A Memorial for a Digital Friend: Diana Gilliland Wright

Yesterday, I learned that Diana Gilliland Wright had died earlier this month. I didn’t know her very well and, in fact, I can’t exactly remember if I had ever met her. I knew her mostly via email, comments on my blog, and her own voluminous blogging output.

Over the last decade, as my research interest shifted toward the Argolid, she and I corresponded a bit more regularly as she offered us the occasional insight based on her years of work on the city of Nafplion and its environs. From what I can gather she wrote her dissertation on a 15th century Venetian administrator at Nafplion, Bartolomeo Minio. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve never read it. Nor have I read any of her formal scholarship. What I did read, quite regularly, were her blogs.

Year ago, when blogging was still fresh and exciting and filled bloggers with hope, we envisioned a world where bloggers read each others’ work and reached out to one another and commented and shared each others’ work through hyperlinks and blogrolls and ultimately forged relationships across networks of blogs. Diana Wright did all that and was a regularly commenter on my blog from its earliest days (on Typepad!). And even as the promise of blogs as a corresponding medium faded a bit, she continued to reach out via email to offer comments and ask for publications. I remember sending her a few copies of North Dakota Quarterly at some point as well and hoping that she found the poetry and fiction in those pages interesting.

From what I can piece together she ran two blogs. The blog that I knew best was called “Surprised by Time” and it largely focused on the Medieval Morea (or Peloponnesus). Her interests were wide ranging and did much to make transparent murky waters separating the Medieval and Early Modern worlds. The scions of Byzantine elite families rubbed shoulders with Venetian administrators, on assignment, Ottoman officials, and Mediterranean diplomats, literati, and ne’er-do-wells. Palaiologoi cross paths with Italian merchants and Ottoman travelers, Pashas, and poets. Each of the over 200 entries, offered a startling glimpse into a world often overlooked by scholars preoccupied by tidier narratives of rise and decline of empire and neglectful of the messier interface of daily life among those most effected by political and cultural change. To Dr. Wright’s particular credit, the blog exists under a CC-By-SA license meaning that anyone can share her work as long as they credit her and make their work available under an open license. The blog appears to be fairly well archived by the internet archive, but I would be keen to entertain ways to preserve it more formally. 

For many years, she also maintained a landing page of sorts called “Nauplion.net” where she offered an index of her work and the work of her partner Pierre MacKay which featured regularly on her blog. It also featured links to many scans of hard to find primary sources some of which were translated on Surprised by Time. This site is no longer working and hadn’t been updated in many years, but it is preserved on the Internet Archive.

[By coincidence, I’m teaching Evliya Çelebi this week and using Pierre MacKay’s translation of Evliya’s visit to Corinth in my class. Diana Wright posted bits and pieces of Pierre’s translation and the story of his discovery of Evliya’s manuscript on her blog.]

Her other blog, Firesteel is an anthology of poetry gleaned from ancient and modern sources and from Greek, Ottoman, Arab, Italian, French and English language poets. I don’t know whether the poetry posted here and her more academic content crossed paths in some kind of formal way, but it really is an amazing collection of work (which I suspect violates all sort of copyrights, but I get the sense that Diana Wright just didn’t really care). 

~

As a small, digital memorial to Diana Gilliland Wright’s passing, I would encourage you spend a moment looking at her online legacy and recognizing it as a gesture of a kind of digital kinship that could connect individuals who had never met. For whatever reason, her profile included a link to John Coltrane’s 1957 recording of “While My Lady Sleeps.” It feels like an appropriate soundtrack for a visit to her digital world. 

. . . a little wine for remembrance . . . a little water for the dust.  

Writing about Pompeii in the Age of Catastrophe

The last couple weeks have been a real struggle for me personally and professionally. I’ve been sort of drifting through my days in a post-COVID fog and have found it incredibly difficult to focus enough to write anything longer than a few sentences. This is particularly intense in the afternoons when I start to fatigue. I remain optimistic that this will pass eventually, but it has led me to shift some of my limited attention from longer and more concentration intensive work like revising book chapters to shorter work. In an effort to make a virtue out of a necessity, I prepared this short response to a pair of poems published in Shawn Graham’s Epoiesen last year. I wrote a rough draft of it last week, but after some reflection on Mark Bould’s recent book, The Anthropocene Unconscious: Climate Catastrophe Culture (Verso 2021) and an assist from Sarah Bond on Twitter, I was able to expand my short post into something a bit more substantive. Shawn has graciously accepted my response and I look forward to it appearing over at Epoiesen later this year. 

Here’s what I have to say:

Pompeii has an enduring place in our modern cultural imagination. Excavations at the site, and their often grisly discoveries, have come to stand in for any number of modern situations from the intimate pain of personal heartbreak to horrors of the Shoah, industrialization, and the looming climate catastrophe. I’d like to propose Mary K. Lindberg’s poems on Pompeii continue in this tradition.

The release of Cate Le Bon’s latest album titled Pompeii coincided with my reading of Lindberg’s poems and spurred my reflection. Le Bon’s album while refined, cohesive, and thoughtful, is not a concept album, and it doesn’t seem to connect with the site beyond including a song of the same title. In this song, however, Le Bon evokes a longstanding trope associated with Pompeii through a swirl of reverberating synths:

Get dressed
You’re a mess
You’re a sight Did you dream about Pompeii?
Your eyes always give it away
Cities built on monumental rage
Getting lost in the seminar…

The idea of dreaming about Pompeii invokes Sigmund Freud’s well-known treatise, Delusion and Dream: an Interpretation in the Light of Psychoanalysis of Gravida (1907) which interrogates Wilhelm Jensen’s novel Gravida (1903) through the lens of psychoanalysis. The main character in Jensen’s novel, Harold, an archaeologists, fell in love with an ancient relief carving which he calls Gravida. After a dream about the destruction of Pompeii and Gravida’s demise, he traveled to the site and while there, he saw a woman who looks like Gravida, but was alive and well. The woman was, in fact, Zoë Bertgang, a former neighbor of Harold’s on whom he had a childhood crush. Freud in his treatise, Delusion and Dream, excavated Harold’s dream of Gravida and argued that it was, in fact, a manifestation of his sublimated love for his former neighbor who he just happened to encounter in Pompeii. Thus, Harold’s passion for the Gravida relief and archaeology as a discipline was an expression of his repressed passion for this woman. Zoë understood this and cured Harold by at times imitating Gravida and at other times gently directing Harold’s attention from his fantasy to reality. Freud’s work both revealed his longstanding interest in excavation as a metaphor for bringing the complex working of the unconscious mind to light and demonstrated the utility of his psychoanalytical methods for considering works of literature.

It is hard to escape this long Freudian shadow when reading Mary K. Lindberg’s first poem, “Book Lover.” The narrator in the poem is a freedman, Aristo, who survives the first shocks of Vesuvius’s eruption, but dies in the pyroclastic flow the next day. He was a librarian whose love for books surpassed that for even his family(or perhaps the family of his former master who also perished in the eruption. He was found by excavators still clutching his keys to the library. In another poem, “The House of the Deer,” a wealthy Roman family hoped to escape Vesuvius’s eruption by seeking shelter in the boathouses by the sea. As they fled they grabbed jewelry and coins, but in the end, even with their worldly goods, they died among the fishy nets of boats. Like Harold’s desire for the sculpted Gravida, the characters in Lindberg’s poems appear to displace their desire for family, safety, and home onto material things even as Pompeii crumbled around them. In both poems, Lindberg includes figures rushing about with pillows tied to their heads as if begging the reader to reflect on our dreamtime displacements. These desperate figures seem to embody our own pillow-headed efforts to capture our dreams as they flee the probing fingers of our conscious mind and solidifies the dream-like quality of the poems which capture individuals at the moment of crisis.

Reading these poems and listening to Cate Le Bon’s oneiric voice ask “Did you dream about Pompeii?” begged me to consider how “cities built on monumental rage” had became “lost in the seminar.” Primo Levi’s haunting poem “The Girl-Child of Pompeii” (1978 [1984 in Italian and 1992 in English]) offered a depressing clue. The poem juxtaposes the plaster cast of a child who died in the eruption of Vesuvius while clutching her mother with Anne Frank and the famous Hiroshima blast shadow of the girl jumping rope. This poem was brought to my attention by Joanna Paul’s chapter in Pompeii in the Public Imagination ((2011) edited by Paul and Shelley Halles). Pompeii’s monumental rage has made it a timeless vessel for the past horrors of the Holocaust and the looming anxiety of the nuclear age: “Since everyone’s anguish is our own | We live ours over again…” Cities built on rage reverberate across the centuries suffusing the seminar with displaced anxieties.

The anguished dreams of Le Bon, Lindberg, and Levi jarred me. I’ve never been to Pompeii, but I nevertheless feel like the city looms over our contemporary world in a million cautionary tales. Perhaps Malcolm Lowry’s short story, “Present Estate of Pompeii,” published in the Partisan Review in 1959 offers a perspective on Pompeii’s appropriate to our present time. In the story, Roderick MacGregor Fairhaven and his wife travel to Pompeii by train where she insistently takes her husband on a tour of the site. Roderick is distracted and finds the site’s “tragic because almost successful — effort at permenance.” And, in keeping with the Pompeii’s status as a place of displaced dreams, Roderick noted that “it looked sometimes as though the Romans here had made all their dreams come true in terms of convenience, wicked and good alike.” Pompeii was an ancient city reshaped by modern priorities.

The dream transported Roderick back to his home in British Columbia where his cabin stood across the bay from an oil refinery. As the Italian tour guide escorted him and his wife around Pompeii, Roderick recalled the violent explosion of oil tanker Salinas as it unloaded its cargo at the refinery. Mark Bould in his new book, The Anthropocene Unconscious: Climate Catastrophe Culture (2021) argues that most contemporary fiction manifests our displaced anxieties about climate change. Lowry’s story appears to anticipate this. The ancient and ruined convenience of Pompeii collided with the mechanism of convenience in the contemporary age as the flames from the burning ship subsided and the ship itself slipped away sparing the refinery an even greater calamity. The dead sun of Lindberg’s Pompeii and Lowry’s sun “as the fiery hub to a gigantic black-disked wheel tired by a rainbow” of spilled oil traced the calamity’s global proportions. The ruins of Pompeii were the ruins of the refinery and the ruins of convenience, wealth, and arrogance. Pompeii, whatever else it was, can, or could be reminded Roderick that “Man had become a raven staring at a ruined heronry. Well, let him deduce his own ravenhood from it if he could.”

As the specter of the global climate change looms over contemporary society, the site of Pompeii takes on new meaning for contemporary writers and readers. It is impossible to escape the tragic futility of convenience, wealth, and “the countless words of thinkers who tried to understand human nature” in the face of horrible power of nature. The best we can do is displace it onto powerless, if not uncooperative sites like Pompeii. Restoring Pompeii reveals a city saturated with Levi’s recurrent anguish, Le Bon’s rage, Lowry’s ravens at the heronry, and Lindberg’s imperceptible move from the end of life to the beginning of death. Pompeii always reminds us of the final and inescapable end.

As Lowry’s Roderick departed the city he abruptly asked the question that perhaps haunts anyone who thinks about Pompeii for more than a moment: “What it amounted to was a feeling that there was not going to be time. Did you want to harrow yourself looking at what had been only temporarily spared, at what was finally doomed? And Roderick could not help but wonder whether man too was not beginning to stand, in some profound inexplicable scene, fundamentally in some such imperfect or dislocated relation to his environment as he.”

Pompeii Dreams

I don’t think very often about Pompeii, mostly because I assume that folks like Eric Poehler and Steven Ellis think about enough, but every now and then something happens that makes me aware of how ubiquitous Pompeii is in our popular culture.

For example, this week, I’ve been enjoying Cate Le Bon’s latest album titled Pompeii and while it doesn’t appear to be a concept album (and the album itself doesn’t appear related in any real way to the site), it does include a song of the same title. Le Bon sings through a swirl of reverberating synths: 

Get dressed
You’re a mess
You’re a sight
Did you dream about Pompeii?
Your eyes always give it away
Cities built on monumental rage
Getting lost in the seminar…

Of course, the idea of dreaming about Pompeii leads one directly to Freud’s famous Delusion and Dream: an Interpretation in the Light of Psychoanalysis of Gradiva (1907) which interrogates Wilhelm Jensen’s novel Gravida (1903) through the lens of psychoanalysis. In the novel the main character, Harold, an archaeologists, falls in love with an ancient relief carving which he calls Gravida. After a dream about the destruction of Pompeii and Gravida’s demise, he travels to the site and while there, he sees a woman who looks like Gravida, but is alive and well. The woman is, in fact, Zoë Bertgang, a former neighbor of Harold’s on whom he had a childhood crush. Freud excavates Harold’s dream of Gravida and reveals that it is, in fact, a manifestation of his sublimated love for his former neighbor who he just happens to encounter in Pompeii. Harold’s passion for the Gravida relief and archaeology as a discipline is merely repressed passion for this woman. Zoë understands this and by at time imitating Gravida and at times gently directing Harold’s attention from his fantasy to reality.

Last weekend, I worked to typeset two poems published by Mary K. Lindberg over at Shawn Graham’s journal Epoiesen: A Journal for Creative Engagement in History and Archaeology. One in particular, “Book Lover” caught my attention. The narrator in the poem is a freedman, Aristo, who survives the first shocks of Vesuvius’s eruption, but dies in the pyroclastic flow the next day. He was a librarian whose love for books surpassed that for even his family or perhaps the family of his former master who, like, Aristo, died in the eruption. In another poem, “The House of the Deer,” a wealthy Roman family hoped to escape Vesuvius’s eruption by seeking shelter in the boathouses by the sea. As they fled they grabbed jewelry and coins, but in the end, they died among the fishy nets of boats. Like Harold’s desire for the sculpted Gravida, the characters in Lindberg’s poems appear, dream like, to displace their desires onto material things even as Pompeii itself crumbles around them. This displacement is not only so central to how we understand our dreams, but also contributes to the poems dream-like qualities.

When Cate Le Bon asks “Did you dream about Pompeii?” amid the oneiric swirls of synths and “cities built on monumental rage” becomes “lost in the seminar,” it is hard to avoid thinking of Primo Levi’s haunting poem “The Girl-Child of Pompeii” which juxtaposes the plaster cast of a child who died in the eruption of Vesuvius with Anne Frank and the famous blast shadow of the girl jumping rope in Hiroshima. (This poem was brought to my attention by Joanna Paul’s relatively recent essay in the book Pompeii in the Public Imagination (2011) edited by Paul and Shelley Halles.)

It’s clear that our fascination with Pompeii represents all sorts of modern anxieties from the devastating potential of nuclear war, the murderous capacities of the militarized state, and our displaced desire for ancient and modern things in an era where human connections feel especially precious and strained. 

Two Article Thursday: Immigrant Journeys in Sicily

For the last couple of years, I’ve had Emma Blake and Rob Schon’s “The Archaeology of Contemporary Migrant Journeys in Western Sicily” from JMA 32.2 (2019) on my “to read” list. Unfortunately, I didn’t even have a copy of the article “to read” it. Fortunately, a colleague came to my aid and I was able finally to read the article and read the very recent piece by Elizabeth S. Greene, Justin Leidwanger, and Leopoldo Repola in the most recent AJA on a similar topic: “Ephemeral Heritage: Boats, Migration, and the Central Mediterranean Passage.”

Both articles documented assemblages associated with voyages across the Mediterranean by migrants looking to enter Italy (and possibly Europe beyond). Blake and Schon look documented five assemblages located near the western coast of Sicily which suggest deposition by small groups of migrants who came ashore nearby. They likely traveled from Tunisia which is the closest point to the western Sicilian coast and, significantly, represented a long standing point of contact between the island and Tunisian coast. In fact, historically migrants cross back and forth for seasonal work and prior to 1990 a passport was not even required. Today, of course, things are different owing as much to changes in border regimes supported by Italy’s membership in the EU in the 1990s to more recent anxieties prompted by populist politics and fears of regional instability. 

Blake and Schon compared the assemblages found near the coast with assemblages documented by Cameron Gokee and Jason De León from the Sonoran desert left behind by migrants who risked the desperate crossing of this dangerous landscape. In some cases, the differences are pretty straight forward. Objects left behind in Sicily did not show the same efforts to camouflage their appearance as those in the desert. In other ways, however, the assemblages suggest similar strategies for migrants. For example, the assemblages showed the discard of clothing, water, and anything else that might indicate travel. They also included hygiene products such as deodorant and body spray that indicated efforts to fit into local society.

There were other somewhat unexpected patterns in these assemblages such as the relatively dearth of objects clearly associated with Tunisian origin (such as brands or labels that indicate a product could only be acquired in Tunisia). This speaks both to the globalized character of our material world where objects can cross borders and shed evidence for their origins in ways that humans struggle to do.

Greene et al.’s article focuses on a ship used to traverse the dangerous two day passage between Libya and Eastern Sicily. The document the ship after it had been intercepted by Italian border officials. Unlike the rather small assemblages documented by Blake and Schon the assemblage associated with the former fishing boat impounded in Sicily was expansive. It included not only clothing, food and drink, and objects like blankets, scarfs, and cushions adapted to the migrants’ journey, but also signs of discarded documents, modifications to the boat itself, and medical supplies.

As with the material found in the Blake and Schon assemblages, this material came from both Libya and a much wider area indicating how in the contemporary world goods move more easily across borders than humans.  

To be clear, neither of these papers is really about the material culture per se. Both papers show how the study of material culture has the potential to humanize the plight of migrants who undertake dangerous journeys to escape from even more perilous situations. The abandonment of clothes and objects not only marked a key phase of their trip but also a poignant one as they shed material indicators of the past in the hope for a better future.

~

As a side note, I was excited to see that that AJA had published an article that demonstrated how their new publication policies would work in practice. Historically, the AJA focused its interest the Mediterranean (broadly construed to include Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia) in the period from prehistory to Late Antiquity. Over time, most scholars have come to recognize that this was not a particularly useful chronological or geographical definition as a significant number of projects in the Mediterranean were diachronic in character and a scholarly interests even among those identifying as “Classical” archaeologists now regularly included comparative and interregional perspectives. 

This article represents the first, in my memory at least, that focused exclusively on the contemporary period and while the study area was in the Mediterranean heartland, it is easy enough to understand the context of his article as much more expansive. As a gesture to authors, this article is incredibly important because it shows that the AJA is not only ready to embrace the diachronic complexity of the Mediterranean, but also abandoned a periodization scheme that carried on a colonialist and, for many, racist legacy by isolating “Classical” antiquity as a period deserving particular attention. Obviously, this is position that was no longer tenable for the flagship journal of the Archaeological Institute of America in that it neither reflected the attitudes of its diverse membership nor the contemporary political landscape. I love that an article interrogating the human cost of the contemporary political landscape of the Mediterranean marked the editor’s more expansive reading of their editorial policy (which also reflects its expansion in May 2021) and look forward to the continued development of the journal in light of these new political and discipline commitments!

Three Things Thursday: Survey Archaeology, Western Literature, and Poetry from a Former Student

My body is gallantly fighting off a cold the week, so I don’t quite have the energy for a long involved post. So, instead, I’ll offer a little “Three Thing Thursday” as I try to keep the balls in the area down the stretch run of the week.

First Thing.

A colleague shared this article with me over the weekend: Kimberly Bowes et al. “Peasant agricultural strategies in southern Tuscany: Convertible agriculture and the importance of pasture” from The Economic Integration of Rural Italy. Rural Communities in a Globalizing World, ed. G. Tol and T. de Haas. (Brill 2017): 165-194. The article uses examples from her Roman Peasant Project to explore the interplay rural land use and the interplay between pastoralism and more settled agriculture. This team of scholars excavates five sites known from intensive survey archaeology from small ceramic scatters. Two were small seasonal or short-duration “work huts” and combining the modest architecture with botanical, palynological, and faunal material collected from the excavations, they were able to suggest that these structures served land that was likely used as pasture. Pasture plays a key role in strategies associated with ley agriculture which allowed fields to go fallow for years in order to restore the soil and stabilize yields. These small structures (and the small ceramic scatters), then, which a survey might have suggested represented the intensification of conventional agriculture, may, in fact, represent a less intensive strategy associated with ley farming.

Among the more interesting observations from this article are a two sites identified by low-density artifact scatters which produced no structures, but did reveal field drains dating to antiquity and probably the Roman period. These field drains consisted of cobble filled trenches. This is exciting to me both because I was unaware that field drains were used in the Roman period, but more importantly, there is relatively few publications that discuss drain building practices in the Roman period. The use of cobbles to slow the flow of water and to prevent the drains from carving deep channels in the fields offers some evidence for why the builders of the “South Basilica” at Polis may have created a “French drain” on the uphill, south side of the church to keep the rush of water down a natural drainage from undercutting the south wall of the basilica. It’s not a perfect analogy but suggests that my argument may not be entirely wrong.

Second Thing.

I’ve been reading John Beck’s Dirty Wars: Landscape, Power, and Waste in Western American Literature (Nebraska 2009). I really like the book. Whatever it’s academic merits (and I’m not really qualified to judge that), it has intrigued me. Beck uses literature to explore the character of the post-war, Cold War Western landscape through an emphasis on Japanese internment, the militarization of the landscape (and the Mexican border), the use of the west as a dumping ground for toxic, nuclear, and otherwise unpleasant waste, and the almost simultaneous emergence of the suburban ideal (cf. J.B. Jackson’s “The Westward Moving House”). Beck makes clear that works like Cormack McCarthy’s Blood Meridian while situated in the past (in this case, the mid-19th century) nevertheless speak to the present situation in a Western landscape shaped by Cold War militarism and its consequences. Elsewhere he weaves together the critiques of Rebecca Solnit, Ellen Meloy, and Terry Tempest Williams which emphasize the role of industry in the refashioning of the Western landscape. While I am embarrassed not to know these works well, I can’t help but wondering whether they influenced somehow my own effort at a similar critique in my The Bakken: An Archaeology of An Industrial Landscape. Don’t be surprised to see these works appear in the ole bloggeroo over the next few weeks. Solnit and Meloy remain priorities for my weekend reading list.

One of the reasons that Beck has excited me so much is that he has pushed me from thinking about archaeology of the contemporary world as a historical and social scientific window onto the contemporary American experience, toward thinking about the archaeology of the contemporary world as a distinctly cultural engagement with late-20th and early-21st century American life. This isn’t meant to deprecate the important work done by people like Jason DeLeon or Shannon Lee Dowdy or Bill Rathje, but to reframe their interventions as much as part of a much larger current of cultural critique. Instead of archaeology treating the contemporary experience as the object of study, archaeology of the contemporary world is (or at, very least, represents) the American experience. If we prioritize the notion of contemporaneity and suggest that it subverts the most common forms of disciplinary and historical detachment, then it makes sense that we can’t study or locate archaeology outside of American culture in the present. This, of course, remains a work in progress.

Third Thing.

I’m very excited to redirect your attention to the North Dakota Quarterly blog this morning. The blog features a poem from Amalia Dillin. Our hardworking poetry editor, Paul Worley, selected this poem for publication without knowing that Amalia was one of my former students at UND where she majored, I think, in Classics but also took history classes. She’s put those classes (and a bunch of her own hard work) to good use as a writer. You can check out her stuff here (although it’s very different from her poem)!

Go read the poem, it’s pretty great and I think summarizes neatly the anxiety that many of use feel in our media saturated lives. 

A Review of Metaponto 4

This past month, I spent some time reading and reviewing Eremina Lapadula’s The Chora of Metaponto 4: The Late Roman Farmhouse at San Biagio. I’ve blogged about it already, but now I have a rough draft of the review ready for your consideration.

I’ve been thinking a good bit about how I write book reviews lately. I tell my students that there are three kinds of reviews with three kinds of theses, and the best reviews explain how a book works rather than what a book says.

1. This book is good because…
2. This is book is good, but…
3. This is not a good book because… 

In practice, however, I’ve found it more difficult to pull this off. The review below is probably my least successful effort. On the one hand, it’s reasonably thorough and critical. On the other hand, it is entirely unremarkable.

(On the third hand, it is also more or less done and off my plate before my summer work commences…)

A Late Roman Farmhouse near Metaponto

This past week I’ve been reading Ermina Lapadula’s publication of the Late Roman Farmhouse at San Biagio near the ancient city of Metaponto in the Basilicata region of Italy. Excavated by a team of both Italians and a team from the University of Texas, the ten-room farmhouse was mid-sized (a villula) and of modest prosperity. It represents one of a rather small number of non-elite rural dwellings in Italy published in any detail and is consistent with recent work on Roman peasants in the Italian countryside

I’m preparing a formal review of this book for the American Journal of Archaeology, and I’ll post a preprint of that when it’s done. For now, however, I’ll give you some observations.

1. Tiles. Ten years ago, my buddy David Pettegrew published an article in the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology on the farmhouses in the Classical period in Greece. One of the difficulties he faced in understanding what a farmhouse might look like in the surface record was how few excavated rural houses exist in Greece. The same observation, of course, could be made of almost any rural structure. He goes on to note that even excavated rural buildings do not seem to produce enough roof tiles to cover them. The reason for this is rather obvious; people strip abandoned buildings of their valuable tiles, and we confirmed this practice through some ethnographic parallels. It would seem that the San Biagio farmhouse likewise lost its tiles probably after a short period of abandonment. While the publication did not go into much detail regarding the post abandonment history of the building or any other matters of site formation, an attentive and interested reader can glean intriguing details about the site’s later history throughout the volume.

2. Reconstruction. One of the most interesting aspects of the book is a lovely digital reconstruction of the building supported by an appropriately detailed discussion. Unlike the older practice of hand-drawn architectural reconstruction (which were also included in this volume) – which were largely illustrative – new digital reconstructions often include discussions of how the process worked. I was particularly intrigued by the discussion of the roofing system used at San Biagio and it seems to coincide with what we found at our site of Pyla-Koutsopetria in Cyprus. Moreover, the digital reconstructions were gorgeous in resolution and detail. See Figure 2.28 below with a detail of the roof.

NewImage

3. Landscapes. One of the most useful things about this volume is that the same team who excavated the farmhouse had also conducted and published a larger regional survey from the region. As a result, they were able to locate this site within larger patterns of settlement and ascertain how deeply connected the regional economy was to larger Mediterranean networks of exchange. The mid-sized farmhouse is both typical for the region, which tended to lack the large villas typical of the 2nd-4th centuries in southern Italy. Economically, the villula was fairly integrated into the larger Mediterranean networks of exchange with ceramic material showing exchange with other parts of Italy, Spain, the Aegean, and North Africa (and even a few fragments of Late Roman 1 amphora from the Eastern Mediterranean). That being said, the authors suspect that the main economic activity at the farmhouse was animal husbandry and it was probably a “self-sufficient” rather than explicitly commercial farm. It would have been really fantastic had the authors brought a more sophisticated conceptualization of landscape (perhaps using Ingold’s idea of the taskscape) to their study of the villa and its environs. 

4. A Small Private Bath. It is striking that this rather modest farmhouse had a small private bath. Another buddy of mine, Dallas Deforest has recently completed a dissertation on baths and bathing in Late Antique Greece and I wonder whether there is evidence for such small private baths there. When we discover hypocaust tiles in the countryside during field survey (and this is exceedingly rare), we immediately expect them to derive from an elite residence. The presence of a small bath at a more modest site might temper our assumptions a bit.

5. Artifacts and Stratigraphy. The site was excavated stratigraphically and the volume includes a well-executed artifact catalogue. On the one hand, the catalogue is really nice. It is neither overblown to include every example of particular objects nor too spare to mine for comparanda (and the very nice assemblage of 3rd century material makes it a very appealing source for comparanda!). On the other hand, I remain frustrated by the separation of the objects from their archaeological context. I realize that this arrangement is a practical requirement for most archaeological publications and benefits both the treatment of the stratigraphy and the artifact, but it remains frustrating to have to flip back and forth between the two parts of the book. This will be the advantage of the next generation of digital archaeological publications which allow the reader to drill down into the data upon which the observations rest.

Images of a Dream Archaeology

I was looking for a photograph to include with a little blurb on a talk that I am going to give at my alma mater, the University of Richmond.

I came across this photo that I took in the Ligurian Alps with my buddy Mike Fronda. I though it would work for that paper.

Dream Archaeology

The other option is this photo of the Early Christian basilica perched above the site of Nemea.

NewImage

Modern and Ancient in Calabria

One of my favorite scholars of the ancient world and old graduate school crony, Mike Fronda, has a brilliant little piece in this fall’s McGill University’s Classical Studies Newsletter

Mike talks about his visit to the home town of his grandmother, Caulonia, in Calabria. This town fit into Mike’s recent research on the Italiote League as ancient Kaulonia was the capital of the league. Today, the site is mostly known for the foundations of a Doric Temple.

Mike’s short essay, however, focuses on the intersection of the ancient and the modern in the methods he used to search for his grandmother’s birth date. The essay deserves to be read in total here, but here’s a teaser:

Caulonia has a personal resonance for me: thousands of Cauloniesi emigrated to the US in the 1910s and 1920s, among them my grandmother Carmela Maiolo. I decided to visit the historic center to learn more about my origins. Around the central piazza, I found several placards memorializing the five days in 1945 when the townsfolk declared an independent, communist “Red Republic of Caulonia,” before allied forces suppressed the movement. At last I came to the civic registry office, where I was invited by the director to search  through the birth records, organized by decade, to find information on my ancestors.

Quickly we found entries for my great-grandparents and my grandmother’s seven siblings, but nothing on my grandmother, who was born (according to family lore) in 1902. I immediately began to develop theories: was my grandmother adopted? Did she lie about her name? Did she lie about her age? So I asked the director to look in the records for 1890-1899. She was skeptical and asked, “Does your grandmother have a grave?” “Yes,” I answered. “What is written on the stone?” “1902,” I answered. “So there,” she said. “But,” I explained, “when she died, no one in the family knew for sure when she was born.” The director looked dubious but relented, and within in minutes, we found the missing birth record in 1899!

As a scholar in ancient history, this experience struck me deeply. The director assumed that the tombstone inscription was an indisputable fact, and indeed ancient historians often put great faith in epigraphic evidence without considering that they are subject to the same distortions, inaccuracies and fabrications found in, for instance, literary sources.

Digital Pompeii and the Future of Archaeology

If you’re interested in archaeology and the digital future then this is the lecture for you. Prof. Eric Poehler will be speaking tomorrow at 6 pm in the East Asia Room of the Chester Fritz Library on the beautiful campus of the University of North Dakota. If you’re not in North Dakota, FEAR NOT, the digital future has you covered!

We are going to stream the lecture LIVE from this site here.  Please join us online if you can’t make it in person.

This talk is going to be so spectacular that we made the UND home page (everyone should click through to the UND link to show the power of my blog!!):

PompeiiScreenGrab

For you regular Archaeology of the Mediterranean World readers, this is probably a bit of a disappointing post. So, just to show you that I’m looking out for your leisure time reading, hop over to Teaching Thursday and check out a brilliant bonus post. My colleague Caroline Campbell has posted a particularly thoughtful series of reflections on her second year of teaching at the University. This is a follow-up to her first year reflections which she offered in the spring of 2010. Be sure to check out Teaching Thursday over the next few weeks as