“Go see Lincoln and listen”*

I’m back!  As in, back home in the U.S. and back writing the blog!  It’s taken me several weeks to get myself together, get over the jet lag, and get myself back at the computer working and writing (OK, if we are being fair, that last thing hasn’t really been happening at the rate it should be).  It always takes me a few weeks to shake off the Cyprus life and accept that I am no longer living on a beautiful Mediterranean island.  As it is over 100 degrees where I live (that’s over 37 degrees C for my friends in the rest of the world) and there is no sea to float in to find relief, my body and my mind are gripping tightly to the island life; take me back Cyprus, I miss you so!

I’m coming at you from my little apartment in the desert, specifically the spare bedroom that, on my most obnoxious days, I call “the study” in a snooty voice.  I’m thinking of renaming it The Fulbright Suite so the blog name makes sense.  I shall make a sign and display it on the door like they do at themed bed and breakfasts…..and then whenever someone comes to stay with us, I will say “you will be staying in The Fulbright Suite.”  I’m so doing this…

Serious archaeology subject…and go…Ok, so this week has me thinking of monuments, and my recent return to the U.S. has me thinking about, well, living in the U.S.  The reason should be pretty obvious as the events of yesterday seventeen years ago have unfortunately provided Americans with more monuments than we wanted.  I’m not one to memorialize people or events on social media outlets, but as an anthropologist, I can’t help but think about how we memorialize people, how that is affected by our social, political, and economic worlds, and the place memorializing someone holds or doesn’t hold in the mortuary ritual.  My work uses tombs to understand social complexity and economic inequality, so you can imagine I think of this kind of thing fairly often, and especially on days like today.

Someone once said to me in a graduate class when I was a wee PhD student at the start of my degree, “the mortuary ritual is dictated by the survivors, not the dead.”  My young brain was like “whoah, that is a big statement and is so true.”  The deceased is gone, so the living make decisions about how big your tomb is or how much stuff goes into the tomb with you.  The living gather for the funerary feast and visit the tomb afterward to bring libations or other goods to commemorate the person.  The living decide.

Recently, my old PhD brain, was like “whoah, that is not even remotely true”, and here is why: the living (and the dead to some degree) shape the cultural, social, political, and economic system in which they live.  What the heck am I talking about?  Well, our actions are constrained by the societies we live in, our replication or interpretation of that society’s norms can and does make changes to that society in small increments until a tipping point is reached and things seem to change rapidly (even though they had been changing for a long time- it just feels and looks quick).  We, the living, don’t dictate what the funerary ritual or the tomb looks like, it is the thousands of actions and interactions that shape our social worlds and the social worlds that are created that dictate how we memorialize the dead.  Hmmm, this is way more complicated than just the family or the community of the deceased making a decision.

Let’s take for example, some of the monuments in Washington D.C.  The monuments that commemorate “great” presidents are either in a neo-classical style or are directly taken from monuments erected for great leaders in the past.  I am referring to the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials and the Washington memorial in that order.  Why the replication of the ancient Greek/Roman and Egyptian style?  Because in the social world that those monuments were built, these styles and the cultures they represent were equated with power, success, democracy (as in Greek democracy), and empire building. All of these things were very important to the U.S. at the times these monuments were built and were part of the cultural identity of the growing nation:  The Jefferson memorial was begun in 1939 between the two World Wars; Washington was the earliest, started in 1848 right at the end of the Mexican American War; and Lincoln was erected right at the start of WWI in 1914.  I figured Lincoln went up pretty soon after the assassination, but it didn’t, and Jefferson took over 100 years from the end of his presidency.  It should strike you, as it did me, that these monuments were constructed way later than you would have thought and at times when power, success, and the American democracy and empire were threatened, and the American social world was shaken and needed to be restored.  Hmmm, maybe that is because it’s not about the person living or dying but rather about what it means to the society, and how it fits in with the social world created by the people who live in it.

Maybe this is a bit anecdotal, maybe this is completely wrong.  Maybe it makes a point about monuments and funerary ritual.  I contrast the presidential monuments with that of my favorite author, Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Yes, there are monuments to Emerson all over the place, and yes some of them are grand, but his grave is simple.  Nestled in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery- a rather beautiful place full of large trees and big thoughts- Emerson’s grave stone stands, an unshaped piece of stone, large but not overpowering, affixed with a small copper plaque bearing his name.  And that’s it.  Emerson lived a big and important life, but his grave is more simple than you would expect.  Why?  Because the social world in which he lived, cherished and upheld simplicity, nature and the wild nature of humans and the Earth.

What the heck is my point here?  Monuments are an important expression of the social world in which they are constructed.  They are the outward appearance of what a society is, how it functions, and how it wants to be projected to the rest of the world.  Next time you travel to Washington D.C. and walk along the National Mall, or travel to Egypt to see the pyramids or Rome to see the Pantheon or Trajan’s column or really anywhere as we humans love to put up monuments, think about what these things meant to the society who put them up, and what social norms governed the way they were constructed, and then think of how this has changed over time or not, and then have a little freak out because maybe some of these monuments shouldn’t be monuments anymore, and then think of Lincoln and feel secure that some of them should be…and then tell me your thoughts in the comments section!!

*The title comes from an episode of the TV show, The West Wing- it’s one of my favorite episodes, and is particularly relevant for this discussion, our current social world in the U.S. and this week, in fact.  Please, if you can, watch the whole episode (Season 5, Episode 10: The Stormy Present). If you can’t, the quote comes from a letter a former president writes to the current president, “Men seek to douse the flame, douse the ideal, to return to a different age entirely, to return to the age from which our forefathers fled. Fundamentalism is a vision, an ideal as rigid as democracy is flexible. And we cannot let it overcome what we have worked so hard to earn.  Jed- Go see Lincoln and listen.”

Here is the clip of Jed, the president, reading the letter and going to see Lincoln [the memorial]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyeanUCpIkM

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Endless Summer

It’s been a long summer.  It’s been a short summer.  Maybe it’s been a full summer.  Why can’t it be an endless summer?  I started the summer in Arizona with the end of the school year and the first semester in almost ten years that I wasn’t actually in school, then a trip to Cyprus for a full dig season at Kourion, and then a month at CAARI doing research on multiple projects.  It went by so fast, but some days seemed endless.  I’m always sad when I leave Cyprus.  I’m so happy to be heading home to all of its comforts and familiarity, but I’m happiest to be heading back to the person I share my home with.  There are always those lingering tears and lump in my throat when I get dropped off at Larnaca; this year it was so bad, I literally ran away from the person who dropped me off.  I love this island.  I love where the Mediterranean Sea kisses the shores, I love the gleaming white cliffs of Kourion, I love the fresh air and the smell of pine in the Troodos, I love the sound of the door opening at CAARI, but I love the people who have taken me in and become my family the most.  It is to them who I want to always return, the beauty of Cyprus is a bonus.

My time at CAARI as a fellow, in the Fulbright Suite and at the big desk in the library has come to a close.  But good news everybody, my blog will live on!  I realize that the name of this will no longer be appropriate, but I’m OK with it.  The name will commemorate a special moment in my academic life.  So, now let’s get down to some archaeological business  associated with travel since I am currently traveling and writing this from the Vienna International Airport (which is quickly becoming my favorite in Europe) where I will be spending 14 hours of my life- overnight- likely without sleep and definitely without a shower in my near future.  Just about one hour down….

I had a really interesting conversation with Frank, the most knowledgeable non-academic archaeologist I’ve ever met, over giant pork chops at Kourion beach today before he drove me to Larnaca, and I ran away and cried (there’s the whole truth everybody!).  As we were devouring our meal, we were engrossed in a conversation about how difficult it used to be to travel around Cyprus before the highway, or as Frank calls it, the “dual carriageway,” was built.  Frank has knowledge of Cyprus, pre-dual carriage way, so he remembers it being an all day event to go from the southwest part of the island to Nicosia and back again.  I have always thought about travel and mobility on Cyprus.  It is a small place,  but it is actually really difficult to travel around.

Part of my dissertation project was to calculate how long it would take to walk from one PreBA site to another.  I calculated this for a person of average size, walking at an average speed, unhindered.  Obviously if you are moving from one place to the next to stay there permanently, or if you are making the journey to exchange goods, the likelihood that you would be hindered is great.  Conversely, you may also be using a beast of burden which could make things easier, but these are all things that weren’t important at the time for what I was trying to achieve.  The point is that Cyprus is a hilly, mountainous place with limited access points.  Cyprus levels out a bit on the coastal plains, but they are ringed by mountains, and on the central plain, but it is literally hot like the surface of the sun in the summer here so travel during certain seasons may not have happened.  How connected through travel was this island in the deep past, and up until the the very recent pre-dual-carriageway past?  I’m not sure I see the integration that other people see.  I’m not saying that no one ever moved around Cyprus, they obviously did, but we don’t know on what scale this happened, how difficult it was or how it changed over time.  Living in a small place does not necessarily mean people moved around, and the system was highly integrated, or does it?

I have a vested interest in mobility.  I’m currently mobile or at least I will be in 14 hours when I fly across the rest of Europe, the Atlantic Ocean, the whole United States and then slightly back again since I have to go from Los Angeles back east to Phoenix.  More importantly, I once wrote a paper on mobility, women and craft specialization.  In many societies, documented ethnographically, women and men had knowledge of the landscape and moved around to collect raw materials for the production of pottery, metal, etc.  What I didn’t include in this paper, was how they moved around, and how difficult it was.  I’m thinking this is the next paper (Swantek and Garrod 2018).  I have the data for the PreBA and with a little tinkering to an analysis I’ve already done, I have the results.  Now we just need to apply this to other time periods and the present- no problem!  It looks like I will be writing, writing, writing as my jet lag rears its ugly head in the next week, and 2 am feels like 10 am!

As everything closes down in the Vienna airport, and I snuggle in for what promises to be an interesting night, I think of how much I already miss everyone on Cyprus; I think of the saying my Belgian friend taught me:  “Like the clock ticks at home, so it ticks nowhere [else]”

Disclaimer: Please don’t steal my paper idea; if you like it, we can make you a co-author and work together!  I’m all about collaboration!

I am a hub, I am a node (maybe I’m a network nerd)

I’ve been writing, writing, writing in the CAARI library for the last two weeks.  You would think I had something completed for all that writing that has been happening, but alas, I hate this article, think that it sounds stupid, and can just imagine it being ripped apart by reviewers.  I’m going to publish it anyway- take that impostor syndrome!  I’ve had my nose in the computer for so many days now, and have only just realized this ostrich-like behavior combined with everyone at CAARI being on vacation is making me kind of weird.  I finally forced myself out of CAARI on Monday and Tuesday to buy souvenirs for my family and friends just for the interactions!  While the quiet is incredible, I am grateful to the one other person in the library, and the lady at the t-shirt shop who engaged me in conversation!

This lack of interaction is sort of funny considering I have been writing about the interactions of people and the relationships that are built just from engaging each other either socially and/or economically.  I did have one interaction today, though, that made me think.  A new resident at CAARI said to me that he was here this summer to build his social network, so he can do his dissertation research.  Hmmmm, networks, social networks, building networks, being a part of a network, being a part of multiple networks, layers of networks, different interactions, same people-different interactions-building layers of networks- and that was what my brain did when this person left me to scan a book that I may never need, but hey, you never know.

My work is not social network analysis; I don’t link people in the past directly to each other through their things necessarily.  I apply model network configurations created through fancy mathematics by really smart people to the archaeological record.  Essentially your things tell us about the kinds of interactions you have and the number of times you have those interactions (one time deal or persistent over time).  The number of a certain thing you have the more you have had certain interactions, and the more social relationships you have formed.   Thus, your things = your interactions or social relationships.  You are a node in the network and your things are equivalent to the links or connections you have with other people.  If you have a lot of links you may be a “connector” or a “hub” in a complex social network.  If you don’t have a lot of links and neither does anyone else, well then you and your buddies are just regular old nodes in what may be an egalitarian or socially undifferentiated society.  Does that make sense?  Probably not, since I’ve only been writing about this stuff for the past 6 years of my life.  The more you know, the less you think you know….

So, getting back to the story.  The person I talked to today at CAARI made me think about how in some situations we are hubs, and in others, we are regular old nodes.  That means that at any given moment, you are simultaneously one thing and its opposite- whoah, this is some Star Trek parallel universe kind of stuff!  But really, think about it: in which interactions in your everyday life are you considered a hub?  I am currently the most senior person living at CAARI (yikes, how did I get so old?), and until this afternoon, the only person.  The new resident has never stayed at CAARI before; I gave him the skinny about living here- room in the fridge and the cabinets, shutting off the a/c, finding food in the food-desert surrounding CAARI, To Steki (a restaurant) for some of the best pork chops you have ever had, and Wagamama when you are tired of grilled meat Cyprus style.  Today, as I talked to the newest resident, I was a hub.  Through me, information (think of it as a commodity or a thing that I had) about CAARI and Nicosia flowed, and I hooked him up with the good places to eat (among other things).  Usually, I am not the most senior person at CAARI (which tricks me into feeling young, and I like it).  If the heavy hitters like Bernard Knapp, or Jenny Webb were here or Vathoulla, the source of all CAARI knowledge and good places to eat in Nicosia, I would have been just a mere node.  This example underscores how in the same social network you can actually play a different role as situations change.  What about in different social networks?

Ok, so in my social-social network, I am not a hub.  I am more of a give me the information, and I’ll show up where we are eating, drinking, hanging out.  However, I secretly (not so secret anymore) love to host holidays.  I know this is weird as most people abhor the amount of work it takes to feed a big group of people.  If you are around for Thanksgiving or Easter, the two holidays I always host, I am the hub of information about what we are eating, what time, and what drinks you should bring.  I am shooting text messages to everyone I invited for days before and the day of, and being that I have very generous friends, they are doing the same in reverse asking what I need or how they can help.  Hub central on holidays!  In this example, I’m a node most times of the year and a hub at certain times….layers of networks that are time dependent…..forthcoming paper on hierarchies and heterarchies (and this one will be better then the one I am writing now, I swear).

One more example- work life.  I’m a bit bossy- well maybe not exactly bossy, but I like things done the right way.  Ok, let’s just say bossy for the sake of a better word.  This extends to my own work in which I absolutely boss myself around, as I struggle with perfection or doing things the right way vs. just getting things done.  I also tend to project this on to other people, not in a “you are not good enough kind of way”, but in a “I know you can do a good job” kind of way.  I can’t help it, that is how I was raised, and that is how my undergrad and master’s advisor did things, so it’s in my genetics and in my training.  Anyway, on our field project my bossiness has earned me the “hub” designation.  Through me, literally, all information flows.  If I don’t know something, it’s usually for a very good reason- I either don’t want to know or someone hasn’t told me yet, because they haven’t seen me.  However, when I was in graduate school, I was just another node purposefully.  Being a hub in the social-work network seemed like way too much work.  I minded my own business, and kept my head down- some would say I kept out of trouble, but anyone who knows me, knows that’s not an accurate description.  Nonetheless, within my two work networks, I functioned differently.

So the point of all of this is, I am a hub, a node, a node, a hub, a hub, a node (I am a rock, I am an island…for a little song reference) all at the same time.  I am a part of many social networks in which I play a different role at different times and in different places and sometimes in the same place at the same time.  Confused?  Try doing your dissertation on this stuff.  Just kidding, it is super fun and makes you think in multiple dimensions (or universes if you are into that).  I invite everyone to think about the social networks that they are a part of and the roles they play.  I would bet that everyone has this node-hub dichotomy in their life.  I also invite you to think about how understanding the roles people play in shaping the social network are important, and how these roles affect your role in an ever growing world with an ever contracting social network (who wants to play 6 degrees of separation through the people you know on Facebook?  I bet you the world is the smallest it has ever been thanks to social media and other modern technologies!).

Because I obviously love music (check out my dissertation title), here is the link to the song referenced above: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKlSVNxLB-A

Chasing the writing clouds away

CAARI is ultra quiet tonight.  I’m here and one other person (who might actually not be here) and that is it.  Next week everyone goes on vacation, so I’m in charge!  Just kidding…or am I?!  Seriously though, being at CAARI in the late summer is so different than being here in May or June.  Everyone has that end of the summer laid back tiredness happening (or maybe that is just me), and it is just generally quieter.  I like it, and now that there’s air conditioning in the bedrooms, I may make this an annual stay!

I have gotten a ton of work done this summer at CAARI.  I am actually shocked how much I have accomplished.  I have the foundations for a post-doc project (I’ll be saying hello to grant proposal writing very soon) or maybe a project that could be leveraged for a job…..wouldn’t that be ever so nice!  I have compiled data for another project I’m working on that is about a particular type of pottery (that’s right folks, I said pottery), and now I’m working on articles from my dissertation that should have been completed 6 months ago, but weren’t (don’t you dare judge, burnout set in so badly after I finished).

On the subject of article writing, why is it so damn hard?  I could literally copy and paste with some major editing from my dissertation, and yet it has taken me 6 months to even open a Word document and save it with an actual name that will eventually be an article.  See what I did there?  I didn’t actually say that I started writing the article, I just saved a blank document.  Just kidding, sort of!  I equate this to what it was like to write my dissertation proposal.  After the proposal writing course that all graduate students in my department were required to take, I literally put the printed document in a drawer, and locked it for fear that it might escape, and left it to simmer in all its terribly-written and ill conceived glory for almost a whole semester.  When I finally unlocked the drawer, it was weeks of nausea and panic before I could actually start making real changes to it.  In the end, it was a very successful proposal, but the amount of mental processing time and relaxation techniques it took me to even get to the real writing and editing was outrageous.  I swore I would never let that happen again, so that’s exactly what I did with article writing.  Surely, I can’t be the only one who has this problem….

On Monday I vowed to start writing this article for real this time.  On Monday I found something else to do; who knew there were so many interesting parallels for my pottery paper at the Ceramic Neolithic site of Sotira Teppes.  It was so interesting, I catalogued them all in a spreadsheet and read about everything else that was found in all of the houses where these vessels were found- which was like all of the houses.  On Tuesday, I promised myself I would really start writing this article.  On Tuesday morning, I stared at the computer screen with its menacing and cruel blinking cursor and then looked for new boots on the internet since mine disintegrated last year.  I also wrote two scary-bad paragraphs which made me question if I even knew what my own dissertation was about.  Then on Tuesday afternoon (isn’t that a Moody Blues’ song?), I started to cut and paste from my dissertation.  The article was 14 pages of theory and method by the time I was finished.  This is obviously a huge problem since it is only supposed to be 20 pages total.  As it turns out, it is much harder to take away than to add.  Grrrrr!  The frustration was real, and I was so annoyed that I spent the rest of the day pretending like I was working but was actually just watching music videos on Youtube.  This is a guilty pleasure of mine; you can always tell when I’m frustrated with my work, because you will find me tucked away watching music videos and probably singing along if the environment allows for it and sometimes when it doesn’t.

On Wednesday, I got over myself.  Major breakthrough in article writing today….as in I actually wrote more than 1 paragraph, and it made sense!  Not only did I write some stuff that wasn’t hideous, I finally figured something out that has taken me 5 years to understand.  So, maybe there was this thing in my dissertation that I didn’t quite get, but I wrote about anyway and then got a question about it at my defense and sat there with a blank face saying ummm a hundred times.  To be honest, it is not an easy concept.  It has to do with cross-scale interactions in complex systems.  It is a theory derived from resilience theory and panarchy, and one that I never quite mastered until today….maybe.  We aren’t ever sure if we master some of these theories, are we?  I think that is why there is so much theory.  If you don’t get it, just make up a new one, right?  So, it turns out that my subconscious brain must have gotten it, because I wrote about it in my theory chapter and it makes perfect sense, but I never seemed to apply it to the results.  Hence, the question from a very perceptive committee member.  It’s quite interesting really.  It turns out that what you do at a local scale can affect a larger or global scale or it cannot, and its not at all predictable (oh chaos and non-linearity, why do you taunt our poor human brains?).  And on top of that, people living in communities can be tightly integrated within their community and with other communities in the same region, or across regions or across a whole island like Cyprus, or they can be loosely connected at all scales, or they can be loose at one and tight at another and vice versa…..you see why this gets confusing.  The worst part is that these kinds of theories (complex systems especially) are not often applied to human social systems, and thus it is difficult to find someone who explains these complex theories in terms a social scientist like myself will understand.  Which makes me think that the next thing I should write is something that explains these concepts for people like me, and for students who could learn them while their brains are young and agile (not like my rigid, old and slow brain) and do amazing things!  Who is in?  I’m going to need help!!

Hopefully tomorrow will bring more breakthroughs, but for now, I’m going to lay back and sing along to the Moody Blues as they properly sing on key “Tuesday Afternoon” while I eat a chocolate bar and drink a glass of Aphrodite wine, the cheapest and the loveliest of Cypriot wines in my opinion (I’m clearly not a connoisseur, but I love it and it is like 3 Euros a bottle!)…..  “Tuesday, afternoon/I’m just beginning to see, now I’m on my way/It doesn’t matter to me, chasing the clouds away” (Check out the Full video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkiS8e2xgdY)

 

You’ve got the best profile in Cyprus

I’ve been to the Cyprus Museum at least 15 times, but probably more than 20.  I remember it before they re-did the prehistory section, and when it wasn’t really air conditioned (as in Cyprus a/c where they have it, but it isn’t turned on).  I was lucky enough to work on material in the museum’s store room for my dissertation, and even convinced someone to let me go into the part that you are not supposed to be in (I bought everyone cookies to say thank you, because it was so super cool).  Even though I have spent so much time there over the years and have hundreds of pictures of the artifacts, I still love going there, and maybe it’s partially because I really love museum gift shops (more on that in a minute).

As it turns out, I have no pictures of the Late Bronze Age material in the Cyprus Museum.  Until incredibly recently the Late Bronze Age was “that other part of the Bronze Age” that I consciously left out of my work.  Well, those days are obviously over- welcome to the land of a million kinds of pottery, 10 volume sets of dig reports, and excavations of massive cities and little to no information about the hinterland- Dr. Swantek is in the Late Bronze Age!  Because of all of this, Bill Weir (also of the Kourion Urban Space Project, and in the near future my partner in the Swantek and Weir excavations on Cyprus) and I walked over to the museum today in 42 degree heat.  That’s in Celsius, my friends.

The Late Bronze Age part of the museum is way cool (not as cool as the prehistory section, but still ok).  Mycenaean kraters, white slip pottery in fun shapes, white shaved which I proudly identified without any help, and of course, RED LUSTROUS!!  There is also the famous faience rhyton from Kition with the dude holding a spear-knife like thing and grabbing an animal by the leg.  What is a rhyton, you ask?  It’s a cone shaped vessel that is either used for drinking or pouring or some kind of imbibing.  If you keep walking through the museum, you eventually reach the room where the metal artifacts are displayed.  I’m always amazed when I see the bronze statues of the Horned God and the Ingot God from Enkomi.  I’m also always amazed that we stick with calling them gods.  Are they?  It’s a good question and one that archaeology should be doing a better job answering.  Why do we call things what we call them?  Bill and I have actually been talking about this a lot this summer.  How do you know that something is what you are calling it?  Are stone maceheads really maceheads, as in carried by elites as a symbol of power or are they actually hammerstones which is what is suggested by the use wear on some of them?  I refer, of course, to those from the Early Bronze Age and not the later ones that actually are scepters (you can see the gold one from Kourion-Kaloriziki at the Cyprus Museum!).  There are a lot of artifacts that are called things that may not describe their actual function; this happens frequently with groundstone artifacts and sometimes with pottery (are Prehistoric Bronze Age milk-bowls really for pouring milk?).  I refer you back to the last blog post- are our modern perceptions getting in the way of good archaeology and does looking like something else make that thing the same?  I have ideas about how to do experiments with people to understand this better if anyone wants to co-author a paper with me!

Getting back to the museum- one of the things I love about the Cyprus Museum is the Agia Irini figurine exhibit and the statuary hall.  The figurines and statues are from a sanctuary at Agia Irini- post Bronze Age, but still so amazing.     Ayia Irni

I suppose what fascinates me the most about the Agia Irini figurines and the rest of the sculptures in the museum are the many faces represented.  The best profile in Cyprus is absolutely the statue pictured at the top (the bearded guy, obviously not me)!  I mean, check out that nose!  Anyway, Cyprus was clearly an international place even in antiquity- so many different shaped faces and so many different styles of art are represented.  It really makes you think about what it was like to walk around Cyprus and interact in the past- so many different people, so many different languages.  Ok, I admit, this is extremely post-processual of me, and it doesn’t seem to fit with my quantitative and scientific research (say that in your head in a haughty voice), but it brings up a really interesting set of questions about where we are going with archaeology these days.  Here comes more sets of ideas/questions like those above so if anyone wants to co-author or needs a dissertation topic and wants me on their committee, you know how to contact me (I think you just press the contact info button on the blog).  This processual/post-processual divide is garbage!  I prefer to do a certain kind of archaeology, but there are lots of kinds of questions, so if a more post-processual theory or methodology answers your questions, use it without hesitation.  If you want to mix the two, do it!  What’s so wrong with putting a foot on each side of this line?  What’s the divide all about?  Why do some anthropological archaeologists snub their nose at art history or philology and vice versa?  All of these disciplines with their various theories and methodologies have a place and a function, and if you like them, use them!  Get a little funky with your work.  Here’s the caveat though, make sure you are doing good and solid research.  Your sample size can’t be 1; you have to have a clear methodology, not just I think this, so it is right; you have to support your hypotheses with robust results!  I’m thinking of reinvigorating the research I did as a Master’s student on picrolite figurines and actually publishing it this time.  I might get a little post-processual, and you know what, I’m not scared of it!  (To be fair though, I have some super cool statistics in mind for this project.  I’m about to cross the divide!)

I swear this blog was supposed to be about the museum and the many amazing artifacts housed there.  Where did this processual/post processual discussion come from?  It’s been boiling in my head for a long time to be honest- I can hold back no longer!  Anyway, back to the museum, have any of you that are archaeologists ever stood in front of some of these super famous artifacts and thought about what it was like to be digging them up?  I can just imagine the hidden excitement on the site as everyone tried to play it cool like this was no big deal, but inside they were freaking out!  When Dikaios held up the Horned God for the first time, what the heck was going through his head?  Archaeology is as much about the artifacts as it is about the people who dug them up.  Sometimes I wish I had their personal stories to complete the “biography” of these objects (check out my post-processualism there).

If you are going to the Cyprus Museum make sure you check out the gift shop.  I couldn’t help myself and bought a Medieval sgraffito necklace of a person’s face up close.  Besides red lustrous, sgraffito is my second favorite Cypriot pottery.  It is avocado green and harvest gold!  Don’t pretend like your mom didn’t have Tupperware from the 1970’s in those colors that was decrepit in the 1980’s but still got used into the 1990’s.   Those colors are ugly separate and worse together, but they are timeless, and we love them!  What will the archaeologists of the future think as they dig our plastic cooking and drinking vessels up?  “Ah, this is clearly ceremonial eating and drinking.  There are so many of them; they were used for so long; they have obvious connections to the past or were heirlooms from as far back as the Medieval period!”

 

 

Archaeology Takes a Walk on the Wild Side

Today, while using the scanner, I was listening to a podcast.  Scanning books and articles is perhaps my least favorite part of research.  I don’t know why, but I’ve always hated it.  It seems like such a waste of time, as in all research and data should be readily available and free (this is probably a different discussion about making data open source).  I digress.  The podcast I was listening to was a Hidden Brain episodes called “You 2.0: Rebel with a Cause.”  The podcast opens with a story about an Italian chef who takes pretty big chances with his cooking as told by a social scientist.  The social scientist, also Italian with a lovely accent, describes how Italian cooking is steeped in tradition and handed down through generations.  She asks the question, “Why is it we cook the dish in this way?”  The traditional way isn’t necessarily better, and adding a little spice here or a dash of something there might actually enhance the flavor.  I can almost hear my grandmother saying, “adding oregano to the sauce doesn’t taste good.”  She hated oregano, so we never added it; I love oregano, and I add too much of it.  I digress again…. this one isn’t my fault, I actually love to cook.  Anyway, listening to this podcast got me thinking about archaeology, my work on social complexity and all of the Late Bronze Age pottery I’ve been reading about (groan!).

Why do people become more socially complex over time?  Why is it that we think social complexity is supposed to happen?  Why is it that we do it (both study and behave as a society) in this way?  Well, this is a subject I think a lot about since my previous research shows that social complexity doesn’t increase over time, but instead emerges and disappears in cycles.  The overall trajectory over hundreds of years looks linear, but there is so much going on when you zoom down to smaller scales of time.  On top of that, some people don’t become more socially complex even at a zoomed out time scale; in some places in the world states never emerge, people remain hunter-gatherers or pastoralists, and one could argue that there are places where living chiefdoms or middle-range societies dominate the social and political landscape.  All of these people may live in the confines of modern nation states, but they remain unaffected by top-down policies and thus maintain a way of life that is swept aside in some research, because living in states is where we are all supposed to end up.

The next two questions are linked: we think social complexity is supposed to happen to everyone.  For a very long time and even still today many people study it as a linear process (don’t claim that you don’t use the band-tribe-chiefdom-state model in class, because I know you are lying), because we are so affected by our own “traditions” that we can’t see it any other way.  Most, but definitely not all, social scientists and archaeologists do not come from or live in middle range or small scale societies.  As a result, we fail to see how intricately connected people are in other kinds of societies and how complex these societies actually are.  I usually study middle-range societies which some in other parts of the world would call chiefdoms, though I don’t like the term and think it should be applied less frequently.  From the results of my work, it seems pretty evident that the emergence of social complexity or social and economic differentiation and the networks and connections that are formed between people which lead to this differentiation are every bit as “complex” as in our own state societies.  We are fooling ourselves as archaeologists if we think that complex social and economic networks don’t underlie every form of human society.  When I hear evolutionary anthropologists and socio-cultural anthropologists talk about modern hunter-gatherers, my mind is absolutely blown!  The shifting connections between people, the battle for prestige and the maintenance of equality which occurs all at the same time is just astounding!  It’s time to stop cooking the dish in this way- It’s time to get rebellious with how we are thinking about social complexity.  Let’s walk on the wild side and say social complexity emerges in every kind of society, and then let’s develop new methodologies for showing that this is happening in the archaeological past!

Now that we’ve covered social complexity, let’s talk about pottery (double groan)!  Pottery is obviously not my specialty, but I’m learning to appreciate it.  On a good day, I can even name a bunch of kinds of Bronze Age Cypriot pottery and identify it, though the separation between PreBA Red Polished and Red Polished Mottled still alludes me.  I recently heard that it alludes some other very knowledgeable people too which makes me feel a lot better.  I digress yet again.  I was reading today about how in the LBA on Cyprus pottery from the Aegean starts being imported at a somewhat steady rate, explodes in numbers, and then absolutely dries up over time.  Why you may ask does it disappear later in the LBA?  Is it severing of trade contacts, is it environmental change, is it collapse?  I’m sure someone has a hypothesis, but what we do know is that at the same time as the imports dry up, local copies start being produced in larger quantities.  Isn’t that interesting?  The LBA people stopped cooking the dish in the same way, got innovative or maybe we can even say rebellious, and started producing their own “Aegean” pottery.  I’m almost starting to like pottery…maybe not, but my new favorite pottery type is Red Lustrous (it’s a local Cypriot fabric, so this is yet another digression and obviously I couldn’t help myself and put a picture of it here instead of the kind that this blog is actually about).  What a name!  You have to love it.

This long ramble of a blog post actually does have a point.  When we keep looking at things in the same old way, we will just keep getting the same old outcomes.  These are not robust results, but rather a failure to innovate.  Let’s take a tip from the Italian chef on the podcast and the LBA potters and get a little rebellious with how we are approaching the archaeological past!

If you would like to listen to the episode of Hidden Brain that inspired this blog and has a musical interlude by Lou Reed that should not be missed, it can be heard by clicking on the link: https://www.npr.org/2018/07/23/631524581/you-2-0-rebel-with-a-cause

 

 

Too much data?!

Is it at all possible to have too much data?  I mean, it can’t be if you are going to be doing statistical analysis, right?  However, think of the collection process, think of the database setup, think of the long hours of data entry! I’m certainly thinking of these things these days in the Fulbright Suite and the CAARI library.

As a prehistoric archaeologist, you almost never have too much data.  In fact, you almost always have too little.  There is always the odd research project that has 100,000 pottery sherds or 250,000 chipped stone flakes, but in general too much data is not often a problem with archaeologists like me.  When I did my dissertation research, I had moments of absolute panic thinking that my sample size was way too small (I refer you back to my post about the Philia Phase- major panic and problems writing that chapter of my dissertation only to be repeated with sweating and nervous giggling during my defense).  Since I am now taking a foray into the protohistoric world of Cyprus during the Bronze Age, the panic and cold sweats of prehistory have left me for the crushing defeat of too many tombs with too much stuff at way too many sites.  Yikes, I think I might need some help with this project!

Don’t misunderstand me, this is a good problem to have especially since this is a quantitative project using statistical methodologies….did someone say robust results?!  That’s certainly a phrase I haven’t heard before in my work!  If I wasn’t freaking out about how I can’t use the database I have and will have to make a whole new one, and wondering when it is I am going to find the time to get all of these data (200+ grave goods in many of these tombs!) into this magical database that doesn’t exist nor has a plan even been conceived for, I would be super excited about running all of my various statistical analyses and wealth indices on these tombs.

Among my fear and Late Bronze Age anxiety, I realize a few things.  This is a huge project that could involve undergraduates and graduate students, that needs a big grant to complete, that needs a database manager who really knows what they are doing, and probably also needs a pottery specialist (why are there so many kinds of White pottery, what the heck is White Shaved from Enkomi, and where is all of this stuff made?).  And, if I really wanted to add to my dissertation work properly, I also need to find out what is happening on Cyprus with social and wealth inequality at the other end of the Prehistoric Bronze Age, during the Chalcolithic.  This would be an awesome project in which we could track changes in social network formation, wealth inequality and the emergence of social complexity for a really long time!  (Does this qualify as the longue durée?  I’m never sure how much time you need to cover to qualify).  I would guess from my other work that we are going to be surprised by the results when we start comparing different parts of Cyprus (North vs. South vs. Central or Inland vs. Coastal), and look at cross-scale phenomenon (settlements, regions, the whole island).   And wouldn’t it be so fun to compare these results to social change and wealth inequality in the world today?We may learn something about our past selves that has application for our present and future selves. This could be seriously cool!  Now, I just need to get more money, more people, and become gainfully employed…simple (ha!).

So if anyone wants in on this project, and knows Cypriot Late Bronze Age pottery, let me know!  Or if you have comments/concerns/ideas, PLEASE HELP ME!!!  You can find me behind the huge stack of books on the big desk in the CAARI library, gasping for air, whimpering and mumbling something about white pottery!