Home > Mediterranean Archaeology in North Dakota, Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project > "Transitional Spaces" in the landscapes of the Mediterranean and North Dakota

"Transitional Spaces" in the landscapes of the Mediterranean and North Dakota

Over the last week the discovery of a body near the President’s house at the University of North Dakota has caused a stir in the North Dakota media.  The body, from what we know now, is of an older woman, “older than 30 to 40 (emphatically not a college aged student!) and the body appears to have been in place for several decades. 

Of the more interesting things surrounding the discovery of this unfortunate soul is the discussion of the history of the area around what is now the president’s house at the university (very fitting for a university exploring it’s 125-iversary).  A recent Grand Forks Herald article provided these insights:

“Former UND President Tom Clifford was a student at the university in the late 1930s.

Although he didn’t want to speculate too much on the origin of the remains, he recalled that there was a “hobo jungle” in the same vicinity during the ’30s.

“People would migrate here for harvest,” he said. “They would camp in that area, near the railroad.”

The Rev. William Sherman, retired pastor at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Grand Forks, also recalled the camps.

“There were tens of thousands of working men” riding the rails, he recalled. They weren’t violent, he said, and they slept on cardboard in camps, eating, working and passing through.

Others recalled the area as an open, grassy space, a “nice place to go out and lay in the sun,” said P.V. Thorson, a retired UND history professor.”

We could call this transition space based on it’s proximity to transportation, work, and it’s undefined character (“open”, “jungle”, “camps”).  (This space doesn’t seem to appear on this postcard from the 1920s postcard posted over the the Grand Forks Life Blog!)

We’ve tried to apply this interpretative paradigm to our analysis of Pyla-Koustsopetria.  We got the idea from M. Rautman’s use of the term to describe areas at the fringes of the Late Roman settlement of Kopetra.  We applied the term to our famous Zone 2 — a region to the northeast of our densest concentration of pottery (for our discussion of this area see here).  To summarize, we termed as “transitional” for three reasons:

1. There is a substantial concentration of Late Roman pottery, but many more locally produced LR1 amphoras and Cypriot Red Slip pottery.

2. The Zone lacks rooftiles or other evidence for substantial architecture.

3. The area would have sat near what we think was the main route to the east toward the major settlements of Salamis-Constantina.  It would have also sat on the shore of the embayment which served as a small Late Roman harbor.


This all being said, one really likes our term “transitional area”.  Most other scholars ask (rightly) transition from “what to what”?  So, perhaps we need a better term.  But I like the parallel between the area near the President’s House at UND and our Zone 2. 

The finding of a body there is a good reminder that the scatter of pottery that we document on Cyprus actually represents human activity and lives.  It helps us imagine a temporary settlement of people who had come to the area to harvest crops, help load ships, or find other day-labor. 

It’s also another good example of just how good the North Dakota landscape is to think with.  For other examples see here and here

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