Archive for the ‘Medieval and Post Medieval Greece Interest Group of the AIA’ Category

Medieval and Post Medieval Archaeology of the Mediterranean – 2011 Archaeological Institute of America Colloquium

I just heard the good news that the Medieval and Post-Medieval Interest Group of the AIA has had a panel accepted at the 2011 AIA.  The proposal is from David Pettegrew (the Interest Group president from 2008-2010) and Amelia Brown (current president 2010-).  I’ll post updates on the panel including the abstracts for the papers and hopefully the podcasts of the actual panel over at our Pendentive Blog

Here’s the abstract for the entire colloquium session and the paper titles.  Looks like a great panel.

“Travel to Greece between Antiquity and the Grand Tour”

Two sets of travel texts have consistently formed the backdrop to archaeological interpretations of ancient Greek sites and landscapes: Pausanias’s 2nd-century Description of Greece and early modern accounts of western Europeans, who themselves often wrote with an awareness of Pausanias. Throughout most of the 20th century, archaeologists attempted to relate these texts to the new discoveries of excavation and survey, while in very recent years scholars have sought to understand these accounts, and the landscapes they represent, in terms of their particular social and intellectual contexts. In general, however, there has been very little research on travel to Greece between Pausanias and the start of the Grand Tour, despite the growing recognition that interregional communication continued uninterrupted between the 3rd and 17th centuries, both in Greece and in the Mediterranean more broadly. Indeed, the textual evidence for Late Antique, Byzantine, and Ottoman travel to Greece is greater than is often realized as historians, geographers, imperial functionaries, sailors, merchants, students, Hellenes, Christian pilgrims, monks, ‘barbarian invaders,’ refugees, pirates, Crusaders, knights, and armies, among many others, visited the peninsula and islands of Greece. It is true that most of these travelers did not (or even could not) record their visits to Greek lands in writing, but the extant textual evidence is not insubstantial. Some educated travelers followed ancient writers and prefigured the Grand Tourists by recording their interest in the monuments of classical antiquity while others ignored the classical past and sought places associated with St. Paul and Christian holy men and women, or viewed sites unaware of either Christian or classical pasts.  The textual evidence itself exists in the context of an ever-expanding body of material culture of Late Antique to Ottoman date produced by both urban excavation and regional survey. In this colloquium, we analyze the varied written sources for different kinds of travel into, within, and around Greece between the 3rd and 17th centuries together with the regional archaeological evidence to illuminate landscapes from Late Antiquity to the Ottoman era. Our goal is to combine both kinds of evidence to better understand post-antique travel and the sites and landscapes visited before the Early Modern era.

“Intellectuals on the Isthmus of Greece,”
David K. Pettegrew, Messiah College

“Christian Pilgrimage to Byzantine Corinth,”
Amelia R. Brown, University of Queensland

“Two Italian Travelers on Karpathos in 1923 and c 1423, and an archaeological explanation for Sorzadori,”
D.J. Ian Begg, Trent University

“’To tell you something very special’: Cyriaco of Ancona in Greece,”
Diana Gilliland Wright, Independent Scholar

“Athens through Ottoman Eyes.”
Pierre A. MacKay, University of Washington


An Open Letter on Byzantine Archaeology and Dumbarton Oaks

Recently Dumbarton Oaks invited a group of archaeologists with research interests in the Byzantine period to Washington, D.C. to discuss the future of Byzantine Archaeology in North America. Kostis Kourelis has posted the schedule on his blog. He has also re-posted a related letter that he sent to the new director of Dumbarton Oaks, Margaret Mullett last year, and links to a nice post critiquing Dumbarton Oaks’ attitudes toward intensive pedestrian survey.

I was invited to this conference, but unfortunately the invitation came too late for me to secure funding to make it. I belly-ached a bit about the somewhat abrupt planning of the conference which made it difficult for those of use in the hinterland to attend. In a big picture kind of way, it is understandable that Dumbarton Oaks would have overlooked the interest of very junior scholars who lived many miles from either coast. As a result, Director Mullett invited me (as I am sure she did to other folks) to send along my thoughts on Byzantine Archaeology in North America.

After some thinking, I decided that I might as well post my email here.

Dear Director Mullett,

Thank you for the invitation to contribute my thoughts to the ongoing reflection on the relationship between Dumbarton Oaks and the discipline of archaeology. So that you know, I consider the work done at DO over the past five decades to be fundamental to the development of Byzantine studies in the US and I tried doggedly for over a decade to get funding for my research from the institution, not so much because I felt like I could contribute to what was going there, but because I felt that being in contact with the environment, people, and resources of DO would make me a better scholar. I learned this respect for the institution from my advisors Jim Morganstern and Timothy Gregory, both of whom benefited from the generosity, collegiality, and resources of DO.

My take on how DO could return to the forefront of the study of Byzantine archaeology involves reconsidering both the place of Byzantine and Medieval archaeology in the academic world and leveraging the resources that DO has developed to contribute not only to Byzantine studies, but to archaeology more generally. To do this, I can see three things:

1. Archaeology has become increasingly method driven over the past 30 years. These methods range from the quantitative approaches of New Archaeology to the more reflective methods of post-processuralism. Medieval archaeology has taken advantage of both of these developments (although more the former than the latter!). A recently published proceedings from a 1998 conference on the archaeology of Medieval and Post-Medieval Greece shows the discipline’s deep investment in a wide range of methodologically sophisticated discourses. Unfortunately, publications from Dumbarton Oaks were largely absent from the bibliographies in this work and, as result, from the conversation. I know that Kostis Kourelis has shared with you his thoughts on the role of DO in the support of intensive pedestrian survey in the Mediterranean world. (And I recognize that DO has supported innovation in preservation practices as well as in such scientific methods as dendrochronology). Overlooking intensive pedestrian survey, however, is particularly glaring because this method has contributed significantly to how we understand the Byzantine period across so much of the Eastern Mediterranean. Looking at a slightly bigger picture and overlooking my own, practical commitment to this form of archaeology, DO has supported very little in the way of overtly methodological discussion in Byzantine archaeology. In short, if DO wants to influence the future of Byzantine and Medieval archaeology in the Mediterranean, they need to engage in methodology. (Marcus Rautman and Tim Gregory’s contributions here are particularly significant.)

2. At the same time, archaeology – and the humanities in general – have become increasingly theoretical. Most of this theoretical bent comes, as you know, from the so-called challenge of postmodernism. Despite these somewhat discredited (or at least controversial) origins, the themes introduced by post-modern thought have exerted a tremendous influence on archaeology by not only asking difficult questions of the archaeologist as practitioner, but also offering important critiques of the role of archaeology in the emergence of national identities, the understanding of material objects as active agents in social networks, and the place of archaeology in challenging historical and political orthodoxies. Despite the longstanding investment of DO on the study of important objects from the Byzantine Mediterranean, they have exerted very little influence on discussions of how and why objects create meaning. The most striking example of this is that DO has played a key role in supporting the study of Byzantium in Eastern Europe where the intersection of archaeology, Byzantine studies, and national identities is particularly visible and susceptible to important scholarly critique, but offered very few critical reflections on Byzantine archaeology as an a cultural and political phenomenon. (The work of Florin Curta is an important representative of this approach)   

3. Permeability. The final observation regarding DO’s place in the academic ecosystem may be largely self-serving. As impressed as I have been with its scholarly achievements, I have larger felt like an outsider looking in on its resources and activities. I am not naïve and I understand that my academic credentials have not positioned me geographically or professionally to gain access to what DO has to offer on a regular basis. Moreover, I understand that resources (both financial and otherwise) are limited. That being said, I do wonder whether DO can make itself more inviting to scholars from outside its traditional academic catchment area. One can easily imagine programs that range from archaeological field schools for graduate students, pedagogical outreach to ensure the health of Byzantine archaeology as field taught in American universities, and research outreach so that the good work of scholars affiliated with Dumbarton Oaks is visible beyond the traditional bastions of Byzantine studies (the AIA lecture program is a nice parallel here).

Issue 3 likely reflects my own professional insecurities and academic limitations, and I hope it does not overshadow the significance of issues 1 and 2. The theoretical and methodological are areas where the archaeology of the Medieval and Byzantine world has exerted an influence beyond those interested in its traditional chronological and geographical limits. I suppose my earlier observation that DO’s position of leadership in the field of Byzantine archaeology has lapsed derives from the observation that they have not played a particularly significant role in developments in archaeology that have extended to other periods and places. My perspective on the potential of Byzantine archaeology may be a bit naïve, but it seems to me that the transdisciplinary nature of Byzantine Studies and the deep and persistent commitment to art, texts, architecture, and objects provides a formidable foundation for a kind of sophisticated, synthetic archaeology. This is a powerful offering for an academic community that looks in an increasingly positive way on the inter- and transdisciplinary organizations whose efforts to forge research questions across disciplinary boundaries in a self-conscious way surely reflects the future of academia.

Respectfully yours,
Bill Caraher

Creating Ruins: Formation Process Pictures from Lakka Skoutara

March 30, 2010 1 comment

One of the most exciting things about our recent efforts to produce an online archive of images from the rural site of Lakka Skoutara is that it is now possible to track the processes that have created the ruins visible today.  It’s remarkable how much the houses have broken down over just a decade of observation.  Click on the images of the houses to get access to the archive itself (powered by Omeka) and selective Dublin Core metadata.

House 3 represents one of the most dramatic changes over 8 years time. Once the roof collapses, the walls fall down fairly quickly.  The fieldstone and mud mortar addition on House 3 below collapses much more quickly than the modern cinder block and concrete.  It’s interesting that the end walls on the house remain standing, but I suppose unsurprising since they bear very little of the roof’s weight.

The change in house 2 is equally dramatic, but here you’ll notice some little editing issues.  For example, in many cases the images scanned from slides are backwards.  Note that between 2001 and 2002, the tiles of the house were removed and as a result the roof gives way quickly.

The plan with this project is not only to create a resource where students and scholars can observe the way that buildings break down over time.  Be sure to check out the growing archive here.  The plan is to add some maps and plans as well as some more pictures over the next few weeks so it is always worth stopping back through the archive.  I’ll also likely move the working papers over to my Omeka page soon as well.

For more on this project:

Lakka Skoutara: A Partial Archive
Between Sea and Mountain: The Archaeology of a 20th Century “small world” in the upland basin of the southeastern Korinthia
Slopes and Terraces at Lakka Skoutara
Corinthian Infiltration: The Interior of Some Houses at Lakka Skoutara
Lakka Skoutara: The Survey
The Houses of Lakka Skoutara
Provisional Discard
Construction in the Corinthia

Abandonment Again

March 10, 2010 3 comments

I keep thinking about abandonment in both modern and ancient contexts and wondering why (and to a lesser extent whether) there seems to be a recent upswing in public interest in abandonment. I’ve written elsewhere about the work of such photographers as Yves Marchand and Romain Meffree, Camio Jose Vergara (via Kostis Kourelis) and James D. Griffioen (we can now add (thanks to Ryan Stander, Jeff Brouws, and thanks to Aaron Barth, Brian Herbel), and from closer to home the folks at Ghosts of North Dakota and the haunting 2008 Nation Geographic article “The Emptied Prairie“). I’ve contributed my own fuel to the fire by co-chairing a panel at the 2007 Archaeological Institute of America which focused on abandonment in the archaeological record.

In a forthcoming article (yes, I know…) in the International Journal of Historical Archaeology, I argue, among other things, that abandonment, in its many guises, served as a chronological marker for the end of something. Typically, the something was the abandoned building or object or space, and since archaeology tends to plot the rise and fall of civilizations (in its crudest forms) according to the life history of objects, buildings, and spaces, the abandonment of such things typically serve to mark out the end of a particular culture or period of time. Thus, abandonments are central to the way in which we create historical and chronological periods from the events of the past. Abandonment helps us organize time.

There is an inevitability to abandonment which evokes tragedy. Despite the best intentions of humanity, time (as an active agent) inevitably takes its toll on human constructions and brings them down. In these formulations, abandonment brings to the fore both the power of nature and the folly of human ambition. What I am more interested in, however, is whether our current focus on abandonment is meant to bring about and mark out the end of some era. For as long as history has existed, people have declared history to be at an end. Since the Enlightenment, this call has most frequently been triumphant (see, for example, Fukuyama’s End of History and the Last Man), but in our current fixation on abandonment, it seems to be tragic. The focus of abandonment — monumental hotels, bustling factories, middle class suburbs, rural towns — cut across American and Western society and suggests a kind of all encompassing futility.

Of course, the celebration of the futility of human works could point to an interpretation that is not simply apocalyptic. The end of one era of achievement whether inevitable or calculated (was the Roman Republic assassinated?) typically ushers in the dawn of a new age. If we see abandonment as a critique of past folly, and it seems that some works that celebrate the return of nature to abandoned places see abandonment as the first step toward a return to a more environmentally conscious and humane world. A post-American landscape sees the collapse of the densely packed urban world and the sprawling suburbs as marking the beginning of a new time.

In fact, it may be necessary to mark or even promote the end of an era in order to take credit for building something new. It was common for ancient rulers to celebrate renewal or return to past glories. They took particular pride in the Early and Middle Byzantine periods for the reconstruction, rebuilding, or refounding of institutions or buildings long abandoned. In these narratives, abandonment continued to mark the folly of the past, but also placed hope in new beginnings.  

Death in Corinth

February 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Another banner month for Corinth related articles! This past week saw the publication of A.H. Rohn’s, E. Barnes’s, and G.D.R. Sander’s “An Early Ottoman Cemetery at Ancient Corinth,” Hesperia 78 (2009), 501-615. It’s fantastic that Hesperia is so flexible to publish what is, in effect, a short archaeological monograph! The highly-detailed article documents with great care the 17th century Ottoman cemetery excavated in Panayia Field in Ancient Corinth. The 133 individuals excavated from 81 graves represented both the Christian and Muslim community at Corinth. The excavators suggest that the presence of both groups in the same cemetery and the common appearance of “boot-heel reinforcement cleats” may associate the cemetery with the Ottoman garrison in the town.

If the cemetery is indeed associated with the garrison the ratio of 11 Muslim-style graves to 55 Christian-style graves based, in large part, on the arrangement of the bodies in the graves (p. 516), suggests that the Ottoman garrison may have been relatively well integrated with the local population. This is further indicated by the cross-section of the local demographic represented in the graves with adult men (54), adult women (23) and children of all ages (54) present (pp. 527-528). The analysis of the skull types seem to indicate that many of the women were local while most of the men were from elsewhere (pp.530-531). This would reinforce the notion that this cemetery served the local garrison. The graves also showed some wealth in the community with numerous examples of jewelry (although mostly featuring non-precious metal and stones) and the regular occurrence of the bodies being interned wearing boots suggesting at least some disposable wealth. At the same time, only a few of the graves preserved indications of wooden coffins with nails preserved in a neat halo around the body in at least one grave (p. 512)

It seems that whenever someone excavates a cemetery, there is at least on creepy grave (this is not a technical term), the description of which is worth quoting in full:

Grave 20 contained the body of a young 20–21-year-old male lying extended with his head pointing westward, but face down (Figs. 24, 25). A thick iron rod projecting out of the left side of his neck turned out to be an iron hook that had been inserted into his left shoulder beneath his left clavicle (collarbone). Apparently, he had been suspended from this hook until he died, because both legs and feet extended fully and parallel to one another as they would have while he hung and rigor mortis set in. His right hand had balled up into a fist that clutched the spot where the hook had been inserted into his shoulder. His left arm dangled behind his back. Presumably, once he had died, his punishers had taken down his rigid body and placed it face down (a position of disgrace?) into his final resting place, leaving the hook still embedded. We suspect this represents a death sentence for an individual who defied the order of the local governing body. Ottoman rule at Ancient Corinth during the early 17th century apparently tolerated Christian religious practice, but only as long as the Christians obeyed their rulers and did not cause trouble for them. (p. 521)

The cemetery appears to have fallen out of use during the Second Venetian period at Corinth (1687-1715) and perhaps forgotten by the 18th century. I can’t help wonder how quickly the cemetery fell out of use as place of burial or even commemoration for while the men in the group may have represented Ottoman power, the women would have tied at least some members of that group to the local community. Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory has noted that in the Modern period, Greek graves can fall into neglect very quickly if there are no long any close relatives in the community to maintain them. By the Early Modern period (19th century in Greece) the area had been built over with houses. It is remarkable (and a useful reminder) that there was little evidence of the cemetery in the plow-zone. Thus, the function of this area would have been virtually invisible to intensive survey techniques.

With the recent publications of Lita Tzortzopolou-Gregory on the modern period, the work of Joe Rife on the Late Roman and Roman period, it should now be possible to present an almost comprehensive survey of mortuary practices in the Corinthia from Roman times to the present.

AIA Panel 2010: First Out: Late Levels of Early Sites

January 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Once again the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology in Greece Interest Group of the Archaeological Institute of America is sponsoring a panel at the AIA Annual Meeting.  While I won’t be at the meeting, I will be giving a paper with Timothy Gregory.  If you’re going to be in Anaheim be sure to check out what I’m sure will be a brilliant panel!  I hope that we’ll have podcasts of these talks as well!

On Thursday:

SESSION 1C: Colloquium Platinum Ballroom 6

First Out: Late Levels of Early Sites

Sponsored by the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology in Greece Interest Group

8:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
ORGANIZERS: Sharon E.J. Gerstel, University of California, Los Angeles and
Kostis Kourelis, Franklin & Marshall College

8:30 I Introduction: Sharon E.J. Gerstel, University of California, Los Angeles and Kostis Kourelis, Franklin & Marshall College (10 min.)

8:40 P Prioritizing Prehistory? A Byzantine Deposit from the Palace of Nestor at Englianos
Jack L. Davis, University of Cincinnati and American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and Sharon R. Stocker, University of Cincinnati and American School of Classical Studies at Athens (20 min.)

9:05 D Drowned in the Depths of Obscurity: How Archaeology both Marginalized and Revitalized Our Understanding of Late Byzantine Troy
Kathleen M. Quinn, Northern Kentucky University (20 min.)

9:30 A A Middle Byzantine Neighborhood in Athens: Recent Excavations in the Agora
Anne McCabe, Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents, Oxford (20 min.)

10:05 F First but Not Out: The Byzantine Levels at Chersonesos in Historical and Archaeological Context
Adam Rabinowitz, University of Texas at Austin, and Larissa Sedikova, National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos, Ukraine (20 min.)

10:30 N New Views on Old Data: Reinterpreting Intensive Survey Results after 30 Years
William R. Caraher, University of North Dakota, and Timothy E. Gregory, Ohio State University (20 min.)

10:55 L Late Ottoman and Early Modern Levels from New Excavations in Ancient Corinth
Guy D. R. Sanders, American School of Classical Studies at Athens (20 min.)

Some other notables from the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project

On Friday:

SESSION 6F Grand Ballroom J & K
Archaeological Methodology
4:30 P Painting Practices in Roman Corinth: Contextualizing Analytical Analyses
on Wall Paintings from Panaghia Field and the Area East of the Theater
Sarah Lepinski, American School of Classical Studies at Athens, and Hariclia Brecoulaki, Institute of Greek and Roman Antiquity, The National Hellenic Research Foundation (20 min.)

SESSION 6G Platinum Ballroom 7
Archaeology of Ancient Warfare
3:35 T The Inscribed Sling-Bullets of Perusia as a Unique Discourse
Brandon R. Olson, Penn State University (20 min.)

For Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey types:

On Friday:

SESSION 4A Grand Ballroom Salon E
Excavation and Survey in Bronze Age Greece
9:20 T The Saronic Harbors Archaeological Research Project (SHARP): The Bronze Age Worlds of Kalamianos
Daniel J. Pullen, The Florida State University, and Thomas F. Tartaron,
The University of Pennsylvania (20 min.)

Costa-Gavras’s Parthenon

November 27, 2009 1 comment

I made a post a few months ago entitled The Destructive Power of the Parthenon (see also my brief review of Anthony Kaldellis’ book about on the Christian Parthenon).  It has become one of my most frequently viewed posts.  I was prompted by the controversy over Costa-Gavras’s short film for the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.  The controversy stems from the depiction of black glad Christian’s defacing the Parthenon sculptures in (apparently) A.D. 438.  As I said in my previous post, I have my doubts about the historical and archaeological veracity of this claim – or at least the systematic extent of damage inflicted by iconoclastic Christians – but I’ll leave the archaeological arguments to folks like Troels Myrup who specialize in the phenomenon.

I’ll refrain for analyzing the film further (taking a colleague’s advice: it’s just a cartoon!), except to say that the only depiction of figures in the film are folks being destructive to the building (namely Christian Athenians and Lord Elgin).  It seems like a missed opportunity not to have shown early archaeologists to whose vision we owe so much of our current view of the Acropolis and its temple.