Some Spooky, Dream, and Psychic Archaeology

As readers of this blog likely know, I have an growing interest in pseudoarchaeology and alternative archaeology. As any number of scholars have pointed out, these two forms of archaeological practice and knowledge making are largely political in character. Pseudoarchaeology, in its purist form, represents archaeological practices that seek deliberately to subvert conventional archaeological arguments either by suggesting that conventional archaeology is corrupt (somehow), demonstrating the conventional archaeological practices overlook evidence for alternative explanations, using the language or even the methods of conventional archaeology to propose radically different “solutions” to “problems” (which often involve ancient aliens or other supernatural phenomenon), or archaeology that advances explicitly racist, political, or ideological agendas. Because pseudoarchaeology is often a mash up of logical leaps, conventional practices, strange and disturbing assumptions, and tangled rhetoric, most archaeologists would admit that it is easier to recognize in practice than define, and the political goals of pseudoarchaeology—namely to cast doubt on disciplinary archaeology—tends to trump (heh) more tidy forensic descriptions.

Alternative archaeology, in contrast, tends to be more politically palatable because rather than challenging the validity of archaeology itself head on, it tends to simply propose another way of understanding the world and the past. Indigenous knowledge represents an important form of alternative archaeology especially archaeological practices that conform to cultural or social protocols that are difficult to reconcile with conventional archaeological methods. To this definition one might add that alternative archaeologies tend to embrace unconventional forms of reporting or publication. These are often political, but instead of challenging disciplinary archaeology on the grounds of its own practices and methods, proposes different ways and often incommensurate ways of using material remains of understand the past, to create more inclusive understandings of the present. In other words, pseudoarchaeology tends to propose new interpretations that are “right” and therefore render other ways of understanding the past “wrong”; alternative archaeology tends to recognize a plurality of pasts where one view might be “right,” but other views are irrelevant or unnecessary.   

Most of my interest in pseudo- and alternative archaeology is not in the sweet spot of either field where most archaeologists could recognize and accept general definitions, but around the edges of both nebulously defined categories where interesting incidents of cross pollination occur. In fact, these blurry edges often show the affinity between pseudo- and alternative archaeology and disciplinary archaeology. In this way, archaeology reveals itself not as the thoroughly modern (or even scientific[al]) discipline that we like celebrate (especially in moments of epistemic or political weakness), but to paraphrase the late Bruno Latour, a discipline that “has never been modern.”

My first interest in the rougher edges of various archaeologies emerged when I was in Athens as the “Melonaki” (effectively an assistant Mellon Professor) at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. I came across a reference to an excavation conducted by Anastasios Orlandos on the basis of an old woman’s dream. The excavation revealed an Early Christian basilica at the site of Daphnousia in Locris. This brief mention in the 1929 Proceedings of the Athenian Academy resonated with a similar account recounted by Yannis Hamilakis regarding Manolis Andronikos whose workmen (and a Greek American woman) dreamt of the discoveries of the Royal tombs at Vergina prior to their discovery in 1977. It struck me as very odd that two of Greece’s most preeminent 20th-century archaeologists would have noted the role that dreams played in their field work (even of Andronikos denies believing in such superstition). 

I connected the role of dreams in archaeology with the long tradition of dreams in Byzantine and Early Christian hagiography and history and as I’ll write about tomorrow, my interest in dreams in the early 2000s paralleled a growing interest in Byzantine dreams among Byzantinists.

My interest today is the presence of dreams and other psychic phenomenon in the archaeology, and especially Byzantine and Medieval archaeology, of the early 20th century.  I was thrilled to finally have a reason to read Jed Card’s book Spooky Archaeology (2019) which despite its playful name is a solid work of scholarship. He describes in some detail the role the psychic phenomenon played in efforts to reconstruct Glastonbury Abbey in the early-20th century. The architect and sometime archaeologist Frederick Bligh Bond earned the contract to rebuild the ruined abbey when it was acquired by the Church of England in the early 20th century. The site itself was already famous for the 12th century excavation of the graves of King Arthur and Lady Guinevere and had strong mystical, national, and archaeological associations. Bligh Bond employed psychic practices such as automatic writing to understand the ruins of the Abbey, guide his restoration plans, and to locate several chapels. Ultimately his use of automatic writing and appeals to the spirit world proved controversial and he lost the commission and several of his chapels and excavated foundations later proved fanciful.

Orlandos does not seem to have earned any approbation from his more successful excavations. This may be because any number of Orlandos’s contemporaries were on record for their belief in psychic and other paranormal phenomenon. In fact, in the same year that Orlandos reports his dream to the Athenian Academy, Konstantinos Kourouniotis published a small report in the journal Psychic Researches edited by the well known para-psychologist Angelos Tanagras. Kourouniotis tells the story of the use of telepathic powers to remove a massive swarm of bees from his house while he was conducting excavations in Asia Minor in 1920. (Kostis Kourelis, who has family ties to Tanagras discusses this story here). Another prominent Greek archaeologist (artist, poet, and philosopher), Alexander Philadelpheus, dedicates his 1924 book on the ancient monuments of Athens to Tanagras. It would appear, then, in this context, Orlandos use of dreams to guide his excavation was not especially unusual. o

Of course, this period is Greek history was one of immense upheaval with the “Great Catastrophe” of the Asia Minor campaign marking the end of the “Great Idea” which saw the modern Greek state as the historical and spiritual successor of the Roman (i.e. Byzantine) Empire. 

Scholars have long attributed the growing interest in esoteric traditions in Europe and American as part of a growing dissatisfaction with the modern world. The late 19th century had experienced violent economic disruptions and the first great depression of the Industrial Age. This fed the growing popular disillusionment with the failed economic, social, and political advancement promised by industrialization and, even, democracy. The catastrophe of the Great War further exacerbated the growing ambivalence and distrust of modernity and awoke long-standing hopes for transcendent experiences anchored in what appeared to be pre-modern practices. 

In Greece, the 1920s marked the failure of modern (and national) hopes (however cloaked in the hazy imaginary of Byzantine revivalism) and encouraged the intellectual elite of Greece to project their national aspirations inwardly. Orlandos’s dream excavation and contemporary reconstruction of houses of Mystras, for example, anchored Greek national identity and Byzantine traditions within the boundaries of the Greek nationstate and in domestic architecture (see Kourelis, who is my partner in this project, for a discussion of Orlandos and the domestic architecture in Mystras). Tanagras efforts to demonstrate that Greek folks traditions could reveal the parapsychological powers of the human mind further localized an individual’s capacity to transcend the contemporary conditions. Tanagras anchored his approach to parapsychology in the emerging discourse of psychology and Freudian psychoanalysis. His efforts to use modern techniques to excavate the primordial character of the human condition paralleled Freud’s interest in dreams as revealing unconscious desires. It is hard to avoid the idea that Freud’s analysis of dreams, filtered through the altogether more supernatural interpretations of Tanagras, reactivated the tradition of Byzantine dream archaeology and made it useful for relocating Greek national identity with the borders of Greece (a kind of physical unconscious of the modern state).

Such blurring of modern and strangely anti-modern ways of thinking in the tradition of Byzantine Archaeology echo the use of dreams to initiate the Great Palace excavations in Constantinople. As Kourelis points out, this project represented one of the earliest example of stratigraphic excavation at a Byzantine site. (You can read more about these links at Kostis’s blog here). The site was discovered, however, through the work of British spiritualists David Russell, James Houston Baxter, and Tudor Pole who used a sapphire blue bowl apparently excavated from Glastonbury (apparently also located through psychic practices at that site in 1906!) as a conduit to the spiritual realm. By 1917, their efforts were reinforced by a group of Russian migrants (including monks!) who after the Revolution settled in the UK under David Russell’s patronage. Baxter, a professor of church history and a spiritualist himself, connected the efforts of these scholars to the more serious archaeological work of the Great Palace excavations.

It would appear that pseudoarchaeological practices were not just present among early 20th-century archaeologists, but fundamental to the discipline’s formation.

Perhaps this is why today so-called “scientifical” archaeologists are so adamant in their efforts to discredit and reject pseudoarchaeology. While pseudoarchaeology’s contributions to racist agendas cannot be denied, it seems impossible to imagine Byzantine Archaeology without acknowledging its roots in just just premodern practices, but explicitly anti-modern efforts to find meaning in a world increasingly deprived of its humanity at the hands of the scientific production, warfare, and competition.  

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. 

Three Things Thursday: Early Christian Greece, Mineral Rites, and Jimmy Carter

I’m taking a real, honest to goodness vacation over the weekend. In fact, I’m going to vacation so hard that I’m not even taking a laptop! I reckon the last time that I vacationed without a laptop was in 2000 or 2001 when I was living in Athens.

To celebrate this unlikely situation, I’m going to offer a very short Three Things Thursday:

Thing the First

It’s pretty rare that I get genuinely excited about a new archaeological discovery and even less frequently that I get really excited about a discovery in the Late Antique Peloponnesus, but I was genuinely thrilled after reading Nikos Tsivikis’s recent article in the Journal of Epigraphical Studies 4 (2022), 175-197, titled “Christian inscriptions from a third and fourth-century house church at Messene (Peloponnese).” You can download it here.

This article provides some pretty solid evidence for a late-third century house church that continued in use into the fourth century. Tsiviki’s argument is grounded in both epigraphy and excavation evidence although the levels are primarily dated on the basis of numismatic evidence. The building is a modified urban villa in the city of Messenia and the inscriptions record the presence of a reader and then a bishop who provided a mosaic for the modified room.

Of course, textual evidence tells us that there were Christian communities in Greece from the first century AD, but archaeological evidence for pre-Constantinean Christianity in Greece has been pretty thin on the ground and comprised mostly of wishful thinking. In fact, there’s precious little indisputable material evidence for fourth century Christianity in Greece. This building will change that and provide the first archaeologically secure (at least to my knowledge) evidence for third (perhaps optimistically) or early fourth century (almost certainly) Christianity in southern Greece. This is exciting.

Thing the Second

I’ve been enjoying Bob Johnson’s Mineral Rites: An Archaeology of the Fossil Economy (Baltimore 2019). I’m not finished the book, but I appreciate his efforts to trace the significance of the fossil economy from the oil fields to the hot yoga studio. His efforts to demonstrate the deep entanglement of fossil fuels and our modern world is perhaps not entirely unexpected, but Johnson offers very readable and highly “textured” (to use a word from the book’s blurb) descriptions of how fossil fuels shape our daily lives. Johnson weaves fossil fuels into the story of the Titanic, various efforts to understand the human equivalency of fossil fuel energy, and a brilliant comparative chapter that considers the difference between Lewis and Clark’s journey and our modern road system. I’m still working my way through his study of the reality TV series Coal and the modern novel.    

Years ago, my buddy and collaborator Bret Weber suggested that we write a paper or an essay that tracked a drop of oil from the well to the atmosphere. Because I’m kind of a jerk, I rolled my eyes and said something jerk-ish about that idea. Years later and after giving it more and more thought, I think it’s really brilliant. In fact, I think Johnson’s book provides an appealing model for how the life of that “drop” of oil could be traced through our system and how much “life” it provides.

Thing the Third

There are a couple cool things from North Dakota Quarterly this week. First, I’ve posted over on the NDQ a poem by David Starkey which will appear in a forthcoming collection from the author. It’s a pretty nice little poem that features a cigarette as a prop. As I say in my post, I like poems that feature things.

There’s also this blog post about the time that NDQ published some of Jimmy Carter’s poetry. For some reason the pages of this issue were scanned or processed out of order so you have to scroll back from the first page, but do check out Lane Chasek’s post here and follow his link to NDQ 60.1 where we feature four of Carter’s poems. Then scroll backward from the first poem to read the three others.

From Corinthian Twilight to the Busy Countryside: Remaking the Landscapes, Monuments, and Religion of the Late Antique Corinthia

One of my summer projects was collaborating with my good friend and colleague, David Pettegrew on an article that surveys the Corinthian landscape in Late Antiquity. It’s for an edited volume published in Germany and directed primarily toward a European audience. 

This paper doesn’t so much propose any radically new analysis or interpretations, but offers a solid step toward a new synthesis of what we know and how we understand the Corinth and the Corinthian countryside.  

Since we have no real idea when this will come out, we thought we should share a complete working draft should anyone be interested. 

You can download it here.

This years should be a banner year for those interested in the Roman Corinthia. First, in May, Paul  Scotton, Catherine de Grazia Vanderpool, and Carolynn Roncaglia have published The Julian Basilica: Architecture, Sculpture, Epigraphy, which is Corinth XXII for those of you who still keep a scorecard. Here’s the announcement.

Earlier this month, John W. Hayes and Kathleen Warner Slane published Late Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman Pottery, which is Isthmia XI on your scorecard. Here’s the announcement.

Finally, I remain optimistic that we’ll see Eleni Korka and Joe Rife’s On the Edge of a Roman Port: Excavations at Koutsongila, Kenchreai, 2007–2014 which will appear as a Hesperia Supplement. Here is the announcement page for this volume.

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!

Three Things Thursday: Atari, Teaching, and Cyprus

Thanksgiving break is always an opportunity to slow down and be thankful for all the little things that make my life better. Historically, I dedicate Thanksgiving day to catching up on grading and taking a swing at the pile of books and articles that I’ve set aside to read “sometime.” Both of these tasks are pleasurable enough and remind me of the amazing privilege that I have both to teach and to read for a living. 

To start this celebration a bit early, I’m going to indulge in another favorite pastime and offer a little Three Things Thursday (albeit one day in advance):

Thing the First

As I continue to work to revise my book, one thing that I find both challenging and rewarding is re-writing the early chapters of the book so that they read more like the later chapters. One of the areas where I’m investing a good bit of effort are the little preludes that I include in each chapter. These preludes come before the … ludes… er… introduction and serve to connect each chapter to the two case studies that anchor the book: Atari and the Bakken. They also allow me to interject a more personal component to the book that connects the concept of the contemporary to the work of the archaeologist as an individual. 

Today I’m going to retool the short prelude to my chapter on things (that incidentally, will be the basis of a graduate reading class that I’ll teach on the topic next semester). As it stands now, I reflect a very common question that I get when someone learns that I’m an archaeologist: what’s the coolest thing that you’ve ever found? In my revision, I’m going to shift the focus to the moment that the massive excavator revealed the Atari games in the Alamogordo landfill in 2014. In this moment, the games shifted from being low value trash to being high value commodities. In some ways, this moment restored the games to the position that they held in my childhood when as far as I can recall, the latest Atari game was among the first things that I ever wanted. In other words, I was able to witness the moment when Atari games acquired new value and a new context. This also pushed me to consider how things work in our society. 

Thing the Second

I’m finding it more and more challenging to manage the end of the semester rush. It’s not that I feel particular flustered or stressed, but I have come to really worry about my students who are clearly struggling at the confluence of the holidays, the end of the semester workloads, family, and first sustained stretch of winter with its cold, shorter days, and weather. This distressing situation has once again pushed me to think about student workloads and the current structure of our semester. 

As I begin to design my classes for the spring semester, I’ve started to think about two alternative models. The first one would be a model that splits courses over two semester. Each semester would have a 7 week class focuses on one major assignment. The grade would be recorded in the second semester. A course of this design would keep the course clear of the end of the semester exhaustion, stress, and busyness. Of course, if a student took multiple classes with this schedule, it would do little to alleviate the anxiety caused by competing responsibilities. 

Another model would be one that makes a 16 week course into a 12 week course by giving the students a week off every 5 weeks (i.e. 4 weeks of class and one week off). This course design would help students manage their workload better for my course during the semester and perhaps provide them with an alternative structure for better pacing their energy over the course of the semester.

Thing the Third

I’m really enjoying some of the recent scholarship on Cyprus. This week, I’ve read Catherine T. Keane’s “Ecclesiastical Economies: The Integration of Sacred and Maritime Topographies of Late Antique Cyprus,” in Religions 12 (2022?). Keane situations Early Christian architecture within its economic and social landscape with particular attention to the coastal location of Christian churches. This, of course, not only contributes my (very slowly) ongoing work at Pyla-Koutsopetria where a church stood on the coast and my work at Polis which has worked to be more attentive to the larger context for the two Early Christian churches in the local landscape. 

I was similarly pleased to discover Simon James, Lucy Blue, Adam Rogers, and Vicki Score’s article “From phantom town to maritime cultural landscape and beyond: Dreamer’s Bay Roman-Byzantine ‘port’, the Akrotiri Peninsula, Cyprus, and eastern Mediterranean maritime communications,” in Levant 52.3 (2020), 337-360. I’ve just started to digest it, but it unpacks another coastal site that we’ve long known about, but have never seen published in a comprehensive or sophisticated way. The article by Simon James et al. looks to be a key step in that direction and the concept of a maritime landscape that is something other than a nucleated settlement is particularly appealing for a site like Koutsopetria which appears to have never developed any of the institutions that one might associated with a formal town or village.

It’ll take me a while to digest both of these rather recent articles, but I’m excited to try to apply some of these authors’ observations to my work on Cyprus.      
 

A List: The 15 Best Early Christian Baptisteries in Greece

The other day, mostly on a lark, I posted to Twitter a list of the top 15 baptisteries in Greece. It was 60% done as a kind of silly joke designed to spoof the ubiquitous “listicles” that fill our social media feeds and 40% done because David Pettegrew and I needed to cull our list of around 65 baptisteries to 15-20 for a publication. In any event, the list proved more popular than I imagined which has prompted me to post it here to the ole blog. 

It also got me thinking about maybe doing a little weekly list of things which I post to Twitter and then, perhaps, share them on my blog. One of the major trends of the last five years or so is that blogs like mine have declined in regular readership. Some have argued that Twitter threads and other forms of “long form” social media engagement have created new reading habits. The rise of newsletters has also drawn readers away from stand along blogs. Finally, the blogging landscape itself has changed. The slow and steady grind of research blogs stand out less visibly against blogs engaging more fully with debates that have attracted considerable public attention. In other words, it’s no longer enough to just blog and hope for readers. Today, one has to understand the digital media landscape and have a sensitivity to wider concerns both within and outside of the academy.

My effort to produce a fun little listicle is probably not a useful step in any particular direction for this blog, but it was fun so I’ll share it here with my few remaining (but dedicated and committed) blog readers:  

15. Ay. Sophia at Panormos on Crete. It’s a bit weak, but it’s ranked 15 so there’s that. It also has some archaeology to it and some phasing (it seems to have been added in the 5th century). A little architectural adaptation goes a long way in this list.

14. Kenchreai Basilica (Corinthia). I mean the Pauline tie-in makes it a lock for the list (even though the church is much later. Plus, it’s mostly under water now which is cool. And the swimming there is nice. Otherwise, pretty garden variety.

13. Kos-Zepari Kapama. No list of baptisteries is complete without at least one from Kos or Rhodes. These islands consistently produce great content. In fact, the competition is so intense that these baptisteries are often overrated by fans and critics alike. This one has style.

12. Argos – Aspis Church. I have a soft spot for the Argolid and everyone knows that. This baptistery brings the ROUND and offers just a hint of synchronism for all you old school conversion fans out there. It won’t win a prize for style or design, but it’s there all day long.

11. Aigosthena-Attica. This church is just great and the site (ashlar walls, the sea, the mountains) is almost enough to move it into the top 10. For now, it’s the number 2 baptistery in Attica.

A solid building, good font, probably some arches, but it’s all about the setting.

10. Ialysos-Rhodes. You can’t talk baptisteries without Rhodes and Kos and this little gem is more than representative of the baptismal landscape there.

Apsidal room – check.
Cruciform font – check.
Parapet screen – check.
On an ancient acropolis – check.
Top 10 – check.

9. Brauron-Attica. This basilica is great, but the baptistery is show stopper. Curving walls, a circular baptismal chamber, some apses, and some changes in elevation. This place is special and almost anticipates a day when curves matter. It’s not Ronchamp, but it’s 6th c. Style.

8. Philippi-Octagon. Don’t let the church or the Pauline associations distract you! Here it’s all about the FONT. Square room, busy building, but then: BLAM: cross pattée. It is FLASH. Like someone wanted to show that EC architecture wasn’t all geometric forms and columns.

7. Nea Anchialos – Basilica C. This baptistery is a sleeper. Two phases. Subtle. Small, but complex. From a free standing building to an integrated one. It has a story to tell. Maybe from adult baptism to child baptism? Maybe changing styles and liturgy? There’s a lot going on.

6. Dion – Basilica B. Simple can be better. Octagonal font and three room baptistery:  Apodyterion-Font-Chrismarion. Textbook with just enough style to let people know that they planned this thing. Not quite top 5, but you can feel conversion here.

Oh, man. I’ve gotten so excited that I had forgotten to enjoy my pair of post-prandial Twizzlers!! This never happens except when I’m dropping some public science and doing my baptistery thing!!

Top 5. Here we go.

5. Paros Katapoliani Church. This church speaks for itself and the baptistery is part of that conversation. Apses and aisles and cruciform font. Maybe a dome. This is class in a church that makes me pun Theoktiste and want to escape from pirates to live there alone for 35 years.

4. Metropolitan Church at Gortyn on Crete. Is this controversial? Sure. Is it free standing. Without a doubt. There is a lot going on here: lobes, ambulatories, octagons, quatrefoil fonts. Maybe earlier doubters pushed this up the list a bit, but how could it not be top 5?

3. Kraneion-Corinthia. You’d have to be living in a jar not to it in the top 5. This church is all about SUBSTANCE. The baptistery is apsidal, the font is octagonal with steps, there is an ambulatory. Plus enough burials in the church and the area to remind you of life and death.

2. Damokratia Church – Demetrias. I know this will be controversial. It doesn’t bring the architectural bling of some, but the church is flashy and the baptistery is substantial. Damokratia did this church the right way and this baptistery deserves its spot in the list.

1. Lechaion. The Lechaion baptistery shines brighter than (and predates?) the church itself. Multiple geometric forms, visible adaptations, multiple fonts, apses, parapets, opus sectile, revetment. Plus possible martyrs who died by drowning?

There’s nothing more to say here.

 

 

 

Watery Wednesday: Baptism and Baptisteries on Cyprus

Ok, so Watery Wednesday might be a stretch, but I’m slowly working my way through the massive list of Early Christian baptisteries on Cyprus (there are 7, but only 5 are preserved to any real extent and there are a couple that might be baptisteries, but don’t really have much in the way of evidence; it is a very short list).

While doing this I also can’t stop thinking about the opening scenes of Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel Ministry for the Future where one of the main characters immerses himself in a lake to avoid a devastating heatwave and emerges transformed by the experience. It inspired me to think back to his book New York: 2140 which is set in New York City inundated by rising sea levels which transformed the character of the city and the United States. In some ways, it paralleled J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World (1962) which was set in a similarly inundated London. Time in the inundated city and the experience of a world devolving to a more primitive, pre-human, state triggered in its main character, Dr. Robert Kearns a journey to intensely tropical south with the goal of becoming a new Adam. Obviously, both books are more complex than these simple summaries, but they both involve immersion and inundation as experiences that require radical changes — conversions if you will. If that doesn’t motivate me to think about baptisteries in the waning days of summer, I’m not sure what will.

There are five well-preserved baptisteries on Cyprus. Three are in the neighborhood of Salamis: Ay. Epiphanios in the city itself, Ay. Trias and Ay. Philon on the Karpas Peninsula. The other two are at the Episcopal Basilica at Kourion and the coastal site of Ay. Georgios-Peyias. The remains of a font part of the baptistery was excavated at the site of Petounta in Larnaka district.

The small number of baptistries excavated on Cyprus is almost certainly an accident of discovery rather than a feature of the ecclesiastical landscape. The preserved examples of baptisteries on Cyprus suggest that they were quite monumental and architecturally elaborate structures that often stood separate from the main body of the church. As a result, the tend to appear most commonly at churches excavated extensively. Despite the massive number of churches excavated on Cyprus, excavators only occasionally have opened the kind of exposures necessarily to reveal the presence of a baptistery complex. It is hardly surprising, then, that three of the five well-preserved baptisteries appear 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 baptisteries at Paphos, for example, which was an important ecclesiastical city with Biblical associations almost certainly reflects the limited areas excavated around the large churches identified at this site.

That said, it also seems likely that Cypriots developed smaller and simpler alternatives to the large scale baptisteries present at the five basilicas identified by large-scale excavations. These alternatives may have included mobile fonts and used annex rooms common to the Cypriot churches or even space in the aisles, atria, or narthex. 

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 later 5th and 6th centuries. 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 main church 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 158). Ay. Philon appears to have a similar date on the basis of numismatic evidence. The church at Ay. Epiphanios was famously dated on the basis of the Life of Ay. Epiphanios in which God tells the 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 later modifications perhaps in 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). The baptistery and basilica at Peyia is an outlier in terms of design and most likely date, but seems likely to date to the 5th century. Whatever the shortcomings of the archaeological evidence for dating these buildings, a 5th century date seems reasonable. This century not only represents a period of aggressive church building perhaps linked to efforts by Cypriot bishops to assert their independence from Antiochene authority at the Council of Ephesus in 431. It would also be a plausible time for large-scale adult conversions on the island.   

Richard Maguire’s 2012 dissertation which offers the most convenient and recent survey of the churches on Cyprus, argues that the design of the four baptisteries – Ay. Epiphanios, Ay. Trias, Ay. Philon, and Kourion – served to support a processional baptismal rite. This rite involved four spaces linked by a 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 stair case on one of the font’s cross arms and ascended, newly baptized, by  another before continuing into 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. The outlier of this group is the baptistery church at Peyia. Its circular font and lack of obvious architectural support for a processional right may well reflect Aegean influences and hints at more diversity present in the baptismal liturgy on the island that existing evidence reflects.      

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It’s a start, at the end of summer, to a little catalogue of Cypriot baptisteries will be part of a larger project coordinated by Robin Jensen and which will also include a catalogue of Early Christian baptisteries that I put together with David Pettegrew (and blogged about here, here, and here). 

Writing a Site Guide for Polis (Part 2)

Yesterday, I started to put some words on the page for a guide book to the excavations at Polis on Cyprus that Joanna Smith is spearheading. I focused on the site EF1 on Tuesday and today, I thought I would take a swing at the somewhat more formidable task of describing the neighborhood of the South Basilica. This also dovetails with my July writing project which involves turning my “The Chrysochous Valley in the Long Late Antiquity” paper (here’s a PDF) into an article.

So here goes:

In the sixth century, the South Basilica come to dominate the district known as EF2 on the basis of the Princeton excavation grid and it continues to be the most prominent structure visible in this area today. Originally constructed as a three-aisled basilica with three eastern apses and a wood roof. Fragments of mosaics found during excavations suggest that the apses likely had light catching mosaic decorations. The walls of the central nave stood higher than those of the flanking aisles and almost certainly had windows that bathed the central nave with light and both decorative and figural wall painting. 

The church underwent a series of modifications over the course of its six hundred years of existence. The most significant adaptation occurred in the 7th or early 8th century when it received a narthex to the east and porch that ran along the entire south side of the building. Originally, a series of arched opening supported the south porch which joined the narthex in the square annex room visible today to the south of the narthex. At the same time, the wood roof was replaced by barrel vaults supported by series of buttresses that are visible along the walls of the center aisle. The area between the south porch and the road was an open courtyard that stood atop a two meter deep fill of rubble which served as a drain designed to prevent the flow of water down the hill from undermining the church’s walls. It may be that the downslope flow of waters against the south wall of the church caused damage to the first phase of the church and led to the construction of the barrel vaulted second phase. Whatever the cause, it is notable that barrel vaults, narthexes, and south porches remain common features in the churches on Cyprus. 

At some point in the building’s history, the church itself and the surrounding area becomes a burial ground. The three well preserved burials stand in the south aisle of the church. These burials likely represented individuals with either a close connection to this particular church or status in the community or the ecclesiastical hierarchy. One of these individuals was buried with a decorated bronze cross suspended from a bronze chain. These burials may be the earliest around the church. The next few centuries saw over 150 interments to the south, east, and west of the church and these individuals represented a cross-section of Late Roman and Medieval Arsinoe. The burials are notable for the presence of personal effects especially stone pectoral crosses that marked out the piety and faith of the deceased.

The Medieval history of the building remains less clear. It appears that at least part of the western side of the church collapsed by the 11th century. It may be, however, that the central nave continued to stand and function as a truncated cemetery church for another century or so.  

The church building was not the only Late Roman and Medieval buildings in the area of EF2. To the south of the church stand the so-called “Southeast Rooms.” The earliest phase of these rooms appears to predate the basilica and might date to the 3rd or 4th century. They were modified in the 5th or 6th centuries and the large room was divided into two smaller rooms that appear to open onto the east-west road to the south of the basilica. These rooms were destroyed and covered with the cobble fill as part of the second phase of the South Basilica.

To the west of basilica on the west side of the north south room stood a small well house. This building appear to be contemporary with the basilica and is part of a larger transformation of this area in Late Antiquity. Fragments of mosaic found in the well itself indicates that the apsidal shaped well-house was probably covered by a half-doom decorated with mosaic. That and its elegant shape suggests that this building was an attractive contribution to the neighborhood of the church. The water from the well and the arched south porch of the church offered a welcome site to travelers entering the city from the coastal road.

The well-house and basilica marks the transformation of this area from being an industrial suburb of the city to a more monumental space. This transformation likely began with the construction of the quadrafrons arch at some point after the second century. The construction of the church marked would have marked Polis out as a Christian city and advertised the power of its bishop, the ecclesiastical hierarchy, and the Christian community. The subsequent growth of the cemetery demonstrated that the practice of burying the dead outside of the town’s center continued from antiquity and the significance of this Early Christian monument persisted for nearly a half-millennium. 

The Archaeology of Early Christianity

Yesterday it was the mid-century modern in Grand Forks and today it’s Early Christianity in a colleague’s Bible as Literature class at the University of North Dakota. The class will mostly be a free flowing discussion so there isn’t very much for me to do in terms of preparation, but I also thought that I might introduce some of the basic contours of Early Christian archaeology and situate my own place within the discipline. As per usual, I find it easier to at least work out some ideas here on the ole blog before staring at a Zoom full of students, but I probably won’t read this or even rely too much on notes for the class today.

I think I’d like to try to make a few quick points in my introduction. To start, I’d like to establish that my background is primary as an archaeologist and historian of Late Antique Greece and Cyprus. This situates my work chronologically later than scholars interested in, say, the archaeology of the Christian Bible and also geographically in the Greek East and on the margins of the Levant or Near East. I’ll note that my area of specialty is Early Christian architecture and the role that it played in establishing the authority of the ecclesiastical elite in Greece and Cyprus as well as introducing new forms of public space, ritual, and social organization.

That said, I’ll emphasize that Early Christian archaeology has its roots in a number of long term situations. First and foremost, the archaeology of Early Christianity emerged in lockstep with the development of archaeology as a discipline. This means that the archaeological claims to truth (anchored in disciplinary practices and, increasingly, methodology) allowed it to make arguments independent from those anchored in text. This meant that from the late 19th century on, archaeology represented a way to assess the veracity and, consequently the authority (variously construed) of the Biblical narrative, which as most people know was central to negotiating the political and religious position of Christianity in an increasingly modern world.

(This narrative means setting aside the earliest roots of Christian archaeology in the Renaissance (or even earlier!) and focusing on its development in the 19th century.) 

The emergence of Biblical Archaeology especially in the UK and the US (via institutions like the Palestine Exploration Fund (1865) and the Society of Biblical Archaeology (1870)) reflected the growing interest among Protestant academics and clergy in archaeology as a way to assess and expand the textual accounts offered by the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. In many cases, archaeological work expanded the context for a new generation of Biblical critics (for example, Adolf von Harnack or the members of the Tübingen School) who sought to establish the historicity of the Christian Bible as the basis for a purified Protestantism grounded in claims to authentic Early Christian practice. This paralleled the more mundane, but nevertheless significant interest among middle-class tourists to walk in the footstep of St. Paul or Jesus through trips to the Eastern Mediterranean.

At the same time and in a similar spirit, Classical archaeology was developing as a discrete field with an interest, at least at first, in establishing the authority of Classical texts, and, over time, providing the Classical Greek and Roman worlds with a more thorough historical and material context. Coupled to well-established Enlightenment-era predilection toward the putative rationality of the Greeks and Romans, Classical archaeology sought to expand our understanding and knowledge of antiquity and claim its intellectual and cultural capital for the secular West. Archaeological work at sites such as Corinth (as well as Ephesus as two examples) offered the possibility to combine the interest in significant Greco-Roman cities with the parallel interest in the archaeology of Early Christian communities understood through Biblical texts.

Over the past seventy years, the archaeology of the Eastern Mediterranean has increasingly distanced itself from its earlier preoccupation with texts. This means that it has developed distinct research questions, debates, methods, and knowledge. That said, there remains plenty of overlap between the kind of knowledge that we produce as archaeologists and the interests among scholars of Biblical texts. For example, the last fifty years has seen a sustained interest in the archaeology of the countryside and this has contributed to how we understand the “urban” character of the first Christians by suggesting that our conventional division between urban and rural life might be an unsatisfactory to describe ancient settlement structure. As a result, the absence of rural evidence for Christianity might not reflect evidence for their absence in the countryside as individuals may have moved freely between a range of urban, rural, and sub/ex-urban environments with ritual, religious, and social life across a range of contexts. 

The final major pillar, alongside Biblical and Classical archaeology, that supports the study of Early Christianity is national and colonial archaeology. From its origins in the 19th century, Early Christian archaeology sought to reinforce the Christian foundations of modern nation-states. In Greece, for example, this manifest in an interest in using Early Christian architecture to establish both the antiquity of the church in Greece, but also the distinctive character (and influence) of Greek liturgical practices. On Cyprus, understanding the origins of Christianity on the island reinforce the episcopal claims to its unique autocephalous status (which in turn supports contemporary claims to political sovereignty). The use of Biblical archaeology in Israel to establish territorial and political claims is too well known to require summary here, but the archaeology of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim sites remains a key element in the development of historical, religious, and political landscapes.      

It goes without saying that the archaeology of Early Christianity remains aware of its entanglement both with national claims and the legacy of European colonialism in the Eastern Mediterranean. The close tie between Protestant interests in Biblical archaeology and the political influence of European states throughout the Near East is hardly coincidental. The willingness of individuals and museums to acquire looted antiquities (especially from places wracked by war and poverty), for example, and claims that they represented a shared or global patrimony often serve to mask long-standing colonial attitudes that European and American institutions have ever bit as much claim to archaeological artifacts and the cultural sovereignty of a Eastern Mediterranean state as local communities or national governments. While incisive critiques and recent scandals at the Museum of the Bible have drawn attention to this deeply problematic aspect of Biblical and Early Christian archaeology, it remains less clear whether the underlying assumptions that allowed such practices to persist are changing. 

In sum, the archaeology of Early Christianity has traced a trajectory common to any number of disciplines that have come to establish distinctive claims to truth over the course of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The long term commitment to establishing the authority of Christian texts has abated over the last century to be replaced with an interest in establishing a broader of context for the development of Christian (and indeed Late Antique) religious life in the first five centuries. Despite this more expansive mission, the archaeology of Early Christianity continues to demonstrate that It is neither insulated nor isolated from larger geopolitical developments in both Europe and North America as well as within the regions that it studies.