Tag Archives: Cyprus

Cyprus Footage from 2012

While Bill (Caraher) blogged a bit on Punk Archaeology and PKAP today, in a separate but related sphere (parallel trajectories I call them), I stumbled across an audio-video short that David Pettegrew recorded during the PKAP 2012 field season in Cyprus. I uploaded this to my YouTube channel, and I will share it here.

In May and June of 2012, the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (Dr. William Caraher, Dr. David Pettegrew, and Dr. R. Scott Moore) charged me with trench supervisor duties for an excavation unit located outside of Larnaca, Cyprus. Here in Pettegrew’s video is a wall emerging out of the excavation unit from a 3rd-century BCE Hellenistic coastal fortification. This site is contemporaneous with Alexander the Great and Zeno, the Stoic from Citium. Within the excavation unit, I am to the right, and sorting out the stratigraphic layers with a student and colleague. The student and colleague to my left continues uncovering bedrock at an industrial pace.

Learning from a Digital Un-Conference

What it looks like when for the first time attempting to gchat an unconference talk from Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean to Fargo, North Dakota.

What it looks like when for the first time attempting to gchat an unconference talk from Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean to Fargo, North Dakota.

This last Friday the board of the North Dakota Humanities Council met for a regular meeting, and after a solid morning’s work (sweat on everyone’s brow, of course), we thought we would experiment at lunch with an attempt to beam Ancient Historian Bill Caraher (his blog here) from the Levant/Cyprus (for context, Cyprus is approximately 140 miles from the coast of Syria) into our meeting room at the Ramada in Fargo, North Dakota (for context, Fargo, North Dakota is 140 miles from Bemidji, Minnesota), this to give a short talk on some modern archaeology of man camps in western North Dakota (stay with me here).

Of course, before any idea becomes a reality, experimentation has to happen (this is where I start to explain what went wrong). Remember: all those polished talks are the result of a lot of experimentation and planning. In our case, the talk was cut short due to lack of band-with. While I’m uncertain what the band-with strength was like in Cyprus, I can say that on the Fargo Ramada conference room end of things it was dodgy — at best.

So what happened was this: while trying to establish a gchat connection with Bill Caraher in Cyprus, I texted and instant messaged back and forth a bit. While gchat struggled to keep up with beaming the powerpoints from Cyprus to the Ramada in Fargo, I messaged Bill to explain how things looked on our end (this in contrast to how things looked on his end: note, this is a metaphor and reality for life). Here is an excerpt from the messaging:

Aaron to Bill:

Your audio cuts in and out. You sound like a droid. And the power points aren’t synching on our end. Other than that, everything is great.

So the next time around, here is what needs to happen, at least beyond abandoning this technology all together (we have to keep trying: technology is supposed to save us from ourselves someday, right?). Establish relationships with the IT people at conference room establishment. Get a secure internet connection with heavy band-with. Use that. Also, what we did right in this case was exactly what we did: we experimented with it in an informal setting (at lunch) to see how it would work. Bill is scheduled to appear real-time at the next board meeting. The council, no doubt, will have more questions and thoughts for him then. As they say in the digital humanities, to be continued…

Punk, the Humanities and Academia: Some Analogies

Bret Weber and Bill Caraher prepare to present man camp findings to NDSU in the Spring of 2013. Tom Isern pictured at right saunters back to take a seat.

Bret Weber and Bill Caraher prepare to present man camp findings to NDSU in the Spring of 2013. Tom Isern pictured at right saunters back to take a seat.

This coming Friday the board of the North Dakota Humanities Council (or humanities council, however one prefers) will convene for one of its regular meetings. The council meets every three or four months in various locations throughout the state to conduct the business of a board. A primary function of these meetings is to consider a variety of outstanding proposal submissions. In addition to this, and at this Friday’s meeting, we will officially or unofficially welcome aboard — the board — some new members. One of these new members is Bill Caraher, a crack Ohio State University-trained jet-setting ancient and modern historian and archaeologist with University of North Dakota’s prestigious department of history. Bill is also a Punk Archaeologist without borders, much like our friend and colleague Andrew Reinhard.

Because Bill’s summer field season regularly takes him to Cyprus and the greater Levantine world, he physically cannot be with us in eastern North Dakota for this specific meeting. But because it’s the second decade of the 21st century — and even though we don’t have flying cars or flux capacitors, yet — we will digitally beam Bill from Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean to conduct a short presentation in Fargo, North Dakota. The topic is a presentation on our modern archaeological and sociological research of man camps in the petroleum booming Bakken of western North Dakota. I just returned

Dr. Kostis Kourelis, punk archaeologist and art historian with Franklin and Marshall College (Pennsylvania), gives his thoughts on punk archaeology through a PA after being introduced with a bullhorn.

Dr. Kostis Kourelis, punk archaeologist and art historian with Franklin and Marshall College (Pennsylvania), gives his thoughts on punk archaeology through a PA after being introduced with a bullhorn.

an e-mail to Bill this morning, letting him know the technology I’ll bring to the NDHC board meeting so that we can pull a kind of joint half-hour presentation off in good order.

Doing something like this is akin to playing in a band. Professors and teachers: encourage your students to start or join bands. Here are some analogies between the two: there is the processes of research and preparation (or what a band calls making songs and then rehearsing those songs), locating the technology to transmit that research (the band refers to this as instruments, including voice, guitars, harmonicas, drums, banjos, cymbals, sound boards, timpani, PAs, speakers, cow-bell[s], monitors, lights), finding the specific meeting room and location and coordinating with the executive director (this is what a band calls finding a venue, and “chatting with a bar owner”), and then executing the entire thing within the span of 30 minutes (this is what a band calls a “set”). Doing this over and over and over again, too, ensures that researchers and lecturers (or individual band members) will simply refine the process and get better and better.

Another note: while we can digitally bridge the spatial gap between the northern Steppe of North America and the eastern Mediterranean, there is little we can do about the temporal gap: it’s not that big of deal, though, since when it is noon Central Standard Time in eastern North Dakota, it is roughly 20:00 hours in Greeco-Levantine time (or about 8:00pm). This will be fun. Long live modern archaeology, the digital humanities, and punk.

Some modern archaeology of a punk archaeology set.

Some modern archaeology of a punk archaeology set.

One Longue Durée of Mosaic History

Molly is finalizing the mosaic grouting process on a reused terra-cotta potter.

Molly is finalizing the mosaic grouting process on a reused terra-cotta potter salvaged from someone’s trash pile.

It is the weekend and projects are happening: plans have been set in motion to slow-smoke some baby back ribs, and Molly is out front of her sister’s Valley City home, toiling away at a mosaic project. I’ve busied myself with reading James Belich, The Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict: The Maori, The British, and the New Zealand Wars (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1986 & 1989), but have set it down to do a bit of immediate chores.

So while taking the trash out from the kitchen to the dumpster, I passed by Molly’s ongoing mosaic project. Then I started thinking about how Molly’s mosaic project today reminded me of the Late Roman mosaics I saw a year ago in the historic archaeological village of Kourion, Cyprus. Then I started thinking about how historians and archaeologists — depending on what cultural settings they were born into, and depending on what previous experiences they have had — bring individual and disparate meanings to the stuff they come across. (This may be getting a bit too self-absorbed, so if you’ve noticed it, and it offends you, please stop reading here if you already haven’t. I will not take offense. But it is a line of thinking with universal application.)

So without slamming out any more dialog (we are packing up and readying to go, which is timely to end this short entry), I will upload a couple pictures I snapped a year ago in Kourion, and a couple pictures from today in Valley City. Taking massive leaps through space and time, this is what I call a global and local longue durée of mosaic history, from Kourion, the Roman Empire, to Valley City, North Dakota.

Close-up mosaic detail from Kourion, Cyprus.

Close-up mosaic detail from Kourion, Cyprus.

A mosaic from a Roman gladiator's home in Kourion, Cyprus. Mosaics are not for cowards.

A mosaic from a Roman gladiator’s home in Kourion, Cyprus. Mosaics are not for cowards.

The Archaeology of Gardening

Pottery SherdsThis evening, while bracing for full throttle summer and the planting that goes with it, I prepped one huge planter (it took on three of those huge bags of dirt) adjacent to the patio. Before dumping in the dirt, and for reasons that will never be made clear to me, the word “drainage” bounced through my brain. So instead of just dumping in the dirt (and dooming a plant to drown), I looked about and gathered up some small cobbles (way larger than what in the archaeology business we call a Size Grade 1). I dumped what small rocks I could find into the planter, but it was a smattering and did not seem enough. So I looked around, and found a — or, if you prefer, an — historic archaeological solution: smash up the already busted up pottery, some terra-cotta, and put the sherds into the huge planter as foundation for drainage. Last week, Molly and I salvaged these sherds while trolling up and down the streets, eyeing the curbsides during the annual, city-wide dispose-of-anything-and-everything day. As I was situating the sherds in the bottom of the huge pot, I also thought about excavating northern Great Plains, North American midden mounds and Hellenistic garbage piles in the eastern Mediterranean Levant.

BackfillAncient and prehistoric pottery is everywhere, and more often than not, ceramics and pottery uncovered by archaeologists today has, throughout the course of its own life, undergone a series of adaptive reuses: the artifacts we uncover today have been recycled for a long time, by disparate cultures and for different reasons. In using my archaeological imagination, I also couldn’t help but thinking how Ancient Romans and Hellenistic Cypriots, and Ancient Mandan-Hidatsa, would have used busted pottery for a variety of purposes, either as backfill, drainage for planters, and so on.

An aside: there is something soothing about the noise of used terra-cotta bases smashing against a brick wall. To the right is a photo of an excavation unit from the PKAP archaeological dig of May-June 2012 on Cyprus. At the bottom of the deepest strata, you can see the terra-cotta back fill emerging from a 3rd-century BC Hellenistic site.

Raw Notes from Nicosia, Cyprus

Subjective data collection is different in draft form from what is ultimately presented as a finalized product. Just last evening, while sitting on my futon in the living room (at the time, Iron Man 2 was for some reason streaming through on the AppleTV), I began flipping through the notes I had jotted down while in Nicosia, Cyprus, on May 18, 2012. When these notes were scribbled down, little thought was given to how they would be viewed in the near future. But last night there the notes were, igniting in my memory thoughts that had otherwise gone dormant, and also the process by which these immediate thoughts are set down, and what they look like in rough form. Here is a page of notes, scribbled down with pen while sitting at a KEO beer tent, taking in some regular sounds of the city.

Raw notes taken down at a KEO beer tent in Nicosia, Cyprus (eastern Mediterranean) on May 18, 2012.

The above reads:

The streets are modernized yet directionally pre-Industrial, a reflection of the irregular past, when humanity tended to organize themselves in accordance with the natural surroundings… Beyond the Venetian wall, a vestige of Byzantium, are commercial skyscrapers, clean lines and sky cranes. Between this and the wall is a moat, a previous way in which human inhabitants attempted to impose some kind of order against the chaos inherent to the natural world. Commercial signage, Nike (Greek god!), Coke, and so on, also reflect the appropriation, hyphenation and hybridization of the past with the present, the latter always reaching back into the infinite of history to grab the necessary justifications to live out life…

Sometimes it’s important to not try and slam the day full with one consecutive tourist attraction after another. Knowing what a place is like often requires us to find a corner cafe or some sidewalk seating, sit down, not worry about a time-table or schedule, and simply observe what is going on around us for a good hour or so. Or more. I often have to remind myself of that.

Thoughts on Global Archaeology

On June 5, 2012, my Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project excavation team hit glorious bedrock (something just over or around 1.8 meters below ground surface). Here is what happens when you sink a hand pick into clay and hit said bedrock. Reverberations shoot up and in through the handle, up to the hand, all while simultaneously returning audible reverberations produced by said metal pick striking bedrock (also known as “that sturdy clink”). The ear drum will pick this up and trigger cognition in a certain direction. It will induce a New World northern Great Plains’ers’ eyes to widen. Note: if you are privy to Native America and its history (and you always should be), you will arguably not regard yourself as from the New World (in academia, we sometimes refer to this as post-colonialism). However, when you are in the Mediterranean, you will need to somehow communicate differences from one side of the Atlantic to another. “Damn that Columbus.” Say this while smiling. If you carry Scandinavian historical identity with you, remind Columbus fanatics about this Smithsonian web-link. We all need balance.

The wall emerges. It’s okay to vacillate between the late Lewis Binford’s processualism and Ian Hodder’s post-processualism while uncovering subsurface Hellenistic architecture at this stage in the game. Say to yourself, “What does this all mean!?”

Anyhow, and upon hearing this bedrock clink, thank the archaeological comrade to your immediate east. “Thank you for also hitting bedrock.” Then pull the pick up out of the earth, swivel the handle 180 degrees, grip it again, and bring back the right arm to its physiological apex. When at its entire apex swing downward, coordinating the arm with gravity to aim the scraper end where the pick left off. Note: you will hear a similar clink and feel the handle vibrate again. With the pick lodged in the dirt and resting on the bedrock below, extend the free left arm toward the upended pick, enclose the left hand around the topside of it, and then drag the handle toward yourself with your right while pushing down on the backside with your left. Essentially, pull the scraper in to the body. Do this repeatedly, moving across the horizontal stratigraphy, only stopping to wipe the sweat from the brow (it otherwise will get into your eyes and produce a slight sting in the corners). This, in turn, will ultimately induce northern Great Plains and Old World historic and archaeological comparative thoughts.

No matter the location on the planet, archaeological excavation units are essentially closed quarter laboratories, where theory and data are in constant exchange with one-another. There is the material culture that continuously emerges from below, inanimate objects from a bygone age (note: do not ever, ever, refer to skeletal remains as “inanimate objects.” You will deservedly be destroyed by the present). These objects carry and reflect the imprint of humanity. Know them. Respect them. They are from civilizations and cultures that pushed in certain directions for an infinite amount of reasons. While in the excavation unit, thoughts will continue, at least when bounced off the word culture (this word and idea re-popularized by Fernand Braudelin the 20th century).  This latter word, culture, is analogous with the word cult (and even agriculture, and monoculture), or the process of doing things together and in a particular direction. These are some thoughts that will rip through your brain.

Hellenistic Imagined Community (name-dropping thanks here to Benedict Anderson). Map taken from U of Texas web-link: http://www.utexas.edu/courses/macedonia/maps_hellenistic_kingdoms_.htm

In addition to this, your archaeological physiology will be in constant exchange with meteorology and the weather. This may be reflected in the saying, “If you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the excavation unit.” You will be uncertain how warm it has been getting at the Vigla site on Cyprus — “What does this Centigrade mean? And why can’t the world just get on board with Fahrenheit? What does it all mean?!” Never mind all of these thoughts. Keep them to yourself. If you know the sun is going to be up and about, definitely wear a brimmed hat (sombreros have been suggested), collars if you can, sunscreen for certain. If your shirt is in its second day of rotation, you may take offense at your own odor about mid-afternoon of that second day. It’s okay to announce this to your crew. Be calm in your tone, though. “I am taking offense at my own body odor. I just wanted to announce that.” In the correct context, all of this will lighten things up a bit.

But back to this exchange in the excavation unit, the one that is set down on top of a 3rd century BC Hellenistic site. As the fortification wall grows up out of the ground (you’re excavating around it), you will begin admiring the mason who some 2,300 years prior chiseled these ashlar blocks and roughed out stones here and there to assemble this wall. “Is it a partition wall? Is it one phase of an exterior wall? What’s with all the military-like artifacts we keep coming down on within these walls? MAKE SENSE OF ALL THIS, DAMMIT!!!” You’re brain will think these things, a kind of psychological inversion into itself. After climbing out of the test unit, scribble a distilled and filtered variation of these thoughts down in the subjective note section of your excavation unit forms. Use big words here and there. They tend to be more timeless than relativistic lay-terms. Also: a slight breeze may push up over the plateau and evaporate the sweat out of your drenched shirt. Be sure to say to the crew, “Don’t come out of the excavation unit: it’s cold up here, something like 90 degrees Fahrenheit, or whatever,  and you’ll catch a chill and perhaps your death. Stay down and warm in the breeze-less 90+ degree excavation unit.”

As mentioned above, excavation units can become cramped. But this doesn’t matter because you’ll have kept the bigger idea and picture in mind. The mind convinces the body that an inevitability is at stake: we will finish this excavation unit, record it properly, and be satisfied with questions we answered, and the new questions generated by the unanticipated finds — happens every time.

While in the western portion of the excavation unit and while facing north, you will have to bring the pick down close to the emerging foundation wall. This will invariably bring your knuckles into direct contact with the said foundation wall. With one repeated swing after another, your knuckles hitting the wall is ultimately a game of chance and odds. At some point they will scrape the wall. When this happens, you’ll immediately think of the epilogue Tom Isern set down in Prairie Churches. Tom was re-roofing a prairie church, and he maneuvered in a way on the ladder that was in discord with gravity, and amazingly he captured himself, but only after dragging his forearm across the said church roof. One imagines that a bit of Tom, at least the DNA from his scrape, was set into this church roof. Similar situation when your knuckles whack and scrape the side of subsurface Hellenistic architecture in the Levant. You’ll see a dash of blood and think, “Well, there it is. Better take a picture and Web 2.0/Digital Humanities this thing on the Internets…”

Archaeological Overlap

Any archaeological field school invariably draws in a cross section of students who are not directly working toward receiving a degree in archaeology. For a truly rounded education in the arts and sciences, students end up taking a cross-section of classes for a variety of reasons. A couple days ago when the slight 35 kilometer/hour breeze came to a lull at the Vigla Site in Cyprus (allowing the microphone to pick up the audio), I asked my team of undergraduate students brought in from Messiah College to think how undergraduate disciplinary training in non-archaeological fields might be applied to the archaeological process that they were doing right then and there.

I posed the question, and they had 15 minutes to think of a response. This is how it played out. I was very satisfied with the results, as the students worked with the data emerging from the field and excavation unit, and also explored how this influenced them personally (back in the day, we used to refer to this as building character).

The first is Danielle King, an education major…

The second is Carrie Bisciotti, a philosophy major, who discusses theories laid out by Dr. Robin Collins, and how these theories might be applied to thinking of evil as inherent to virtue-building processes (is Carrie suggesting that my trench supervisory skills were at first perceived as evil to her, but then looked at another way, perhaps as the anvil and hammer upon which virtue is built?)…

The third is David Crout, a history major who discusses epistemology, real-time…

Earth Homes, Mud Brick and Ancient Engineering

A couple points about this short video clip below, taken on June 1, 2012 at the Vigla site (dated to roughly 3rd century BC) on Cyprus. The first point is that it, the video, captures the A/V of an archaeological trowel at work. The video doesn’t capture the essence of the meteorology and atmosphere, though, which on the hottest and most humid days induces 21st century archaeologists to ponder what a 12th-century crusader thought when arriving on the scene in full battle regalia (“Chain mail in this heat? Yeah, I think I’ll crusade up to the North Pole instead…”). Then the thoughts drift to how some of those knights returned home to contemplate existence and play chess with death (or life, depending on one’s interpretation).

The up-close trowel shot also demonstrates what the majority of archaeological fieldwork is like: one scrape after another, and how this requires archaeology attentiveness to the changes in the soil. In the video, the soil color change is what the ubiquitous mud brick looks like upon digging into, the mud brick a staple of any rural and urban settlement. To identify this, look for the color change that is darker rust-colors, a type of clumpiness in the soil, and white fibers that helped bond the bricks (today fiberglass strands provide that binding agent, at least with concrete). Mud bricks also required a foundation that raised them above the ground surface so they didn’t melt away when it rained (saturate the mud bricks, and they will slump and fail).

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.