Friday, September 30, 2011

The Institute’s Autumn Calendar of Events and Microarchaeology

The Athenian archaeological community’s full lecture and events schedule for 2011/12 is now underway. As the Institute’s contribution to the fall program, which is open to the public, we will sponsor two lectures. The program of the Athens Association of Friends of CIG will include a lecture and the opening of a photographic exhibition.

To assist our members and friends in remembering the dates and topics of our program we have created a brochure with the help of Chris Stewart. This will be available at the Institute as a hardcopy supplement to our email, blog, facebook and twitter announcements. So, now’s the time to put these four dates on your dance card!

We look forward to seeing you again at the Institute on Wednesday evening October 19th at 7:30 pm for Dr China P. Shelton’s lecture on Environmental Archaeology.

Book of the Blog
The archaeological record is seen only at the visual level by many archaeologists. There exists, however, an equally important microscopic record, of which pollen, phytoliths, and diatoms comprise only a small part. The study of the microscopic biological remains and residues, geological sediments and chemical compounds introduced into the archaeological record by past human behavior is called “microarchaeology”.

For field archaeologists trained solely in the humanities and/or social sciences it is a daunting challenge to understand this microscopic record and to integrate its recovery and analysis in archaeological discussions and interpretations. Normally, an archaeologist interested in such data sets to assist in answering their research questions would seek out the expertise and services of “tame” natural and earth scientists to undertake this research. One of the problems with this approach is whether or not the scientist co-researcher really understands what the archaeologist is seeking and so to produce relevant data and analyses. Another is whether or not the archaeologist can truly understand the results of these investigations and effectively integrate it into the evidence from the macroscopic record.

What is an archaeologist to do? Become an informed consumer of these data sets and analyses at the very least, and formally educated if the time and circumstances permit. One immediate means to begin this educational journey to understand the breadth and depth of such research is to read Stephen Weiner’s book, Microarchaeology. Beyond the Visible Archaeological Record (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). In a systematic, careful and detailed fashion he provides a succinct overview of this sub-discipline and then a comprehensive discussion of each of its major components or approaches. The types of information that can be recovered from the microscopic record are given. The most common materials embedded in the archaeological matrix are reviewed, namely, geogenic, biogenic and pyrogenic materials, as well as their potential for alteration by taphnonomic agency. Weiner discusses how one can assess whether the material preservation conditions are conducive to producing the data sought. Biological molecules, macromolecules as well as materials for dating are stressed here. The potential for using ethnoarchaeological approaches to the microscopic record are also explored. He advocates having an on-site analytical laboratory to improve the quality of the data recovered and to assist in making informed decisions on where, what and how to excavate next. As he believes that infrared spectroscopy is one of the most powerful analytical tools for these investigations he treats it more detail.

This book is a treasure of information, approaches, mini-case studies and ideas on how we can investigate and interpret more effectively the complete archaeological record. There are ample illustrative materials to support the text in the form of charts, graphs, tables, figures, b/w and color photographs and reconstructions. The references cited are extensive.

This is not an “easy read”, but the effort made will be amply rewarded. So the offer still stands! “You’re invited to visit the Institute’s Library to peruse this book and others like it”. What are you waiting for, eh?

David Rupp

Friday, September 23, 2011

In Memoriam: Frederick E. Winter and Environmental Archaeology

Dr Sheila Campbell, CIG Board of Directors, sadly informed us that Professor Frederick E. Winter died on Saturday evening, September 17, from complications following successful heart surgery. He was just a few weeks short of his eighty-ninth birthday. The funeral will take place on Saturday September 24, and a memorial service will be organized at the University of Toronto sometime in the future, date to be determined.

The Institute was in the process of organizing a colloquium here in Athens at the end of June 2012 to honor Professor Winter and his research in Greek architecture. Now it will be held in his memory with at least 17 Canadian researchers and professors presenting papers on a broad range of architectural topics ranging from the prehistoric period in the Aegean basin through Frankish Greece. More details and the program will be presented in the near future in this blog and on the Institute’s website.

Book of the Blog
In my last mini-review I examined a book dealing with archaeological sediments. This is, of course, but one component of the biological and geological material observed in and recovered from an archaeological excavation or documented on the surface or seen in an exposure on a pedestrian survey. The sub-discipline that encompasses all of this and more is called environmental archaeology. This is a clear extension of the biological and earth sciences. It deals with ecofacts (i.e. flora, fauna and insect remains), with geomorphology, with subsistence patterns, with palaeoenvironmental studies and with palaeoeconomic studies.

For many archaeologists without a background in the natural sciences and for other researchers using data obtained in one way or the other by archaeological fieldwork, “environmental archaeology” in general, and the data sets produced from this research as well as the specialist reports written about the findings are ill-defined territories of knowledge and esoteric scientific genres. Keith Wilkinson and Chris Stevens have written a book to dispel this ignorance. It is entitled, Environmental Archaeology. Approaches, Techniques & Applications (Stroud: The History Press, revised edition 2008). Their aims are broad and comprehensive. They start with first principles and then take “…the reader step-by-step through approaches, methods, theory and in particular, interpretation” (p. 9). Whenever possible the use the case study approach to explain and to illustrate particular points. The wide-ranging case studies cover Britain, Europe, Greece and the Near East with an emphasis on the prehistoric period and the Iron Age.

The first section addresses the various approaches to environmental archaeology. The next sections deal with archaeological landscapes as palaeoenvironments, the reconstruction of the palaeoeconomy, the role of ideology, and the use of theory in environmental archaeology. The final section surveys how one goes about doing this research as well as the collection, analysis and interpretation of the resulting data sets. The basic issues involved in writing about the findings of this research and publishing are commented on too.

If you do not know that environmental archaeology is divided into two major divisions, bioarchaeology and geoarchaeology, and have difficulty understanding discussions where technical terms are used such as mircofossils, palaeosol, ecotone, chaîne opératoire, transgressions, indicator species, and C-transforms, this book is what you need! The language is very accessible to the non-specialist and the terms used are defined. The illustrative materials (tables, charts, maps, 2-D and 3-D reconstructions, drawings, B/W photographs and visualizations) are excellent. Each section has a useful bibliography for further in depth reading. Don’t wait any longer to read it along with other related books in our Library!!!

David Rupp

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Institute Reopens, New Faces and Archaeological Sediments

Kalo Xeimona!

The Institute reopened last Thursday after our annual summer recess. Jonathan divided the period between Kos, Turkey and the UK. I sojourned in Crete and travelled to Copenhagen. We are now in the process of organizing the Institute’s Fall and Winter/Spring lecture programs as well as the events for our Friends’ Association. As always these will be diverse and interesting. We hope to see you at them!

Chris Wallace and Haley MacEachern
We wish to welcome to CIG two individuals. The Institute’s first Neda and Franz Leipen Fellow, Christopher (Chris) Wallace, is a Ph.D. candidate in the Collaborative Program in Ancient History at the University of Toronto. During the year he aims to complete his doctoral dissertation entitled, “The Evolution of the Hellenistic Polis”. This is a nuanced “cultural” history of the Greek city-state during the Hellenistic period which focuses on several key civic institutions and practices, looking at how they evolved in different cities under differing circumstances, how they were imagined, and how they were deployed in service of the community. Chris is no stranger to Athens, as he participated in 2008 on the American School of Classical Studies at Athens’ Summer Session program. His work for the Institute will be in the Institute's Library and Archives.

Another first for CIG is the new Wilfrid Laurier University Internship. Haley MacEachern will be the first person to hold this position, for three months this fall. Haley is a major in Near Eastern and Classical Archaeology at WLU. In 2008 she participated in the Institute’s survey in eastern Boeotia, and in 2009 in our excavation at Kastro Kallithea in Thessaly. She will be working in the Library.

You will be able to meet both of them at our first lecture in October.

Book of the Blog
As you can see, this feature of my blog is back. For the next ten months I will be offering you out there in cyberspace mini-reviews of selected books, monographs and edited volumes that are recent acquisitions to our Library. The focus of these reviews are items that highlight the specializations of the Library. In brief, they are, archaeological theory, method and practice, survey archaeology, environmental archaeology, geoarchaeology, ecofactual studies, site and artifact conservation, computer applications in archaeology, cultural/heritage management and Boeotian studies. We invite you to visit our Library and peruse the holdings in these areas. We will be adding new titles during the year.

In archaeological research, knowing the “context” of an artifact or an assemblage is the sine qua non for its accurate dating and plausible interpretation. Thus, objects found in situ have a primacy over those lacking a specific provenience. However, to know an artifact’s depositional context, to understand the physical and chemical characteristics of this sedimentary matrix and how it was formed are other matters altogether.

Sedimentary matrices are more than simply the “dirt” or “soil” at an archaeological site. Formal sedimentary analysis allows one to describe and to analyze systematically the matrix particles that encase the artifacts and ecofacts. This specialized branch of sedimentology is introduced and surveyed in the book edited by Julia K. Stein and William R. Farrands, entitled Sediments in Archaeological Contexts (Salt Lake City, UT, 2001). The seven contributors discuss sediments encountered by archaeologists in seven different types of environments. The four contributions that focus on cultural environments (J.K. Stein), rock shelters and caves (W.R. Farrand), dry alluvial environments (G. Huckleberry) and coastal environments (L.E. Wells) are the most germane to the Mediterranean reality. As the depositional environment shapes the sediments (natural and anthropogenic) that make up the archaeological matrix it is critical for archaeologists to understand the formational and depositional processes involved. The preservation of the artifacts and the ecofacts are also affected by these processes and the makeup of the matrix. Each contribution is well-illustrated with charts, graphs, tables, plans and b/w photographs. The references cited form a clear pathway to more detailed studies and related topics.

This thin book, and others dealing with geoarchaeology and environmental archaeology in the Institute’s Library, forms an excellent starting point for the education and the research activities of field archaeologists.

David Rupp

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Leukos Survey Project, Karpathos, 2011

While I was researching the papers of the late Prof Gilbert Bagnani, now in the archives of Trent University and the Art Gallery of Ontario, I discovered his unpublished account of an excursion he and his fellow students at the Italian School of Archaeology in Athens took around the island of Karpathos in June 1923. For three weeks they traveled around the road-less island by ship and by donkey. Their main excavation was a magnificent mosaic floor laid over another mosaic floor belonging to two superimposed paleo-Christian basilicas at Arkasa. But it was Gilbert’s description of the extensive finds around Leukos and the offshore islet of Sokastro that drew my attention to this site. The many enormous rock quarries, an underground pillared cistern, and pedimental blocks possibly from a temple led him to identify the site with ancient Nisyros, which Strabo wrote was on Karpathos but which had never been located archaeologically. The beaches sheltered from the prevailing north winds by Sokastro form the biggest such harbour on the west coast of Karpathos, a major sailing route throughout the ages. My own research tentatively suggests that its name on medieval maps was “Fianti” and Sokastro was called “Zorzadori,” both yet to be explained.

After I rediscovered the various sites he described around Karpathos, I asked Dr Michael Nelson, now of Queen’s College New York, if he would be willing to conduct a survey of the site at Leukos, and he suggested that I invite Dr Todd Brenningmeyer of Maryvale College in St. Louis to join us. The staff of the Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities in Rhodes could not have been kinder to our research proposal, and in 2009 the Canadian Institute received formal approval from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture to begin a survey. (The first ever permit to a foreign institution to conduct archaeological work in the Dodecanese islands.) Michael as Field Director was responsible for architecture, and Todd for the geophysical survey. Dr Amanda Kelly of the National University of Ireland, Galway agreed to look after the ceramics. The survey also benefitted greatly from the various rescue digs at Leukos conducted by the Greek Archaeological Service at Kato Leukos, whose data they have shared with us.

The survey results are still preliminary, of course, pending a study season. In brief, the beaches at Kato Leukos once served as harbours in the Early Byzantine period, with evidence for a seaside bathing establishment as well as small scale industrial activities. There were at least two paleo-Christian basilicas, one now along the water-line because of local subsidence of the land. On top of the offshore islet of Sokastro, a fortification wall protected an elaborate complex of many barrel-vaulted cisterns and at least one church; the date for construction is not yet ascertained but the sherd cover dates to the 11th, mostly 12th, and 13th centuries. It will take some time to analyze the field data, including over 2,000 aerial images of Sokastro alone.

After a final study season, the future of Canadian research activity at Leukos is not certain, although not for any lack of potential. Years ago the Greek Service had the foresight to acquire a large tract of land along the shore to protect it from development and so it shelters an undisturbed Early Byzantine harbour town. In contrast to ancient written sources, there is recent and accumulating archaeological evidence throughout the Dodecanese for widespread prosperity in the Late Antique/Early Byzantine period, primarily dozens of paleo-Christian basilicas, and Kato Leukos offers a window into the secular and naval life on which that prosperity was based; we do know that around 410 a Karpathian fleet regularly brought grain from Alexandria to Constantinople. At least a few of the structures clearly extend down into the water because of local subsidence, and so a synergasia with the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities would also be informative to complete the picture. Incidentally, the region is right on the edge of seismic activity caught between the Anatolian and African plates which are pushing up the Aegean sea bed as well as an active volcanic arc, and deserves serious geological analysis as well. Finally, the uniquely preserved complex of cisterns on top of Sokastro may well exemplify a naval base where ships of someone’s fleet could be resupplied with water, etc., and so determining who built it and when would have obvious ramifications for our meager knowledge of the naval history of the Aegean in the Middle Byzantine period, when Crusaders from the West were encountering Arabs from the East.

There are many people to thank for their support of this survey. At the Rhodian Ephoreia, Drs Maria Michaeilidou, Eleni Papavassileiou, Angeliki Katsioti, and Vassili Karabatsos have been very helpful in many ways. My international colleagues Drs Nelson, Brenningmeyer and Kelly, are grateful to their respective institutions for funding, as am I to the Bagnani Trustees. The students (Stacey Larson and Bethany Nobbe from Maryvale College in 2010, Eoin O’Conor in 2010 and 2011 and Dylan Stuart in 2011, both from Ireland) have all worked cheerfully and unstintingly while learning much about surveying and life on the project. Finally, our hosts, the people of Leukos themselves, have been most warm and welcoming. It would be a fitting tribute to everyone’s faith in the project if future research based on their help both in the field and in archives were able to provide the ancient and medieval names for such an important harbour, as first suggested by Gilbert Bagnani nearly a century ago.

Ian Begg
Trent University