Atlanta and ASOR 2015

I had a great week attending the 2015 American Schools of Oriental Research conference in Atlanta. The panels that I managed to attend were interesting and crowded, the committees to which I was obliged were productive, and impromptu meetings with friends, colleagues, and strangers were fun and useful.

I even learned some things. So in the interest in bringing order to a complicated few days, here’s a little list summarizing my encounter with the 2015 ASOR meeting: 

1. Bathrooms. I don’t, generally, spend much time reflecting on bathroom design, but at a conference fueled by coffee and endless pitchers of water in every room, regular visits to the bathroom punctuated my day at steady intervals. The men’s room that I visited most regularly had a small vestibule (around 3 m in length) between the door to the hallway and the door to the bathroom proper. Through this second door was a doglegged passage of 7-8 m in length featuring a bank of four or five sinks. The standard bathroom fixtures were set further into the bathroom around a partition wall.

This arrangement may sound typical, but it means that a visitor to the facilities moves through about 10 m of passage between entering the space from the external hallway and encountering the most important features of the bathroom. This space was genuinely liminal for the visitor and preyed directly upon our common, human anxieties associated with moving from the public space of the hallway to the gender-defined space of the bathroom. Is this really the men’s room? Am I in the wrong place? 10 meters is a significant distance to travel “betwixt and between,” and made every trip to the facilities involve some design-induced angst.

2. Nice Cars and Traffic. This was my first time in Atlanta outside of an unplanned night in an airport hotel after some botched travel arrangements a few years back. A few friends with Georgia roots tried to explain to me the urban landscape of the city which seemed to me to be an East Coast version of West Coast urban sprawl and truly a fitting anchor for Gibson’s Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis

The one thing that Atlanta is famous for is traffic (and streets named Peachtree). I was enchanted (see below) by the bustling traffic of Atlanta’s byways and trip to from Buckhead to the Cabbagetown neighborhood for dinner took us on vibrant and traffic-filled highways through Downtown and Midtown.

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The spectacular array of exotic and imported cars on the roads of Buckhead and on Atlanta’s highways reminded me that I truly live in “Pontiac and Plymouth Country (TM)” and created a moving montage of social and economic display. While eating lunch at a little burger place, I watched no fewer than three Bentleys roll by and was shocked to realize that Mercedes only sells S-Class cars to Atlanta residents.

3. ASOR and CAARI and The Digital. There were sustained and productive conversations about “The Digital” both on the ASOR committee on publications and at the board of trustees meeting of CAARI (the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute). The former is embracing the need to at least experiment with open-access digital publishing and linked data and the latter is starting to think more critically about its web site as more than just a billboard for the institutes existence. I’m increasingly optimistic that Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town will appear next year as a digital, fully linked, revised edition and Pyla-Koutsopetria II: Excavations at an Ancient Coastal Town will be born as a linked digital book in 2017. 

As for CAARI, there’s much work to do, but we’ve made some progress. Moving the CAARI site from a hand-coded page to a WordPress template would make updating the site easier and facilitate links with social media. The conversations at the trustees meeting also suggested that people are increasingly interested in using the website for… something. It may be that the website emerges as a place to solicit contributions or to market scholarship opportunities or even to publish old photographs of Cyprus. It’s clear that the board is not quite sure how to align the web with CAARI’s broader mission.

As I sat there listening to the conversation (and the many generational protests), I started to think that CAARI could use the web to disseminate scholarship perhaps in conjunction with the re-opening of the expanded library. A digital occasional paper series modeled on the ISAW Papers series might anchor the CAARI web presence in a familiar medium – scholarly publication, celebrate the benefit of the new library by linking CAARI with academic production, and provide a new outlet for publications on Cyprus now that the Report of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus is on sabbatical.

The key thing, to my mind, is to revamp the website with a strategy (and goals) in mind. We have work to do!

4. Slow Archaeology. I was thrilled to hear the term “slow archaeology” appear in several papers at ASOR and even more thrilled to realize that some of these mentions were not directed at my work but indicative of parallel work with the same ideas. Eric Kansa’s work on “slow data” distinguishes the deliberate and careful work of publishing, linking, and using published archaeological data from the compliance based “data dump” and suggests that a “slow” approach to data publishing will both yield far more important results and require a change in attitudes among archaeologists, institutions, and funding agencies.

Independent of my work, Ömür Harmansah has explored the intersection of archaeology and development, neoliberalism, and the modern academy to suggest that, today, almost all archaeology is salvage archaeology pushed by an array of pressures inherent to late capitalism. As an antidote to this trend, he has proposed approaches that embrace an intentional engagement with complex landscapes including a kind of “slow survey” that attempts to resist practices associated with the commodification of archaeological space, objects, and heritage in the name of documentation.

I’m exited to explore more of his ideas with him and think there is real potential for a clearly-defined slow archaeology to offer substantive critique to the discipline.  

5. Objects and Enchantment. I participated in a panel on object biography where folks used the word “enchantment” more than I’ve ever encountered at an academic meeting. The papers were good and generally well-received, although I detected a consistent skepticism that object biography represents a  productive way forward for understanding of the place of objects within the broader archaeological project.

My paper was met with skepticism including a comment that my approach to archaeology (and digital artifacts) would cause children to go running from the discipline whereas the opportunity to handle an excavated object would lead to enchantment. This may be the case, although I suspect children and students these days have a greater willingness to be enchanted by digital objects than our generation does.

Despite that critique, my time at the ASOR annual meeting was enchanting, exhausting, and though provoking. I’m looking forward to next year and following up some of the conversations that I had over the course of the meeting.  

Punk Archaeology in the Media and a Trip to Duluth

Just a short post today as I’m headed to Duluth for the weekend to give a couple of talks at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. 

Here is the info on those talks.

Today, I’m giving an updated version of this talk, which will draw heavily on a soon to be submitted article:

Reconstructing Communities on Cyprus from Broken Pots and Ruined Churches

Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about punk archaeology:

The A B C s of Punk Archaeology Three Examples of Punk Practice in Archaeology

If you still can’t get enough, check out this article on our work in the Bakken on Vice Motherboard. It appeared, briefly, above the fold:

Motherboard Home Motherboard

 

Of course, I’ll be keeping my eye out for a dog with a rabid tooth while I’m there. 

Early Byzantine Pottery from Kenchreai

I was pretty excited to see the most recent publication in the ISAW Papers series: “Preliminary Report on Early Byzantine Pottery from a Building Complex at Kenchreai (Greece)” by Sebastian Heath, Joseph L. Rife, Jorge J. Bravo III, and Gavin Blasdel. First, the ISAW Papers series is an innovative way to publish individual article length papers, with open access licenses, without the overhead and complications of running a conventional journal.

Second, and more importantly, Joe Rife is another guy with strong ties to Isthmian and the Eastern Corinthia, and he fits into my inadvertent theme this week of “people who influenced my early archaeological career through their work in the Eastern Corinthia.” Sebastian Heath is a fellow digital archaeologist, and he and I have some imaginative future projects together currently set to a low simmer, but, more than that, he is a fine ceramicist. So when they teamed up with some other fine archaeologists to produce a preliminary report on an assemblage from a site called the Threpsiades Complex near the harbor of Kenchreai, it was worth some of my time.

Kenchreai (or “Quencher” as my autocorrect insists on calling it) is the eastern port of the city of Corinth and sits on the Saronic gulf. It appears to have fallen out of large-scale use after a series of seismic events in the later 6th or 7th century and today is a small settlement of vacation homes. The site considered in this article was excavated by the Greek archaeological service nearly 40 years ago, and the finds came to the current teams attention when the storerooms at the Isthmia museum were reorganized in 2002-2003. Curiously, at that time, “as much as 25%” of the material was transported to Ancient Corinth and buried there to conserve space. There is a tradition of buried assemblages of Late Roman material in the Corinthia, and it would be very interesting to understand the context and location of this reburial of archaeological finds. (In fact, as I’ve read more and more about the archaeology of the contemporary world, I’m struck by how little archaeology of archaeology there is. Excavating a pottery dump – particularly a big one – would be a fascinating opportunity to understand a wide range of behaviors associated with modern archaeological practices (which are sometimes less well documented than one would like)).

The report documents the first reading of an assemblage of Early Byzantine pottery. The latest fineware at the site, African Red-Slip forms 105 and 99 and the later from of LRC (Phocaean Red-Slip) form 3 and 10, suggest the last phase of the site in the late 6th or early 7th century AD. Like our work at Polis on Cyprus, they don’t necessarily have complete control of the stratigraphy (yet?) so some intermixing of earlier and later material is likely in this preliminary analysis. 

The main focus of their study, however, is amphora and especially the remarkably common Late Roman 2 amphora which appeared at this site in great abundance (over 70% of the total assemblage of amphora). The presence of stoppers and funnels hints that the complex may have served as a transshipment point for goods into these amphora for import or export (or in the words of the authors “storing and pouring”), although the authors stop short of making that argument. In this way, this small site could be similar to our nearly contemporary site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus which likewise shared an abundance of a single type of amphora, in our case Late Roman 1, which almost certainly represented the large scale export. 

I was pleased to see some Late Roman 1 amphora in the assemblage as well as some other Eastern Mediterranean types reinforcing the connectedness of this site to larger Mediterranean trading patterns. I always feel bad that there is no Late Roman “D ware” (or the fineware formerly known as Cypriot Red Slip) at these sites, because I regard it as a fine and serviceable fineware that did not see as much circulation outside of the immediate neighborhood of Cyprus as I’d like. Aside for my sentimental feelings toward an obscure Late Roman fineware, this short publication presents enough to contribute meaningfully to the larger conversation about exchange in the Eastern Mediterranean. 

This site complements the recent short publication by Paul Reynolds and Evangelos Pavlidis on an assemblage of amphora and fineware from the “Bishop’s House” at Nikopolis. This site produced a substantial group of nearly complete LR1 and LR2 amphora (which accounted for over 40% of the total amphora at the site) and Samian amphora (which accounted for a third of the amphora at the site). It also featured a significant quantity of late 6th to early 7th century African Red Slip to the exclusion of almost any other kind of fineware. The presence of LR1 amphora indicate that the site had contact with the Eastern Mediterranean despite its western facing orientation, but this did not result in the importation of fineware like the very common Phocaean ware present at Kenchreai. Reynolds and Pavlidis observe that the absence of Phocaean ware and the preponderance of Samian amphora make the assemblage at this site is different from that observed at Butrint (to the north) or Corinth. This suggests the presence of “multilayered” distribution models for fineware and amphora.

The variation between the assemblages present at these sites make them useful points of comparison for the diversity of assemblages present on the island of Cyprus. On Cyprus, sites that are less than 20 km apart can produce very different assemblages of fineware and storage and transport vessels during Late Antiquity. Whether this represents multilayered distribution models offering different degrees of access or simply differences in taste across a region remains an open question. 

Traveling through Non-Place?

I’m sitting in the Larnaka International Airport reflecting on the Marc Augé’s idea that airports are quintessential examples on hyper modern non-places. Indistinguishable from one another and catering to displaced travelers, airports both ameliorate and exacerbate the sense of placelessness by being both familiar and non-local at the same time. As airports have become increasingly operated by multinational corporations and beholden to international security standards, they have only become more homogeneous in the 21st century.

At least that’s a simplified version of his argument brought up to date by some recent observations.

 

On the ride to the airport, though, my colleagues Brandon Olson and Dallas Deforest reminisced about old airports and their distinct character: the old Athens airport with its “flippy” list of arrivals and departures, the old Larnaka airport where you disembarked onto the tarmac with its distinct smell of the sea and jet fuel, and the chaotic nature of regional airports in Turkey. Maybe the de-placing of airports is a more recent phenomenon for many places in the world than Augéhas recognized.

Of course the airport in Cyprus has the added complication of being a product of the conflict that has seen the northern part of the island being governed by an unrecognized state. Prior to the invasion of 1974, the airport for the island was in Nicosia. It now stands in the UN controlled demilitarized zone. Few places on earth more poignantly reflect the character of late modern political space than these extranational zones which linger at the margins of formal political jurisdictions. At the same time, the old Nicosia airport has become a very local symbol of the island’s complicated last. It is simultaneously non-place and an highly nuanced political symbol.

I think my flight is starting to board now, but I wanted to write down a few thoughts (on my iPhone no less) while they were fresh in my mind. My next post will be from Greece!

Summers are for Ideas

Summertime is a great time for ideas, problem solving, and field work, but it’s not a great time for blogging or any kind of long-form writing. I do keep a little notebook of ideas and keep notes in my phone using the irresistibly twee Vesper application for my iPhone. 

So, I have a few idea, most of which I (subjected?) shared with Scott Moore over the last few days.

1. Polis: City of Work. This summer we’ve been working to understand an industrial area of the site of Polis-Chrysochous. It was an area that probably did not enjoy as much attention as the monumental remains of the city in the recent Polis: City of Gold exhibition and catalogue. This was a shame, because we have a ton of evidence for production both in the area where we’re working – including a ceramic kiln and some evidence for possible glass production, metal working, terra-cotta sculpture, and probably other activities that are not associated with the glamorous life of monumental buildings, well-appointed sanctuaries, and other elite manifestations of ancient urbanism.

2. Wall and Holes. This year, the small team at Polis right now has focused on an area laced with walls and deep trenches. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to associate the trenches with walls and walls with floors and surfaces with fills. The big problem is that many of the excavators struggled to see foundation cuts in the difficult soil. Compounding this (and probably the major reason that foundation cuts went undetected) is the numerous “later” burials in the area and the constant rebuilding and adaptation of the area.

The end result is that we have walls, we have fills, and we have surfaces, and it is very difficult to link any of these together. So we have to find a way to publish the site that recognizes the challenges associated with the excavations and the limits to our knowledge as well as the potential the site and excavation have to contribute to archaeological knowledge on the island.

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4. Wall atop Walls. One of the coolest things about our corner of the Polis site is that it features walls atop wall over a span of nearly 1000 years. The basic grid plan of the area was probably established by the Hellenistic period and it persisted into Late Antiquity and probably beyond. As a result, the area of our current work has massive evidence for the reuse of architecture throughout. 

While the use of spolia is fairly well studied for monumental architecture like fortification walls and churches, it is not as considered in its most banal and practical form. Our area provides a window into the everyday life of an “ordinary” neighborhood at Polis on Cyprus. The reuse of blocks, the cuts, fills, and reconstructions, and the collapses and debris are all preserved as the fabric of the area’s history. 

3. Zombies and Ceramics. This summer, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working alongside an expert on Roman and Late Roman ceramics and zombies: R. Scott Moore. 

I’ve begun to prepare a treatment for a small-budget film that features Scott Moore as the only man who can save humanity from the onslaught of zombies propagated through contact with Late Roman ceramics. The first zombie, of course, was John Hayes whose work defined the field of ceramics in Late Antiquity. The disease soon spread to a group of scholars desperately trying to understand how to use his volume on the Roman ceramics from the site of Paphos. Others are stricken working their way through his volume on the Roman and Late Roman fine wares from the Agora or material from Saraçhane in Istanbul. Graduate students are particularly susceptible, but the cursed virus slowly begins to take down all the ceramicists in the Mediterranean, then excavators, then site directors, and finally tourists. 

Only Scott Moore remains immune. No one knows why or how, but what is more important is that he is the only person who can read Late Roman pottery without becoming a zombie.

Changing Landscapes of Rural Cyprus

I was pretty interested to read the latest article by the Athienou Archaeological Project team in the most recent issue of Journal of Field Archaeology: Shedding Light on the Cypriot Rural Landscape: Athienou Archaeological Project in the Malloura Valley, Cyprus 2011-2013. The article documents the most recent few years of excavation at the rural sanctuary of Athienou-Mallora which is just to the north of our coastal site of Pyla-Koutsopetria in southeastern Cyprus.

The article focused on the dynamic nature of rural sites and contribute yet more evidence that challenges the view of rural life in the Mediterranean as backward and  somehow less prone to change than life in urban centers. The sanctuary of Athienou-Malloura clearly underwent a number of significant changes over its long history and there was ample evidence for the reuse of even prestigious objects (like monumental and life-size sculpture) in renovations throughout its active history. Of particular interest was the presence of lamps with Christian symbols dating to Late Antiquity along with lamps with less overtly religious symbolism. This hints that the sanctuary might have been the site of some kind of syncretic religious practices at the end of its long life. We still do not know much about the afterlife of “pagan” sanctuaries on Cyprus especially when compared to the considerable scholarly attention paid to the late life of sanctuaries and temples in Greece. 

The article also features a brief report on the resurvey of several sites documented in the Malloura Valley Survey in the early 1990s. Returning to these sites nearly 20 years after their initial survey confirmed once again the dynamic character of the Cypriot countryside. While the results of this work were rather less surprising with mechanized agriculture and modern building practices intensifying the neglect witnessed by abandoned rural structures and sites, it was nevertheless revealing how little remained visible at abandoned mud brick buildings. In one case the entire building had vanished; in another, the mud brick walls had collapsed into the stone soccle at such an accelerated pace that human interference was suspected. 

The only bummer about the article is that I received an offprint from a colleague which was great, but I the offprint does not provide access to the supplementary material which requires a Manley log in to see. While the information on these pages is – presumably – supplementary and not vital to understanding the content of the article, it is nevertheless a bummer that I can’t see it. It is one more example of how we no long own content in a true sense, but simply rent access. As I work with some of the same authors on this article to develop a paper+digital+web edited volume based on papers from the Mobilizing the Past conference held this spring, I’m going to have to think hard about how to ensure persistent access to our supplementary material on the web.http://uwm.edu/mobilizing-the-past/

The Walk to Dinner

Two days with some thunder in a row has given us some interesting skies to enjoy on our evening walk to dinner.

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And some interesting light to savor during our evening meals.

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Polis Notebooking Season

Before the dirty, exhausting, and incremental (let’s say) season of actual field work begins in the Western Argolid, I’m taking a few weeks to work amid notebooks, pottery, and architecture in the village of Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus this summer.

People who read my somewhat jet lagged and unapologetically grumpy post from yesterday may have some idea of what I’m up to, but I should probably be a bit more specific. Over the next few weeks, Scott Moore, Brandon Olson, and I will be working our way through the final gaggle of notebooks from area E.F2 excavated by the Princeton Cyprus Expedition on Cyprus. Over the last few years, we have focused on sorting out the stratigraphy and chronology of the 6th to 10th century AD basilica-style church at the site, and now we’re turning our attention to its larger context in the urban grid. 

Unlike most people’s idea of what archaeologists do, we’re not digging. We’re not even walking around the countryside. In fact, we’re spending our time in doors, staring at laptops and in storerooms surrounded by dusty trays of ceramics. (We walked over to the site itself yesterday and tried to orient ourselves on the basis of the notebook we had been reading, and let’s just say it was not entirely successful…). We’re pouring over notebooks from trenches excavated 20 years ago and looking at context pottery to make sense of the excavated contexts. Most of the areas we’re studying have material that dates from the Hellenistic, Roman, Late Roman, and Byzantine periods.

The notebooks are a decidedly uneven affair. Some are models of efficient descriptions of contexts and features. Other notebooks are baffling and frankly psychedelic odysseys into the excavator’s mind. Sorting the pseudo-stratigraphic relationships from these notebooks requires patience and the tolerance for a certain amount of informally probabilistic interpretation and fuzziness that typically archaeological analysis avoids. The uneven character of the notebooks makes every day a wild ride between straightforward interpretation of archaeological contexts and wild comedy (er.. tragedo-comedy… excavation is destruction, kids, remember that!). Scott Moore gives an impression of our work on his blog.

Our plan this season is to sort out the history of the area south and west of the basilica which in the Hellenistic and Roman period appears to be a busy thoroughfare and an industrial area with a kiln, perhaps some metallurgical workshops, and maybe domestic space. There is a well preserved road with rather extensive drainage system designed to manage the flow of water down the slope of the hill on which the site sits. After the Roman period, the area seems to have been somewhat neglected with the drains being filled in, burials made on the road, and other signs of neglect and some slight hints at destruction. Our current research questions focus on the process of change in the area and whether these were punctuated by earthquakes or other destructive episodes or simply the changing function of the space through time.

So this morning, we’re off to the Princeton apotheke to begin sorting out the ceramics from the trenches. Wish us luck!

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