Studying Polis on Cyprus

Over the last ten years or so, I’ve been working with a small but good team of scholars to publish the Roman, Late Roman, and Medieval period from the site of Polis tis Chrysochous on Cyprus. This is ancient Marion and Arsinoe for those of you less-sensitive to “dead naming” cities.

This year, we’re working on two little projects. First, we’re wrapping up publication of the site of E.F1. We’ve been working to put together a publication of this area of the site as the first volume of a new “Polis” series perhaps in ASOR’s Archaeological Report Series. Last year, I shared what we’ve put together so far. This year, we’ll tidy up that manuscript and herd cats so that we can submit a volume in the spring.  

This summer, we’re going to focus our attention on the assemblage of Roman and Early Byzantine (Late Roman) Lamps from the area around the South Basilica (which we published a half-decade ago). Our goal is not only to publish a sample of the lamps found in this area, but, perhaps more importantly, put them in their stratigraphic and archaeological context.

Of particular significance is a small deposit of lamps nestled against the wall of the South Basilica apse. This group of lamps is in a secondary context, but they were found less than a dozen meters from a kiln. More interesting still is that this kiln was found below a pool which featured terracotta tile coping. It seems probable that this pool was associated with levigating clay and was par of a 2nd century-ish industrial area which preceded the basilica. The location of the pool above the kiln means that it was part of a second phase of activity associated with ceramic production in the area. (You can’t have a pool ABOVE a kiln, of course, because it would keep putting the kiln out… among other reasons!).

Another small cache of lamps has appeared elsewhere in the area that came to be dominated by the South Basilica. It seems likely that these too are in some kind of secondary context, but are of similar types to the lamps found near the apse of the basilica.

These two groups of lamps suggest that certain common forms not only appeared at Polis, but offers the enticing possibility that these types were manufactured there (as well as elsewhere on the island).

Of course, it remains early days in our study of the site and we have other projects here to keep us distracted (including excavations by the Department of Antiquities at the North Basilica and efforts to conserve various areas of the site). That said, I do enjoy little projects that not only offer a chance to unpack the history of the site, but to offer some context for an interesting group of Roman period artifacts.

More on this as the season develops! 

Late Antique Mining on Cyprus

Like many scholars of ancient Cyprus, I’ve been fascinated by the rapidly expanding corpus of data on Roman and Late Roman mining practices on the island. Of course, even the most casual archaeologist on the island is bound to notice the nearly ubiquitous presence of slag in both archaeological and every day contexts. This detritus from the smelting process appears as weirdly bubbled, vaguely metallic lumps and was used as road “metalling” into the Modern period, is common in fill levels in Ancient and Medieval contexts, and generally traces the extent of metallurgical activities across the island. At the village of Polis (ancient Arsinoe), slag appears so frequently in archaeological contexts that it is often hard to know whether it represents particular activities associated with finds in a particular trench or was simply “residual material” representing the site’s proximity to copper rich veins in the Troodos Mountains and the role the metallurgy played in the region’s ancient and modern history.

Despite over a decade of working at Polis, slag was so common and mining activity in the region was so well known (highlighted by the famous Limni open pit mine), that I (perhaps ironically) never thought very much about slag other than to acknowledge its existence. This was not very smart.

I was really excited then to see a pair of recent publications on not only mining in the region, but mining in Late Antiquity. The first paper is the most immediately relevant. Authored by Anna-Maria Sdralia, Vasiliki Kassianidou, Thilo Rehren, and titled “Late Roman copper smelting in Polis Chrysochous, Cyprus,” it appeared in the Journal of Archaeological Science 48 (2023). My guess is that this paper represents part of her University of Cyprus Master’s Thesis: “Investigating two late Roman Metallurgical Slag Heaps: An Analytical Approach” (which I have not read, but I have downloaded).

The two slag heaps under investigation were at Argaka and the Pelethousa. Anna-Maria Sdralia and colleagues demonstrated that the two slag heaps consisted of slag that resulted from similar production processes which they date to the Late Roman period (3rd-8th century) on the island. This suggests that both piles of slag were not only broadly contemporary, but also represented a similar set of processes for extracting copper from the local ore. This involves the use of the manganese oxide as a flux in the smelting process. To be honest, I have no idea what this really means on a technical or technological level, but I can follow the authors’ conclusions. This makes it likely that copper extraction in Late Antiquity was organized at the regional level and perhaps reflects state involvement.

The Argaka slag heap, again, if I understand correctly, recently produced charcoal with radiocarbon dates into the 8th century. This is the latest carbon dated evidence for smelting on the island. The presence of such late carbon dates amid slag that shows continuity of manufacturing with the nearby Pelethousa slag heap (which produced carbon dates only as late as the 6th century) may suggest the continuity of large scale copper production in the 8th century in the region of Polis. Of course, the analysis conducted by Sdralia and her colleagues does hint that there is evidence that the smelting processes at the site may have changed at some point, and they, plausibly, suggest that this could have occurred in the later 7th and 8th centuries when military, political, and economic disruptions invariably compromised institutional involvement in metallurgical practices on the island.

But even acknowledging this suggestive evidence (and to be clear, I’m in no position to critique the science in this article), the continuity of slag disposal at Argaka seems to indicate that the disruptions experienced on the island in the 7th century — whether these represent the immediate impact of Arab raids or the generally weakening of the regional economy — did not immediately stop extractive industries in the region.

Vasiliki Kassianidou, one of the co-authors on the JAS article, makes this point in her contribution to the recent volume edited by Panayiotis Panayides and Ine Jacobs, Cyprus in the Long Late Antiquity. Her article, “Mining and smelting copper in Cyprus in Late Antiquity” is an invaluable synthesis of recent evidence for both Late Roman and Medieval copper production on the island. She observes that the chronology from the Argaka slag heap coincides with our recent work at Polis that suggests, mostly on the basis of ceramic dates, that the site of Arsinoe continued to show resilience and perhaps even prosperity into the 8th century. 

Intriguingly, a cache of seals apparently found near Polis and dated to the 8th or even 9th century seem to suggest continued contact between the area and imperial administration in Constantinople. This is during a time when scholars have generally thought that the island was under continuous threat from Arab Raids or even under a kind of “condominium arrangement” where Byzantine and Arab states both had the right to tax the island, but also promised to limit the military (and presumably administrative) involvement there. 

It appears to me that there is a not insignificant body of evidence emerging from both excavated contexts, carbon dated slag heaps, and stray finds in the region of Polis for the area showing significant continuity, economic vitality, and institutional connectivity into the 8th century. This not only complicates the once tidy notion of radical discontinuity as a result of the Arab raids in the 7th century, but also creates a far more “fuzzy” (to use Jody Gordon’s happy terminology) understanding of the transition from Late Antiquity to the Middle Ages on the island. It is a happy coincidence that my work with Scott Moore and the entire Princeton Cyprus Expedition team on the island seems to be poised to contribute to this conversation.

Three Things Thursday: Odd and Ends Galore

There comes a time in the semester, especially the spring semester, where I find myself just treading water and trying to keep my head above the waves. This is usually the result of grading, various projects coming in for landings, reading for class, manuscript reviews, and the typical day-to-day work of being alive. It’s during these times, that I turn to my stack of articles, edited volumes, and unfinished side projects and start to think about how I can spend a few minutes here and there making progress without getting so bogged down that I slip beneath the whelming tide.

So here’s what I’m doing to keep myself engaged in things beyond the walls of campus, my email inbox, and my stack of unfinished obligations for others.

Thing the First

I was absolutely thrilled to be included (along with my buddy R. Scott Moore) in the Panayotis Panayides and Ine Jacobs volume, Cyprus in the Long Late Antiquity: History and Archaeology Between Six and Eighth Centuries (2022). This volume was one of those books that came from a conference held a few years ago in the UK, and I have to admit that I typically don’t have much in the way of expectations for these kinds of books.

This book is an exception, though. I’ve been reading around in it over the last week or so, checking out a chapter here and there when I find the time, and I’ve come away thoroughly impressed with both the quality of research that went into these papers and their scope. For example, Pamela Armstrong and Guy Sander’s paper on “Kourion in the Long Late Antiquity: a reassessment” fundamentally re-dated the later phases at this site and showed how their new chronology of well-known Late Roman fine wares will have an impact on our understanding of these centuries. Panayiotis Panayides chapter “Cypriot cities at the end of Antiquity,” pulls together the evidence for Salamis, Nea Paphos, Amathus, and Kourion to argue that the oft-assumed argument for these cities’ decline in the 7th century was, in fact, far more complex. Jody Gordon’s concluding essay, “The ‘fuzzy’ world of Cypriot Long Late Antiquity: continuity and disruption betwixt the global and local,” offers a blueprint for new ways of thinking about these centuries.

This is just scratching the surface of this rich volume. I haven’t had time to read pieces by Luca Zavagno, Marcus Rautman, Athanasios K. Vionis, Olga Karagiorgou, Georgios Deligiannakis, Evangelos Chrysos, and Young Richard Kim! 

Thing the Second

I’ve been really enjoying the gaggle of articles scheduled to appear in the next issue of the International Journal of Historical Archaeology but now available as “online first” articles from the journal. These pieces are part of an issue coedited by Attila Dézsi and LouAnn Wurst on the theme of “Theorizing Capitalism’s Cracks.” Like the volume on Cyprus in the long late antiquity, I’ve not had time to read everything in this forthcoming issue, but what I’ve read seems pretty great.

Michael Roller’s piece, ““The Song of Love”: An Archaeology of Radio History and Surveillance Capitalism” had me at vacuum tubes, but deftly weaves together archaeological evidence, census data, and history of the radio to argue for its role in creating “machinic consumerism” of the interwar decades and anticipating contemporary surveillance capitalism of the internet age. He also argued that radio had subversive potential as well. The distribution of radio sets in his well-know study site of the coal mining towns of Lattimer, Pennsylvania suggest that immigrant groups listened to the radio collectively rather than as nuclear families in their own homes. More than that, Roller goes on to argue that the emergence f pirate radio stations in the US (and abroad) demonstrates something inherently democratic about this medium. I’m doing this typically dense, nuanced, and thoughtful article a disservice by my description here. If you can check it out.    

There are a few more intriguing pieces in this issue. Eric Drake’s “Envisioning Logging Camps as Sites of Social Antagonism in Capitalism: An Anishinaabe Example from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan” offers a window into Native American life in a Michigan logging camp and show how forms of Native American anticapitalism emerged even in a landscape increasing defined by capitalist extraction. Aaron Howe’s article, “The City and the City: Tent Camps and Luxury Development in the NoMA Business Improvement District (BID) in Washington, D.C.” makes an uncited reference to China Mieville’s novel The City and The City and then presents some of his dissertation research on a homeless encampment in Washington, DC. Rachael Kiddey’s “We Are Displaced, But We Are More Than That: Using Anarchist Principles to Materialize Capitalism’s Cracks at Sites of Contemporary Forced Displacement in Europe,” which I’ve just started reading does what it says on the box! 

Needless to say, I’ll have to steady my hand as I make revisions on my book chapters not to add references to this recent flock of critical and incisive articles. 

Thing the Third

Finally, I’m starting to get excited about a project that started last spring as part of my first effort to teach a graduate seminar in English. Titled, Campus Building, it is a thoughtful and engaged effort to document Merrifield Hall on the University of North Dakota’s campus in the months before it undergoes radical renovations. The layout is done. The content is done. And the volume is almost ready to go to press. 

I can’t wait to share the book and the story behind it with folks here on the ole blog. It is a more than worthy step beyond what I attempted to do with the Wesley College Documentation Project

A Small Book about Small Sites on a Small Island with Big Ideas

This weekend, I had the immense pleasure of reading Catherine Kearns’s The Rural Landscapes of Archaic Cyprus (2022). The book is fantastic (and I say this as someone who is both increasingly “Iron Age Curious” and has a more mature interest rural landscapes both on Cyprus and elsewhere).

Kearns’s considers the emergence of the rural during the Archaic period on Cyprus. This is a period famously known for the emergence of Iron Age polities that form the core the ten or so “City Kingdoms” on Cyprus during the Archaic and Classical period. Iron Age cities have long attracted the attention of archaeologists working on the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age on Cyprus. Kearns’s book flips this focus by looking at the emergence of rural communities during this period and how non-urban forms of life contributed to the formation of urban polities that became so prominent in the later Archaic and Cypro-Classical periods.

To do this, Kearns interrogates the faint traces of Cypro-Geometric and Cypro-Archaic material from the Vasilikos and Maroni valleys which were surveyed in the late 20th century. Kearns complements this legacy data with resurvey and excavation, but the bulk of the evidence for her arguments comes a careful study of material from these periods across the entire island.

Kearns sets her study of the development of rural landscapes and communities amid a careful and measured understanding of climate conditions, the local environment, and resources. I have to admit to lacking the technical understanding of much of what is necessary to reconstruct paleoclimate data, but she appears to approach such efforts with a full grasp of how difficult aligning climate data with historical developments can be. Her grasp of local environmental conditions and resources in Vasilikos and Maroni valley allowed her to demonstrate how household units created small worlds in the difficult centuries after the collapse of Bronze Age states in Cyprus. Moreover, she is able to provide some examples for how the  the worlds created by these household unites, despite their faint traces in the landscape, leveraged the use of gypsum, copper, wood, and arable soils to create a society that both supported larger urban agglomerations as well as negotiate their own changing roles in Iron Age society.

This is obvious a pretty casual reconstruction of Kearns’s complex and highly nuanced arguments. I honestly can’t do a book like this justice, but it did leave me with several take aways that were peripheral to Kearns’s main arguments, but nevertheless made me particularly happy.

First, Kearns clearly draws upon trends in contemporary environmental history including a prominent shout out to William Cronon’s Nature’s Metropolis (1991). This iconic masterpiece of contemporary environmental history traces the development of Chicago’s western hinterland in concert with the emergence of the city, its growing population, its industries, and its consumption practices. Cronon’s work marked a watershed in how we understood the relationship between the town and country in the US by demonstrating that the rural/urban divide was largely illusory. One could not exist without the other.

As someone probing the edges of contemporary environmental history lately, this got me very excited.  

Second, Kearns uses survey data in a thoughtful way. While there were moments where I wished that she had unpacked some of the methods used to produce the data that she so carefully analyzed, in general, I was pleased to see survey data being drawn upon in such a natural way. I feel like over the past decade, archaeologists have come to accept the inherent reliability of intensive survey data and felt less need to bracket archaeological landscapes created by survey methods with a heavy layer of methodological justification. The turn-of-the-century survey archeologist in me likes to imagine that this is the result of our careful rumination on the character of survey data. When I stop trying to make everything about my own work (see point one), I realize that Kearns just approached the landscapes of Vasilikos and Maroni valleys with a substantial portion of archaeological common sense.

Third, I was fascinated with how work like Kearns might contribute to how we interpreted the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla. While we had relatively little Iron Age material (and even less material that we could confidently assign to the Cypro-Archaic or much less Cypro-Geometric periods), the location of our site between territories traditional ascribed to Salamis and Kition makes it appealing to consider the locus for rural development outside of the control of any particular urban center. The presence of features in our landscape datable to the Iron Age complements its access to a significant agricultural hinterland, in possession of the topographic advantages of a significant coastal height, and nearby the Late Bronze Age site of Pyla-Kokkinokremos (with the potential for certain forms of landesque capital). We were guilty of attributing the site’s development to the emergence (or even persistence) of urban populations at Kition and Salamis. Kearns analysis urged me to consider whether our site emerged in the aftermath of the Late Bronze Age to Iron Age transition as the site of a rural community that ultimately contributed to the persistence of the community at Kition rather than as an extension of its efforts at rural control. 

In fact, we make a vaguely similar argument when we suggest that the expansion of the site in the Hellenistic to Roman periods reflected the breakdown of the centripetal influence of Salamis and Kition which would have encouraged the development of land that would have otherwise suffered from its politically and economically marginal position along the borders of states.

Fourth, the conclusion of Kearns’s book is a masterpiece in weaving together the often complex and hyper local strands of argument that she develops throughout her book. It demonstrates how the small worlds and faintly visible sites that she focused on in her chapters can propose a new narrative for the emergence of the rural landscape (as well as the urban areas) in the Iron Age. More importantly, though, she takes her arguments for the development of the rural and considers how these influence our view of the Anthropocene in its contemporary and its more expansive historical contexts (i.e. both “big A” and “little a” anthropocene). In other words, she demonstrates how specialized studies in how highly local communities (sometimes no more than family groups) adapted to climate change, local resources, and emerging political entities can contributed to creating a more variegated and socially responsible image of the Anthropocene. Understanding small scale adaptions reminds us that the increasingly global “we” that is responsible for anthropogenic climate change and obligated to resists or slows its progress is and was never as universal as the first person pronoun suggests. The causes, responses, and impacts of climate change in the past, in the present, and in the future are always local. And this is a brilliant reminder for anyone invested in understanding how to produce a just, responsible, and effective response to global climate change today.

Finally, there is no doubt that we live in an era of Big Books by Big Scholars on Big Topics. As I’ve said on this blog, I dislike big books and I cannot lie.

Catherine Kearns’s book is not a big book by any standard (although she is well on her way to becoming a Big Scholar). It’s runs to around 250 pages. Its deals with small worlds on a (relatively) small island situated as much at the margins of contemporary Mediterranean archaeology as it did in relation to past imperial polities. 

That said, this book is not small in terms of idea, significance, or impact. As someone who has a rooting interest in Cypriot archaeology, but no particular investment in the Iron Age, I read this book with more than a little enthusiasm! I’m sure that I’ll be annoying my friends and colleagues when I continue to recommend it to them over the coming years.

It’s the kind of book that one can read over a weekend, but whose ideas and provocations will simmer in my mind for years and it’ll have a bigger impact (at least in the small world of my mind) than any number of the Big Books by Big Scholars.  

Some Other Archaeology: Late Antiquity at Polis: Recent Research

In some ways, I’ve found the recent discussions of pseudoarchaeology energizing and thought provoking (and as I explain in this twitter thread, my development as an archaeology and a pseudoarchaeology have very much occurred in interrelated ways).

Next week, I’ll present some of my recent work in the village of Polis, where we work on the site of Late Roman and Byzantine Arsinoe. The talk is at 7:30 PM EEST (or 11:30 AM in CST). You can register for the talk via zoom here.

Here’s the abstract and some media. I’ll post a version of my paper next week and apparently it’ll be recorded. Here are some thoughts about my talk.

Starting in 1984, the Princeton Cyprus Expedition excavated areas around the village of Polis-tis-Chrysochous in northwestern Cyprus. These excavations revealed a wide range of buildings and contexts dating from the Late Antique period including two Early Christian basilica style churches surrounded by various buildings that appear to stretch along the northern edge of the city. At some point in Late Antiquity, most of this area appears to have become a massive cemetery, presumably centered on the two churches. Recent research has revealed that the buildings along the northern edge of the city underwent continuous renovation and reconfiguration even as burials encroached.

William Caraher posterWilliam Caraher invitation

Thinking Big About Late Antique Polis on Cyprus

One of the things that I’m trying to do as I find myself well and truly a “mid career” scholar is to focus on small things. Maybe it has to do with my interest in craft and even slow practices. Maybe it has to do with my distaste for senior (generally male) scholars producing BIG BOOKS about BIG TOPICS. Maybe it just has to do with embracing the parts of archaeological and scholarly practice that I enjoy. 

At the end of the month, I’ll be giving a paper at the University of Cyprus’s Archaeological Research Unit (ARU). My paper will introduce our decade of work at the site of Late Roman Arsinoe at Polis on Cyprus. The first part of my paper will indulge my inclination to “geek out” on some of the more archaeological aspects of our work. I love the fussy forensics of archaeological argumentation and analysis and my hope is that the ARU will be a receptive audience to some of the work we’re doing to untangle chronology at Polis.

I also know that there will be an expectation that I demonstrate something more significant than my ability to think about chronology, stratigraphy, and architectural history within the confines of the trenches at our site. The second half of my paper (which will be a generous 50 minutes!) will try to focus a bit on how Polis can contribute to BIG PICTURE issues associated with both the archaeology of Late Roman and Early Byzantine Cyprus as well as the archaeology of Late Roman Mediterranean more broadly. This isn’t the most comfortable space for me to operate, of course, but I suppose a lecture like this is a good opportunity to get a bit out of my comfort zone and indulge a bit of “speculatin’ about a hypothesis.”

My goal right now is to discuss four (or five?) things at the end of my paper. Because my paper will focus on the material from EF2 (that is the South Basilica) and from EF1 (which I’ve largely written up here), my evidence will represent only a very modest basis for any “speculatin’,” but I reckon that it will still contribute to some larger conversations. 

First, I think it’ll be useful to establish the relationship between the chronology of some of our “horizons” and assemblages and larger conversations about the dating of Late Roman ceramics. Getting the dates of our ceramic evidence right is important both because ceramics represent the most ubiquitous form of datable evidence from the ancient Mediterranean, and also because the chronology of this material is beginning to shift. This shift is mostly attributable to archaeologists relying less dogmatically on deposits associated with particular historical events (earthquakes, invasions, and the like) and on Cyprus, this involved a critical re-examination of chronologies established on the basis of the Arab Raids. I think that the excavations at Polis (as well as other nearby sites in Western Cyprus) have the real potential to establish new dates (at least relevant locally) for Late Roman and Early Byzantine ceramics. 

Second, establishing new ceramic chronologies also allows us to make some new observations on the economic (and even social) landscape of Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean.This means recognizing that there seems to be connections between production sites and markets that persist into the later 7th and even 8th century. This not only suggests that the political disruptions associated with the Arab Raids in the mid-7th century did not complete destroy the economic ties between the island and its neighbors to the west. The appearance of late forms of transport amphora, tables wares, and various cooking and utility seem to parallel the growing body of evidence from coins and seals to suggest that 7th and 8th century Cyprus remained an economic crossroad characterized as much by resilience as economic contraction and political isolation. 

Third, these conclusions have some significance for how we understand “Cypriot Archaeology” more broadly. On the one hand, Cypriot archaeology has long been associated with the study of the Iron Age kingdoms. With their demise of independent kingdoms and absorption of Cyprus into the Hellenistic and Roman world, scholars have argued that what made these communities “Cypriot” became subordinate to the political realities of new regional and transregional polities. Of course, any number of scholars have challenged this perspective and for the Late Roman period recognizing the regional variations in material culture across settlements and sites on Cyprus suggests that “Roman” material became a medium that supported the persistence of Cypriot identity rather than its erasure. This opens the door for us to expand what we consider as “Cypriot Archaeology” into periods that have traditionally stood outside its core concerns.

Fourth, Cypriot Archaeology has historically focused on the political, religious, and social life of the city kingdoms. Implicit in this work is a concern for urbanism on the island which resonates with an interest in the form of cities at the so-called “end of antiquity.” One of the interesting challenges of Princeton’s work at ancient Arsinoe is that most of our excavations took place outside the ancient city center, which remains under the modern village. That said, these sites do offer subtle proxies for certain aspects of urban life. The use of peri-urban areas first as monumental spaces for religious buildings, arches, well-appointed well-houses, and then as cemeteries in Late Antiquity suggests changing religious priorities that are visible elsewhere on the island as well. The rapid reconstruction of the buildings along the northern side of Polis suggest that these spaces remained not only significant for throughout the Late Roman and Early Byzantine period, but also demonstrated that resilience and perhaps even the persistence of the basic urban structure into the post-Antique period.

The presence of large fills at the site of South Basilica offer a window into the material culture of Polis. Recent work that considers the character of fills in relation to peri-urban dumps, however, offers a lens through which to complicated views of these assemblages. This is particularly significant when comparing the massive fill level associated with EF2 and the South Basilica with the smaller fills associated with the construction and destruction of EF1. 

Finally, the ongoing concern for drainage along the northern slope of the city offers an opaque window into issue of water management at Arsinoe. Efforts to manage the flow of water around the South Basilica might indicate that the situation associated with upstream drainage had changed suggesting, perhaps, that certain elements of civic infrastructure had either fallen into disrepair or underwent a kind of catastrophic failure which permanently disrupted their consistent operation. At the same time, it is possible to imagine a model of urban change that suggests the use of marginal areas of the town — including those susceptible to flooding came into use.

Depending on length and my energy level, I might also talk a little about digital publishing and digital methods as a key component of our work at Polis, but I might be better served staying in my lane and talking about some of the larger issues that shape the Late Roman history of the island.

Two Things on Trash in the Roman World

I really enjoyed Kevin Dicus’s recent article in AJA 126.4: “Refuse and the Roman City: Determining the Formation Processes of Refuse Assemblages Using Statistical Measures of Heterogeneity.” This article pushed me to read Guido Furlan’s 2017 article in EJA 20.2: “When Absence Means Things Are Going Well: Waste Disposal in Roman Towns and its Impact on the Record as Observed in Aquileia.” Both articles dealt with the tricky issue of trash disposal in Roman cities and, more importantly, the character of secondary deposits in an urban setting. 

Dicus’s article uses two statistical measurements to provide a baseline for peri-urban dump sites: Shannon Diversity and Pielou J Evenness.  The former measures the range of types of objects that would appear in an assemblage or sample and the latter measures the distribution of material across the various classes present in the assemblage or sample. Excavated dump sites have proven to have high levels of Diversity and Evenness. For Dicus, this reflects the character of peri-urban dump sites as the end point of city wide refuse collection. This formation process brings together a wide range of discard practices in such a way to produce diverse and evenly distributed assemblages in peri-urban dumps.

Dicus compares the character of peri-urban dumps to material found in various fill context inside Pompeii. For example, domestic refuse tended, in Dicus’s study, to have lower diversity than that from dumps outside the city. This is presumably because it reflects a smaller range of activities (and perhaps developed over a shorter period of time). Curiously, other fills from around Pompeii show levels of diversity and evenness that are not all that different from the municipal dump sites. This suggests that despite their association with domestic spaces and their location within city walls, these fills nevertheless required material from assemblages produced by the more expansive formation process similar to those that formed municipal peri-urban dumps. Dicus’s willingness to unpack and explain the quantitative character of these fills and dumps is really commendable. He not only recognizes the limits of this kind of approach, but also explains it in a way that is both clear and replicable at other sites that have well-excavated dumps and fill contexts that can be compared. 

Furlan’s article is less sophisticated quantitatively and focuses on aoristic analysis of the chronology of fills and dumps. He argues that fill levels in urban sites are often far too variable and dependent on the formation process that created the fills to serve as proxies for the economic situation in a particular community. Parallel to Dicus’s later work, Furlan suggests that municipal dump sites which capture a wider range of formation processes from, presumably, a spatially and functionally more expansive catchment would represent more fully the economic life of a city.

This work is relevant to my recent work at Polis. The area of EF2 in the Princeton grid at the site included a massive fill deposits that presumably served to facilitate the leveling and drainage of sloping ravine. The presence of abundant cobbles in the fill suggests that it combined building material. Its location at the edge of the city also suggest a proximity to a per-urban dump. In fact, a large mound of slag to the north of the site suggests a dump from nearby industrial activities. There is reason to expect, then, that the fill incorporates aspects of industrial discard in its assemblage and the percentage of amphora sherds, for example, is suggestive. The significant quantity of fine and tables wares as well as cooking pots that we should probably associate with domestic use, however, indicates that the fill also draws upon a wider range of processes perhaps including those associated with both urban discard and disposal. 

Unfortunately, the material that we have available for the study of the fill level at EF2 is a sample of the material excavated in the 1990s. We expect that the excavators discarded a good amount of the course and utility wares that appeared as undiagnostic and this means these kinds of vessels are underrepresented in the assemblage. Or, conversely, table and fine wares are proportionally overrepresented in the assemblage that we studied. In other words, we can’t do the kind of thoughtful analysis performed by Furlan or Dicus. Despite these limitations, their work does give me something to think with when exploring the legacy data produced by the excavations along the northern side of the city of Arsinoë in the village of Polis. 

Lecture this Fall: Late Antiquity at Polis: Recent Research

I’m spinning my wheels a bit this fall and trying to get traction after a long and somewhat exhausting summer of research and other work. Fortunately, several projects have become a bit more insistent lately and some new projects have popped up to fill the void.

Among the projects that I have appeared from the ether to structure my semester is a talk that I was invited to give at the University of Cyprus’s Archaeological Research Unit.

Here’s the abstract that I submitted: 

Starting in 1984, the Princeton Cyprus Expedition excavated areas around the village of Polis-tis-Chrysochous in northwestern Cyprus. These excavations revealed a wide range of buildings and contexts dating from the Late Antique period including two Early Christian basilica style churches surrounded by various buildings that appear to stretch along the northern edge of the city. At some point in Late Antiquity, most of this area appears to have become a massive cemetery, presumably centered on the two churches. Recent research has revealed that the buildings along the northern edge of the city underwent continuous renovation and reconfiguration even as burials encroached.

Along with a few photos:

IMG 7550

South Basilica POT

IMG 3911

My current plan for the talk is to start the talk with a broad overview of Late Antique Polis and then focus on four or five issues that have emerged from our work. These issues will start with the most “settled” (and even published) and move onto some more speculative ideas about the city of Arsinoe in Late Antiquity.

1. Untangling Legacy Data. The first thing I’ll discuss is the challenges of working with “legacy data” at a project that flirted with the dawn of the digital age while still adhering to analogue practices. This will be a nice way to introduce the audience to the archaeological contexts for my paper’s analysis.

2. The Phases of the South Basilica. In some ways, this section will confirm that the methods we employed to combine legacy data with new analysis have the potential to produce meaningful results. It will largely summarize conclusions published a few years ago in Hesperia

3. Regionalism and Trade on Cyprus. This section will start to take our research into more speculative areas by demonstrative the value of publishing larger ceramic datasets and showing how they can contribute to understanding connectivity within a broader regional context. Some of our conclusions here have appeared in various publications, but they’re very much still tentative because of the changing chronologies associated with Late Roman ceramics in the Eastern Mediterranean more broadly.

4. Creating Some Late Roman Horizons. As a follow up to the last point, I will introduce our efforts to construct some Late Roman “horizons” at Polis that have the potential to be starting point for both refining ceramic chronologies on the island and proposing new dates for the transformation of the built environment on the island from the 6th to 8th centuries.

5. Fragments, Features, and Functions in the Late Roman Cityscape. Finally, the paper will conclude with some observations on how excavations along the northern edge of Late Antique Arsinoe revealed by the Princeton Cyprus Expedition can offer a fragmentary, but suggestive view of the changing character of the city. In this way, we hope that the work at our site can contribute to our emerging understanding of Late Roman urbanism elsewhere on Cyprus.  


The lecture will occur, I think, on November 28th and delivered via The Zooms, so I should, hopefully, have a link to share with people closer to the date. I’ll also share the text of my paper once I get around to putting words on the page. 

What I Did This Summer: Polis on Cyprus Edition

The early fall is always an awkward time of year because it marks the intersection of summertime work and the more regular routine of the semester’s start (as well as baseball and football season).

Over the last couple of week’s I’ve been working to pull together some of our work from the past summer on Cyprus. This primarily focused at the site of Polis and, more specifically, on the area of E.F1 in the Princeton Cyprus Expedition grid. I’ve written a decent amount about the small excavations in the area, but, so far, we haven’t really produced much more than a synthetic studies of the work there. Our current plan is to produce a more comprehensive study as part of the first volume of a new series dedicated to the Princeton work at Polis.

As per usual, I suspect that it’ll take years for the final publication of this site to appear, but for now, we can provide a provisional (and perhaps ante-penultimate) draft publication of the area. As you’ll discover, if you click the link below, the catalogue is not entirely complete and lacks illustrations at present (but I’ll work to update this when they’re available), but we have completed most of the interpretative heavy lifting and we have largely connected the dots at the site. 

For those of you who don’t know Polis, much less E.F1, the excavations in the area revealed at least four phases of Late Roman activity at the site of which three left clear architectural traces and one was manifest in a burial. More importantly, perhaps, is the assemblage of Late Roman ceramics from the site and residual material dating primarily to the Roman period. The Late Roman fine ware is perhaps the most useful assemblage for scholars, although the site also produced a diverse array of Late Roman amphora and cooking pots. There’s a nice gaggle of lamps and lamp fragments from the site as well which should provide a window into lamp circulation in the western part of Cyprus (and will likely be more meaningful when we publish the illustrations).

Some of the point of publishing this is to run up a flag to show folks what we’ve been doing. It goes without saying that if you have interest or questions about work, please do reach out!

Here’s a link for the download!