Seasonality in Cyprus

My stack of articles “to read” is pretty scary these days, but I was really glad to find time to read Michael Given’s 2020 article, “Attending to Place and Time: Seasonality in Early Modern Scotland and Cyprus” from the European Journal of Archaeology 23(3). This article is another in Given’s recent work to apply the concept of conviviality to the archaeology of Cyprus (and now Scotland). To summarize a complicated assemblage of ideas, Given argues that conviviality offers a perspective to unpack the complex series of relationship that dictates how individuals, animals, objects, and materials work together to create historical situations.

In this case, Given argues that by expanding our understanding of the relationship between Cypriots (and Scots!) and their environment, we can avoid overly simplistic views of seasonal movement the countryside. Given demonstrates that the use of land between the rugged slopes of the Troodos Mountains and the coastal plain gave Cypriot farmers and herders opportunities to adapt seasonal movements between upland villages in the summer and lowland fields in the winter depending on specific crops, tools, and the social organization of families and communities. This more expansive view of the relationships that constitute Cypriot life opens the analysis of seasonal movement to more variation and nuance. For example, the appearance of threshing floors around settlements associated with the fields on the plains indicates cereal cultivation and harvesting in the early summer as well as wintering flocks. Whether the same individuals occupied these settlements as different time a year is hard to know, but it demonstrates straight away that simple movements from mountain villages to seasonal settlements on the plain do not account for the range of activities. Given also notes that certain crops, such as vines and fruit and nut trees require regular attention that would not necessarily align with the kind of large scale movement between places in the landscape. The locations for these crops moreover may not align with the mountain-plain dichotomy and instead occupy niche ecologies where these crops can thrive. The location between mountain villages and the plains once again suggest movements that are not strictly seasonal in character, but move fluctuate between various landscapes at various times.

This might not seem deeply profound, but it offers a very practical view on a research site where I worked a few years ago with the Western Argolid Regional Project. The WARP team and I documented a whole group of house at the site of Chelmis in the Inachos valley (and published our results here and here). These houses served several functions, it would appear. First, they clearly served as shelters for shepherds who moved their flocks from their main mountain villages to the plains in the winter even today. Second, the presence of threshing floors indicates that in the summer, these houses sheltered individuals who had come to harvest and thresh grain grown on the terraced fields around the settlement. Finally, at some point, families occupied some of the houses year around. A similar site in the Corinthia, Lakka Skoutara, seems to follow a similar pattern of occupation that goes well beyond any narrow concept of seasonality (you can read about that here).


Fragments of Ivan Illich in the Bakken Oil Patch

Over the past week or so, I’ve been making my way slowly through Ivan Illich’s Tools for Conviviality (1973) over the last few weeks, and it has really helped me refine (let’s say?) some of my ideas on work in the Bakken and (wait for it…) slow archaeology.

For Illich, the expansion of technology, professionalization, and institutions have undermined the fundamental conviviality of human society. This conviviality involves making space for independent creative acts and a commitment to work that modern, industrial society has stripped away. Illich sought to promote tools that allowed individuals and communities equal access to productive processes. His classic case study is learning: convivial tools allow for a freedom to experiment and encounter without institutional sanctions or limits whereas non-convivial tools limited access, reinforce the exclusivity of knowledge, and develop expertise and restrictive institutions like schools, factories, and professions. Technocratic society promotes inequality among its members through tools that grossly amplified the labor of the individual through increasingly technical means. Thus, the individual’s labor became increasingly estranged from their access to the rewards of the system which institutions meted out unevenly and in ways that were increasingly distinct from the work of the individual. The rise of fossil fuels accelerated the dominance of non-convivial tools and created a hard break between individual work and effort and consumption. 

During my research in the Bakken oil patch, I consistently noticed this curious curious tension that I was at pains to understand or describe. On the one hand, extractive industries especially modern fracking and deep drilling, represent an apex of industrial technologies and have value not in anything visible or tangible, but in the monetary reward that individuals receive for their work and society received from fossil fuels. In other words, the individual is separated from the fruits of work by myriad institutional and technological barriers ranging from the complexities of the modern financial structure of extractive industries to the hidden infrastructure of drill bits,  pipelines, and wells. Opportunities for expression within these institutional frameworks are profoundly limited for the safety of the worker, the efficiency of the process, and the control over the product. Worker wear uniforms, live in company housing, come to the area exclusively to work, and have hyper specialized skills.

There are, however, more convivial spaces in the Bakken, particularly in the informal workforce housing sites where some of the same workers (or the workers who support them) live. Amid the deeply unconvivial space of extractive industries that feeds the dense network of unconvivial tools that dominate the exclusionary space of modern society, there are these informal, ad hoc, convivial space for living that stand out as a space of resistance against the very regimentation of society that petroculture demands and requires. For example, these camps are filled with ad hoc mud rooms often built of found material present throughout the industrialized area. These rooms expand the living space of the RVs where workers live, protect the door from the cold and dirt of the patch, and offer an opportunity to show off individual building skills. These are expression of conviviality and the ideas for these improvised extensions circulate via conversation at these camps and stand in contrast to the more regimented life and work on the oil rigs.

This contrast produces a chilling irony. Advocates for the Bakken oil patch have presented it as a pathway to energy independence. If we follow Illich’s thought, however, the need for the fossil fuels produced from the Bakken constitutes a much more densely constituted web of dependence. 

Despite romantic views of the American West as a space for rugged individualism, the reality of work in the Bakken is more consistently manifest as the “wage earners frontier” with oil patch worker depending on a dense web of government, capital, and institutions to thrive. In fact, the risks associated with oil field work, the structured spaces of workforce housing, the technocratic organization of 21st-century extractive industries, and even the increasingly conspicuous collusion of the state and the oil companies locates the oil patch worker (as well as any consumer of fossil fuels) amidst multiple and rarely competing systems of control. Parts of this system from the economic networks that fund the work to the infrastructure that moves oil and water throughout the patch are conspicuously occluded as if to hide these patters of dependency. In fact, little about the Bakken and the Bakken oil boom constitutes genuine independence, but the space of man camp provides a rare exception.

It is hardly surprising that local government has cracked down on both mudrooms and informal workforce housing sites, and promoted superficially tidier superficially tidier apartment blocks that despite their more rational and regular design are now unoccupied. The result is a simple case study for Illich’s ideas. The informal conviviality of RV parks in the Bakken produced housing that was flexible, dynamic, cost effective, and left little impact on the landscape. The less convivial constraints of modernity produced produced a superficially more humane and rational housing system that has, at least for now, failed and will cost communities and future workers into the future.