Two Book Tuesday: Atari Age and Artifacts in Silicon Valley

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the pleasure of reading casually just a bit in two books. First, I’ve read most of Michael Z. Newman’s Atari Age: The Emergence of Video Games in America (MIT 2017), and at the same time, I discovered Christine A. Finn’s Artifacts: An Archaeologist’s Year in Silicon Valley (MIT 2001). Both books offer distinctive impressions of late 20th century digital culture and contribute in some way to my long term research trajectories.

The utility of Newman’s book is more immediate. He frames the emergency of video game in the 1970s and 1980s against the backdrop of the video arcade with its seedy reputation inherited from gaming parlors of the early 20th century. (In my own experience, I never really understood why my parents did not let me go to the Silver Ball Arcade as a kid. There was something seedy about it in my parents’ mind (and a waste of money) that placed that space out of bounds for me and my brothers). Atari’s success involved translating the thrill of arcade games while domesticating them. The early advertisements for Atari, then, emphasized their domestic setting and showed families playing the games together. By the mid-1980s, however, the idyllic family setting had taken on a more male slant as mothers and daughters disappear and fathers, sons, and brothers remained, but still in the relative comfort of the domestic environment. The domestication of the arcade took place in two stages with the first locating the games at home among the entire family and the second returning game play to a male realm while still safely ensconced in the home. The final stage involved transporting the players from the home to the fantasy world of the game which almost alway was encoded male. Sports, war, and adventure outside the home (in space, in fantastic worlds, or as the protagonist of a feature film) remained the male domain for most of the 1980s (and perhaps today) as the safely domesticated games invited players to engage in less mundane adventures in fantastic landscapes. 

Finn’s book was one of this books that I should have read earlier. Finn, an Oxford trained archaeologist who had a career as a journalist, traveled to Silicon Valley in 2000 to experience the most talked about landscape in late-20th century American geography. While the book isn’t exactly a tourist guide, like that offered by Forrest Mims Siliconnections (1986), Finn is clear that her work “is a kind of Cook’s tour of my own, a brief one, and from the perspective of an archaeologist as foreign correspondent” (xiii).

As someone who just wrote a tourist guide to a 21st century landscape, I was thrilled to find that someone else had had this idea before me. Finn is a better writer than I am, but she also views Silicon Valley less through the lens of the tourist and more as a journalist. In particular, she focused on the characters whom she met during her travels. More than that, though, she demonstrates a keen eye for history and change in the Silicon Valley landscape and the often ironic efforts to reclaim some of the historical landscape of the Valley, but in a way that does not disrupt development and a sense of progress. A historic cherry farm gives way to high end shopping that includes a shop that sells imported cherries and cherry themed gifts. A retired computer engineer recreates a rustic garden in his backyard including a writing shed to escape from the very bustle that allowed him this luxury. Historic buildings are celebrated and moved to more convenient locations for visitors coming to the region for technology related business or travel. The landscapes that Finn creates demonstrates the deep ambivalence toward the changes in our late-20th century world. Her book bridged the gap between William Least Heat Moon’s PrairyErth: (a deep map), which is filled with compelling characters, and my own book, The Bakken, where I tried (perhaps unsuccessfully) to push the changing Bakken landscape to the fore.  

Writing up the Excavations at Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus, Part 1.

A few weeks ago, I boldly complained (in my head) that this is the February of Pyla-Koutsopetria. Since then, my colleagues and I have been working frantically to get the second volume of our work at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus completed and ready for submission. The second volume documents our three seasons of excavation and a couple of seasons of early excavation at the site by the Department of Antiquities on Cyprus.

I was tasked with wrapping up the conclusion while I have most of the basic summary work done, I’m working this week on the historiographic components of the conclusion that frame my more summary remarks. I’m arguing that contemporary archaeology of Roman, Late Roman, and Byzantine Cyprus is primarily concerned with three things: first, it continues the tradition of placing Cyprus within the economic and political context of the Roman East; second, it has expanded from being a largely urban archaeology (with a few notable exceptions) to an archaeology invested as much in the landscape and countryside as in the monumental urban centers; and finally, work on Cyprus has contributed to the growing interest in the “long Late Antiquity” in the Eastern Mediterranean that argues from continuities between the 5th and 8th or even 9th centuries there.

This is how I started this section today (and please excuse the incomplete and, perhaps, inaccurate citations!):

Historically, urban archaeology has dominated the study of Roman, Late Roman, and Byzantine Cyprus. The impressive urban sites of Paphos, Kourion, Salamis, Soloi, Amathus, and even Polis-Arsinoe have received the majority of archaeological attention. This has largely followed long-standing interests in the Iron Age kingdoms of the island and the island’s reputation as one of the most urban landscapes of the Eastern Mediterranean. For Late Antiquity, this attention to urban contexts produced a bumper crop of monumental Early Christian basilicas and excavations at Paphos, Amathus, Kourion, and Salamis revealed multiple examples of elaborate Christian buildings. The emphasis on urban sites and Christian buildings contributed to argument for long-term continuity of settlement on the island from the Iron Age into the Roman and Late Roman periods. Moreover, it provided archaeological evidence for the antiquity of these urban episcopal sees that represented the famously autonomous Cypriot church in antiquity and demonstrated ecclesiastical continuity into the modern period. The archaeological attention received by monumental Christian architecture exerted a formative influence over the trajectory of Late Roman and Byzantine archaeology on the island. Church plans, architectural typologies, and less frequently decorative techniques, particularly mosaic and wall painting, formed the basis for interpreting the place of Cyprus in the both the history of Late Roman and Byzantine architecture, and in the Eastern Mediterranean. From G. A. Soteriou’s ambitious arguments for the central role of Cypriot churches in the development of Byzantine architecture more broadly (1935; see Davis and Stewart 2014) to A.H.M. Megaw’s famous article that asked whether Byzantine architecture on Cyprus was metropolitan or provincial (1974) and Slobadon Curcic’s 2000 reformulation of that question as provincial or regional, architecture, floor plans in particular, provided evidence for the relationship between Cyprus and the rest of the Mediterranean world. Unfortunately, in many cases, these urban churches remain little known beyond their plans (and their impressive remains) with few receiving careful publications and only two, the Episcopal Basilica at Kourion and the South Basilica at Polis, resting on a thorough study of stratigraphy supported by the analysis of small finds and context pottery. As a result, these buildings remain difficult to date archaeologically. Moreover, in many cases, these buildings remain detached from their larger urban contexts as excavators either focused their attention on monumental architecture or chose primarily to publish the results from this work. There are obvious exceptions to this, of course, at Salamis, Paphos, Kourion, and Polis, but the overall unevenness of both publication and excavation has made it difficult to contextualize Cypriot architecture and urbanism within the larger Roman and Late Roman world.

Recent work on Cyprus has looked to recontextualizing the archaeology of in three basic ways. First, archaeologists have sought to continue the long-standing effort to locate Cyprus within the larger Roman, Late Roman, and Byzantine worlds. G. Hill’s and T. Mitford’s argument that Cyprus was a quiet backwater of the Roman East, based largely on historical sources, has been fundamentally challenges by the work of Dimitri Michaelides (e.g. 1996), John Hayes’s publication of the ceramics from the House of Dionysios at Paphos (1991), and the work of John Lund (xxxx). These scholars and their younger contemporaries (Leonard xxxx, Gordon 2012, xxxxxx) have demonstrated that during the first seven centuries AD, that Cyprus was deeply embedded in the economic life of the Roman East, trading extensively with their neighbors, reflecting wider trends across the empire, and exploiting their natural and agricultural resources for both public and private expressions of power and wealth. In the 21st century, recent work on connectivity, globalization, revised ideas of insularity, and hybridized culture have shaped our view of Roman Cyprus as a sphere for distinct forms of cultural and economic interaction that extend far beyond monumental architecture. The quantitative analysis of imported and local ceramics, evidence from shipwrecks and ceramic production sites, and survey and excavation at small harbors, emporia, villages, and non-monumental buildings have all contributed to a view of Cyprus that is deeply embedded in the Roman and Late Roman world.

Contingency, Roads, and Formation Processes in the Greek Countryside

This last week I’ve been working on transforming a paper that Dimitri Nakassis and I wrote from the 2016 Archaeological Institute of America annual meeting. The paper was for a panel organized by Deb Brown and Becky Seifried on the topic of abandoned settlements. Dimitri and I wrote not so much about settlements as about roads and routes through the Greek countryside using the Western Argolid as an example. 

As I’ve worked to transform the paper into a proper article, I’ve started to try to weave together two complicated little strands related to regional level intensive pedestrian survey. One strand understands the countryside as contingent and dynamic and challenges the perspective that rural Greece was backward or unchanging guide to ancient practices. The view of the Greek countryside as stagnant and conservative drew heavily on both contemporary Western views of conservative rural life as well as Orientalist ideas that the East was resistant to change and, as a result, and unreceptive to the forces of progress (and perhaps resistant to the transformative power of capital). The most obvious expression of this among Classicists was the tendency to look to rural life and practices as a place that preserved ancient culture. Efforts to conflate ancient places with modern villages by the modern Greek state reinforced the plausibility of a conservative countryside. This, in turn, supported the nationalist narrative advanced by both the West and the Greek state itself that the modern Greek nationstate had it roots in the Ancient Greek world. By changing Slavic, Albanian, or Turkish place names to the names of Ancient Greek places, the modern state sought less to overwrite the more recent history of the region and more to restore the authenticity of the Greek countryside.

For archaeologists, this confidence in a stable Greek countryside arrived with the early travelers who took ancient texts as their guides and consistently noted practices that evoked those in ancient sources. By the 1980s and 1990s, however, intensive pedestrian survey and processual archaeology had begun to produce evidence for a more dynamic view of rural settlement patterns where even major settlements expanded, contracted, appeared, and vanished over the centuries. Attention to the Early Modern and Ottoman Greek landscape by the Argolid Exploration Project and in the Nemea Valley demonstrated that far from being ossified and unchanging, rural life, economic strategies, and settlement in the northeast Peloponnesus was in constant flux as denizens of the countryside adapted to local and regional economic and political opportunities. To put their conclusions in starkly contemporary terms, scholars like Susan Buck Sutton demonstrated that precarity of capitalism was alive and well in the Greek countryside throughout the Early Modern and Modern periods. While this may initially feel like something to celebrate as it makes clear that Greece was not an Oriental backwater, it should also give us pause as it reminds us that the self-sufficient farmer so celebrated for their independence was every bit a product of larger economic forces as any kind of individual will. Removing the condescending (and racist) burden of the Oriental conservatism from the backs of the Greek peasant and replacing it with forces of capital does not, necessarily, impart more agency in the Greek villager, farmer, or pastoralist. Agency within the capitalist system may appear more “modern,” but in some ways, it is only an inversion of an Orientalist reading of Greece by hinting that the instability, contingency, and precarity of rural life anticipates progressive modernity.  

Whatever the larger metanarrative at play, contingency is now a significant paradigm for understanding Early Modern and Modern Greece, and understanding the process of abandonment plays an important roles in recognizing change in the Greek countryside. Attention to abandonment involves a greater commitment to reading artifact scatters in the countryside as the products of archaeological and natural formation processes rather than palimpsests of settlement or other rural activities. As we come to privilege the contingency and dynamism of the countryside more, we also lose some of our confidence in assigning tidy functional categories to rural survey assemblages. Low density scatters of artifacts, for example, may well represent short-term habitation, low intensity rural activities, or even redistributive practices like manuring or dumping.

For our paper, the significance of contingency and our reading of formation processes intersect in our analysis of two seasonal rural settlements in the process of abandonment and the routes that connected these sites to larger networks of travel in the region. In traditional reading of the landscape of the Inachos Valley and the Western Argolid, scholars have tended to see modern routes along the flat valley bottom as more or less following ancient routes. In this context (and putting aside the role played by topography and geography, for example), long-standing roads serve as indicators of persistent patterns of movement, settlement, and the political relationship between places. A more contingent view of the countryside, however, forces us to consider the more ephemeral routes through the landscape that leave only fleeting traces in the landscape and connect less persistent settlements. 

Moreover, and this to my mind is really neat, roads and routes through the countryside also shape the formation processes at individual sites. For example, the proximity of an structure to an unpaved dirt road seems to have influenced whether that structure was maintained and used for storage or provisional discard. The dirt road, however, may not have any relationship to the earlier, simpler path that originally connected the settlement to other places in the region. Access by modern dirt road shaped the formation processes at play in the settlement. Structures only reached through footpaths tend to see less modern activity.  

For our paper, we present an example from the Western Argolid to demonstrate the presence and significance of these contingent routes through the countryside, to unpack the relationship of roads to formation processes at abandoned settlements, and to suggest that the contingent countryside is not simply about places, but also about all the interstitial spaces that define social, economic, and political relationships in the changing landscape. 

2018 AIA Abstract: The Medieval Countryside at a Regional Scale in the Western Argolid and Northeastern Peloponnesus

It’s Archaeological Institute of America Season, and I offered to take the first swing at our paper for this January’s annual archaeology festival.

Here’s our abstract:

The Medieval Countryside at a Regional Scale in the Western Argolid and Northeastern Peloponnesus
Dimitri Nakassis, University of Colorado, Sarah James, University of Colorado, Scott Gallimore, Wilfrid Laurier University, and William Caraher, University of North Dakota

The study of the medieval Mediterranean is paradoxical. On the one hand, scholars have continued to define the master narrative for the Medieval and Byzantine periods in the Mediterranean through politics and church history. On the other hand, few periods have seen as concerted an effort to understand the life and experiences of nonpolitical classes from villagers to monks, mystics, and merchants. At the risk of simplifying a complex historiography, historians of the Annales School pioneered the study of everyday life in medieval and early modern Europe. At the same time, Byzantine historians have drawn influence from concepts of cultural materialism to critique the codevelopment of particular economic and political systems and to recognize the fourth to 14th century as a period of rural transformation. This work has found common ground with landscape archaeologists who since the 1970s have sought to emphasize long-term, quantitative methods within tightly de ned regional contexts to understand the tension between local and re- gional developments in the medieval countryside.

Recent work in the Peloponnesus and central Greece by the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project, the Argolid Exploration Project, the Boeotia survey, and the Methana Survey Project, among others, provides a methodologically sophisticated, regional perspective on the medieval countryside that is almost unprecedented in the Mediterranean. This paper adds to this existing body of regional evidence based on three seasons of the Western Argolid Regional Project. From 2014–2016, this project documented 30 km2 of the Inachos River valley through highly intensive pedestrian survey. This work has revealed significant postclassical activity ranging from Late Antique habitation to 13th-century settlements and Venetian towers. These sites derive greater significance from both the impressive body of recently published fieldwork on the countryside of the northeastern Peloponnesus and the well-documented histories of the urban centers of Argos, Nafplion, and Corinth. The existence of both rural and urban contexts in this region offers a unique opportunity to consider the tensions between town and country and rural life and urban politics in the postclassical centuries. The result is a study of the medieval countryside that probes the limits of the long-standing and largely urban and political master narrative while also demonstrating significant regional variation.


I was pretty intrigued to read Stefano Campana’s recent article in Antiquity on the concept of “emptyscapes.” This concept describes the areas in the landscape that do not produce a recognizable signature of ancient artifacts whether this is a ceramic scatter or visible architecture elements. Archaeologists have often regarded these spaces as the “connective tissue” of the ancient world where activities like travel, extensive agriculture and pastoralism, or other low intensity or episodic activities occurred. As a result, archaeologists were initially quick to define these spaces as “off-site.” More intensive pedestrian survey practices have served to populate these landscapes with both artifacts and activities and to start the process of blurring the distinction between on-site and off-site spaces in the Mediterranean world. Back in the dayDavid Pettegrew, Dimitri Nakassis, and I argued that emptyspaces – especially those produced by limited visibility – required archaeologists to increase the intensity of field walking (e.g. narrower walker spacing, total collection circles and the like), if they wanted to produce meaningful assemblages from the “hidden landscapes” that often left only the faintest traces in the countryside.

Even with greater intensity of field walking, we still recognize that some spaces in the landscape produce so few objects that it is impossible to discuss their character in antiquity even in the most general way, and these spaces remind us that absence of evidence is not evidence for absence. 

Campana and his team have attacked the problem of emptyscapes by ratcheting up intensity even further by conducting large-scale geophysical work across areas that produced very little archaeological evidence. The emptyscape team was selective in where they worked, of course, identifying territory outside of the cities of Rusellae, Grosseto, and Vetulonium in Tuscany. They selected areas that produced very little material particularly from the Roman, Late Roman and Medieval periods and the emptyscapes project sought to use more intensive techniques to determine whether it was possible to tease evidence for past human activity from these empty landscapes. 

Needless to say, they did produce some intriguing results including evidence for road networks, burial landscapes, and small fortified settlements that intensive pedestrian survey otherwise overlooked. In fact, their results were very impressive and expanded what we can learn about the landscape beyond artifact scatters. Of course, the emptyscapes team note that ground-truthing through excavation will offer even greater resolution and opportunities to understand the interstitial places that their geophysical work revealed.

The applicability for this kind of large-scale remote sensing practice will vary depending on local topography, settlement patterns, soil conditions, and geomorphology, of course, but anyone following the increasingly sophisticated technology and practices associated with remote sensing knows that the potential is there. The bigger concern, of course, is that every form of intensification reduces the scale of intensive pedestrian survey (or steeply increases the resources necessary to document each hectare). Increasingly powerful computing and streamlined data collection tools in the field do make it easier to collect geophysical data and to correlated datasets produced by various techniques from LiDAR to field walking, magnetometry, and even small-scale excavation. I still suspect that they won’t allow us to escape the accusation of “Mediterranean myopia” leveled against Mediterranean intensive survey practitioners over 15 years ago. As survey archaeology increases in intensity, we can say more about smaller and smaller areas. Historically, particularly in the New World, survey archaeology excels at speaking broadly about regions that are often hundreds of square kilometers. Sampling strategies established to accommodate the scale of regional level projects mitigated the challenge of  emptyscapes as they limit the impact of environmental variability. Expanding the scale of intensive survey, however, does less to control for variation in the visibility and “diagnosticity” of particular classes of artifacts. If you miss certain classes of artifacts leaving gaps in your survey area, so amount of sampling for area is likely to resolve that without also developing sampling strategies that accommodate the range of likely artifact types present in a survey area. Large-scale geophysical work does just that by allowing the archaeologists to see beyond the surface of the ground and the usual scatter of durable, largely ceramic and stone objects and to sample subsurface features as well. At the same time, even the largest scale geophysical work offers a window into a much smaller area that regional level intensive survey. The real value of this practice lays not in its ability to fill a particular gap in the surface record, but in its ability to document emptyscapes at scale. 

Environment and Society in the Ancient World

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

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

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

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

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

The Bakken and the Body

Our panel last week at the Northern Great Plains History Conference was really exciting. The four papers presented in our panel, titled “Boom Goes the Bakken,” each explored a different aspect of ongoing research in the history of the state and western North Dakota. The papers by Nikki Burg Burin, Richard Rothaus, and Bret Weber opened up some new lines of thinking for me and will contribute to a new project that’s been gnawing at the back of my head for several months now. Go here for the panel’s line up and here for a draft of my paper.

Nikki’s and Richard’s paper, in particular, got me thinking about the body in the Bakken. Nikki’s paper continued her important work on human trafficking in North Dakota and how women’s bodies came under different legal definitions over the course of North Dakota legal history. The most significant changes in these laws recognized trafficked individuals as victims even if they engaged in activities such as sex work prohibited by existing statutes. While Berg Burin stressed that there is still significant work to do to protect women who turned to sex work out of economic desperation, immigration status, or as a result of childhood or adult trauma, it was also clear that attitudes toward the female body in North Dakota had undergone significant change over the 100 year history of the state. Moreover, recent changes in the law hint at more subtle understanding in agency when it comes to exploited women that recognized the limits of bodily control even in cases when both the victims and the crime have a profoundly physical and bodily aspect.

Rothaus’s paper likewise focuses on the individual and the body in his discussion of a series of grizzly murders in Williams and McKenzie counties in the early 20th century. The crimes were all committed by “outsiders” who came to the area as itinerate laborers on local farms during the the rapid growth of settlement across the western part of the state. In two of his case studies, the murderers themselves were murdered by mobs of men who pulled them from their jail cells when their convictions seemed less than assured and took justice into their own hands (in the other case the murderer committed suicide). Like in Nikki’s paper, the bodies, quite literally, became the nexus for the definition of community as alienated outsiders both committed and received physical violence that confirmed their outsider status.

Bret Weber’s paper was a bit more sweeping and engaged Guy Standing’s idea of the “precariat” to understand the Bakken in the broader context of neoliberal employment trends around the world. At the same time, his understanding of the the Bakken precariat is grounded in individual stories drawn from his hours of interviews. While he did not articulate the experience of being precarious in strict bodily terms, his commitment to the individual ensured that the risks, opportunities, and experiences of the Bakken were not generalized into a state of anonymity.

Finally, my paper, completely missed the boat in an explicit way (I felt like I had been invited to a costume party but showed up in khakis and an Oxford shirt!), but I think that my emphasis on the experience of modernity through tourism and movement in the Bakken demonstrated more than a passing interest in the impact of this space on bodies. 

My point with this overview of recent work in Bakken research is that we have become increasingly drawn to the individual as the locus for the experience of the Bakken oil boom. In fact, the panel last week got me thinking about the character of Bakken bodies exposed to the pressures, vagaries, dangers, and sensations of global capital in a distinct (but not unique) way.

I have this fantasy project where I explore the history of the Bakken boom using the kind of deep mapping techniques that guys like William Least Heat-Moon used for his book PrairyErth. The project would start with the large-scale historical, economic, and cultural impact of global petroculture and end with the analysis of a singe (or a small group) of individual bodies in the Bakken with intermediate steps considering the intersection of petroculture with national politics, the economy and culture of the state, and the Bakken landscape. The papers on Thursday was the first time that I became attuned to the idea of Bakken bodies in a way that made it appear as the natural conclusion for my proposed project.

Ottoman Peasants and their Local Elite

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

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

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

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

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

Cypriot Landscapes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two Articles on Early Christian Archaeology

This year, I’ve been returning to my roots and thinking more seriously about the archaeology of the Early Christian world. I’ve been reading a bunch of the recent work focusing on the intersection of Early Christian studies and archaeology, and surfing through some of my favorite journals to catch up on recent articles on issues like Christianization and the construction of Christian landscapes. I was fairly intrigued by Troels Myrup Kristensen’s article in the Journal of Early Christian Studies, “Landscape, Space, and Presence in the Cult of Thekla at Miriamlik” and Jacqueline Sturm’s, “The Afterlife of the Hephaisteon: the Interpretatio Christiana of an Ancient Athenian Monument,” in Hesperia

Troels’ article examined the creation of a Christian landscape in the complex space of Thekla’s shrine at the ancient site of Miramlik in Turkey. He interleaves the two, well-known texts associated with Thekla, the rather early Acts of Paul and Thekla, and the fifth-century Miracles of Thekla, with a sensitive reading of the region around Miriamlik’s landscape and history. The site of Miriamlik has seen relatively little formal archaeological investigate over the past century, but there remained plenty of significant archaeological analysis possible on the basis of what is already known.

For example, Troels notes that as late as the fifth century, the pagan landmarks remain sufficiently well-known to represent a significant foil to the Christian landscape constructed on the basis of Thekla’s miracles. He also unpacked potential political, religious, and even visual relationships between the site of Thekla’s sanctuary the nearby city of Seleukeia, the pagan sanctuary of the Sarapeion, and the surrounding productive landscape. The links between the city of Seleukeia and the sanctuary as well as between Miriamlik and the coastline defined more than simply routes of travel, but also the relationship between the site and pilgrims, local ecclesiastical official, and other travelers. Finally, Troels explores the experience of a pilgrim to the site and the contrast between the open space of the basilica-style church and the more enclosed and intimate space of a cave sanctuary (which evoked other cave sanctuaries in the region and in the Christian tradition)l  The article unpacks the complexity of the local landscape, the role of two prominent Early Christian texts, and the place of the cult of Thekla in both the experiences of visitors and in establishing new relationships in the region. 

Jacqueline Sturm’s article on the Christianization of the Hephaisteion is remarkable for several reasons. First, like the site of Miriamlik, the Hephaisteion has not seen significant new archaeological investigation for two generations. In fact, there has been little significant archaeological work on the Christianization of Athens in the last 50 years and most of the more recent scholarship has been a reconsideration of longstanding archaeological evidence with all of its limitations and ambiguities. Sturm’s article argues that the Centauromachy on the temple’s frieze was susceptible to an interpretatio Christiana which saw the battle as the conflict of good versus evil. This led to the temple undergoing a “gentle” conversion to a church in the fifth-century rather than showing evidence for more destructive forms of spoliation and conversion. 

Sturm does a nice job exploring the role of iconography in Christian practice and the context of the building in the Christianization of Athens. The challenge, as always, is chronology. No major Christian or Christianized monument in Athens has been dated on the basis of stratigraphic excavation. Instead, the evidence comes from a small number of literary sources (most notably the Vita Procli of Marinus), evidence for reuse of spolia from better known monuments, and the poorly understood role of historical figures like Eudokia and events like the Visigothic raid to punctuate the lives of various buildings throughout the city. Like the shrine at Miriamlik, the conversion of the Hephaisteion represents a negotiation between the needs of the Christian community, persistent notions of civic identity, spatial politics, and economic realities of the Late Roman world.    

Both articles consider some central themes to the study of Early Christianity through archaeology. First, they recognize the vital role of urbanism and pre-Christian religious practices in the ordering of Early Christian space. Second, both article understand the intersection of Christian visual culture and both texts and the wider monumental and iconographic world of antiquity. Third, they seem to understand that Christian landscapes and monuments are fundamentally social objects and the creation of Christian space relied on memory as a contemporary practice as opposed to some disembodied residue that clung to old things. Finally, the archaeology of Early Christianity involves both archaeology and material culture as well as the excavation of earlier field work with all of its limitations and potential.