Monday, December 17, 2007

Don't Buy This Book

PDQ SubmissionAs I've mentioned before, Billur Tekkök and I are editing the digital publication Greek, Roman and Byzantine Pottery at Ilion (Troia). I'll talk about our work as part of the AIA panel "Web-Based Research Tools for Mediterranean Archaeology".

One point that I will stress is that we intend to deliver this information in whatever formats will be useful to users. Currently, this means the website, a PDF file released under a Creative Commons license, and as a bound volume available for purchase from It's pretty trivial to generate the PDF - which we produce so that users can take all our content into the field - and then upload it to Lulu, after which third parties can purchase a printed copy.

That last "format" brings me to the title of the post. Don't buy the bound version yet. I'm going to update it at least once before going to Chicago and, looking further out, our goal is to expand the content in time for the summer field season. This is all to say that the whole thing is a draft so there's no point in spending real money when you can get all the text and images for free.

If that's the case, why are we producing a bound version at all? At some point we'll freeze a first edition and submit it for review and encourage libraries to purchase it. There's still a role for a printed volume as an archival format and there are still times when it's convenient to have information available on the printed page; like when it's over 37 Celsius and you don't want to bring your computer outside into the heat and dust.

Information when you want it and how you want it is the model we're pursuing, even if that means using such old-school technologies as the printed book.

And one reason to buy now... if you'd like to see the quality of Lulu volumes. In general, I can say that the paper quality is good, text is sharp, but the image reproduction is only decent, though I think I can tweak the process to make the images more faithful to their original colors and quality.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ceramica in Italia

A version of the 1998 volume Ceramica in Italia. 6-7 secolo. Atti del convegno in onore di John W. Hayes : Roma, 11-13 maggio 1995 has long been available on the internet as a series of PDFs. I say a version because the pages in each file are unnumbered and some spelling errors were introduced into the text by the digital conversion process.

The location of these files has changed over time and they are now on the Portale di Archeologia Medievale of the Dipartimento di Archeologia e Storia delle Arti of the Università di Siena.

Despite its editorial shortcomings, it's worth having access to the digital version of this publication. But there is no direct link on the Siena website. Instead, you can use the following two curl commands to download the individual files:

curl -o vol1_#1.pdf[01-29].pdf

curl -o vol2_#1.pdf[01-26].pdf

[I'm sure some browsers will wrap these long lines or have other problems so make sure everything from 'curl' to 'pdf' is on one line when you paste each command into your shell.]

You'll end up with 55 PDFs in whichever directory you started the download.

The curl program should already be on your machine if you're running Mac OS X or another Unix-like OS. If not, it should be trivial to install it. A windows version is available from the curl download page.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Drapers Gardens Vessel Hoard

The Drapers Gardens, London find of copper-alloy vessels is of interest to ceramicists. Here's a picture:

The best summary of the whole site that I found is from the Pre-Construct Archaeology site. This is the private firm that actually did the digging. It looks like they've done a superb job.

As a little bit of an aside, I enjoyed the range of headlines given to the newspaper articles about this find. The following list is drawn from a search in Google news:

The last article, from the London Times Online, includes the following image (it's number 5 in the "slide show" at the top of the article):

The deposition of the vessel hoard is dated to after 375 AD by its stratigraphic position above two coins. That makes the metal vessel illustrated above a nice point of comparison with contemporary ceramics. Download this PDF from Lattara 6 and see forms 71 to 76 for African Red-Slip that shares the general idea of a more-or-less deep bowl with wide and more-or-less horizontal rim. Many of the ceramic vessels also have decoration on the outer edges of their rims.

It looks like the metal vessels from Drapers Garden trend larger than their ceramic analogs. That's nice because one can imagine them going well together on a table, though it's somewhat speculative to think that metal and ceramics were mixed when such dishes were laid out for a meal.

Metal in use by wealthier households and African Red-Slip more widely available to folks living somewhat near to the coast and/or a major trade route together led the way in establishing this part of the koine of late Roman table vessels. The general form was further spread by potters collectively less prolific than their North African colleagues. See the first entry in the publication of "Late Roman West Asia Minor 'Light Colored' Ware" at Ilion/Troy (with profile drawing and photograph below). That's an unwieldy name for an interesting ware that almost broke into the front ranks of the ceramic trade. For example, it's found in small amounts at Berenice in present day Libya. The example from Ilion shows the decorative rim edge, though in this instance the motif is not continuous. That's a common feature on ceramic vessels.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Another source for online publications

I randomly stumbled across the downloadable publications page of the Centro para el Estudio de la Interdependencia Provincial
en la Antigüedad Clasica
. It's great and has many articles related to amphora production.

As an example of the high-quality of the available titles, I particularly note a rare online sighting of a JRA Supplement chapter.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Monday, December 3, 2007

Mediterranean Ceramics Reference Stability Report, Number 3

[Updated to confirm that no. 3 is still available and to fix the URL of no. 13.]

The MCRSR first appeared in October. For the third edition, I am once again making additions, nos. 13 and 14. Thirteen is an an inscribed pot published by the Inscriptions of Aphrodisias project. Fourteen is the XML version of the same. It will be interesting to see if one URL is more stable than the other. Gabriel Bodard suggested that I list this item.

I intend to get to 20 URLs total and am happy to consider other suggestions. Over the course of this month I am going to look for potential additions from North Africa, Eastern Europe, and the east coast of the Mediterranean.

There have been no changes to the 12 URLs listed last month. At the time of writing, I am unable to connect to the server at (no. 3 below) but this is probably due to a temporary glitch. I'll update this post when either I can get through or I determine that the resource is gone or has been moved.

1. Walters' Catalogue of the Roman Pottery in the Departments of Antiquities, British Museum from Google Books:

2. Robinson's Agora V from JSTOR:

3. Lattara 6:

4. K. Greene's AJA article on Early Roman lead glazed pottery:

5. Heath and Tekkök, Greek, Roman and Byzantine Pottery at Ilion (Troia):

6. Vessel from Çatalhoyuk (via Flickr):

7. A Late Minoan III Pyxis from the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

8. An undocumented ARS Hayes 70 bowl from the dealer Classical Numismatics Group:

9. Fifteenth Century Mosque Lamp from Jerusalem now in the British Museum:

10. The Perseus Project Vase Catalog:

11. Wikimedia Commons Image of a Greek Geometric Skyphos in the Louvre:

12. Sagalassos from Pleiades:

13. Inscribed pot from Aphrodisias (HTML):

14. Inscribed pot from Aphrodisias (XML):

Sunday, December 2, 2007


PDQ SubmissionThe Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is clearly a leader in providing on-line access to its collection database. As of writing, descriptions of 339,125 "artworks" are searchable, out of a total estimated collection of 450,000 objects. Additionally, a high percentage of the records have images.

Enough of praise, now for some constructive criticism...

If one uses the 'keyword' field of the Advanced Search form to look for "african red slip", a list of 14 objects is returned. Clicking on the fourth item brings up a useful description of an ARS Hayes 53 plate of the fourth to early fifth century AD, an object purchased in 1989 but undocumented prior to that date (

The URL used to access the record is:

This string of characters is so long that nobody would use it as a fixed reference to that object in a publication. Rather, one would fall back on the scholarly practice of using "MFA 1989.690" and leave it up to the reader to track down the object. The MFA site makes this relatively easy in that the Advanced Search page has a field for accession number. If you enter "1989.690" in that field, you end up at a page with the URL:

Although this feature is undocumented, that URL can be shortened to:

That is a reasonable length and means that the MFA's own unique identifier for the object can be made actionable in a fairly clean manner. There is, however, a further issue. That URL does not lead to the full information and image for the object, only to an abbreviated list view. The shortest URL that I could compose to link to the full view was:

I don't know the semantics of the ID field, but it looks like a numeric primary-key imposed by the database system, one that is not otherwise publicly documented by the institution. This is my main criticism: the full information for is not directly accessible by its publicly documented unique identifier.

This may seem a subtle point, and I don't mean for it to distract from the obvious benefit provided by the MFA's efforts. But as we move towards an effective infrastructure for digital publication and scholarship, I would like to see URLs such as instantiated as valid links to useful information.