NVAP II: Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside

It was pretty exciting to read through one of the most eagerly await archaeological volumes of the last decade, Effie Athanassopoulos’s Nemea Valley Archaeological Project II: Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside (2016) published by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. The book is impeccably produced with lots of color, glossy pages, well-set and proofed texts, meticulous detail, and fine illustrations, maintaining the ASCSA’s standing as the most consistently elegant of the major archaeological publishers. 

The book itself is a hybrid, bridging the gap between the great second wave survey projects in Greece and more mature, contemporary attitudes to landscape and intensive pedestrian survey. Traditionally, intensive surveys in Greece are published in one of two ways: a series of articles dedicated to methods and particular periods or in a single, massive tome which approach the landscape in a diachronic way through various methods. Effie’s book is a single volume dedicated to the Medieval period from an intensive survey, and in this way is rather unique (or at very least comparable to F. Zarinebaf, J. Bennet, and J. L. Davis. 2005. A Historical and Economic Geography of Ottoman Greece: The Southwestern Morea in the 18th Century (2005)). Moreover, unlike Zarinebaf, Bennet, and Davis, NVAP II is strictly archaeological with only very cursory references to texts.

After an introduction of less than 60 pages, most of the book is dedicated to the intensive documentation of individual sites. This includes large and important 12th-13th century settlement site called “Site 600″ or Iraklio/Medieval or Turkish Fountain which extended over 34 ha and produced nearly 1000 potentially Medieval sherds as well as much smaller sites sometimes producing little more than a handful of Medieval fineware sherds. A number of the sites are associated with standing churches with a number of them (e.g. Site 501 and Site 509) also preserving evidence for agricultural production. What is interesting is that these sites are presented as from a survey archaeologists’ perspective with survey unit illustrations, ceramics, and brief descriptions that make almost no reference to standing architecture. In this way, Effie’s book differs from, say, Christopher Mee and Hamish Forbes’ Methana survey volume where significant attention was given to churches as architectural objects that stood apart – to some extent – from artifact level survey work. The significance of this approach in NVAP II is that it marks a shift in emphasis for Medieval archaeology in Greece away from its traditional focus on ecclesiastical architecture and toward the more mundane world of settlement. In this way, this book manifests a kind of confidence in the work of the survey and landscape archaeology which sets its own priorities and agenda without deferring too much to the past practice. 

That being said the majority of this volume is a well-presented site catalogue. This reflects in some ways the priorities of second-wave survey projects in Greece which were feeling their way forward from traditional gazetteers produced through extensive survey toward artifact level and distributional analysis. The greatest shortcoming of the book is the lack of distributional perspective that brings together the landscape of the Nemea Valley project into a single, methodologically integrated whole. While early articles from NVAP have stood as a significant contributions to the development of intensive pedestrian survey methods, this volume does not seem to return to methodology in a substantial way. This probably speaks the maturity of intensive survey in that not every presentation of survey results need be detailed treatment of methods and procedures. At the same time, I wonder whether some attention to methods might have given this book a broader relevance to current conversations about intensive survey. For example, the visibility of certain types of Medieval pottery, almost certainly shaped the kinds of landscapes that intensive survey recognized. Site size has prompted extensive methodological reflection over the past four decades and relates directly to how we understand function in the landscape. Geomorphology, routes and paths, micro-regional variations in climate, vegetation, and soils, all have shaped the distribution of artifact, settlements, and ultimately people across historical landscapes. So as much as this book reflects the growing confidence and autonomy of intensive survey as a mode for understanding the landscape, it also reflects an earlier tradition of site-based documentation with lavish catalogues, site maps, and illustrations. 

In both ways, it represents a significant contribution to the field.

Early Christian Cyprus: An Outline

I was pretty pleased to be asked to co-author a chapter on Early Christian Cyprus for the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. Since I’ll be co-authoring it with the incomparable (and the intensely busy) Jody Gordon, I offered to get things rolling by putting together an outline.

The goal of our chapter is both to present a basic guide to Christian archaeology on Cyprus, as well as to put Early Christian archaeology on the island in the context of larger issues both in modern Cypriot political culture and the historiography of Roman, Late Antique, and Early Byzantine Cyprus.

This is just a draft, and nothing is cast in stone, but I thought I would throw it out there to see what people think…

The Archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus

  1. Early Christianity in a Cypriot Context (<1000)

    1. Pre-Archaeology of Cypriot Christianity

      1. Barnabas (late-6th c.)

      2. The Phaneromene

    2. Archaeological Context

      1. Megaw – typology

      2. Cypriot Archaeologists – often salvage and primarily focused on architecture.

      3. Recent Work: Kopetra, Polis, Maroni, Pyla-Koutsopetria.

    3. Contemporary Political Context

  2. Textual Christianity on Cyprus: Short and Sweet (<1000 words.)

    1. Acts of the Apostles

    2. Epiphanios

    3. Council of Ephesus (431)

    4. Hagiography

      1. Jerome, Vita Hilarionis (4th c.)

      2. Auxibios (5th? c.) (I don’t remember; but local).

      3. John the Almsgiver (Sophronios) and Tykhonas (6th c.)

  3. Christian Archaeology on Cyprus (<4000). This would be the nuts and bolts section of the essay. It would lay out the evidence for Christianity on the island and the basic archaeological problems (dating, excavation approaches, publishing, et c.).

    1. Basilicas (1200 words)

    2. Baptistries (800 words)

    3. Epigraphy (600 words)

    4. Objects

      1. Mosaics

      2. Lamps

      3. Fineware

      4. Seals?

  4. Contexts and Consequences (1200)

    1. Christianization

    2. Connectivity – trade, pilgrimage, and travel

    3. Settlement – towns, cities, capitals, and bishops.

  5. The End of Early Christian Cyprus (800)

    1. Plagues

    2. Wars

    3. Transformation

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!

Toward an Ottoman Archaeology

I really enjoyed Benjamin Anderson’s recent article in the new and more frequent Journal of Field Archaeology. Anderson considers Ottoman attitudes toward antiquities and challenges the long-held view that Ottoman society did not have a coherent discourse or substantial interest in antiquities. 

Any discussion of “Ottoman” society is tricky, of course, because the Ottomans only rarely promoted a single, national discourse as one might expect from contemporary European nation-states. As a result, Anderson turns his attention to evidence for a “local” archaeological discourse through a series of case studies that explore the removal of antiquities from Ottoman cities by European agents in collaboration with the Ottoman state. He described how the removal of the Incantadas in Thessaloniki and the Parthenon metopes from Athens both encountered determined local resistance. While the latter case study is relatively well known, the former was more dramatic. The Incantadas were part of a Roman period portico built into a Jewish home in Thessaloniki. The efforts of the French to dismantle and remove this structure to Paris met resistance both from the Jewish community as well as the Turks and the Greeks of the city. In both cases, the European agents attempting to remove the antiquities reported that the locals believed that the statues were prominent residents of the community who had been turned to stone. Anderson unpacks this story and suggests that they might represent both a sense of local pride in the communities’ past achievements and their sense of petrified helplessness in the face of the authority of the state. The strong reaction to the removal of these antiquities and the parallels between the two incidents hints that local residents of the Ottoman world developed identities that involved interpretation of local antiquities. 

One thing that I did notice was missing from this article was any reflection on Christian traditions of archaeology which date to at least as early as St. Helena’s excavation of the True Cross and continued, at least in hagiographic texts, through the Ottoman and into the modern period. The discovery of lost icons, earlier religious buildings, and various relics through excavation reflects a consistent attitude toward antiquities as well as a view of excavation as reveling a lost part of the past. Considering the constant interaction between various religious groups, it would be interesting to know whether some Christian ideas about the relationship between the past and the present made inroads into larger considerations of archaeological identity. For example, was part of the mystery and power of ancient statues related to the concept of icons or relics which both represented past holy men and women and literally embodied their sacred status.   

For some reason the Byzantine period continues to be overlooked in studies of the post-ancient reception of antiquities. Scholars are eager to identify continuities between the modern and early modern period without giving much consideration of the intervening processes that shaped mnemonic practices. I continue to think that the Byzantine period plays a key role in understanding how early modern and even modern Greeks (or Ottoman subjects) constructed a relationship with their archaeological past. 

A Guide to Byzantine Greece

Each summer my Facebook feed fills study-tour travelogues posted by my faculty colleagues. The best of these trips reflect careful selection of sites, thoughtful readings, and clear learning goals. Most study tours focus on the monuments of ancient Greece, but many of the most visually arresting monuments in the Greek landscape do not date to antiquity. Talking to students participating on the Western Argolid Regional Project for the last couple of year and contributing to study tours in Cyprus, I’ve come to realize that students are generally interested in the post-ancient world in part because they’re simply not as familiar with the narrative, and it has a sense of exotic novelty. In contrast the unfamiliar narrative, Medieval monuments associated are often more immediately accessible to their developing archaeological imaginations because many of them are still standing. 

This realization has led me to think a bit about producing a Guide to Byzantine Greece as a complement to the common itineraries followed by American study tours. 

If I was to do this, or find someone to do it with me, I figure that our guide has to have a couple features to make it useful.

1. Complementary. One of the most significant challenges will be that the guide has to complement traditional study tour itineraries which focus on ancient sites. While I’d love to write a book that leads a group of excited and interested students to the spectacular late Byzantine church of the Panayia Kosmostira in Ferres in Thrace, it’s not a realistic addition to most study tours of Greece. Instead, we have to focus on the main heartland of American study tours which tend to focus on Athens, Delphi, Olympia, the Corinthia and the Argolid. Fortunately, there are plenty of important and interesting post-ancient sites in this area.     

2. Modular. Along with being complementary, we have to write our guide in such a way that it can be used in a modular way. The traditional itinerary-based approach favored by, say, the Blue Guide, is a lovely way to experience Greece, but for the modern study tour which will not stop to enjoy the “lovely principle city of the demos Koutsopodi,” this approach makes dipping into the guide for some information on a particular building or site difficult.    

3. Encounters. The challenge of a modular guide is that they tend to fragment the landscape into distinct, isolated sites, and this works against presenting a cohesive view of Greece in the Medieval period. So, we have to figure out a way to weave unifying narrative throughout the encounters with individual places. We have to assume that the average American study tour might only see one Early Christian basilica or one middle Byzantine church or one “Slavic” cemetery, and our guide will need to find a way to make encounters with these single sites serve as synecdoches for larger trends, processes, or types. 

4. Open Access. It goes without saying that our guide should be available for free in some kind of digital form. I suspect that .pdfs will be the way to go for cross-platform compatibility, but we would also make a print copy of the guide available at as low a cost as possible. This would encourage adoptions (particularly if the book was to function as a supplement to a more traditional guide focused on ancient sites). 

5. Images, Rights, and Plans. One of the challenges of this kind of production is that there are some restrictive rules in place about using images of monuments in Greece and we’d have to reproduce plans which can be a time-consuming and frustrating project. It would be appealing to imagine ways that use the huge quantity of digital sources to supplement our book, but it is probably not useful to expect students to have constant internet connections while in Greece. Connectivity issues could make it more difficult to produce an interactive map that would provide directions to particular sites (although our students and staff this year almost all had phones with good internet connections).

Aside from the technical aspects of this kind of project, the intellectual challenge is very appealing to me. I’m not sure that I have time to do it properly, but I might have a collaborator who has both some time and expertise. For now, I’ll tuck this into my idea box and we’ll see where it goes over the next year or so…

Weeks of Wonder

If you’re a big Bill Caraher fan (and if you read this blog then I’m assuming that you find me vaguely amusing or, at very least, share some of my interests), then there is plenty to keep you entertained this week.

Tomorrow, as you probably know, is the 7th annual Cyprus Research Fund lecture. It’ll feature Andrew Reinhard, Raiford Guins, Richard Rothaus, and Bret Weber and we’ll talk about the excavation of Atari games in Alamogordo, New Mexico last year, have a viewing of the documentary Atari: Game Over, and discuss the archaeology of the contemporary western United States more broadly. Festivities start at 3:30 with some vintage Atari games set up to be played. To get an idea of the kind of thing that’ll likely come up check out Andrew’s blog, Raiford’s blog (especially note his time spent as a research fellow at the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester!), and Richard’s blog.

If you can’t make it to the event, do not fear! You can watch the documentary for free here (or get it on The Netflix) and then watch our round table event starting around 5 pm for free on our live stream here.

For a preview of our discussions check out the most recent Caraheard podcasts here.

If you can’t make the Cyprus Research Fund lecture, maybe you can hang out with some of the North Dakota Man Camp Project in Ellendale next weekend?

The great folks with the Man Camp Dialogues, The Institute for Heritage Renewal, and The Ellendale Historic Opera House, and the North Dakota Humanities Council sponsored our event on Friday. If the last opportunity to present our work in a free-flowing dialogue is any indication, this will be a rewarding evening for everyone involved.

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If you’re not that into the archaeology of the contemporary world and aren’t based in North Dakota (which I suppose is possible), you can check out a different version of my dog-and-pony show at the Mary Jaharis Center at the Hellenic College Holy Cross in Brookline, Massachusetts on April 18th where I will attend their annual Graduate Student Conference on Byzantine Studies and participate on a panel with some real luminaries in our field to discuss Byzantium in the Public Sphere. I’ve already blogged a bit about this last week.

So, if I’m a bit scarce on the ole blog here for the next couple days, I hope you’ll understand! 

Byzantium and the Public Sphere

In a couple of weeks, I head back east to the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture at the Hellenic College Holy Cross to be on a panel of scholars who “use traditional and digital means to build a broader audience for the field inside and outside of the academy.” I suspect my blog caught their attention or a series of posts a couple of years ago on marketing my Byzantine history class to unsuspecting undergraduates. 

In these blog posts, I complained that the place of Byzantium in most “master narratives” presented to college students, limits how we can present the Byzantine Empire to an unfamiliar audience on campus. Some of these approaches are useful. In my very traditional history department, Byzantine history serves as another way to complicate what the students understand to be “the Western tradition.” To simplify this discussion (as I would present it to undergraduates unfamiliar with Byzantium), the Byzantine world has a Western pedigree: it represented the persistence of the Roman Empire, it was ruled and populated by “people of the book” (Jews, Christian, and Muslims), and it partook in familiar practices that ranged from Hellenic philosophy, to architecture, forms of literature, and political history. At my lowest points, I found myself saying: “Don’t worry, it will be far more familiar than the world of Tolkien or George R.R. Martin!” (Putting aside that these worlds were made up and featured, you know, dragons). In my best moments, I found that I could channel my inner Anthony Kaldellis

Appeals to familiarity, of course, only serve to highlight the things about Byzantium that are utterly unfamiliar. On a short flight this past month, I read over Averill Cameron’s slim volume titled Byzantine Matters. The book provides a useful, if incomplete view of trends in the field over the author’s influential career (or since the publication of Ostrogorsky’s History of the Byzantine State in 1969. More than that, her book is accessible and generally indicates some profitable lines of inquiry that challenge the traditional view of Byzantium as a theocratic despotism satisfied to simmer gently beneath the ponderous weight of Orthodox uniformity. This approach not only offers a way to open up Byzantium to questions that are profoundly Western (e.g. what was the relationship between church and state?), but also to urge students to see the study of Byzantium as a way to critique Orientalism and its view of unchanging, almost unthinking traditionalism. This may be a hook to ensure that “Byzantium belongs to all of us, and … belongs to mainstream history.” Lest we imagine that Cameron went all populist on us, she also calls for renewed attention to Byzantine religious writing (sermons, theological treatises, et c.) as works of literature. Nothing is likely to broaden the appeal of Byzantium more than combining the study of literature, with all its theoretical pretensions, with the study of theological texts which were probably bored the vast majority of the Byzantine world. That being said, this suggestion does follow her overarching argument for hidden complexity in the Byzantium world.

I don’t think that I was invited to this panel to share my penetrating understanding of Byzantine historiography, however. 

I think I’ll try to inject a few observations.

1. Blogging Byzantium. Over the last 10 years or so, there has been a constant presence of Byzantine bloggers on the web. In most cases, these blogs are pretty traditional, text-driven places. None of us have truly embraced the potential of social and new media although a few of the blogs feature videos from time to time.

There are a few exceptions. For example, there is Lars Brownworth’s 12 Rulers of Byzantium which started as a podcast and has expanded into a media empire featuring videos and a book. The Cry for Byzantium Twitter feed of Alexius I Comnenus pushes Byzantium into the social media sphere. The /r/Byzantine page on Reddit appears to be thriving.

The typical Byzantine Blogger, however, is pretty textual with the occasional image of a domed church or a map. There are, of course, a few panoramic views of Byzantine churches and a mishmash of mostly outdated efforts to create interactive maps of Constantinople or whatever. Generally speaking, scholars of Byzantium have stayed on the sideline of recent trends to create a more dynamic web. These kinds of projects require significant funding and, perhaps more importantly, a clearly-defined audience.

2. Byzantine Archaeology as World Archaeology. I need to work this into a fuller post at some point in the near future, but one observation that my buddy Kostis Kourelis made a few years back is that a meaningful subset of Byzantine archaeologists also do archaeology in their local communities. What brought this to mind was David Pettegrew’s recent work on mapping 19th century Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and the Greek community there. Kostis has been involved in my North Dakota Man Camp Project and various initiatives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he teaches. The willingness of archaeologists of the Byzantine world to engage in the archaeology of their local communities hints that Byzantinists are not as disengaged as our scholarly output might suggest. In fact, it suggests that some of the trends in Byzantine archaeology resonate with issues prevalent in world archaeology. For a discipline that almost takes a perverse pride in its idiosyncratic conventions, this is a significant revelation and offers hope for Byzantinists everywhere that our skills and professional interests can have a direct impact on local communities in North America.

3. Mash-Up and Convergence. Finally, I’ve been thinking a bit about how our scholarly production – books and articles – rarely extend beyond their academic audiences and rarely enjoy lives outside of their final, published copies. The divergence between academic works and popular books could not be more stark as influential popular books often feed a growing participatory community engaged in fan fiction, form the basis for transmedia productions like films and video games, and spawn communities of commentators and critics. George R.R. Martin’s mostly-depraved Game of Thrones series of books and TV series is just the most recent and perhaps most visible example.

As Byzantinists contemplate engaging the public sphere more fully, it might behoove us to consider the changing the changing state of popular media. How do we ensure that our books and articles become living, media entities that go beyond their utility to a small group of scholars? Do we push to make our work available in open access? Do we work harder to contribute to linked-data practices? How does our work interact or intersect with the larger media universe? 

To my mind, this is not simply about making our work known to more people, but making it more accessible to audiences who think about media in new and more dynamic ways. Books and articles are more than just forms of scholarly communication or instruments designed to get tenure, but simply aspects of an increasingly dynamic media universe that extends beyond the life of a publication, its physical or digital form, and goals of the academic author. How can Byzantine studies engage this world?

The Soon and the Summer

I bought by tickets to Greece for next summer and I need to buy my tickets from Athens to Cyprus this week. After a year away from my work on Cyprus to focus on the Western Argolid Regional Project in Greece, I’m going to return to Polis-Chrysochous for a three-week study season starting May 5. Then heading to Greece for almost two months on May 25th or 26th. This all means that planning for the summer has to start now.

First, the next few weeks will prove to be busy, but exciting.

On April 8th-11th, I’ll host Andrew Reinhard and Richard Rothaus on campus for a public showing of the documentary, Atari: Game Over, and an academic round-table on the archaeology of gaming and the contemporary world.

On April 7th, I take a quick trip to Fargo for a dissertation defense. 

On April 18th, I’ll be in at the Mary Jaharis Center in Brookline, MA to participate in a roundtable on “Byzantium in the Public Sphere” and somehow simultaneously at a Man Camp Dialogue presentation in Ellendale.      

Over the same stretch of time, I need to put the finishing touches on two sabbatical projects. One is the final round of revisions on the North Dakota Man Camp Project paper for Historical Archaeology, and the other is a book proposal for the Tourist Guide to the Bakken Oil Patch, which is become a more and more compelling project every passing week. The book proposal is virtually done and I have a meaningful draft of the manuscript in hand. Now all I need to make is a few final touches and pull the trigger. I’m also doing the final revisions on an article for Internet Archaeology on archeological blogging.

At the same time, I’ve been trying to put together the kit of necessary summer gear that has to be ordered and sorted out before the start of May.

1. New Laptop. My three year old 15-inch Dell XPS has finally become unusable thanks to a combination of Windows 8 and some kind of nagging hardware issues. So I have to order a quad-core Dell Precision 15-inch today with 16-gb of ram. 3D image processing takes a tremendous amount of power.

2. New GPS unit. My trusty, 10 year old Garmin Gecko was stolen from my 12-year-old truck this past fall. We used Garmin Oregon 650s this past summer in Greece because we could upload aerial photographs to them and they had 8-megapixel cameras. In turns out that the cameras were not particularly useful and drained the battery. So this summer, I’ll purchase a Garmin 600 which is the same unit without a camera.

3. Camera. I love my Panasonic GX1, but the camera will be going on its third field season and has enjoyed such exotic opportunities as being used in a landfill in a dust storm, being lugged up every elevation in the Western Argolid without a lens cap, and several trips to the froze tundra of North Dakota. My hope is that it survives this summer, but I bought a fall back camera, a Canon ELPH135, which is discontinued and sells for less than $90 on Amazon. It’s nowhere near as good as the Panasonic, but it’s small, cheap, and good enough for a backup camera.

4. Microphone. With my career as a podcaster slowly gaining momentum, I need a small, decent USB microphone. Suggestions? For our podcasts, I’ve used a Blue Yeti, but this is a heavy microphone and I need to save some weight for, you know, three months of clothing.

5. Music. Living away from home for this long of a time is hard on me for a range of reasons (wife, dog, house, other responsibilities), but part of the thing that makes it hard is that I go from being alone most of the time to being surrounding by people most of the time. My escape is listening to music. To facilitate this, I have seriously upgraded my mobile music kit. First, I got a pair of new Audeze EL-8, closed back headphones and a little bird has hinted that I’ll get a new ALO Rx MK3 B+ amplifier which appears to be getting phased out of the ALO line-up and is now available at steeply discounted prices from their warehouse page. The amp is probably overkill for the EL-8s, but I suspect even in single-ended mode (balanced cables are not yet available for the EL-8s) it’ll provide a bit more oomph for the relatively efficient EL-8s as well as the option to move to a balanced set up in the future. 

6. Books. Usually I make a request for summer reading recommendations, but this summer, it looks like the American Journal of Archaeology has that all sorted out for me. I’m going to be working on a review article featuring several new books on the archaeology of the contemporary world and the growing interest in materiality among archaeologists. That being said, I’ll need to track down a few recreational books to read this summer, preferably with spaceships in them. 

Late Roman Pottery on Kythera and Middle Byzantine Pottery from Thebes and Chalkis

The most recent issue of the Annual of the British School at Athens is a treat! It contains an article on the pottery from the site of Kastri on Kythera and a chemical analysis of the “Middle Byzantine Production” pottery from the sites of Thebes and Chalcis. After the yesterday’s election, it seems appropriate to spend a little time thinking about Greece today.

Forty Years On: The Pottery from Historical Kastri Revisited” by A. Johnson, K. Slane, and J. Vroom re-examines some key depositions and assemblages at the site of Kastri on Kythera. This site was originally excavated and published by J.N. Coldstream and G.L. Huxley in the early 1970s and played a significant role in understanding the cultural and economic connections between Late Bronze Age Kythera and Crete to its east. The site of Kastri, however, continued to be occupied through the Medieval period, and the the long-running Kythera Island Project (KIP) reexamined the historic period pottery from the Kastri excavations in light of recent research. Of particular interest in this assemblage is the material from Late Roman and Medieval deposits. 

The Roman and Late Roman material was studied by Kathleen Slane. Of particular interest to me was the assemblage of African Red Slip and LRC (also known as Phocaean Red Slip) wares because these types have often served as useful indicators of regional trade networks and tastes. The presence of a remarkably robust assemblage of African Red Slip and a relatively common form of late Late Roman C ware (LRC 10c) indicate that trade networks continued to function in the Mediterranean well into the final decades of the 7th century. An earlier, but distinct Late Roman phase included a nice group of 4th and 5th century sherds. 

The later Late Roman material from this site is particularly interesting because it suggests that Kastri participated in similar economic networks as the site of Corinth, Argos, Emporio on Chios, and Saraçhane. What is absent is any evidence for Cypriot Red Slip (LRD) wares which we have come to understand continued to appear quite late (8th c?) and circulated as far as Crete and Chios as well as on the island of Cyprus, the Levant, and southern Anatolia where is was likely produced. Also absent were Cypriot produced Late Roman 1 amphoras, despite the regular contact between Cyprus and eastern Crete. Because we know that African Red Slip is not uncommon throughout Cyprus (and perhaps somewhat more common on the eastern part of the island) and even the latest LRC wares appear across the island in substantial quantities, it would seem that the distribution of LRD wares to sites on the Greek mainland and far western Aegean was rather less common. The movement of ARS west to east is not shocking, of course, but the presence of LRC wares does indicate movement of goods (at very least ceramics) east to west. The presence of some LR1 amphoras, probably from northern Syria or elsewhere in the Levant, further confirms the flow of good west even in the 7th century. The absence of LRD would seem to be a matter of taste or expense. Perhaps the ready availability of African Red Slips and some forms of LRCs drove out the Cypriot Red Slip as it would seem occurred at some sites on Cyprus itself. 

In the same volume is an article by S.Y. Waksman, N.D. Kontogiannis, S.S. Skartsis, and G. Vaxevanis on the “Middle Byzantine Production” (MBP) pottery from the city of Thebes and its port of Chalcis on Euboea. MBP is a group of pottery with green and brown glaze and sgraffito decorations largely dating to the 12th and 13th century. Before I go on, a disclaimer. I am not a ceramicist and my interest in Byzantine pottery production and circulation has largely been as a spectator. I’ve recognized the growing momentum over the last two decades to refine the current chronology of Byzantine fine wares that circulated widely in Greece and the larger Eastern Mediterranean. Waksman et al. conducted chemical analysis of fine ware of the MBP type from the 12th and 13th century context in the cities of Thebes and Chalcis. This study determined that pottery from the two cities are distinct, and, more importantly, these two groups appear to be manufactured locally based on comparisons with earlier locally made material from the region.

Identifying MBP as local to Thebes and Chalcis strengthens the growing impression that this region was an productive economic center in the Middle Byzantine period. We’ve recognized the city of Thebes as an important political center with landed wealth (visible in the so-called Cadaster of Thebes which dates a century earlier than the MBP group) and significant investment in silk and dye trade. Now it would appear that Thebes and Chalcis were deeply involved in pottery production as well. The MBP enjoyed a vast circulation with significant deposits appearing as far east as Cyprus and the Levant and as far west as Lyon and Italy. The primary market for these types, however, appears to be Aegean basin which scholars had long suspected as the production center for these types.  

The chemical difference between types associated with Thebes and those from deposits in Chalcis indicates that Chalcis was more than just an emporium for the city of Thebes, but a thriving production center in its own right. The significance of Chalcis as a production center is tied to the production chronology MBP throughout from the end of the Middle Byzantine period (with its attendant political disruptions) into the Frankish period where the Byzantine state largely ceased to function in the Aegean basin. In its place emerged new economic (as well as political) networks that leveraged existing production centers. For example, the production of ceramics at Chalcis benefited from the close relationship with that city and Venice in the Frankish period. This relationship almost certainly facilitated the distribution of MBP ceramics around the Mediterranean basin.

More Early Byzantine and Late Roman Cyprus

The quantity and quality of scholarship over the last few years on Late Roman and Early Byzantine Cyprus has been quite remarkable. Just a two weeks ago, I reviewed here another edited volume, Cyprus and the Balance of Empires, bringing together a wide range of voices on Late Antique and Byzantine Cyprus. Before that review was even done, I received another volume on nearly the same topic in the Centre Cahier du Centre d’Études Chypriotes 43 (2013) on the “Archaeology of Late Antique and Byzantine Cyprus (4th-12th centuries AD).” This work is a conference proceedings from a gathering I’m honor of Athanasios Papageorghiou held in Nicosia in November 2013 and organized by M. Parani and D. Michaelides. This volume can be a bit challenging to acquire in the U.S., but it is well worth the effort.

Here are my quick notes on the highlights in the volume:

1. Insularity. Articles by Isabella Baldini and Salvatore Consentino discuss insularity and Late Antique Cyprus. Consentino’s work is the more sophisticated of the two and looks at the role of islands and insular connections within the Late Roman Mediterranean. He concludes, unsurprisingly, military requisitioning and the long tail of Late Roman trade allowed islands to prosper into 7th century, and, at least in the case of Cyprus, maybe into the 8th century as longstanding connections between regions in the Eastern Mediterranean resisted various political and military challenges. 

Baldini’s work compares the churches on Crete and Cyprus and noted the greater likelihood of direct imperial patronage on Crete. The provincial capital of Gortyn for example had two churches with liturgical arrangements similar to that of Ay. Sophia in Constantinople (including the telltale ambo in the central nave and the doomed basilica of Ay. Titus) point to close ties to the capital. In Cyprus, certain evidence for connections to churches of the Aegean basin exists in pockets on the island, but despite Baldini’s relatively optimistic reading of the links between Cyprus and the capital, the ties appear more tenuous.

2. New Excavations. Tom Davis provides a very useful summary of the first season of his new Kourion Urban Space Project (KUSP) which has begun to sketch out the extent and material culture of the Early Byzantine (post-earthquake) Kourion. Georgios Georgiou’s documents the excavations at Mazotos which revealed a lovely little baptistery. (As an aside Georgiou should be gently scolded for his rather clumsy use of 7th century coins to date the structure. Coins provide a terminus post quem and in the unstable economy and uncertain currency situation of 7th and 8th century Cyprus, they likely enjoyed a far longer life than typical coin finds). My friends Amy Papalexandrou, Brandon Olson, Scott Moore and I discuss our recent work at Polis. Eleni Procopiou provides an overview of recent work around Amathus and Despo Pilides details her work on the Hill of Ay. Georgios in Nicosia. These short treatments combined with the treatments in Balance of Empires to produce a fairly comprehensive handbook to recent work on the island.

3. Liturgical Furnishings and Decoration. One particularly useful article in this volume is Doria Nicolaou’s survey of liturgical furnishings on the island of Cyprus. As someone who came to study Cypriot churches from the relative uniformity of liturgical organization and furnishings of the southern Balkans, the diversity of floorpans and liturgical arrangements in Cypriot churches is bewildering. Nicolaou’s short article takes an important first step in sorting out the evidence for liturgical furnishings on Cyprus. Olivier Bonnerot’s work on the material used in wall mosaics adds a material science dimension to this work, and as his base of evidence expands, we could imagine this producing important understandings of the processes used to create Early Christian spaces.

4. Troodos. On Cyprus, the last frontier for understanding the Late Roman and Early Christian period are the Troodos Mountains. Tassos Papacostas provides a key introduction to the complicated situation of the mountains on Cyprus during Late Antiquity. While elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean during this period, increasingly marginal lands are being used and settled, on Cyprus, the Troodos mountains appear all but abandoned of significant (i.e. visible) settlement at this time. What is strange is that Cyprus appears to be prospering during Late Antiquity and settlement on the coastal plain expanding significantly. Moreover, recent work by intensive survey in the Troodos demonstrates that mineral resources continued to be extracted from long-known veins and the island contributed substantially to the increasing military requirements of the Late Roman state. So why there are so few settlements in the Troodos remains unclear. Perhaps the 4th century earthquake led to substantial population decrease or contraction of settlement leaving plenty of open land available for Cypriots at the end of Antiquity. Perhaps land in the Troodos was used only intermittently and seasonally leaving behind only very limited artifact scatters. Or perhaps, as Papacostas suggests, the large urban areas along the southern coast represented the outlets for goods from the mountainous interior and the economic centers of Cypriot settlement.

5. Early Byzantine and Late Roman Administrative Life. Charles Stewart and David Metcalf provide insights into the administrative life on the island. Stewart provides a much needed survey of the Late Roman fortifications on the island with special attention to the walls at Amathus, Salamis-Constantia, and Carpasia. David Metcalf uses the evidence from sealings to demonstrate that the island continued to be tied to the capital and Byzantine administrative structures even during the so-called Condominium period when the island was supposed to be under joint Byzantine and Arab rule.

This volume deserves place next to Davis, Stewart, and Weyl Carr’s Balance of Empires as a key recent contribution to the study of Late Antique Cyprus. For scholars interested in the next big thing, I’d start clearing space for some volumes on the archaeology and history of Hellenistic Cyprus.