In keeping with an irregularly held Archaeology of the Mediterranean World tradition, here are pictures from the first significant snow of the year. The pictures are courtesy of my lovely wife:
In keeping with an irregularly held Archaeology of the Mediterranean World tradition, here are pictures from the first significant snow of the year. The pictures are courtesy of my lovely wife:
It's not the cold, it's the wind. Some quick hits and varia on a windy Friday:
This week I received my annual copy of the Journal of Roman Archaeology. It always arrives in the mid-fall when the weather has just begun to turn, and it gives me a good excuse to curl up in a comfortable chair and review the archaeology of the Roman world. This year's volume included a nice article by Paul Dilley entitled "Christian icon practice in apocryphal literature: the consecration and the conversion of synagogues into churches" JRA 23 (2010), 285-302 (notice no hyperlink!).
The article focuses less on the conversion of synagogues to churches and more on the role of icons in creating sacred space. Dilley draws his evidence from the oft-neglected body of apocyphal literature from Late Antiquity. These texts are typically ascribed to a Biblical figure or major bishop, but tend to be later, and generally speaking popular texts that often sought to give a contemporary tradition an august pedigree. So when the use of icons to sanctify places begins to appear in these texts, there is real reason to think that this represents a shift in practice in the era in which they were written. A classic example of the role of these apocryphal texts in legitimizing practices is the 6th century Laudatio Barnabae from Cyprus. This text describes the discovery of Paul's companion, Barnabas's body, on Cyprus about a century earlier. The story features the Bishop Anthemius of Salamais who has a series of dreams that lead him to the place where Barnabas was buried. When he exhumes the body, he finds it clutching a copy of the Gospel of Matthew. Ultimately this text comes to explain the construction of the church dedicated to St. Barnabas in Salamis, as well as explain the special privileges that the church of Cyprus held which emerged over the course of the later 5th century. Barnabas's apostolic pedigree, the timely appearance of his body, and the presence of an autograph of the Gospel of Matthew, all helped to legitimize the church of Cyprus as an autonomous apostolic foundation.
Dilley highlights a series of similar stories which place relics or icons at the center of the founding of churches. He also stresses that these foundation stories often include important liturgical elements which suggests that the stories do more than simply legitimize the founding of the church as a building, but link the founding of a church to annual rites celebrated to commemorate the event. So the stories of the inventio (the discovery) of a relic, icon, or the body of a saint, has key liturgical elements that are reinforced through the rituals of commemoration in which the text plays a key role. Processions, acclamations (kyrie eleison!), and the key role of the clergy all mark these texts as liturgical as well as simply devotional or "historical" texts.
The role of liturgy in the discovery of icons or relics is something that scholars have not necessarily fully realized. In fact, some scholars have followed Peter Brown's lead (.pdf) and seen icons as almost anti-clerical in that they allow for access to holiness outside of the control of the institutional church and the clergy. In other words, there are ways that the veneration of icons and relics represent paths to holiness that end-run the clergy. Dilley, however, has argued that stories in seemingly popular apocryphal literature not only commemorate the key role of icons and relics in creating sacred, liturgical space, but also embed this tradition within liturgical practices that tie the deeply personal holiness of the icon to the institutional holiness of the church.
As for the conversion of synagogues, I'll admit to being less compelled by the final pages of Dilley's article where he offers a very basic typology for the archaeological evidence relating to the conversion of synagogues to churches, but does not really bring it back to his far more provocative and exciting arguments about icons, liturgy, and the creation of Christian sacred space. That being said, he makes a good point that the presence of icons in buildings newly converted to Churches - like the synagogue at Cagliara on Sardinia, the synagogue at Lydda, and the Pantheon in Rome - seems to be a key aspect in their consecration for Christian use by the 7th century. This reminds me of a Coptic church I visited for Easter Vigil in Columbus, Ohio. The church had been converted from a Jehovah's Witness Kingdom Hall to a Coptic church. While the unabashedly Protestant architecture of the building remained, the presence of Coptic icons on almost every flat surface marked out the repurposing of the space.
The conversation continues on the relationship between blogging and published scholarship. Increasingly, the central issue tends to be peer review. Blogs are not peer reviewed; academic publications are. This dichotomy is important and represents the core generic difference between working papers and the final publications of result. Unfortunately, these ideas have been twisted somehow (and I fear that scholars in the humanities have been responsible for this) to mean that only peer reviewed works have value and blogs and other informal types of "correspondence" (in the broadest sense) are not valuable, a waste of precious academic time and creativity, and, at very worst, a contribution of the glut of uncritical opinion that clutters the internet and threatens to crowd out careful, reasoned, thought. (For more on these perspectives see here.)
Just this week, Michael O'Malley wrote a provocative blog post on the value of peer review entitled Googling Peer Review, Part Two on his Aporetic Blog. He suggests that good or unorthodox work does not necessarily benefit from peer review and, in some case, might be good and unorthodox despite the peer review process.
I am not sufficiently brilliant to write good and unorthodox works. At the same time, I am not completely sold in the universal value of peer review. While I'll be the first to admit that peer review has significantly helped several of my published articles, I'll also concede that most of the central ideas in my articles were unaffected by peer review (well, except those ideas that died in the peer review process, never to be heard from again!). Most of the critiques offered by various peer reviewers focused on the clarity of our argument, provided references that we had overlooked, or identified different implications for our conclusions. These were all helpful and meaningful contributions to our work, but ultimately none of these reviews changed the basic content of our contributions.
I'll admit that the argument that I am making here comes on the heels of a particularly pleasant and uncontroversial peer review process for an article that, at its core, is little more than a glorified archaeological site report. But it may be that this kind of article is the least deserving of peer review. The formal publication of the article slowed down the circulation of information to colleagues and added little significant academic value to the basic results of our field work. In fact, peer review strengthened our interpretative conclusions, but hardly made them unassailable.
So at least some of the issue is not peer review per se, but the nature of genre in academic writing. As O'Malley's post points out many of the most significant works of scholarship in the last 70 years were not peer reviewed in a traditional sense (and the same could also be said of many of the least significant works as well). The works identified by O'Malley tend to occupy unconventional academic genres which are least likely to benefit from traditional peer review; even today works like M. Foucault's Discipline and Punish upset traditional disciplinary critiques, and E. P. Thompson's Making of the English Working Class stands apart from nearly any work of history writing up until that time (or since). In a more modest way, data driven archaeological reports fit into this category as well. There is little that a peer review can provide a scholar aside from reminders of archaeological conventions and advanced copy editing.
To prove my point, I can offer as a case study a recent publication of mine. Over the past two years, I blogged most of the content that appeared ultimately in our peer reviewed publication that appeared this past week. I've appended a copy of our final article at end of this blogpost. Of course, some of the final product reflects the hard work of the Hesperia editorial team who in many ways serve as another level of peer review because nearly all of them are practicing archaeologists with advanced graduate training the field. So, I am fudging a bit with this example.
Here are links to my various blog posts, conference papers, and working papers that led up to the final publication our work. These received no formal peer review:
July 20, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: The Site of Ano Vayia
July 23, 2008: New Research on the Corinthian Countryside: Vayia Microregion
August 5, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: Distributional Data from the Site of Ano Vayia
August 12, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: The Lychnari Tower
August 19, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: The Passes of the Eastern Corinthia
August 25, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: Classical Vayia
September 1, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: History and Archaeology
September 8, 2008: The Corinthian Countryside: Some More Contemporary Thoughts
January 12, 2009: Three New Sites in the Eastern Corinthia (W. Caraher and D. Pettegrew)
July 27, 2009: Viewsheds in the Eastern Corinthia
August 10, 2009: Working Paper: Towers and Foritfication at Vayia in the Southeast Corinthia (Caraher, Pettegrew, S. James)
The final publication:
Over the last year I have become more and more committed to various social media applications, and over the last six months, I am completely obsessed with Twitter. (Facebook, not so much, but not for any ideological or practical reasons; I just prefer Twitter run through Hootsuite). Recently I have been enamored with the spate of historical figures on Twitter. The first that I recognized was the brilliant Cry for Byzantium which sent out creative Tweets in the name of various Byzantine Emperors who have particular interests in politics, military campaigns, diplomacy, and palace intrigue. The blog is run by the author Sean Munger who explains the set up for Cry for Byzantium on his blog. At present he has over 550 followers and has sent out over 2000 Tweets!
Since then I've also begun to follow iTweetus, who is a Roman soldier on campaign in England during the winter of 72/73 AD. His feed is curated by the Roman Frontier Gallery at Tullie House in Carlisle. Tweetus is poetic and has a keen eye for the rugged landscape and the worsening weather. I hope he survives the winter. At present iTweetus has made 53 tweets (he's on campaign for heaven sake and who knows what the Roman mobile phone coverage is like at the borders of empire!) and has 495 followers.
Finally, iHerodotus has begun to push out tweets from his great work on the Persian Wars. He has 172 followers and has pushed out 95 tweets. Laura Gibbs has been tweeting Plutarch's Life of Julius Caesar since the summer. She has over 100 followers and has made over 1000 tweets. Various authors whose works are being tweet are aggregated into several lists like Classic Writer's Words.
The idea that these real or fictional ancient figures are part of my "social network" certainly stretches the notion of a social network and its virtual existence to a new place. To be sure, Herodotus or even the Byzantine Emperor's do not respond to my Tweets as a colleague might, but at the same time their stories and personalities emerge over the course of their twitter feeds. Like college classmates or rarely seen acquaintances, the names of historical figures and the text of classic literature roll out across my twitter feed sharing space with various automated tweets from tech-bloggers, various companies, CNN, athletic teams, et c.
My social media space, then, extends the notions of the social to include a wide range of products, services, individuals, and texts. Or, to see it another way, my social media space represents the commodification of personal relationships as much as the personalization of products and services. I am not sure how historical figures fit into a network of commodified social relations, except by observing that historical figures have always contributed to the production of social capital. If Twitter, Facebook, and other social media services provide new ways to visualize and deploy the diverse range of social capital, then there is no reason why historical figures, texts, and other works of so-called "high culture" should not appear.
On the strength of a BMCR review, I spent the last few days reading Laura Salah Nasrallah's Christian Responses to Roman Art and Architecture. (Cambridge 2010). The book juxtaposes the works of several 2nd c. Christian "apologists" (Tatian, Justin, Athenagoras, and Clement of Alexandria) and the space of the Roman empire. To do this, she parallels the texts with specific places within the Roman world (e.g. the Sebasteion at Aphrodisias or the Trajans forum) or specific works of art (e.g. statues of Commodus as Herakles or the Aphrodite of Knidos). Both the texts, the space, and the works of art themselves fall significantly outside my area of expertise. The approach, on the other hand, which assumes that texts are no more or nor less products of the same culture that produced understandable spaces and statues within the Roman world represents a significant interest to me.
In particular, I was intrigued by how Nasrallah used these texts as evidence for Christian response to the built environment of the Roman world. Of course, this response was, to a certain extent, constructed by the author's decision to juxtapose particular texts with particular environments (see the BMCR review for this observation), but, at the same time, the move to compare texts and monuments in a way that shed light on critical readings of built space was, to me at least, novel. The alienated (or at least conflicted) posture of figures like Tatian when positioned opposite the imperial rhetoric of the Sebasteion is particular striking and reminds me of John Clarke's more speculative approach to the reading of Trajan's column in his Art in the lives of Ordinary Romans (Berkeley 2003) or some of the essays in J. Elsner's Roman Eyes (Princeton 2007).
My impression is that Nasrallah's use of texts was a convenient concession to traditional practices in art and architectural history and archaeology of the Classical World that continues to imagine texts as the point of departure for rigorous analysis of meaning and space. When pushed a step further to deal exclusively with built environments in places uninformed by robust textual sources, the assumption that spaces can accommodate a wide range of viewers (including those bent on resisting, subverting, or even co-opting "intended messages") becomes decidedly more foggy. As the BMCR review noted, even Nasrallah moves cautiously in many cases when she enters into relationship between the act of reading a text and the act of reading a space or monument; the author is more willing to leave the texts juxtaposed than to bring out opportunities for mutual critique.
In my recent work on the monumental spaces of Justinianic Corinth (it is, on my blog, all about me, of course), I've had to confront a similar tension not between texts, but between monuments. I shared Nasrallah's assumption that it is possible to recover the resistance and critique of the built environment through juxtaposing different types of texts; for Corinth, however, these texts are not the literary (or even really epigraphical kind), but other roughly contemporary monuments. Like Nasrallah and her authors, I have done what I can to understand the act of building as a response to particular (and maybe recoverable) activities within the physical environment. But this reading of the relationship between buildings captures only one response within a monumentalized discourse in the landscape. The ongoing dialog between experiences across the landscape continuously reinscribed monumental places with meanings and presented opportunities for resistance. The decision whether to resist, to critique, or to accept the meanings produced through the productive juxtaposition of places in the landscape returns agency to the viewer and undermines the power traditionally located in imperialist policies.
Nasrallah's book provides a model for discerning the act of viewing within the Roman empire by expanding the notion of place to include texts which she demonstrates function according to a similar logic as monuments in the landscape. By resisting the urge to offer definitive or rigid relationships between various more or less contemporary spaces within the ancient world, she resists the temptation to extend a valuable analysis of ways of viewing to specific acts of viewing. In doing so, she both unpacks the act of viewing (and responding to) ancient art and architecture, and allows it to persist as an essentially ambiguous phenomenon resistant to even our most deeply positivist desire to essentialize.
It's cold today, but sunny. In other words, it's a perfect fall day for quick hits and varia:
My wife recently attended a conference on marketing and higher education hosted in part by Google. There as a low buzz about QR codes at the conference. For those who don't know, QR codes are funny-looking, square bar codes, and QR stands for "quick read". They are designed to be read by little applications on a mobile phone that use the phone's camera like a bar code reader. QR codes are most frequently used to display a URL (a web address), but they can contain a number, a v-card, or even instruction to send a tweet to a twitter account. Over the past year, QR codes have moved into mainstream marketing, appeared in popular culture (e.g. a Kyle Minogue video!), and have even attracted the interest of academics.
I've been thinking about QR codes for six months now. Yesterday, I had a great chat yesterday with a colleague from our Working Group in Digital and New Media, and we began bandying about ways to use QR codes on campus to install art, historical information, subversive (in a polite North Dakota way) messages, and challenges to the barrier between the internet and real space on campus.
After the conversation, I struggled a bit to understand what made using QR codes unique or interesting. On the one hand, I understood that they are a gimmick and fad, but that didn't bother me. I like gimmicks and fads. (After all, I love the interwebs!). Finally, after I mulled over this discussion ever more, I realized that I like QR codes because they are archaeological. Here's how I am thinking about them:
1. They are mysterious and demand action. Like an archaeological artifact (imagine a sherd of pottery), QR codes beg to be understood or contextualized. They demand action on the part of the viewer or, at least, the viewer who recognizes a QR code as something to be deciphered. Just as an archaeologist is almost compelled to figure out the context for an artifact (and anyone who has ever walked across an archaeological site or any complex landscape with an archaeologist knows how powerful disciplinary training can be!), people "in the know" feel compelled to scan and understand a QR code. In fact, if you don't read the code, the QR code is meaningless.
2. Codes are objects. The form of a QR code communicates meaning. Like most archaeological objects, a QR code does not communicate in an explicitly textual way (except in the sense that all objects can be read as types of texts). Within the discourse of archaeology and, presumably, QR code-ology, the form of the object prompts the action required to understand it. Archaeologists are obsessed with the materiality of objects - shape, texture, size, weight - and recognize that to produce meaning, it is necessary to compare one object to another to create a context for archaeological material and, ultimately, to create meaning. QR codes have the same material character. Codes are things which must be understood in a non-textual way and placed within a particular context to produce meaning. Only people familiar with the code and who recognize the action required will understand the message.
3. The are mobile. Like many artifacts in an archaeological context, a QR code is mobile meaning that there is tension between its present physical context and its the meaning embedded (by the code's creator) in its form. In archaeology we like to think about formation processes; these are the processes that led to an object being discovered by an archaeologist in a particular place or condition. Formation processes recognize our environment as constantly changing and almost infinitely mutable. A QR code printed on a sheet of paper, or a sticker, or t-shirt can travel from one place to the next while still retaining a formal link to another context. Even if a QR code is designed for a particular place and time, because they are material and mobile, they will travel and endure.
4. Codes provide a link between the real and the virtual. As a historian I spend much of my time in a "virtual" environment girded about by the rules of my discipline and embedded deep within my imagination. The past is something that obeys particular rules and, in a particular sense, does not exist except within my imagination. At the same time, as an archaeologist, I am constantly challenged to recognize the past as real by the physical nature of archaeological artifacts. QR Codes can bridge this same gap between the virtual world of the internet and the physical world of the code itself. The real world context of the code creates a physical point of departure into the virtual world of the internet. In short, the code locates the internet in physical space.
QR codes are easy to generate through any number of sites on the internet. (Here's a basic list.) And most mobile phones have QR code reader applications available for them. Phones with better browsers, of course, provide access to far more robust content.
This past week, I've started to write up a formal description and analysis of the fortification on Vigla at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. While we were not able to date the walls precisely, despite excavating several sections, it seems most likely that fortifications date to the Hellenistic period. The settlement at the site appears to date earlier with Iron Age and Classical material present. Moreover, excavations in 2008 revealed that the fortification wall cut through an earlier building at the site.
The site itself does not appear in any textual sources for the island, and it clearly lacked any documented civic status. As a result, Vigla represents another example of a rural fortified site that stands outside the main narrative of the island's history. From the start, we have speculated that the site at Vigla could be a mercenary garrison camp, built quickly for a particular group of Ptolemeic mercenaries stationed on the island during the 3rd or 4th century BC. The site could also represent a refuge for a local population whose position so near the coast would have exposed them to possible attach during the unsettled Hellenistic period. Scholars have offered similar explanations for similar rural fortifications from Greece.
The body of rural fortifications in Cyprus is far smaller. Claire Balandier in her dissertation (and a series of articles in the RDAC in 2000, 2002, and 2003 and elsewhere) has collected evidence for just a handful of rural fortification on the same scale of the fortifications at Vigla. The most notable among these rural fortified sites is Paleocastro on the Kormakiti peninsula in Kyrenia district (in the North). The Italians documented the site over several campaigns in the late 1960s and early 1970s as part of a project focusing on the landscape of the Kormakiti peninsula near Ayia Irini (the fortification at Paleocastro might be associated with the ancient anchorage of Melabron). Work was interrupted by the invasion of 1974, but preliminary results were published, including a good plan, is RIASA 19/20 (1972/73), 7-120.
The site is larger than the fortified area of Vigla, but situated in a similar way. The fortified settlement stands on a slight rise over the coast and has a gate on its inland side protected by towers. Vigla stands on a more prominent height (check out Vigla in gigapan), overlooks a likely ancient harbor, and is accessed through its more highly fortified inland side. The settlement at Paleocastro shows signs of Archaic or Classical origins and then disappears by the 2nd century AD. The fortification wall appear to be Hellenistic.
Stay tuned for more work to document, contextualize, and understand Vigla.
I was pretty surprise to see an article entitled "Middle-Late Byzantine Pottery from Sagalassos: Typo-Chronology and Sociocultural Interpretation" in the very recent Hesperia (A.K. Vionis, J. Poblome, B. De Cupere, M. Waelkens, Hesperia 79 (2010), 423-464). It's not so much that the subject matter is late, but that the site of Sagalassos is a Belgian project in Turkey rather than an American project in Greece. As some of my more observant friends pointed out, Hesperia has published the results of project from Albania, so maybe this should not have caught be so off guard. But it did and it indicates to me that Hesperia is continuing to expand its purview to include the wider world of Mediterranean archaeology. Hooray!
The article on the Middle-Late Byzantine material from Sagalassos is pretty cool as well. The main focus of the article is on a series of 12th-13th century layers from the Alexander Hill at the site of Sagalassos. Over three seasons of excavation, the excavators uncovered the remains of a "heavily burned" destruction layer containing the remains of a short-lived occupation containing a significant and robust quantity of 12th-13th century Byzantine pottery. This layer appears to represent the final phase of activity on this dramatic hill overlooking the ancient site of Sagalassos. Early occupation on the hill included a 5th-6th century basilica that was almost completely removed and a later "refuge" of some description with a fortification wall and a substantial cistern. Apparently the church was almost completely dismantled for the construction of the later refuge. The final destruction layer, which seems to represent the final layer of occupation, may represent an effort to dismantle the refuge to prevent it from being used again.
While the site history of the Alexander Hill is pretty interesting (particularly the dismantling of the church), the real meat of the article is in the analysis of the ceramic assemblage from the final layer. While I would like to have understood the sampling method the produced the assemblage, the authors nevertheless conduct a rigorous and thorough examination of the material and take into account both "common ware" (which we would call medium coarse, coarse, and kitchen/cooking ware in chronotype terminology) and glazed table wares (fine and and semi-fine wares in our terminology). Some of the glazed wares were repaired indicating that the objects had significant value to their owners. The presence of repaired pots in an assemblage associated with the destruction of the site, however, suggests (to me at least) that these vessels were either discarded by the last occupants of the refuge or brought to the site by work crews commissioned to destroy or salvage the remains of the site. I wish the article had made considered more thoroughly the formation processes at play in the creation of the assemblage from the burned layer including the possible nature of activities at the final occupation phase of the site. If these materials were left by work crews (like the material associated with the final phase of activity at Kourion), then the diet, ceramics used, and social standing of the individuals could suggest a different assemblage from that left behind by a family.
Despite the origin of the pottery in a layer associated with the site's destruction and short term occupation, they regard the material as sufficient diverse to qualify as a use assemblage and, therefore, suitable for making larger arguments for the nature of Byzantine cooking practices, diet, and the circulation of Byzantine glazed pottery and utility ware forms. This was all supported by residue analysis of individual vessels and the quantitative analysis of the entire assemblage. Apparently the individuals at Sagalassos ate more beef and game than their Late Roman predecessors (who preferred lamb and goat). Pretty neat stuff.
The article places the material from the assemblage at Sagalassos in the context of the Byzantine Eastern Mediterranean and it will be really useful as we look to document a site with a similar history at Polis in Cyprus. The material present at Sagalassos has comparanda both on Cyprus and, unsurprisingly, at Corinth in Greece where the study of Byzantine pottery has long held pride of place. The careful publication of an assemblage from a site like Sagalassos expands the base of evidence for the further study of Byzantine pottery. The appearance of an article like this in Hesperia should show scholars that there are high-quality journals prepared and willing to publish similar papers.
P.S. Lest you think that I'm just a blogger, you'll notice that David Pettegrew, Sarah James, and I also have an article in this volume: "Towers and Fortifications at Vayia in the Southeast Corinthia," Hesperia 79 (2010), 385-415.