The Hedgehog and the Squirrel

There is an old Norwegian folk saying that circulates in these parts. This wisdom divides the world into hedgehogs and squirrels.

The hedgehog lives in the comfortable world of a relatively temperate hedge protected from the elements, with a  steady diet of grubs, and the secure knowledge that it can simply roll up into a ball to escape its enemies.

The squirrel, on the other hand, lives out on the limbs of trees and has to survive both the summer heat and the winter cold without benefit of the comfortable hedge. To survive winter, the squirrel has to “diversify its bonds” by hiding nuts in various places. If it can’t find its nuts or they’re buried under deep snow, the squirrel will scavenge for any kind of food. At other times, the squirrel has been known to seek out its neighbors and packs of three or four squirrels have been known to take down rabbits, cats, and even small dogs. The point of this folk saying is that the hedgehog live a life of comfort because of the security of their hedge, but the squirrel has to constantly adapt to new challenges. Or something like that.

I am obviously a squirrel and I feel like I live on the precarious and exposed limbs of trees. As a result, I have done all I can to diversify my production this semester. I have no idea whether any of these papers will come to anything and matter, but since I don’t have a comfortable hedge, this is what they look like:

1. 3D Models and Disciplinary Practice in Mediterranean Archaeology. This is a 20 minute paper for Eric Poehler’s Digital Archaeological Practice: A Workshop on the use of Technology in the Field next month at the University of Massachusetts. The paper will consider how the practice of collecting 3D data with photography (trench side structure-from-motion imaging) could impact disciplinary practices. It will continue to develop some ideas that I first articulated in a longish paper that I delivered here at UND in 2010 and then refined a bit for a paper that I gave at last year’s AIA (on YouTubes here), plus some new ideas gleaned from the 3D Thursday project.

2. Teaching History in a Scale-Up Classroom. I learned this fall that the paper Cody Stanley and I submitted to the History Teacher on our experiences teaching in the Scale-Up classroom received a “revise and resubmit”. This was good news since it was the first effort on our part to write something like this. The bad news is, of course, that now we have to revise it and there is an April deadline.  

3. Settlement on Cyprus in the 7th and 8th Centuries. I was invited to contribute an article to an edited volume on the Early Byzantine transition across the Mediterranean that evolved from a conference held in 2011 at the University of Cyprus. The island of Cyprus is interesting in that it did not follow some of the patterns seen elsewhere in the Mediterranean. For example, there is relatively little evidence for urban contraction or the construction of fortified places across the island (with a few, well-known exceptions) and recent work at Polis, for example, has suggested that the disruptions associated with the mid-7th century may have been relatively brief and followed by a period of rebuilding. This paper needs a good bit of thought and work and will benefit from the help of my collaborators both at PKAP and Polis on Cyprus.

4. Man Camps at the SAAs. At the end of April, I’m giving a paper on my work with the North Dakota Man Camp Project at the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting in Austin. The paper is titled “The North Dakota Man Camp Project: The Archaeology of Workforce Housing in the Bakken Oil Patch of North Dakota” and it should draw heavily from our almost-ready-for-primetime article which should appear as an advanced working draft on this blog soon! More than that, I hope to get to do a little research on workforce housing in the most recent Texas oil boom.

The good thing about being a squirrel is that I never get bored snerking around the same old hedge eating grubs, but, on the other hand, maintaining diversity is exhausting! Wish me luck! 


The Real and Imagined Mount Athos

Over Thanksgiving I had a chance to do some more fun reading and tucked into Veronica Della Dora’s Imagining Mount Athos (University of Virginia Press 2011). The book examines how outsiders have imagined the Holy Mountain from antiquity until modern times. The Mt. Athos peninsula, as many readers of this blog will know, has been a self governing monastic preserve since the 9th century A.D., and today continues this tradition as the home to 20 monastic houses and assorted hermitages. Women are banned from the peninsula as are most modern technologies and visitors who might distract the monks for their life of work, worship and pious contemplation.

Della Dora, as a woman writing on Athos, embraces perhaps the essential characteristics of how the Mt. Athos peninsula has appeared through the ages by emphasizing the tendency to see it as a place of exclusion and seclusion. She is careful to note that this is not the only Athos, but the one that she has chosen to write about. She is able, then, to analyze a powerfully imagined Athos that stood outside of an Athos familiar to its monastic residents. 

The book begins with a treatment of ancient Athos and explores how ancient views of the mountainous peninsula shaped its appearance throughout the Renaissance. She explores the influence of Dinocrates legendary proposal to turn Mt. Athos into a massive statue of Alexander the Great providing for newly founded communities at its base. This Dinocratic Athos formed an important backdrop to numerous Renaissance sculpture who saw in it both the power of man to shape nature and, like Xerxes famed canal, a testimony to human arrogance.

This Mythic Athos may have extended to an Athonite influence in Thomas More’s 18th century Utopia as well as earlier views of the peninsula as an edenic paradise. The prominence and wealth of the monastic communities that come to dot this peninsula become points of reference and meaning with the mountain itself retreating to become a dramatic backdrop. Of particular note is the significance of Athos in Russian pious imagination and iconography.  

The second half of the book ventures onto the peninsula itself with discussions of how the outside world discovered and coveted the architecture, libraries, and even landscapes of this secluded monastic preserve. The brief appearance of Athos at the margins of the Grand Tour and the arrival of travelers and scholars like David Talbot Rice and Robert Byron opened the treasures of Athos to the world at a moment when Byzantium was seeping back into academic and popular consciousness. The place of Athos as a cultural preserve influenced views of it as a scientific preserve and attracted scientists as well as Byzantinists to study the indigenous plant life and geology. 

The scholarly and popular veneration of Athos ensured that it stood as an island in the stream of global geopolitics from the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the Balkan Wars, and the German invasion in World War II. The arrival of the Nazi’s in Greece in 1941 and the well-known Dölger expedition to Athos demonstrates the intersection of geopolitics and scholarship. The willingness of Athonite monks to both recognize the German authority in Greece and to work to shepherd allied soldiers to Turkey and Egypt reveals the delicate balance and vulnerable position that Athos occupied in the modern world. This is a theme engaged again in the epilogue where Della Dora discusses the world of Athos as part of the European Union. The role of Athonite monasteries in the economic crisis in Greece is well-known.

Books like this are remarkable in our age of academic specialization. Della Dora has followed the imagine Mt. Athos from the ancient texts to Renaissance sculpture, Early Modern science, Russian icon painting, and beyond. As someone who struggles to master my little section of the academic universe, books like this are really humbling.

At the same time, I’d be remiss not to note that the absence of the monks of Athos left me a bit disappointed. In Della Dora’s work, Athos is largely imagined by the West with very little influence from its closest neighbors in Thessaloniki or among the monks themselves. While, on the one hand, even such sweeping studies as these need some boundaries, on the other hand, the book feel strangely Orientalizing in its perspective. Its as if Athos as a space of exclusion and seclusion prevented the monks themselves from shaping how others perceived it. This is surely not the case as Athonite monks exerted a profound influence on the ecclesiastical and monastic world across both the Eastern Mediterranean and the world. It would be valuable to understand how their imagining of Athos compares.  

Broaching Byzantium

One of the challenges that I faced on the first day of the new semester was how to broach the topic of Byzantium with my Byzantine Civilization class. Superficially, this should be easy; after all, they were taking the class. But University of North Dakota students can be a skeptical, conservative, and reticent audience and their comportment will show me that enrolling in a class is hardly a sign of interest. They’ll have names ending in “-son”, wear baseball caps because their dad wears ball caps, and have limited patience for the humanities for the sake of the humanities. 

All in all, it reminded me of how lucky I was to have an understanding community when I decided to drift toward Byzantine studies. When I told my friends and family, they all offered their unconditional support for my decision even if it was not a lifestyle that they wanted or understood. They got that this decision to lean toward the Byzantine was important for me.

(I have to admit that I was tempted to channel my inner Chris Farley and come into the room yelling “So, you want to be a Byzantinist” but I realized that this could lead them to living in a van, down by the river, eating government cheese.)

That being said, I went through a series of scenarios for offering to broach Byzantium to a skeptical classroom.

1. Byzantium complicates the West. A colleague of mine told me about a controversy in his department over whether a course on Byzantine should get “non-western” or some other facile “diversity” designation in their complex rubric of required coursework. Apparently a member of this department randomly emailed Byzantinists across the U.S. I recall getting his email and thinking “how odd”. While I never really heard the result of this dispute, I am fairly confident that consensus did not rule the day. In fact, this controversy demonstrated how the West and its legacy are not a clear cut set of values and ideas (despite appeals to the notion of the West as a kind of common ground). Byzantium fits oddly within any categories. Its Christian, Roman, and Platonic roots make it awkward as a genuine other. We can’t help but see much of ourself in the Byzantine struggles between episcopal and imperial power or the historiographic conceits of Michael Psellos or Anna Comnena. At the same time, the mystical, ceremonial, and autocratic stand outside of our commonly accepted continuum leading from democratic Athens to Republican Rome, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment (via Gibbon). 

2. Byzantium as culture. This would have involved going all “Kostis Kourelis” on my unsuspecting students. I could trace the cultural legacy of Byzantium from 19th century architecture to HuysmannAndy Wharhol, and Kristeva. Of course Byzantium could be local as well. When Kostis was in town, he noticed the Byzantine inspired pilaster capitals on our Metropolitan Opera House. This approach – grounded in aesthetics as much as history – would push the students to see their world as a complex blend of cultural influences that function on multiple levels. At the same time, it would require the student (and the teacher!) to understand the complex filtering processes that create culture through time from the Enlightenment, to Romanticism to Post-Modernity. 

3. Byzantium and the Middle East. A year worth of bleak news from Syria and Egypt of course drew me to thinking about the Byzantine legacy in this part of the world. The scenes of bombed Christian churches, Christians protecting praying Egyptian Muslims, and the complex religious backdrop to the political strife in Syria and Iraq. The vividness of the images and stories from Egypt and Syria make the Byzantine legacy current and compelling. The downside to this approach is that the legacy of Byzantium becomes a metaphor for the turmoil in the Middle East and obscures the colonial or even Ottoman root of the political situation in these countries. In effect, Byzantium becomes the progenitor for an Orientalist perspective on the world.

4. Byzantium as fantasy. Of course many students take this course because Byzantium like the Ancient and Medieval worlds form part of a dynamic fantasy life that is not modern, not local, and not bound by the walls of the university, the demands of a job, and the realities of a difficult economy. The world of Byzantium is an escape to a time where the issues of theology and survival played out against a backdrop of domed churches, gilt palaces, processional ways, dirty crooked streets, and dusty agricultural villages. Indulging student fantasies is part of the teaching game, but I wonder if by moving Byzantium to the realm of Tolkien and Larry Potter that we offer a weak argument for its place in our practically minded curriculum.

As I blogged about when I originally announced this class, the issue of broaching Byzantium is a tricky one in the modern, American academy where its place in the so-called “master narrative” is hardly secure.


Teaching Thursday: Teaching Byzantine History

This fall for the first time since 2007, I’m going to teach an upper level undergraduate history class. I figure once every 5 years is about as often as both the students and my own workflow can handle it. Because another faculty member teaches Greek and Roman history, I have some limits on what I can teach in my specialty. I had prepared and taught a one semester Byzantine history course some years ago so I dusted it off, gave it some thought, and decided to teach it as an overload this fall.

For a textbook, I am using the second edition of Tim Gregory’s History of Byzantium (Blackwell 2011) in part because he was my academic advisor at Ohio State, but also because it is the best single volume history available. 

The course will have five graded assignments. Two primary source papers (3-5 pages each) and a book review of an academic monograph. There will be a midterm and final exam.

The course will be a blend of lectures and discussions of primary sources readings. As readers of this blog know, I have a decidedly ambivalent attitude toward lectures. I enjoy giving lectures and the students enjoy the experience, but so much pedagogical research indicates that lectures – at least in a traditional sense – are an inferior way to engaged students. I keep working toward developing a hybrid form of lecture that both engages the students, but also remains true to some of the longstanding narrative traditions in the discipline. I’ve advertised this course as a traditional course poking gentle fun at some of the more inventive approaches to history. I also misspelled diorama just to keep the students on their toes. (First step of innovative pedagogy is allowing the students to understand that you are more like them then they might expect.)


Week 1
August 27 Tuesday: Introduction
August 29 Thursday: City, Empire, and Christianity
Readings: Gospel of St. John; Acts of the Apostles

Week 2
September 3 Tuesday: Diocletian, Constantine, and Late Antiquity
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapters 1-3
September 5 Thursday: Eusebius and the Constantinean System
Reading: Eusebius, Life of Constantine

Week 3
September 10 Tuesday: Constantine and His Successors
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 4
September 12 Thursday: The Family of Theodosius
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 5

Week 4
September 17 Tuesday: Pagans and Christians
Readings: Pagan and Christian Tombstones of Attica; Mark the Deacon, The Life of St. Porphyry of Gaza; Marinos of Samaria, Life of Proclus; History of Byzantium, Box 4.3, 5.2
September 19 Thursday: Christology and Early Byzantine Spirituality
Readings: Gregory of Nyssa, Life of Macrinal Socrates Scholasticus, Ecclesiastical History (selections); St. Athanasius, The Life of St. Anthony; The Nicene Creed

Week 5
September 24 Tuesday: Justinian
Readings: History of Byzantium, Chapter 6; Procopius, The Buildings, Book 1
September 26 Thursday: Byzantine Spirituality: Liturgy and Saints
Readings: John Moschos, The Spiritual Meadow; The Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom

Week 6
October 1 Tuesday: Heraclius and the Loss of the East
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 7
October 3 Thusday: The Dynasty of Heraclius
Readings: Theophanes Confessor (selections), Chronicle; The Life of St. John the Almsgiver

Week 7
October 8 Tuesday: Icons and Iconoclasm
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 8-9
October 10 Thursday: Iconoclasm and the Sources
Theophanes, Chronicle (selections), Various Icondule Saints.

Week 8 
October 15 Tuesday: Catch-up Day
October 17 Thursday: Midterm

Week 9
October 22 Tuesday: The Macedonian Dynasty
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 10-11
October 24 Thursday: Byzantine Values and Literature
Reading: Digenes Akritas

Week 10
October 29 Tuesday: Macedonian Renaissance
October 31 Thursday: The Height of Byzantine Power
Reading: Michael Psellos (Books 1-6)

Week 11
November 5 Tuesday: Middle Byzantine Spirituality
November 7 Thursday: Monasticism
Reading: Byzantine Monastic Documents (selections)

Week 12
November 12 Tuesday: The Byzantium in Age of the Komnenians
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 12
November 14 Thursday: The First Crusade
Reading: Anna Komnena, Alexiad (selections)

Week 13
November 19 Tuesday: The Fourth Crusade
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 13
November 21 Thursday: Byzantium and the West
Reading: Niketas Choniates (selections)

Week 14
November 26 Tuesday: The Late Byzantine Revival
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapters 14-15
November 28 Thursday: Thanksgiving

Week 15
December 3 Tuesday: The Intellectual Life of Late Byzantium
Gregory Palamas, Triads (selections)
December 5 Thursday: The Fall of Constantinople
Reading: History of Byzantium, Chapter 16

Week 16
December 10 Tuesday: The Last Romans
December 12 Thursday: The Byzantine Legacy
Reading: History of Byzantium, Introduction

As a final note, my colleague Scott Moore at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and I are teaching this course at the same time. This summer we toyed with some ideas of how both students and the content from the two courses could interact in a way that expands the perspectives of students in both classes. Since our content management systems are “walled gardens”, it seems like we’ll have to experiment with a blog or similar where students from the two classes can interact in a public forum. As we develop these ideas, I’ll post more here. 

Teaching Byzantine History

I promise that this is not going to become a teaching blog (not that there is anything wrong with that), but I am all excited that I have have agreed to teach an upper level history class for the first time since 2007. As most of you know, I generally teach our historical methods course and History 101: Western Civilization each quarter. Fret not, I am not going to dump one of those classes, but add another course to my plate in the fall to move to a 3-3 teaching load. (I’ve blogged about the advantages of periodically teaching more.)

The course will be the History of the Byzantine Empire. We added it to the schedule a bit on the late side, so I have to do a bit of advertising to make sure it enrolls.

So I began to think how to advertise a course on the Byzantine Empire. I came up with five clever ways:

1. The Roman Empire II: A Sequel. For the Star Wars fans and the popular enthusiasm for sequels.
2. The Byzantine Empire: Like Larry Potter or the Hobbits. My buddy Kostis Kourelis has already published in this general direction, but I would pitch my class as the study of real life Hogomorth or whatever that place with all the domes is called.
3. The Byzantine Empire: A More Western Orient. I could continue to trade on the romance of domed buildings and combine it with mystical Christianity, be-turbaned aristocrats, and a tragic narrative arc to make it a kinder, gentler, more Christian, Orient.
4. The Byzantine Empire: The Other Christians. They aren’t the Roman Catholics or the Protestants; they’re the other Christians.

I only wish I had the graphic design abilities to produce movie posters for each of these classes. Since I don’t, this is how I sold it.


My flyer played up my reputation for innovative teaching and, in its place, promised the students that I would teach the class in a very traditional way. (In conversation, I’ve likened it to the teaching equivalent to MTV’s unplugged.)

I want to ground the class in a series of 15 lectures, discussions primary sources, and formal graded written works produced by single students after careful thought. I want the class to be large (40+), I want it to be challenging to teach, and I want the students to feel that the content and the format put them outside their comfort zone.

My hope is teaching a political and religious history of the Byzantine Empire (with some archaeology and culture thrown in) in a rather traditional way will get the students attention. I wonder whether our emphasis on “active learning” exercises (and I’ve been as involved as anyone in various flavors of experimental pedagogy) has paradoxically added life to some of our more traditional practices. Asking students to engage a lecture when more and more of their classes focus on discussion problematizes this form of instruction and encourages the students to develop skills like listening, note taking, and synthesizing lectures with primary and secondary sources.

We’ll see how it goes. Wish me luck.

Historical Landscapes on Naxos

One of the benefits of a day spent traveling is that I get to catch up on my embarrassing backlog of reading. The first article on this stack (pulling them from the bottom of the pile as always) was J. Crow, S. Turner, and A. Vionis, “Characterizing the Historical Landscapes of Naxos,” JMA 24 (2011) 111-137. This relatively short article makes the case for using Historical Landscape Characterization or HLC to describe and structure historic landscapes in the Eastern Mediterranean. The authors apply this method to the island of Naxos and attempt to isolate features of the Byzantine, Medieval, and post Medieval landscapes.

The basic methods of HLC stipulate that each area on a map be given a certain place within a historical typology of landscape. The types available are standardized and range from the almost descriptive (rough ground) to the more interpretative (prehistorical enclosures). The goal of HLC is to produce a stratified map of a landscape suitable for describing historically significant landscapes at a meaningful scale. Generally, archaeologists produce these maps in response to issues of heritage management in the U.K., but the method is sufficiently robust and flexible to be exported to archaeological projects elsewhere. The types present in any particular landscape would vary, of course, according to scale and method for producing the HLC.   

As Vionis and company have noted, this HLC analysis could be a particularly valuable method for framing Mediterranean historic landscapes and preparing regions for study by more intensive means. The study of Naxos, for example, depended upon historical aerial and satellite photographs, documentary sources, results of excavations and surveys on Naxos, and some, albeit limited, autopsy. This work was able to identify, for example, the relationship between “braided terraces” and Medieval churches and to suggest that certain parts of the landscape retained some key  pre-modern features. Vionis was able to argue on the basis of HLC and field survey that the regions around seemingly isolated churches were likely productive agriculturally on the basis of historical proximity. While the arguments made on the basis of these large scale HLC techniques will never satisfy scholars who see excavation as the only method for producing knowledge about the past, this method of classifying a landscape represents a tool for larger scale work. At the same time, Vionis et al. recognized that their work was provisional and by producing it in GIS database they ensured that it could be updated, disseminated, and republished as more data became available. 

Screenshot 4 18 13 7 59 AM

I can immediately see the utility of using HLC methods to describe landscapes prior to intensive pedestrian survey and to produce a set of hypotheses that survey or excavation would test. It also provides a method for describing a more extensive landscape that provides context for the area documented through intensive survey. For example, I think these methods could be particularly useful for the southeastern Corinthia where we have worked to describe an early modern settlement at the site of Lakka Skoutara in the region of Sophiko. We have a significant body of landscape data from the Sophiko region both from several intensive surveys, extensive surveys, and architectural and feature studies, including a new dissertation that dates argues for a Bronze Age date of terrace walls in the region. It would also be an appealing way to approach the landscape of western North Dakota.    

Some Notes on Survey Archaeology in a Byzantine Context

This weekend I attended the Dumbarton Oaks Spring Colloquium on Byzantine Survey Archaeology. The papers were remarkable and focused. The hosts and colloquiarchs, Margaret Mullett, John Haldon, and Sharon Gerstel put together a congenial environment for a wide ranging conversation on survey archaeology in a Byzantine context. While John Haldon did an admirable job weaving the various papers together at the end of the day’s proceedings, I couldn’t resist offering my own observations. 


1. Survey Comes of Age. One of the most refreshing things about the meeting was the lack of heavy-handed apologies for survey. Most of the participants understood the limits of their methods and located their conclusions within the constraints of their evidence. Rather than universal apologies for survey as a method, we have moved to reflexive understandings of the limits of our data.

2. Multiple Methods. The recognition that survey produces a particular and legitimate kind of archaeological data opened the door to admitting to the multiple methods present in the current survey world. People presented projects that ranged from extensive – single person – survey to projects that collected data that exceeded our ability to produce historical analyses on the basis of this data. For example, I felt the recent extensive survey work from Limnos collected data that was every bit as significant historically as a project that collected “observation point” density data at 10 m intervals from each unit. It’s not that one method was superior to the other on the grounds of methodology, but that we can recognize the utility of various types of survey data sets. This is an important step in the development of survey work and locates our method in a rather different context than excavation where the link between field methods and results tends to be far less explicit.

3. Long Shadow of Texts. While the Byzantine component of many survey projects developed from projects directed by their prehistoric colleagues, Byzantinists have long recognized that texts in some cases have great utility for understanding the Byzantine landscape. On the other hand, Byzantine survey archaeologists are constantly on guard against the undue influence of texts on their analysis. The papers showed particular interest in attempting to understand how texts focused on regional trends could be generalized to explain assemblages across the Mediterranean. Moreover, we all returned to longstanding discussions of how imperial economic and political policies shaped changes in the countryside. Some of these conversations date to the 19th century and involve how we understand the development of feudalism as a stage within the Marxist paradigm of how economies developed. This is deep history.

4. Area versus Assemblage. One thing that was pretty interesting is that most of the survey project continued to have an interest in areas and sites rather than assemblages. Some of the projects were explicitly siteless in design, but nevertheless returned to the site based paradigm in order to integrate their results with a larger historical discourse (see above). In contrast, there was relatively less conversation about assemblages and cultural and economic composition of the material culture produced by survey. It seems that we still wanted to see survey data as representing past activities (habitation, settlement, fortifications, et c.) rather than being produced by past activities.

5. Less Technology and More Curation. Typically when survey archaeologists get together there is lots of talk about the latest and greatest piece of “kit”. This might be a remote sensing technology, some kind of infield data collection device, or the latest analytical tool. To be sure, some papers used innovative methods, but on the whole, there was much more talk about the curation and study of physical objects than electronic ones. I think this represents development of both digital standards and a stable tool kit of technologies that support archaeological fieldwork. Now, we have to turn our attention to the much more challenging issue of working with host countries to curate the objects and sites that survey produces.

6. Toward a Byzantine Survey Archaeology. There was some discussion of what is necessary from an institutional, methodological, and disciplinary standpoint to produce a distinctive Byzantine approach to survey archaeology. Some of this will revolve around research questions and academic alliances and collaborations. Some of this might revolve around particular field practices. For example, survey in a Byzantine context will likely pay particular attention to formation processes attendant to standing Byzantine monuments. Byzantine archaeologist in a survey context might also go further to make arguments for the coherence of surface assemblages and produce some horizontal stratigraphy where the regular association of coarse wares and known fine wares can allow us to make certain tentative chronological arguments. These are not features exclusive to Byzantine period, but they are areas where Byzantine archaeology has begun to make a contribution. Finally, we have the advantage of a field that is located at the very earliest moment where a genuinely historical archaeology is possible. This positions us as scholars to contribute and critique the enter historical archaeology undertaking from the rather unique perspective of survey archaeology.

There were a few areas where there was not much conversation although these are typically part of the larger chatter among survey archaeologists.

1. Sharing Data. First, with the exception of Jim Newhard the conference lacked any major player in the recent trend toward data curation. How we make our results visible to the world and our colleagues remains a major issue for archaeologists in general, and survey archaeologists in particular. The born-digital nature of survey data makes survey practitioners particular important contributors to these conversations. The idea of a distinctly Byzantine survey archaeology could involve a stronger commitment to digital data curation, distribution, and analysis.

2. Beyond the New Archaeology. Most papers at the conference showed a strong commitment to quantitative methods that drew upon the core tenants of processual and new archaeology. Almost no one was willing to push a little further to consider post-processual practices. The idea of the landscape remained something produced through systematic collection of physical data from the countryside. There was little in the way of reflexive practices on more “qualitative” forms of data collection although survey archaeology’s close relationship to landscape archaeology has long opened the door to these kinds of approaches.

3. Cyprus. The contributions of Cypriot survey archaeologist once again remained around the fringes of the conversation. To my mind the Sydney Cyprus Survey Project represents one the model regional scale survey projects in the Eastern Mediterranean and its successor TAESP will probably be even more important. The work of M. Rautman in site-based survey and the historical data collected on the Byzantine landscape from the Cyprus Survey and other projects on the island makes it one of the most thoroughly investigated landscapes in the Mediterranean. I think it’s high time that we hold a “Survey Archaeology in Cyprus in Comparative Context” workshop that looks at how we can compare the results of surveys to answer questions that have relevance at both a regional and transregional level.

Looking Across Chronological Barriers in Byzantine Survey Archaeology

This weekend I’ll be at Dumbarton Oaks presenting a paper at their spring colloquium on Byzantine Archaeology. As I have noted earlier this week, the colloquium is on the impact of survey archaeology on Byzantine studies, and I was tasked with writing a paper on looking across chronological barriers. I focused my paper on comparative landscapes, formation processes, and Byzantine attitudes toward the past in texts. I am not sure that I say anything profoundly new, but I think that I manage to weave these three topics together in an effective way.

I am not entirely pleased with how I discuss the comparison between the Early Modern and Medieval landscapes in Lakka Skoutara. I think it probably needs a more robust basis for comparing the two artifact assemblages, but this is challenging in a paper targeted to be around 20-30 minutes paper. (Since my paper is penultimate paper after a long day I mercifully kept my remarks shorter than the recommended length imagining that some of my colleagues earlier in the day will go longer than their allotted time). I am also not convinced that I engaged the issue of formation processes fully in the second section, but my paper should provide some food for thought, and it allowed me to dust off some old data that as far as I know has not been published. 

Here’s the paper and you can judge whether it works or not:

If you’re still looking for more of my riveting writing, I noticed that a book review of mine appeared on the American Journal of Archaeology webpage this week. (You can see an earlier version of this review here).

Three Things for Tuesday

The next two weeks are busy, but pretty exciting ones for me. So I thought I would use todays post as an advertisement for myself and some of these cool events.

First, I head east on Friday to Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, DC for their spring colloquium on Byzantine archaeology. This spring it will focus on survey archaeology in a Byzantine context. This is the third colloquium focusing on Byzantine archaeology. My notes on the second colloquium are here, and Kostis Kourelis’s notes on the first colloquium are here. This year’s colloquium will be more focused on a specific practice and its relation to Byzantine archaeology rather than on the field in general or its relation to long standing institutions. Here’s a link to the colloquium and the program. It will be interesting to hear whether the field of Byzantine archaeology manifests at particular distinction or cohesion at the level of practice. 

On my return to North Dakota, my buddy Bret Weber and I head south to North Dakota State University in Fargo to present on our research on man camps in the Bakken oil patch. This talk will be our first formal academic talk as a research team (rather than just on our own) and will hopefully present a more advanced state of our research than any point before. The talk is on April 3rd from 2-3:30 in MU Rose Room.


Finally, on Friday April 5th, Prof. Sam Fee from Washington and Jefferson College will come via the internets to the University of North Dakota to present on his work with the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (PKAP) on creating a web and tablet application for collecting archaeological data in the field. We alpha tested the cleverly named PKApp (get it?) this summer and wrote a short technical piece on the application this spring for Near East Archaeology. Sam and I will run the talk like conversation exploring the technical aspects of trench-side data collection, the practical concerns, and the future directions of this technology. Sam was one of the great early bloggers and technologists in Mediterranean archaeology. Check out Sam’s blog here. Sam’s talk will be at 1 pm in the Working Group in Digital and New Media lab in O’Kelly 203 at the University of North Dakota.

Looking beyond Chronological Boundaries in Byzantine Survey Archaeology

Over Easter, I’m giving a talk at the Spring Colloquium at Dumbarton Oaks. The topic will be looking across chronological boundaries in Byzantine survey archaeology. This was not exactly the topic that I would have picked, but it is a good and important one for reflecting on the current situation in Byzantine archaeology more broadly. I have written a first draft of the paper and a longer article-ish piece, but I’ll spare you the rough edges and give you a quick summary of where my argument tries to go.

1. Introduction. I begin with some quick words on the significance of survey archaeology for revealing the rural landscape and settlement, contextualizing known monuments, and informing our reading of the documentary and textual sources that exist for the Byzantine or Medieval countryside in the Aegean (e.g. the Cadaster of Thebes, various hagiographic sources, monastic typika, et c.). I also limit my comments on survey and the Byzantine countryside to Greece and – to a far lesser extent – Cyprus.

2. Historiography. I spend a little time treating two seminal discussions of survey archaeology in a Byzantine context: John Rosser’s 1979 article and Tim Gregory’s 1986 article in Byzantine Studies. I note that Rosser in his work with the Minnesota Messinia Expedition saw the need to look across chronological boundaries in order to understand the limits in which Byzantine rural society developed. Since the Byzantine countryside was largely unknown and we struggled to recognize Byzantine material in the context of survey, we had to attempt to understand this period through analogy to other post-ancient (and ancient) periods in a particular region. This approach intersected with the tendency of regional and “second wave” survey projects in the Aegean to be directed by prehistorians or scholars focused on historical antiquity rather than later periods. Following practices dating to the early 20th century, post-Classical material was grouped together in a single corpus and often studied alongside ethnographic concerns. In fact, the most recent major work on Byzantine ceramics from Greece, Joanita Vroom’s After Antiquity: Ceramics and Society from the 7th to 20th century A.C. does the same thing. This organization is largely a product of the disciplinary history of the field.

3. The Anatomy of Settlement. In the third section, I suggest that this approach, while problematic, can offer some significant insights. I highlight Jack Davis’s lengthy 1991 article “Contributions to a Mediterranean Rural Archaeology: Historical Case Studies from the Ottoman Cyclades” in the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology. At the end of this article, Davis notes that studying the better documented Ottoman and Early Modern periods can help us understand how various agricultural strategies and settlement patterns can help us understand rural landscapes in the Byzantine period. I then consider this approach in the context of my work (with David Pettegrew and others) at the site of Lakka Skoutara in the Corinthia where we have evidence for early 20th century settlement and an early and spatially distinct Medieval settlement (and more here). The assemblage of material from the Medieval period features the full range of ceramics (table wares, kitchen wares, and storage and utility wares) with the exception of highly diagnostic imported fine wares and coincides well with habitation. This comparative approach highlighted differing settlement and land use strategies in a relatively marginal landscape. 


4. Archaeological Signatures and Formation Processes. The fourth section of the paper, looks briefly at some survey work that we did on the island of Kythera in 2001 that documented the ceramic material from around a series of Medieval and Venetian period churches. I note that these buildings provide windows into both an earlier landscape, but also into earlier practices (I can’t escape from Ingold’s taskscapes this week!). The presence of fine ware around the church of Ay. Onoufrios near the Medieval town of Paliochora echoes finds associated with the nearly contemporary site of Panakton on the Attic/Boeotian border which was one of the few buildings on that site to produce a notable assemblage of fine ware. I suggest that the distinct lifecycle of churches and the practices associated with their maintenance – including the accumulation of prestige goods, local discard of broken ceramics, and work to keep the area around the church clean and free from debris – informs how we understand the signature of Byzantine churches in the landscape. This approach to Byzantine sites in the countryside requires that we recognize that even datable buildings are not static markers in the landscape, but the product of diachronic processes that create corresponding complex signatures.

5. Dreams across Time. I conclude the paper with a short fantasy that the Byzantines themselves looked across chronological boundaries when they defined their landscape. Saints, bishops, and pious laymen all worked to recover and rebuild earlier monuments that they knew about in the landscape. The reuse and rebuilding of the landscape makes clear that the Byzantines recognized their landscape as a diachronic phenomena that not only represented distinct periods, but provided a space to create history.

I’ll post a more complete draft of this paper once I get done tuck pointing it.