Thursday, July 31, 2008

On Fire

I arrived at Troy in the evening of Tuesday the 29th after thirty-six hours of travel. Yesterday, the 30th, was to be my first full work-day but forest fires to the NE shutdown the electricity. I could only work until my battery ran out so I'm a little behind, though catching up quick.

One task is to help bring to completion the stratigraphic and chronological narrative of of the lower city at Ilion. The third and fourth centuries AD have my attenion right now. For example, here's a partial and preliminary list of pottery from a late third century + fill. You'll quickly see that there is residual material but if you scroll down, you'll find African Red-Slip, ESC/Çandarli and amphoras that bring the deposit later. There's a coin of Aurelian (270-275 AD) in here as well.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Licit Markets and Archaeologists

Peter Tompa has described the presentation made by a representative of the AAMD in relation to a request by Honduras to renew the MoU concerning import restrictions on pre-Columbian archaeological material from that country. To quote Tompa:
Josh Knerly, an attorney who represents the AAMD, made the most interesting presentation. He suggested that Honduras should create licit markets for duplicate archaeological artifacts as one part of a scheme to protect Honduras' culture.
The AAMD seems to be pushing this idea. For example, its recent report on the acquisition of archaeological material:
Affirms the value of licit markets for the controlled sale of ancient art and archeological materials as an effective means of preventing looting.
I am an archaeologist and respond to the idea of a licit market as someone with a professional interest in the matter. I do not think it appropriate for me to carefully record and publish artifacts that will then be sold into the private possession of individuals or institutions. Rather, I do my work so that the material I document is kept for future study using ever-new techniques and in the pursuit of ever-more knowledge of antiquity. I understand that the nations that currently care for that material can and may chose to sell it. This is not likely to happen to any of the objects that I have worked on, however. I am sure that many archaeologists would agree that public funds, such as those from the NEH and the NSF in the United States, should not be used to pay for archaeological work that supplies commercial goods to the antiquities market.

The idea of licit markets is currently so ill-formed that I express the above only as a concern. But if the AAMD membership is really looking to acquire "duplicate archaeological artifacts," I do have to ask whom they think is going to collect and prepare this material for them? Programs such as the UK's Portable Antiquities Scheme may seem to be one source, but the AAMD's membership usually has its eye on larger objects than are registered by the PAS.

Bottom line... it is not the job of archaeologists to provide services to the private market, we work for the accumulation of greater public knowledge.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Stratified Groups at Ilion

On an even more preliminary basis than usual, I have started adding stratified groups to GRBPIlion. Available as of writing:
  • K/L16/17.0417 Clean-up after an episode of destruction in the third century AD. Could be associated with "Herulian activity", though that is a larger question.
  • K/L16/17.0419 A related fill with less pottery. What's there firms up the chronological profile.
  • M18.0099 Late Roman fill associated with the use of a house from the late fourth to early fifth centuries AD. There is pretty nice ARS in here.

The accompanying text for these deposits is lightly adapted from a longer narrative that will also be a focus of my upcoming time in Turkey. Working out the relationship between digital and print-based publication will be interesting. Publication of this material was planned before the current generation of digital tools and practices existed. I look forward to moving ever more of my prior work into digital format, with availability as a PDF and on of course happening in parallel with html-based distribution.

Adding these pages raises issues of presentation and navigation. In terms of presentation, this short list of deposits is buried far down the page under the heading "Table of Contents: Deposits". The whole ToC list is getting long, and I may have to change its layout.

The issues related to navigation are more substantial. Readers browsing the catalog should be made aware that there is a description of the other pottery found alongside any one piece. This will not be hard to do; I just need to figure out the best way. Searching may become more pressing as readers try to answer questions such as "what is the earliest deposit with Middle Roman Amphora 7?" All in good time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Well Vessels

I've added brief descriptions of three nearly-complete third-century AD pots to the the "Roman Plain and/or Partially Slipped Vessels" page of GRBPIlion. That's a work in progress that Billur Tekkök and I will update over the next three weeks when we're both at Troy.

The vessels themselves were found at the bottom of a well-shaft. As a preview, I'm reproducing the relevant page from the PDF version of the publication.
The third image of the first entry shows the vessel as found in situ. The well-shaft was cut through bedrock into a natural, underground water-system. This allowed for excellent preservation in this remarkable context. You can click through from the plain-wares page for a full-size version of that image, and I also reproduce a thumbnail here:

There's more to come from this deposit and that's one reason to be excited about getting back on-site.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Planning for Troy

I leave for Troy this coming Monday, the 28th. One focus will be ongoing work on GRBPIlion. Part of my planning has come in the form of incomplete pages that I'll edit while in the field. For example, there is now a page on unguentaria. Just four examples right now, and only a two-item bibliography. Starting next week, I'll confirm and complete the measurements and beef up the descriptions. I'll also add an introductory text on the presence of these vessels at Troy. So for now that page is somewhat of a reminder to myself to do the work, if you see what I mean.

I'll make more of these available before I leave and blog the process. I'll also be making regular (maybe even daily) posts from Troy. I've been enjoying the PKAP blogs and Brandon Olson's many posts. See also Real Time Archaeology. It will be fun to add to this developing genre.

One question: what is it about archaeology that makes blogging field-work worthwhile? Assuming that it is, of course. I'm sure somebody has thought about this. I'm guessing there's an understanding that we have an obligation to share our work. It helps that, for some of us, field-work is a discrete phase of our professional lives. Travel-writing is well established and there is overlap with that. The pictures are nice. Etc. Whatever the reasons, I like the results and feel the imperative.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

WAC Clarification

In the post "Don't Bomb Persepolis", I offered that advice as a small commentary on a resolution that I thought represented an official policy of the World Archaeological Congress. I was responding to a press release that was circulated fairly widely, for example on the Iraq Crisis list. I quickly received e-mails that not all was as it seemed. That was the case and it is worth reading "Cultural Heritage in Iran Under Threat", a media-release direct from WAC. A passage from this second release provides context:
A resolution suggesting that no archaeologists or cultural heritage specialists assist the military in planning to protect the cultural heritage was passed by the Plenary session of the WAC-6 Congress for consideration by the World Archaeological Congress Assembly, Council and Executive but was not approved as a formal statement of the position of the organisation as a whole.
I am not expert in WAC's organizational structure but am now glad to see its flexible response to these difficult questions. I am also happy to have been corrected and to offer an update that reflects better information.

Looting in Iraq

On July 1, The Art Newspaper published an article titled "Archaeological sites in south Iraq have not been looted, say experts". The full-text is freely available and the article received wide notice and comment. Larry Rothfield offered a rebuttal at SAFECorner. Now a follow-on editorial by Melik Kaylan has appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Mr. Kaylan directly and approvingly cites the Art Newspaper's reporting on the topic.

The Art Newspaper article seems obviously biased. For a far more judicious description of the assessment of damage in Southern Iraq see Andrew Lawler's July 4th article in Science titled "Preserving Iraq's Battered Heritage". If you click on that link, you'll eventually be asked for money in order to read the full-text. On July 15th, two weeks after publication of the Art Newspaper version, the text of this better reporting was posted to the Iraq Crisis e-mail list by its author. Perhaps the Science article would have had a greater impact if it had been freely available. Such are the intellectual consequences of fee-based journalism.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Don't Bomb Persepolis

Consider this post a small bit of personal protest against the resolution recently passed in plenary session by the delegates of the World Archaeological Congress. The text reads:
The 6th World Archaeological Congress expresses its strong opposition to any unilateral and unprovoked, covert or overt military action (including air strikes) against Iran by the US government, or by any other government. Such action will have catastrophic consequences for millions of people and will seriously endanger the cultural heritage of Iran and of the Middle East in general. Any differences with Iran (as with any other country) should be resolved through peaceful and diplomatic means.

The Congress also urges its members, all archaeologists and heritage professionals to resist any attempts by the military and governments to be co-opted in any planned military operation, for example by providing advice and expertise to the military on archaeological and cultural heritage matters. Such advice would provide cultural credibility and respectability to the military action. Archaeologists should continue emphasising instead the detrimental consequences of such actions for the people and the heritage of the area, for the past and the present alike. A universal refusal by archaeologists and others would send the message that such a plan is hugely unpopular amongst cultural professionals as well as the wider public.
The WAC website doesn't yet reflect passage of the resolution so I'm quoting from a widely circulated e-mail.

I sure as heck hope that the United States doesn't go to war with Iran so please interpret the subject line of this post broadly. But the resolution seems to ignore its real world implications. It is a feature of modern warfare that the international community does put informed constraints on the behavior of armed forces. Does the ICRC encourage war by promoting adherence to the Geneva Conventions? I don't think so.

Without questioning the sincerity of the WAC's delegates, it seems irresponsible for archaeologists to put completely aside the professional imperative to protect cultural resources during times of military conflict. I don't need to see museums looted and sites destroyed to know that war is bad. People dying is a sufficient proof of that.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

CAARI Clarification

It has come to my attention that Danielle Parks never served as a trustee of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute. This is of no particular consequence to me so I have no interest in fact-checking the details of what others say about her. There is a general interest, however, in not only speaking well of the departed, but also in speaking accurately.

For its part, the ACCG has made much of the late Dr. Parks' perceived connections to CAARI on its website:
...ECA's consultations with the late Professor Danielle Parks (a CAARI-Trustee) about coins BEFORE Cyprus even made a formal request for their inclusion... (2nd paragraph; accessed July 9, 2008)

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Way to go CAARI

The Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute's Code of Ethics indicates that it supports the following principles:
  1. archaeological excavations be carried out under the highest standards possible;

  2. illicit trade of antiquities be actively discouraged; and

  3. the authorities of the Department of Antiquities be informed of any improper activities involving excavation or exportation of archaeological artifacts.
I am glad to see Peter Tompa documenting that affiliates of CAARI put these principles into action in working to increase the likelihood that the findspots of Cypriot coins will be properly recorded. He highlights the efforts of the late Danielle Parks. Dr. Parks was an acquaintance of mine in college and I worked with her for one season on Cyprus, where she made her greatest impact. I suspect that she knew the seriousness of her illness during the period when she consulted with the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. If so, I applaud her willingness to engage with this important professional matter towards the end of her life.

doesn't provide a citation for the following quote attributed to Justice Brandeis:
The most important political office is that of the private citizen.
Regardless, it is good to see an archaeologist living up to this creed.

Those who click through to Tompa's post on the ACCG site will note the conspiratorial tone of his news item. Click even further for his observations that archaeologists effectively represent archaeological interests in their interactions with the United States Government. This is good news.

If there is a conspiracy, count me in. I'm happy to state right here that I too have been consulted by the State Department on matters of cultural heritage leglislation and that I've visited Congressional offices on the same topic. I certainly defer to Dr. Parks when it comes to the efficacy of my interactions but do hope to live up to her example.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

ASCSA Publications

The publications page of American School of Classical Studies at Athens web-site is nicely done. It doesn't provide full-text search (yet?) but searching for "pottery" as a keyword returns a useful list of monographs, edited volumes and Agora picture books, many of which will be well-known to readers.

A nice feature is that the individual pages for each work will give a link to an online version if one is available. I'll note that at least one such link is broken, that for Virginia Grace's Amphoras and the Ancient Wine Trade, but the idea is very useful. It is particularly to the School's credit that it has allowed the full text of many of these titles to be read on Google Books; see the link for Jeremey Rutter's The Pottery of Lerna IV.

I hope that this level of access will be quickly available following the publication of the long-delayed Roman Pottery by John Hayes. Jennifer Neils' blurb for this book reads:
The importance of this volume for the archaeology of the Mediterranean cannot be overstated. It will prove invaluable for decades to come for a wide range of scholars dealing with the Roman world. The manuscript is a tour de force: comprehensive, up-to-date, well researched, and well written.
It is a large volume whose retail price is set at $150.00. Its importance will be greatly diminished if it is not available at low-cost in digital format.