Three Things Thursday: Agency, Data, and Digital Archaeology

One of the great things about spending quality time with the Western Argolid Regional Project datasets is that it gets me thinking about data and digital archaeology more broadly. It is merely a happy coincidence that an a trio of interesting articles on digital archaeology have appeared over the last few weeks.

So for this week, we can do a little three thing Thursday that hits one some intriguing new publications.

Thing the First

I try to read most things that Jeremy Huggett writes and to my mind, he is among the most thoughtful commentators in the field of digital archaeology. His most recent article, in Open Archaeology, titled “Algorithmic Agency and Autonomy in Archaeological Practice” explores the nature of agency in digital archaeology at the moment where we are moving toward more sophisticated and complex digital tools. Huggett considers not only the changing notion of agency in light of the increasingly sophisticated technology used by archaeologists, but also traces a future trajectory that frames the need to consider the ethical implications of digital tools that archaeologists use to make their arguments. 

He emphasizes the way that complex algorithms create “black boxes” that obscure the workings of the technology that archaeologists use in their analysis. This is not a kind of luddite alarmism, but instead anchored in a thoughtful understanding of recent trends in our field. For example, Huggett notes that advance in algorithms already allow computers to scan massive numbers of satellite and aerial photographs for patterns that suggest cultural artifacts. Similar technologies may soon allow archaeologists to stitch together highly fragmentary wall painting or identify ceramic forms on the basis of broken sherds. These kinds of technologies rely on algorithms that process far more data and consider nearly infinitely more variables than a human could consider, and this allows them draw unanticipated conclusions that exceed the typical process of hypothesis testing at the core of archaeological inquiry. 

These algorithmic processes not only have the potential to disrupt the conventional process of hypothesis testing at the core of academic archaeology, but also produce results in such a way that they far exceed the conventional terms of archaeological explanation. At this point, Huggett would argue, the archaeologist has ceded a good bit of interpretative agency to technologies and algorithms. By giving up an understanding of process, we run the risk of giving up ethical control over our inquiries. We need look no further than recent controversies around facial recognition software that drew on databanks that were overwhelming white and this has created unexpected biases in biometric recognition practices (that tend to discriminate against non-white individuals).

In short, Huggett’s work is pushing archaeology to anticipate the ethical implications of ceding agency to algorithms that often are far more complex than the kind of routine hypothesis testing at the core of conventional archaeological practices.

Thing the Second

Néhémie Strupler’s recent article in Internet Archaeology is a remarkable first step toward a more critical practice in publishing. Titled “Re-discovering Archaeological Discoveries. Experiments with reproducing archaeological survey analysis,” Strupler compares archived and published date from three archaeological projects to the published results from those projects. Needless to say, the results are eye-opening. The data from two of the three projects (including my own Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project) did not coincide with the results published in their more formal, paper publications. 

This posed two problems for Strupler. First, it suggests that existing peer review practices do not extend to exploring the relationship between archived and published data and more traditional, predominantly textual results. This is particularly glaring in the case of the Pyla-Koutsopetria project where the data was published in advance of the formal survey publication (although perhaps not in advance of our manuscript being circulated for review).  

The second problem is concerns about the reproducibility of data-driven archaeological argument making. How robust must datasets be – in terms of metadata and paradata – to allow for scholars to reasonably test the results of archaeological analysis. More importantly, how robust must datasets be to allow scholars to go beyond merely testing published arguments, but propose counter arguments or new research directions on the basis of publicly available data. As I am involved in preparing three new datasets for both conventional and digital publication, this article provided some substantial food for thought. 

Thing the Third

Readers of my blog know that I’ve been dipping my toe into some local heritage work and CRM. One of things that this work produced was a substantial data set that describes mid-century housing in Grand Forks, North Dakota. The dataset was dutifully submitted to the State Historical Society of North Dakota as a table in a PDF (as they requested) and will for the foreseeable future languish on my hard drive as a flat table. 

This all introduces the nice little summative statement offered by Christopher Nicholson, Rachel Fernandez and Jessica Irwin titled “Digital Archaeological Data in the Wild West: the challenge of practising responsible digital data archiving and access in the United States” from Internet Archaeology. As they point out, the current state of digital archiving of archaeological data in the US is a patchwork of practices. Many states, for example, continue to lack policies or procedures for archiving the digital datasets that back many of the reports that CRM and heritage processionals produce on a regular basis. Private CRM firms lack any motivation to make data that they archive available publicly. Local heritage units, such as our Historical Preservation Commission, lack the resources to archive data, reports, and studies that they have commissioned and often look to the state for this or beyond, to the federal government. 

In any event, this isn’t meant as a criticism of underfunded state, local, and federal agencies, but rather to note that archaeology as field is still struggling to come to terms with its digital footprint. 

Twosday: PKAP II and 1100 Miles of Racing

Like many people, I’ve started to get a bit antsy about what I’ve accomplished and how I’ve prioritized my time during the pandemic. Not only am I feeling a good bit of survivor’s guilt surrounding any productivity that I did manage during the pandemic, but I also feel bad about prioritizing some of my own projects – namely my single-authored book and a number of single-author articles – over the same stretch of time.

Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project 2

To get back to feeling good about myself, I’ve (finally) returned to the long stagnant project that is the second volume of the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project’s final excavation report. The book is 90% complete with just a few odds and ends necessary to prepare it for review. So, this week, I’m going to get PKAP2 into shape for publication and, with any luck, get it to the editor of ASOR’s Archaeological Report Series by the middle of next month (warts and all).

The book will mostly be just a report and as such, it won’t be very interesting to anyone not invested in the archaeology of Late Roman Cyprus. The excavations of the church at Pyla-Koutsopetria, for example, produced very little additional information about the architecture or design of the building. The work on the hill of Pyla-Vigla is rather more interesting, but it is likely to be superseded by ongoing work at the site. That said, the artifact assemblages produced at Koutsopetria and Vigla will continue to add some nuance to our understanding of the Late Roman and Hellenistic periods.

As importantly, it’ll also offer some context for the work of our survey in the region and allow us to connect our survey to more secure excavated contexts. For the Late Roman period, better contexts exist elsewhere on the island, but for the Hellenistic period, the assemblages documented from our excavation of a “clean up pit” adjoining the fortification wall on the height will likely be of interest to scholars of the Late Classical and Hellenistic period on the island. The painted plaster from the church should also be of interest.

The most interesting thing that we hope to accomplish is the complete integration of our digital dataset from the project. In fact, the data is already available via Open Context here.

1100 Miles of Racing

This weekend is the Indy 500 (Indy Car) and the Coca Cola 600 (NASCAR) and both happen on Sunday. I’ve been trying to take some time off on Sundays to enjoy parts of life that don’t involve books, writing, and laptops. Part of the challenge, of course, with being an academic is that almost anything in my world could become an academic task.

One place that seems safe, so far, from my perspective, is my love of autoracing. Usually, I’m overseas over the Memorial Day holiday and last year with the Indy 500 running in August on account of the COVID pandemic, things just didn’t feel right. This summer, while things remain a long way from being normal, both the Indy 500 and the Coca Cola 600 will happen on the same day.

Part of me (a small part, I must admit) wants to live blog BOTH races. I have no idea why I want to do this. I mean, first off, no one live blogs any more. It’s just not a thing. People post on social media. 

Secondly, what can I say about about 1100 miles of racing in a weekend? I mean, I know the racers and the events fairly well and have been following this season, but I don’t feel like I have any particular insights (of course, when has that stopped me from blogging in the past)?

Finally, I realize that part of what I want to do with my blog is expand its scope a bit. As any number of pundits have opined, the academic blog is likely in terminal decline. The stakes of blogging are too high (as academics have become targets of partisan politics and bad faith arguments), readership is split between social media, podcasts, and more conventional academic writing, and people are just too busy to enjoy reading someone’s half-baked and poorly edited ideas. That said, there is something liberating about this situation. Maybe realizing that relatively few people read this blog any more is exactly what I need to do new things and to stray further from its long-standing academic-lite format? 

Cyprus in the Long Late Antiquity

This morning, rather early my time, I’ve started to attend a conference on Cyprus in the Long Late Antiquity where I’m giving a paper later this morning.

The line up is impressive and I’m looking forward to getting up to date on a range of people’s work on Late Antique Cyprus.

My paper seeks to weave together some of the latest material from the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria and our recent work on Polis (ancient Arsinoë). For close followers of our work on Cyprus, this will likely feel summative rather than distinctly significant. At the same time, I do like to think that the paper shows some small, incremental, refinements in our analysis of the city of Arsinoë at the end of Late Antiquity. 

You can read the program or enroll in the conference here.

You can read my paper here.

New Book Day: Visualizing Votive Practice

It’s my favorite day at The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota: NEW BOOK DAY.

The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is excited to announce the publication of Visualizing Votive Practice: Exploring Limestone and Terracotta Sculpture from Athienou-Malloura through 3DModels by Derek B. Counts, Erin Walcek Averett, Kevin Garstki, and Michael Toumazou.

You can download the book for free here.

This book is particularly meaningful to me not only because it was the most complex and ambitious book that The Digital Press has published, but because it has a connection with my earliest days doing archaeology on Cyprus (nearly 20 years ago!). 

When I was fresh out of graduate school and working with Scott Moore and David Pettegrew to get the Pyla-Koutospetria Archaeological Project started on Cyprus, we were trying to understand the practical and political realities of doing work on the island. The team that helped us the most was from the Athienou Archaeological Project. In our first year of field work they showed genuine interest in our work, lent us tables and equipment, and gave us good advice on navigating the political side of doing work on Cyprus. While generosity isn’t uncommon among archaeologists working on the island, their collegiality, good cheer, and support made my transition from field work in Greece to work on Cyprus immeasurably easier.

Of course, this book stands on its own as a significant and innovative work of scholarship. It went through rigorous peer review, received high quality professional copy editing, and abundant, sustained attention from its authors. In some small way, it is also  a gesture of appreciation for the support that I received years ago when I was just starting out on Cyprus.

Here’s the press release and download link. It’s free, open access, and pretty great.

VVP banner rev

Visualizing Votive Practice uses 3D images embedded directly in the PDF to present a significant new group of terracotta and limestone sculpture from the sanctuary of Malloura on Cyprus. By combining traditional features of an archaeological artifact catalogue with the dynamic possibilities of a digital book, these fascinating objects come alive on the page. The book also includes thousands of hyperlinks that invite the reader to engage with objects at the world’s greatest museums, explore previous scholarship, and engage the content in new ways. Visualizing Votive Practice provides an important discussion of the theory, methods, and practices that produced the 3D images in archaeology. It is available as a free, open access, download.

Derek B. Counts, Professor and Chair of Art History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, describes the thinking behind the book “we wanted to challenge traditional approaches to publication and leverage open, digital platforms to provide better access to our research but also connect that research with a wider network of information.”

As Kevin Garstki, Lecturer in the Department of Anthropology, Global Religions, and Cultures at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, explains, “The book builds upon the available platforms for sharing 3D models and combines them with important archaeological context that makes them more than just “pretty” models on a computer screen but actual research tools.”

VVP cover final rev

The site of Malloura on the Mesaoria Plain on Cyprus is significant in its own right. Erin Walcek Averett, Associate Professor of Art History and Classical & Near Eastern Studies at Creighton University, notes “this sanctuary is one of the few religious sites to be excavated scientifically and provides a wealth of information on changing Cypriot religious practices from the Cypro-Geometric through Roman periods (ca. 8th c. BCE to at least the 4th c. CE). From terracotta warrior figurines to limestone statues of Cypriot Herakles, this  votive assemblage enriches our understanding of the cult and ritual habit at  the site.”

The book also relies on the Alexandria Archive’s Open Context digital, archaeological publishing platform. Each object in the book is linked to a permanent digital version on the web allowing future researches to link to a specific artifact and for the catalogue to expand and develop in the future. Eric Kansa, Open Context’s Program Director explains that the digital publication of these artifacts “allows for continued expansion of the collection, as well as the addition and association of other related archaeological materials—such as the ceramic vessels, coins, and animal bones– facilitating exploration and reuse of the ever-growing collection, even for purposes not currently recognized in the context of the Visualizing Votive Practice publication.”

William Caraher, the director at the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, remarks “Open access books such as Visualizing Votive Practice shows the potential to combine rigorous peer review and innovative collaborative publishing practices. Scholar-led publishing is not the only future for academic publishing, but works such as this are starting to make the case for it being a viable and significant alternative to traditional academic and commercial publishers.”

VVP cover final face light

Roman Seas

Over the weekend, I read Justin Leidwanger’s new book, Roman Seas: A Maritime Archaeology of Eastern Mediterranean Economies (2020). It’s a pretty good book that brings ship wreck data to bear on long-standing questions of regional and inter-regional trade in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Leidwanger’s focus on the Cilician coast and Cyprus make the book particularly useful for my work on that island and it was gratifying to see the work that I did with David Pettegrew and Scott Moore cited in footnotes! While other can quibble with our interpretation of the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria, it’s harder to dismiss the data that our project produced and its contribution to the growing corpus of well-documented Late Roman sites in the Eastern Mediterranean and Levant. Leidwanger’s interest in similarly well-documented shipwrecks, including some that he documented himself, provides a offshore (or at very least near-shore) analog to expanding body of intensive survey data and well published (and quantifiable) excavation data from Cyprus, Cilicia, and the northeastern Levant. Whether this ever becomes “big data” of the kind that other social scientists have invested with such attention, remains hard to know especially considering the significant variation in methods and typologies across the region. That being said, there’s no doubt that evidence is piling up and almost begging for the kind of thoughtful interpretation offered in this book.

The book will reward some re-reading over the next few months and I try to come to terms with the scope of Leidwanger’s argument. For now, I’ll offer a few quick observations. 

The first few chapters of the book offers little new, but does provide a usual interpretative summary of the recent interest in regional analysis in the Eastern Mediterranean, the basic elements of Roman and Late Roman maritime technology, and the various ways in which terrestrial landscapes and maritime seascapes interact to produce distinct interpretative units. I have little doubt that these chapters will be see more than their share of citations among scholars interested in understanding the relationship between coastal sites, the sea, and connectivity. Leidwanger’s observations would be been very useful when I was muddling my way through my “Is Cyprus an Island?” paper last fall!

The heart of the book comes in the last 100 or so pages when Leidwanger introduces a corpus of 67 well documented shipwrecks from the Datça peninsula and the southern coast of Cyprus. These wrecks date to the Roman and Late Roman periods and appear to be representative of both a wider body of wrecks from well dated wrecks in the Eastern Mediterranean and present little to contradict trends in less carefully dated shipwreck sites in the same region.

This representative and relatively well documented assemblage of sites allows Leidwanger to produce a range of thoughtful arguments about regional and interregional connections. Leidwanger applies a two-level network analysis to these ships cargoes which largely consisted of amphora. One level of network analysis concentrates on the origins of the cargoes and the other incorporates the locations of the wrecks themselves. These two levels of analysis suggest shifts in the economic networks between the Romana and Late Roman period with the former centered on the Aegean and including greater connections to the Adriatic than the latter which centers on Cyprus and Cilicia and involves few ties to points further west. This coincides with Leidwangers interpretation of terrestrial finds from the central southern coast of Cyprus and the Datça peninsula in western Turkey and reinforces the idea that the links between the Eastern and Western Mediterranean weaken in the Late Roman period.

Leidwanger also contends that in the Late Roman period economic networks become more regional in general with smaller ships, smaller cargoes, and closer connections between ports. He argues that this reflects the increasingly “busy countryside” of Late Antiquity and the “gravitational pull” of larger regional centers and, in particular, the capital in Constantinople. The large-scale state influence over interregional exchange provided energy and connections to smaller-scale interregional exchange through processes that are not entirely clear.

I see no reason to disagree with Leidwanger’s arguments for Late Antique Cyprus. Indeed, the coastal site of Pyla-Koutsopetria seems to reached its peak economically during the 6th and early 7th century when imperial influence over large-scale exchange on Cyprus was at its peak. It is likewise intriguing to wonder whether the warehouses at the site of Dreamer’s Bay on the Akrotiri peninsula and at the site of Ay. Yiorgios-Peyias reflected the intensification of shorter distance regional trade or accommodations for longer distance interregional trade stimulated by the quaestura exercitus or the annona shipments to Constantinople. We argued that the massive quantity of Late Roman 1 amphora at Pyla-Koutsopetria may have reflected the use of this port as depot for the quaestura exercitus which did not necessarily flow through the major urban ports on Cyprus (e.g. Paphos, Salamis, or Kition). In our view, then, the long distance, administrative trade of the imperial command economy operated outside the typical routes of long-distance trade concentrated at major ports. This may reflect imperial efforts to develop unique infrastructure of warehouses and perhaps even agents and services designed to facilitate the movement of agricultural goods to the capital. 

This, of course, is all rather speculative on our part and does little to undermine Leidwanger’s broader observation that administrative trade on the interregional level shaped intraregional trade networks as ships acquired good at various ports on either their return journeys or as part of the process of moving good to regional entrepôts.

Leidwanger’s focus on transport amphora necessarily dictated his interest in agricultural goods. This undoubted constituted the bulk of ancient trade. It would be interesting, however, to compare, say, the distribution of Late Roman table wares in his case study regions. The persistence of African Red slip, for example, in certain areas of Cyprus well into Late Antiquity indicates that connections with the West were not entirely absent. It would have also been interesting to compare the relationship between economic zones and, say, ecclesiastic architecture to determine if the movement of bulk goods paralleled connections between construction crews, architects, or religious communities. If the connection between “microregions” often developed as forms of social insurance between communities whether other forms of social and cultural contact followed these routes and either made economic ties possible or reinforced them.

In short, Leidwanger’s book is a compelling body of evidence in support of a series of recent research questions focused on the relationships between Mediterranean “small places” over time. It’s a short, easy read that summarizes a good bit of specialized literature that might not be on every scholar’s regular reading list. It’s a good book and well worth the read.

Cyprus in the Long Late Antiquity

Next week, I was supposed to head to the UK to give a paper at a conference dedicated to the long Late Antiquity on Cyprus. For coronavirus reasons, the conference has been rescheduled for January 2021. You can check out the program(me) here.

Whatever I write for that conference will likely be a bit different from what I’ve prepared for the March 18th conference. In fact, with some summer field seasons likely suspended, I suspect an outpouring of new work of a more synthetic character or drawing on legacy or unpublished data. While this might not occur in time to be included in my paper, I hope that it will make the conference next January a richer and more dynamic experience (as well as a safer one) for everyone involved!

Here’s a link to the paper that I would have given next week. It lacks citations and images, but the content is more or less all there, and I think it’s a pretty good “state of my thinking” (such as it is) on the long late antiquity on Cyprus.

Concluding Pyla-Koutsopetria

Over the last 5 years, my colleagues and I have been struggling to bring our work at Pyla-Koutsopetria to a close. We have largely stepped away from work there (which continues under the direction of Brandon Olson and Tom Landvatter), but have struggled to publish the results of our three seasons of excavation at the site. I suspect that the main reason for this is that growing sense that with the final publication of our work there, that project is over

And when we confront the end of our first major project, all of us start to feel our age and the ephemeral character of all academic work. It’s a sobering and depressing realization, but one that we need to embrace In some sense, the fleeting nature of our work should embolden us to finish the project, make our claims, and move on. There are other scholars who are waiting.

Here’s my start:

The conclusion to this second volume from the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project is also the conclusion to the first phase of fieldwork at the site. Our conclusion to the first PKAP volume offered a historical overview of the site grounded in the distributions and assemblages produced by our survey. This evidence allowed us to make a series of historical arguments concerning the relationship between town and territory, the organization of settlement in the region, the religious landscape of our survey area, and its connections with other sites on the island and in the wider Eastern Mediterranean. While we feel that the results of our excavations largely confirm and reinforce the results of the survey, we will not rehash those conclusions here.  

Instead, this section will emphasize three distinct conclusions from our excavation. First, it will offer some methodological notes on the relationship between our survey assemblages and our excavation assemblages. This will contribute to our second conclusion which will emphasize how attention to the site formation processes revealed through excavation allowed for more nuanced interpretation of change both at the end of antiquity and at the end of the Iron Age. In particular, we will complicate the notion of abandonment in the region. Finally, our conclusion will return to issues of regional variation on Cyprus and in the Eastern Mediterranean to consider how Koutsopetra and Vigla fit into wider patterns of settlement, architecture, and a change. 

Since the excavations at Vigla and Koutsopetria involved features and assemblages of different periods, there will be some variation in how the following sections addresses the themes of this conclusion. 

Koutsopetria 

The two distinct excavation campaigns at Koutsopetria produced two distinct sets of excavation data. Reconciling the two systems of excavation and their corresponding datasets parallels the growing interest in legacy data among archaeologists seeking both to publish from earlier excavations and to use data from earlier excavations to support contemporary research questions. Our work at Koutsopetria demonstrated that even in the absence of stratigraphic controls, the results of the 1990s excavation contributed to how we understood the result from our campaign in 2008. Careful study of the plaster windows, for example, revealed that they were covered over at some point in the room’s history. The similarity between the plaster covering the windows and the plaster used on roof fragments suggests that the building’s roof saw repairs at the same time. The presence of a plate and a coin on the floor likewise established a terminus post quem for the collapse of the room and the second storey. The small assemblage of Dhiorios cooking pots found to the north of the room and covered with collapse likewise allows us to establish a late-7th or even early-8th century date for activity around the building even without the kind of tight stratigraphic controls common to contemporary excavation practices. 

Our 2008 excavations reinforced many of the results from the 1990s excavations. The 2008 excavation campaigns revealed at least two phases of consolidation at Koutsopetria and one of these likely coincided with the covering of the windows. A second phase of consolidation probably predated the abandonment of the building and perhaps stabilized the room enough to allow for the stripping of gypsum floor tiles. The salvage work may have coincided with the loss of a coin or even the presence of an imported plate on the floor. The small group of Dhiorios cooking pot rims on to the north of the room may have marked the location of a small cooking fire, sheltered from the winds coming off the sea. Megaw made a similar argument for the presence of a similar assemblage of cooking pots at the Episcopal Basilica at Kourion which date to later than the building’s collapse.

An Island Archaeology of Early Byzantine Cyprus

As I haiku-ed this morning on the Twitters, I am working on an abstract for a paper that I’ll give at the 2019 Dumbarton Oaks colloquium “The Insular World of Byzantium” in November.

Here’s the haiku:

Writing an abstract
During the summer season
evokes autumn cold

Here’s the abstract:

An Island Archaeology of Early Byzantine Cyprus

Over the past 20 years the work of historians and archaeologists has complicated the our understanding of the 6th to 8th century on the island of Cyprus. The tidy narratives of devastating invasions, earthquakes, condominium, and social dislocation have given way to more messy and nuanced understandings of these centuries. Some centers saw continued prosperity while other experience decline. Innovative architecture existed along side more modest forms of ceramics. Invasions created destruction and new economic relationships. The complexity of this era offers some insights into character of Cypriot insularity.

This paper is grounded in recent work at the sites of Polis (ancient Arsinoe), modern Polis, in western Cyprus and the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on the eastern side of the island. Both sites produced a substantial assemblage of Late Roman to Early Byzantine pottery and a basilica style churches. Architecture and ceramics offer perspectives on how the Cypriot islandscape mediates distinctive economic relationships and forms of cultural and religious expression. The connection between these sites and other places on the island, across the region, and around the Mediterranean suggests the contours of an insular culture that is neither uniform nor consistent.

On the one hand, the difference in the character of assemblages and architecture across the island (and between Koutsopetria and Polis) makes defining a singular Late Roman or Early Byzantine Cypriot insular identity impossible. On the other hand, these difference reflect both historical trends that defined the island’s political and social landscape for centuries and distinct pressures of the 6th-8th century. In the case of Cyprus, an island archaeology informed as much by historical contingency as geography provides a context for a new understanding of the Early Byzantine era.

Excavating Nostalgia

My colleague Scott Moore and I visited the site of our former excavations at Pyla-Vigla near Larnaca today. The trip up the rutted road from the Koutsopetria plain to the flat topped hill of Vigla is always familiar, nostalgic, and a bit strange. We spent a good bit of time driving that road and thinking (and writing) about the site.

Last year, we visited the site and I mused a bit about how our project, the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project, had an endgame under the direction of myself, David Pettegrew, and Scott Moore. This year, we visited our colleagues Brandon Olson and Tom Landvatter (as well Melanie Gadsey who worked with my at WARP for a half-a-decade). Unlike our tentative engagement with the site where we opened little “key hole” trenches designed more or less to ground truth our survey and some geophysical work, the PKAP 3.0 team (PKAP 1.0 was the survey and PKAP 2.0 was our excavation) has gone “whole frog” and opened up several large trenches designed to do more than prove that something happened there in antiquity. 

It was great to see the bustle of activity on this flat-topped coastal height with three teams of excavators working at three trenches. It was really exciting to be there as project directors and the trench supervisors moved between the trenches, excavators discussed the features in each trench, and all concerned strategizing about the moves. Excavators and supervisors showed off recent finds, flaunted their newly constructed sieves, and enjoyed some relaxed banter. Punk archaeology even made an appearance with the most punk sieve ever. (The ones that they built this year are much better, but far less punk):

IMG 3791

I left the site feeling pretty jealous of their work despite the dearth of shade, the hard work, and what I know will be a growing sense of urgency as the season progresses. The collegiality of working together on the site and thinking through problems of process and interpretation as they arise in the landscape was, to me, a unique experience. Whether we got our conclusions “right” while working on the fly or not (or at the speed of archaeology) always seemed less important to me than the chance to think in the landscape at the edge of the trench or in the survey unit. 

The visit to the site got me thinking about excavating first time since PKAP 2.0 concluded. Walking around the village of Polis, it’s impossible not to notice various open lots and to recognize that they would offer windows into the heart of the ancient city of Marion-Arsinoe. Of course, these lots are likely owned by people, serve various functions in the modern community, and are not simply waiting for archaeologists to fill them with ruins. My musings are not, of course, serious, in the sense that I have no intention of excavating, but a few hours with Brandon Olson and Tom Landvatter and their team made me at least entertain the fantasy!

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Sacred Cyprus and GIS

Over the weekend, I read Giorgos Papantoniou’s and Niki Kyriakou’s article in the most recent AJA, “Sacred Landscapes and the Territoriality of Iron Age Cypriot Polities: The Applicability of GIS.” Not only was it great to read something on Cyprus in the AJA, but it was cool to read something on the neighborhood of Kition where we worked for the last 15 years. Papantoniou and Kyriakou’s project focused on the western extent of  Kition’s control in the Iron Age whereas our project studied a site, Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla, to the east of the city.

Papantoniou and Kyriakou studied legacy data from the small Iron Age sanctuary site of Vavla-Kapsalaes which was identified by the Vasilikos Valley Project. They consider whether this site is a border sanctuary between Kition and Amathous further west and whether it marked the edges of Kition’s or Amathous’s territorial, political, and economic control. By drawing upon data produced by a rather robust GIS, they were able both to propose a method for assessing such situations and to propose that Vavla-Kapsalaes (and several other nearby sites) would have likely been under Amathousian control for most of the Iron Age. In this way, the article contributes to the decade old debates concerning the spatial organization of the city-kingdoms of Iron Age Cyprus and serves as a useful reminder that Rupp’s famous application of Thiessen polygons to propose political boundaries between the various polities on the island was provision and suggestive rather than definitive. 

This conclusions, however, only scratches the surface of this complex article. Papantoniou and Kyriakou develop a dynamic model to assess the relationship between the sanctuary at Vavla-Kapsalaes and the Iron Age political and economic centers at Kition, Amathous, and Idalion. The model integrated at a micro-regional and regional level stable resources and features of the landscape from the presence of arable land, copper rich pillow lavas, river valleys, passable routes, and visibility.The authors set these more stable features of the landscape against the artifacts from Vavla-Kapsalaes, the iconography present at the sanctuary, the ebb and flow of Iron Age settlement in the Vasilikos valley, and the history of the larger urban centers nearby. The results is a highly nuanced and complex analysis that remains suggestive and dynamic rather than stable and structural. This kind of analysis, of course, is particular appropriate for borderlands and liminal regions which would have drifted over time between central power centers and also served as a locus for territorialization of these larger polities.

I’ve often wondered whether a more robust analysis of the regional and micro-regional characteristics of the neighborhood of Pyla-Vigla would produce similarly complex and nuanced results. The site of Vigla almost certainly possessed an Iron Age sanctuary which likely stood on a major route between the kingdoms of Salamis and Kition. The late Iron Age fortification of the area, its prominent coastal position, and its rapid expansion in the Hellenistic and Roman period suggests that the micro-region of Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla transitioned from a zone of religious and military activity in the Iron Age to an area of settlement after the Hellenistic and Roman rulers of the island suppressed the political autonomy (and rivalry) of the city kingdoms. 

What is the most intriguing aspect of Papantoniou’s and Kyriakou’s study is its willingness to consider the limits of a territorial model for understanding Iron Age polities on Cyprus in general. While no one denies that the city kingdoms were territorial states, the margins of their political, economic, religion, and even cultural control need not be articulated in purely territorial terms. In the conclusion they note that human affinities and identities, including spiritual and emotional attachments to particular places and practices, do more to shape the nature of territorial control than neatly defined borders.

This conclusion has a particularly salient modern significance as in the modern era we’ve witnessed rigid political borders defining the rights of individuals in ways that often defy, subvert, or attempt to redefine their cultural, religious, or social connections to the wider world. As the authors show, despite the tendency for GIS to produce rigid and linear marks on maps, the integration of GIS technologies and historical models allow us to trace territorialization as a continuous process in the past. This offer a useful reminder that border have never been impermeable marks on the landscape, but continuously negotiated and dynamic spaces.