Over the Easter weekend, I worked a bit a long simmering project on the Early Christian baptisteries of Greece. Since it seems likely that, initially, baptisms occurred primarily during the Easter vigil, it felt appropriate.

IMG 6080

The project includes a brief overview of the archaeological and architectural evidence and then a short catalogue of known buildings. At present, we don’t have much to say that would be unfamiliar to folks who have spent some time on these building. At the same time, there are few things that I hadn’t noticed before. My dissertation did not deal with baptisteries specifically as part of my study of Early Christian churches more generally, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, some of the most interesting buildings come from the Dodecanese which were both outside my dissertation’s specific purview and outside the Diocese of Illyricum Orientale. As part of the Diocese of Asia and the Prefecture of the East (at least until the early 6th century), it also seems likely to have enjoyed different liturgical traditions than regions in the Western facing Diocese of Illyricum Orientale.

Here are my random thoughts:

1. Baptisteries of Kos and Rhodes. There are at least eight known Early Christian baptisteries on Kos. This is an impressive total even for this relatively large island. It’s a bit hard to understand why a single place would require so many baptisteries if they all functioned more or less simultaneously and if the tradition was for the bishop to conduct baptisms only once per year. It may be, of course, that multiple bishops—representing multiple variants of Christianity—functioned on the island. It is also possible that not all the churches and baptisteries functioned simultaneously. Rhodes likewise has seven baptisteries which once again suggests either diverse communities or a rite administered by someone other than the bishop.

Considering that both of these islands are near the edge of an ecclesiastical diocese, this would bring them in contact with rites and practices common to both the Aegean (and the West) and the diverse Christianities present in Asia Minor.   

2. Locating the Baptistery. Athanassios Mailis observed in his short article on the baptisteries on Crete that baptisteries in the Dodecanese tended to appear more frequently on the eastern side of the churches. In mainland Greece, however, baptisteries tended to appear as annexes attached to the narthex or atrium. If I had understood this more clearly when I was writing my dissertation, I might have been able to connect this location of the baptisteries themselves to the movement of catechumens during the baptismal rite (or even during the weekly liturgy). If we assume that the narthex and atrium served as buffers between the “profane” space of the outside world and the sacred space of the church’s processional axis as well as staging areas for the various liturgical processions, then the presence of baptisteries adjacent to these liminal zones would reflect the liminal status of participants in the baptismal rites. More over, it might allow for a post-baptismal procession from the baptistery into the church.

The location the baptistery in the eastern part of the church associates the baptistery spatially with the bema and suggests a rite that may do less to emphasize the liminal status of the participants and more to emphasize the liturgical or even sacramental character of baptism and the baptismal font. While it’s hard to necessarily make any particular claims on the basis of the location of the baptistery, it is suggestive that the two regions understood the place of the rite in different ways both ritually and, perhaps, practically.

3. Multiple Fonts. I had always found the two fonts present at the Lechaion baptistery outside of Corinth pretty interesting. It was impossible to know whether the second, smaller font, represented a change in ritual or perhaps a supplement to the more monumental font in the center of the baptistery proper. 

I was struck when I came to realize that on Kos a number of churches have a similar arrangement with a smaller secondary font associated with the larger main font. This suggests to me change in liturgical ritual, perhaps associated with the development of infant baptism. By this logic, the larger central fonts likely reflected the requirements of adult baptism (and the functioning of an adult catechumenate). This, to me, indicates ongoing conversion of adults into the 6th century which is the latest possible date for many of these buildings and the emergence of infant baptism (which would represent second generation Christians) only sometime after this. We can allow, of course, for a certain amount of architectural conservatism in the design of baptisteries, but I still think that appearance of smaller secondary fonts is worthy of note.


It’s been a pleasure to return to material and ideas that I explored over 20 years ago as I was working on my dissertation. The time away has ensured that the buildings, rituals, places, and arguments are a bit more fresh to me but still oddly familiar. I’m excited to share more about this small project in the coming weeks of Eastertide!     

More on Early Christian Baptisteries from Greece

A couple of weeks ago, I started to write some of a short introduction to the baptisteries of Greece that I’m working on with David Pettegew. I’m assuming writing about the Early Christian architecture of Greece is a bit like riding a bike… That said, right now, it’s a bit of a hodgepodge of random information mostly culled from recent publications. Below, I continue my rambling discussion on the topic that I hope will take shape over the next few weeks!

This will get tightened-up, re-ordered, and expanded over the next month, but I figured that Tsiknopempti was better than almost any time to think about Early Christianity in Greece. The first paragraph is the same as the one that I wrote in my previous post, but then I proceed to talk a bit about trends in the arrangement of baptisteries in Greece before summarizing a case study from a relatively recent article by Athanassios Mailis (which you can read here).


The study of Early Christian baptisteries in Greece has developed relatively little since I. Volanakes’s 1976 book, The Early Christian Baptisteries of Greece (in Greek). The book offers a systematic survey of known baptisteries and remarks on their form and chronology. The vast majority of 68 structures catalogued by Sebastian Ristow in 1998 also appear in Volanakes and the exceptions, such as the baptisteries associated with J.-P. Sodini’s basilicas at Aliki on Thasos and the German excavations at Demetrias are fairly well known. There are undoubtedly a handful of unpublished or only superficially documented new discoveries over the past 25 years, but these seem unlikely to upset in a significant way how we understand the Early Christian landscape of Greece.

The baptisteries found within the modern boundaries of the nation of Greece produce a fairly inconsistent picture of their arrangement and basic form. We may partly attribute this to the opaque chronology of many of these structures, which we will discuss below. It is also worth noting that the modern nation of Greece includes falls mainly within the prefecture of Illyricum Orientalis which was under the jurisdiction of Rome until the 8th century but some of the Eastern Aegean islands were part of the prefecture of Asia which fell under the jurisdiction of Constantinople. While the liturgical influences of these two ecclesiastical spheres remain obscure in most cases, despite the efforts of Dimitrios Pallas (1979/1980) to associate the Constitutiones Apostolorum with the region, there appear to be traces of both Constantinopolitan and Adriatic influences on the ecclesiastical architecture as well as distinctly local trends. This suggests that the region likely saw a range of inter- and intra-regional liturgical influences and practices that may have shaped the architectural arrangement of the baptisteries and their change over time. Athanasios Mailis’s survey of the baptisteries in Greece noted for example that 50% of the baptisteries from churches in Illyricum Orieantalis (16 of 32) appear as annexes on the western part of the building. For churches in the Aegean islands, in contrast, baptisteries that stood as annexes on the western part of the church account for less than 25% of known examples (6 of 27). Mailis observed that same number of baptisteries arranged around the eastern part of the church represent examples located exclusively on the neighboring islands of Kos and Rhodes. This provides a compelling example of what was likely a regional tradition of architecture that perhaps reflected distinctive theological or liturgical understanding of baptismal practices.

The four known baptisteries with fonts located within the eastern part of church buildings on Crete, at either the north or south end of the aisles, likewise suggest regional practices (Mailis 2006). This rather unusual arrangement of baptisteries on Crete also demonstrates how complicated understanding the chronology, function, and influences of such structures can be. The baptisteries in churches at Panormos,
Vyzari, Archangel Michael Episkope, all have high stylobates which separate the nave from the aisles and this is characteristic of churches from the Aegean and mainland Greece. Mailis suggests that the tripartite organization of the eastern ends of these buildings and the appearance of apses at the eastern end of the nave and aisles at Vyzari suggests eastern liturgical influences perhaps associated with Constantinople or the churches of Cyprus or Asia Minor (Baldini 2013, 36). 

Early Christian Baptisteries of Greece

Over the next five weeks or so I have to go back to some research that I was doing in around 2008 to write a short piece and catalogue of Early Christian baptisteries in Greece. (For some reason this makes me use my Allen Iverson voice: We’re talking about Baptisteries. Not a basilica. Baptisteries). 

Anyway, the start of Lent feels like the right time for me to put some words down on paper that get the ball rolling. My little essay will contribute to a larger project spearheaded by Robin Jensen to bring together descriptions and interpretations of baptisteries from around the ancient world. I’m writing this with David Pettegrew who is writing a short survey of Early Christian archaeology that will complement our Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology

Here goes a very rough first swing:

The study of Early Christian baptisteries in Greece has developed relatively little since I. Volanakes’s 1976 book, The Early Christian Baptisteries of Greece (in Greek). The book offers a systematic survey of known baptisteries and remarks on their form and chronology. The vast majority of 68 structures catalogued by Sebastian Ristow in 1998 also appear in Volanakes and the exceptions, such as the baptisteries associated with J.-P. Sodini’s basilicas at Aliki on Thasos and the German excavations at Demetrias are fairly well known. There are undoubtedly a handful of unpublished or only superficially documented new discoveries over the past 25 years, but these seem unlikely to upset in a significant way how we understand the Early Christian landscape of Greece.

There are four significant challenges facing any study of the Early Christian baptisteries of Greece. The first, and most significant challenge, is that there are very few stratigraphically excavated Early Christian buildings in the region. In fact, most of the churches and baptisteries known from Greece were excavated before the middle of the 20th century through methods designed with a greater interest in exposing the horizontal architecture of the buildings than revealing the vertical stratigraphy associated with their construction. As a result, archaeologists have dated most churches and baptisteries in Greece on the basis of architectural style or mosaic decoration. This tends to provide only the most general chronology for these buildings and rarely allows us to reconstruct or date the changes that took place at these buildings over time. For example, it is clear that the impressive baptistery associated with the Lechaion basilica in Corinth is earlier than the enormous church which stands to its south, but it is unclear how much earlier and impossible to associate it with earlier structures at the site. The two baptisteries associated with Basilica C at Nea Anchialos (Thessalian Thebes) are only circumstantially associated related phases of the basilica. The excavator supposes that the smaller second baptistery is later and reflects a shift from adult to infant baptism in the 6th century AD. 

One consequence of the less than ideal excavation conditions associated with the both churches and baptisteries in Greece is that it remains very difficult to detect development over time. It is clear, for example, that the Lechaion baptistery underwent modification at some point with a smaller font suitable only for affusion installed in the southeastern conch of the octagonal baptistery. It is unclear however whether this font supplemented or replaced the central font in this room and reflected a wholesale change in baptismal ritual or the convenient addition of an alternative to ongoing practice of the earlier rite. It is likewise difficult to understand the chronological relationship between multiple baptisteries in any single community and whether the construction of some of these baptisteries marked earlier structures becoming obsolete or going out of use or changes in baptismal liturgy or the status of various churches.   In effect, archaeologists and architectural historians should treat the existing corpus of baptisteries for Greece, much like the corpus of Early Christian basilicas, provides a chronologically undifferentiated body of evidence which almost certainly combines regional, liturgical, and likely doctrinal variations present in Late Antique Christian communities in the region.  

Among the more interesting features of the Early Christian architectural landscape of Greece is the number of baptisteries associated with major urban centers. Nikopolis, Nea Anchialos (Thessalian Thebes), Argos, Corinth, and Athens all have multiple churches with baptisteries. Conventionally, the bishop was responsible for baptism and the rites occurred once per year as part of the Easter Vigil. Thus multiple baptisteries, assuming that they contemporary, requires some explanation. Of course, it is possible that the annual baptismal rites occurred on a kind of rotation between churches or even that the bishop performed the rites at multiple sites on the same day. Another explanation is that various congregations following various doctrines each had their own baptisteries in Greek cities attended by their own bishop. We have relatively little understanding of doctrinal diversity in Greece during Late Antiquity, but the evidence that we do have suggests that divisive church politics did not spare Greek see any more than any other part of the empire. Finally, it is tempting to imagine that the presence of baptisteries at some sites maybe have had a connection to pilgrimage and so-called “ad sanctos” baptismal practice in which pilgrims traveled to particular sites to receive baptism. The connection between the basilica at Lechaion, for example, and the martyrdom of Leonidas and his seven companions may provide an explanation for the elaborate character of the baptistery at that site. St. Leonidas and seven women were drowned off the coast of Corinth and, according to a 13th century martyrology, while being drowned celebrated his imminent martyrdom by comparing it to a second baptism. While it seems unlikely that the Lechaion baptistery performed second baptisms, which would be a distinctly heterodox practice at a site likely associated with an effort to promote imperial orthodoxy in a see situated at the eastern edge of western ecclesiastical control, it may suggest that the site was a popular destination for “ad sanctos” rites.

The large number of baptisteries in Greece especially in urban areas have also taken on particularly significant for scholars who seek to use baptisteries as a way to asses the nature or rate of conversion in Greece. Recent scholarship has suggested that large-scale Christianization in Greece occurred rather late and the proliferation of baptisteries in urban areas was a response to the need for mass baptisms during the Easter vigil. Putting aside the role of the bishop in baptism, this is not necessarily an implausible scenario, but the lack of chronological control over the dates of the baptisteries (and their destruction) in Greece makes it hard to align with existing evidence.


This is a start. I promised myself to spend time today on my book project and this is all the time that I can allot for this today, but stay 

Documenting Mid-Century Grand Forks

For the last year or so, I’ve served on our town’s historic preservation commission. The main mission of the group, from what I understand, is to identify and inventory historical monuments in town while also serving as consulting body for any decisions having to do with heritage in our community. 

The commission is funded annually through a grant from the state and each year we identify properties, buildings, projects, or groups of properties that we’d like to study or inventory more carefully. In some cases, we request funds to nominate buildings for the National Register of Historic Places, but as often, we request funds to develop a more thorough understanding of the heritage present in our community.

This year, I proposed a study of three classes of mid-century buildings in Grand Forks. Sadly (for me!), the committee did not recommend that any of them be funded, but since I compiled the lists, it made sense to share it.

In the past year, we have nominated six, mid-century modern schools for inclusion on the National Register. That research revealed, unsurprisingly, that these schools stood at the center of mid-century neighborhoods. The historic preservation commission is currently doing an inventory of these neighborhood looking for exceptional mid-century modern domestic architecture.  

In keeping with these initiatives, I proposed a three additional studies aimed at documenting mid-century Grand Forks. In some cases, such as mid-century churches, there is enough information for us to perhaps proceed with a formal multi-property nomination (probably under criteria (a) and (c). I feel like they will also satisfy the exception: “A religious property deriving primary significance from architectural or artistic distinction or historical importance” because this multi-property nomination will emphasize these buildings as ” integral parts of districts that do meet the criteria.”  

1. Multi-property nomination for the mid-century churches of Grand Forks.

There are 18 churches (at least) that I would suggest that we bring under study for a multi-property nomination. Some of these buildings will be undoubtedly eliminated as having been modified too significantly to qualify or as standing outside of a clearly discernible mid-century modern district.

The buildings are distinct in that most of them are modern in design and consistent with the popularity of mid-century modern-style architecture in the region and in their surrounding neighborhoods (including the recently nominated schools). My guess is that quite a few of the buildings involved “named” architects and a few show signs of Deremer and co. and Wells Denbrook.

Pre-Mid Century Modern 20th-century Buildings

St. Michael’s (1908-1909)
St. Mary’s (1918; School 1929)
New Life Foursquare Church (321 Cottonwood) – I’m guessing 1920s.
United Lutheran (1931-32) – Individually Listed
B’nai Israel Synagogue (1937) Listed with the Montefiore Cemetery

Mid-Century Modern

St. Paul’s Episcopal (1948)
University Lutheran (1951)
Calvary Community Church of God (1957)
St. Mark’s Lutheran (1958)
Immanuel Lutheran (1958)
Bethel Lutheran (1960)
Faith Baptist Church (1960) Community?
Holy Family (1961)
Grace Baptist (1962)
Zion United Methodist (1962)
Wittenberg Lutheran Chapel (1964)
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (1966)
Trinity Free Lutheran (1967)
Calvary Lutheran (1969)
Augustana Lutheran (1950s?)
Wesley United Methodist (1950s?)
Christus Rex (1950s?)
Redeemer Lutheran (1950s)
Sharon Lutheran (1966?)


Salvation Army (1956) not originally built as a church.
Islamic Center (1974)
Seventh Day Adventists (1975)
Assembly of God Church/Valley Christian Center (1978)

2. Commercial Grand Forks

In conjunction with a sustained emphasis on mid-century architecture in Grand Forks, I would recommend a wind-shield survey of mid-century commercial architecture particularly along the S Washington Street corridor. The development of this corridor is less about distinct architecture and more about tracing the growth of the city south and considering how this development changed the character of other historical districts, including the downtown. Some buildings (e.g. the current Atlas Auto building (built as a service station in 1957), Eide Hyundai (1958), or the Ambassador Hotel (1959) will likely fit the survey of transportation related sites planned for 2020.

Two things are worthy of particular note. First, it’s difficult to figure out how to identify these buildings. My very brief survey below is less than ideal.

More importantly, though, we might consider – if we’re ambitious – nominating Grand Cities Mall as a single property nomination. It’s eligible (1964) and it’s a work of DeRemer, Harrie & Kennedy. It’s also the first mall in North Dakota and one of 6 malls that are currently in operation (Fargo-West Acres – 1972), Grand Forks (Columbia Mall – 1977), Bismarck (Kirkwood (1970) and Gateway (1979), and Minot (Dakota Square – 1980)). Considering that there will be no new malls built in ND (and haven’t been since 1980) and that at least one or two of these will likely disappear in the next decade, there is a real reason to document this building more carefully.  

Here is a sample of buildings, not all likely to be contributing, along the S Washington Street corridor with dates (note that Denny’s Lounge at 1100 S Washington appears to be earlier than most surrounding commercial building):

715 S Washington ST (1953)
First National Pawn/Halal Meets (1440 S Washington – 1962)
Hugos/Collins/Papa John’s et c. (1958/1962/1964)
Town and Country Shopping Center 1711 S WASHINGTON ST (1958)
Treat, Play, Love building (1900 S Washington – Inn Expensive Inn owners – 1956)
Rite Spot Liquor (1963)
Josef’s School of Hair Design (2011 S Washington – 1959)
2301 S Washington (1969)
Burris Carpet (2307 S Washington – 1960)
First National Pawn (2495 S Washington – 1965)
Blue Star Investment (2506 S Washington – 1967)

**Grand Cities Mall (1964)

3. Bars

The landscape of bars, lounges, and taverns is changing in Grand Forks. There is a core of mid-century modern bars that continue to operate in their original locations. Bars, churches, and schools represent the key complements to the mid-century residential expansion and regularly outpaced commercial development along key corridors. Doing a windshield survey of these buildings and preparing a more comprehensive inventory of the buildings, their history, and their condition offers a nice way to track urban history in Grand Forks. It seems unlikely that any of the are suitable for individual nomination, but it feels like a multi-property nomination (and bar crawl) would be possible. (Note that Kelly’s is a pre-1950 service station).

The Hub (1899 – building only)
Charlie Brown’s (1947)
Broken Drum (1950)
Judy’s Tavern (1950)
Denny’s Tavern (1950)
McMenamy’s Tavern (1950)
The Bun (pre-1962)
El Roco (pre-1965)
Highlander (1962)
Southgate (1969)
Johnny’s Lounge (1969)
Kelly’s (1969) Pre-1969 was a service station of pre-1947 date.
Diamond Lounge (1971)
Wild Bill’s (1971)


As I said, sadly, these recommendations were not sent forward to the state for funding, this year, but that gives me a year to do additional research and to prepare more thoughtful recommendation for the 2021 grant cycle. I already have a team of people interested in the mid-century bars!  

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.

From Cyprus to Greece (and an advertisement for myself)

Yesterday, I wrapped up the first of my of three little study seasons and traveled from Cyprus to Greece.

As a kind of poetic gesture, our long-gestating article on the South Basilica at Polis appeared yesterday in Hesperia 88 (2019). Here’s a link to it (and if you want an offprint and don’t get the Hesperia, drop me an email or a DM on the Twitter). 

The article offers an archaeological argument for the date of two phases of the South Basilica. The second phase will likely be of most interest to architectural historians for Early Byzantine Cyprus because it involves the conversion of the church from a wood roofed structure to a barrel vault. We also managed to phase, and date, the construction of the narthex and a portico that ran the length of the southern side of the basilica. Plus, there’s a massive “French drain” (and who doesn’t love Mr. French’s drains?) designed to help deal with the flow of water against the south wall of the church. 


The weakest part of the article is our discussion of the urban context for the basilica, and, in fact, this is a work in progress for our understanding of the site of Polis and the arrangement of Early Christian churches in the changing urban landscape of Late Antique Cyprus more generally. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll undoubtedly know that this is something that I’ve been thinking about lately

We’re also happy that this article involved links to our publication of data from Pyla-Koutsopetria in Open Context. This summer, we’ve started to work a bit on the “digital backbone” for Polis in Open Context (as well as preparing the data from our excavations at Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla). This involves making our notebooks available as well as our analysis of the context pottery. The inventoried finds from Polis are already available on Open Context in draft form, but they will acquire addition significance only when linked to descriptions of the excavations and other material from the trenches. This is a big job for the area of E.F2 (in the Princeton Polis grid) which includes the South Basilica, but we hope to produce a model for organizing the E.F2 data using the smaller and more manageable area of E.F1 over the next few months.

Thinking about digital publication and curation of archaeological data is always good thing! For the next week, my old buddy David Pettegrew and I will be working with Jon Frey and Tim Gregory with some Isthmia Excavation data and trying to wrangle and think about how best to organize, disseminate, and curate their data. More on that over the next week or so…  

Obsolescence (feat. Teaching Tuesday)

 This weekend I read Daniel Abramson’s Obsolescence: An Architectural History (2016). I mostly read it for fun, but I have also been thinking about issues of obsolescence, functionality, and space on UND’s campus, in our community, and in the context of an archaeology of the contemporary world, particularly in the context of our accelerated and accelerating world and sense of time.

The book argues that obsolescence in architecture emerged in the early 20th-century when the U.S. government changed the tax code to allow for deductions based on the depreciation of buildings. At the same time, the rapid development of U.S. cities – particular Chicago and New York – and the availability of capital in the first three decades of the 20th century led to the demolition of buildings that were often less than 20 years old and the building of new, larger, more sophisticated structures in their place. Finally, this coincided with a progressive view of the modern world that saw social, economic, and even political development of society as linear and the new overwriting the old as key to the process of perpetual renewal and improvement. 

This promoted a functional approach to architecture that influenced building and design throughout the 20th century. While this approach has seen critiques, most famously in Brutalism which offered forms that conspicuous resisted functionalist demands and the work of, say, Peter Eisenman which simply ignored function as a useful category for his architectural forms. In the end, however, the long tail of progressive ideas and function views of architecture has persisted although often redefined in terms of “adaptive reuse” or even sustainability which like the concept of depreciation was incentivized through both policy and a monetized view of architecture and space.

I got to thinking about obsolescence lately in three different contexts.

First, as I blogged about yesterday… 

Second, I serve on the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission. This has given me a front row seat to thinking about the future of architecture in our community. As any small city, our urban fabric is undergoing constant change. Old buildings are being repurposed and demolished, new buildings pop up, and criteria and impressions for what is important, appropriate, and useful fluctuate. Determining what is obsolete and no longer necessary or desirable and what qualifies as important to the character of the community is on our monthly agenda. Functionalism and the representative value of architecture stand side-by-side. As Abramson noted, the concept of obsolescence shaped sometimes overzealous efforts toward urban renewal in the mid-20th century and what one person sees as blight, another sees as telling a story about the history of our community. 

In my neighborhood, there is an enthusiastic effort to slow and even reduce traffic flow down a residential street that has slowly become a significant thoroughfare. While the community efforts to slow the flow of traffic are legitimate expressions of anxiety about the impact of traffic in our neighborhood, there is also a historical element to their resistance. The street, they claim, is and was a residential street and was not designed to handle the greater flow of traffic. As a result, the flow needs to be re-routed to preserve the character of the neighborhood. 

The interesting counterpoint, of course, is that the function of streets and the character of neighborhood change through time and with use, what originally served one purpose, now falls short. This isn’t to suggest that we simply redefine the function of our beloved neighborhood street, but to demonstrate how the notion of preservation and obsolescence often go hand-in-hand.

Third, I’ve been thinking about classrooms a good bit lately. Last semester, I taught on an almost brand-new collaborative learning classroom. It was quirky and did not really fit the way that I taught my class. (I blogged about it here). The newness of the room pushed me to think about whether my teaching style was, in fact, obsolete and required updating to adapt to the new architectural koine in UND classrooms.

Fortunately (maybe), my history 240 (the Historian’s Crap) is in an older classroom that features, among other things, a real chalk board and a cart with a (chalk) dusty-laptop  computer and a digital projector. The room is clearly designed around the expectation that I will lecture to the students and the primary form of visual communication will be words on a chalk board. The active and collaborative learning room, in contrast, did not even have a central screen or a digital project, but instead has televisions arranged at each table, hung from the outer walls of the room. To show students anything visual involved drawing their attention away from the front of the room and redirecting it outward. The rooms we use shape not only how we teach, but how we learn and this, in turn, shapes our attitudes toward authority, toward the past, and to the experience at the university.

The idea that a room or a style is obsolete is a value judgement that is grounded in a linear view of time in which new presents are constantly overwriting and obviating outmoded pasts. Anyone who has taught for even a few years knows that even the most comprehensively research pedagogical technique, method, or procedure, is only as a good as the educator who handles and implements it. More than that, most of us are trained to view with intense skepticism any view of the present or future that is incompatible with the past. If Ambramson’s critique of obsolescence in architecture can teach us anything, it’s that contemporary calls for sustainability and reuse only make sense within a model of thinking about space (a discourse, if you will) that includes and, in fact, privileges obsolescence. 

It’s a good reminder not to get too hung up on progress and not to fret change.     


Ay. Lazaros and Panagia Angelokisti

Ay. Lazaros is one of the most visible monuments in Larnaka, Cyprus and among the most significant churches on the island. I’ve wandered around this beautiful church frequently over my years of working on Cyprus and staying in Larnaka.


Ironically, very little is known about this building. Historically associated with the relics of Lazaros who is said to have come to Cyprus and to have become Bishop of Kition after his resurrection, this church was constructed sometime in the Medieval period. In its present form, it stands as a series of cross-in-square churches terminating in a three apses. It has a later porch that extends along its south side and much later campanile. The church endured a significant fire in the 18th century when its domes collapsed. The church has seen relatively little archaeological study and despite some useful guides to its history and architecture, has not received comprehensive study.   


Last week, I was pretty excited to receive the monumental tome that is the Report of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus from 2011-2012. It’s late, but that’s ok, because it remains a curio cabinet of archaeological knowledge about the island. It includes a fascinating article on the architecture of Ay. Lazaros, the Angeloktisti at Kiti and Ayios Antonios in Kellia west of Cyprus by a group of students from the University of Padova in Italy, Lucia Scudellaro, Isabella Zamboni, Alessia De Paoli, Monica Gamba, Michela Modena and Morena Tramonti under the supervision of Gian Pietro Brogiolo (RDAC 2011-2012, 821-853).

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(Another story for another time involves my toying with the idea of journal on the archaeology of Cyprus with a few colleagues. Fortunately some smarter people intervened gently to discourage us from starting such a thing, but I do admit to occasionally thinking about it still. Anyway, I’m glad the RDAC is back.)

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Their study of this important monument was hardly comprehensive, but it does hint at the potential of studying the standing walls of the church stratigraphically. They were able to identify at least four pre-modern phases including the tantalizing early phase that not only indicates that the church had always existed, more or less, in its current plan. The dating of this building, of course, remains unresolved, and it will remain perhaps the most significant, undated monument on the island. The possibility that it dates from the so-called “condominium period” (and here I’m speculating freely and irresponsibly) is intriguing. The building’s distinctive architecture, its association with Ay. Lazaros, and its role in constructing the apostolic landscape of Cyprus makes it a particular tempting object for future study. Some needs to sort this building out. 

The University of Padova team also studied the well-known Angelokisti at Kiti which appears in every survey of Early Christian art for its pre-iconoclastic apse mosaics. They’re amazing and worth seeing, but they’ve also always confounded me because the architecture of the church is clearly much later (probably 11th century or later) than the 6th or 7th century apse mosaic (dated on stylistic grounds). How do you preserve an apse while losing the church?

The Padova team carefully documented the various styles of construction and their relationships to show how the key phases in shoring up the inner apse and its mosaic stand with only the most ambiguous relationships to later phases. In other words, the fabric of the building, at least for now, offers little in the way of definitive chronology (relative or absolute) for dating the major reconstruction of the Angeloktisti and preserving the apse itself.

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Like the Ay. Lazaros, one of the most significant churches on the island remains a mystery in certain key ways, but the work from the Padova team provides plenty of incentive for these two buildings to see greater scrutiny. As the 7th-9th century on Cyprus has seen renewed interest and significant reconsiderations in the last decade, there is an additional opportunity for new fieldwork at these buildings to provide important insights into the history of the eastern part of the island at the end of antiquity. That relatively little is known about the Early Christian and Early Medieval history of Larnaka and Larnaka district adds local importance to this work and any future work that it might inspire.

Teaching Thursday: Two Classes and a Textbook

I haven’t written a Teaching Thursday for a while, and this semester, my teaching has been particularly invigorating (aside from having to fix a million broken links in an online class!). 

Teaching the Controversy: The UND Budget

First, my class on the University of North Dakota’s budget cuts has been a joy to teach. (Here is my syllabus). In fact, I’m doing far less teaching and mostly working hard to stay out of the way as the students explore the complexities of higher education. They’ve already wrestled with the big picture issues related to state-supported higher education as a “public good” and the small scale complexities of the methods used to distribute funds on campus. They chatted with our budget gurus, a dean, and, this week, with UND’s Provost. Next week, we welcome a vice chancellor, the following, an important legislator, and then the VP of Research and the Dean of the Graduate School at UND. We’re working our way through Christopher Newfield’s book, The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them (Johns Hopkins 2016). As we gain momentum in the next six weeks, I’ll post some more substantial information here.

Abandoned Campus Buildings as Laboratory Classrooms

Second, because I just can’t leave well enough alone, I decided to teach a one-credit (well, this is pending our ability to create a class at his point in the semester and allow students to enroll!) class on two buildings on the UND campus slated to be destroyed this year. The buildings are hybrid structures and twins with the original buildings dating to the first decade of the 20th century and additions dating to the 1920s. They were originally part of Wesley College, a Methodist institution that from its early days was associated with the University of North Dakota and offered classes in arts, music, and religion. They are beaux arts classical in design. A. Wallace McCrea was the architect of at least Sayre and Corwin halls, if not the entire complex. They form the east and west sides of a lovely quad that opens onto University Drive and stand as a orderly counterparts to the college gothic of most of the UND campus. They’ll be missed! 

My plan to document these buildings currently involves three phases. First, we make sure that the architecture of the buildings is thoroughly documented – including plans, 3D scans, and photographs – and the location of the buildings and the surrounding space and situation is documented as carefully as possible. Second, we need to do some archives work and sift through the relatively extensive records on the history of Wesley College and these two hybrid-buildings. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, I’m going to put together a team to comb through the buildings looking for the traces of their past lives in both the building fabric and the things left behind. In short, the last intervention in the life of these buildings will be an archaeological one. 

Open Education Textbooks

The last week or so, I’ve been working my way through a pretty complete draft of an open access textbook on Late Antiquity. The book offers a compelling political and ecclesiastical framework for the Late Antique world. In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that some of the author’s discussions of the religious controversies in Late Antiquity are among the clearest that I’ve ever encountered. 

What is intriguing to me is that Late Antiquity, despite being defined by political events and institutions (whether the fall of Rome or the reign of Diocletian, Constantine, Justinian, or Heraclius), has become increasingly described as a series of cultural phenomena ranging from the rise of Christian practices (and various forms of syncretism) to architectural forms, decorative practices (like spoliation), urban transformation, tastes in movable goods, literature, art, and even ritual practice. A political narrative is not necessarily outside the realm of culture, of course, but for Late Antiquity, the long shadow of Peter Brown and his amazing lineage of students has ensured that cultural issues have eclipsed political ones. The concept of the “long late antiquity” is almost always a culture one which argues that despite political and religious differences, certain aspects of the Late Antique world persist into the 7th, 8th, or 9th century. While this sometimes harkens to Pirenne’s old argument that the end of the ancient world occurred when the caliphate moved its capital to Bagdad and the Mediterranean moved from the front yard of both Western Europe and the Early Islamic world to their collective backyard, it also embraced similarities and connection around the Mediterranean that produces common cultural affinities. 

In the next month or so, I’ll be returning to this project and asking for folks to help me navigate this unique open educational resource into the public realm! Stay tuned!  


Math Labs and Jotted Scribblings

The ground floor of O’Kelly Hall on the lovely campus of the University of North Dakota is getting a well deserved upgrade. For those unfamiliar with this building, it was originally built as the medical sciences building as part of the medical school on campus (and to this day the west entrance to the building is inscribed with the words “Science Building”). It’s one of the Wells and Denbrook buildings on campus (for a nice survey of Wells and Denbrook’s contribution to North Dakota architecture, check this out) and shares the ambivalent (and perhaps even ironic) modernity of contemporary College Gothic design. The western part of the building dates to 1947 and the eastern part to a half-decade later.

The second floor of the building is where the department of history currently lives, and the ground floor  houses, among other things, the university’s relatively new Scale-Up classroom and the brand new “Meth” (actually Math) Lab. The space around these rooms is still being tidied up after some much-needed upgrades the building. Amid the almost-finished student study spaces and standing less than 20 feet from the Math Lab door is an unfinished cement pillar scrawled with measurements and arithmetic performed by workers remodeling the building. When the refit is completed the math on the cement pillar will be covered, but, for now, it provides a little practical motivation for students trudging toward the math lab each day.

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This is probably some kind of metaphor for higher education these days. Or maybe neoliberalism. Or something. It might be ironic.