The Church at Koutsopetria

Over the last few weeks I’ve returned to writing up our excavation results from our project at Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. This site, for people new to this blog, is in the southeastern corner of the island some 10 km east of the modern Larnaka (or ancient Kition). The site was a coastal town during the Roman and Late Roman periods and featured an Early Christian basilica.

Very little of the church was excavated either during the initial seasons of excavation in the 1990s under the direction of Dr. Maria Hadjicosti or during our brief campaign in 2009. The main focus of this work was a small, if well appointed annex room that probably extended from the south or western wall of the atrium of the church. In 1999, excavations at the site revealed the central apse of the basilica. The apse is wide and relatively shallow and features the transverse passage on its southern side that runs between the south nave colonnade and the western wall of the church.

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This transverse passage is relatively distinctive among churches on Cyprus appearing predominantly among buildings in the neighborhood of Salamis and the Karpas Peninsula. Megaw suggested that the church of Ay. Philon served as a kind of prototype for the buildings in this area, and as you can see in the image borrowed from Richard Maguire’s 2012 dissertation (as are the rest in this blog post), has a similarly shallow and wide apse and transverse passages between the main apse and the two, smaller, lateral apses.

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It may be that the builders of the relatively compact church at Ay. Philon modeled their building on the much larger pilgrimage church of Ay. Epiphanios at Salamis which shared the wide, shallow apse and the transverse passages. Both buildings likely date to the 5th century with the church of Ay. Epiphanios dated through a textual reference and Ay. Philon based on its stylistic affinities.  

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Later buildings in the area, like the Panayia at Aphendrika carry on the tradition into the 6th century (at least according to the conventional date associated wth this building).

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The regional distribution of churches of this type is intriguing. They appear on the Karpas and around Salamis and then across the northern coast of Cyprus including at Lambousa and as far west as Soloi.

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This corpus of buildings seems to be significantly different from the churches across the more densely-settled southern coast of the island where polygonal apses are more common and the churches lack the transverse passages between the central apse and the flanking spaces.

In our survey monograph, we argue that the site of Kousopetria was situated at an important route of travel through the area. The inland road linking the coast of Larnaka Bay to the city of Salamis joined the coast at our site in both antiquity and the modern period. We argue that the remains of an Iron Age sanctuary at or near our site likely reflected the regions liminal state on the political boundary between Salamis and Kition. The presence of a late Cypro-Classical fortification at Vigla reinforced the  Obviously such political boundaries faded to unimportance during the Hellenistic and Roman period when the island became part of a single imperial state, but it remains possible that these buildings preserve echoes of these borders carved into the landscape through persistent patterns of movement between major urban centers. It may be that the church at Koutsopetria represented the southern most reach of the bishop of Salamis or even just the influence of such significant buildings as the pilgrimage church at Ay. Epiphanios. 

An Introduction to the Archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus

Hot off the word processor, here’s my first stab at writing an introduction to an article-length survey of Early Christian archaeology on the island.

The Early Christian period on Cyprus extends from the first century A.D. to the 7th-century or even later. In contrast to other periodization schemes which emphasize the island’s political relationship to either the Roman state and its attendant economic networks, or the Byzantine commonwealth and its political entanglements in the region, the Early Christian period on Cyprus reinforces a period of religious and cultural continuity that extends from the antiquity to the modern period. As a result, the focus of a distinctly Early Christian archaeology on the island favors issues of continuity with the politically tumultuous 7th-10th century on the island and the formation of a distinct political identity for Orthodox Christian Greek Cypriots in the Ottoman and modern eras. The political implications of religious component of Greek Cypriot identity has taken on a political cast since political independence and the 1974 Turkish invasion and occupation of the northern part of the island. This has led to the suspension of work at important Christian centers like Soloi and Salamis-Constantia and a focus on the urban sites along the southern coast of the island. The Christian communities in these urban centers produced monumental Christian architecture by the start of the 6th century. In the last few decades, intensive pedestrian survey and the expanding development on the island has shed light on Christian communities in rural, ex-urban, and sub-urban sites which also saw monumental Christian architecture during this period. As a result, it is possible to discuss the emergence of a distinctly Cypriot Christian culture on a regional scale.

According to Acts of the Apostles, Barnabas was a Cypriot Jew who became one of the Apostles. He accompanied Paul in his travels to various meetings of Christians in Antioch and Jerusalem and to newly founded Christian communities in Asia Minor. Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of the Cyprus, invited Paul and Barnabas to the island to challenge the teachings of the “magician and false prophet” Bar-Jesus. Later Acts tell of Barnabas and Paul having a falling out and Barnabas and John Mark traveling to Cyprus where according to the apocryphal Acts of Barnabas, he was martyred in Salamis. The travels of Paul and Barnabas to and from the island underscored the close connections between Cyprus and the Aegean Sea, Anatolia, and the Levant.

The 6th-century Laudatio Barnabas may well mark the earliest instance of Christian archaeology on Cyprus. Anthemios, the late-5th-century bishop of Salamis on the west coast of Cyprus, has a series of dreams which led him to grave of St. Barnabas. When he excavated the body, he discovered it clutching the Gospel of St. Matthew.  The discovery of St. Barnabas’s body on the island wth the authoritative (and liturgically significant) Gospel book in his hands reinforced the autocephalous character of the Cyprus church which the Council of Ephesus (431) established. The Apostolic origins of the Cypriot church set it apart from the acquisitive and heretical position of the church in Antioch especially, and, if we are to trust the late 5th-century setting of the Laudatio Barnabas, it may well point to the tumultuous reign of Peter the Fuller as a suitable occasion to excavate additional evidence for the autocephaly of the Cypriot church.

The excavation of holy personages, real or imagined, has continued to play a role in grounding communities in their Christian past across the island. The church of St. Lazarus in Larnaka, for example, marks the place where Lazarus, friend of Jesus’s body was discovered in the 9th century. The association of Lazarus with the See of Kition established a kind of Apostolic authority for the city even after the body was translated to Constantinople by the Emperor Leo VI. Later travelers observed that Cypriots sometimes prayed at caves containing the bones of pygmy hippopotami thinking them to be saints. In the 20th century Peter Megaw, the first director of the island’s Department of Antiquities, tells of villagers excavating around the floors and foundations of the church of the Panayia Skyra to appease the Panayia during a period of draught. A later director of the department of antiquities, Vassos Karageorghis told of the priest from the village of Astromeritis on Morphou Bay who visited him asking that he help the community find the bones of the 1st-century St. Auxibios who he reckoned was buried nearby. St. Auxibius was the first bishop of Soloi and University of Montreal excavated a basilica-style church probably dedicated to this early, holy bishop.

While excavation of Christian sites on Cyprus has its roots in the Early Christian era, it has continued into the era of more scientific excavation by disciplinary archaeologists. A predictable interest in the Christian past of the island characterized Peter Megaw’s term as the island’s first director of the Department of Antiquities (1945-1960) which began with his study of barrel-vaulted basilicas on the island and continued into the 21st century with the posthumous publication of the great ecclesiastical complex at Kourion (Megaw 2007). Like so much of the subsequent architectural and archaeological work on the island, Megaw sought to locate Cyprus within larger Mediterranean patterns of building style, decoration, and influence. His important 1974 article “Byzantine Architecture and Decoration in Cyprus: Metropolitan or Provincial” remained a touchstone for a generation of scholars who looked toward architectural typology a evidence for chronological and interregional continuity. Andreas Papageorgiou work to excavate and catalogue the archaeology and, above all, the architecture of Cyprus during the 1960s provided the foundation for later works exploring the Constantinopolitan and “foreign” influence on Early Christian architecture on Cyprus (Papageorgiou 1986).The long-standing interest in the development of Cyprus architecture has persisted into more recent work by Charles Stewart and Richard Maguire’s substantial, synthetic 2012 dissertation on Late Antique church architecture on the island which emphasized Cyprus’s insularity.

The long-standing interest in the typology of church architecture has shaped the character of their excavation and publication. An emphasis on architecture phases in the careful publication of the basilica at Soloi (Tinh 1985), the episcopal complex at Kourion, or the Campanopetra basilica at Salamis (Roux 1998) has followed the interest in typology in architecture. A group of recent publications, however, has expanded the context of Christian basilica churches on the island. The excavations of Marcus Rautman at Kalavassos-Kopetra (Rautman 2003), of pre-historian at Maroni-Petrera (Manning 2002) and the Princeton Cyprus Expedition at Polis-Chrysochous, have published significant assemblages of pottery, small finds, and, at Kopetra and Polis, human burials. At Kopetra, Polis-Chrysochous, and sites like Pyla-Koutsopetria, there is a growing understanding of the structure, organization, and material culture of local settlement, particularly below the level major urban centers on the island. An expanding appreciation of imported ceramic fine wares, for example, has provided insight into the economic and social networks that both shaped the taste of Christian communities on Cyprus and also connected them regional and transregional networks. Scholars have looked to understand the role of the church in the trade of Cypriot agricultural produce and the transshipment of grain from Egypt and other Eastern Mediterranean commodities. Local artistic traditions, including several examples of pre-iconoclastic figural decoration in both mosaic decoration and fresco, as well as work in under appreciated media like molded gypsum reinforce the distinct status of Cyprus as crossroads of a wide range of economic, social, religious, and cultural currents. The Early Christian archaeology of Cyprus offers significant opportunities to consider how its insular character filtered external influences and provided access to regional communities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Finally, the archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus is inseparable from the political history of the island. An Early Christian archaeology must recognize that Christianity remains an important element of Greek Cypriot political and cultural identity, and this identity, incubated during the centuries of Ottoman control over the island, has shaped the trajectory research for over a generation. While in some ways, this work has been a boon for scholars of the Early Christian period, it is nevertheless shaped by and infused with the political baggage of the 1974 invasion and the occupied state of the northern part of the island. There is no doubt that the Early Christian period represents the start of nearly two millennia of Christian influence on the island, but this should not overdetermine the historical trajectory of communities on the island. This brief survey of the archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus demonstrates how the material manifestations of Christianity reflected a diverse, fluid, and dynamic local identity that belied the insular geography of the island.

Adventure in Podcasting: Season 2, Episode: 2: Domestic Space and a Very Special Guest

In the second episode of Season 2, Bill and Richard violate the spirit of Labor Day and get to work on recording a podcast.  It’s okay, because our special guest is Bev, Bill’s mother-in-law.  Since she’s from Australia, we can celebrate Labor Day in late winter, like they do in the southern hemisphere.  Our topic of discussion: the different houses we have lived in and how they shaped our daily lives in North America, Australia, and Greece.

Be sure to check out our sponsor this episode. Karl Jacob Skarstein’s The War with the Sioux from the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota

The podcast begins with a discussion of Queensland, Australia, and in particular the Queenslander, a house, traditionally built of timber, suitable for the hot climate of Australia.  We drift into a discussion of the American Ranch style house, with an oblique nod to the Four-square.  Perhaps you should buy a Field Guide to American Houses.  You can find a typology on the web, of course.

Don’t forget to learn about the Hills Hoist.  And the awesome variety of Australian Pubs.

We referenced Greek Houses and Kostis Kourelis

Australian Place we reference:  Queensland, Townsville, someplace called Beero.  Townsville is also home to these superheroes.

It’s not Caraheard without a reference to mancamps in the Bakken, or their abandonment as the oil boom turns down.

Toilet water does not drain counterclockwise in Australia.  Quit asking.

New Work on Churches in the Peloponnesus

I was pretty excited to read Rebecca Sweetman’s newest article on the Early Christian churches of the Peloponnesus in the the most recent American Journal of Archaeology. Not only has her work done a tremendous amount to recover my dissertation (on the same topic) from academic invisibility by citing regularly, but she also gave my blog a citation. More than the selfish pleasure of having one’s work recognized, Sweetman has done a great job bringing these neglected buildings into the scholarly spotlight. We can only hope that her insightful and important work will help these buildings gain more attention and enjoy for fully in the revived interest in Late Antiquity. 

Sweetman’s work is both better than mine, but also different. She has brought a more impressive arsenal of theoretical work to understanding these building and their role in Christianization. She has also a more intimate familiarity with the archaeology of these buildings from her time working at the acropolis basilica in Sparta. Finally, she has a more subtle and expansive view of the monuments themselves. In short, I’m jealous of her command of the source material. So, go read her work!

That being said, I do have a few little comments, which are less objections to her arguments than different takes on the same body of evidence:

1. Memory and Pagan Monuments. Sweetman thinks critically about memory in her work and agues that Early Christian basilicas and liturgy relied on the active memory of pagan and civic rituals to produce meaning, and by extension to produce a Christian ritual and social world. She notes that a few Early Christian churches in Greece were located near recently abandoned or still functioning pagan sanctuaries (the most famous examples being Olympia and Epidauros).

She also notes that Early Christian basilicas were built on the sites of long abandoned pagan monuments (e.g. Nemea). The usual reasoning for this phenomena is that abandoned pagan sanctuaries were a source of building material or the sites of settlements unrelated to the earlier history of the place. Sweetman hints (albeit vaguely) that memory of pagan activities could adhere to even long abandoned sanctuaries. I couldn’t help think of one of my favorite saints, John “The Strange” O Xenos from Crete. He discovered a long abandon pagan sanctuary and did spiritual battle with the lingering presence of paganism there and built a church. 

From the perspective of Early Christianity in Greece, these long abandoned pagan sanctuaries might be ideal places for Christian churches. They leverage lingering memories, but avoid direct confrontation with existing pagan practices. Moreover, the appropriation of these sites of lapsed pagan practices both emphasized continuity with the distant past as well as placing contemporary paganism as somehow innovative and different from historical practices. This move by Christianity had the potential of being more powerful than simply siddling up to existing sanctuaries. Christianity was appropriating the historical landscape of paganism.

2. Church Building and Elite Practice. Sweetman argues that some church construction paralleled elite practices of munificence by allowing elites to continue to patronize cult activities but to do so as part of Christian practices. I don’t disagree with this argument, but I do wonder whether emphasizing traditional practices of elite benefaction overlooks changes in Christian attitudes toward giving to the poor and to the church as part of a larger route to salvation. Changing Christian attitudes toward giving opened new ways for church builders to fund their buildings and freed them from existing networks of aristocratic wealth which often proved an obstacle to the centralizing tendency of the organized church.

There is evidence from the Adriatic coast and from Greece of rather small donations (<1 solidus) to the decoration of churches. This would have been within the budget of people of middling means in the Late Roman world. The tendency for these small donations to appear in groups in a building suggests that the church was recruiting groups of these donors. The appearance of anonymous donors of small amounts hints that the motive for giving was less about developing civic prestige and more about seeking divine rewards. 

3. Christianization vs. Monumentalization. Finally, I have come to wonder more and more whether looking at the Early Christian churches of the Peloponnesus has less to do with Christianization and more to do with the monumentalization process. While I recognize that building monumental architecture was closely tied to the spread of Christianity from the 4th on, I also wonder whether our linking of these two processes together obscure the real reason for the appearance of so many large buildings in Greece in the later 5th and 6th centuries. The 5th and 6th centuries were wracked by Christological debates that fractured Christian communities throughout the Mediterranean, but particularly in Greece where imperial and ecclesiastical policies were often at odds with each other.

Investment in monumental architecture, in this scenario, had less to do with the spread of Christianity, and more to do with the development of competition between groups within Christianity who had access to resources to make their claims in the Greek landscape. The proliferation of churches around cities like Corinth need not represent the expansion of the Christian community in this place, but rather may represent the appearance of groups with competing claims around this important city. This would help explain the multiple baptisteries, the multiple synthrona, and the subtle, but obvious differences in architecture and decoration in these buildings.

Finally, Sweetman and I would both have great little books on the Early Christian architecture and Christianization of Greece:

Hers would include her 2013 article, and the two articles she published this year (in the ABSA (pdf) and the AJA).

Mine is sketched out here.

It’s a good time to be an Early Christian basilica in Greece!

Traveling through Non-Place?

I’m sitting in the Larnaka International Airport reflecting on the Marc Augé’s idea that airports are quintessential examples on hyper modern non-places. Indistinguishable from one another and catering to displaced travelers, airports both ameliorate and exacerbate the sense of placelessness by being both familiar and non-local at the same time. As airports have become increasingly operated by multinational corporations and beholden to international security standards, they have only become more homogeneous in the 21st century.

At least that’s a simplified version of his argument brought up to date by some recent observations.

 

On the ride to the airport, though, my colleagues Brandon Olson and Dallas Deforest reminisced about old airports and their distinct character: the old Athens airport with its “flippy” list of arrivals and departures, the old Larnaka airport where you disembarked onto the tarmac with its distinct smell of the sea and jet fuel, and the chaotic nature of regional airports in Turkey. Maybe the de-placing of airports is a more recent phenomenon for many places in the world than Augéhas recognized.

Of course the airport in Cyprus has the added complication of being a product of the conflict that has seen the northern part of the island being governed by an unrecognized state. Prior to the invasion of 1974, the airport for the island was in Nicosia. It now stands in the UN controlled demilitarized zone. Few places on earth more poignantly reflect the character of late modern political space than these extranational zones which linger at the margins of formal political jurisdictions. At the same time, the old Nicosia airport has become a very local symbol of the island’s complicated last. It is simultaneously non-place and an highly nuanced political symbol.

I think my flight is starting to board now, but I wanted to write down a few thoughts (on my iPhone no less) while they were fresh in my mind. My next post will be from Greece!

Cyprus and the Balance of Empires

I was pretty excited to pick up at the ASOR annual meeting the volume titled Cyprus and the Balance of Empires edited by Tom Davis, Charles Stewart, and Annemarie Weyl Carr. The volumes consists of a series of papers focused on the period from Justinian I to the Coeur de Lion originally presented at Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute in a 2011 conference.  This work should be read alongside the recently published volume from the Cahier du Centre d’Etudes Chypriotes on the “Archaeology of Late Antique and Byzantine Cyprus (4th-12th centuries AD)” to provide a sweeping overview of recent research on Late Antique and Byzantine Cyprus.

As per usual, I will not provide a full review of this volume, but make some quick observations. I’ll mainly focus on the first eight chapters which focus on the Late Antique and Early Byzantine period on the island. 

1. Churches. Like Cypriot archaeology, this volume is very interested in churches. It contains summary publications by D. Michaelides on his newly excavated church at Ayioi Pente in Yeriskipou, E. Procopiou from her martyrium at Katalymata ton Plakton on the Akrotiri peninsula, and a massive synthetic article by Charles Stewart on the development of Byzantine architecture on Cyprus.

The most famous of these churches is the massive martyrdom at Katalymata with its western facing apse. Procopiou interpretation of this building as a 7th century martyrdom with clear architecture ties to both Egypt and the Levant is almost certain correct, and reinforces the position of Cyprus as a major center of pilgrimage in the 6th and 7th centuries with important churches at Amathous, Salamis-Constantia, Limassol (Neapolis), and now on the Akrotiri peninsula.

D. Michaelidis publication of the salvage excavations at Ay. Pente expands the corpus of Early Christian churches on the island and provides particularly useful parallels for the basilica at Polis-Chrysochous which I’ve been working to publish. Both the Ay. Pente church and the South Basilica at Polis are surrounded by graves and the stone lined ossuaries at Ay. Pente are similar to those a basilica EG0 at Polis. The relationship between contemporary burials and cult activities across the island in the 7th century is quite clear and consistent. I was similarly intrigued by what appears to be a south porch on the basilica at Ay. Pente which is another feature shared with the South basilica at Polis. Unfortunately the plan of the church at Ay. Pente is pretty disturbed so it is difficult to understand whether this south porch was associated with a southern atrium like at the South Basilica. I’m beginning to wonder whether these south porches provided sheltered access for rituals attached to important burials on the island. 

2. Architectural Development of Churches on Cyprus. Charles Stewart’s sweeping review of church architecture on Cyprus deserves its own number in my non-review. His survey was, as one would expect, thought provoking. Stewart began his work by critiquing the dichotomies that have structured past studies of church architecture on the island. Starting with Megaw who asked whether Cypriot architecture was “metropolitan or provincial” and continuing through Curcic who asked whether Cypriot architecture was provincial or “regional” in character. Of course, Dikigoropoulos 1961 dissertation located Cyprus “betwixt Greek and Saracen” and numerous subsequent scholars have found both productive and reductionist parallels between the islands current divided political situation and its historical place a crossroads in the Eastern Mediterranean. 

Stewart, then, was right to critique the overdetermination of these binary readings of Cypriot architectural history. In its place, Stewart argued that throughout the Early Byzantine period Cyprus’ place in the Mediterranean shifted according to local political, economic, and religious influences. There was no single core for which the island stood as the periphery, but multiple cores and peripheries that shaped the island as an architectural space.

Without getting into the detail of Stewart’s article, I do wonder whether he replaced on set of dichotomies with another. He seemed inclined divide architecture influences between those from the island and those from outside the island creating a Cyprus: Not Cyprus dichotomy. While historically this makes sense, as the corpus of basilicas on Cyprus have generally been seen as unique, I do wonder whether we should look at the communities on Cyprus as independent actors rather than simply individual representations of some island wide tendencies. I suspect that some communities on the island looked at their neighbors for inspiration while others looked far beyond the island’s shores. 

3. Survey and Early Byzantine Cyprus. Marcus Rautman’s article provides a nice overview of the work done by regional surveys to illuminate the Late Roman and Early Byzantine periods on the island, and the rural landscape in particular. A key point in this article is that the late 7th century and 8th century landscapes may be much more elusive from an archaeological perspective. Rautman argues that the disruption of region trade, particularly sponsored by the imperial government, created a landscape dominated by short-term settlements rather than substantial and stable investments on the countryside characteristic of 6th and early 7th centuries. These short-term settlements and more contingent practices are less visible to the archaeologist and sometimes misinterpreted as population decline or abandonment.

4. Chronology and Ceramics. It was pretty remarkable that a collection of articles dedicated to the Late Romana and Early Byzantine period on Cyprus did not include a single article focusing exclusively on ceramics. David Metcalf’s article on seals and coins and Maria Parani’s all-too-short contribution on everyday life reminded us that small finds can play a key role in understanding the island’s economic, social, and administrative context. The lack of an article dealing specifically with locally made cook pots, the long-lived Late Roman 1 amphoras, or the regionally produced Cypriot Red Slip table wares, speaks to archaeological traditions on the island that despite well-known contributions by no less a scholar than Hector Catling or David Soren, continues to be dominated by students of architecture, icons, styles, and top-down history of church patrons, imperial officials, and bishops. Davis’s and Stewart’s overview of the study of Byzantine archaeological work on Cyprus emphasized the long-standing nature of existing research agendas despite the continued inroads of scholars like Marcus Rautman, Michael Given, and … err… me, Scott Moore, and David Pettegrew.

The book has much to offer the student of Late Roman and Byzantine Cyprus and contributes to the impressive and growing body of knowledge about the island during these periods. Now, we just need to get scholars from outside the island of Cyprus to read and consider the work done on Cyprus, and for archaeologists who work on Cyprus to continue to work to place the island within a wider context. 

Garage Archaeology

This weekend, Susie and I cleaned out our little one-bay garage so it can store her sports car during the winter months. It produced two fun things. One is that it provided a little study collection of locally available bricks for my excavation of my backyard next fall. It also was a good little architectural study of a very simple building. 

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The bricks in the garage were not particularly remarkable. The previous owner of the house was an avid gardener and landscaper who installed some lovely sunken paths around the house. She used spoliated bricks from around town to give the paths a rusticated look. She, also, had access to the local historical society’s storeroom so we’re pretty sure that she grabbed at least some bricks that originated from important buildings around town.

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The harder fired and more modern bricks are on the right side. The brick with the alternating 08080 pattern is clearly marked as made in Canada. They are almost certainly made over the last 40 years and are very hard fired.

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The softer brick with the clear stamp reading M.J. Moran is probably late 19th or first decade of the 20th century when Michael Moran was involved in a range of large construction projects in town. He eventually joined with the Dinnie Brothers and some other investors in the Red River Brick Corporation of Grand Forks. 

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The three bricks on the far left side of the photograph are very soft and range in color from buff to pink. They probably date to the 1890s or the very early 20th century, and  suspect they were made somewhere on the Red River. 

The garage dates, probably to the first half of the 20th century and is currently being compromised by a large elm tree. A superficial cleaning of the garage revealed two phases. The first phase consisted of a 16 ft x 12 ft garage with an 8 foot door on its west side. The garage sat on a slightly elevated concrete soccle. The concrete floor does not join the soccle. At some point the garage was extended 4 ft to west. The added 4 ft is visible in both the original soccles in the current garage and in the construction of the roof and walls.     

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We got thinking about why someone would extend their garage 4ft. We concluded that the addition predated the current siding on the garage which looks to date from the 1950s or 1960s. So the garage extension must date to before then. We wondered whether the extension could date to the 1950s when the average length of a car began to grow. It is worth noting that a 16 ft garage would have not been long enough for many full-sized cars in the early 1960s which often were over 190 inches (almost 16 ft) long. Fords, for example, throughout much of the 1930s and 1940s had a wheelbase of a mere 112 inches an overall length of not much more, by the late 1940s and 1950s, the overall length had grown to close to 200 inches.

Finally, I was taking a few photographs of the area that we hope to excavate with a little scale. This overwhelmed our new housemate who couldn’t resist taking the scale for a little romp around the backyard and a spirited game of keep away. 

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Informal Practices and Space in the Bakken

This weekend I read another selection from the Kostis Kourelis Book Club: V. Mukhija and A. Loukaitou-Sideris eds., The Informal American City: Beyond Food Trucks and Day Labor. MIT 2014. The book is packed with astute observations on practices that shape the informal (as opposed to formal, regulated, and standardized) life of American cities. These range from gardens in vacant lots, perpetual yard sales, hidden apartments, and spaces beyond the reach or interest of formal zoning policies. 

The book got fueled my excitement about housing practices in the Bakken oil patch of North Dakota which is rife with informal practices motivated as much by the absence of regulation (or personnel to enforce existing regulations) as the need to adapt existing institutions, spaces, and places to the needs of a dynamic workforce.

Over the past 2 years, I have been working on a team that is documenting workforce housing in the Bakken. I have been particularly romanced by the architectural invention that takes place at what we call Type 2 camps. These camps typically consist of RVs and trailers arranged in lots with power, water, and sewage. The informality of these spaces comes from the ad hoc efforts to winterize the units, the techniques done to articulate spatial boundaries, and, most dramatically, the architectural additions designed to expand the space of the RVs and to make them more suitable for longterm habitation.

Peter Ward’s contribution to this volume, “Reproduction of Informality in Low-Income, Self Help Housing Communities,” caught my attention and opened up some new questions about life in Type 2 camps. Ward’s article looks at colonias and “informal homestead subdivisions” in the US. These are subdivisions which often lack utilities but are sold to low-income individuals and families at low prices and with irregular financing arrangements. They are typically associated with Hispanic communities in the borderlands between the US and Mexico, they also appear throughout the US at the periphery of cities where underdeveloped land is inexpensive and unskilled labor opportunities exist. While these settlements differ from our workforce housing camps because the residents actually own their land, they are similar because the residents typically engage in all sorts of informal architecture ranging from shacks built from plywood to RVs and mobile homes. In most cases, these practices represent an effort to gradually develop their property and housing with limited resources. The use of blue tarp, scrap wood, pallets, and other material that could be rearranged and reused for other purposes ensured that the investment was both modest and the structure itself served as a kind of provisional discard conserving useful material for other projects as needs change.   

Ward’s rather quick discussion of these forms of informal vernacular got me to wonder how certain practices – like the construction of mudrooms and other plywood and scrap wood additions – move around the country. Perhaps it is borderland colonias that developed this important, sustained tradition of ad hoc, vernacular architecture, and it moved northward to the Bakken following the route of oil patch workers from the Texas oil fields to those elsewhere in the US. 

During our last trip to the Bakken, we talked with the new management of one of our study sites, and they explained that they were trying to standardize and “clean up” the spectacular array of mudrooms present at their site. They argue that the large mudrooms are safety hazards and often act as extensions to the RVs to accommodate more people than they are designed to accommodate. During our visit, we noticed an abandoned mudroom that was set up for just this purpose. Note the use of blue tarp, the sale price of $1000, and the bed. There were two rooms in this mudroom both set up for sleeping.

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On the one hand, we suspect an actual concern for safety in the camp as plywood mudrooms can represent a real fire hazard especially when they feature irregular wiring, are heated with gas heaters, and have inadequate insulation and ventilation. On the other hand, it is in the best interest of the camp to reduce the number of residents per unit. This not only increases the amount of rent collected per resident, but also lowers population density of the camp taking pressure off the basic infrastructure (trash removal, water, electric, parking et c.) and making keeping order in the camp easier. It was a useful reminder that safety, order, and regularity are not incompatible with profitability. The formal American city, like the formal man camp in the Bakken, is not without economic motives. 

Three Calls for Papers: Slow, Public, and Craft

If you just managed to submit your abstract for the Archaeological Institute of America’s Annual Meeting and still have some energy before classes start in earnest, then I have a few possible, last minute calls for papers to fill up the idle hours.

The great thing about these opportunities is that they all look to a shorter form of writing (6000 words or less!) and position themselves in the relatively uncharted (academic) territory of creative non-fiction and less formal, professional writing. 

Slow. Feel free to circulate this to your creative non-fiction types who are not archaeologists. The call is for a special edition of North Dakota Quarterly that I’m editing with Rebecca Rozelle-Stone of our department of philosophy and religion. We’re looking for thoughtful, interesting, and critical perspectives on the “slow movement” as well as fiction. I’m working on a more systematic and cohesive version of my slow archaeology screed. The contributions should be no longer than 6,000 words and will be peer-reviewed. This is due October 1!

Public. The Joukowsky Institute at Brown is hosting a competition for accessible archaeological writing and inviting everyone in the world to contribute an entry. The goal of the contest is to highlight high quality archaeological writing that nevertheless preserves the complexity and excitement associated with the archaeological process. The papers should be between 5000 and 6000 words and are due September 1. There is also a prize of $5000 for the best paper and that paper and the eight runners-up will be published. I can’t help but thinking that this is the kind of competition that should be crowd sourced. All the contributions should be made public and some kind of voting system should be put in place (perhaps like the system put in place for SXSW panels). After all, it seems like this kind of competition should be judged by someone other than the faculty and students from the Joukowsky who have generally focused on academic writing! 

Craft. Like last fall, I’m hosting a series of blog posts (short(ish) articles  on “Archaeology and Craft” here on my blog. With some luck and coordination, I hope to crosspost them over at Then Dig. The plan is to get them out as a short volume within a year via the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. The contributions can be any length, but since they start on a blog, I generally nudge folks to keep them under 5000 words. Of course, we can always split longer posts into two or more parts. Drop me an email if you want to contribute. I have a few contributions already, but I like to have five or six before I start to post them regularly. 

I just realized this weekend that I’m officially under contract as of August 15, so I need to start to get focused on my official sabbatical “to do” list (and a post on that will be forthcoming). Hopefully these opportunities will give you productive distractions as the grind of semester looms!