Monthly Archives: May 2012

Departing Crew Leaves Cyprus for Taiwan

Chieh-fu Jeff Cheng leaves from Cyprus for Taiwan, today, and this got me thinking about the dynamics of any and every archaeological crew. Like any job, trade or profession, what people bring to the profession provides additional bonus

Chieh-fu Jeff Cheng hanging from a cliff, inadvertently preparing for his Aeroflat flight.

(I almost said “incentive”) to the already-interesting work. In the case of Chieh-fu (or Jeff), he has an amazing ability to hang off the edge of cliffs in need of excavation (more on that eventually). This has proven good training for Jeff since one of his outgoing flights has him on board the famous Aeroflat, this to eventually take him back to Taiwan for a summer visit with his folks. In the autumn, Jeff will continue his studies at Boston University, and he’s doing some fairly ground-breaking work in looking at the archaeology, history and material culture of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan in the first half of the twentieth-century. We will be sure to see Jeff on down the line.

Spend time at an archaeological dig sometime (they often take able volunteers). Then spend some more time with the crew in the evenings. That’s when the relationships and ideas begin to really take shape. See you down the way and on the other side, Jeff. Great getting to know you.

Archaeological Imagination and Regional Photography

Archaeological fieldwork is rarely if ever this (although we will shoot Nazis if provoked), and never this. In reality, the fieldwork is so deliberate that it is often described by newcomers as “boring.” Of course, it is anything but boring, and professors of literature might understandably remind students that if they find a text boring, the students themselves are boring. Stratigraphic profiles (the layers of culture that build up over time) are also non-boring texts, as are historic photographs. Keeping all of this in mind, I was reading through and looking

Note the stone wall behind the “Man at Geroskepou,” Paphos District circa 1940. Photo from “Faces and Places of Cyprus (1933-1956): Porphyrios Dikaios’ Photographs at the Department of Antiquities” (Nicosia, Cyprus 2012), 132.

over reproduced photographs in Faces and Places of Cyprus (1933-1956): Porphyrios Dikaios’ Photographs at the Department of Antiquities (Nicosia, Cyprus 2012). The stone wall within the 1940 photograph struck me, especially considering what my May 2012 team has been uncovering at our excavation unit on the Vigla site in Cyprus. After scraping away one centimeter of soil after another (along the way discovering a Scythian metal arrowhead, an inscribed lead sling bullet, and kilo after kilo of pottery), our group came to what appears to be a foundation wall. This is what the geophysics also suggested a year or two ago, which is one of the reasons our test unit was placed in the position it is in. Bring in the geophysics, and ground-truth with test units. Anyhow, without jumping to one definitive conclusion or another, while digging it is still important to imagine what buried piles of stones may have once been. A stone wall? A floor? It is equally important to swoop up local and regional publications while on an archaeological dig, no matter where the dig is situated on the planet. At the very least this keeps the imagined and creative juices flowing in the evenings, and these ideas can be brought to the field during troweling and sifting throughout the daytime heat (You can talk about this and follow it up by handing a crewmember a bottle of water that has been sitting in the afternoon sun and say, “Here is some warm water to cool off with…”). No doubt, the wall in the 1940 photograph is not the same as the possible wall from thousands of years ago. But there is such a thing as pre-Industrial continuity, at least in how folks back in the day constructed stuff using local materials and raw, human labor (one stone after another). Your crew just may appreciate these kinds of speculations. And if they can see a comparative example to imagine what the wall they may be digging may have looked like (yes, a perhaps and maybe), that is all the better.

Dr. David Pettegrew photographs the stones emerging from the bottom of an excavation unit on the Vigla site in Cyprus, late-May, 2012.

Digital Humanities from Cyprus: Unadulterated Video Updates for Dr. Scott Moore

We are increasingly hearing the phrase Digital Humanities bandied about these days. The following YouTube videos are localized reflections of this broader theme from the eastern Mediterranean. Reporting from an ancient historical

Cyprus and the Eastern Med

site on Cyprus on May 26, 2012, Dr. William Caraher (University of North Dakota) and Dr. David Pettegrew (Messiah College, Pennsylvania) provided 3-4 minute site overviews for their incoming colleague Dr. Scott Moore (Indiana University of Pennsylvania). The on-site video descriptions were taken in the morning when the wind was calm enough to allow for the audio to be heard (mics on these handy DIY digital cameras have a hard time in the wind).


Dr. Bill Caraher to begin…

And now, Dr. Pettegrew.

Back to the Vigla Test Units

Tomorrow (05/25/2012) we re-enter the archaeological test units we started some days prior at the Vigla site on the southern coast of Cyprus, heading back into the field after an intermittent lull in the excavation action. Without sensationalizing any of this, the reason for lulls has to do with the reason there is a preserved site for us to dig at Vigla in the first place: British artillery. More specifically, the British military has a base on Cyprus, and they use and have used this area for a test-firing range. Now this doesn’t mean shells are directed toward the PKAP Vigla site (well, never intentionally), but there always is a chance for some kind of misfire or ballistic trajectory to go all wrong. That is why the Brits won’t (or cannot) allow anyone up on the Vigla mesa during certain times of the week. The PKAP team organizes the weekly schedule this way in order to make up for lost digging time due to the Brits understandably having to sharpen their artillery skills  — for Queen, country, and Hellenistic archaeology (inaccurate and imprecise artillery is the dangerous kind).

I have a 3-person crew, and we are all scheduled to leave for work tomorrow at the site at 6:15AM, and not stop excavating until 7:00PM. Then we will repeat this process on 05/26/2012, a Saturday, and have a little bit lighter schedule on Sunday and Monday, excavating some and getting into the lab in Larnaka to process the recently pulled artifacts.

Looking south from the top of the Vigla site. This photo taken sometime around 05/20/2012.

I have been in the archaeological field since 2002, at least in North American contexts. For the first time in the eastern Mediterranean on a dig, I am quite looking forward to re-entering the test units we started some days ago, pulling out material and plotting artifacts, taking notes and dry screening. I am also looking forward to taking down field-notes on an iPad ap that the PKAP crew put together (Digital Archaeology goes on-line: more on this later). I am equally looking forward to guiding my three-person crew on what is the first dig of their lives. Remember to put your water bottles in the freezer the night before, at least so it is icy cold up through the noon hour. Keep your broad-brim hat on, and suck down the water whenever you think of it. See you in the trenches.

A Sense of the Nicosia Place

On May 18, 2012, for the first time I saw Nicosia — this is the capital of Cyprus. Nicosia is also the only divided capital in the world, and like all places in the world it too sits on top of several layers of history. If it’s a Friday afternoon around the 4:00PM hour, this is what Nicosia looks and sounds like, just a half-block away from a section of Venetian fortification walls.

What the video is incapable of translating are the smells of kabobs, lemon and cilantro wafting out of the mom and pop kitchen behind us. This particular place had opened its Venetian doors to the outside sidewalk (presumably like they do every day), and a variety of conversations in Greek also pushed out from the restaurant, only to meet and dissipate into a wall of modern street traffic sounds. At the table to our right, a man leaned over his plate to eat up an early dinner, occasionally breaking to scan the street. Pedestrians — either on their way home or to a local watering hole or diner — walked by, and navigated their way across the street, either when the light instructed them or when there was a break in the stream of automobiles.

A UN van in Nicosia, Cyprus.

One of the dynamics of the city and island is that a political line and physical wall demarcates the boundary between Greek-Cyprus and Turkish-Cyprus. If you walk around and through the city, it is impossible to not think about this division: signage and physical barriers (walls and sometimes barb wire and 55-gallon drums) reinforce the political-religious-cultural divide. It is also impossible to not enjoy the daily Cypriot life on a Friday afternoon. Sitting in a chair on the sidewalk is the present (of course, right), or the current cultural surface that is modernity. In one sense, modernity is a never-ending process. Leszek Kolakowski defined it as the tension that results from the present perpetually evolving out of and reshaping the physical and cultural institutions from the past. Thus, modernity sort of equals a real and metaphysical tension. Things become dated, and to varying degrees they need to be modernized. Cities live and breath. They have to. If they don’t, they are archaeological relics.

Stone cobble and mortar stylistically ascribed or reflective of the Ottoman Empire.

Architecturally, the material culture of the island reflects that modernity that Kolakowski discussed at philosophical length. For example, there are modern businesses named “Hellenistic” this and “Byzantine” that. Segments of aqueducts built by the Ottoman Empire are also visible, as are the traditional Ottoman walkways of slender cobbles imbedded in mortar. At least one Neolithic UNESCO site is also on the island, this surrounded by (there is a healthy buffer) present day homes. When pondering this while physically at the site, your frontal lobe will metaphysically stretch forward and then snap back, only to be stopped by slapping the back of your skull. This is the result of looking at 9,000 year old stone homes on your left, and then glancing over to look at 10-year-old Cypriot villas on your right. Contemporary structures have also risen up out of these layers of history, and in Nicosia and throughout the island they are businesses offering for sale anything from Nike (appropriately the Greek goddess of victory) shoes to Taiwanese Mr. Brown coffee to Fanta orange soda one normally encounters while abroad, or at least outside of the States (from China to Mongolia to Uzbekistan to Cyprus, I have always encountered Fanta orange soda).

Anyhow, you can think about all of this while sipping on a Carlsberg beer, just sitting down to stop and take in the city, reflecting on everything that has led up to this point that we call the present. Ages and people divided by time, but still in the same space and place. What a planet.

Getting a Sense of the Historical Cyprus Place

Today, on the mezzanine level of the Frangiorgio Hotel in downtown Larnaka, Dr. Pettegrew and Dr. Caraher gave a morning briefing and presentation to orient the raw group of archaeological students charged with excavating (the fancy word for “codified digging”) and labeling data from the 2012 PKAP site. The excavation is going to take place on top of a plateau that overlooks the southern coast of Cyprus, and this is not too far east of Larnaka. I am one of the three trench supervisors (a type of middle management position for you MBA types) on the project, and it will be my job to oversee the standardization necessary to carry out solid data collection.

View to the west-southwest from the site. Larnaka, Cyprus is in the distance.

The research question is pretty straight-forward: we are building off of previous questions and answers (which invariably generates more questions and answers), and in the case of this 2012 archaeological season, we will dig down to a fortification site that dates to about the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE, this being the Hellenistic period which, to be sure, was a turbulent time in world history.

So far I have visited the site a couple times (much, much more to come). I already responded to the comment, “So what do you think of this Roman archaeology, Aaron?” with, “Well, it’s pretty cool, but not as cool as a Mandan-Hidatsa site.” (one has to assert themselves the world over) And once again, and while standing on the Cypriot site, I was re-re-re-reminded of how a place assaults the senses so much more when physically visiting it, this as opposed to just reading about it in unpublished manuscript and published book form. For example, this singular hill provided the inhabitants with a natural outlook to the south. Much of the fortification wall is still visible and in-tact on the southern slope of the hill. While standing on top of the site, I scanned the Mediterranean horizon to the south and imagined how a Hellenistic or, later, a Late Roman soldier would have also scanned the Mediterranean horizon hundreds of years prior. To carry out their official objectives they looked for potential naval threats and merchant vessels. They were exposed to the elements in ways we don’t regularly encounter (for example, after each day of

Prologue to excavation. Dr. Caraher explains where he wants Team Crowley to dig on the side of this cliff here.

archaeological fieldwork 21st century’ers indeed feel the thin layers of dust; and we often require a shower). And soldiers also would have thought about the important moments intrinsic to living life day-to-day, hour-to-hour. Did the soldiers have families nearby? What sort of conversations did they have with others? Who knows: in many ways, historical fiction needs to take over from here.

During the Pettegrew & Caraher presentation, I couldn’t also help but think how the artifacts that we will collect and analyze are some of the few if only imprints the individual human beings who created them left on this section of the planet. They are reflections from the past, and we are charged with uncovering them, collecting, analyzing and scrutinizing them, pulling material culture from that past for us in the present to think on, and so on and so forth. Gotta run. But read up on these sites, and physically visit them as well. Herodotus would want it that way.

Zeno’s Rail Slides: Skate or Die, Zeno

A subtitle might read, “The Cynical and Stoic Philosophy of Skateboarding.” It might have. On Friday evening, May 18, 2012, several rail-slides were executed at the base of the Zeno of Citium statue in Larnaka, Cyprus. I nodded my head in approval upon seeing these (even though the skaters did not at all require my approval). Zeno (344-266BCE) hailed from the ancient city of Citium which is just north of present-day Cyprus. He has been publicly memorialized, a statue put up who-knows-how-long-ago (working on this) in Larnaka. Today, skate-boarders perform ollie impossibles near and rail-slides on (among other sweet moves) the immortalized Zeno. Below is rather grainy footage of a couple sweet rail slides. Skate or die, Zeno.