Graduate Education

I always forget how hectic the start of the semester is. This semester, I feel particularly caught out. I have a book that I’m publishing to appear this week (!!), another book – that I’m co-authoring – staggering out of the bleak winter writing season, a teaching overload, and the usual onslaught of early-semester meetings. 

There is one meeting in which I’m particularly interested. It is with a new “field officer” from the graduate school who is acting as a graduate ambassador. He is also the director of graduate studies for English. We’re going to chat generally about the state of graduate education at UND with particular attention to what’s going on in the humanities. For the last couple of years, I’ve been director of graduate studies in the department of history and while our program is healthy and thriving, I think that graduate education in the humanities nationally has challenges and realistic conversations on campus can at least prepare students to enter a world where an education in the liberal arts and humanities is no long prized as the hallmark of an educated individual and a priority among those seeking to guard the welfare of the republic.

So, as I thought about this meeting on the way onto campus, I came up with three or four things that maybe could frame our conversation:

1. Creating Advocates. Without eschewing our own responsibility to advocate for our students, we could do things that help our graduate students become advocates for their disciplines not only on campus here, but more broadly. To do this, students have to understand more clearly the culture of higher education in the US, the institutional structures that shape their university experience, and how to use their new positions as “consumer of educational products” to push for change on campus that benefits their futures (especially if they plan to go on into academia) as well as the future students.

2. Disciplinarity. We’re in an interesting time for the disciplines. On the one hand, disciplinary integrity is now needed more than ever to protect the autonomy of academic departments, fields of study, methods, and branches knowledge. At the same time, we are being pushed – not just by malevolent forces – into thinking outside the disciplinary box. In fact, we interdisciplinary thinking is a hallmark of a careful thinking in the humanities. For students to grasp interdisciplinary thinking and its potential, however, they need to have both a secure understanding of their own disciplines (and that is best achieved at the department level) and regular contact with folks from outside their disciplines. To do this we have to make it easier for students to interact in an academic setting with folks outside their disciplines.

3. Hands-on Experiences. One of the greatest challenges we face in our two-year master’s program is finding ways to give students hands-on experiences without undermining the rigor of their academic training. For example, we would love it for students to gain work experience at a local museum, in an archive, or with work publishing at a press or an academic journal. These could be developed as internships – for credit – or as part of their graduate teaching assistantships. The former involves asking our students to do work for nothing, whereas the later involves an infusion of funding either from UND or from collaborating institutions.

4. Collaboration across Institutions. We live on an island here in Grand Forks, ND in the primordial lake Agassiz. We’re surrounded by pitch black farmland and connected to other centers in the state by narrow ribbons of highway. These other centers are islands too and many of these islands have college campuses. The Department of History already collaborates with North Dakota State University in offering a joint Ph.D. in History, and I don’t see why this kind of collaboration might not be expanded to bring more isolated, but engaged minds together. And this doesn’t just mean collaboration with institutions of higher education. There are numerous cultural institutions across the state – North Dakota Humanities Council, The State Historical Society, The State Library, et c. – that could offer meaningful collaborations with the various islands across the state.   

4. Culture, Not Contract. One of the changes that I’d love to see on campus is less attention given to the contractual aspects of higher education – paper work, programs, deadlines, requirements, et c. – and more given to the cultural aspects of graduate education on our campus here. For example, it remains difficult to convince students to meet less formally or to attend invited speakers or to forge meaningful academic contacts across campus. These kind of informal activities take place when there is a healthy academic and intellectual culture on campus and when programs are seen as opportunities to engage with big and difficult questions rather routes to degrees.

Ceramics from Koutsopetria

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on getting a preliminary draft completed for our publication of the excavations at Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. This work involved two campaigns in the 1990s by Maria Hadjicosti and her team and a single season of targeted excavation by a team from the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project.

While the last two posts focused on the architecture and then the history of the site, the final part of this will focus on the ceramics. The only problem is that today is probably the last writing day of the great winter writing season, and I am not done writing that section yet.

And to make things more complicated, my partner in crime, David Pettegrew has started work on the introduction to our Oxford Handbook to Early Christian Archaeology. They’re having some kind of faculty write-in this week and he’s working away on that introduction. In solidarity, I’ll spend today writing the final parts of the first draft of our work at Koutsopetria. As a bit of motivation, I’ll post it when I’m done here!

So, stay tuned!

…. uh oh… still not done and it’s after 4 pm… maybe I can have a one day extension on this? 

An Archaeology of Care in the Bakken Oil Patch

This past week my colleague Richard Rothaus presented a paper for the North Dakota Man Camp project on a session dedicated to “An Archaeology of Care” at the Society for Historical Archaeology Annual Meeting in Ft. Worth, Texas. We’re still working through the idea, but each iteration and conversation gets us closer to distinguishing the concept from the range of similar frameworks already at play in archaeology (e.g. ethical archaeology, public archaeology, et c.) and weaving together a recognizable body of theory and practice.   

By all accounts, the paper and the panel went well, and Richard graciously allowed me to share the final draft of the paper here (although I’ve found that the final draft of a paper for Richard may only have a passing resemblance to what he presents at the conference!): 

An Archaeology of Care in the Bakken Oil Patch (North Dakota, USA)

A Paper Presented at the Society for Historical Archaeology
January 2017
Ft. Worth, Texas  

Richard Rothaus (North Dakota University System)
William Caraher (University of North Dakota)
Bret Weber (University of North Dakota)

I think I coined the term of “archaeology of care” impromptu during a podcast. I was searching for a descriptor of archaeological practice that intersects with living people in a way that they find positive and relevant; an archaeological practice that leaves subjects feeling valued and worthy of study, not gawked at, not as descendants of lost or vanishing lifeways. In this sense, “archaeology of care” is a contribution to conversations emphasizing the production of a more ethical archaeology that avoids the occasional anti-humanistic tendencies of the discipline. Such projects have surfaced across a wide range of both theoretical perspective and practices with particularly productive developments around community archaeology, indigenous archaeology, and public archaeology. These developments look to create common ground between archeologists and the communities in which they work, and to find shared values in archaeological practice and knowledge.


For the University of North Dakota Mancamp Project, an archaeology of care emerged at the intersection of archaeology of the contemporary world and historical research in the Bakken oil patch. We began the project as citizens of North Dakota using an academic toolkit to response to the massive influx of population that came with the Bakken unconventional shale play. In this context, our archaeology of care developed two-fold: first, by regular and sustained interactions with the residents of the Bakken living amidst the material culture that we were studying and second, by immersing ourselves in research that, out of the myriad of possible questions, chose some relevant to the lifeways of the residents of this region. We were valued in the field because we came not to fix anything, but rather to understand what was happening. 

[SLIDE 4]. 

As we travelled, invariably residents of the workforce housing sites inquired about our work. During these informal interactions with the residents of the Bakke, we became aware that our research interest in the lives of these people constituted a meaningful form of interaction for all parties. The residents of the area appreciated that scholars from the regional university considered their experiences worthy of study.  Investigators and residents recognized a shared understanding of the significance of the boom historically, and this revealed an intersection of our research goals with the experiences of individuals. The Man Camp project was an archaeology of care not just because we treated individuals with respect and involved them, but more deeply, because our academic approach to lifeways, economics, and material culture eschewed ironic and counterintuitive hypothesis building and instead found significant overlap with the experiences and expectations of residents of the Bakken.


While we would express it in different ways, the members of the academic North Dakota Man Camp Project and the residents of the region share many of the same concerns and expectations for how a range of social actors conceptualized the labor of the boom.  Central to these overlapping sensibilities is the issue of agency: while the vast majority of workers viewed themselves as free agents making rational choices, the reality was far more varied.  Many of the workers in the Bakken are trained professionals for whom life in crew camps and long periods of absence from home are common parts of their trade.  Distinct from that population are the large numbers of individuals who lost jobs or otherwise had their lives disrupted by the Great Recession.  There is a continuum stretching from those for whom the erratic boom/bust cycle is a regular part of their careers, to those for whom seeking employment in the oil patch was the best, worst option available during a period of great social and economic unsettlement.  Our presence and interest in the lives of the workers and residents of the Bakken oil patch is part of a totalizing discourse of the modern world. We appeared not as omniscient outsiders looking in, ready to pass judgment or solve the problems of others, but as co-residents of a world created, crafted, and interpreted by corporate and extractive industries. In distinction to certain expressions of indigenous archaeology or public archaeology, the archaeology of care subverts the paradigm that construes archaeological outreach or collaboration as between disciplinary archaeologists and “others”.

 [SLIDE 6]

The Bakken Oil Boom, and the influx of temporary labor into the Bakken in the aftermath of the “Great Recession” of 2007-2009 reflects global trends that Saskia Sassen has summarized as expulsions (2014). Displaced from their homes on account of the mortgage crisis, untethered from the historical fixity of middle-class life, caught up in dynamics of just-in-time manufacturing and contingent labor, and buffeted by the increased speed of an industrial boom-bust cycle, many of the migrant Bakken workers manifest the deterritorialized politics and the overlapping economy of the 21st-century world. The Bakken reflects the expulsions that shape a disrupted world and the tense emergence of new forms of settlement designed to accommodate and normalize the experience of the migrant, the refugee, the modern worker, and in some real ways the archaeologist and the academic. Archaeology is still developing the tools to understand what Cresswell has termed diasporic public spheres, a form without the arbitration of the nation-state, where “no place is privileged, no place is better than another, as from no place the horizon is nearer than from any other” (Cresswell 2006). Short-term settlement and movement in the landscape trace faint lines in the archaeological record and form a basis for the shared significance of the Bakken boom to archaeologists documenting the ephemeral and workers seeking a place within the unsettled modern world.


The North Dakota Man Camp Project identified 50 workforce housing sites in the Bakken region of North Dakota for systematic investigation. Our research sites were visited regularly over a four-year period and documented through video, photography, sketches, and text descriptions. We complemented the material culture documentation with oral interview. The open-ended sampling method captured not just the stories of workers, but also of spouses and children, of camp managers, and even long-term residents of Western North Dakota. People were almost always eager to share their stories, and seemed to quickly comprehend the intention of the study: they told their unique tales about lives lived during this specific historical moment of resource extraction. Despite the hardships, people were generally optimistic, dogged, even indomitable.


The interviews captured a thick description of life in temporary worker housing. Beyond basic demographic data, interview subjects were always asked where they came from, how long they had been in the patch, what brought them there, and what sort of work and fortunes they had found or failed to find. They were also asked about where ‘home’ was. After responses that were often emphatic (home is here in the Bakken! Or home is back where I make mortgage payments), follow-up questions generally provided interview subjects with an opportunity to produce more nuanced and complicated descriptions of what they meant by home.


To deal with the variations among the mancamps in the region, we developed a typology of three classes of camps, all of which are defined by the level of formal organization visible to outsiders and which reflect both historical and contemporary understandings by residents of the camps and their surrounding communities. The ethos, but maybe not the reality, of the Bakken Boom was not that of a worker ending up at the predestined factory job, but the cowboy-entrepreneur, fully cognizant of his own commodification and choosing his own path. These are the denizens of the 21st-century “wage earner’s frontier.” For many the choice of where to live was part of a rational decision to join the boom. For many others, life was ‘hell’ and living in the man camps was an unfortunate but necessary sacrifice, and one that disproportionately consumed a large portion of their earnings. Nonetheless, interviewees had commonly not only thought about this, they could articulate it, and our interest in their choices and articulations was a large part of the archaeology of care.

[SLIDE 10]

The type I camps, run by large providers, are the most highly organized both externally and internally, and inhabited primarily by skilled employees of the major oil companies. An individual lives in a type I camp by virtue of employment arrangement, although it must be noted that the choice to live there is almost always optional. The Type I camps typify the depersonalized non-place, and outside visitors frequently describe them as “sterile” and “prisons”.  The camps are organized as identical living spaces arranged either axially or on a grid. The function of the camps is defined by the interchangeability of parts and people. The profitability of the housing arrangement for the provider depends on its modularity, mobility, and temporal flexibility; the camp can move to where it is needed, when it is needed, and changes are easy as all parts are the same.

[SLIDE 11]

Typically, type I inhabitants are individuals who come in for 21 day stints, working 12 or more hours a day in hard and dangerous working conditions. They are physically and temporally committed exclusively to work during their stay, and thus have minimum need for living space beyond eating, bathing, and sleeping. The Type I camps are a non-place, and the workers are in a window of non-life with no sense of community and certainly no political involvement in the area or processes where they earn their living. They do not personalize their living space, because their life is not here, it is elsewhere, and it is the flow back to their real-world that punctuates time. So it is not that these are people who do not care about domestic space (although there are some such folks among them); rather the Type I camps are inhabited by people who have organized their life around the optimized, maximally efficient deployment of their labor. While we found people in Type I camps who were nonplussed by the arrangements, and reasonably happy to accumulating capital to spend at their other place, we also found other people who had turned themselves ‘off’ to become temporary cogs, waiting to return to actual lives—lives that were ‘generally’ disrupted in damaging ways.

[SLIDE 12]

Type III camps are at the opposite end of spectrum: ephemeral, chaotic places that primarily existed in the earlier days of the boom. Like the Type I camps, the organization of the Type III camps reflects the labor of those within them. The Type III camps are inhabited by semi-skilled people who had wandered to the Bakken to find jobs and careers outside of the orderly movement of skilled labor. Where the Type I camps are uniform and undifferentiated, the Type III camps were individualized conglomerations of tents, trailers, shipping containers, and piles of stuff left in shelter belts. The Type I camps were ephemeral at the discretion of the company, the Type III camps are ephemeral at the discretion of the individuals or local law enforcement. At Type III camps, individuals piece together an extralegal existence that they fully expect to be temporary. The individualization does not, for the most part, represent an intent to define personality and space, but rather an ad hoc, highly independent period of existence.

[SLIDE 13]

Type II camps are akin to RV parks. These camps, like much that one sees in the patch, are often owned by outside interests, investment groups who have sometimes never set foot in North Dakota. Within the camps, housing units are often individually owned trailers, situated in ways that most closely replicate the sense of community found in working-class suburbs. As a result, units that are only meant for temporary living have increasingly become near permanent housing structures operating independent of building and safety codes. The Type II camps occupied most of our time and effort, because within these we were able to see the complexity of individual organization and choices. Such complexity certainly was contained in Type I and III camps as well, but there it was obscured by uniformity or chaos.

[SLIDE 14]

We were drawn to the Type II camps because of the diversity and visibility of material culture. Type II camps facilitate study of the spaces between the trailers. There we are able to observe individuals adapting material culture manufactured for impermanence into at least a simulacrum of permanence. The hyper-abundance of wooden pallets, insulation, fences, gardens, grills, freezers and miscellanea opened the door to the study of personal, temporal and seasonal variations. We found our window to engage fully in an archaeology of care by not asking about the boom, but by asking the question “how have you chosen to live within a boom.” The answers, alas, do not fit within our time limits, so we refer you to our forthcoming papers in Historical Archaeology and the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology.

[SLIDE 15]

What makes the UND Mancamp project truly an archaeology of care is our relentless focus not on external economic and organizational structures, but on the organizational structures developed by the workers whose time and bodies have been commoditized in a late-capitalist 24/7 globalized extractive industry (Crary 2014). Our shared investment in understanding the modern world has caused us to arrive, to our own surprise, at a somewhat radical intellectual space, and interestingly, while we did not get there by chance, we also did not get there on purpose. Like many of those living and working in the Bakken, our study entered the stream of what British Economist Guy Standing refers to as a global reality of precariousness in which people from across a multitude of racial, educational, and income categories strive to make sense of the present neo-liberal driven uncertainties that disrupt both our social and economic lives.  While superficially our work drew upon many different disciplines to understand what was happening in the Bakken, we discovered that common ground between the workforce in the Bakken and our work as researchers at a micro-level has proved the most beneficial. How interesting that we arrived at an archaeology of care by focusing on the lifeways of commoditized labor, and in turn we found an archaeology that helps us understand ourselves, our neighbors, and the worlds we work in. We are pleased to bring humanistic tools to bear on the changing nature of labor , and our experiences in the Bakken illustrate that many non-academics are surprisingly in agreement (McKenzie Wark).

[SLIDE 16]




Caraher, W., K. Kourellis, R. Rothaus and B. Weber. “The Archaeology of Home in the Bakken Oil Fields.” Historical Archaeology, forthcoming.

Caraher, W., R. Rothaus, B. Weber. “Lessons from the Bakken Oil Patch.” Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, forthcoming.

Crary, Jonathan. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Verso, 2014.

Cresswell, Tim. On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World.  Taylor & Francis, 2006.

Sassen, Saskia. Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy. Harvard University Press, 2014.

Standing, Guy. The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class. Bloomsbury Academic, 2011.

Wark, McKenzie. Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene. Verso, 2015.

Friday Varia and Quick Hits

Oh man! It’s cold here!! This is that week in North Dakotaland when the temperatures do not peek above 0 and no one ventures outside for long. But this is ok, because one comes to live in North Dakotaland not to enjoy the great outdoors, but to hunker down by the fire and draw the blinds and read and write and think and listen to music. If you want to be outdoors in the sun, move to Florida or Arizona or someplace like that.

If you’re happy by the fire, then please enjoy these quick hits and varia:

50532785919 4410D23B 4819 4746 8583 03E1337DD646 JPGSo bored.

50533551786 116DF481 1DBA 4EC2 A7C9 66FBD5AA4E32 JPGWake me when winter’s over.

New Year’s Resolution: Trust the Process

I know that New Year’s resolutions are a bit silly and all, and most involve middle aged men and women trudging off to the gym at 6 am for a couple of weeks in January, but I’m not the only academic to indulge in this annual opportunity for personal and professional introspection.

Over the last few years, I’ve had a ton of fun. I have enjoyed working on projects quickly and, frankly, a bit obsessively. I’ve enjoyed the staccato beat of deadlines both self-imposed and external, and the regular appearance of completed projects.

Recently, though, I’ve struggled to get back to or even deal with a few more involved and long term projects. For example, I have only returned the work on a volume documenting our excavations at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria largely because the task of moving it completion seemed a bit overwhelming. I have been reluctant to start John Brooke’s Climate Change and the Course of Global History: A Rough Journey (Cambridge 2014) because it seems too damn long (and I have no idea how Kostis Kourelis convinced me to pony up $20 for Alan Moore’s Jerusalem: A Novel (New York 2016) other than it’s economical $0.017 per page cost!). I have a 100,000 word textbook manuscript that needs sustained attention and an online History 101: Western Civilization class (upon which the book is based) that requires revision, updating, and change and a largely still-born untextbook projectI have 10,000 photographs from the Bakken that a begging for some kind of analysis or, at least, organization. Most of these projects require more than a couple of weeks of sustain attention. I can’t bang them out over a long weekend fueled by excitement and coffee, and they’re unlikely to leave me with a sense of general satisfaction because – other than reading a book cover-to-cover – research doesn’t work like that.

Over the life of this blog, I’ve frequently written about process and even more frequently about slow, but maybe I’m more interested in process and slow and taking my time in theory than in practice. Over the last couple of years, at least, I have paid more and more attention to getting things done and the excitement (and addictive stress) of racing toward a deadline. I love looking at a “to do list” and thinking “how on earth will I get all this happen?” And even when I fail to get through the list or things fall through the cracks or the quality of my work isn’t what I hoped it would be, I have convinced myself that this is no worse than failing at a self-imposed work-out goal or feeling the sting of a favorite team losing a game that I predicted them to win.

Maybe this year, I need to get back to really believing in the process and take the time to nudge these long term projects along.

More Philip K. Dick and Archaeology

I spent a little time over the holidays continuing my trek through Philip K. Dick’s substantial oeuvre looking for insights into the archaeologists’ craft. I’m not entirely sure why I’m doing this, but as I explain in earlier posts, I was inspired (for lack of a better word) by Bill Brown’s recent book Other Things and using Dick’s work to spice up an otherwise ordinary paper for the American Schools of Oriental Research annual meeting.

Anyway, I read two of Dick’s more tightly regarded works, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965) and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968). The latter book was loosely adapted as the movie Blade Runner. Both books deal with typical Dickean themes of dystopian future worlds. In both cases Earth has become a challenging place to live. In Palmer Eldritch, global warming has made it the planet so hot that being outside is dangerous. In Androids, the final war has laced the entire planet with radioactive dust that has killed or damaged almost all life on Earth. In both books, the future of humanity depends on the colonization of other worlds, but, for most humans, this has proven to be less than satisfactory. In Palmer Eldritch, life on Mars or Venus has become dominated by the use of the drug Can-D which transports user for a short time to an immersive virtual, fantasy world. In Androids, the government uses androids as an incentive to promote emigration from Earth, but their ability to control androids and the level of happiness on the Martian colony seems in doubt. In fact, the main character in Androids is a bounty hunter who de-activates androids who escape and return to earth (as people who have seen Blade Runner know!).

Androids provides an archaeological setting for the story. Far from the bustling world of Blade Runner, the setting is an abandoned earth with empty buildings filled with “kipple.” Kipple is Dick’s word for the abandoned stuff that emigres left behind on Earth. In one of the most archaeological musing of Dick, he has one of the main characters in Androids describe the encroachment of kipple into every corner of their every day lives. Anticipating the cyberpunk worlds of William Gibson and our contemporary fascination with post-industrial ruin porn, the derelict apartments form a chilling post-human backdrop to the confrontation between the bounty hunter and his prey. The deterioration of this world is palpable and the spread of kipple is inevitable. 

The plot of Palmer Eldritch is too complicated for me to attempt a concise description (check out Wikipedia for that or just read the book). Dick maintains his persistent interest in things, however, even as he explores the drug-induced virtual world of Can-D and, its competitor, Chew-Z. For Can-D to work, it requires miniaturized “layouts” that provide a setting for the virtual world of Perky Pat and her wealthy friends. One of the characters in the book, for example, produces ceramic pots that are miniaturized to be included in these layouts. Ceramics appear throughout Dick’s novels as a anchor for physical reality. To throw a pot is the ultimate life-affirming act and to handle a pot connects you with the experience of haptic reality. Not a few characters in Dick novels are drawn back from the edge of despair, depression, and delusion through the intervention of a ceramic object. In Palmer Eldritch, the risk that Can-D competitor Chew-Z poses is that it does not require a layout. The drug immerses the user in a completely unreal or virtual world. To make matters worse, the immersive experience in the world encountered under the influence of Chew-Z does not require the passage of time in the real world. So the layouts of Can-D users anchor experience not only in a physical place, but also in human time. Objects and time, like the inevitable spread of kipple in Androids, are linked. The human reality requires the experience of entropy.

For archaeologists this connection between time and objects may seem almost too basic to deserve mention, but it remains fundamental to how we understand the creation of the past. At an archaeological site, objects -whether made by humans, geological, or organic – provide our only contact with the passage of time and the past. Dick’s novels make this connection so profoundly clear. 

The History of the Church at Koutsopetria

I have focused the last couple of weeks on finishing up a the first draft of our report on excavations at Koutsopetria on CyprusI posted something on the architecture of the Early Christian basilica excavated at the site last week. This week, I figured I might post something on the history of the building from an archaeological perspective. Next week, as an optimistic preview, I’ll have completed something on the artifacts.

The history below is unfortunately short on absolute dates and some nuance, but I think there is enough evidence to support our argument that the building endured a series of interventions over its relatively short life.

Here’s a plan of the remains set against a 5 m grid:

Scan310 cropped

Here’s a brief history of the building:

Unpacking the history of this site remains challenging as it involves integrating two different excavation methods over three campaigns of excavation. Nevertheless, the work at this site does provide a useful insight into the complex history of Late Antique ecclesiastical architecture on the island and cautions us against arguments that view the architectural history of the island as punctuated by catastrophic events rather than developing over the course of a number of small-scale interventions that combine to constitute the life of a building.

Room 1 and environs appears to have been constructed at some point after the final quarter of the 5th century based on the highly disturbed fills beneath the packed earth floor in Phase 1 in EU13. The fill levels present in EU13 reveal the long history of the occupation at Koutsopetria with artifacts from Cypro-Classical period to Late Antiquity. The flecks of Roman period wall painting associated with the Phase 1 floor in EU12 indicate that the Roman period occupation of the site involved fine quality wall painting consistent with domestic spaces. The small sherds of earlier material from the collapse levels of Room 1 likewise preserve a scrappy material record for the occupation of the history of the site during the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman periods.

The excavation did not produce a conclusive date for the building of Room 1 other than some time later than the last quarter of the 5 th century. This is not inconsistent with the 6 th century date of many Early Christian basilicas on the island, although few of these buildings are dated on the basis of stratigraphy and the distinct arrangement of the central nave of the basilica at Koutsopetria occurs throughout what appear to be 5 th and 6 th century churches on Cyprus. Evidence from the excavations indicate that Room 1 was modified after its initial construction at least once with the walling up of windows, the replastering of the double arch, and repairs to the tops of the walls and the roof. The presence of 7th-century African Red Slip plate near the floor of Room 1, later forms of Cyprus Red Slip and Phocaean Ware, and a coin of Heracleios indicates that the modification took place before the7 th century when the room was presumably abandoned.

Initial publications of the site suggested that it was destroyed by Arab Raids and while it is impossible to rule out that a catastrophic event like an attack caused the room’s final demise, it appears more likely that abandonment of Room 1 took place in stages. Phases 3 and 4 in EU12 and EU13 represent repairs to the basilica. In EU12, a fragment of a small lugged basin found associated with the construction of a spur wall that buttressed the west wall of Room 1 joined with a fragment of the same basin found associated with the tumble of the double arch and buried well beneath the collapse of the room. This would indicate that the basin was either on the floor of Room 1 or from the second story. While the exact circumstances that led to this vessel being deposited in separate contexts are unclear, it indicates the building remained standing at the time when the spur wall was built and the damaged vessel were present on the floor of the room along with artifacts of a mid-7th century date. It is appealing to imagine that this interval allowed for the removal of the gypsum floor paving and the graffito of a ship on the central pillar of the double arch.

A later phase of repair, defined in EU12 as Phase 4 included numerous Late Roman rooftiles of the kind associated with Room 1, although not necessarily from that buildings, as well as Late Roman artifacts including a sherd of 7th c Cypriot Red Slip. This repair phase is perhaps contemporary with the reuse of a still-plastered wall fragment in EU13 in a later wall. While it is possible to construct a loose, relative chronology for these two phases of repair, their absolute date appears to be essentially contemporary with the latest phases of use in Room 1 suggesting that the room encountered a series of interventions over a short period in the 7th century. These modifications served either to repair the structure or to shore it up while marble revetment, floor tiles, roof tiles and other valuable parts of the room were removed for use elsewhere. A similar pattern of salvage seems to have taken place at the church at Kourion after it suffered significant damage in a seismic event (Megaw 2007, 134-135). It is tempting to imagine the fragments of Dhiorios type cooking pot rims found to the north of Room 1 to be the remains of a late-7th or early 8th century salvaging operation set up, like at Kourion, in the atrium of the damaged building.

Context in Archaeology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year

I think we can all agree that 2016 was a pretty crappy year. In fact, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012… heck… most of the years that I can remember have been pretty crappy. Lots of people have died, there were political events that caused me and people I care about pain, the world nudged closer to the complete dissolution of civilization, and we were all glad to see them go. In fact, the never-ending run of crappy years is exactly why we invented the New Year to begin with (or at least so I’ve been told).

To celebrate the New Year and to wish yet another year a bumpy ride in the crapwagon of our memories, I present two happy dogs in oil:

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The Church at Koutsopetria

Over the last few weeks I’ve returned to writing up our excavation results from our project at Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. This site, for people new to this blog, is in the southeastern corner of the island some 10 km east of the modern Larnaka (or ancient Kition). The site was a coastal town during the Roman and Late Roman periods and featured an Early Christian basilica.

Very little of the church was excavated either during the initial seasons of excavation in the 1990s under the direction of Dr. Maria Hadjicosti or during our brief campaign in 2009. The main focus of this work was a small, if well appointed annex room that probably extended from the south or western wall of the atrium of the church. In 1999, excavations at the site revealed the central apse of the basilica. The apse is wide and relatively shallow and features the transverse passage on its southern side that runs between the south nave colonnade and the western wall of the church.

PKAP2 Hajicosti Excavations scan310 2

This transverse passage is relatively distinctive among churches on Cyprus appearing predominantly among buildings in the neighborhood of Salamis and the Karpas Peninsula. Megaw suggested that the church of Ay. Philon served as a kind of prototype for the buildings in this area, and as you can see in the image borrowed from Richard Maguire’s 2012 dissertation (as are the rest in this blog post), has a similarly shallow and wide apse and transverse passages between the main apse and the two, smaller, lateral apses.

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It may be that the builders of the relatively compact church at Ay. Philon modeled their building on the much larger pilgrimage church of Ay. Epiphanios at Salamis which shared the wide, shallow apse and the transverse passages. Both buildings likely date to the 5th century with the church of Ay. Epiphanios dated through a textual reference and Ay. Philon based on its stylistic affinities.  

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Later buildings in the area, like the Panayia at Aphendrika carry on the tradition into the 6th century (at least according to the conventional date associated wth this building).

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The regional distribution of churches of this type is intriguing. They appear on the Karpas and around Salamis and then across the northern coast of Cyprus including at Lambousa and as far west as Soloi.

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This corpus of buildings seems to be significantly different from the churches across the more densely-settled southern coast of the island where polygonal apses are more common and the churches lack the transverse passages between the central apse and the flanking spaces.

In our survey monograph, we argue that the site of Kousopetria was situated at an important route of travel through the area. The inland road linking the coast of Larnaka Bay to the city of Salamis joined the coast at our site in both antiquity and the modern period. We argue that the remains of an Iron Age sanctuary at or near our site likely reflected the regions liminal state on the political boundary between Salamis and Kition. The presence of a late Cypro-Classical fortification at Vigla reinforced the  Obviously such political boundaries faded to unimportance during the Hellenistic and Roman period when the island became part of a single imperial state, but it remains possible that these buildings preserve echoes of these borders carved into the landscape through persistent patterns of movement between major urban centers. It may be that the church at Koutsopetria represented the southern most reach of the bishop of Salamis or even just the influence of such significant buildings as the pilgrimage church at Ay. Epiphanios.