Texts and the Archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus

For those of you who suspect that I do nothing but watch cricket, write about the Bakken, and promote my digital press (CLICK HERE), I present below a little evidence for my continued interest in the history and archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus.

This is part of a chapter that I’m co-writing with Jody Gordon for the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology. This section looks at some of the key textual sources for the history of Early Christian (and Late Antique) Cyprus. It’s not meant to be exhaustive or even comprehensive, but to give a quick (<1000 words) overview key texts for the consideration of material culture during the Early Christian era on the island. Here’s an early draft of our outline and here’s an early draft of the introduction

The Christian history of Cyprus begins with Acts of the Apostles where the close ties between the island and the Northern Levant are made clear by the ease with which Paul and Barnabas transit to the island. Barnabas was a member of the Jewish community on the island, which was quite substantial. Various sources preserve accounts of the Jewish insurrection of 115/116 which engulfed Cyprus as well as Egypt and North Africa, although the figure of 240,000 dead from Salamis alone seems exaggerated. Hagiographic sources of dubious historicity link Barnabas and his later companion John Mark to early bishops on the island including St. Auxibios at Soloi and St. Heracleides at Tamasos. Both sites appear to have become pilgrimage centers by the end of antiquity.

By the 4th century, it would appear that the island had acquired the institutional apparatus for Christianity with several prominent bishops making their mark on an empire-wide scale. According to Socrates, St. Spiridon represented Tremithos attended the council of Nicaea in 325 and Sardica a decade later. At Nicaea, Spiridon was joined by two other Cypriots: Cyrillius of Paphos and Gelasios of Salamis; eleven additional bishops paper to have attended the Council at Sardica with Spiridon indicating that the island enjoyed a robust ecclesiastical community my the mid-4th century. In many ways, St. Spiridon is more famous for his holy relics which traveled first to Constantinople in the 7th century and then to Korphou in the 15th. The Acta of the Council of Constantinople in 381 recorded representatives of the sees of Paphos, Tremithos, Tamasos, and Kition. St. Epiphanios is perhaps best known 4th-century Cypriot bishop. As Bishop of Salamis from 368 until his death in 403, he wrote extensively on heresy and participated in the various Christological controversies of that century. He died aboard ship returning from his infamous persecution of St. John Chrysostom at the Synod of the Oak in 403. His body came to rest at Salamis in a church dedicated to his honor and attracted pilgrims both during antiquity before being removed to Constantinople in the ninth century. A letter penned by Epiphanius’s ally Theophilus of Alexandria and preserved in St. Jerome’s letters (Ep. 96), records 15 bishops from the island by the end of the 4th century. Leontios of Neapolis composed a life of Tychonas who, according to the Vita served as bishop of Amathus in the late 4th century before being buried in the city. By the first half of the 5th century, Sozomen notes that both urban centers and villages have bishops on Cyprus (7.19). St. Jerome’s Life of St. Hilarion documents the end of the Palestinian hermit’s life on Cyprus suggesting that Palestinian monasticism was part of the religious landscape of the island as early as the 4th century. Like so many of his holy colleagues, his body was spirited from the island after his death.

During the 5th century, the Cypriot church managed to wrest autonomy from the See of Antioch at the Council of Ephesus in 431. While Christological debates formed a backdrop to the clash between the bishops of Cyprus and Antioch, the close relationship between the Northern Levant with its major city of Antioch and the island extended to Antioch exerting political and ecclesiastical over the island. The island stood by itself in the list of signatories to the Cannons of the Council of Chalcedon in 451. The victory for the church of Cyprus at Ephesus led to local efforts to reinforce the Apostolic origins of the church on Cyprus including such works as the Laudatio Barnabas that preserved the inventio of Barnabas. It is likely that the promotion of pilgrimage sites on the island reinforced the Apostolic succession of prominent, if ahistorical, early bishops in an effort to thwart later claims from Antioch. The proximity of Antioch and its political standing in the region required the autonomy of the Cypriot church to be restated as late as the Council in Trullo (Quinisext) of 692, albeit in a very different political circumstances.

Some sense of the political turmoil associated with the late 6th and early 7th century manifests itself in the Leontios’ Life of John the Almsgiver, the Bishop of Alexandria. John grew up in Amathus, before ascending to the episcopal throne in Alexandria. He fled Alexandria to Cyprus sometime after fall of the city to the Persians in 616 where he died and was buried at the church of St. Tychonas at Amathus. Leontios of Neapolis also wrote the Life of St. Symeon the Holy Fool which, while not set in Cyprus explicitly, presents a bustling picture of the Early Christian East at the end of antiquity. John Moschos’ who also composed a Life of John the Almsgiver, may have encountered the bishop in Alexandria. His Spiritual Meadow provides some insights into life in 7th century Cyprus including the presence of monasteries and the arrival of refugees fleeing the Persian invasion. The monophysite bishop John of Ephesus noted that monophysites refugees were granted land on Cyprus and undoubtedly complicated the ecclesiastical landscape of the island.

The mobile character of populations, saints, and relics in the history of Cyprus reinforces the deep engagement of the island with its region, political pressures, and religious conflicts. While the insularity of Cyprus did little to insulate the institutions and populations from larger trends, the ecclesiastical elite nevertheless adopted strategies designed to advance their political and ecclesiastical interests. The prominence of hagiography that celebrates bishops who represented Apostolic succession, for example, almost certainly served to reinforce local claims to ecclesiastical autonomy. These historical circumstance and hagiographic claims intersect with the archaeology of the island with emergence of pilgrimage sites at Soloi, Salamis-Constantia, Tamasos, Amathus, and other churches associated with ecclesiastical history of the island. While it would be naive to simply interpret all Early Christian archaeological finds according to the authority of texts, it is nevertheless useful to recognize that texts and archaeological objects, buildings, and landscapes work together to produce meaning.

Paths and Quotidian Movements

As I catch up on some of my reading, I really enjoyed Cam Grey and company’s (James R. Mathieu, Antonia Arnoldus-Huyzendveld, Andrea Patacchini, and Mariaelena Ghisleni) article: “Familiarity, Repetition, and Quotidian Movement in Roman Tuscany,” in the most recent Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology (28.2 (2015)). The article is decent, but more importantly, it cuts across a number of my interests lately both in Greece and in North Dakota. 

Grey and colleagues argue that their region of Tuscany is connected through a “meshwork of connectivity” consisting of pathways that do not always follow the routes established by least-cost path algorithm produced in GIS software. The authors looked at routes between settlement sites and sources of building material and recognized that the routes generated by least-cost path were extraordinarily sensitive to slight changes in variable (slope or vegetation, for example). Recognizing this, they decided to ground truth various routes between sites and sources to determine how seasonal factors, human decision making, and other forms of intervention, like bridges or fords, would shape movement through the landscape. Their conclusion is that the variability in routes through the Tuscan landscape argued for a meshwork of connectivity rather than a network of persistent roads and routes.

This has relevance, of course, to our work with the Western Argolid Regional Project where the major route through the region runs along the bottom or the lower elevations of the Inachos River valley. This would essential follow the modern road through the region. At the same time, we’ve come to recognize that the relationships between settlements in the region do not align neatly with the dominant routes. In our 2016 AIA paper, we argued for the existence of a number of routes that linked communities together but ran perpendicular to the major routes through the region. These connections would likely depend on the kind of meshwork linking places across a region.

The work also resonates with my recent efforts to describe movement in the Bakken oil patch. Unlike Tuscany where topography dominates movement in the landscape, the Bakken has a pre-existing grid of roads which shape the warp and weft of the region’s meshwork. Major arteries, road conditions, the need to stop for fuel, food, rest, and to reload and drop off oil, people, and equipment shapes movement through this space and literally carves paths into the roads that form the Bakken landscape. It is exactly these everyday movement that my Guide to the Bakken sought to present to a traveler who would be moving through these same spaces. 

Systematically Sampling the Large Site

It was good timing that the newest Hesperia (85.1 (2016)) on the first weekend of my spring break. I particularly enjoyed the field report on the 2013 season of the Molyvoti, Thrace Archaeological Project (MTAP). This project has explored a large coastal site (approximately 50 ha) located on the Molyvoti peninsula in northern Greece. The current project is a collaboration with the Greek Archaeological Service and built upon their earlier topographical and excavation work at the site.

The article is one of those massive article that only places like Hesperia can publish. It runs to 65 pages and includes a little of almost everything from ceramics to coins, faunal remains, geophysical prospecting, surface survey, and, of course, excavation. The main focus is on a site that flourished in the 4th century BC and was at least partly reoccupied in Late Antiquity. Go read the article (if you can) in all its expansiveness. Here are my more limited observations.

1. Sampling the Large Site. The last decade has seen some interesting work done on large and midsize sites in the Mediterranean world. The combination of geophysical work and targeted excavation has started to replace the old “big dig” mentality for both practical and methodological reasons. On the practical side, Mediterranean archaeologists no longer have access to the vast resources of previous generations nor do they have the luxury of decades to excavate and expose large tracks of the urban plan. In terms of methodology, archaeologists have come to understand such massive scale excavations are not necessarily the most desirable approach to understanding the the dynamics of human activity across a large settlements. Our focus on economic activities, movement through space, expansive sampling strategies, and other concerns that are not necessarily rewarded by large-scale excavation focused on monumental architecture.  

While projects still look for monumental buildings and spaces, make efforts to reconstruct the urban plan, and, of course, trace city walls, archaeologists are becoming far more interested in also sampling artifacts from across the site generally through pedestrian survey. The goal of these more spatially extensive sampling methods is not necessarily to find specific variation in function across the site, but to produce a more diverse assemblage of largely ceramic artifacts that allows scholars to consider diachronic change, economic and cultural connections with other regions, and the presence of activities that may not manifest in monumental architecture.

2. Amphoras and Trade. One of the key contributions of this report is a more detailed understanding of the place of this peninsula in regional trade particularly in the Classical period. The majority of the amphoras came from the northern Aegean indicating that trade was rather localized. This may fit into a model of Mediterranean trade that emphasized dense networks of local connections rather than large-scale interregional exchange. In other words, a site like Molyvoti may well represent a local node in a network of exchange that expands largely by short connections between places rather than long-range economic ties. It was interesting to note that intensive pedestrian survey of the site produced more amphora sherds than excavation demonstrating that an more spatially expansive sample can lead to different conclusions about a site.

3. Late Roman Reoccupation. It’s now almost expected to find Late Roman material at any site in Greece. In fact, the absence of evidence for Late Roman occupation in a region is now met with skepticism. It appears that the site on the Molyvoti peninsula was re-occupied during Late Antiquity. The material present at the site included imported fine wares from North Africa (ARS) and from the Aegean (Phocaean Ware). Most of the material looks to be 4th or perhaps 5th century with some later sherds. The relatively early date of most of the Late Roman material accounts for the absence of explicitly Christian imagery. The faunal remains associated with Late Roman levels demonstrate a change in diet with an increase in pork. 

4. Diachronic Study. One of the coolest things about this report is that the authors documented a strange, post-Late Roman round structure of uncertain function. They also documented trenches dug across the site by Bulgarian soldiers during World War I. Rather than simply “digging through the Byz” or ignoring modern features of the landscape as later intrusions into otherwise “pristine” ancient levels, the excavators and surveyors took seriously these features and took pains to document them appropriately. It remains shocking, however, that the Bulgarian trenches preserved no modern artifacts. In our age of abundance, this is almost inconceivable. 

5. Co-Authors and Collaboration. Congratulations to Nathan T. Arrington, Domna Terzopoulou, Marina Tasaklaki, Mark L. Lawall, Demetrios J. Brellas, and Chantel E. White for their collaborative publication. They were a far cry from the Hesperia record of 11 co-authors, 6 is a nice start and obvious evidence for the collaborative, transnational nature of archaeological work. I only wish it was available open access… 

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

Spring has sprung here on the Northern Plains, and after a couple of grey days, we’re expected to kiss 60 degrees this afternoon. I’m sure that my concentration will begin to waver, and even as the days get longer, I’ll get less done.

To get things started, I did a little interview about the Bakken Goes Boom: Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota this week on Prairie Public Radio’s Main Street. Check it out here. We also have a cool video.

In the meantime, I’ll do all I can to distract my readers with a gaggle of quick hits and varia:

IMG 4366Milo and Eli taking in the Spring Sun

An Introduction to the Archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus

Hot off the word processor, here’s my first stab at writing an introduction to an article-length survey of Early Christian archaeology on the island.

The Early Christian period on Cyprus extends from the first century A.D. to the 7th-century or even later. In contrast to other periodization schemes which emphasize the island’s political relationship to either the Roman state and its attendant economic networks, or the Byzantine commonwealth and its political entanglements in the region, the Early Christian period on Cyprus reinforces a period of religious and cultural continuity that extends from the antiquity to the modern period. As a result, the focus of a distinctly Early Christian archaeology on the island favors issues of continuity with the politically tumultuous 7th-10th century on the island and the formation of a distinct political identity for Orthodox Christian Greek Cypriots in the Ottoman and modern eras. The political implications of religious component of Greek Cypriot identity has taken on a political cast since political independence and the 1974 Turkish invasion and occupation of the northern part of the island. This has led to the suspension of work at important Christian centers like Soloi and Salamis-Constantia and a focus on the urban sites along the southern coast of the island. The Christian communities in these urban centers produced monumental Christian architecture by the start of the 6th century. In the last few decades, intensive pedestrian survey and the expanding development on the island has shed light on Christian communities in rural, ex-urban, and sub-urban sites which also saw monumental Christian architecture during this period. As a result, it is possible to discuss the emergence of a distinctly Cypriot Christian culture on a regional scale.

According to Acts of the Apostles, Barnabas was a Cypriot Jew who became one of the Apostles. He accompanied Paul in his travels to various meetings of Christians in Antioch and Jerusalem and to newly founded Christian communities in Asia Minor. Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of the Cyprus, invited Paul and Barnabas to the island to challenge the teachings of the “magician and false prophet” Bar-Jesus. Later Acts tell of Barnabas and Paul having a falling out and Barnabas and John Mark traveling to Cyprus where according to the apocryphal Acts of Barnabas, he was martyred in Salamis. The travels of Paul and Barnabas to and from the island underscored the close connections between Cyprus and the Aegean Sea, Anatolia, and the Levant.

The 6th-century Laudatio Barnabas may well mark the earliest instance of Christian archaeology on Cyprus. Anthemios, the late-5th-century bishop of Salamis on the west coast of Cyprus, has a series of dreams which led him to grave of St. Barnabas. When he excavated the body, he discovered it clutching the Gospel of St. Matthew.  The discovery of St. Barnabas’s body on the island wth the authoritative (and liturgically significant) Gospel book in his hands reinforced the autocephalous character of the Cyprus church which the Council of Ephesus (431) established. The Apostolic origins of the Cypriot church set it apart from the acquisitive and heretical position of the church in Antioch especially, and, if we are to trust the late 5th-century setting of the Laudatio Barnabas, it may well point to the tumultuous reign of Peter the Fuller as a suitable occasion to excavate additional evidence for the autocephaly of the Cypriot church.

The excavation of holy personages, real or imagined, has continued to play a role in grounding communities in their Christian past across the island. The church of St. Lazarus in Larnaka, for example, marks the place where Lazarus, friend of Jesus’s body was discovered in the 9th century. The association of Lazarus with the See of Kition established a kind of Apostolic authority for the city even after the body was translated to Constantinople by the Emperor Leo VI. Later travelers observed that Cypriots sometimes prayed at caves containing the bones of pygmy hippopotami thinking them to be saints. In the 20th century Peter Megaw, the first director of the island’s Department of Antiquities, tells of villagers excavating around the floors and foundations of the church of the Panayia Skyra to appease the Panayia during a period of draught. A later director of the department of antiquities, Vassos Karageorghis told of the priest from the village of Astromeritis on Morphou Bay who visited him asking that he help the community find the bones of the 1st-century St. Auxibios who he reckoned was buried nearby. St. Auxibius was the first bishop of Soloi and University of Montreal excavated a basilica-style church probably dedicated to this early, holy bishop.

While excavation of Christian sites on Cyprus has its roots in the Early Christian era, it has continued into the era of more scientific excavation by disciplinary archaeologists. A predictable interest in the Christian past of the island characterized Peter Megaw’s term as the island’s first director of the Department of Antiquities (1945-1960) which began with his study of barrel-vaulted basilicas on the island and continued into the 21st century with the posthumous publication of the great ecclesiastical complex at Kourion (Megaw 2007). Like so much of the subsequent architectural and archaeological work on the island, Megaw sought to locate Cyprus within larger Mediterranean patterns of building style, decoration, and influence. His important 1974 article “Byzantine Architecture and Decoration in Cyprus: Metropolitan or Provincial” remained a touchstone for a generation of scholars who looked toward architectural typology a evidence for chronological and interregional continuity. Andreas Papageorgiou work to excavate and catalogue the archaeology and, above all, the architecture of Cyprus during the 1960s provided the foundation for later works exploring the Constantinopolitan and “foreign” influence on Early Christian architecture on Cyprus (Papageorgiou 1986).The long-standing interest in the development of Cyprus architecture has persisted into more recent work by Charles Stewart and Richard Maguire’s substantial, synthetic 2012 dissertation on Late Antique church architecture on the island which emphasized Cyprus’s insularity.

The long-standing interest in the typology of church architecture has shaped the character of their excavation and publication. An emphasis on architecture phases in the careful publication of the basilica at Soloi (Tinh 1985), the episcopal complex at Kourion, or the Campanopetra basilica at Salamis (Roux 1998) has followed the interest in typology in architecture. A group of recent publications, however, has expanded the context of Christian basilica churches on the island. The excavations of Marcus Rautman at Kalavassos-Kopetra (Rautman 2003), of pre-historian at Maroni-Petrera (Manning 2002) and the Princeton Cyprus Expedition at Polis-Chrysochous, have published significant assemblages of pottery, small finds, and, at Kopetra and Polis, human burials. At Kopetra, Polis-Chrysochous, and sites like Pyla-Koutsopetria, there is a growing understanding of the structure, organization, and material culture of local settlement, particularly below the level major urban centers on the island. An expanding appreciation of imported ceramic fine wares, for example, has provided insight into the economic and social networks that both shaped the taste of Christian communities on Cyprus and also connected them regional and transregional networks. Scholars have looked to understand the role of the church in the trade of Cypriot agricultural produce and the transshipment of grain from Egypt and other Eastern Mediterranean commodities. Local artistic traditions, including several examples of pre-iconoclastic figural decoration in both mosaic decoration and fresco, as well as work in under appreciated media like molded gypsum reinforce the distinct status of Cyprus as crossroads of a wide range of economic, social, religious, and cultural currents. The Early Christian archaeology of Cyprus offers significant opportunities to consider how its insular character filtered external influences and provided access to regional communities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Finally, the archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus is inseparable from the political history of the island. An Early Christian archaeology must recognize that Christianity remains an important element of Greek Cypriot political and cultural identity, and this identity, incubated during the centuries of Ottoman control over the island, has shaped the trajectory research for over a generation. While in some ways, this work has been a boon for scholars of the Early Christian period, it is nevertheless shaped by and infused with the political baggage of the 1974 invasion and the occupied state of the northern part of the island. There is no doubt that the Early Christian period represents the start of nearly two millennia of Christian influence on the island, but this should not overdetermine the historical trajectory of communities on the island. This brief survey of the archaeology of Early Christian Cyprus demonstrates how the material manifestations of Christianity reflected a diverse, fluid, and dynamic local identity that belied the insular geography of the island.

Speed and Practice in Digital Archaeology

I’ve always wanted to go to one of the Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) meetings. So I was chuffed to be invited to present at a panel at this years TAG meeting in Boulder, Colorado. Unfortunately, because of the financial situation at the University of North Dakota, we are currently prohibited from leaving the state for any reason. While I can’t complain too much, considering some of my colleagues who live in Minnesota have not been able to return home for weeks, it nevertheless put a crimp in my plan to attend.

Fortunately, UND has not banned us from using Skype or other electronic means to communicate with the outside world. I will be able (if the current policy stands) to Skype into the conference and present a paper titled “Speed and Practice for a Digital Archaeology.”

Here’s the abstract:

It has become cliche to observe that archaeologists now conduct their research in a connected world, but, as a discipline, we have continued to struggle with the implications of this routine observation. The speed with which archaeological descriptions and arguments disseminate across digital media presents new opportunities to observe and understand the practice of archaeological knowledge making. The differing generic expectations of these media, their fluidity, and the rapid pace of innovation offers ways to complicate the distinction between a provisional statement and a final publication, archaeological data and analysis, and real artifacts and digital representations. Speed of dissemination compresses distance, accelerates conversations, and transforms the appearance of the archaeological discourse.

The paper argues that the speed of digital publishing has transformed knowledge production in key ways. Speed has already challenged archaeology’s commitment to artifactual provenience by allowing the production and dissemination of highly accurate digital reproductions of artifacts, landscapes, and places. The speed with which archaeologists can update data sets, catalogues, and interpretation has threatened the generic integrity of the final publication. Finally, the speed with which social and new media provide highly visible outlets has begun to erode the authority of the disciplinary practices like peer review, traditional publishing outlets, and even layout, editing, and formatting standards. The relentless pressure and potential of speed in the digital era has introduced fundamentally new concepts to practice of archaeological inquiry.

On Books

Three book related items today.

1. Publishing. I was told by my publisher that I had shared too much of The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape. That’s a bummer because feedback on the blog here helped to make that book better. Since I’m basically powerless to resist my well-meaning publisher, I could only resort to snark. I removed offending content and posted a message:

BOO! This content has been removed at the request of my publisher.

I also made potentially foolish bet with my publisher that The Bakken Goes Boom! Oil and the Changing Geographies of Western North Dakota will sell more copies than The Bakken: An Archaeology of an Industrial Landscape. That mean everyone should rush to the internets and buy a copy of The Bakken Goes Boom! (or just download it for free). We are currently ranked in the top half-million books on Amazon!

2. Reviews. The first wave of reviews are rolling in for Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town which I wrote with David Pettegrew and R. Scott Moore. So far, they’ve been decent which is nice. None have argued that our volume has made all previous archaeological research obsolete, but none have suggested that we drop out of the field and open a taco truck.

The most interesting critique so far appeared in a review from Antiquity by Dan Stewart. Here’s the final paragraph:

“But for all its methodological sophistication and self-reflection, and its laudable approach to open data, in the interpretation of the survey material itself the volume presents nothing particularly new or innovative. The consequence of this is a sense of imbalance between the methodological discussion and the interpretation of the material. There are relatively standard discussions of survey zones and period analyses, but no integration of ancient sources, epigraphy or history (broadly writ) as it relates to any historical period covered by the survey. Theories of interpretation (as opposed to theories of archaeological practice) are given short shrift, and while the authors claim to be conversant with theories of connectivity, state formation and regionalism, they themselves make few substantive forays into these areas of interpretation. This may be an unfair criticism—they clearly prioritised making the data available, and further publications on geomorphology and geology, the results of geophysical examination and targeted excavation are planned— but the interpretation is nonetheless a disappointment given the intellectual potential of these specific authors working together. Should it be a cause for concern if the brightest lights in Mediterranean survey focus their attention on collection in the now, rather than the why in the past?”

3. Publicity. Lots of folks have been working hard to spread the word about The Bakken Goes Boom! I have benefited immeasurably from both word of mouth and some more coordinated production. First, thanks to Heidi Czerwiec who name dropped my work (and by extension the book) in her interview with Grazing Grain Press. Grazing Grain will publish the complete version of her poem Sweet/Crude which appeared in the Bakken Goes Boom!

The good folks over at the University of North Dakota’s Office of University Relations produced a short trailer for the book.

I’ll also appear on Prairie Public Radio’s Main Street this afternoon around 3 pm CST. Check it out here.


While making my way through the recent blog carnival coordinated by Doug’s Archaeology, I came across a link in Rebecca Seifried’s contribution to a group of reviews of pseudoarchaeology books in American Antiquity. Donald Holly asked prominent archaeologists (Eric Cline, Ethan Watrall, Stephen Lekson, et c.) to review major works of pseudoarchaeology in an effort to understand its appeal to the popular imagination. Holly’s introduction to this group of reviews is titled “Talking to the Guy on the Airplane” and it highlights the persistent popularity of not only TV shows, but also books that argue for the extraterrestrial origins of human culture or fantastic explanations for archaeological phenomena. Needless to say, the reviewers were not impressed by these books, but their critiques offer some useful insights into how our discipline works.

1. Facts. A number of reviewers insisted that the biggest problem with the pseudoarchaeology is their refusal to discern the difference between archaeological facts and fantasy. As readers of this blog know, I have a deeply ambivalent attitude toward “facts” in almost any form, but I do think that appeals to a widely accepted body of knowledge are central to how we make archaeological arguments. Pseudoarchaeologists generally ignore or read very selectively the body of facts that traditional archaeologists regards as central components to their truth-making claims.

2. Peer Review. Several reviewers note that pseudoarchaeology does not undergo nor respect the traditional academic practice of peer review. This both undermines the authority of the works themselves, but also casts doubt on the validity of the facts upon which their arguments rest. In other words, pseudoarchaeology operates outside the disciplinary and professional bounds of archaeological practice by eschewing some of the basic structures that make the discipline function. 

3. Conspiracies. Many of the pseudoarchaeologists claim that traditional archaeology willfully hides “the truth” echoes the institutional claims of professional archaeology. If peer review is the key institutional practice for establishing “facts,” then this same process, at least in the minds of pseudoarchaeologists can obscure these facts and limit the kinds of explanations acceptable to traditional archaeology. The distrust of institutional practices, of course, taps into a kind of democratic populism that resists claims to truth grounded in exclusionary, institutional, and professional practices. One might argue that both professional archaeology and pseudoarchaeology are ironic, in that both are deeply skeptical of conventional wisdom and seek, at their best, to invert or overturn established ways of seeing and thinking. 

4. Popularity. The main point advanced in the introduction is that pseudoarchaeology is tremendously popular. At its finest, it is well written, rhetorically compelling, and totalizing. The ancient aliens who constructed our world provide a way for viewing the universe that goes far beyond the particularistic knowledge produced by disciplinary archaeology and offered a new way of viewing not just the past but our own place in the present. 

In this way, pseudoarchaeology taps into a much broader desire among people than our little disciplinary garden does. The reviews were funny, though, in that they tended to focus on readability, or peer review, or just some kind of abstract notion of popularity. It offers a way to see and understand that world that our disciplinary archaeological knowledge tends to avoid (at least in its most typical form of presentation, the archaeological monograph or site report). This “problem” is not an easy one to solve. Whatever it’s theoretical disposition, professional archaeology remains committed to the positivist practices of presenting valid archaeological data at a small scale while for the most part avoiding sweeping or universal statements associated with positivist thought. This disjunction opens the door to folks like the pseudoarchaeologists to offer sweeping statements about the past and to reconstruct our granular, disciplinary world.  

Three Upcoming Events

This week is pretty exciting here at UND. 

First, on Thursday afternoon, is the Seventh Annual Cyprus Research Fund Lecture by Erin Walcek Averett from Creighton University. Her talk is titled “Frightening the Frightful: Grotesque Visages from Ancient Cyprus.” and it should be super cool!

It’s at 3 pm in the beautiful East Asia Room in the Mighty Chester Fritz Library. For those of you who can’t make it to the University of North Dakota, please check out the live stream

Cyprus Research Fund 2016 Poster 01

She’s also going to do a “brown bag” style afternoon seminar on Friday in O’Kelly 228. It’ll focus on her work with using new digital tools in the field and is titled: “Transdisciplinary Perspectives on Digital Tools: Perspectives from the Field.” Should be fun!

Finally, everyone should come out to an “Evening About Fracking” on Saturday night at the North Dakota Museum of Art. The evening will feature readings from the new book Fracture: Essays, Poems, and Stories on Fracking in America edited by Taylor Brorby, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Debra Marquart, and Kathryn Miles. Hors D’Oeuvres start at 5 and frack-talking begins at 6 pm. The talk is part of the AHA! Talks series from the College of Arts and Sciences at UND. It’s also supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council. Here’s the flyer:

UNDWritersConf 2016 Mar 01

Natives of a Dry Place

Hectic days here at the Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, but fear not! I got you covered. 

Rush over to the North Dakota Quarterly page and check out my Short Take on Richard Edwards’ Natives of a Dry Place.

Natives Dry Place Edited

Irony thrives on the Northern Plains and Richard Edwards offers a view “Dakota before the Oil Boom” with a wink and a wry grin. He gets that North Dakota has always been modern and the challenges of the oil boom are not entirely a matter of outside influencers. North Dakotans planted the seed of the Bakken boom a century ago on the arid prairie.