Environment and Society in the Ancient World

Dimitri Nakassis pointed me in the direction of the most recent issue of History Compass which features a series of article the environment and society in the Ancient World. These article are best read as short essays on the state of the field with distinctive takes on the scholarly conversation rather than groundbreaking works of original scholarship. Considering both the immense outpouring of recent work on the historical (and modern) environments and challenging body of technical tools and discussions necessary to understand this scholarship, this issue was a good idea and a nice place to start for anyone interested in the “environmental turn.”

The two essays that caught my eye were Catherine Kearns article titled “Mediterranean archaeology and environmental history in the spotlight of the Anthropocene.” The article offers a nice review of recent work on the Anthopocene, the long term history of Mediterranean environments, and, then, a case study  from Cyprus where Kearns has done important work using the survey data produced from the Vasilikos and Maroni valleys on Cyprus. She argues that environmental changes contributed to the reuse of certain features like check damns in the upper reaches of these river valleys between 800 and 300 BC. These dates coincide with a period during which carbon stable isotope analysis revealed an increase in water on the island. These sites also provided access to copper deposits which represented an important source of wealth for the island. At the same time, the increased availability of water during this same period, contributed to increased agricultural productivity on the island to support copper mining and the emergence of the (new?) Iron Age polities that would come to dominate Cypriot society until the Hellenistic period.

Michael Decker’s two-part article on the environment in Late Antiquity offers a useful contribution to understanding the role that climate change and the environment played in the Late Roman world. Late Antiquity, of course, is full of paradoxes. On the one hand, it would appear that the Late Antique world experienced persistent and perhaps even increased economic activity, trade, and prosperity from the 5th to the 8th century. On the other hand, this period also witnesses significant political instability and relatively rapid religious and social change over the Mediterranean basin. As Decker notes, the alarming character of the political collapse in Late Antiquity often supported colonialist readings of the pressures exerted on the empire’s margins. In this reading, for example, the rise of Islam, for example, represented a political and religious response to the increased aridity of the Near East, the economic decline of the Roman core related to the deforestation of North Africa, and the failure of the Roman state in the peripheral provinces of the West correlated to cooler and dryer temperatures. Decker demonstrates how many of these views, at least for the East, contributed to and fed upon Orientalist assumptions regarding the character of nomadic groups living around the periphery of the Roman Empire.

The second part of his article considers new data that is being brought to bear on climate change at the end of the ancient world. While Decker stops short of arguing how this data will go beyond correcting the environmentally deterministic views of the end of antiquity in the past and provide new ways of thinking about how longterm trends in climate change changed the ancient world. But, he makes clear that there is significant promise in the analysis of finer-grained data.

These articles are a useful introduction to the growing impact and future potential of climate science and environmental studies in the ancient world. As with so much of this work at present, it is more promising than compelling, but it clearly marks a significant path forward for future research. 

Memories of CAARI at 40

The Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute is 40 years old next year. As part of our efforts to recognize its important place in the archaeology of Cyprus, the board of trustees has invited long-time (and relatively more recent) friends of CAARI to contribute reminiscences to their webpage over the next few months.

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I wrote up some of my memories of my first trip to CAARI close to 15 years ago and tried to articulate what the collegiality of the place, the leadership and generosity of its directors, and how hot it was the first night I spent there.

As a relative newcomer to Cyprus and to CAARI, I can’t conjure memories of the early days or evoke images of half-forgotten figures, places, and events. My arrival at CAARI with my friends and collaborators, Scott Moore and David Pettegrew, was in May of 2003. I had just completed and defended my dissertation but had not yet received my degree, found a academic (or even non-academic!) job, or even decided what to do next. We landed in Larnaka with the goal of prospecting some coastal sites near Pyla village for a possible new project, as well as checking out the antiquities of the island which I had never seen.

I had just spent a couple years at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and was helping wrap up a survey project in the Corinthia and on the island of Kythera. I had become familiar with what I understood to be a kind of stuffy, formal archaeology characterized by anxious and awkward gatherings at the American School and what I perceived (as a student) to be a minefield of professional rivalries and secret knowledge. Whether this was literally true or not, coming to Cyprus felt like a new start.

Our first night on Cyprus was in the hostel at CAARI. It was hot despite being May and the hostel was empty. There was a pesky mosquito buzzing in my ear all night and no matter how I moved or shifted, I could not get cooler or more comfortable. I can honestly say that this first night in the hostel was the last uncomfortable moment that I had at CAARI. Our meeting the next day with then director Tom Davis was collegial and supportive and entirely without pretension. The friendly and relaxed library was full of hidden gems ranging from unpublished dissertation manuscripts to obscure Cypriot periodicals. The strange echoes of footfalls in the atrium traced my route between the library and the room that housed the photocopier for a long day of research. They continue to draw me back to CAARI, although never as often as I’d like.

Over my almost 15 years of work on the island CAARI has been an invaluable resource as I’ve explored the archaeology of Cyprus. Directors Tom Davis and Andrew McCarthy have both been professional models for my own academic and intellectual development and steered me and my colleagues through some tricky political situations with our work at Pyla-Koutsopetria. Vathoulla Moustoukki has always made our visits to CAARI efficient and full of happiness. The annual CAARI workshop revealed the range of archaeological work and, more importantly, revealed the spirit of sharing on the island extended well beyond the CAARI community. The well-lubricated socializing at the CAARI reception after the workshop was for many years the end of season party that every project hoped to have, and connected me to colleagues and collaborators who continue to support my career.

The last few years, I’ve had the privilege of serving as a member of the CAARI board, and it has reminded me that the comfortable and welcoming confines of CAARI represents the tireless energies of both the staff and current and past trustees. And while I haven’t managed to visit CAARI as much as I’d like over the last few years, the regular reports keep me informed of its ongoing transformation and persistent commitment to everyone who cares about the archaeology of Cyprus.

  

Three Cypriot Thing Thursday

Just a quick post today centered on three interesting Cypriot related things that have come through my news feed recently.

First, if you’re looking for funding to do research on Cyprus and at the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI), go and check out their website for a glorious gaggle of fellowship opportunities. As anyone who has worked on Cyprus for any length of time will attest, CAARI is the institutional heart of foreign archaeological work on the island. Its recently improved facilities include a spectacular new library for paper books and a air conditioners (egg nishnahs for our Australian colleagues) in the hostel. 

Second, if you find yourself on Cyprus this October, be sure to check out the Nea Paphos and Western Cyprus Colloquium. It is being held in celebration of Paphos being named a European cultural capital for 2017. My colleagues, Scott Moore, Brandon Olson, and I, will have a paper presented by the inestimable Joanna Smith who will probably single handedly represent the recent flurry of activity at Polis in Western Cyprus. Here’s a link to the program.

Finally, my buddy David Pettegrew sent along a little article from the Cyprus Mail recently that announced that the tennis courts which have long stood to north of the Larnaka District Archaeological museum and the to the east of the excavated area of the ancient harbor of Kition. The goal is to make this site more visible to visitors and, perhaps, expand the excavated areas while also creating a new welcome area. The site of Kition is among the most under appreciated on Cyprus largely because its tucked in and around the modern city of Larnaka. The last few years, however, have seen a concerted effort to make the site more visible and understandable to the visit and when the museum reopens with redesigned and expanded displays, I suspect the Kition will return to its rightful place among the ancient cities of Cyprus.

UPDATE: To this we can add a conference to celebrate the centenary of Honor Frost’s birth to be held at the University of Cyprus from October 19-24! Titled “Under the Mediterranean” the program looks at Frost’s legacy of underwater research on ancient harbors across the Levant and Cyprus.  

Ottoman Peasants and their Local Elite

I’m always excited to read something my Michael Given who has published a series of intriguing articles unraveling the complexities of the Cypriot landscape during the Ottoman period. I was particularly intrigued by his recent piece in the Journal of Islamic Archaeology 4.1 (2017) titled “Global Peasant, Local Elite: Mobility and Interaction in Ottoman Cyprus.”

As the title suggest, the article looks to invert the old paradigm of local peasants and global elite by observing that peasants on Cyprus understood their place in an economy that was far from local. By looking at the way in which peasants speculated on their cotton crops, moved goods to profitable markets across the island, and negotiated rents and loans from landowners, Given contributes to a larger conversation that recognizes peasants as active participants in their own economic lives. Recent scholarship in the Mediterranean has sought to revise the idea that peasants were “people without history” or, more frequently in the eastern Mediterranean, figments of history that had somehow persisted in the Early Modern era. Given’s peasants are unapologetically historical individuals who recognize the contingencies present in their own economic strategies and existence. 

Given’s work has recently interested me for two reasons. First, as I’ve blogged about before, he has explored Ivan Illich’s idea of conviviality in the context of Mediterranean landscapes.

More importantly, in this case, is Given’s interest in mobility in the Mediterranean landscapes and particularly the role of monopati, cart tracks, and roads not only in linking together communities but creating spaces for economic and social activities. That these routes were more than simply passive links between communities and activated opportunities for interaction along their routes offers a way to understand the formation of seasonal settlements along these routes as preserving and building upon the common space of the roads. While it may be self-evidence, a model that understand roads themselves as space of interaction reminds us that road do more than manifest interaction between settlement “nodes”; they create settlement “nodes” as well. (My work in the Bakken allowed me to observe this phenomenon accelerated into hypermodern realty (in a kind of literal dromology); I’m now eager to read Erin Gibson’s work on roads that I first noticed in the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology and which I now see that she’s expanded to North American cart roads!).    

Our work in the Western Argolid Regional Project has likewise focused on road and tracks through our survey area that preserved the course of Early Modern routes that were partly bypassed by modern paved roads. The appearance of seasonal settlements along these routes tied the season movement of flocks from villages outside the region demonstrated the dynamism and movement present in the early modern landscape. The presence of threshing floors around the larger of these indicated that these settlements were more than simply winter pastures for flocks, but also served as anchors for fields in the region and the processing of the late summer harvest. These seasonal settlements also provided access to markets at Argos (and the Aegean) and further diversified opportunities for villages like Frousiouna which stands at the head of a north-south valley oriented toward the Corinthian Gulf. 

Cypriot Landscapes

I finally grabbed a few minutes to read Giorgios Papantoniou’s that Thanasis Vionis’s recent article in Land, “Landscape Archaeology and Sacred Space in the Eastern Mediterranean: A Glimpse from Cyprus.” It is a among the first articles to emerge from their “Settled and Sacred Landscapes of Cyprus” project which has focused on the area to the west of Larnaka. This article focuses for the most part on the sites around Kofinou in the Xeros River valley in Larnaka District.

This space is interesting to me because it is situated in a very similar location to our site of Pyla-Koutsopetria. Kofinou is approximately 20 km to the west of Larnaka and slightly more inland where as Koutsopetria is 10 km to the east of the Larnaka and a coastal site. They both, however, stand near what many scholars have thought to be the boundaries of the ancient city of Kition and situated along major land routes through the ancient (and modern) countryside (so even if we conceive of ancient borders between states as less lines on the map and more markers along routes of contact, we can understand both Kofinou and Koutsopetria as marking likely edges to the political authority of Kition into the countryside).

The article got me thinking about three major things (and I’m sure a reading of the article by someone less easily distracted by their own archaeological commitments on the island!):

1. Landscapes. The first four pages of the article unpacks the wide range of theoretical perspectives that hang precariously on the concept of landscape in Mediterranean archaeology. For anyone interested in Mediterranean landscapes, this is an almost ideal primer and it broadly frames the work of the Settled and Sacred Landscapes of Cyprus project. The complexity of landscapes as spaces defined by economic, political, social, and religious activities recognizable through archaeological methods informs the following analysis of the Kofinou region. The awareness that landscapes are diachronic and diverse incorporating different spaces and places at various times and both informing and being the product of myriad experiences. I only wish that the authors made more apparent how the complexities of recent archaeological approaches to landscape inform their reading of the sacred spaces of Kofinou.

2. Site Size and Population. Among the more intriguing aspects of this project is the authors’ willingness to draw upon methods grounded in processual archaeology. In other words, despite the complexities of recent theoretical reflections on landscape and their dependence of post-processual understanding of lives and experiences spaces and places, Vionis and Papantoniou look toward intensive pedestrian survey to understand the extent of settlement at a site. Their site of Kofinou is approximately 13 ha and could support a population of 250-300 families on the basis of available arable land in the vicinity. This was compared to our estimate of 40 ha at Pyla-Koutsopetria from which they estimated a population of perhaps as many as 1000 families. 

Whatever one thinks of their estimates population and site size, I’m not entirely convinced that the same formula could be scaled to Koutsopetria. Without getting pedantic, I wish they authors had been more explicit in how they arrived at site size estimates (and this probably applies to our estimated site size as well) and how these can be compared across the island. More than that, though, it would be interesting to consider the functional differences between a site like Kofinou and our site at Koutsopetria. If, as the authors suggest, the Kofinou site is a settlement, then the estimates based on arable land and artifact scatters may well speak to population. In contrast, we’ve argued that Koutsopetria is a small emporion and perhaps a transshipment site for agricultural produce (particularly olive oil and perhaps wine) from the region. In other words, much of the build up space of the site would not have been settlement at all, but warehouses, production facilities, and, of course, the ecclesiastical compound associated with the excavated basilica. This isn’t to suggest that people didn’t live at Koutsopetria, but it’s functional purpose would serve to define its extent. The absence of massive quantities of cooking pots at Koutsopetria, for example, tends to suggest that much of the space was not concerned with habitation or settlement, but storage and processing of good for export.

3. Diachronic Landscapes. I was particularly intrigued by their effort to think about the diachronic landscapes of Cyprus and to balance the various aspects of places from geology and topography, to history, memory, and long-term structural organization of Cypriot sacred and settled space.

Border zones like Kofinou and Koutsopetria have seen both historical investment starting as early as the Iron Age with sanctuaries which inscribed the landscapes with persistent places even after the political and economic contingencies of border zones abate. The appearance of a Early Christian basilica at Koutsopetria, for example, might have less to do with successive Iron Age and Hellenistic sanctuaries and more to do with diachronic landscape of the place and accretion of successive rounds of material investment that built upon both the practical realities of a natural embayment, proximity to inland passages, and the presence of easily defensible coastal heights, and the social and cultural realities of marking the landscape with fortifications, sanctuaries, and settlements.

The relationships that form these diachronic landscapes are likewise variable and depend upon the place of the site and island within larger networks. Indeed, their very visibility and definition often relies on the presence of recognizable artifacts imported to the site or monument types familiar based on their presence elsewhere on the island or in the region. In other words, the diachronicity of landscapes is something that includes the archaeologist in the longterm history of sites as well as its location in Cypriot landscape and its place within the relational structures of disciplinary knowledge.

Cyprus in the 7th and 8th centuries

Over the past week or so, I’ve worked my way through Luca Zavagno’s new book, Cyprus between Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (AD 600-800): An Island in Transition (Routledge 2017). As the title suggests, the book examines the 7th and 8th centuries on the island and brings together in a single volume arguments that Zavagno had made in a number of significant articles in Dumbarton Oaks PapersReti Medievali Rivista, Byzantion, and the Mediterranean Historical Review. He argues that the position of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean allowed it to enjoy significant interregional connectivity with Asia Minor, Egypt and North Africa, the Aegean, and the Levant throughout this period, and this allowed for a remarkably resilient economic and social structure on the island that allowed it to survive the disruption of the weakening Roman trade networks (particularly the annona), Arab raids and other military interventions, and the island’s changing place within the political organization of the Mediterranean. Zavagno builds his argument on archaeological sources and challenges ideas grounded in texts that by the late-7th century, the island and the ancient Mediterranean had entered a period of terminal decline.

In many ways, Zavagno’s book will complement David Metcalf’s recent effort to aggregate evidence for Byzantine Cyprus, and follow current trends toward reconsidering the 7th and 8th century Eastern Mediterranean in light of revised ceramic chronologies that have fueled a renewed skepticism toward the apocalyptic narratives so common in textual sources. In many ways, this work is bringing to fruition Peter Brown’s famous arguments for a long late antiquity extending the basic sinews of the Roman (and ancient world) in the 8th century across the Eastern Mediterranean.

I won’t write a full review of this book (yet?), but have a few bullet point type observations:

1. Middle Ground. Like Greg Fisher’s recent book on the Late Roman Near East, Zavagno draws upon  Richard White’s idea of “middle ground” to describe the generative character of the encounter between the Late Roman, Christian, Greek-speaking polities and economic networks of antiquity, and the emerging Arab, Muslim, polities of the Levant and North Africa over the course of the 7th century. To Zavagno’s credit, the manages to avoid a view of the middle ground that essentializes the influences on Cyprus as Christian/Muslim, Greek/Arab, Byzantine/Islamic. In fact, Zavagno recognizes the echoes of the recent political situation in Cyprus in the interpretations of the so-called “condominium” period on the island when scholars speculated that Byzantine and Arab states jointly administered the island’s fiscal and political organization. This arrangement is unlikely, and in its place, Zavagno suggested a more fluid political and economic structure where various relationships across the region, including, but not limited to those mediated by centralize political entities in Constantinople or Damascus, constantly negotiated their stake in the island. The residents of the island itself and its institutions – ranging from the church to imperial and local elites – also contributed to this network of negotiated arrangements which occasionally produced relatively large-scale violence, like raids, and the payments of taxes, but often resolved itself in myriad local actions across a range of institutions and communities, including visits by Arab merchants, Arab settlers on the island, and not excluding the possibility of an Arab garrison.

2. Political and Economic Continuity. As one might expect, Zavagno sees the fluidity of the middle ground as allowing for a remarkable level of political and economic continuity. By examining the archaeological record carefully and with particular attention to recently revised ceramic chronologies, Zavagno is able to argue that the economic relationships between Cyprus and the surrounding regions persisted in the late-7th and 8th centuries. Late Roman D ware, for example, once thought to fall out of producing by the late 7th century has not been shown to persist into the 8th or even 9th. Our ability to recognize and date various forms of Late Roman amphora dating to the late 7th and 8th centuries have similarly allowed archaeologists to trace the persistence of economic connection in the region in new ways. Recently published seals, for example, have demonstrated that continued institutional relationships between Byzantine institutions and local elites as well as between ecclesiastical communities and various elites. These have, in turn, thrown the limited evidence in textual sources (particularly hagiography) for continued contact across the region into higher relief. 

This persistence of ties between Cyprus and institutions, individuals, and communities, almost certainly supported some continuity in settlement both in urban and rural areas. The decline of rural and coastal communities – like our site of Pyla-Koutsopetria – or more marginal settlements like Kalavassos-Kopetra, may reflect shifts in the intensity of economic connections with the surrounding regions and the emergence of a more contingent and dynamic rural settlement structure designed to take advantage of the middle ground of the 7th and 8th century while continuing to exploit longterm environmental and cultural resources present on the island. Cities likewise enduring the changing access to administrative resources and institutional patterns while continuing to function as population centers and nodes of local authority across the island well into the 8th century. 

3. Political and Economic Contingency. Continuity on Cyprus, then was mitigated by the needs to be responsive to the contingent world of White’s middle ground. I was particularly intrigued by Zavagno’s use of the term “resilience” to describe Cypriot communities and institutions. Too often, I think, we imagine local economies and institutions as the products of centralized fiat, and this is certainly true for Late Antiquity where so much archaeological and historical visibility for regions like Cyprus depends upon systems shaped by administrative connections or texts that provide glimpses of the margins from the center.

For Zavagno, the visibility of this evidence presents an illusory stability for Cypriot landscapes. As the relationship with the center – particularly the core imperial lands of the Aegean and Asia Minor – underwent change, the visibility of the connections between Cyprus and the wider region became more contingent and fluid. This is different from arguing that these connections disappeared. In fact, Zavagno insists that connections between Cyprus and the region continue to function but in more contingent and fluid ways that speak to the resilience of Cypriot communities, cities, and settlements as they negotiated new economic relationships amid various competing influences. 

This is clever stuff and while the argument is not entirely compelling (other than as a salutary reminder that the absence of evidence is not the evidence for absence), it offers a persuasive hypothesis that should shape continued scrutiny of Cypriot material culture. Hand-made vessels, objects like cooking and utility wares, and less visible (or widely recognized) activities associated with building traditions, decorative arts, and agricultural production may well provide hints at contingent practices engaged on a generational scale that often go overlooked in textual studies and archaeology’s tendency to privilege long-term economic and social trends.   

4. The Long Late Antiquity. This book represents a really nice contribution to recent trends toward a longer Late Antiquity. From the 18th century, scholars have seen Late Antiquity as both a period of decline and a period that generated many of the core institutions of the Western world. The break between the ancient world and the Middle Ages reflects no only a key chronological division in our understanding of the past, but one that defines disciplinary boundaries among academics with Classicists working before the Middle Ages and the Medievalists working after. Moreover, since the early 20th century, the division between the ancient and Medieval world has also been geographic with the loss of the Near East and North Africa to the Roman Empire marking a more or less permanent break between the Western, Christian world, and the Eastern, Muslim one.

By challenging the tidiness of this break on the island of Cyprus (and by implication and comparison elsewhere), Zavagno’s book (and the other major and minor works dealing with the 7th century) begins to pick at the very seams of both our academic discipline-making and our definition of what it means to be “western” and “eastern.” Zavagno does not go in for sweeping statements, but on a granular level he is clear. Cyprus in Late Antiquity absorbed influences from around the Mediterranean through travelers, trade, institutional ties, and economic relationships. This was both a characteristic of Cyprus and its insular location, but not also reflected larger trends in connections between regions in the wider Mediterranean. As a result, the long-standing idea of a break between east and west, Christian and Muslim, ancient and Medieval increasingly appears to be gentle elision throughout the 7th and 8th centuries where cultures mingled and mediated in local ways. The birth of the West (if this retains any value), then, comes from myriad local engagements that defied any simple dichotomies.  

5. What is Culture? The biggest critique that I have with this book, which is remarkably detailed and valuable, is that the island of Cyprus sometimes comes across as too unified an object of study. The sites on Cyprus, as some of our work at Pyla-Koutsopetria showed – had remarkable variation in terms of material culture. The distribution of fine wares, alone, suggest that issues other than access and chronology shaped the preference for one kind of table ware over another. The same can probably be said for church decoration, architecture, and other aspects of daily life (particular that associated with display).

The variation across Cyprus, of course, speaks to the varying levels and kinds of engagement with other regions, but also undermines the idea that Cyprus is a useful object of study. The tendency to conflate or attempt to synthesize settlement types on the island, material culture, and even the fate of cities and the countryside, reflects a concession to modern political boundaries that might at times subvert his larger argument for middle ground. 

Moreover, I wonder whether the tendency to see Cyprus as an place unto itself (in an insular ways, as it were), has limited the impact of the remarkable archaeological work on the island in larger considerations of the Late Roman Near East. Zavagno does a great job looking beyond the shores of Cyprus for comparanda and evidence for larger trends and connections. At the same time, I wonder whether our view of Cyprus would be much improved if we considered the sites on the island as extensions of the Levant, Anatolia, and even Egypt and North Africa? 

6. An Archaeological Quibble. This is really just a quibble, but at times, I found Zavagno’s description of archaeological contexts occasionally not compelling. While the book is not, strictly speaking, the publication of a site, but a book that uses a range of published archaeological data to make an argument, there were times when I wondered whether the quality and character of the excavations would sustain the kind of arguments that Zavagno was building. For example, late examples of Late Roman D ware (Cypriot Red Slip) in a sealed deposit with late-8th century with glazed white wares from Constantinople does not make a compelling case for LRD wares being 8th century without much more detail. In fact, all things being equal it would seem that the LRD wares are residual, but without more detail, it is impossible for me to know for certain.

In the end, this is quibble and my other critique has more to do with the book that I’d write than an actual critique of Zavagno’s book. As it stands, this book is a useful addition to the growing body of work on the 7th century. 

Last Days on Cyprus

I’ve had a remarkably productive two weeks on Cyprus that are really the culmination of almost 10 years of work at Polis-Chrysochous and close to 15 years of work on the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria.

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Our work at Polis has culminated in a massive article that we learned had been accepted just before departing for Cyprus. The article primarily focuses on the dating of the South Basilica and the material from a particularly robust deposit of material in a fill. In response to some of the reviewers critiques we expanded and refined our catalogue to connect our objects to our dates even more clearly. We also included more objects that push our building into the final third of the 7th century and perhaps even hint at the 8th. These are hazy times in the history and architecture of the island so our work will not only shed some light on a particular site and a late assemblage, but also on the history of the island and the region during a rather tumultuous and seemingly obscure period in the island’s history.

On the other side of the island, we wrapped up work on material from the sites of Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla. The former is an Early Christian basilica probably dating to the late 6th-century and certainly in use in the early 7th century before probably collapsing sometime before the middle of that century. Vigla is a Late Classical to Hellenistic fortified site that produced a really nice assemblage of Hellenistic pottery from a clean up dump.

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The two sites featured prominently in our survey volume (which is still available as a free download!) and for the last five years, we’ve been working on a detailed description and analysis of our material from three seasons of our own excavations and two reasons of excavations by the Department of Antiquities in the 1990s.

While Polis has plenty more material to draw us back, our work at PKAP is more or less over. So we’re looking to pass some of that site onto scholars interested in excavating the Hellenistic site on a larger scale than we did over our three seasons. It’s been kind of a bitter-sweet visiting Vigla the last time and putting away crates of objects knowing that next time we see these sherds it’ll be to put them into permanent storage.

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Conversations with David Pettegrew

A week worth of conversations with David Pettegrew is pretty challenging and invigorating stuff. 

Part of the great value of doing field work is the conversations during downtimes. David and I have been immersed in working on the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology for the last two years, but we’ve been chatting about other projects – including our next book project, An Introduction to Early Christian Archaeology.

This summer we chatted about a potential collaboration between his brilliant Digital Harrisburg project and maybe a new tourist guide and The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. This led to a productive conversation about the potential of digital and public humanities. I suggested that the limited time that faculty have to dedicate to public humanities projects may well parallel the limited time that consumers of public humanities projects have to engage them. (In my experience, faculty are not particularly voracious consumers of public humanities projects.) 

We also discussed the strange tension between public humanities as opportunities for student learning, but also as having to compete with myriad distractions of modern life from video games and movies to work, sports, kids, and other media. A significant challenge for the historian or public humanist, who often works constantly between an academic and public audience, is finding ways to present what we know and do in a way that competes with professionally generated media. We’re underfunded amateurs who are often expected to bring students into projects that are intended to compete for attention with highly paid professionals capable of slick production, with access to marketing teams, skilled programers and developers, and massive media markets. 

At the same time, we celebrated the potential of “punk projects” with low costs, modest goals, and do-it-yourself practices. As we contemplate the demise of the National Endowment for the Humanities we began to imagine a world where competition for grants could give way to greater impulse for collaboration and the often large, lavish (but not always even in humanities terms) grants and projects funded by the NEH would be replaced by denser networks of collaboration among humanists. To be clear, I don’t think that more organic and DIY practices could replace the sustained and systematic investment and leadership of the NEH, but I do wonder whether there are positive, alternative ways to think about how the humanities works.

Invariably, David and I also talked about intensive pedestrian survey archaeology. We reflected a bit on the rise and decline of methodology as a central feature of the discourse of intensive pedestrian survey in the Mediterranean. I offered the observation that with the growing acceptance of intensive survey among Mediterranean archaeologist has blunted the apologetic tone so prevalent in survey literature in the immediate aftermath of the Second Wave survey projects. It’s hard to know for certain if this lull is real or just the maturation of the conversation which results in fewer blockbuster methods articles and more incremental change. At the same time, it is clear that the way that we talk about intensive survey practice and methods has become more confident and perhaps less critical and reflexive.

Finally, we’ve talked about our work at Pyla-Koutsopetria. We have a small, but tightly controlled body of data from three(plus) seasons of excavation and five worth of study that now almost ready for publication. The most interesting conversation focused on our careful and exhaustive (and exhausting) analysis of the plow zone assemblage from the site of Pyla-Vigla. This assemblage could be compared profitably to the assemblage produced during intensive pedestrian survey to offer a small, but well-controlled case study for the relationship between the surface, plow zone, and subsurface remains.

We usually circle back to our work at the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey and various ways to prepare a “final publication” that at least leads researchers to our data (when it’s fully published) if not to a particular set of conclusions or interpretations. 

Most conversations with David conclude with the refrain that we have too many projects and too many top priorities, but I think we both agree that this is better than being bored!

From Little Things

Despite having written and blogged about slow archaeology and the importance of being in the landscape and various expressions of embodied knowledge, I’m nevertheless always surprised by how time with ancient artifacts helps me think through archaeological problems.

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The last two weeks in Cyprus have focused on the artifact assemblages from the site of Polis-Chrysochous and Pyla-Koutsopetria. At both sites, we’re working to finish processing artifacts from excavations. Over the past decade, we read most of the ceramics from these sites and documented their type with brief descriptions. A handful of objects, however, receive more detailed descriptions and study. Generally speaking these artifacts represent the most chronologically or functionally diagnostic types from the assemblage. We focused on fine table wares, amphora, and cooking pots at Polis and Koutsopetria and spent a good bit of energy looking carefully at each artifact and preparing a catalogue entry. 

This kind of work has got my thinking about the end of antiquity in Cyprus and the role that various types of artifacts have in understanding the end of the kinds of economic and social pattern that have historically defined antiquity. Individual classes of ceramics from Roman red slip fine wares (particularly African Red Slip, Phocaean Ware, and Cypriot Red Slip (LRD)) not only provide elusive dates for end of ancient patterns of trade connecting production sites and consumers across the Mediterranean but reflect tastes in pottery types (as well as foodways) that persisted for half a millennium. The same can be applied to cooking pots and even humble transport amphora. This intersection of economic patterns and social habits embodied in these tiny, broken sherds fascinated me over the last two weeks and located the world of antiquity in smallest fragment of the past.

Shipping Containers

If I had all the time in the world, I would write an article on shipping pallets or vernacular architecture in science fiction novels or global adhocism or something.

Mostly, I do far more mundane things like tend to databases or find pot sherds in crowded storerooms. On Saturday, I found myself working as an assistant to a second year M.A. student. Good times!

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Recently, my old punk archaeology, North Dakota Man Camp project, and blogging buddy, Kostis Kourelis has suggested that we investigate the use of storage containers in a spontaneous, but structured way. What we really need is a simple application that allows a user to take a photo of a shipping container with a georeference and a small field for a description. We don’t have that yet, but we’d be open to someone developing that for us. (In fact, to make the application completely awesome, we’d have a very simple option for “shipping container,” “pallet,” or “blue tarp” representing the holy trinity of ad hoc construction material). Our users, to glom on to Kostis’s idea, would shoot photos and then another group of more committed users would use an online crowd-sourced tagging and filtering program to refine our database and to provide a foundation upon which our vernacular analysis could develop.

Since we don’t have an application or a crowd sourcing platform or even a group of committed (and insane) colleagues from around the world, I’ll just post a few photos of shipping containers used as housing from the beach below the site of Kourion. They seem to serve to house guest workers at the seaside taverna.

Here’s my contribution:

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