Comparing Assemblage Part 2

Yesterday, I introduced some of the work I’ve been doing with data from the Western Argolid Regional Project. I compared artifact assemblages from the same unit, but produced by two different methods: our standard survey field walking and more intensive 2 m radius total collection circles. 

As we have noted from similar experiments with the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project, artifact densities produced by total collection circles tend to be significantly higher than those produced by standard survey. What remained less clear, however, is whether the larger number of artifacts recovered per square meter add significantly to what we know about the material on the surface or whether they mainly trade in redundant data.

More specifically, I was curious whether more intensive sampling of units with lower surface visibility might help us open a larger window into the assemblages present in the plow zone. This may seem more or less intuitive except that historically survey projects have tended to increase intensity in areas where more artifacts appear. Typically, projects employed more intensive collection strategies which ranged from gridded collection to total collection circles for areas designated as “sites.” 

To think about this, I compared pairs of units from the same area with different visibilities. For example, units 3420 and 3421 are from a large Roman site in the Lyrkeia Valley. Both units had above average artifact densities with 3420 having rather exceptional sherd densities (over 6000 sherds per hectare!) and the unit 3421 having high artifact densities (920 sherds per hectare). Unit 3421 has a visibility of 50% and unit 3420 was 80%. The areas selected for resurvey in both units had the visibility of 90%. They both had light background disturbance and compacted soils. The biggest difference between the two units is their size. 3420 is 2200 square meters and 3421 is smaller at 860 square meters. 

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The standard survey of 3420 produced 285 artifacts and the Resurvey 1 and 2 produced 83 and 115 respectively. The big spike in the standard survey line represents a gaggle of Early Roman amphora sherds turned up by the standard field walking. The slight hump in the blue line between 2600 BC and 2300 BC is from an EHII pithos sherd. Otherwise the profiles produced by the two types of survey are remarkable similar with the standard survey producing a bit more material datable to narrow periods.

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The results are largely the same from unit 3421. The most obvious difference, of course, is that Resurvey 2 produced 131 artifacts which is more than the 43 produced from standard survey and 79 from Resurvey 1. Despite the difference in quantity, the profiles is remarkably similar. Resurvey 1 recovered a small group of sherds of Bronze Age – Iron Age date leading to the orange line starting around 3200BC. The combination of material of Classical-Roman, Roman, and Late Roman dates recovered in Resurvey 2 produces the double-humped line that dominates this profile. The parallel, if lower lines, produced by the Resurvey 1 and Standard assemblages demonstrate that the increase in quantity adds little to the chronological range or distribution of material found in this unit.

Another case study produces somewhat different results. Comparing two units, 11027 and 11033 from the same area with lower visibilities, 40% and 30% respectively and slightly lower densities (which are nevertheless quite high for our survey area) of 207 sherds per hectare and 356 sherds per hectare respectively. 11027 has moderate background disturbance and 11033 has light and both have low vegetation and compacted soils. The biggest difference is unit size with 11027 being a positively massive unit for our survey at over 4800 square meters and 11033 being rather average with a size of 1684 square meters.

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The profiles produced by the various survey methods employed in unit 11027 are quite different. Standard survey produced an assemblage of 35 artifacts, while Resurvey 1 collected only 20. The assemblage from Resurvey 2, however, was 57 artifacts. The increase in material starting at around 1400 BC is driven by a single LHIII kitchen ware sherd and sustained by a robust, but rather undiagnostic collection of “Ancient Historic” (material dated to between 1050 BC and AD 700) semi-fine and kitchen wares that is paralleled at lower intensity by “Ancient Historic” material from Resurvey 2.  Both Resurvey 2 and Standard survey produced a spike in Late Roman and Roman utility and kitchen wares. Significantly, however, Resurvey 1 collected 3 sherds datable to the Archaic-Hellenistic period and material from these periods did not appear in the standard survey.

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Unit 11033 produced generally smaller assemblages with 23 sherds from Standard survey and 8 and 22 from Resurvey 1 and Resurvey 2 respectively. The major spike from Resurvey 1comes as a result of four semi-fine wares datable to the relatively narrow Early Roman period and is paralleled by a lower spike from the Standard survey. Resurvey 2 produced no other sherds datable to any period shorter than 1600 years! Resurvey 1 and the Standard survey produced some Classical-Hellenistic, Hellenistic-Roman, Roman, Late Roman, and as the late spike in blue shows, Medieval, Ottoman-Venetian material. The hump visible in the Resurvey 2 profile dating to around 450 BC represents a single Classical-Hellenistic fineware sherd and a collection of 13 semi-fine ware sherds dated to the rather broad Classical-Roman period. Despite the rather different profiles, then, the major patterns produced by diagnostic material are surprisingly similar between the two units.  

It is a bit tricky to generalize from two case studies, but the second pairing of units suggests that more intensive collection strategies when applied to units with low visibility but high artifact densities can produce additional chronological information from the units. In the first example in which visibility is higher, the Standard survey and resurvey profiles tend to be more similar.

Again, this is a very small case study, but it is suggestive that the traditional practice of increasing intensity in areas with high artifact densities (sometimes called “sites,” or euphemistically, “LOCAs” or “POSIs” or whatever) is less likely to produce new chronological information than a similar approach to units with lower surface visibility and correspondingly lower artifact densities. We did quite a bit of resurvey work in quite a few contexts across the WARP survey universe and by comparing the assemblages produced by different methods using Aoristic analysis, we should be able to test this hypothesis a good bit. 

It goes without saying that chronology is just one indicator of significance for artifacts collected over the course of survey. Variation in fabric, in function, and in shape also informs the analysis of surface assemblages and Aoristic analysis does not account for variation in these areas. At the same time, chronological continuity is the sine qua non for most analysis of survey material. If you can’t date material, then it is harder to make any historical arguments for it.

It is worth stating that this analysis is very preliminary and I am going to continue to tweak and firm up my formulas and the underlying data. And, we do plan on making all the data that supports this analysis available openly via Open Context

Comparing Assemblages

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working with the data collected from the Western Argolid Research Project. Mostly this has involved going through the survey unit data that we collected as a way to determine general patterns of artifact recovery rates from across the survey area. This is important work, but largely unrewarding. I had run many of the queries on the fly while survey teams were still working in the field and had started to recognize the general patterns as they were emerging in the data. That said, it was still necessary to check things with the complete data set and I’ll post some more on this next week.

For today, I want to post on another aspect of my work with the WARP data. Over the three main field seasons, we conducted a series of revisits to our survey units to collect additional samples of material from the surface. Teams did this by collecting all artifacts in a circle with a 2 m radius from the survey units. We selected units for resurvey on the basis of location within the survey area, surface visibility, and artifact densities. 

These revisits had two main goals. First and foremost, we sought to use them to calibrate the assemblages produced through our standard survey methods where we collected density data and artifacts from a 20% sample of the surface through traditional field walking techniques. Secondly, we hoped that these total collection circles would also provide us with more robust samples from units where visibility, for example, compromised artifact collection.

I had started messing with this data in 2018 and made only a tiny bit of impressionistic progress. The biggest challenge for me was figuring out how to compare the three assemblages in a useful way. I discuss some of my difficulties here.

The biggest challenge was dealing with various chronologies that we assigned to our ceramics. The chronotype system allowed our ceramicists to assign a range of chronologies (and dates) to artifacts recovered in the survey. In some cases, these were immensely broad (e.g. “Ancient Historic” which has dates from 1050 BC to AD 700) and in some cases they were particularly narrow (e.g. Roman, Early which dates from 50 BC to 150 AD) and, in many cases, they were of more middling resolution (e.g. Roman which dates from 50 BC to AD 700). The different assemblages produced artifacts not only from different periods, but also from periods with different chronological resolutions. So answering the question whether more intensive collection strategies, such as total collection circles, produced different or just more material had to take into account the different resolutions at which we identified artifacts. In other words, we had to figure out whether recovering material dated to the “Early Roman” period in a resurvey circle mattered if we collected material datable to the broader, but inclusive “Roman” period in standard survey.

The solution to this problem was doing a little Aoristic analysis as a standardized way to represent the chronological profile of different assemblages. Aoristic analysis assumes that all artifacts have an equal chance of appearing in any year of a given chronological range. In other words, an artifact dated to the Roman period has an equal chance of appearing in any year between 50 BC and AD 700. Artifacts from more narrow period have greater values per year reflecting the increased likelihood that they would appear in any given year in the span. To complicate matters a bit, I also factored in the number of artifacts from any particular period. As a result, the charts that follow reflect not only the likelihood that an artifact dates to a particular year, but so the quantity of artifacts present in the assemblage with any probability of appearing in any particular year. I recognize that this is combining apples (that is probability of any artifact appearing in a year) and oranges (the quantity of artifacts present with various probabilities), but if we are using Aoristic analysis and its corresponding visualizations as a heuristic, then this kind of conflation is maybe a reasonable way to combine various kinds of data into one chart.  

Let’s look at some data. For the unit 2517, which is near the acropolis of Orneai and had 30% visibility, we did standard survey and two total collection circles. The standard survey produced 89 artifacts and the resurvey units produced 77 and 146 respectively. Despite the differences in quantity, the assemblages had rather similar profiles with the only exceptions being a bump in the Early Bronze Age generated by a small number of rather diagnostic EHI-II and EHI sherds. Resurvey 1 produced a Late Roman and an Early Medieval sherd which created the slight bump in the orange line. The presence of artifacts dated to the Archaic-Hellenistic period in Resurvey 2 created a more nuance profile in the centuries prior to the notable Classical-Hellenistic spike. The general similarities of the two profiles reflects the basic similarity between the three assemblages, but it is clear the material from resurvey did provide chronological nuance to the 

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Another unit from the same area, 4345, had three resurvey circles. Unlike unit 2517, it had higher visibility and a correspondingly more robust assemblage with 434 artifacts recovered during standard survey and 45, 173, and 68 recovered from three resurvey circles.

Similar to unit 2517, the basic profile of the assemblages appear the same, but the resurvey units do produce some notable spikes. Resurvey 2, for example, produced a single Late Helladic IIIA sherd. Resurvey 3, recovered 6 artifacts dating to the Archaic-Classical period and one Archaic sherd producing a narrower spike than the material dating to the Archaic-Hellenistic period recovered in the standard survey and in Resurvey 2. Resurvey 1 produce a single piece of Ottoman semi-fine ware which has a narrow 120 year date range and produced a late spike in the chart.   

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I have more case studies withs smaller assemblages that I’ll share later this week, but for now, this kind of visualization seems to be a useful way to compare groups of artifacts produced by different methods from the same units. What this will reveal about survey methods, both in general and in different circumstances, remains the question that more analysis will hopefully answer!

Metahistories, Decline, and the Roman Economy

Yesterday, prompted by some well meaning colleagues and social media, I read Kim Bowes’s very recent article “When Kuznets Went to Rome: Roman Economic Well-Being and the Reframing of Roman History” in Capitalism: A Journal of History and Economics 2.1 (2021): 7-40. It’s good, thought provoking, and, while it might appear to deal narrowly with the Roman economy has significance for many areas in the study of the ancient world.

In a nutshell (and grossly simplified) Bowes argues that the current trend to calculating ancient GDPs relies on deeply flawed ancient (and later) which is then decontextualized in various ways (sucked and smeared) to fill the myriad gaps that constitute our understanding of the Roman economy. Moreover, many of the arguments that rely on this kind of decontextualized data often involves circular reasoning: the assumption is that the Roman world was like most other preindustrial societies where growth rates were low and inequality high. Thus, many other preindustrial economic indicators can help fill gaps in the Roman economy and prove that the Roman world was as stagnant as other preindustrial economies.

These arguments are often made in big books, festooned with complicated and impressive graphs and charts, and offering sweeping arguments for the economic trajectory of human history. These mighty books, almost entirely written by men, make impressive claims on the back of less than optimal datasets. These claims often emphasize narratives of decline and fall (typically associated with ancient economic systems shackled by key limitations) or triumphalist narratives that celebrate the rise of the modern economy, greater equality, and more inclusive political regimes. 

These sweeping narratives often seek the triggers such as climate change or pandemic-scale disease or political and military instability that destabilized the stagnant balance achieved in the Roman world and brought the state and society crashing to its knees. The tendency to attempt to identify single catastrophic causes amid the sea of complex data reflects long-standing approaches to the ancient world predetermined by narratives of decline (and typically embracing tragic forms of employment with their reductionist mode of explanation (which Hayden White famously associated with Marx and Tocqueville).

[I’ve been thinking a bit about this very issue in a paper that on “the long late Antiquity” on Cyprus. While I’m not especially interested in the economic arguments that Bowes’s is focusing on here, I do argue that traditional big narratives of decline tend to fall apart in the face of more careful and detailed reading of site specific archaeological evidence. Attention to site formation, the complexities of abandonment and post-abandonment processes, and the limits of the stratigraphic and material record often make it far more difficult to identify clear signs of catastrophic or abrupt change at sites.]       

The final pages of Bowes’s article remind me a bit of an article by Christina Sessa a couple of years ago in the Journal of Late Antiquity. Sessa argued that many of the arguments for the impact of climate change in Late Antiquity are unconvincing because by drawing together vast bodies of evidence, they end up decontextualizing the particularities of textual, archaeological, and other documentary sources. Bowes makes similar arguments for archaeological and textual evidence for the Roman economy. She stresses that most of the sources for the ancient economy are incomplete, vague, frustratingly imprecise, and dispersed. At the same time, they offer nuance, especially at the level of the household, where real measures of quality of life, economic vitality, and human suffering and prosperity are manifest. 

Of course, this kind of attention to the small(er) world of households means a step back from some of the big questions their attendant metahistories that have come to be a staple of “big book” histories. This also  involves a step away from the lure of social and economic theories that tend to undergird these big books.  In their place, it would seem, come a kind of history that is more attentive to the details of particular situations, a greater emphasis on empirical description, and a return to low range theory (as opposed to low end theory) and mid-range theory.

This kind of work, of course, is unlikely to attract the accolades that big books offering big solutions to big problems garner. At the same time, attention to small problems in finely defined contexts returns archaeology’s attention to the forms of nuanced evidential reasoning where the discipline has tended to thrive. It also so happens that this is a practically realistic move for the field. Most big books come from a handful of elite, male scholars at a handful of elite institutions (Stanford seems to be particularly fertile ground for them). Bowes’s call for more particular work is democratizing as more highly specialized, empirical, and descriptive scholarship lends itself to the chaotic lives of most scholars who have to balance heavier teaching loads, more onerous professional service obligations, and often more demanding roles in home life. In other words, the small, but far more real worlds that fine grain archaeological work reveal reflect the real world responsibilities of more and more practitioners in the discipline who do not have the privileges afforded scholars at elite institutions.

It may also have the benefit of producing more focused studies that are easier for their fellow scholars to consume and analyze. Small books that address small problems create an environment conducive to greater interpretative, methodological, and theoretical diversity than the ponderous demands made by big books addressing big problems.

At this point, I’m pretty far from Bowes’s fine article, so I’ll conclude by encourage folks to give it a read. 

WARP Field Manual: A Manual for an Intensive Pedestrian Survey

Over the last month or so, I’ve been puttering around with the field manual from the Western Argolid Regional Project. This was an intensive pedestrian survey conducted in the Inachos River valley from 2014-2016 (with study seasons in from 2017-2019).

We produced a field manual that we then updated as the project went along. In an effort both to contribute to the small number of publicly available field manuals from field projects and to make our project a bit more transparent, we decided to tidy up our manual and make it available via tDAR.

Some of my long-time readers might remember that a few years ago, I was keen to formally publish as many field manuals as I could via The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. We formally published on field manual, the iconic Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual in 2017 and it has been a solid and consistent performer, download over 1000 times and used in any number of university and college classrooms. We also prepared a little archive of archaeological field manual and you can explore it a bit here.

This work generated some tepid interest in formally publishing field manuals, but nothing came of it. In fact, even my WARP colleagues were pretty ambivalent about publishing our manual. I did typeset the WARP manual together so that if someone wanted to publish it, they could. We also made it available under an open access CC-By license.

In any event, you can download the WARP manual here. It’ll be up in tDAR in the next week or so and I’ll share that link as well.

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A Survey of Archaeological Excavation Manuals

In the lead up to the publication of the Corinth Excavation Archaeological Manual, I surfed the web a bit and found pulled together this little list of about 25 manuals that I could find doing simply Google searches on the internet. Of this group, only 6 are published manuals (in the broadest sense) included the classic J.P. Droop manual from 1915 and the frequently cited Dever and Lance manual from the late 1970s. Droop, Badè, and the Blakely, O’Connell, and Toombs’ manual are available online.

The rest of the manuals in this list are more or less grey literature in archaeology and, at least from my perspective, fairly ephemeral. To do my part, I pointed the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine at all of the manuals that might have a less than stable URL to create a little bit of an archive. Of particular note are the state manuals for various kinds of archaeological and cultural resource assessments. Each state has their own manuals that include the various procedures for producing official reports on archaeological sties, historical buildings, and landscapes. I’ve chosen to include just a few in that section. If there are particularly exemplary state manuals that my colleagues working in CRM and in the U.S. might recommend, I’d really like to add them,

Finally, the project manuals are a genuinely mixed bag and I’m under no illusions that these are somehow representative of the field (although I do think that they are basically representative of what is readily available on the web). I am interested in expanding this list especially for projects in the Mediterranean archaeology and in Italy and the West. For now, I think emphasizing manuals in English will manage to keep this collection reflective of broad trends in Anglo-American archaeological practice, but I could be convinced otherwise. It is notable that there are only two easily discoverable manuals from Greece (Corinth and Ayia Sotira) and only one from Cyprus (the TAESP survey manual from 2003, but the PKAP Manual, should we find it; I did find our useful lexicon of PKAP terms, though.) Notable among the project manuals is the MoLAS manual and a manual compiled by Gavin Lucas for work on the Fornleifastofnun Íslands.

Finally, this page is largely exploratory, but it is also to test the waters for the idea of a series of published excavation manuals from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. While I think that the great flurry of work in archaeological methodology (fueled, in part, by New Archaeology) has perhaps passed, I still think that elevating some particularly representative or even exemplary manuals from the realm of grey literature might be justified.

Thought?

Additions to the list?

Drop me a line or make a comment! 

 

Published Manuals:

J.P. Droop, Archaeological Excavation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1915.

W. F. Badè, A Manual of Excavation in the Near East: Methods of Digging and Recording of the Tell en-Nasbth Expedition in Palestine. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press 1934.

K. R. Fladmark, A Guide to Basic Archaeological Field Procedures. Burnby, BC: Department of Archaeology, Simon Fraser University, 1978.

Jeffrey A. Blakely, Kevin G. O’Connell, Lawrence E. Toombs, The Tell el-Hesi Field Manual. Cambridge, Mass. : American Schools of Oriental Research, 1980.

Martha Joukowsky, A Complete Manual of Field Archaeology. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, CA. 1980.

W. Dever and D. Lance, A Manual of Field Excavation: Handbook for Field Archaeologists. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College, 1982.

S.J. Dockrill, Old Scatness Excavation Manual. Lerwick: Shetland Heritage Publication 2007.

G. J. Tassie and L. K. Owens, Standards of Archaeological Excavation: A field guide to methodology, recording techniques, and conventions. London, Golden House 2010.

Thomas R. Hester, Harry J. Shafer, and Kenneth L. Feder, Field Methods in Archaeology. Seventh Edition. Milton : Taylor and Francis, 2016.

 

State Manuals

Scott Anfinson, SHPO Manual for Archaeological Projects in Minnesota (2005).

Oregon State Historic Preservation Office. Guidelines for Conducting Field Archaeology in Oregon. Salem, OR 2007.

Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Guidelines for Conducting Historical Resources Survey in Virginia. Richmond, VA. 2011.

Archaeological Resource Management Section (ARMS) of the Heritage Resources Branch. Avocational Archaeology Field Manual. 2nd Edition (Saskatchewan Tourism, Parks, Culture and Sport. 2008) 

Parks Canada. Archaeological Recording Manual: Excavations and Surveys. Version 1.0. 2005.

 

Project Manuals:

Museum of London Archaeology Service, Archaeological Site Manual. Third Edition. Museum of London 1994.

Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, The Crow Canyon Archaeological Center Field Manual. 2001.

Gavin Lucas ed., Archaeological Field Manual: Fornleifastofnun Íslands. 3rd Edition. 2003.

Survey and Excavation Projects in Egypt, SEPE Recording System. 2003.

Michael Given, Ian Evans, Tracy Ireland, Vasiliki Kassianidou, A. Bernard Knapp, Carole McCartney, Nathan Meyer, Jay Noller, Paul Pelosi, Luke Sollars, Neil Urwin, Kristina Winther Jacobsen, and Sevina Zesimou, Troodos Archaeological and Environmental Survey Project: Field Manual. Fourth Season. 2003.

Stanford Excavations at Monte Polizzo, Sicily. Project handbook. 4th edition, 2004. (Website).

Greg Jackman and Richard Tuffin, Archaeological Procedures Manual. Port Arthur Historical Site Management Authority. Version 1. 2005.

Tel Gezer Excavation Manual. Unedited and Preliminary Draft. May 2006.

Todd W. Bostwick and Steve Swanson, South Mountain Rock Art Project Field Manual: Recording Rock Art as Archaeology in the South Mountains, Arizona. Revised Edition 2007.

Corinth Excavations, Archaeological Site Manual. 2008.

Scott Brosowske, Texas Archaeological Society Field Schools: Ochiltree and Roberts Counties, Texas. Revised May 2009.

Surrey Archaeological Society: Excavation Recording Manual2010.

Larry G. Herr, Excavation Manual Madaba Plains Project. 2011.

Norvic ArchaeologyThe ROMFA Archaeological Recording Manual. 2011.

Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (Cyprus), Field Manual. 2012. 

Todd W. Bostwick, Verde Valley Archaeology Center Field Excavation Manual. Verde Valley Archaeology Center. Camp Verde, AZ. 2013.

Brett A. Houk and Gregory Zaro, The Chan Chich Archaeological Project Field Manual. First Edition. Papers of the Chan Chich Archaeological Project, Number 9 Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work. Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas. 2015.

Totah Archaeological Project Field School: Excavation Manual. N.D.

Mary K. Dabney, Nemea Valley Archaeological Project Field Manual for the Ayia Sotira Excavation. N.D.

 

Convergence: Punk, Slow, and Care in a Digital World

Every now and then I start to worry that my interests are diverging and running away in every direction and leaving me adrift. With budget cuts, possible changing in our teaching/research balance, a shift away from graduate education, and many of my field archaeology projects entire their final seasons, I find myself like many “mid-career” faculty bereft of morale, motivation, and, frankly, direction. So I get to thinking about convergence.

Every now and then, I read something or turn an idea around enough in my creaking, void-filled, mind that I get what other people have often described as an “idea.” This weekend, I had a glimpse of how several tracks in my academic and intellectual development might actually be converging around a theme (or two maybe?) that a few blog posts this weekend helped me to recognize more fully.

I’m going to try to trace these out this morning and to make sense of what my various projects are trying to do and say.

Over the last few years, my colleagues and I have had some entertaining, and I hope useful, conversations centered on three concepts in archaeological research:

1. Punk Archaeology
2. Slow Archaeology
3. Archaeology of Care

I can’t take credit, really, for any of these, but I probably am as responsible as anyone for coining terms to describe them, and promoting the use of these terms.

Punk Archaeology celebrates the performative, DIY, and improvised aspects of archaeological field work and thinking. It has tended to focus a bit more on the archaeology of the contemporary world because this is where archaeological methods and practices have tend to break down when confronted with challenges such as modern abundance leading archaeologists to innovate on the fly, our work is less bound by the formal limits of the site and more publicly accessible, and contemporary observers are more willing to offer dissonant, alternative, and conflicting perspectives. As a result, punk archaeology – at its best – defamiliarized the familiar in everyday life (much like punk takes the basic structure of pop song and makes it something else) and familiarizes the unfamiliar in archaeological practice by putting it on display. In short, it can turn archaeology inside out.

Slow Archaeology is a critique of the role of technology in archaeological practice. I’ve argued that the Taylorist drive for efficiency has produced field practices that tend to fragment both how we describe material culture but also our experiences. At its most perverse, field work is reduced to “data collection” and digital tools are celebrated as ways to make the harvesting of “raw data” more efficient. There is no doubt that field work should be efficient and that technology will improve not only what we collect from the field, but also how we collect archaeological information. Slow archaeology, however, calls for us to maintain a space in archaeological field practice for analysis and interpretation and to be patient with these processes. Moving forward, I’d like to see slow archaeology celebrate integrative practices in archaeological field work that both bring together our fragmented techniques in the field and the information that these techniques produce.

Archaeology of Care. The archaeology of care is a term coined by my colleague Richard Rothaus and, like slow and punk archaeology, it offers a critical reflection on the practice and performance of archaeology. It stemmed from the observation that people who we encountered in the Bakken were genuinely moved by our archaeological and archaeological interest in their world and lives. While neither Richard nor I conceived of our project as a gesture to the people (or objects) that we studied, it became pretty obvious that archaeological work became a medium through which shared understanding of the past and the present are formed. For us at least, the archaeology of care was de-theorized and reflected our very practical experiences doing archaeology of and in the contemporary world.

It has taken me a while to recognize that these three moves in my archaeological thinking have focused on a number of shared themes centered largely on our practices in the field: (1) a focus on archaeology as performance and experience, (2) a tendency to recognize these experiences a bringing together people, data, and objects, and (3) a preference for DIY and an aversion to “technological solutionism” in its various forms.

These ideas have started to come together with another couple of “projects” that I’ve been slowly working on over the last few years. As readers of this blog know, I’ve invested a good bit of time and energy into The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. This emerged directly from my interest in punk archaeology (which became the first book from the press). It started as an experiment in DIY publishing and has slowly expanded into a project designed to the traditional fragmentation of the publishing process that separates the authors from the publishers. At my little press, we create an environment where authors, editors, and publishers work together to produce books at a lower cost than traditional commercial publishing, but with opportunities for more experimentation and control for the authors.

I’m pretty upfront with my authors that I am not a conventional publisher. As my more critical colleagues point out, my books tend to be a bit rough around the edges, my distribution channels remain a bit uncertain, and everything is essentially experimental. But for my authors and editors, this seems to work. If anything, I have more than enough books to keep my enterprise afloat, to hold my interest, and to keep me feeling that this is a meaningful extension of my approach to archaeology and archaeological knowledge production.

What prompted this sudden bout of introspection was a little article titled “Ed-Tech in a Time of Trump” by Audrey Waters. Go read it (and comment if you want; there is the start of a little Hypothes.is comment thread). To summarize a complex argument, trends in Ed-Tech data collection are troubling for a number of reasons. First, Waters critiques the basic philosophy that if we collect enough data on our students we can customize our educational practices to produce particular outcomes. Most thoughtful educators realize that this is not how teaching or learning works just as most thoughtful archaeologists do not think that intensified scrutiny and technologies in how we collect “all of the datas” will produce better archaeological knowledge more efficiently. (Do check out Dimitri Nakassis’s refinement of my critiques of data at his blog especially here and here and here.)

At the same time, we are lured by the temptation of easy digital data collection especially in online courses or in courses with substantial online components. Universities have developed sophisticated data collection schemes as their infrastructure has become digital and student interactions with almost all services is mediated by tools that collect data to produce increasingly comprehensive digital profiles of students. Even with the protections offered by FERPA, universities have vast quantities of data on students that can be leveraged internally to encourage practices that “better” serve students. Students are consumers and the university has indulged in all the conceits of online consumer culture. In place of a culture of care grounded in complex experiences of teaching and learning, the university as an institution has fragmented students into bundles and clusters of data that can be arranged to anticipate and serve student and administrative expectations. This has particularly toxic potential as calls to “reinvent education” often look to technologies to create the appearance of doing more with less, while obscuring the reality that less almost always means less in education.

What is more troubling for Waters is that the calls to “reinvent education” or to “innovate” almost always rest on the assumption that current practices are flawed. The temptation is to identify the problems with education through scrutiny of “big data” rather than attention to small, daily practices. With the lure of big fixes residing in big data issues of security and privacy abound. What is more terrifying still is that for public universities, this data could easily fall into the hands of politically motivated leaders either on campus or at the state or local levels who could use students and faculty data for purposes that run counter to many of our values as educators, scholars, and public servants. Waters evokes the always chilling specter of Nazi data collection as an example for how the state can mine “big data” for nefarious purposes.

To be clear, I don’t see slow archaeology, punk archaeology, the archaeology of care, or The Digital Press as a bulwark against Nazism or as explicitly political statements, but I would like to think that the common aspects of these projects represent a kind of resistance to some of the more troubling trends in academic practices and higher education these days. Calling for greater scrutiny of practice in a time of big data, promoting DIY among students and colleagues, and demonstrating how integration, and care, rather than fragmentation and “analysis” can produce meaningful and significant results. 

Ceramics from Koutsopetria in Context

Last week, I asked for an extension on a blog post on the ceramics from the site of Pyla-Koutsopetri on Cyprus. My generous readers granted my the extension and, believe, I hope that you’ll find that you’ve been rewarded for your wait.

This is the final section in the first effort to prepare a draft of our work at the site of Koutsopetria in Cyprus which we excavated in 2009 and Dr. Maria Hadjicosti excavated in the 1990s. This excavation produced a significant assemblage of ceramic material that could be compared to a similar assemblage of material produced through intensive pedestrian survey of the plain. This comparison allowed us both to consider the excavated area in a larger context, but also to speak to the relationship between material below the plow zone and material on the surface.  

My earlier posts focused on the architecture and history of the site, so here is what we can say about the pottery: 

Despite being dominated by a Late Roman period building, the excavations at Koutsoeptria produced a robust assemblage of ceramics that speak to the long history of activity at this site. In this way, the excavation produced an assemblage that provides us with a useful comparative perspective on the data collected from the intensive pedestrian survey of this area and published in 2014. Among the most persistent critiques of intensive survey is that the relationship of the objects on the surface and those outside the plow-zone remains ambiguous hindering our ability to make functional arguments on the basis of artifact scatters (e.g. Sanders 2004). The formation processes and depositional history of assemblages in long-lived, multi-period sites set amid active and dynamic landscapes compound this further. At Koutsopetria excavations revealed how the persistence of residual material used in construction and floor packing, the cutting into earlier layers by later building and activity at the site, and hint at the effects of erosion and plow smear across the site created a diachronic surface assemblage. At the same time, the excavated assemblage revealed complexity that our sampling of the surface did not recognize. This complexity allows us to add meaningful detail both to our understanding of our survey assemblage and to an emerging ceramic signature present at historical period sites in the eastern part of the island.

Our discussion of the assemblage from Koutsopetria excavations relies upon two different excavation teams who sampled and analyzed ceramics based on two different strategies. During the 2009 excavations, we collected and analyzed all ceramics that were not tiles and sampled the tiles by type and extant part. It is unclear whether and how the excavation in the 1990s sampled artifacts from excavated contexts, but after excluding roof tiles from the samples, the excavation produced approximately the same number of artifacts (in 2009 we collected 3063 whereas in the 1990s they collected 3127) but much more artifacts by weight (2009 = 27778 and 1990s=82879) suggesting a more selective method of collecting ceramic material for analysis focusing on larger, presumably more diagnostic artifacts. Despite the disparity between the character of the two assemblages and the way in which they were produced, they are remarkably similar. From 2009, 68% of our material could only be assigned to the broadest possible category: Ancient Historic; from the 1990s this category of material was amounted to 59% of the assemblage by count.

The excavated area produced two discernible groups of pre-Roman material. There was a small assemblage of ceramics of Iron Age, Cypro-Archaic-Classical, and Cypro-Classical date which included coarse, medium coarse, and fine wares. These made up only a small percentage (far less than <1% by both number and weight) of the material from the excavated area and coincided with a similarly small number of artifacts associated with this period from the survey area generally. Most of this material is in secondary context and the fragments are quite small. The material likely entered into an excavated area from either Classical period activities along the base of the Vigla height where the survey documented a small concentration of Cypro-Classical age pottery perhaps from near an earlier findspot of the large, inscribed Cypro-Classical to Hellenistic period settling basin dedicated to Apollo Karaiates (Hadjisavvas 1993: 75–76, 83). Another possible location for Iron Age material is the site on the nearby Kazamas ridge or the earlier phases of activity at the fortified site of Vigla which may have been quarried for building material. During the Hellenistic period, the coastal plain saw greater activity, and this is reflected in the residual pottery from the Koutsopetria assemblage. Unlike Iron Age material which tended to be small fragments of fine wares, the material dated to either the Hellenistic period or one of the broader, related periods (Hellenistic-Early Roman or Hellenistic-Roman) tended to be larger and represent a more functionally diverse assemblage with the full range of coarse and medium coarse utility wares, amphora, kitchen wares, and fine ware. Of particular note was the long-lived (Archaic-Hellenistic) basket-handled amphora that appeared in excavated contexts and appeared both on Vigla as well as on the coastal plain. The link between these vessels and settling basin may hint at the importance of olive oil production in the area. The fine ware present was evenly split between Black-Glaze (21) and Color Coated wares (23), and this followed closely the division in the Hellenistic fine ware assemblage from the survey area suggesting that these may reflect the supply to the area during this period. The excavated assemblages did not produce kitchen or medium coarse wares that appeared in the survey although these artifacts did not appear in the immediate vicinity of the excavated area. The broader Hellenistic-Early Roman period, however, did produce a more robust assemblage. The challenge with more broadly dated material is that they tend to straddle the overlap between the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

The Hellenistic-Roman and Hellenistic-Early Roman assemblage from Koutsopetria made up just over 5% of the total assemblage from Koutsopetria. The assemblage is diverse and includes coarse and medium coarse utility wares, amphora, kitchen, and fine wares. The comprehensive character of this assemblage is consistent with finds from the survey area, but likely reflects the slow spread of settlement on the coastal plain over the course of the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods. Material from these long periods includes long-lived Rhodian type amphora, cooking pots, and fine wares types that persisted even Eastern and Cypriot Sigillatas replaced color-coated wares on local tables.

During the Early Roman period, the diversity and quantity of material from the site expands and this parallels neatly the expansion of material from this period in the survey area. The most significant distinction between the assemblage produced from excavation and survey does not appear to the be presence of Early Roman and Roman material, but the assemblage produced from excavation proved significantly more diverse. The excavated assemblage produced no examples of cooking pots or utility wares save a handful of Koan-type amphora, which were likely produced on the island. Some of this is the result of certain artifact types being shifted into broader categories. For example Rhodian amphoras which we identified as predominantly Early Roman in the survey, were dated Hellenistic-Early Roman in the excavation. The appears to be also the case for kitchen wares which were more commonly dated to the broader Roman, Hellenistic-Roman, or Hellenistic-Early Roman periods. As a result, fine ware represented the Early Roman period in the excavation. The most striking difference between the survey assembalge and the excavation assemblage is that Cypriot Sigillata comprised 28% (n=21) of the Early Roman fine wares from the survey, but only 4% (n=3) from the excavation. Other Early Roman fine wares – largely less diagnostic fragment of red slips – consisted of 27% of Early Roman fine wares from the survey (including a fragment of Arretine ware and Eastern Sigillata B) and 55% from the excavation. The remaining sherds were the common Eastern Sigillata A, but the excavation revealed six subforms (Form 19, 37, 38, 44, 65, and a lagynos) whereas the survey only produced a single recognizable subtype Atlante Form 4. It is worth noting that the 2009 excavations produced a small piece of Roman glazed pottery likely dating to the Early Roman period, but quite unusual and without parallel at sites in the region. The absence of Cypriot Sigillata from the excavation is consistent with relatively rarity of this type of Early Roman fine ware. At the nearby site of Panayia-Ematousa, near the modern village of Aradipou, Cypriot Sigillata accounted for only 8.8% of the total fine ware from the site. The absence of CS from the western part of the island may reflect the flow of ceramic materials from east to west with Eastern Sigillata entering the eastern part of the island from Levantine ports and CS circulating from the western production area. The majority of this material appears in secondary contexts, particularly in floor packing or fills, that reflect early patterns of activity in the area.

The broadly defined Roman period at Koutsopetria captures some of the transition from Early to Late Roman activity at the site. Like many places on Cyprus, the 3rd and 4th centuries are poorly represented in both the survey and excavation assemblage at Koutsopetria. The excavation, for example, produced no “pinched-handled” amphoras or forms of CRS or ARS with well-established 3rd-4th century dates. . There are a number of long-lived types of pottery that appear in the broadly dated Roman assemblage that might hint at at “middle Roman” activity at the site. For example, there are African Red Slip sherds that can be assigned to no specific type which makes it impossible to exclude the possibility of early forms existing at Koutsopetria, but no specific evidence for those early forms appeared. Among the range of undiagnostic coarse and medium coarse wares in Roman fabrics, the presence of a small number of long-lived micaceous water jars (Middle Roman 3 amphora) which appear from 1st to 6th century AD offer a glimpse of the middle Roman centuries. The presence of Roman lamps and cooking wares make clear that the coastal plain of Koustopetria was a settlement during the Roman period.

The Late Roman period is the most abundant from both the survey and excavation. The utility wares and amphoras from the excavated contexts are largely identical to those found in the survey. Late Roman 1 amphoras are predictably common in both contexts. The excavation also produced a small number (n=10) of Late Roman 2 amphora from the Aegean and Palestinian amphora (n=2 [check this]). The assemblage produced a significant quantity of kitchen ware sherds including a small number of rather late Dhiorios ware cooking pots that are likely the latest artifacts from the excavation and have comparanda from the survey of the coastal plain. As with most other periods, the fine ware from the Late Roman period provides the best opportunity to reflect on the diversity of material from our site. The two dominant categories of Late Roman fine ware were African Red Slip and Cypriot Red Slip with the former accounting for 48% of the Late Roman fine wares by count and 38% by weight and the latter being 44% by count and 53% by weight. The remaining 10% is made up of Phocaean ware and other rather less diagnostic Late Roman fine ware. It is notable that African Red Slip is significantly better represented in the excavated assemblage than in the survey assemblage. In the survey, ARS accounted for 17.4% of the Roman period fine ware whereas CRS accounted for 42.5% of the same total. The diversity of the two assemblages, however, speaks to their fundamental similarity. There are no ARS forms present in the excavated material that were not also present in the survey with ARS Forms 61, 67, and 105 appearing in both contexts. Likewise the CRS forms reflect the more common types CRS9 and CRS11 as well as the less common CRS8. Phocaean ware appeared in two forms PWH 10 and 5 and the very common PHW 3 was largely absent with only 1 possible example of that form. The presence of substantial quantities of African Red Slip pottery in the excavation assemblage supports two general impression from our survey. First, our local Late Roman fine ware assemblage was dominated by African Red Slip and Cypriot Red Slip suggesting that the site had ties both to regional production centers and Mediterranean wide trade networks. The small quantities of PHW in the excavated area does little to challenge the distribution of this type of pottery at the base of Mavrospilos and Kokkinokremos along the Late Roman coastline and coastal road. We have argued elsewhere that this concentration may mark the presence of warehouses associated with the site’s role as a emporion (Caraher et al. 2014, 295).

There is no compelling evidence for post-Roman material from the site aside from 2 fragments of early modern roof tiles. This is consistent with the distribution of the small quantities of later material in the survey which tend to be concentrated in units adjacent to the small Ottoman/Venetian coastal battery some 300 m to the east of the excavated area. The two tiles are likely the result of plow smearing, local road building, or even intruded during the excavation process rather than a reflecting evidence for a distinct later activity at the site. While it remains possible that some of the assemblage datable to nothing more narrow than Ancient Historic could include later material, it seems more likely that post-Roman activity on the coastal plain was limited and did not directly involve the collapsed church building.

Context in Archaeology

It’s the time of year when I frantically try to finish reading various articles with 2016 (or 2015) publication dates so I can feel vaguely up to date in my diminishing awareness of my field and my discipline. It’s a sham, of course, as readers of this blog know, but a largely pious sham.

As part of this flailing, I took bizarre pleasure in reading James Whitely’s response in the JMA to Robin Osborne’s 2015 article in the same journal. The response was chippy but in a largely fun way and Osborne’s response to Whitley was equally entertaining. Both scholars, both offered some evidence for mutual respect and managed to talk past each other. In the process, though, it did make me think:

1. Academia as Theater. The debate between the two appears largely to be a kind of edu-tainment. Osborne’s article is intentionally hyperbolic, designed to nudge archaeologists into recognizing that objects in museums have contexts that remain relevant for historians and scholars of the ancient world. In places, Osborne is over the top, but surely this is puckish response to equally exaggerated anxiety expressed by archaeologists over objects without provenience which is so frequently presented to rooms full of nodding archaeologists. Whitley can hardly disagree with Osborne’s claims, but takes issue with his emphatic tone, and this gives him an opening to reassert the priority of archaeological context. Well, that’s fine, and whatever liberties Whitley takes with Osborne’s argument seems designed to provide his response with a spirit of entertaining bar-room banter rather than to make a solid scholarly point. Even casual readers of ancient history and archaeology know that both Osborne and Whitely are fine scholars and both value the myriad contexts that shape our reading of objects. Moreover, the JMA readership, who tends to be theoretically and practically savvy, are aware of this. (If this debate was playing out across the pages of a journal with a slightly broader audience – perhaps the AJA – it would have the appearances of a more sincerely scholarly enterprise)

The point of this debate, I suspect, is to entertain JMA readers and perhaps to stimulate a bit of barroom conversation of its own. The lack of careful, academic editing, in fact, gives the exchange a kind of bloggish feel. Whitely for example, is allowed to misrepresent Osborne’s argument in a basic factual ways (e.g. his claims that Osborne offered arguments based on the idea of “object biography” which is a phrase (and concept) that Osborne does not use; likewise Whitely’s critiques of Osborne’s reference to partage which were strangely decontextualized and misunderstood. Osborne responds to both of these points in his response to Whitley’s piece, but this also has a kind of fish-in-the-barrel feel to it. These are not serious conversations grounded in the theoretical or practical issues at stake, but playful banter between two senior scholars knowingly tweaking the other. If a more junior scholar – or a graduate student – made similar claims about Osborne’s article, the review and editing process would have surely called them out.).  

That being said and since this is a blog, I do feel like it is worth thinking about a few of the issues – however superficial they might be – that Osborne and Whitley spar over.

2. Context in Archaeology. One of Whitley’s most bizarre critiques of Osborne’s work is that Osborne claims all contexts are equal. Whitley sees this as a move toward a kind of relativism “where the significance of an object depends on its latest context?” and accuses Orborne (with an ironic twinkle in his eye, I’m sure) with not understanding how archaeologists use the word context.

I have admit that I’ve fallen into this same trap. At a recent ASOR panel on object biography, I was baffled by a participant repeating – mantra like – that an object without context is meaningless. Of course, this well-meaning archaeologist was talking about archaeological context, but, as Osborne notes, context (such as we continue to use that word in our post-Foucaldian world) is really relevant to the kinds of questions we ask of objects. There are plenty of contexts that are not archaeological that give objects meaning. Whitley’s hand-wring about a descent into a kind of amoral relativism would seem to almost prove Osborne’s point.

3. Archaeology as Context. Of course, as a field archaeologist, I recognize that archaeological context (that is in a proper sense) is significant and when doing field archaeology maintaining context is our pre-eminent concern and priority. In fact, I’d argue that the goal of field archaeology is to produce contexts that extend across materials – object assemblages, features, architecture, sites – and methods and methodology. If the last 30 years of intensive pedestrian survey in the Mediterranean has taught us anything it is that methodology offers as much a context for archaeological knowledge production as stratigraphy (and, in fact, methods and stratigraphy are co-dependent). A useful expansion of the concerns expressed by Whitley would extend to methodology which has not been as strong focus among excavators as a among survey archaeologists.  

4. Technological Contexts. In fact, I think that relatively naive attitudes toward methods among excavators has fueled the recent trend toward technological solutionism. My buddy Dimitri Nakassis posted a nice review of a little gaggle of articles in the BICS on his blog yesterday. In fact, this post reminded me to read Whitley’s article and to consider how the privileging of excavation contexts in archaeology has led to particular attitudes toward technology in our field. In one of the best-known, recent articles on the use of technology in excavation the authors playfully revised the age old archaeological mantra: “Excavation is Destruction Digitization: Advances in Archaeological Practice.” The tension between the role of archaeology in producing context (through methods) and destroying context (through the removal of sediment and strata and objects) has fueled an optimistic new generation of scholars who look to digital tools to bridge the gap. This hope for ever increasingly resolution in empirical knowledge is not bad, of course, except when it loses track of the big picture: archaeological contexts are created by the archaeologist in the service of particular questions about the past. 

5. Professional Contexts. Part of Osborne’s larger point in his article is that museum collections remain a relatively untapped resources especially for students and early career scholars. Whitley, in response, urges students and scholars to get more field experience, start and participate in field projects and to avoid the current vogue for theorizing at the expense of getting dirty. This is fine advice, but the realities of doing field work are more complex than just disciplinary trends. Field work is expensive, permits are difficult to acquire, and there is real risk (at least at American universities) for junior scholars planning to publish results from an excavation or survey as a contribution to their tenure packet. This is to say nothing of the political and social issues that shape fieldwork opportunities in the Mediterranean world.

In other words, there is a distinct professional context to archaeology and, in many ways, these pressures – much more so than a predilection for theory or a dislike for dirt – shape how archaeologists engage in knowledge production. It is disappointing that even in this playful barroom banter, two preeminent, senior, male scholars overlooked this key aspect of archaeological context.