Photo Friday: Last Days in the Mediterranean in 2022

I head home from my 2022 study season next week and despite this being a shorter time in the Mediterranean than in the past, I feel like I’ve gotten the good out of my trip and am ready to head home to recharge, get some summer projects wrapped up, and get ready for the next semester.

I’ll leave you with some photos of my time in the Corinthia last week, where I saw some sites that I hadn’t seen recently that captured my academic and aesthetic attention.

Some World War II fortifications:

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Canal worker housing and buildings:

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And of course: 

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And: 

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And one from Cyprus last night:

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Three Things Thursday: Late Antique Corinth, Travel, and End Games

In about 5 days, I return home from my first summer field season in the last three years. It was productive and honestly exhausting even if I never did any real field work and spent most of my time looking at material excavated years ago. Most of our progress, then, hasn’t been revealing or creating new knowledge, but marshalling what already existed into more easily digested forms.

Thing the First

Some of the most useful moments in a field season come from casual conversations over coffee, a meal, or a beer. Last week, my long-time buddy and collaborator, David Pettegrew and I talked about a article that we are writing that surveys research on Late Antique Corinth. The article starts predictably with Oscar Broneer’s famous description of Late Antique Corinth as an “unhappy period of twilight” in his 1954 article on the south stoa.

Within ten years, Dimitrios Pallas unearths the Lechaion basilica, which was among the largest churches in the world in the 6th century. The building was not only architecturally imposing and sophisticated in design, but it was also lavishly adorned with imported marble from imperial quarries. Whatever one thinks of the aesthetics of Early Christian Greece, this building does little to suggest that the city or the region has entered a period of “unhappy twilight.” In fact, the Lechaion church represents just one example of elaborate monumental architecture in the region revealed over the course of the middle decades of the 20th century outside the city of Corinth (and largely, although not exclusively conducted by Greek archaeologists). In this way, interest in the Late Antique city mapped onto the different political and academic agendas pursued by archaeologists with the Americans at Corinth continuing to research the Greek (and Roman) city and the archaeologists in the countryside often working to understand the substantial remains of Late and Post Roman within a different discourse. Archaeologists such as Dimitrios Pallas, for example, sought to locate Early Christian architecture within a continuous tradition of Greek Christianity and, in this context, it less about a twilight of some putative Classical past and more about the emergence of new forms of political, religious, social, and cultural expression both anchored in Classical antiquity and anticipating Medieval and even modern forms of identity. This tension is, of course, bound up in a wide range of commitments that range from the national (or very least broadly political) to the institutional.

Thing the Second

Man, traveling sucks. I spent about four hours in the Athens airport standing in line, sitting in waiting areas, and shuffling amid various crowds of travelers. I was surprised to see the number of American groups in the Athens airport. Most of the groups seemed to be students and there was a palpable excitement surrounding them.

I know it’s not nice to be annoyed by another people’s excitement, but it’s going to take me a while to acclimate to the experience of navigating the traveling public and both ignoring and (whenever possible) avoiding the outward manifestations of other people’s encounters with a new and different world.

On a more positive note, our global COVID sabbatical has certainly made some things more obvious and I wonder whether this will not only require us to re-establish our tolerance for others and consider whether this tolerance is a good thing.

Thing the Third

Now, that I’m back in Cyprus, we have to wrap up the 2022 Polis study season. This involves not only checking the various finds that we’ve catalogued, illustrated, described, and analyzed, as well as going through the massive document that we’ve produced over the last four weeks and figuring out whether all the moving parts work together and make sense.

This is, as you might guess, a pretty miserable task because the best case scenario is that we’re wasting time checking things that don’t need to be checked and worst case scenario triggers frantic work of revision and reassessment. So far, things have been balanced enough not to trigger panic, but also to feel productive. I’m looking forward to sharing some of our work with you next week!

Polis Views

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had my head in the storerooms and museum looking at objects and thinking about space more through the two-dimensional lens of the notebooks and plans and less in three-dimensional terms of a live environment.

So here are some landscape photos that situate Polis in a bit broader context. 

This is Chrysochous Bay facing north.

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The site of E.F2. where the South Basilica stands.

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Here’s a view from the north side of the city toward the Chrysochous Bay.

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And finally, here’s a statue of Regina who was apparently a legendary queen of Cyprus (or whatever). She stands on the quay at Latchi. 

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Polis Sights

I’ve been in Cyprus for a couple of weeks now and starting to feel a bit more at home again in the village of Polis.

So I’ve had a chance to get to know this character again:

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I also can’t help thinking that the municipal market in Polis is a bit under utilized. It’s a wonderful and very modern, mid-century space. 

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It opens onto the touristic center of the old village which is distinctly not modern (even if it doesn’t quite feel traditional in a meaningful way).

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Finally, we do a good bit of archaeology here, but it mostly involves spending quality time with sherd.

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We also have continued to collect lovely sunsets.

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Three Things Wednesday: Study Season

This summer’s work at Polis in Cyprus has been a study season. This means that we spend our days in storerooms and at our laptops rather than in trenches or survey units.That said, over the past couple weeks, I got to thinking about our study season and the challenges and opportunities that come from traveling thousands of miles to stare at my laptop and sleep in an uncomfortable bed.

This will be the topic of my non-alliterative three things Wednesday:

Thing the First

Colloquially, archaeologists celebrate study seasons as somehow less intense and rigorous than field work, and this is certainly true on a physical level. I love that I’m not physically exhausted at the end of the day, but for some reason I still find that by 3 or 4 in the afternoon, I’m beat.

I’m finding that I’m exerting a huge amount of mental energy on analyzing the results of past field work and putting together our study of finds, notebooks, and various plans. Much of the basic analysis occurred in 2016-2019 and the plan for 2020 was to simple review and finalize it. Over the past two years, we also decided to take work that was destined for a relatively concise (10,000-15,000 word article) and expand it into 30,000 book section. As part of that process, we’re unpacking the reasoning behind small decisions which form the foundations for our arguments. This also prompted us to question our reasoning and review evidence at a highly granular level. In practice this involved reviewing every stratigraphic relationship, checking key artifact identifications and chronologies, and reconsidering the processes that created the site as it was excavated.

What I didn’t anticipate was how exhausting this kind of work would be.

Thing the Second

The other challenge that I’m facing this summer is that I went from juggling any number of projects: from teaching, to editing North Dakota Quarterly, doing college and community service, and fussing with various research projects. This kind of diffused attention allowed me to avoid some of the stress associated with burn out. When I got tired of doing one thing, I could switch my attention and do something else. It’s one of the great luxuries of academic life: we have multiple irons in the fire that allow us a range of opportunities and challenges.

Here on study season, I am focused on one thing. I go from being a fox to a hedgehog. And, it turns out, that being a hedgehog is especially exhausting not only because it involves a constantly (and relentless) level of concentration, but also because there are far fewer opportunities for taking a productive break. Even my beloved blog has fallen a bit to the wayside in the face of the insistent need to finish up projects here at Polis.

It never occurred to me that the structure of academia tends to reward foxes, but providing them with plenty of opportunities to recharge in productive ways. Even taking a morning off to catch up on emails or to grade papers is a relief when the alternative is grading or editing. The range of tasks available on a day-to-day basis ensures that even if I work long hours, there is enough diversity to ensure that I don’t get burned out or stuck in a rut.

This is not the case during a study season. Even moment I spend on something that does not require me to be here in Cyprus is a dollar ill spent.

Thing the Third

The biggest challenge facing us this season is “showing our work” and making the arguments, inferences, and conclusions that we have reached as transparent as possible. This means not only being explicit about our interpretations, but also preparing our data for publication. There is a lot of detailed work necessary to produce legible data for publication. Even just connecting various file types to one another (e.g. notebook pages, stratigraphic descriptions, tables associated with the bulk analysis of context pottery, inventoried pottery tables, and so on) is challenging and tedious.

It also requires attention to detail and a certain amount of concentration. More than that, I feel fatigued by our efforts to wade into the kind of fussy morass that archaeological thinking often produces and to bring order to this without obscuring the rough edges.

And maybe it is this kind of work, which involves making critical leaps, tracing inference in the data structure, and, at times, suspending skepticism, that is the most challenging and exhausting during a study season.

Polis Murals

Years ago, an urbanist friend told me that murals were like tattoos: everyone thought they looked great when you first get one, but people tend to be less enthusiastic as time passes. 

That said, Polis has a group of new murals. This is consistent with trends across the the Mediterranean where the seemingly endless expanses of concrete walls invite a range of authorized and unauthorized interventions. The murals at Polis are of the former type and their painting was an attraction during the relatively new Polis fish festival.

That said, the murals in Polis continue to embrace political messages as well as elements of the city’s history and contemporary identity.

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Greek and Cypriot artists painted the murals.

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And they’re mostly signed.

Arsinoë rubs shoulders with Aphrodite and Pablo Picasso.

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And they certainly add a “splash of color” to the town.

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The Larnaka Museum

Yesterday, we interrupted our regularly scheduled programing to head east and pick up some colleagues at the Larnaka Airport. As part of the trip, we stopped by the newly reopened Larnaka Museum. 

We have worked at the Larnaka Museum for many years and I had become quite fond of its galleries full of artifact cases from the region’s many sites arranged in according with the dominant chronologies. The regional scope of the museum is its biggest selling point in that it brings together sites from the southeastern corner of the island. On the one hand, this simply follows the organization of the archaeological administration on the island in which Larnaka is the local hub. On the other hand, as archaeologists interested in regional and microregional trends this regional approach is nice a way to get a sense for particular trends across the southeastern corner of the island.

The refreshed museum continued with this basic arrangement, but offered new interpretive signs and included objects and material from more recent excavations. For example, the exhibit featured some of the Iron Age (6th c.) sculpture found built into walls surrounding the small church at Pyla village. 

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The museum also featured a remarkable Hellenistic painted sarcophagus from the West Necropolis of the city of Kition alongside a number of other sarcophagi from that site.

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These artifacts stood alongside the usual assemblages of Bronze Age and Iron Age material from the region including from the Late Bronze Age site of Pyla-Kokkinokremos which is in the area where we have worked for many years at Pyla-Vigla and Pyla-Koutsopetria. The vessels from this site show off its connections to the Mycenaean world.

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More disappointing, however, was the small display of Hellenistic to Roman material in a single case that belied the continued significance of ancient Kition in the Hellenistic, Roman, and Medieval periods.

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The interest in Bronze Age and Iron Age artifacts reflects a contemporary preference for period of Cypriot independence rather than its history as a sometimes contested province in the Hellenistic period or as a wealthy and productive territory in the Roman world. Recent discoveries of Roman mosaics, for example, that rival better know mosaic pavements from Kourion and Paphos serve as a reminder that even while Kition’s status as an independent political power declined, the city remained part of the cosmopolitan Greco-Roman world. It would be nice to see this represented more fully in the museum in the future and to introduce visitors to Larnaka (a thoroughly cosmopolitan city) to its equally cosmopolitan past.

The Mighty Chrysochous

In my daily life, I hang out around the Red River (of the North) in North Dakota. I then spent a half-decade of summers wandering around the Inachos River in the Argolid in Greece.

This summer, I’m spending some quality time in the neighborhood of the Chrysochous River in western Cyprus. The village of Polis sits on a abrupt hill in the Chrysochous River delta which forms a wide fan between the Troodos mountains and the rugged heights about the Akamas Peninsula.

Here is the mighty Chrysochous with the Toodos range in the background. Below is the Chrysochous winding its way toward the sea some 500 m to the north.

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Polis Work

A bit of a hiccup the first day in the Polis storerooms gave us a chance to do some data work yesterday. This season will be split between doing work on physical material from the area of E.F1 on the Polis grid and preparing the data for publication. For readers new to the blog, Polis is a village in western Cyprus that gives its name to the site of ancient Marion and Arsinoe. We’re studying the Roman and Late Roman periods at the site with particular attention to the area called E.F1 in the grid of the original Princeton excavators.

Yesterday, I wrangled data. Among the priorities this summer is connecting pages from the scanned notebooks to data associated with inventoried finds and our larger collection of identified context pottery. Making databases talk to scanned notebook pages is a bit of a challenge because a scanned notebook page from the Princeton Cyprus Expedition are not only data rich, but also unstructured.

The scanned notebook page below is a good example:

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The recto includes four descriptions of excavation units defined by level and pass. While levels or passes do not correspond neatly to archaeological stratigraphy, they are the basic units of archaeological documentation at Polis. They represent the basic context for all finds from the site and so it is important that anyone studying material from Polis have access to the basic descriptions of levels and passes.

The verso provides the spatial information not only for the levels described on the recto but also for other levels and passes described elsewhere in the notebook. This includes features uncovered during excavations and described to varying degrees on the recto. More importantly, since excavators only occasionally and inconsistently recognize and describe the stratigraphic relationships between levels (and passes), the plans become one of the main ways to understand whether one layer is “above” or “under” or even occasionally “cut into” another layer. The plans become the key source for developing informal “Harris Matrices” (or as well call them Franco Harris Matrices in honor of their sometimes miraculous relationships between various contexts).

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These matrices, in turn, demonstrate how messy and at times uncertain the combination of the excavation methods and the distinctive stratigraphy make the site. This makes it even more important to create a way for researchers to “drill down” from any interpretation into the “data” itself and to assess as transparently as possible the interpretative leaps taken to make particular conclusions.

The challenge to this, of course, determining just how much scaffolding a user needs to follow ones interpretations back to the sources. Over the next week, I’m going to experiment a bit with how much it is realistic, but also necessary to provide to allow someone using the archaeological data a useful window into our analysis.

Polis Projects

This summer, I’ll be once again in the field meaning that my regularly scheduled blogging might become a bit more intermittent. I’m not doing field work, but it’s a study season which will focus primarily on the site of Polis on Cyprus (with a brief side trip to Isthmia in Greece). 

As readers of this blog know, Polis is the modern name for the city of Marion/Arsinoe on Cyprus. Excavations in the city have produced evidence for almost every period from the Bronze Age to the Present and I work with a team of scholars tasked with publishing the Hellenistic to Medieval periods at the site. Our work thus far has focused on two areas. The neighborhood of the South Basilica and the area called EF1 and this summer we’re going to wrap up our work at EF1 in anticipation of submitting a volume dedicated to this site and the history of the archaeology at Polis sometime next year.

To get this done, we have to finish the analysis of the stratigraphy, the ceramics, and the architecture of the site which we started in 2019. This should only take us a few days.

We also need to prepare brief descriptions of each stratigraphic unit which also shows their relationship to other strata at the site and finds. This will become part of both the traditional EF1 publication as well as the digital backbone for EF1 on Open Context. The hope is that this can also become model for documenting more thoroughly the stratigraphic of the South Basilica area which is not only a more complex (and is the  history of excavation of excavation there) as well as more spatially extensive. 

This work will also involve linking the stratigraphic descriptions to the inventoried finds, the analyzed, non-inventoried pottery (also known as “the sherds” or “context pottery”), and the scanned notebook pages. Thus each stratigraphic description will also have a series of “one to many” links that will allow future archaeologists to query and critique our analysis.

While we’re working on this, I have to finish a couple of other Cyprus-related outstanding projects:  

First, I need to finish revising a paper that I submitted in the fall on Cyprus in the Long Late Antiquity. The editors of the volume (which you can check out here) made some good suggestions for revisions.

Second, I need to grab a few photographs of baptisteries on Cyprus for a long lingering project on Greek and Cypriot baptisteries being patiently shepherded through the publication process by Robin Jensen and her team. This means trips to Kourion and Ay. Georgios-Peyas over the next month (and invariably food at fish taverns with good views of the sea!).

Finally, I want to read and comment on Catherine Keane’s very recent Munich dissertation on Early Christian ecclesiastical complexes in Cyprus.

It’s going to be pretty great getting back into doing archaeology on site this summer (rather than at a 6000 mile remove). Stay tuned for some updates and “Foto Friday”!