A Small Book about Small Sites on a Small Island with Big Ideas

This weekend, I had the immense pleasure of reading Catherine Kearns’s The Rural Landscapes of Archaic Cyprus (2022). The book is fantastic (and I say this as someone who is both increasingly “Iron Age Curious” and has a more mature interest rural landscapes both on Cyprus and elsewhere).

Kearns’s considers the emergence of the rural during the Archaic period on Cyprus. This is a period famously known for the emergence of Iron Age polities that form the core the ten or so “City Kingdoms” on Cyprus during the Archaic and Classical period. Iron Age cities have long attracted the attention of archaeologists working on the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age on Cyprus. Kearns’s book flips this focus by looking at the emergence of rural communities during this period and how non-urban forms of life contributed to the formation of urban polities that became so prominent in the later Archaic and Cypro-Classical periods.

To do this, Kearns interrogates the faint traces of Cypro-Geometric and Cypro-Archaic material from the Vasilikos and Maroni valleys which were surveyed in the late 20th century. Kearns complements this legacy data with resurvey and excavation, but the bulk of the evidence for her arguments comes a careful study of material from these periods across the entire island.

Kearns sets her study of the development of rural landscapes and communities amid a careful and measured understanding of climate conditions, the local environment, and resources. I have to admit to lacking the technical understanding of much of what is necessary to reconstruct paleoclimate data, but she appears to approach such efforts with a full grasp of how difficult aligning climate data with historical developments can be. Her grasp of local environmental conditions and resources in Vasilikos and Maroni valley allowed her to demonstrate how household units created small worlds in the difficult centuries after the collapse of Bronze Age states in Cyprus. Moreover, she is able to provide some examples for how the  the worlds created by these household unites, despite their faint traces in the landscape, leveraged the use of gypsum, copper, wood, and arable soils to create a society that both supported larger urban agglomerations as well as negotiate their own changing roles in Iron Age society.

This is obvious a pretty casual reconstruction of Kearns’s complex and highly nuanced arguments. I honestly can’t do a book like this justice, but it did leave me with several take aways that were peripheral to Kearns’s main arguments, but nevertheless made me particularly happy.

First, Kearns clearly draws upon trends in contemporary environmental history including a prominent shout out to William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis (1991). This iconic masterpiece of contemporary environmental history traces the development of Chicago’s western hinterland in concert with the emergence of the city, its growing population, its industries, and its consumption practices. Cronon’s work marked a watershed in how we understood the relationship between the town and country in the US by demonstrating that the rural/urban divide was largely illusory. One could not exist without the other.

As someone probing the edges of contemporary environmental history lately, this got me very excited.  

Second, Kearns uses survey data in a thoughtful way. While there were moments where I wished that she had unpacked some of the methods used to produce the data that she so carefully analyzed, in general, I was pleased to see survey data being drawn upon in such a natural way. I feel like over the past decade, archaeologists have come to accept the inherent reliability of intensive survey data and felt less need to bracket archaeological landscapes created by survey methods with a heavy layer of methodological justification. The turn-of-the-century survey archeologist in me likes to imagine that this is the result of our careful rumination on the character of survey data. When I stop trying to make everything about my own work (see point one), I realize that Kearns just approached the landscapes of Vasilikos and Maroni valleys with a substantial portion of archaeological common sense.

Third, I was fascinated with how work like Kearns might contribute to how we interpreted the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla. While we had relatively little Iron Age material (and even less material that we could confidently assign to the Cypro-Archaic or much less Cypro-Geometric periods), the location of our site between territories traditional ascribed to Salamis and Kition makes it appealing to consider the locus for rural development outside of the control of any particular urban center. The presence of features in our landscape datable to the Iron Age complements its access to a significant agricultural hinterland, in possession of the topographic advantages of a significant coastal height, and nearby the Late Bronze Age site of Pyla-Kokkinokremos (with the potential for certain forms of landesque capital). We were guilty of attributing the site’s development to the emergence (or even persistence) of urban populations at Kition and Salamis. Kearns analysis urged me to consider whether our site emerged in the aftermath of the Late Bronze Age to Iron Age transition as the site of a rural community that ultimately contributed to the persistence of the community at Kition rather than as an extension of its efforts at rural control. 

In fact, we make a vaguely similar argument when we suggest that the expansion of the site in the Hellenistic to Roman periods reflected the breakdown of the centripetal influence of Salamis and Kition which would have encouraged the development of land that would have otherwise suffered from its politically and economically marginal position along the borders of states.

Fourth, the conclusion of Kearns’s book is a masterpiece in weaving together the often complex and hyper local strands of argument that she develops throughout her book. It demonstrates how the small worlds and faintly visible sites that she focused on in her chapters can propose a new narrative for the emergence of the rural landscape (as well as the urban areas) in the Iron Age. More importantly, though, she takes her arguments for the development of the rural and considers how these influence our view of the Anthropocene in its contemporary and its more expansive historical contexts (i.e. both “big A” and “little a” anthropocene). In other words, she demonstrates how specialized studies in how highly local communities (sometimes no more than family groups) adapted to climate change, local resources, and emerging political entities can contributed to creating a more variegated and socially responsible image of the Anthropocene. Understanding small scale adaptions reminds us that the increasingly global “we” that is responsible for anthropogenic climate change and obligated to resists or slows its progress is and was never as universal as the first person pronoun suggests. The causes, responses, and impacts of climate change in the past, in the present, and in the future are always local. And this is a brilliant reminder for anyone invested in understanding how to produce a just, responsible, and effective response to global climate change today.

Finally, there is no doubt that we live in an era of Big Books by Big Scholars on Big Topics. As I’ve said on this blog, I dislike big books and I cannot lie.

Catherine Kearns’s book is not a big book by any standard (although she is well on her way to becoming a Big Scholar). It’s runs to around 250 pages. Its deals with small worlds on a (relatively) small island situated as much at the margins of contemporary Mediterranean archaeology as it did in relation to past imperial polities. 

That said, this book is not small in terms of idea, significance, or impact. As someone who has a rooting interest in Cypriot archaeology, but no particular investment in the Iron Age, I read this book with more than a little enthusiasm! I’m sure that I’ll be annoying my friends and colleagues when I continue to recommend it to them over the coming years.

It’s the kind of book that one can read over a weekend, but whose ideas and provocations will simmer in my mind for years and it’ll have a bigger impact (at least in the small world of my mind) than any number of the Big Books by Big Scholars.  

Cyprus and the Virgin of the Passion

Just a short post this morning as I continue recovering from the holiday season!

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of reading Matthew Milliner’s Mother of the Lamb: The Story of a Global Icon (Fortress 2022). The book tells the story of the icon of the Virgin of the Passion from its origins on Cyprus during the troubled 12th century to its emergence as a global icon in the 19th and 20th century (usually known as Our Lady of Perpetual Help). A nice short conversation about the icon and his book appeared in Christianity Today about a week ago. It’s a really nice book.

As Milliner noted in his interview, it is a bit odd to read a book about an icon depicting Mary and the infant Jesus (typically, though not always in the pose of the Hodegetria) flanked by an angel holding the lance that pierced Jesus’s side and an angel holding the cross. In other words, this is an icon of the baby Jesus which anticipates his passion on the cross. 

Milliner situates the origins of this icon in the troubled world of 12th century Constantinople and Cyprus fractured by theological controversies and threatened by the closing noose of Crusader aggression. The icon painter Theodore Apsevdis travels to Cyprus where he not only painted the engleistra of Ay. Neophytos, but also created a novel depiction of the Virgin at the church of Virgin of the Vetches (Panagia tou Araka) at Lagoudera in the Troodos Mountains of Cyprus. Milliner connects the Virgin of the Passion to the scion of the a Byzantine aristocratic family on the island who had recently lost his position of power to the conquest of the island by King Richard of England in the lead up to the Third Crusade. From its origins in this troubled moment, the Virgin of the Passion emerged as a potent counterpoint to the triumphant Virgin who icons and presence protected the City and Empire. The Virgin of the Passion gave hope to the vanquished by emphasizing both the humanity of Christ through his mother Mary and the redemptive power of the Passion itself. While this is hardly a Christmas story, it is what makes Christmas important.

Setting aside the theological (and Christological) insights that this icon offers, Milliner’s book situates the Virgin of the Passion in a particular historical context. By unpacking the history of this icon, Milliner demonstrates how the history of the Byzantine world even in its darkest hours and the history of Cyprus can inform not only how we understand currents in contemporary piety, but also how a study of the past opens up new forms of spiritual understanding and new opportunities for religious experiences.

Cyprus has long stood outside the major currents of history and generally sees only the briefest of mentions in the history of Mediterranean or even the Roman and Byzantine world. Milliner’s book moves Cyprus to center stage and demonstrates the value present in understanding the history of a small island at the crossroads of the Medieval world.      

Baptisteries in Greece and Cyprus

For some reason baptistery projects take a long time to come out. This week, two baptistery related projects of mine somehow reached milestones. It’s a Christmas miracle.

The first is the MASSIVE Cambridge Guide to the Architecture of Christianity edited by Richard A. Etlin. I had only a tiny contribution to this gigantic and long simmering project: “Early Christian Baptisteries.” From what I can tell, I started working on this project in 2010 or so. In fact, this project took so long to come to pass that you have to go to my OLD blog to find a draft of the published manuscript: You can read that draft of it here. You can check out the table of content here. I’m particularly pleased to have slipped an image of the Lechaion baptistery into this article!

Yesterday, I completed a draft of another long simmering project on the Early Christian baptisteries of Cyprus. It is a companion piece to one that David Pettegrew and I wrote on the Early Christian baptisteries of Greece.  

If you’re into baptisteries and into Cyprus, I think this as good a place as any to start. Note the bibliography at the end for key additional reading and reference!

The Baptisteries of Cyprus

Scholars have long recognized Cyprus as a crossroads in the Eastern Mediterranean during the Late Roman period. This location of the island between the Levant, Asia Minor, and the Aegean and its wealth during the Roman and Late Roman period shaped its distinct ecclesiastical and Christian history. The island’s location made it a predictable stopover for St. Paul (Acts 9:27; 11:19-26). Its connection to the Levant inspired traditions of prominent early bishops on the island including Paul’s companion Barnabas and the resurrected Lazarus. By the fourth century, the island sent three bishops to the Council of Niceae including St. Spyridon and by the end of the century produced the charismatic St. Epiphanius whose status a heretic hunter drew him to Constantinople to participate, albeit briefly, in the machinations surrounding St. John Chrysostom’s condemnation at the Synod of the Oak in 403. The prominence of Cypriot bishops in the first half-millennium of Christianity is just one indicator of the political and religious significance of the island. Indeed, the sudden discovery of the relics of St. Barnabas in the 5th century, helped bolster the island’s case for ecclesiastical independence from the See of Antioch and reinforce the uniquely autocephalos relationship between the Metropolitan bishop of Cyprus at Salamis-Constantia and the Patriarch in Constantinople. The prominence of the church and its leaders also fostered the growing number of relics on the island and helped make the island a place for pilgrims to stop on their way to the Holy Land. Even in the 7th century, as the Late Roman Eastern Mediterranean started to dissolve under the pressures of religious and political schism, Cyprus remained a key node in Christendom. Displaced populations, such as thousands of Armenians captured during the Persian wars, and displaced bishops, such as Cypriot-born St. John the Almsgiver who fled Egypt in advance of the Persian attacks on Alexandria, found new homes on the island. Throughout the Early Christian period, the island’s location, economic and political prominence, and ecclesiastical stature ensured that its churches were both impressive and diverse in style and shape (see Gordon and Caraher 2018; Mecalf 2009; Zavagno 2017).

Considering its geographic, political, and ecclesiastical context, it is hardly surprising that Cypriot churches drew freely on the architecture of the Near East, Asia Minor, and the Aegean coasts. This diversity of church architecture on the island suggests the presence of different communities with different liturgical practices as well as different groups of builders with access to different material and techniques. Like many places in the Mediterranean, the paucity of clearly dated buildings also means that our chronology of these churches remains provisional. Only a handful of the over 100 Early Christian churches on Cyprus have dates established on the basis of published archaeological excavations (for the most recent catalogue of Cypriot churches see Maguire 2012). As a result, it is difficult to discern development over time or to link architectural trends to the ecclesiastical history of the island. This is particularly disappointing as Cyprus’s location, distinct ecclesiastical history, and remarkable continuity has make it a useful for understanding the dissemination and transformation of church architecture in the Early Byzantine period.

Despite the large number of churches excavated on Cyprus, there are only six well-preserved baptisteries. Three are in the neighborhood of Metropolitan See on the island, Salamis-Constantia: Ay. Epiphanios in the city itself, Ay. Triada and Ay. Philon on the Karpas Peninsula. The are also two well preserved baptisteries at the Episcopal Basilica at Kourion and the coastal site of Ay. Georgios-Peyias. Most recently, the Department of Antiquities excavated a baptistery at the site of Petounta in Larnaka district (Georgiou 2013). There are several poorly preserved or poorly published baptisteries that add to this meager corpus. At the site of Shyrvallos near Paphos, salvage excavations revealed a baptistery in the early 1960s (Metcalf 2009, 459 with citations). An unpublished baptistery stands to the west of the basilica excavated east of the harbor at Amathous. There is also evidence suggesting a baptismal installations at the Chrysopolitissa basilica at Paphos.

The small number of baptistries excavated on Cyprus appears to be partly an accident of discovery and partly a feature of the island’s distinctive ecclesiastical landscape. The best preserved examples of baptisteries suggest that there was a tradition of monumental and architecturally elaborate structures that often stood adjacent to, but separate from the main body of the church. As a result, these monumental baptisteries tend to appear most commonly at churches excavated extensively. Urban contexts for many of the churches on Cyprus and salvage excavation practices has meant that excavators only occasionally opened the kind of exposures necessary to reveal the presence of a baptistery complex. It is hardly surprising, then, that three of the six well-preserved baptisteries are associated with churches located amid large scale excavations (Ay. Epiphanios at Salamis, The Episcopal Basilica at Kourion, and the baptistery basilica at Ay. Georgios-Peyia). Conversely, the absence of monumental baptisteries at Paphos, for example, which was an important ecclesiastical city with Biblical associations and the absence of any substantial Early Christian remains from the city of Kition (modern Larnaka) almost certainly reflects accidents of discovery.

That said, there is also some evidence that Cypriots developed smaller and simpler alternatives to the large-scale baptisteries present at the basilicas identified by large-scale excavations. These alternatives may have included mobile fonts, the use of annex rooms common to the Cypriot churches, or even space in the aisles, atria, or narthex. The presence of the remains of a baptistery in the south apse of the Chrysopolitissa basilica at Paphos and may well indicate the use of moveable baptismal fonts. Stewart suggests that a gap in the opus sectile floor in the north apse of Amathus Acropolis basilica might represent the remains of a displaced baptismal font at this building that otherwise lacks a formal baptismal space (Stewart 2013, 292).

The monumental baptisteries present on the island suggest adult baptism which perhaps correlates with the large-scale conversion of the island over the course of the 5th century. The baptisteries at Kourion, Ay. Philon, and Ay. Epiphanios are on slightly different orientations from their associated churches which would seemingly suggest either earlier or later construction. The excavators at Kourion and Ay. Philon, however, saw the similarities in form between the baptisteries and the basilicas at these sites as evidence for their close contemporaneity. Megaw largely dated the church at Kourion on the basis of coins found in foundation trenches and argues for a fifth century date for the basilica and links it to the prominent bishop Zeno who attended the Council of Ephesus in 431 (Megaw 2007, 158). Ay. Philon appears to have a similar date on the basis of numismatic evidence and the perhaps tenuous attribution of this church to Ay. Philon, a descendent of Ay. Epiphanios (Megaw and du Plat Taylor 1981). The church at Ay. Epiphanios was famously dated on the basis of the Life of Ay. Epiphanios in which God tells the fourth-century Bishop Epiphanios to build a church. This dates the church to the late 4th century at earliest and considering the scale and opulence of the building, it is probably safer to date the church to the early 5th century with modifications continuing into the 6th century. The baptistery is likely associated with the first phase of the building. The similarities between the baptistery at Ay. Trias and that of the nearby Ay. Philon (as well as the baptistery at Kourion and Ay. Epiphanios) would seem to support a 5th century date for that structure and coincides with the date assigned by Papageorghiou at least partly on the basis of a coin of Honorius (395-425) (Papageorghiou 1964, 372-374). The baptistery and basilica at Peyia with its Aegean influences is an outlier in terms of design, but seems likely to date to the 6th century if it is contemporary with its associated church (Papageorghiou 1985, 316). The baptistery at the site of Mazotos-Petounta produced coins dating from between the 4th and 7th century (Georgiou 2013, 123). Without additional context for these finds, it remains difficult to assign to this building a narrower date, but its general form suggests a fifth or sixth century date. These centuries represents a period of aggressive church building perhaps linked as much to the growing Christian population on the island at to efforts by Cypriot bishops to assert their independence from Antiochene authority at the Council of Ephesus in 431 (Maguire 2012, 138).

Richard Maguire’s 2012 dissertation offers the most convenient, recent, and thoughtful survey of the churches on Cyprus. He argues that the design of the four baptisteries – Ay. Epiphanios, Ay. Trias, Ay. Philon, and Kourion – served to support a processional baptismal rite (Maguire 2012, 97-139). To this we can add, albeit tentatively, the baptistery at Mazotos-Petounta. The basilica associated with this baptistery was not excavated, but it nevertheless shares sufficient similarities with the four studied by Maguire to be added to that group. He proposes a rite involving four spaces linked by corridors. A large atrium space allowed the catechumens to gather prior to the start of the rite itself. The candidate then proceeded into an apodyterion where pre-baptismal rites took place and the individual undress before moving to the font itself. Cruciform fonts suggest at least partial immersion and complemented the role of movement associated with the processional rite. The candidate would have walked down into the font by means of a staircase on one of the font’s cross arms and ascended, newly baptized, by another. They would then continue to the chrismarion where the newly baptized Christian received anointing with oil. Presumably then the fully baptized member of the church would enter the basilica and experience the full liturgy. Maguire suggests a link to the baptismal rituals and architectural forms at Jerusalem, Sidé in Turkey, Gerash, and the pilgrimage church at Qalat Sem’an in Syria. Considering the close, if sometime fraught, connections between the church on Cyprus and the ecclesiastical landscape of the wider Levant, this seems plausible. Moreover, the character of Cypriot baptisteries do appear to emphasize processional movement through a series of discrete spaces that mediate the converts liturgical and physical entry into the church.

A mild outlier of this group is the baptistery at Peyia. Its circular font is unusual for Cyprus, with only the poorly preserved font at the site of Shyrvallos in Paphos sharing this shape. The location of the Peyia baptistery to the west of the atrium rather than connected to the main nave may hint at an alternative baptismal liturgy, the use of the atrium as the start of the baptismal processional route, or just constraints imposed by the neighboring buildings. A similar arrangement is apparently present at the still unpublished basilica near the harbor at Amathus which might have reflect the physical limits of the church’s situation near the coast (Keane 2021, 52).

The association of baptisteries with the seats of bishops has largely been a given on the island. The close association of the imposing church of Ay. Epiphanios with the bishops of Salamis-Constantia make it the obvious cathedral. The size, location, and opulence of the Kourion basilica, baptistery, and residential space makes it the cathedral of that city. The baptistery at Peyia likely seems to be associated with a cathedral as is evident in the presence of a synthronon at the church and the adjacent elite residence plausibly associated with the bishop. The later synthronon at the site of Ay. Philon and the elaborate annex rooms may well indicate that it was also a probable cathedral. At the same time, the presence of a baptistery some 20 km away from Ay. Philon at the site of Ay. Triada suggests that some non-cathedral churches may have been also equipped with baptisteries on the island. Metcalf suggests that the church and the baptistery at Ay. Triada predated the more elaborate cathedeal at Ay. Philon and the bishop moved his seat sometime in the fifth century (Metcalf 2009, 275). It is more difficult to explain within the limits of contemporary evidence why some cathedrals lacked obvious baptisteries. The scant evidence for architecturally distinct baptisteries at the massive basilicas at Paphos, including the largely unpublished Chrysopolitissa church, may suggest that in these contexts baptisms took place using moveable fonts or less substantial installations that stood within the liturgical space of the church itself. This would allow us to understand, for example, the Chrysopolitissa as the cathedral of the city despite its lack of a formal baptistery.

The handful of baptisteries on Cyprus reflect a certain amount of continuity of design, ritual and tradition likely centered on around the seat of the metropolitan bishop at Salamis-Constantia. There are, however, some indications for the perennial tension on the island between local practices and broader regional influences. The presence of an Aegean-style baptistery at Peyia on the western side of the island suggests that the influence of the church at Salamis may have had its limits. While this would be hardly surprising, the relative paucity of excavated baptisteries on Cyprus makes speculative any conclusion surrounding the traditions and practices broadly operating on the island. The likely use of moveable fonts which may have left only faint traces in the archaeological record, chronological ambiguities, and the limits to many excavations, further complicates our understanding of ancient practices on the island. The remains that do exist, however, suggest that Cypriot baptismal rituals centered on processional movements similar to those found elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean.


du Plat Taylor, J. and A.H.S. Megaw. 1981. Excavations at Ayios Philon, the Ancient Carpasia. Part II. The Early Christian Buildings. Report of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus, 209-250.

Georgiou, G. 2013. An Early Christian baptistery on the south coast of Cyprus. Cahiers du Centre d’Études Chypriotes 43: 117-126

Gordon, J. M., and W. R. Caraher. 2018. The Holy Island. In D. K. Pettegrew, W. R. Caraher, and T. Davis, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. Oxford University Press. 475-494.

Keane. C. 2021. “More than a Church: Late Antique Ecclesiastical Complexes in Cyprus.” Ph.D. Diss. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich.

Maguire, Richard. 2012. “Late Antique Basilicas on Cyprus sources, contexts, histories.” PhD diss., University of East Anglia.

Megaw, A. H.S. ed. 2007. Kourion: Excavations in the Episcopal Precinct. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks.

Metcalf, M. 2009. Byzantine Cyprus 491-1191. Nicosia: Cyprus Research Centre.

Papageorghiou, A. 1964. Ἡ Παλαιοχριστιανικὴ καὶ Βυζαντινὴ Ἀρχαιολογία καὶ Τέχνη ἐν Κύπρῳ κατὰ τὸ 1963. Ἀπόστολος Βαρνάβας 25: 153-162, 209-216, 274-284, 349-353.

Papageorghiou, A. 1985. L’architecture paléochrétienne de Chypre. Corsi di Cultura sull’Arte Ravennate e Bizantina 32: 229-334.

Stewart, C. 2013. Military Architecture in Early Byzantine Cyprus. Cahiers du Centre d’Etudes Chypriotes 43: 287-306.

Zavagno, L. 2017. Cyprus between the Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (ca. 600-800): An Island in Transition. London: Routledge.

Some Other Archaeology: Late Antiquity at Polis: Recent Research

In some ways, I’ve found the recent discussions of pseudoarchaeology energizing and thought provoking (and as I explain in this twitter thread, my development as an archaeology and a pseudoarchaeology have very much occurred in interrelated ways).

Next week, I’ll present some of my recent work in the village of Polis, where we work on the site of Late Roman and Byzantine Arsinoe. The talk is at 7:30 PM EEST (or 11:30 AM in CST). You can register for the talk via zoom here.

Here’s the abstract and some media. I’ll post a version of my paper next week and apparently it’ll be recorded. Here are some thoughts about my talk.

Starting in 1984, the Princeton Cyprus Expedition excavated areas around the village of Polis-tis-Chrysochous in northwestern Cyprus. These excavations revealed a wide range of buildings and contexts dating from the Late Antique period including two Early Christian basilica style churches surrounded by various buildings that appear to stretch along the northern edge of the city. At some point in Late Antiquity, most of this area appears to have become a massive cemetery, presumably centered on the two churches. Recent research has revealed that the buildings along the northern edge of the city underwent continuous renovation and reconfiguration even as burials encroached.

William Caraher posterWilliam Caraher invitation

ASOR Annual Meeting

For the first time in many years, I’ll be going to the ASOR annual meeting and not present a paper! It’ll also be my first time at a major in person conference since the pandemic put a stop to them. 

So, if you’re in Boston at the meetings this week, please do stop by and say “hi!” I’ll be eager to chat with authors who have volumes in the queue for the ASOR Annual (which I edit), for folks who have quirky or wonderful ideas for my press, or folks interested in Sun Ra or Cyprus! (I’m interested in seeing old friends, of course, and colleagues as well, but that goes without saying!).

There are two Cyprus panels:

Cyprus I
Cyprus II 

Unfortunately Cyprus II runs at the same time as a workshop on Yannis Hamilakis and Raphael Greenberg’s recent book Archaeology, Nation, and Race: Confronting the Past, Decolonizing the Future in Greece and Israel (2022). It looks pretty great and Nassos Papalexandrou is one of the co-chairs. He works with us at Polis. You can check out the panel here.

There’s also a CAARI social that evening if you’re into that kind of thing.

Unfortunately, I’m going to miss Rita Lucarelli’s paper on Sun Ra on Saturday morning! (Of course, this is a convenient time to direct your attention to yesterday’s Sun Ra related NEW BOOK DAY event!)

I’m looking forward to catching up with friends and colleagues and hearing some interesting papers. This might mean that blogging will take a bit of a hiatus for a while!

Thinking Big About Late Antique Polis on Cyprus

One of the things that I’m trying to do as I find myself well and truly a “mid career” scholar is to focus on small things. Maybe it has to do with my interest in craft and even slow practices. Maybe it has to do with my distaste for senior (generally male) scholars producing BIG BOOKS about BIG TOPICS. Maybe it just has to do with embracing the parts of archaeological and scholarly practice that I enjoy. 

At the end of the month, I’ll be giving a paper at the University of Cyprus’s Archaeological Research Unit (ARU). My paper will introduce our decade of work at the site of Late Roman Arsinoe at Polis on Cyprus. The first part of my paper will indulge my inclination to “geek out” on some of the more archaeological aspects of our work. I love the fussy forensics of archaeological argumentation and analysis and my hope is that the ARU will be a receptive audience to some of the work we’re doing to untangle chronology at Polis.

I also know that there will be an expectation that I demonstrate something more significant than my ability to think about chronology, stratigraphy, and architectural history within the confines of the trenches at our site. The second half of my paper (which will be a generous 50 minutes!) will try to focus a bit on how Polis can contribute to BIG PICTURE issues associated with both the archaeology of Late Roman and Early Byzantine Cyprus as well as the archaeology of Late Roman Mediterranean more broadly. This isn’t the most comfortable space for me to operate, of course, but I suppose a lecture like this is a good opportunity to get a bit out of my comfort zone and indulge a bit of “speculatin’ about a hypothesis.”

My goal right now is to discuss four (or five?) things at the end of my paper. Because my paper will focus on the material from EF2 (that is the South Basilica) and from EF1 (which I’ve largely written up here), my evidence will represent only a very modest basis for any “speculatin’,” but I reckon that it will still contribute to some larger conversations. 

First, I think it’ll be useful to establish the relationship between the chronology of some of our “horizons” and assemblages and larger conversations about the dating of Late Roman ceramics. Getting the dates of our ceramic evidence right is important both because ceramics represent the most ubiquitous form of datable evidence from the ancient Mediterranean, and also because the chronology of this material is beginning to shift. This shift is mostly attributable to archaeologists relying less dogmatically on deposits associated with particular historical events (earthquakes, invasions, and the like) and on Cyprus, this involved a critical re-examination of chronologies established on the basis of the Arab Raids. I think that the excavations at Polis (as well as other nearby sites in Western Cyprus) have the real potential to establish new dates (at least relevant locally) for Late Roman and Early Byzantine ceramics. 

Second, establishing new ceramic chronologies also allows us to make some new observations on the economic (and even social) landscape of Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean.This means recognizing that there seems to be connections between production sites and markets that persist into the later 7th and even 8th century. This not only suggests that the political disruptions associated with the Arab Raids in the mid-7th century did not complete destroy the economic ties between the island and its neighbors to the west. The appearance of late forms of transport amphora, tables wares, and various cooking and utility seem to parallel the growing body of evidence from coins and seals to suggest that 7th and 8th century Cyprus remained an economic crossroad characterized as much by resilience as economic contraction and political isolation. 

Third, these conclusions have some significance for how we understand “Cypriot Archaeology” more broadly. On the one hand, Cypriot archaeology has long been associated with the study of the Iron Age kingdoms. With their demise of independent kingdoms and absorption of Cyprus into the Hellenistic and Roman world, scholars have argued that what made these communities “Cypriot” became subordinate to the political realities of new regional and transregional polities. Of course, any number of scholars have challenged this perspective and for the Late Roman period recognizing the regional variations in material culture across settlements and sites on Cyprus suggests that “Roman” material became a medium that supported the persistence of Cypriot identity rather than its erasure. This opens the door for us to expand what we consider as “Cypriot Archaeology” into periods that have traditionally stood outside its core concerns.

Fourth, Cypriot Archaeology has historically focused on the political, religious, and social life of the city kingdoms. Implicit in this work is a concern for urbanism on the island which resonates with an interest in the form of cities at the so-called “end of antiquity.” One of the interesting challenges of Princeton’s work at ancient Arsinoe is that most of our excavations took place outside the ancient city center, which remains under the modern village. That said, these sites do offer subtle proxies for certain aspects of urban life. The use of peri-urban areas first as monumental spaces for religious buildings, arches, well-appointed well-houses, and then as cemeteries in Late Antiquity suggests changing religious priorities that are visible elsewhere on the island as well. The rapid reconstruction of the buildings along the northern side of Polis suggest that these spaces remained not only significant for throughout the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period, but also demonstrated that resilience and perhaps even the persistence of the basic urban structure into the post-Antique period.

The presence of large fills at the site of South Basilica offer a window into the material culture of Polis. Recent work that considers the character of fills in relation to peri-urban dumps, however, offers a lens through which to complicated views of these assemblages. This is particularly significant when comparing the massive fill level associated with EF2 and the South Basilica with the smaller fills associated with the construction and destruction of EF1. 

Finally, the ongoing concern for drainage along the northern slope of the city offers an opaque window into issue of water management at Arsinoe. Efforts to manage the flow of water around the South Basilica might indicate that the situation associated with upstream drainage had changed suggesting, perhaps, that certain elements of civic infrastructure had either fallen into disrepair or underwent a kind of catastrophic failure which permanently disrupted their consistent operation. At the same time, it is possible to imagine a model of urban change that suggests the use of marginal areas of the town — including those susceptible to flooding came into use.

Depending on length and my energy level, I might also talk a little about digital publishing and digital methods as a key component of our work at Polis, but I might be better served staying in my lane and talking about some of the larger issues that shape the Late Roman history of the island.

Two Things on Trash in the Roman World

I really enjoyed Kevin Dicus’s recent article in AJA 126.4: “Refuse and the Roman City: Determining the Formation Processes of Refuse Assemblages Using Statistical Measures of Heterogeneity.” This article pushed me to read Guido Furlan’s 2017 article in EJA 20.2: “When Absence Means Things Are Going Well: Waste Disposal in Roman Towns and its Impact on the Record as Observed in Aquileia.” Both articles dealt with the tricky issue of trash disposal in Roman cities and, more importantly, the character of secondary deposits in an urban setting. 

Dicus’s article uses two statistical measurements to provide a baseline for peri-urban dump sites: Shannon Diversity and Pielou J Evenness.  The former measures the range of types of objects that would appear in an assemblage or sample and the latter measures the distribution of material across the various classes present in the assemblage or sample. Excavated dump sites have proven to have high levels of Diversity and Evenness. For Dicus, this reflects the character of peri-urban dump sites as the end point of city wide refuse collection. This formation process brings together a wide range of discard practices in such a way to produce diverse and evenly distributed assemblages in peri-urban dumps.

Dicus compares the character of peri-urban dumps to material found in various fill context inside Pompeii. For example, domestic refuse tended, in Dicus’s study, to have lower diversity than that from dumps outside the city. This is presumably because it reflects a smaller range of activities (and perhaps developed over a shorter period of time). Curiously, other fills from around Pompeii show levels of diversity and evenness that are not all that different from the municipal dump sites. This suggests that despite their association with domestic spaces and their location within city walls, these fills nevertheless required material from assemblages produced by the more expansive formation process similar to those that formed municipal peri-urban dumps. Dicus’s willingness to unpack and explain the quantitative character of these fills and dumps is really commendable. He not only recognizes the limits of this kind of approach, but also explains it in a way that is both clear and replicable at other sites that have well-excavated dumps and fill contexts that can be compared. 

Furlan’s article is less sophisticated quantitatively and focuses on aoristic analysis of the chronology of fills and dumps. He argues that fill levels in urban sites are often far too variable and dependent on the formation process that created the fills to serve as proxies for the economic situation in a particular community. Parallel to Dicus’s later work, Furlan suggests that municipal dump sites which capture a wider range of formation processes from, presumably, a spatially and functionally more expansive catchment would represent more fully the economic life of a city.

This work is relevant to my recent work at Polis. The area of EF2 in the Princeton grid at the site included a massive fill deposits that presumably served to facilitate the leveling and drainage of sloping ravine. The presence of abundant cobbles in the fill suggests that it combined building material. Its location at the edge of the city also suggest a proximity to a per-urban dump. In fact, a large mound of slag to the north of the site suggests a dump from nearby industrial activities. There is reason to expect, then, that the fill incorporates aspects of industrial discard in its assemblage and the percentage of amphora sherds, for example, is suggestive. The significant quantity of fine and tables wares as well as cooking pots that we should probably associate with domestic use, however, indicates that the fill also draws upon a wider range of processes perhaps including those associated with both urban discard and disposal. 

Unfortunately, the material that we have available for the study of the fill level at EF2 is a sample of the material excavated in the 1990s. We expect that the excavators discarded a good amount of the course and utility wares that appeared as undiagnostic and this means these kinds of vessels are underrepresented in the assemblage. Or, conversely, table and fine wares are proportionally overrepresented in the assemblage that we studied. In other words, we can’t do the kind of thoughtful analysis performed by Furlan or Dicus. Despite these limitations, their work does give me something to think with when exploring the legacy data produced by the excavations along the northern side of the city of Arsinoë in the village of Polis. 

Lecture this Fall: Late Antiquity at Polis: Recent Research

I’m spinning my wheels a bit this fall and trying to get traction after a long and somewhat exhausting summer of research and other work. Fortunately, several projects have become a bit more insistent lately and some new projects have popped up to fill the void.

Among the projects that I have appeared from the ether to structure my semester is a talk that I was invited to give at the University of Cyprus’s Archaeological Research Unit.

Here’s the abstract that I submitted: 

Starting in 1984, the Princeton Cyprus Expedition excavated areas around the village of Polis-tis-Chrysochous in northwestern Cyprus. These excavations revealed a wide range of buildings and contexts dating from the Late Antique period including two Early Christian basilica style churches surrounded by various buildings that appear to stretch along the northern edge of the city. At some point in Late Antiquity, most of this area appears to have become a massive cemetery, presumably centered on the two churches. Recent research has revealed that the buildings along the northern edge of the city underwent continuous renovation and reconfiguration even as burials encroached.

Along with a few photos:

IMG 7550

South Basilica POT

IMG 3911

My current plan for the talk is to start the talk with a broad overview of Late Antique Polis and then focus on four or five issues that have emerged from our work. These issues will start with the most “settled” (and even published) and move onto some more speculative ideas about the city of Arsinoe in Late Antiquity.

1. Untangling Legacy Data. The first thing I’ll discuss is the challenges of working with “legacy data” at a project that flirted with the dawn of the digital age while still adhering to analogue practices. This will be a nice way to introduce the audience to the archaeological contexts for my paper’s analysis.

2. The Phases of the South Basilica. In some ways, this section will confirm that the methods we employed to combine legacy data with new analysis have the potential to produce meaningful results. It will largely summarize conclusions published a few years ago in Hesperia

3. Regionalism and Trade on Cyprus. This section will start to take our research into more speculative areas by demonstrative the value of publishing larger ceramic datasets and showing how they can contribute to understanding connectivity within a broader regional context. Some of our conclusions here have appeared in various publications, but they’re very much still tentative because of the changing chronologies associated with Late Roman ceramics in the Eastern Mediterranean more broadly.

4. Creating Some Late Roman Horizons. As a follow up to the last point, I will introduce our efforts to construct some Late Roman “horizons” at Polis that have the potential to be starting point for both refining ceramic chronologies on the island and proposing new dates for the transformation of the built environment on the island from the 6th to 8th centuries.

5. Fragments, Features, and Functions in the Late Roman Cityscape. Finally, the paper will conclude with some observations on how excavations along the northern edge of Late Antique Arsinoe revealed by the Princeton Cyprus Expedition can offer a fragmentary, but suggestive view of the changing character of the city. In this way, we hope that the work at our site can contribute to our emerging understanding of Late Roman urbanism elsewhere on Cyprus.  


The lecture will occur, I think, on November 28th and delivered via The Zooms, so I should, hopefully, have a link to share with people closer to the date. I’ll also share the text of my paper once I get around to putting words on the page. 

What I Did This Summer: Polis on Cyprus Edition

The early fall is always an awkward time of year because it marks the intersection of summertime work and the more regular routine of the semester’s start (as well as baseball and football season).

Over the last couple of week’s I’ve been working to pull together some of our work from the past summer on Cyprus. This primarily focused at the site of Polis and, more specifically, on the area of E.F1 in the Princeton Cyprus Expedition grid. I’ve written a decent amount about the small excavations in the area, but, so far, we haven’t really produced much more than a synthetic studies of the work there. Our current plan is to produce a more comprehensive study as part of the first volume of a new series dedicated to the Princeton work at Polis.

As per usual, I suspect that it’ll take years for the final publication of this site to appear, but for now, we can provide a provisional (and perhaps ante-penultimate) draft publication of the area. As you’ll discover, if you click the link below, the catalogue is not entirely complete and lacks illustrations at present (but I’ll work to update this when they’re available), but we have completed most of the interpretative heavy lifting and we have largely connected the dots at the site. 

For those of you who don’t know Polis, much less E.F1, the excavations in the area revealed at least four phases of Late Roman activity at the site of which three left clear architectural traces and one was manifest in a burial. More importantly, perhaps, is the assemblage of Late Roman ceramics from the site and residual material dating primarily to the Roman period. The Late Roman fine ware is perhaps the most useful assemblage for scholars, although the site also produced a diverse array of Late Roman amphora and cooking pots. There’s a nice gaggle of lamps and lamp fragments from the site as well which should provide a window into lamp circulation in the western part of Cyprus (and will likely be more meaningful when we publish the illustrations).

Some of the point of publishing this is to run up a flag to show folks what we’ve been doing. It goes without saying that if you have interest or questions about work, please do reach out!

Here’s a link for the download!