Friday, February 24, 2012

Classical Athenian Magic, the Origins of the Agora Excavations and Cyber-Archaeology

This coming Wednesday, the last day of this leap-year February, at 7:30 PM the members of our Athens Association of Friends of CIG will have the pleasure of hearing an illustrated lecture by Mark Walley, our Graduate Intern this winter and spring. Mark, with an undergraduate degree in Classical Studies from Bishop’s University, is now a M.A. candidate in the Department of Classics at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He is finishing his M.A. thesis on magic in 5th-Century BC Athens.

This lecture will explore the Classical Athenian concept of magic by focusing on the texts of authors during the Classical period. Writers such as Aristophanes, Euripides, and Plato each contribute important information regarding the topic of magic. Mark will analyze in particular how magic-related vocabulary is applied within its contexts in order to develop an accurate image of magic. This analysis will demonstrate not only Athenian sentiments regarding magic, but will also establish parameters through which magic was thought to take place. Given our contemporary general conception of what constitutes a magic act we will undoubted learn that this is not the same as it was in the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Another myth busted! 

The Areopagus

Lecture on the Origins of the American Excavations in the Athenian Agora
I wish to bring to the attention of our readers a lecture of interest that will take place on Tuesday, the 28th at 7 PM at the Historical Archive of the Hellenic Archaeological Service at Psaromilingou 22, near Odos Peiraeus, just on the edge of Kerameikos and Psyrri. Dr. Yiannis Hamilakis (School of Humanities, University of Southampton) will discuss what the various archival records reveal concerning the nature of the negotiations between 1924 and 1931 related to granting the American School of Classical Studies at Athens the permit to excavate the Athenian Agora and the public reaction in Greece to this. The lecture will be in Greek.

Book of the Blog
Digital archaeology, cultural heritage management and archaeological theory have cropped up a number of times in these mini-reviews. Today I have a volume that links these three together. Cyber-Archaeology (BAR International Series 2177, Oxford, 2010), edited by Maurizio Forte, is a mashup of 11 contributions from two different workshops organized in 2009 (Cyber-Archaeology at the “Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference” at Stanford) and 2010 (Virtual Collaborative Environments at the “Cultural Heritage at the Diversifying Participation. Digital Media and Learning Conference” at San Diego). There seems to be some dispute as to label this development as “cyber-archaeology”, “cyberarchaeology” or even “I-archaeology”. Further, is this simply “…a change in methodology, a change in paradigm, or a reflection of a broader change?” (p. 1) Erza B.W. Zubrow (SUNY Buffalo) wonders. His stimulating and provocative essay begins the volume. He postulates that the most useful aspects of the intellectual threads called cultural history, “scientific”/processual archaeology and post-processual/”interpretational”/”post-modern” archaeology will merge and be integrated into cyberarchaeology. This is because cyberarchaeology can bridge the gaps between them “…for it provides testable in the sense of adequacy material representations of either ‘interpretations’ or ‘scientific hypotheses or discoveries’”(p. 2). He believes that we will see in the course of the 21st century the impact of mobile smartphones and other mirco movable technologies. These will turn the present cyberarchaeology into I-archaeology.

Forte’s introduction to Cyber-Archaeology should give the big picture and explain how the individual contributions fit in. Unfortunately, its creative English and dense, jargonistic exposition and definitions make it something to be avoided. The papers cover a wide swathe. J.A. Barcelό explores the possibilities of harnessing artificial intelligence/expert systems to automate archaeological knowledge production. Using virtual reality collaborative environments a group of researchers are investigation the role of cosmic impact on the development of human history in Argentina. S. Kenederine describes the use of two immersive interactive installations for the interpretation of tangible and intangible aspects of a UNESCO World Heritage site in south India. J.T. Clark argues (correctly I believe) that we can’t “reconstruct” past culture history let alone something in the new domain of virtual archaeology. All we can do is offer possible “constructions” which are simply tentative models. The usability of geospatial technologies for the cross-cultural understanding of the oral histories of indigenous peoples is the focus of J. van der Elst’s paper. The issues of interactive 2D and 3D maps and navigation involved in constructing complex and “authentic” virtual cultural heritage environments along the lines of those seen in the best computer/play-station games are tackled by E. Champion. In this case a group of researchers have created a 3D virtual reconstruction of tomb chambers from the Western Han Dynasty in China. The use of virtual-cyber mind maps opens new horizons for simultaneous interpretation of the decorative programs on the vaults and walls. Another group used a set of stereo cameras to capture 3D video of a user in real-time in order to creates his/her avatar. This allow for remote real-time interaction with 3D archaeological models through a shared virtual environment. D. Kirsh experiments with the challenges of material engagement with digital versions of artifacts in virtual 3D environments to stimulate the processes of archaeological inquiry beyond perception. The virtual reconstruction (using open source technologies) of the 13th-century urban landscape of Bologna in Italy from multiple sources as a new method of interpretation and the visualization of historical data is presented by N. Lercari.

Probably the most relevant to the majority of the blog’s readership is the contribution by Thomas E. Levy (University of California, San Diego) and his co-researchers at an Iron Age site in Jordan. They use an amazing cyberarchaeology field recording system that feeds directly into a cyberinfrastructure delivered over the Mediterranean Archaeology Network (MedArchNet) and a Google Earth platform. They call it “On-Site Digital Archaeology 3.0” (OSDA 3.0). What are now relatively commonplace data collection methodologies (differential GPS, Total Stations, vertical and oblique imagery from a low-level balloon or kite supported platform) were merged with with new ones such as GigaPan high resolution panoramic views and terrestrial LiDAR scanning of the architectural remains and of the stratification. This avalanche of data is geo-referenced and stored in ArcGIS databases. They also use 3D artifact scanning in the field as well as in the laboratory. Using digitized pottery profile drawings and 3D scans the have created a Pottery Infomatics Queryable Database (PIQD) with a fully queryable spatial environment. Finally, to assist in the digestion and comprehension of these truly massive databases they have developed high-resolution scalable visualization portals for a broad set of 2D and 3D formats. This Visual Analytics Cyber-Colloboratory in the form of a tiled wall with 72 30” screens is called HIPerSpace. They also created in a pentagon-shaped space a 3D 360º total immersive Virtual Reality environment called StarCAVE with additional imagery on the floor. Not satisfied with this, NexCAVE employs a 3 to 21 panels (in 1 to 7 columns), 3D visualization display using synchronized 3D HDTVs. When used with polarized stereoscopic glasses and the associated software it is possible for a viewer to visualize massive datasets in high-resolution 3D with well-saturated color and quick speed of reaction as she moves her head. Just reading and pondering this article is worth the price of admission, which at the Institute is free!

David Rupp

Monday, February 20, 2012

Wanton Destruction of Historic Buildings in the Center of Athens and CIG's Second Book Sale

19-21 Stadiou Street
On Sunday evening a week ago and into the early hours of the next morning there was an orgy of wanton destruction of many historic buildings in the center of Athens. Supposedly this was one of the negative reactions to the passing in Parliament of the so-called Second Memorandum with its asphyxiating cuts to the government as well as to wages, benefits and pensions in the public and private sectors. Under this convenient cover, the “known unknown” professional anarchistic hoodies, thrill-seeking youth, arsonists, regular criminals and opportunistic illegal economic migrants set off a path of unbelievable destruction from Monastiraki Square, up Athinas Street, down Stadiou Street, including Korais Street, to Academias Street. While the Police and the Riot Squad were guarding the Parliament and Syntagma Square the rest of the center was essentially devoid of a police presence. The arsonists and looters attacked the firemen attempting to reach the 47 major fires and seized their trucks in a number of cases. As the police spokesmen said, they were well-organized!

Korai Street
The aim appeared to be to cause as much damage and destruction as possible. Nine later 19th- and earlier 20th-century listed national heritage monuments were among the 110 buildings torched with molotovs. These had survived earthquakes, the German occupation, the subsequent Civil War and the demolition undertaken from the 1960s to the 1980s of old buildings to make way for modern office buildings. What an ignominious final blow to these jewels of the urbanscape of the “Historic Center” as it is called. Besides the buildings themselves, cinemas, shops, banks and a Starbucks were gutted. Given the grim economic situation here and the dismal prospects for the future how many of these will reopen and re-employee their staffs? The Minister of Culture and Tourism has promised funds to assist in the reconstruction.

Panepistimiou Street
As an avid chronicler of the archaeological sites, monuments, museums, significant buildings and historical places of Athens I felt as I watched the live coverage of the burning structures and the smoking ruins the next day that these wounds to the urban fabric were to my soul as well. Callous, disrespect of the past is an affront to a society and its sense of identity. For Greece to survive the present situation and to return to sustainable growth, Greek society must believe that it is empowered to do so and be proud of its long, rich and varied cultural heritage. When you next visit Athens I am sure you’ll be shocked and saddened by what you see.

Our Second Book Sale Is On!!!
The generosity of the supporters of the Library has expanded the collections significantly. At the same it has provided us with duplicates and triplicates and even quadruplicates, in some cases. To free up shelve space temporarily, we have just launched our Second Book Sale. The excel file with all of the titles is available from our website. As you will see there are some real treasures here! The e-auction bidding system is simple. You send in your bids (in 5 Euro increments, for each book separately) for the books that you are hoping to buy to: If someone else has offered more Jonathan will inform you as to what is the current bid. It should be noted that some of the books have reserved minimum prices. The sale will close on Saturday, March 31st. The highest bidder will have to pick up the books from the Institute, after paying, of course! The proceeds from the Sale will go into our Library Book Purchase Fund for new acquisitions in our areas of specialization.

David Rupp

Friday, February 17, 2012

Ancient Olympia Antiquities Theft

Early this morning two masked robbers overpowered the guard in the Museum of the Olympic Games at Ancient Olympia and stole some 65 artefacts, including coins, figurines and gold jewellery. The Minister of Culture, Pavlos Yeroulanos, has tendered his resignation.

Athens News article (in English)
Kathimerini article (in English) article (in Greek)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Archaeological Survey in South/Central Crete and Agora Dedicatory Inscriptions

The coming Wednesday, the 15th is the Institute’s first lecture in its 2012 Winter/Spring Lecture Program. Matthew Buell (American School of Classical Studies/SUNY Buffalo), one of the key researchers associated with the Galatas Survey Project will present the results of this intensive survey. The fieldwork in the Central Pediada of south/central Crete was conducted between 2004 and 2006 under the co-direction of Vance Watrous (SUNY Buffalo) and Georgos Rethemiotakis (Herakleion Archaeological Museum). The investigations in the hinterland of the Minoan palace at Galatas are the focus of the lecture entitled, “Survey in the Heart of the Central Pediada: The Galatas Survey Project 2004-2006”. The evolving settlement patterns and the resource exploitation strategies over the millennia will be revealed to all!

Book of the Blog
The Institute and its Library has had many loyal and generous supporters over the years. One such individual, the late Professor Daniel J. Geagan (Department of Classics, McMaster University), was a constant benefactor of both. Dan died just over three years ago this month, after years of ill-health. The volume that he had been working on for most of his scholarly career has just been published with the dedicated efforts of Professor John S. Traill (Department of Classics, University of Toronto), the assistance of Dan’s wife, Helen, and contributions by others. Inscriptions: The Dedicatory Monuments. The Athenian Agora XVIII (Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2011) is a tribute to Dan’s meticulous scholarship and his tenacity. It includes the inscriptions discovered during the directorships of T.L. Shear Sr. and H.A. Thompson (1931-1968) of the Agora excavations. In other words, from I 1 through I 7047. This is the final of five volumes encompassing these inscriptions: Agora XV and XVII in 1974, XIX in 1991 and XVI in 1997.

The contents of Agora XVIII and the format of presentation are what one expects for epigraphical publications and Agora blue volumes. As the title indicates, the monuments included in it commemorate events or victories (Section II), honor individuals with statues or other representations (Section III), or belong to divinities either as votive offerings or as possessions (Section IV). Archaic and 5th century B.C. monuments are treated separately in Section I. Possible dedicatory monuments (“ambiguous fragments”) are presented in Section V, along with some fragments from funerary monuments as an addendum to Agora XVII. The inscriptions range in date from the end of the 6th century B.C. to the earlier 5th century A.D. with most falling in the period from the 4th century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D. The breadth and the detail of Dan’s study are most impressive.

Geagan’s volume proudly joins the Agora blues in our library, along with the Corinth reds and the other standard color series that are the indicia of the final publications of the other “big digs” conducted by the major foreign archaeological schools and institutes in Greece. In the last two decades archaeological research projects have become more focused in their goals and the length of their fieldwork much shorter in duration. These developments, combined with the demand for faster publication, have worked to change the characteristics and formats of archaeological publications. A research library’s holdings reflect the cultural milieu in which they are amassed. There is an inevitable time lag in the change, however, due to the persistence of long-lived research traditions and publication preferences. Nevertheless, the evolving digital technologies are fast re-shaping libraries.

David Rupp

Friday, February 3, 2012

Director Gets the Flouri, One Year in the Blogosphere, and Is Archaeological Theory Really Dead?

The Director cuts the Vasilopitta
On Wednesday evening a brave and hardy group came for our annual Canadian film night and the CIG pita cutting ceremony. They were amply rewarded for their tenaciousness! Even though the Director’s piece produced the coveted flouri (and the gouri!), the pita was to die for, as they say! The movie, The Trotsky was hilarious, clever and very well-acted!!! For those who missed it, if you ever have a chance to see it, don’t hesitate! It pokes fun at many sacred cows: past and present, youth and adults, high school life, radicalism and conservatism and, especially, Canadian culture as seen through the lens of west Montreal reality.

The Assistant Director uploads the Blog
Friday, the 20th of January passed without a single comment, let alone congratulations, from the blogosphere that our blog had been up and running for a year! Since January 20th, 2011 we’ve posted 62 (including last week’s) blogs with a range of bloggers providing the content and imagery. At the next party you can impress those standing by the bar with the following fascinating facts from our first year. Over all we’ve had 7,925 pageviews. Last month’s traffic was 1,028 pageviews. The most popular five blogs of all time (so far, at least) were as follows:

February 25, 2011 (533 Pageviews): Canadian Graduate Programs in Hellenic Studies and Paleoethnobotanical Research
April 15, 2011 (208 pageviews): Revised Permits Guide and Remote Sensing in Archaeology
February 3, 2011 (178 pageviews): Lecture by Michael MacKinnon
November 25, 2011 (175 pageviews): More Collateral Damage in Greece from the Economic Crisis and Religion and Society in Roman Corinth
March 25, 2011 (135 pageviews): CIG Fieldwork and Prostitution in Ancient Greece

The top seven countries for our readers are: 1. Canada (1,934 pageviews); 2. US (1,709 pageviews); 3. Greece (1,675 pageviews); 4. UK (264 pageviews); 4. Germany (244 pageviews); 6. Netherlands (143 pageviews); 7. France (135 pageviews).

Most of the traffic to our blog comes from our Facebook group, followed by the CIG/ICG website and various Google searches. We are accessed by PCs mostly and fewer Macs, using Internet Explorer, Foxfire and Chrome in that order.

The political map of Canada that we used was THE most popular search term by far (although the searchers might not have been looking for us primarily)!! The Book of the Blog spotlighted 31 books in our Library related to our areas of specialization and donations by Canadian scholars. Much to my disappointment, I must say, we have had only 8 comments posted!!! );-[

Your suggestions for improvement and for topics that could be covered in the future are most welcome!

Book of the Blog
The phrase “archaeological theory” or simply “theory” has been mentioned frequently in the previous 31 mini-reviews that I have written over the past year. To a certain portion of our readership I am sure that this concept is dismissed immediately for a variety of reasons. Is it, in fact, necessary? Is it but a decorative embellishment to the real business of archaeology, the crafting of a plausible, well-supported culture-history narrative from archaeological data? Is it an end itself, separate from the praxis of fieldwork and analysis? Or is it a dead phenomenon from the past that was always changing with no apparent reason, like women’s fashion? Depending on the educational path that led you to the archaeology, art and/or history of the Aegean basin you either had or did not have formal inculcation in archaeological theory. Few North American graduate programs in Classics/Classical Archaeology or ancient Art History included any form of theory as an essential component of instruction. In the UK, with its departments of Archaeology, mostly separate from those of Classics, this would not have been the case. For a holder of an North American advanced degree, theory was then something you acquired on your own (especially if you had anthropological proclivities) or not at all.

For a number of our European colleagues, however, the state of “Archaeological Theory” is a contentious and dissatisfying topic that needs immediate addressing. This frustration resulted in a provocative and well-attended session at the Twelfth Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists held in Krakow in 2006. The organizers, John Bintliff and Mark Pearce, have just published, as the editors, many of the papers that were given and a few invited papers to provide a broader perspective. This thin volume, The Death of Archaeological Theory? (Oxford/Oakville: Oxbow Books, 2011) is, I must say, an archaeological bodice ripper! I couldn’t put it down! The six papers and an Introduction succinctly, in a mostly very accessible style, put the whole spectrum of archaeological theory in plain view. They ruminate on what is and what isn’t archaeological theory; the history of its development, especially in the past 50 years; the differences in thinking among North American, English, French and Eastern European archaeologists and self-proclaimed theorists; what is the present landscape looks and where it might go in the future.

After a series of “fads” since the early 1960s that lasted more or less 20-25 years, often related to T.S. Kuhn’s “paradigm shifts”, there does not appear at present a clearly dominant theoretical paradigm in archaeology with its attendant gurus. Each of the major ones, that is culture history, processualism and post-processualism all have their advocates today as does ecological-(neo)Darwinism. Essentially, each “generation” lives within and reacts to its social, economic, political and intellectual traditions. Thus, theory does not die it merely changes direction with the passage of time. The rough consensus of the authors is that most practitioners of archaeology combine theories and methods taken from all past and current traditions of the discipline to find what best fits the particular project or problem they are working on. Bintliff has argued before for such a “Wittgensteinian toolbox methodology” to probe the complexities of the past using material culture residues. They agree that an “Eclectic Archaeological Theory” is a viable, reflexive and nuanced alternative to the dogmatism of following a single theory of an “Ideopraxist”, to the exclusion of everything else. A given archaeological data set should be subjected to complementary analyses they argue to see which approach works better at elucidating understanding and meaning. Following Braudel’s model of history a number of archaeologists have embraced the Annaliste approach of French historians for the reason of holistic inclusiveness.

If archaeological theory was never your bag and the mention of competing theories makes you look for a copy of Archaeological Theory for Dummies then this compact volume is for you. Most likely you do have a personal conception of the theory or theories that underlie your archaeological research. There should be neither archaeology without theory nor theory without archaeology.

David Rupp