable and less definitive than their predecessors in print. As a result, while final publications continue to appear, they are joined by published data of various kinds – from GPS and total station coordinates to digitally generated point clouds, photographs and videos, and XRF results. Project are also more invested than ever in creating unique ways to understand, interpret, and engage their site. These collaborations have eroded the conceptual and disciplinary barriers between field work, analysis and publication. It is possible, for example, to publish from the trenchside or survey unit and to create definitive digital publications that are modular and open to revision. The growing permeability between the processes of field work, analysis, and publishing, has both the potential to transform the concept of publication in archaeology (as well as across the humanities) and marks the rise of a new intellectual model for the production of knowledge. If 20th century archaeology followed the linear logic of the assembly line and culminated in the final publication, 21st century archaeology draws on the disperse efficiency sought in the contemporary focus on logistics. Logistics, with its emphasis on streamlining the movement of goods, data, and people, offers a useful, if problematic paradigm, for a discipline increasingly committed to finding new ways to make archaeological knowledge accessible and usable to a broader constituency. 

Disciplinary Societies and Societies of Control

I know that many readers are probably tired of my flailing at the larger implications of a shift from analog archaeology to digital practices. As you can probably tell, I’m deep into metaphors, models, and analogies at this point without necessarily doing much to understand how digital technology has transform the character of archaeological knowledge or digital practices. Part of me wants to give up and shrug and just let this all go. After all, archaeology, like any modern discipline, always is renewing, changing, and expanding its practical and intellectual toolbox. 

On the other hand, every now and then I got back to a classic text like Gilles Deleuze’s “Postscript on the Societies of Control” (October 59 (1992), 3-7). (Hat tip to my colleague Sheila Liming for pointing me in the direction of this article). 

Deleuze argues that Foucault’s disciplinary societies organized around the image of the panopticon and characteristic of the 19th and early 20th century have given way to societies of control. Foucault’s disciplinary societies enclosed spaces of human interaction (in literal and figurative ways). The assembly line and the factory, for example, represented efforts to enclose the labor of groups of individuals and harness their labor for productive ends. In societies of control, which are characterized by the emergence of the “dividual” which have meaning only in constantly forming and reforming assemblage of data, masses, markets, and, in particular for Deleuze, the flow of capital the accumulates and disperses through banks.

Deleuze’s arguments ring particularly true for archaeology as the authority of the nation-state manifest itself over the course of the 19th and 20th century in part over its control over its archaeological heritage. These rights continue to be asserted through demands for repatriation, control over who can excavate and where, and rules that govern the formal dissemination of archaeological knowledge. Digital practices, however, do not so much as challenge these rights, as make them irrelevant. Ownership of a particular object becomes less significant when a micro-meter accurate scan of an object can produce replicas around the world. Control over excavation and survey within a sovereign territory becomes less valuable as satellite imagery and other increasingly advanced remote sensing techniques allows archaeologists to map and document archaeological remains without even setting foot on the ground. Finally, rules governing the dissemination of archaeological data remain bound – quite literally – to the paper of notebooks, journals, and final publications as opposed to the constant flow of provisional archaeological data that leaks across the internet on a daily basis ready for re-use, adaptation, and redistribution. 

I don’t have all of these ideas integrated into my critique of the digital in archaeological practice, but I feel like, at last, I’m making some progress. Stay tuned.

Analog and Digital

This weekend, I worked on a few images that are going to appear in a long article in a well-respected journal. The images are digital but built atop an analog base. The original analog images were hand-drawn by field architects and then scanned at a reasonable, but not outstanding resolution. The base images are state plans and serve their purpose well, but do very little to show the various structures and phases present at the site.

You can see the images below:

Figure 6

Figure 7

Figure 9

Figure 10

To make these images more legible in print, I’ve added some digital enhancements which are primarily thickened lines to show the courses of walls associated with particular phases or, in some cases, adding features that were removed over the course of excavation. In other words, these are digitally enhanced images.

The journal editorial and production team has some qualms about the quality of the underlying analog images. While this journal is known for its impeccable production quality protected by merciless editorial standards, I have to admit that their critique of the analogue images gave me particular pause. The fuzzy lines of the analog drawing reflects the character of the original in ink on mylar and, in particular, the limits to the technologies available to bring these images into a digital medium. A super high resolution scan is possible, of course, but at the scale of the original illustrations, the size of this scan would make it difficult to manipulate. Moreover, a high resolution scan would make the lines more precise, but also introduce more analog flotsam – smudges, flecks of ink, dirt, and other detritus from the material world – that would require digital manipulation to remove. In short, the current scan is a compromise between the material realities of an analog object and the requirements of digital manipulation. The comparison of these analog base plans to the relatively more immaterial and perfect digital components of the figure only serves to bring out their imperfect character more clearly.

What’s particular interesting for this project is that most of the work my co-authors and I have done is to bring information collected in analog ways – notebooks, field illustration, and unanalyzed pottery – into digital forms. In other words, the project itself is an exercise in digital remediation which invariably involves processing the information selectively to create normalized, regularized, and standardized objects that can be compared, remixed, and combined across the site. In this context, preserving the analog images with the digital enhancement is more than simply an act of convenience, but an effort to represent the work of the larger project in as honest a way as possible.

In some ways, the different standards applied to analog and digital work offer a nice analogy for the different standards expected during the work of archaeological reconstruction. Roshni Khunti’s recent article in Studies in Digital Heritage which unpacks the political and ethical issues surrounding the 3D-printed version of Palymra’s now-destroyed arch. While the tension between the analog and digital character in the illustrations posted above does not have the politically charged context that surrounds the reconstruction of Palmyra’s arch, some of the issues are the same. For example, efforts to tidy up the digitized versions of the analog images would constitute a digital adjustment to the analog originals that would obscure the limits of the analog in potentially compromising ways. Whereas the main thrust of the larger project involves converting and remediating the analog material into new digital forms that are in no way commensurate or comparable to the original, adjusting the analog state plans, however, hints at a kind of dishonesty. Tidying them up overwrites their analog character and blurs the distinction between the digital enhancements and the analog original. 

Of course, I’m not accusing this particular journal of making unethical demands. They’re doing what they need to do to create a legible, aesthetically pleasing, and intentional publication. On the other hand, as moving objects between the analog and digital realms becomes easier and as this can produce digital objects that are essentially indistinguishable from their analog counterparts, we need to think more carefully what we need to do to ensure that the relationship between the analog and digital world remains clear.

Industrial Practice and Archaeology

Lately I’ve been struggling to revise a paper that I delivered at the European Association of Archaeologists meeting last month for submission to the European Journal of Archaeology. In my blog post today, I’m trying to work through these ideas as explicitly as possible to work out some thinking problems in my current article draft. Most of what I’ve written here, I’ve tried to articulate before on the blog. The ideas aren’t new, but I’m hoping that I can get more refined in how I state them.

I argue that historically, industrial practices and the assembly line in particular, have exerted a strong influence over the organization of archaeological work. This is not a terribly unique argument and draws on a well-established body of scholarly work from as early as the 1980s and intersecting with larger critiques of archaeology as a distinctly modern practice. The influence of the logic of the assembly line, for example, encourages specialization in expertise and skills, looks to scientific management practices to organize labor, and prizes efficiency.

While the logic of the assembly lines is most explicit in contract archaeology where time is literally money, it is hardly surprising that it exerts an influence of academic archaeological practice as well particularly in the 1980s and 1990s when the emergence of New Archaeology reinforced the need for consistent field practices to produce rigorous, and frequently, quantitative data for hypothesis testing. At the same time, an intensification of pressures within academic archaeology to comply with permit requirements, to maximize the use of grant funding, and to produce consistent results from an increasingly volunteer (and often student) workforce, further encouraged the model of the assembly line and its influence on efficiency and consistency. Finally, and perhaps most obviously, there are parallels between the organization of archaeological practice and the logic of higher education. The assembly line exerted a clear influence over how students and faculty work within the American university system (and systems influenced by it). Specialization is prized and learning (and research) is divided into specialized compartments that pair specialists with students in the service of explicit teaching or research goals. As a result, the organization of academia and the shifting character of archaeology – especially as it became increasingly driven by methods and practices – found new opportunities for convergence. 

Digital tools and practices largely aligned with the practical needs of the archaeological assembly line and a major current in archaeological thinking has emphasized the way that digital tools can improve efficiency and consistency in archaeological recording. The most commonly used digital tools – like total stations and GPS units, laptop computers, databases, and GIS software, and digital cameras – came into use because they were easier, quicker, and better than earlier analogue practices. In many ways, the logic of these digital tools followed the logic of the assembly line. The tools encourage us to break down the world into manageable bits and bytes that can be reassembled when necessary to produce knowledge. The utility of databases, for example, is that they follow so closely the tendency to divide the complex into fragments, just as the assembly line divides complex tasks into simpler ones or the American university divides knowledge into subjects, courses, and classes. The parallel between digital tools and archaeological work facilitated the integration of these tools with field practice. 

At the same time, the modularity inherent in digital practice and digital logic opened the door to new ways to organize archaeological work. The assembly line was, by definition, linear, and this offered a model of archaeological work that proceeded from the field to the publication, the fragmentation of processes that digital tools allowed and, in some ways, required also undermined the linearity of the assembly line process. Digital tools, particularly with the spread of the internet, reduced the friction that maintained the linear movement of archaeological knowledge toward the goal of publication. It is now possible for the fragments and specialized work to be disaggregated from the larger goal of archaeological work and distributed to be used for different purposes. 

In fact, recent work in digital archaeology has sought to increase the value of this disaggregated archaeological information outside of the linear progress from trench to public. The push to publish archaeological “data” with robust metadata describing its organization, character, and utility makes it possible for others to understand and query this data as well as redeploy it to answer different research questions and for different goals. The growth of Linked Open Data standards explicitly encourages the (re?)use of data by different projects. The interoperability of this data complicates the linearity of archaeological work and introduces new ways to consider the production of archaeological knowledge.

It is at this point that the logic of logistics becomes increasingly significant for archaeological work. Whereas there was an expectation, if not a requirement, that assembly lines be arranged to limit the friction along their course, logistics emphasize the modularity of objects across different networks. The most obvious and well known examples of objects designed to facilitate logistics are shipping pallets and shipping containers which have standardized sizes that allow for different goods to be moved through expansive networks with a minimum of friction. In terms of packaging, standardization becomes a shared practice that offers certain advantages to anyone who chooses to prepare their goods in a certain way. More complex logistics, however, involve bespoke practices that allow not only for the distribution of goods through networks, but also their use in a wide range of contexts and environments. The ability for certain goods to move through networks but also to have value across networks represents the organizational logic of logistics. It’s not enough for an object to be produced with maximum efficiency. Real value comes when that efficiency is distributed through a network in ways that mitigate variability in markets, for example, or in labor or shipping costs as well as friction caused by borders and distance. In short, efficiency in logistics involves reducing the friction caused by distance, culture, and contexts while at the same time preserving the utility of the objects being dispersed. 

For an archaeologist, the growing influence of logistics as a model for understanding archaeological knowledge making offers certain contradictions. There is obvious value in the ability to reuse “raw” archaeological data to address issues or questions independent from the original goal of a project. At the same time, logistics emphasizes, in some ways, the decontextualizing of archaeological work. In a very tangible way, the ability of archaeological data across national boundaries and to move far beyond its physical context or provenience challenge traditional views of cultural ownership that are often located in a distinctive sense of place or culture. While most projects have sought to keep this in mind as they produce and disseminate archaeological data and have installed protocols that, for example, prevent the location of sensitive sites from being known, these efforts push against infrastructure – such as the web and linked data standards – designed to facilitate the seamless flow of knowledge. The development of elaborate metadata schemes offers another example of how the narrow context of archaeological runs counter to pressures of interoperability and the dissemination of data. Site specific schemes and typologies, while potentially more valuable in describing the situatedness of archaeological information in a particular place, also make this data less valuable for reuse. While this might appear to be largely a practical issue that technology can solve, they also have larger implications for the way we structure and value archaeological knowledge in general. As we work to adopt practices that make it easier for our data (and knowledge) to move more seamlessly from a particular context, place, or situation, we also transform the nature of archaeological knowledge and work. 

Archaeology has always involved creating knowledge from a specific site and in a specific context that has value that goes beyond the trench or place. The logic of logistics and digital tools, however, provides a model for digital practices that is both a development of such modern approaches to knowledge making as the industrial assembly line and a significant challenge to the significance of context and provenience in archaeological practice.  



Sacred Cyprus and GIS

Over the weekend, I read Giorgos Papantoniou’s and Niki Kyriakou’s article in the most recent AJA, “Sacred Landscapes and the Territoriality of Iron Age Cypriot Polities: The Applicability of GIS.” Not only was it great to read something on Cyprus in the AJA, but it was cool to read something on the neighborhood of Kition where we worked for the last 15 years. Papantoniou and Kyriakou’s project focused on the western extent of  Kition’s control in the Iron Age whereas our project studied a site, Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla, to the east of the city.

Papantoniou and Kyriakou studied legacy data from the small Iron Age sanctuary site of Vavla-Kapsalaes which was identified by the Vasilikos Valley Project. They consider whether this site is a border sanctuary between Kition and Amathous further west and whether it marked the edges of Kition’s or Amathous’s territorial, political, and economic control. By drawing upon data produced by a rather robust GIS, they were able both to propose a method for assessing such situations and to propose that Vavla-Kapsalaes (and several other nearby sites) would have likely been under Amathousian control for most of the Iron Age. In this way, the article contributes to the decade old debates concerning the spatial organization of the city-kingdoms of Iron Age Cyprus and serves as a useful reminder that Rupp’s famous application of Thiessen polygons to propose political boundaries between the various polities on the island was provision and suggestive rather than definitive. 

This conclusions, however, only scratches the surface of this complex article. Papantoniou and Kyriakou develop a dynamic model to assess the relationship between the sanctuary at Vavla-Kapsalaes and the Iron Age political and economic centers at Kition, Amathous, and Idalion. The model integrated at a micro-regional and regional level stable resources and features of the landscape from the presence of arable land, copper rich pillow lavas, river valleys, passable routes, and visibility.The authors set these more stable features of the landscape against the artifacts from Vavla-Kapsalaes, the iconography present at the sanctuary, the ebb and flow of Iron Age settlement in the Vasilikos valley, and the history of the larger urban centers nearby. The results is a highly nuanced and complex analysis that remains suggestive and dynamic rather than stable and structural. This kind of analysis, of course, is particular appropriate for borderlands and liminal regions which would have drifted over time between central power centers and also served as a locus for territorialization of these larger polities.

I’ve often wondered whether a more robust analysis of the regional and micro-regional characteristics of the neighborhood of Pyla-Vigla would produce similarly complex and nuanced results. The site of Vigla almost certainly possessed an Iron Age sanctuary which likely stood on a major route between the kingdoms of Salamis and Kition. The late Iron Age fortification of the area, its prominent coastal position, and its rapid expansion in the Hellenistic and Roman period suggests that the micro-region of Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla transitioned from a zone of religious and military activity in the Iron Age to an area of settlement after the Hellenistic and Roman rulers of the island suppressed the political autonomy (and rivalry) of the city kingdoms. 

What is the most intriguing aspect of Papantoniou’s and Kyriakou’s study is its willingness to consider the limits of a territorial model for understanding Iron Age polities on Cyprus in general. While no one denies that the city kingdoms were territorial states, the margins of their political, economic, religion, and even cultural control need not be articulated in purely territorial terms. In the conclusion they note that human affinities and identities, including spiritual and emotional attachments to particular places and practices, do more to shape the nature of territorial control than neatly defined borders.

This conclusion has a particularly salient modern significance as in the modern era we’ve witnessed rigid political borders defining the rights of individuals in ways that often defy, subvert, or attempt to redefine their cultural, religious, or social connections to the wider world. As the authors show, despite the tendency for GIS to produce rigid and linear marks on maps, the integration of GIS technologies and historical models allow us to trace territorialization as a continuous process in the past. This offer a useful reminder that border have never been impermeable marks on the landscape, but continuously negotiated and dynamic spaces.

Three Thing Wednesday

It the time of the week (and frankly, semester) where the best I can do is muster three quick thoughts for the ole bloggeroo.

1. Inspiration. In my historical methods class yesterday, we read Michelet and discussed historical writing that sought to convey the emotional power to inspire readers and create the powerful emotional bonds that often define nationalism. My class was singularly unimpressed with Michelet’s project and declared him biased, unprofessional, and (in classic North Dakota style) arrogant. (Reader’s note: In North Dakota, arrogance is a blanket term to describe anyone who does anything in a way that deviates from fairly narrow norms. The assumption is that personal motivations and a sense of individual superiority are the only possible reason to be different. Standing out is the same as standing above and is a moral flaw.)  

This got me thinking about whether I do enough as a teacher (and, here, I’m thinking about UND in particular) to inspire our students. We do well to instill within our students a kind of a sense of confidence in the organization of the university and the curriculum. Students dutifully fulfill requirements, advance through majors, and achieve credentials. In fact, the confidence in the structured experience of credentialing is sufficient that many programs are concocting certificates, minors, and, there’s even talk of “badges” that indicate an individual has fulfilled the requirements for a particular program. The more of these credentials that exist, the more they structure how a student engages with a curriculum and forms expectations of performance and achievement. In such an environment, there is little room for the kind of individual or personal experiences evoked by Michelet, in part, because such experiences fit awkwardly within a curriculum that emphasizes the achievement of certain credentials that have explicit and often quantifiable benchmarks. In this context, experiences like self discovery, inspiration, and, even just chance, are, at best, epiphenomenal to the accomplishment of a common goal, and, at worst, a distraction or complicating factor that requires streamlining. 

In other words, as higher education becomes more formalized, structured, and quantifiable, it also leaves less room for inspiration, contingency, and inspiration. To paraphrase a colleague of mine in music, this song achieves its intended goals because every note is where I learned to put it in class. I need to do more to challenge this view of education in my students. 

2. Open Access. I had a nice chat with a colleague the other day about open access publishing in archaeology. She made the point that many graduate students or early-career academics can’t afford the time (or the risk) to do what I’ve done and start an open access press. In fact, many of them can’t even necessarily afford to publish in open access journals or series because many of these journals rank lower than their limited access counterparts and universities have come to rely more and more on the reputation of journals (some of which are from commercial publishers) to vouch for the quality of academic work. These are understandable and real problems for open access scholarship.

There are, however, some solutions that do not involve taking a risk by publishing in a new, untested, or less well-established, open access publication. Cite open access publications in your work. One of the key metrics for establishing the quality of a journal or publisher is, for better or for worse, citation counts in other quality publications. There are plenty of high quality open access publications that contribute to a wide range of fields. If you want to promote open access publishing, be sure to include these in your footnotes, citations, and bibliographies!  

3. Extended Intelligence. I need to get back to revising the ramshackle paper that I pre-circulated prior to the EAA meeting. It was not terrible, but it had – as the kids say – a lot going on. I would like to develop a bit more fully the sections on “logistics,” “assemblages,” and the archaeological “supply chain.”  In particular, I’d like to tie it a bit more closely to the concept of transhumanism and a transhuman archaeology. 

Yesterday, I stumbled across some of Joichi Ito’s work on extended intelligence and think that it offers an appealing hook for understanding how networked intelligence leverages the rhetoric (and technology) of logistics to transform and expand the very concept of thinking, knowing, and even in some cases feeling and experiencing (check out this rather extensive bibliography of the work of the MIT Affective Computing group). I’m not sure how much of this will make it into the final draft of the paper, but Ito’s reading of Norbert Wiener’s Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society (1954). As quoted by Ito, Wiener opined:

Those who uphold the idea of progress as an ethical principle regard this unlimited and quasi-spontaneous process of change as a Good Thing, and as the basis on which they guarantee to future generations a Heaven on Earth. It is possible to believe in progress as a fact without believing in progress as an ethical principle; but in the catechism of many Americans, the one goes with the other.”