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. 

Some Thoughts on Punkademia

Over the last few weeks I’ve been slowly making my way through Zack Furness’s edited volume Punkademics (2012), which brings together a wide range of academic voices on the influences of punk rock on the “ivory tower.” As a colleague of mine quipped, I like that this book exists. In fact, I wish I had known about while putting together Punk Archaeology; Furness would have been a great contribution to our work.

The book consists of a wide range of essays that, generally, interweave the history of punk with the personal stories from professional and academic life. The contributions are generally readable and a pair of interviews with Alan O’Connor, who studied the punk scene in Toronto, and Milo Aukerman, a research biologist with DuPont who is a member of the Descendents, added to the immediacy of the volume. 

I won’t do a full review, but I do have a few quick, day-before-Thanksgiving, observations:

1. Politics over Aesthetics. One of the key points of this volume is that the punk movement was more than just aesthetic posturing by bored, image-conscious youth (as postulated by, say, Dick Hebdige’s 1979 classic, Subculture: The Meaning of Style), but a legitimate form of political expression. Furness and company paid particular attention to the late 1970s punk scene in the U.K. where bands like Crass brought together left-wing, anarchist sensibilities in their lyrics and approach to performance and the music industry. The devoted less attention to, say, the American version of punk rock which developed in close connection with the New York art scene of the late 1960s and had close ties to, say, Andy Warhol’s Factory. American punk particularly as it developed in New York City had a much greater focus on aesthetic challenges to the increasingly banal world of American consumer culture. This was a critique of consumer culture, suburbia, or even the absurdity of everyday life, but it was less overtly political. 

2. Gender, Race, Orientation, and Community. Furness’s contributors considered the tensions that existed between the attitudes within the punk scene toward women, minorities, and gay and queer participants. These attitudes vacillated between the open and accommodating to the overtly hostile. Even a casual listener to the punk rock music can appreciate the misogynistic sentiments expressed in punk lyrics and the use of insensitive (at best) and intolerant language in the sometimes tense relations between groups and bands. While in some ways, the anarchic and left-leaning politics of punk created a safe place for minorities of all kinds, the aggressive tone of the music and adversarial posturing could sometimes create a hostile environment as extreme political and social rhetoric masked puerile oppositional showboating. 

I was particularly struck by the critique of gender in punk, and it made me very aware that the first, published iteration Punk Archaeology was very much a boys’ club (with the exception of Colleen Morgan, the Patti Smith of the Punk Archaeology movement, Kris Groberg, and Heather Gruber). This was all the more troubling because Mediterranean Archaeology has tended to be an (old) boys’ club in many ways and remains almost exclusively the domain of white folks.

3. Punk Pedagogy. Several authors dealt explicitly with the influence of punk on their classrooms, and it was fun to see some of my approaches to teaching considered to be punk pedagogy. Two particular things stand out. First, I share with punk pedagogy a willingness to cede power to my students, within limits, and to attempt to create a space for radical creativity in my classroom. I think that some of Furness’s authors would see the punk in my experiments in the Scale-Up classroom which drew heavily on the thinking of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Moreover, I was happy to see that punk teachers shared my deep skepticism of the industrialized academy, but none appeared interested in exploring what a return of a craft approach to higher education might look like (at least in those terms). 

4. DIY. The essays advocate do-it-yourself practices that sought to intentionally undermine our dependence on mass produced consumer goods and practices. Of course, this has become increasingly difficult in an academic setting as the creeping spread of regulations, standards, assessment practices, and corporatized expectations has encroached upon our ability to operate outside of institutionally controlled practices. It was interesting to me that few of the articles spoke to any resistance to DIY practices from institutional concerns. For example, there was considerable outcry surrounding the development of a DIY book scanner, and the increasingly stringent copyright laws which we’re told protect our “intellectual property” often make it more difficult to produce meaningful scholarship or to circulate our works. DIY practices offer a way to subvert, endrun, and defy these policies and practices, but also carry increasing risk as our intellectual and creative autonomy is seen as a threat to those who want to monetize it.

(Some day, I will write about my efforts to start a press at the University of North Dakota.)

5. Punk as Failure. One of the most redeeming things about this book is author’s openness regarding the successes and failures of their efforts to … (continued below)

Interruption:

Ok. I really want to continue this post, but when we woke up this morning our dog looked like this:

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His eyes usually look like this:

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So now I’m going to take him to the vet. I’ll finish this post when I get back.

Continuation:

… integrate a punk ethos into their academic lives. The stories of failed efforts to create a punk infused classroom or to integrate their intellectual and political commitments to the shrill rhetoric of punk performance. The willingness to the contributors to admit and scrutinize the failures of punk to accommodate the academic life and professional world was heartening to me as I look back on my own struggles to bring my most ambitious and personal projects to satisfactory completion. The process of punk is perhaps more important than the product. Or, as my colleague quipped: I’m like that this book exists. 

Have a very punk rock Thanksgiving.

Three New Novels

The State Board of Higher Education, emboldened by the failure of North Dakota Ballot Measure 3, issued a proclamation that no faculty members outside of the English, language or literature programs can read novels, and people in those programs can only read novels directed toward (1) research, (2) classroom activities, or (3) other professional development. Ostensibly, this policy stems from the “pernicious advance of modernism in our universities, communities, and state” but many faculty think it is simply designed to focus our attention on academic pursuits.

Needless to say, this new policy will crimp my summer reading list which I sometimes pepper with so-called “fiction.” It will also make long intercontinental and cross-country flights less pleasant. Since it does not come into effect until January 1 and I had a few flights over the last month or so, I decided to take advantage of my last remaining months of free reading.

Here are three novels:

1. William Gibson, The Peripheral (2014). The novel is set in the both the near future (say 20 years from now) and the slightly more distant future (say 100 years from now) and starts with a description of an 1970s Airstream RV winterized with some kind of spray foam. The setting for much of the action in the more distant future is a tricked out Mercedes RV designed for long range trekking across the Gobi desert. The plot is fast-paced, baffling, and interesting enough, but the real power of Gibson’s books comes from his sensitivity toward future trends ranging from the rise of the internet to virtual reality. Anyone who does not see a future where we live in mobile housing has not been reading my blog very carefully. 

2. Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy (2014). VenderMeer’s novels present a darker, even more distopian vision of the near future. The trilogy of Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance focus on a group of bureaucrats, scientists, and intelligence officials who the vaguely articulated “Central” has tasked with studying a mysterious Area X which suddenly appeared along a stretch of the Forgotten Coast. When the phenomenon that created Area X occurred, the sparse population of this stretch of coastline vanished and a barrier arose between the area and its surroundings. Southern Reach is the government agency investigating Area X, and while the descriptions of the mysterious area tend toward the etherial, they are unmistakably archaeological in character. The desolate beauty of abandonment permeates the novel and provides VenderMeer with an appropriate backdrop to explore the alienating effects of modern society. 

3 Julia Schumacher, Dear Committee Members (2014). This lovely, short novel explores a year in the life of Prof. Jason Fitger through his letters of recommendation. It chronicles his relationships with his ex-wife and ex-girl friend, his desperate efforts on behalf of a once promising friend and a student whose funding is cut by an increasingly rapacious administration, and his various letters to support students looking for work. The letter themselves range from the pathetic, to the charming, hilarious, and all-to-real, but they all embody the tension between Fitger as the devoted egoist and as the dedicated mentor, colleague, and friend. His letters become opportunities to reflect on his own situation in life as well as those of the students and colleagues who he recommends. The situations will be depressingly familiar to anyone who has spent time in academia: the grass is always greener (in another department), the plight of the overlooked genius, the anxiety surrounding creative and scholarly production, and the alternation between naivety and suspicion.

One more set of flights starting this afternoon and then I’ll be home for the holidays. I don’t have any more novels to read, so I’ll have to do work. Hopefully spending some time with creative folks like Gibson, VanderMeer, and Schumacher rubs off and makes me work better. Isn’t that the promise of modernity? 

On Books and Blogs

This is the 1000th post on the New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World. About 950 of them, I’ve authored and the other 50 or so were penned by my remarkable colleagues and contributors.

My average post length is about 300 words, which puts the entire endeavor at around 280,000 words or so. That’s a lot of words. These words have had about 145,000 page views and average around 1000 views per week. I think this is a sustainable clip for me as the author, and, I hope, for you as readers.  

I’ve posted a number of times on how blogging fits into my daily workflow and its benefit to me as a writer and scholar. It ensures that I write every day and smooths the transition from the jumbled nest of ideas in my head to (what I try to pass off as) linear arguments. As readers of this blog know, my posts tend to be messy and unedited and filled with inconsistencies, but I trust my readers to filter out what makes sense and what doesn’t and to cull the good from the posts here and discard the crazy. I hope, on the measure, that my posts produced more wheat than chaff.

If the threshing process is too time consuming, you can, of course, go right to the main coarse of bread. Yesterday afternoon we got the cover image for the book that I wrote with David Pettegrew, Scott Moore and a few other remarkable colleagues.

ARS21Cover

I love the cover image because it humanizes our work as archaeologist and stands in contrast to recent covers in the series which tend to focus on objects or buildings. It fits our volume because we spend many pages talking about the interaction between the human work of archaeology and analysis that this work produces. The invisibility of antiquity on the cover reminds the reader that archaeological knowledge is not out there waiting to be discovered, but is generated through the relationship between humans and the landscape. The presence of modern artifacts – electrical wires, metal signs and other features – highlights the diachronic nature of our survey work on Cyprus. All this is to say that the cover of our book shows that knowledge production is a messy process and this has fine parallels with the blobs of words that my dedicated readers frequently encounter here. I think this cover really makes our work stand out!

We’re optimistic that the book will available for Christmastime shopping (and everyone’s life is better with a bit of Koutsopetria!), and if it’s not available yet, you can always make it a Very Punk Archaeology Christmas!

I have a few experiments in mind for my online word-making projects in the next couple of weeks, so please stay tuned. And, while it goes without saying, thanks for reading! 

Fracking Made Personal

Over the last few weeks I’ve been reading popular treatments on fracking. While in the Bakken I read Lisa Peters’ Fractured Land in anticipation of her visit to UND at the end of the month (more on that soon!). I then, while ambling about Amazon.com admiring Punk Archaeology, I bought Alex Prud’homme’s Hydrofracking in Oxford University Press’s What Everyone Needs to Know series and picked up Russell Gold’s, The Boom as well for fun. (Ok, I also indulged my hobby of Late Antiquity and bought Jonathan Conant’s Staying Roman: Conquest and Identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700, but I won’t talk about that book in this post.)

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I really want to write about Peters’ book, because in some way it’s the most interesting in presentation and the most relevant to any stray North Dakotans who might stumble on my blog, but Prud’homme, Gold, and Peters all do something similarly in their work. They begin with first person anecdotes about the boom. Gold talks about his liberal, aging-hippy parents being offered $400,000 by Chesapeake Energy to lease the rights for the gas under their rustic retreat in central Pennsylvania. Prud’homme finds himself at a public debate over fracking in New York City. Peters is on her way to be by her oil-loving father’s side at his death bed. For some reason, popular books on the oil boom and fracking demands a kind of first person intimacy.

I got to thinking about why these authors used this particular device to introduce their treatment of fracking. It’s not like fracking has been dehumanized in the mass media. The oil-smeared faces oil workers have already offered a human face of the industry, but these books seem to substitute a different face. They have replaced the dirty hands of the laborer with the soft hands of the journalist. Appealing to middle class ambivalence about fracking, the writer takes on the confusion of information confronting someone who might have oil stocks in their portfolio and appreciate their performance, but also have a twinge of guilt that perhaps profiting from petrochemical industry is not compatible with genteel environmentalism.

One of the key aspects of this bourgeois environmentalism are the attitudes of Gold and Peters toward private property. Peters, in particular, demonstrates a delicate ambivalence. On the one hand, she recognized the homesteading claims of her grandfather who tried to make a living from the difficult North Dakota soils. She admired her grandfather’s prescience in retaining mineral rights to his land and making leases to oil companies. Her childhood and environmentalism developed, ironically, from the conversion of these oil rights to property on the scenic St. Croix river and a lovely cabin. On the other hand, Peters knowingly trespasses on the St. Croix property after it was sold to reminisce about her childhood. Elsewhere in the book she was traumatized when she encountered an overzealous security guard at a fracking sand quarry. The final encounter in the book, which involved spreading her father’s ashes at a well site, was made more sweet when an oil field technicians at the well gave an impromptu tour rather than chasing the family away from the site. Despite his generosity, Peters made clear that the risk was there and the reader could only think of the earlier encounter at the quarry. In fact, a key tension throughout the book is the complexities of ownership whether of oil, property, or mineral rights, and the benefits and (ethical and emotional) risks associated with ownership.

In a sense, then, the story of the oil boom revolves around a complicated American dream which recognizes property ownership – whether the Jeffersonian farm, the modern suburban retreat, or the urban condominium – as part of a package of rights derived from a particular reading of John Locke. Environmentalism, in contrast, appears to ask the individual property owner to resist the fullest expression of those rights for the common good. In some cases, the state intervenes as mediator between the rights of the individual and the community, but Peters’ book problematizes this relationship between the individual and property.

The first chapters of Prud’hommes and Gold’s book likewise articulates the oil dilemma facing Americans as they locate themselves between the arguing factions, competing narratives, and the conflicting myths of private property, energy independence, and progress. I’m no environmentalist, but I do worry that the emphasis on the individual story undermines the genuine power of collective action. By making the hard work to keep the oil industry safe and as environmentally and culturally sensitive as possible a distinctly middle class operation guided by a set of middle class expectations, we run the risk of minimizing the responsibilities of the state (as in the federal, state, county, and local governments) and the community (loosely construed as people who share space, resources, and social ties) to negotiate the complex interests of its stakeholders.

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Hellenistic Corinth

Over the last few weeks I’ve bee reading Mike Dixon’s new book: Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Corinth, 338-196 BC for a book review. As with so many of my plans, I had hoped to have a draft of the book review done by the end of September. It doesn’t look like that will happen, so instead, I’ll write a blog post that can serve as a rough draft of the review and to capture my impressions on the book before they get washed out by a million other little projects.

Dixon’s work on the Hellenistic Corinth was eagerly anticipated. His 2000 dissertation on interstate arbitration in the northeastern Peloponnesus became a convenient guide to the unpublished antiquities and general topography of the southeastern Corinthia. It was among the finest of a group of topographic dissertations focusing on the northeastern Peloponnesus in Greek antiquity. In this work he demonstrated that he was a conscientious reader of archaeological landscapes, and he brought this same care to his reading of the political landscape of the Hellenistic Corinthia.

There is much to like in this book.

First, it appears at a time when the Hellenistic world is enjoying a renaissance and the archaeology of Hellenistic Corinthia will get its share. The publication of Sarah James’ dissertation, the imminent publication of the Rachi settlement above the sanctuary at Isthmia, and David Pettegrew’s soon to be published monograph on the historical periods on the Isthmus, and even my own modest contributions to the fortification and topography of the Late Classical and Hellenistic Corinthia demonstrate the extent of scholarly interest in this period and this place. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Hellenistic period is the new Late Antiquity. 

Dixon’s book provides a single destination for the literary sources central to the basic narrative of the Hellenistic period at Corinth. This alone makes the book valuable to scholars of the Corinthia. Dixon’s argument that the Corinthian polis negotiated its relationship with its Macedonian rulers through the strategic deployment of eunoia, or reciprocal goodwill, is likely to attract critique, but it is consistent with how scholars like John Ma have understood the relationship between cities and Hellenistic rulers.

Dixon’s book is explicitly and almost exclusively political in scope, and he creatively weaves together the admittedly limited sources for the city’s political life throughout this period. At times, Dixon’s work feels a bit speculative. For example, his efforts to understand why Corinth did not return the actor Thessalos who had fled to Corinth after angering Phillip II for attempting to arrange a marriage alliance on Alexander’s behalf. Dixon offers several possible scenarios to explain why Corinth defied Phillip’s request despite having a Macedonian garrison there. Dixon proposes (albeit gently) that Thessalos could be a Corinthian and this accounted for his confidence in fleeing to the city. The reason for Corinth’s failure to comply and endangering eunoia with the Macedonian dynasty remains unclear, and Dixon’s speculation adds little substantive to his arguments. In fact, if more evidence existed for Corinth during this period, it would be tempting to reject the historicity of the Thessalos affair and the letter of Phillip as many scholars have and move on. In Dixon’s defense, he marks his treatment of this affair as speculative, and I tend to appreciate his willingness to explore the limited sources fully, but to others these red herrings may detract from his overall arguments.

More problematic in Dixon’s work is his tendency to read the behavior of the city as monolithic in its motivation. For example, I struggled to discern the strategy of eunoia from the goals of the Corinthian state. Even when a Macedonian garrison watched over the city of Acrocorinth, there must have existed factions within the Corinthian demos who sought not only different ends but also different means to these end. For example, in the complex political wrangling that involved Corinth’s relationship with the Achaean League and the political influence of Aratos of Sikyon, some of Corinth’s vacillating might reveal political factions within the city who had varied interests rather than the pivot of the entire city based on proximate military or diplomatic threats. 

While we lack the sources to confirm the existence of these factions, Dixon’s reading of the Corinthian politics assumes certain strategic understandings of power relations in the Hellenistic world. In recent years, the study of Hellenistic diplomacy and practical political theory has enjoyed renewed attention. My entrance into these debates came through Michael Fronda’s book on the diplomatic moves of Hannibal and the Greek cities of south Italy during the Second Punic War. Dixon’s book and arguments would have been stronger had he engaged some of this recent scholarship more fully to frame his work in a larger historiographic and theoretical context. Whether this would have revealed more nuanced readings of Corinth’s diplomatic history is difficult to know, but it certainly would have linked the history of this important city more clearly to ongoing discussions on interstate relations in the ancient world. 

I would have also enjoyed a more thorough treatment of archaeological work outside of the immediate environs of the city. Dixon’s dissertation and experience excavating at Corinth demonstrated his archaeological chops, and he dedicates a chapter to the archaeology of the Hellenistic period on the Isthmus. Most this chapter focused on major monuments and sanctuaries, and most of his critical engagement with recent archaeological work in the region appears only in his footnotes. For example, it would have been useful to understand how Dixon understood David Pettegrew’s recent skepticism toward the economic significance of the diolkos. I have also valued Dixon’s take on the various remains fortifications from the Late Classical and Hellenistic period throughout the Corinthia. Understanding the strategies employed by various Macedonian monarchs (and invading armies) to fortify or garrison the city’s chora might provide insights into how recognized Corinth’s military value in a regional context as well as their approach to protecting the city’s  economic foundation in the countryside.

In general, my desire for greater attention to archaeological detail and efforts to connect Corinthian diplomatic practices to ongoing discussions within the field reflect more my interest and the book that I’d like to see, than any shortcoming on Dixon’s part. 

Finally, (and I say this with the trepidation of someone who just published a book) I wish these Routledge books were better copy edited. While copy editing problems never obscured the meaning of the text, they were frequent enough to be distracting. Things like this, however, do not detract from the book’s over all value. It’ll be the first book on a new shelf in my library ready to receive the fruits of the impending Hellenistic revival.   

Punk Archaeology: The Book

I’m impatient. So, I decided to push the button and publish Punk Archaeology today. This is the first book published by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. We’re so punk that we don’t really have a webpage.

That being said, we’re also so punk that we will release a book here for free.

Download it here or here.

I have one favor to ask. If this book is something that you think sounds cool, spread the word. Facebook it. Tweet it. Ello it. Tell everyone you know about it. Since this press has no budget, no staff, no offices (and you might suspect no editors…), I need my readers to serve as our marketing wing. Blow up the internet, please.

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Description:

Punk Archaeology is a irreverent and relevant movement in archaeology, and these papers provide a comprehensive anti-manifesto.

Acknowledgements:

This volume was made possible by a whole community of folks ranging from the relentless Andrew Reinhard who proofed this over and over and over again to Aaron Barth who put together the conference which produced these papers. The authors were great to work with except Richard Rothaus who insisted that we include his handwritten paper. (I kid, I kid). Support for the whole deal came from the Cyprus Research Fund, the Center for Heritage Renewal at North Dakota State University, the North Dakota Humanities Council, and the delicious beer makers at Laughing Sun Brewing in Bismarck. Administrators at the University of North Dakota are to be commended for raising their eyebrows politely and ignoring what I was doing.

This book would not have been possible without the efforts of Joel Jonientz who did the cover design and layout. I wish he was around to see the results. The book is dedicated to him.

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Other Details:

The print copy should be ready to go by the end of the week and available at Amazon. I’ll post a link to that. It should cost around $30.00, but look like a million bucks. Make sure to order copies for friends and families as well as university libraries and private collections.

Here are links to the papers being read at the conference on Soundcloud thanks to Tim Pasch, Chad Bushy, and Caleb Hulthusen for recording the event:

https://soundcloud.com/punk-archaeology-speaks

https://soundcloud.com/tags/punk%20archaeology

And listen to Andrew Reinhard’s soundtrack here:

http://www.soundcloud.com/charinos/sets/punk-archaeology

Here’s the book, folks:

 

Book Blurbs: Pyla-Koutsopetria and Punk Archaeology

As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I’m not much of a book writing person. Most of my ideas can be most profitably explored at about 10,000 words. Every now and then, I figure out some idea or concept or gimmick that deserves more words, and over the next month or so, two of those ideas will appear in book forms. Of course, none of this would be even remotely possible without the collaboration of coauthors, editors, and colleagues. 

One of the most fun parts about getting a book together (you know, more fun than page proofs or sorting out that one last figure that requires attention!) is writing and receiving little blurbs that are used for marketing new books. 

My coauthors and I wrote the little blurb for Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town. American Schools of Oriental Research Archaeological Report Series Number 21:

Pyla-Koutsopetria I presents the results of an intensive pedestrian survey documenting the diachronic history of a 100 ha microregion along the southern coast of Cyprus. Located around 10 km from the ancient city of Kition, the ancient coastal settlements of the Koutsopetria mircoregion featured an Iron Age sanctuary, a Classical settlement, a Hellenistic fortification, a Late Roman town, and a Venetian-Ottoman coastal battery situated adjacent to a now infilled, natural harbor on Larnaka Bay. This publication integrates a comprehensive treatment of methods with a discussion of artifact distribution, a thorough catalogue of finds, and a diachronic history to shed light on one of the few undeveloped stretches of the Cypriot coast.

I’m also on the verge of releasing my first book as publisher: Punk Archaeology.  

Punk Archaeology Cover

The process has been a bit slower than expected, but I invited some sympathetic voices to provide some short perspectives on the book.

The first is from Brett Ommen, hobo academic:

The <Punk> of Punk Archeology exists as acipher, an empty signifier. The value of this volume lies in its commitment to variously loading <punk> with meaning based on the epistemic uncertainties that mark human civilization and its study. This volume traverses the supposed rules of theory and praxis, of art and science, of conservation and change, of information and meaning by way of the unruly <punk>. <punk> helps these authors locate their work and our world, not because it functions as a particular concept but instead because it refuses any particular mode of divination. As such, Punk Archaeology offers all academic fields a lesson for utilizing the anarchy of the cipher to negotiate the perils of disciplinary rigidity.

The second is from photographer, geek, and author Kyle Cassidy:

Archaeologists are at home in the dirt. They start the season respectably enough, in khaki’s and sensible shoes, but after four weeks of living in a tent and sifting rocks for bits of bone all day they’ve stopped shaving (if they ever did to begin with), possibly eschewed grooming altogether and no longer resemble anything you’d expect to see in the front of a classroom. When an archaeologist needs to get a wheelbarrow of backfill across a trench, they build a bridge out of whatever’s lying around; they do it this way because they’re in the middle of nowhere and they know the swiftest way between point A and point B is to do it yourself; because the coyotes aren’t going to do it for you and the board of trustees isn’t going to do it for you. This DIY attitude is how they manage to transport & house two faculty members and five grad students in Syria for three months for less than one lab in the med school’s spent on glassware during the same time period.

Archaeologists rely on themselves because they have to. They are the cassette tapes of academics; played through one speaker, loudly, and full of passion, blasting a song that so many people can’t understand the words to, but are moved by experiencing. Punk Archaeology is filled with this music: In Richard Rothaus’ “Punk Archaeoseismology”, scientists try to understand the destruction of a town 1,600 years ago by racing to  Güllük, Turkey the day that it sinks into the sea, killing every single inhabitant, during a terrible earthquake. It is as personal and visceral as any Xeroxed Zine because it is ultimately about science poured from the crucible of very personal chaos. Colleen Morgan’s account of continually explaining her tattoos to workers is an explanation for everyone in the sacrifices we all make to identify our tribe. Kostis Kourelis’ singling out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s unheralded place in the creation of Punk and New Wave reminds us of Philadelphia, Turkey and it’s likewise mostly forgotten place in Byzantine history — archaeologists know better than most anyone else that kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall and the small things that are meaningful to us now won’t even be footnotes in eighteen hundred years unless someone tracks them down.

This book is about archaeology, and more than that, it’s about music, but when you peel back all the power chords, the distorted guitars, the sweat, the frenetic drums, Ramone’s stickers and the cheap beer, most of all, this book is about trying to fit broken pieces together to make sense of a world in which you are constantly reminded that everybody dies in the end, because you’re looking at veritable mountains made up of their triumphs, their failures, and their very bones.

Collecting and Listening

As a member of Kostis Kourelis’ book club, we were encouraged to read Amanda Petrusich’s Do Not Sell at Any Price (2014). The book describes the remarkable world of 78 rpm record collectors. 78 rpm records were produced largely before the war (although they were made until the 1960s) and usually contained pop music, “race music” (including blues and jazz that were marketed largely to an African American audience), and “ethnic music” that was not widely played on the radio. The discs themselves measured 10 inches across and were usually made of  a hodgepodge of unreliable materials that allowed for the fledgling recording business able to produce and circulate music quickly. Most of the masters for these cheap records are lost and in many cases the only recordings that we have of prewar pop music exist on the handful of poorly manufactured discs held dear by collectors.

In fact, Petrusich argued that collectors of prewar 78s attracted the attention of folk and blues artists starting in the 1960s (and Harry Smith’s 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music was often their introduction to music recorded originally on 78 rpm discs) and spurred the popular revival of these genres. This connection to 78s  has continued to attract the attention of Jack White and a handful of other oldey timey music fans. 

I won’t review this wonderful book, but I do want to use it to make a few little observations about how we listen to music (and some of my comments relate to my interest in recent trends among audiophiles).

1. Authentic Sound. One of the most remarkable things about the survival of 78 rpm records is the incredibly poor quality of many of the prewar discs. First off, the record labels made these discs of schellac which was a rather fragile and inconsistent material that did not lend itself to consistent pressings. Compounding matters is that up until 1924 or so, recordings were made by the “acoustical” method. That is, the performers played into a horn that amplified the sound enough to move a cutting stylus across a master cylinder of wax. These recordings could not capture the same sonic range as later electrical recordings made into microphones, but are more coveted by collectors. The inconsistent character of shellac discs, however, continued to compromise quality at playback as did the tendency to press records that did not play at precisely 78rpm and used various frequency response curves idiosyncratic to particular labels.

As a result, the sound from 78rpm discs might be described as inconsistent, but to some extent the sound we hear from them defines an era of recorded music. There is an undeniable authenticity that audiophiles, in their relentless pursuit of perfect sound, tend to overlook. Recent debates about the LP revival, for example, tend to focus on the idea that LPs sound BETTER than the compressed sound of mp3 recordings so popular with “the kids these days.”

At the same time, it is hard to deny that our compressed-to-distortion mp3s are the authentic sound of  music for this generation just as the crackling, warped, and distorted sound of relatively inexpensive 78s was the sound of recorded music prior to the war. I’ll admit that I’m not a LP guy and, in fact, I find the sound of digitized 78s difficult to enjoy. At the same time, I’m not as mortified by the sound of MP3s, as say, Neil Young or other audiophiles. While I still prefer a CD or even a high-resolution download, reading Petrusich’s book has reminded me that there is something undeniably authentic about both 78s and mp3s.

2. The Song. One of the great tropes in the audiophile press is how the kids these days don’t have the patience for long-playing records or even albums. They just want the poppy singles, loaded onto mediocre sounding portable mp3 players (so called “iPods”), and lasting no more than 3 minutes. In fact, some argue that they simply don’t have the attention span for a LP.  This, of course, is crazy as these same young music consumers can watch movies, the NFL, and go out to concerts in healthy numbers and all of these things last for longer than a single song. 

More than that, the LP era was an aberration in how we listen to recorded music. The 78 era, lasting from the late teens to the World War II, was all about 3 minute singles. And the average listener couldn’t afford to sit still for too long because once the song was done, they have to get up and flip over the 78! Perhaps our short attention span for recorded music is the norm, and the LP generation was, in fact, a group not only too lazy to get up and flip over an album, but also dulled their music senses by subjecting them to endless, pointless, mediocre b-sides on long-playing records.

3. Rituals of Listening. One of the great aspects of Petrusich’s book is how she describes these 78 collectors listening to their prized possessions. None of these guys (and, yeah, they’re almost all men) hesitated at all to PLAY their records for the author. More than that, almost all of them clearly enjoyed hearing the music. They tapped their feet, squirmed in their chairs, fell into trances, gestured in the air, and generally reveled in the listening experience. They felt the intensity of these authentic listening experiences.

More than that, once they began to listen to 78s, they listened to more and more. The records flew off their shelves and onto their turn table. More than once the author had to extract herself from an emotionally draining listening session before her host was done spinning records. 

I found her descriptions of these events to be among the most compelling parts of the book. The way these seasoned collectors still found something invigorating in these poorly produced singles reminded me of enduring power of simple rituals.

It also made me want to go and put a CD in my ole CD player (a 1992 vintage Nakamichi CD4), warm up the tube amp (a very recent Audio Research VSi60), and listen to my big Zu Omen Defs with their old school full-range drivers. 

Trash, Pollution, and the Rural World

I have really enjoyed getting back into some scholarly habits the past couple weeks. I have even engaged in this primitive activity where I open a bound stack of paper and read the words, in order, written on each. I’ve heard that some scholars call it reading.

I was pretty excited to read some of the contributions to the Stephanie Foote’s and Elizabeth Mazzolini’s little volume called Histories of the Dustheap: Waste, Material Culture, Social Justice (MIT 2012). The book collects a series of articles on the history of trash, waste, and rubbish, and grounds them, to varying degrees, in the cross-disciplinary nexus of material culture studies and critical theory. The book, however, avoids being too theory laden and manages to speak to practical issues as much as conceptual ones. This practical edge reflects a particular strength of recent work on the history of trash and discard.  

The article that caught my attention most in the volume was Phaedra Pezullo’s “What Gets Buried in a Small Town: Toxic E-Waste and Democratic Frictions in the Crossroads of the United States.” She looks at the politics surrounding the discard of PCB in Bloomington, Indiana and locates her treatment in a larger consideration of rurality and pollution in American (although arguably also in global) history. Marginal places, like the rural west (e.g. North Dakota or Alamogordo, New Mexico) become the settings for morally ambiguous practices. It is hardly a leap to apply many of these paper to my recent research in the Bakken Oil Patch in sparsely populated western North Dakota or role in excavating Atari games from a landfill at the edge of a small town in New Mexico. 

In fact, the long Western tradition of sparsely populated, “wild” places as the source of various kinds of corrupting influences (from the so-called Germanic hordes who supposedly destroyed the Roman world to the uncivilized “wildlings” in the Game of Thrones) has provided a context for activities that would be far more problematic in the more densely built up core. The willingness to treat the periphery in a different way also captures the binary logic of Western colonialism where behaviors and attitudes unacceptable in the core meet with ambivalence in colonial places.

This process of internal colonization follows the rough and irregular edge of a rural-urban divide across the United States. Pollution caused by extractive industries in, say, the Bakken Oil Patch in western North Dakota, is simply the “price of progress” for residents of the core and for small communities who see sacrifice as a road to deeper integration with the core and access to economic and political power. In Pezullo’s study of Bloomington, Indiana, the social, economic, and political power of companies like Westinghouse helped to protect the use of PCBs in manufacturing in Indiana even as the risks became visible and known to the community. The absence of strong counterweights to wealthy and powerful corporate interests pervades the Bakken as well.  

Pezullo’s observations on pollution in rural America could likewise be applied to the dumping of thousands of unsold and returned Atari video games in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico. This moment in time reflects the “remoteness” of Almagordo from the prying eyes of shareholders. The presence of White Sands missile range nearby only reinforces the suitability for this sparsely populated stretch of rural land for activities set apart from the settlements and interests of most Americans. 

The next paper in the book looked at the discard and collection of trash on the slopes of Mt. Everest. Further chapters considered the pollution present in minority neighborhoods impacted by hurricane Katerina in New Orleans. Most of the papers considers the social construction of discard practices and pollution as mediated through varying degrees of economic and political remoteness. For anyone interested in grasping better how trash fits into our modern (and arguably premodern) world, the studies contained in this volume are valuable reads.