Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Mediterranean Ceramics Reference Stability Report, Number 7

The MCRSR first appeared in October, 2007. For the seventh installment I am making one addition, no. 18, Roman Amphorae: a digital resource from the United Kingdom Arts and Humanities Data Service's Archaeological Data Service. Astute readers will note that the URL I use re-directs to a interstitial page that asks for compliance with a Copyright and Liability Statement and with a Common Access Agreement. I don't usually use redirects but in this case I do because the publication explicitly asks that citation be only to this URL. It is helpful when sites specify a citation form so that I am happy to comply. But see below for comments on an unfortunate side effect of the site enforcing compliance in this way. In general, however, this is an excellent resource that is highly recommended to anyone interested in the topic. There is much to say about the high quality of the scholarly content but for now I'll keep myself to just a few technically-oriented comments.

First, the title of the work gives me an opportunity to highlight a personal bugaboo of mine. Many digital resources qualify themselves by prepending "electronic" to their titles. This is a misnomer as electricity is only one component of their storage and transmission. Plastics, light, magnetism, etc. are all involved so "digital" is a better term. But this is a somewhat petty observation that doesn't apply here so I'll move on quickly.

About that compliance page, it seems to come at a high cost. If one clicks past the page and makes one's way to the entry for Africana 1 Picolo amphoras, you can read the phrase "Production is attested at Ariana near Carthage...". Try searching for it in Google and you won't find anything. I don't think this can be due to the format of the URL for that particular page - - because Google usually handles such strings with no problem. Rather, I'm guessing that any links to this page first run the Google spider through the compliance page and that interferes with indexing. Regardless of cause, the result is that these superb pages are not discoverable via search engines. That is unfortunate. And having read both the Copyright and Liability statement and the Common Access Agreement, they did not strike me as so unique as to require this intrusion. To put it another way, what benefit is worth that cost?

Readers may be aware that the AHDS' funding will soon run out. Fortunately, as announced on its website, ADS funding will continue. It will be interesting to see if the published URLs of ADS resources change.

There has been one significant change for the previously listed URLs. The JSTOR link to Robinson's Agora V is now Unfortunately, the previous URL,, no longer works. And to compound the issue, the new URL takes one to a login page that does not indicate the title of the linked work. This is an unexpected situation that I hope results from temporary errors. One reason to think they are temporary is that there are "old style" URLs that do redirect to the new and improved URL format. For example, remains usable.

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

2. Robinson's Agora V from JSTOR:, previously

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):

15. Hellenistic lamp from Assos, Turkey at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston:

16. Open Context record for Halaf period jar from Domuztepe, Turkey:

17. Abbasid Ceramics from the Museum With No Frontiers:

18. Roman Amphorae: a digital resource:

Dining and Numismatic Imagery

I've added a preliminary discussion of Roman New Years lamps to the ongoing draft of Dining and Numismatic Imagery. I've had a few discussions with colleagues on this topic but until I am better able to incorporate their thoughts, I won't name names so as to protect the innocent. I gladly take responsibility for all mistakes and welcome them being pointed out.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dining and Numismatic Imagery

I am putting myself in position to make more progress on the dining and numismatic imagery article. I decided is was unfeasible to write directly in the blogger interface. So I've moved the text into xhtml and made it available on my personal website. The URL is It's pretty much the same as before with just a few additions, perhaps fewer typos, more of the links actually work, etc.

I link back to this post and welcome more comments, though I will be making significant changes "real soon now".

Monday, April 21, 2008

Looting and Westphalian Sovereignty

David Gill's Looting Matters and Saving Antiquities for Everyone's SAFE Corner are the "go to" blogs for cultural property issues. In a recent post, Gill comments on James Cuno's recently published essay "Who Owns the Past?", which can be found on the Yale Global Online web site.

I endorse the whole post and quote just the closing paragraphs:
Do we care about the destruction of sixth century BCE tombs in the Republic of Macedonia to supply antiquities for, say, private collectors?


Not because of "nationalist retentionist cultural property laws" (though I could understand a call by archaeologists working in the Republic of Macedonia for the return of specific pieces) but because looting is destroying some unique and highly significant archaeological contexts—and that destruction is removing part of human knowledge for ever.

Looting has intellectual consequences.
Looking at Cuno's article directly, it seems to me that the following passage offers archaeologists flawed advice on the basis of an uneven conception of the role of national sovereignty:
Archaeologists should work with museums to counter the nationalist basis of laws, conventions and agreements, and promote a principle of shared stewardship of our common heritage. Together we should call attention to the failure of these laws to protect our common ancient heritage and perversion of that heritage by claiming the archaeological record as a modern nation’s cultural property[.]
For a modern nation state to claim the archaeological record as cultural property is not a perversion but rather a commonplace application long-standing claims of national prerogative. I use the historical term "Westphalian Sovereignty" to highlight one source of this prerogative: the set of treaties that brought an end to many decades of European war in 1648. Historical debates about the origins of our current international system notwithstanding, nations have since at least that time acted either individually or collectively to address issues of global concern. The system is imperfect, to be sure, but has so far allowed us all to avoid global armageddon while holding out hope for general progress and improvement.

Why then are we asked to carve out an exception when it comes to cultural property and to offer a safe haven from national sovereignty to those who would participate, whether directly or indirectly, in the evident and ongoing looting of global cultural heritage? This makes no sense to me.

As an aside, I am reminded of the time I was a delegate at the 2006 ACLS annual meeting in Philadelphia. During the program, the then Deputy Chairman of the NEH spoke and offered similar arguments about the disjunction between national sovereignty and universal cultural heritage. I was struck by the incongruence of a public servant - an individual whose salary was paid because the sovereign government of the United States chose to compel its citizens both to pay taxes and to take on common debt - standing in front of the American Council of Learned Societies - an organization explicitly organized along national lines - in order to question a state such as Italy's choice to exercise its sovereignty in the protection of material property inside its national boundaries. That seemed odd at best.

To return to Cuno's article, arguments that rely on a unique safe-haven from national sovereignty for the trade in antiquities should be suspect as either arbitrary, self-serving or both.

Ceramics at the Museum of London

I had not seen the online presentation of the ceramics collection of the Museum of London. I particularly enjoyed the amphora section: many Dressel 20's, a Richborough 527, Late Roman 4's. Keep clicking, there's much to see. Put this next to the Roman Amphorae: a digital resource and it's clear that amphora specialists - at least the Roman ones - share their data more than most.

Friday, April 4, 2008


To review:
  1. Charles Watkinson wrote about "drilling-down" in archaeology.
  2. I responded
  3. Charles replied.
  4. Bill Caraher joined in
  5. Tom Elliot took us into orbit
  6. Eric Kansa took note
  7. Bill re-upped
  8. The whole thread hit the Big Time.
In my first response I picked up on one small phrase in Charles' original post, "Nobody wants to share their data", and ran with it. I thought I would just take the time to pull out the following additional passages:
So where next for the dream of seamlessly linked publications and their data in archaeology? Some current trends are encouraging.
And his finishing paragraph:
The "drill down" may never be as easy as it sounds, but it is more attainable technologically, intellectually, and politically now than it has ever been in the past. The prospect of linking archaeological publication with the data that inspired it is coming within sight.
It's seems clear that we're all looking to a similar future.

There is substantive discussion about what's holding us up. Among the themes I see in the flow of thoughts is "who shares what, how, and why (or why not)?" Charles introduced the metaphor of faunal equivalence and that has caught on. At the substantial risk of mischaracterizing Charles' larger point, he seems to be marking those who do share as exceptional and to focus on why people don't. I mean that as an observation and not as a judgement and I hope to be corrected if wrong.

Bill's latest post expanded on Charles' evocation of the fundamental lack of replicability in the archaeological process by writing:
The valuable cognitive and phenomenological patterns, for example, that comprise an archaeological "sense of place" would form a kind of metadata that does not translate easily into print or digital media.
So not just who shares, but, of the archaeology happening at the edge of whatever tool, methodology or metaphor you choose, what are we able to share.

I do note that Bill also ends on what I take as a positive note:
The work of the Grey Panthers and their collaborators will certainly resolve many of these issues in the near future, but for now with all the other pressures of data collection (i.e. archaeological fieldwork), writing, and teaching, we can only do so much toward making our data publicly available electronically. As someone committed to the concept, however, it is my hope that in the near future greater technical and financial resources will make it easier to do the right thing.
Let me say that I, too, am an optimist. In part because I take the following sequence to be fairy self-evident:
  • We all create at least some data that is either already digital or can be digitized.
  • Nobody is going to actively destroy their digital data. (I'll invoke exceptions as proving the rule.)
  • We will all make some arrangement to put our data somewhere and this will happen either before or after we're "done" with them ourselves.
Optimistically, though certainly not naively, I draw from this formulation the conclusion that we will all share, eventually and somehow. With again not wanting to mischaracterize anyone's meaning, I think I'm on vaguely the same page with Bill when he writes:
In fact, from my perspective here in Greece, the dominant attitude among juniors scholars is frustration that archaeological data is not available. One can only hope that this frustration will be a powerful impetus toward making archaeological material accessible to the scholarly community quickly and openly.
Having looked for common ground, I am not afraid of disagreement. My current focus is resolutely on sharing and I see it all around me. On the Stoa, on Open Context, on the Archaeological Data Service, on Wikipedia and its attendant Wikimedia Commons, on Flickr, in the incipient rumblings out of ISAW, from the Center for Hellenic Studies, from the legislative and executive branches of the United States government, from epigraphers, from museums, from numismatists, from big projects going part way, from big projects going all the way, from many other field projects currently dipping their toes into the water via websites and probably inclined to do more, and even - dare I say it - from journals going not nearly far enough. I could go on (and on)...

Hence my title. We already have an entire ecosystem of sharers and it's only going to get more diverse. It doesn't matter what kind of animal you are, as long as your data survives.

So I am an optimist on the basis of quickly formulated principle, on the basis of current observation, and due to the resulting extrapolation of future trends. But I'm a little grumpy, too. If you don't share, you won't matter. Simple as that.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Two Publications: SFECAG (2007) and Kyme e l'Eolide

1: I mentioned that Librairie Archéologique sent me a mail order catalog. Included in the envelope was a separate sheet advertising the availability of Actes du congrès SFECAG de Langres, 2007. Here's a direct link to the LibrArch site. If that doesn't work search for the reference 34884. At the moment, the direct link lists the volume as "Indisponible à la vente". I hope that's a temporary shortage as I just got the notice.

But what is SFECAG? The acronym stands for Société Française d'Étude de la Céramique Antique en Gaule. The organization's website is at

The Society's main activity is the holding of an annual congress and subsequent publication of the papers. Volumes have appeared since 1985. Collectively, the series is a great resource for keeping track of what French ceramicists are up to. Among my favorite articles is L. Rivet et al. (2001). "Les sigillées tardives des fouilles 1946-1970 de Saint-Blaise (Bouches-du-Rhône)," Société Française d’Étude de la Céramique Antique en Gaule: Actes du Congrès de Lille-Bavay, 24-27 Mai 2001. Marseille: 489-515. Among other observations, the authors publish seven sherds of Cypriot Red-Slip from the late Antique phases of this rural site.

These volumes are not well represented in US libraries. If you search for "SFECAG" in you only get European libraries for the various volumes that are listed. Searching for "Société Française d’Étude de la Céramique Antique en Gaule" and clicking within the resulting list shows some US libraries. But it has not been easy to order these volumes so I'm glad to see LibrArch carrying some of them.

2: Vincenzo di Giovanni has been kind enough to send me an offprint of his article "Ceramica romana e tardo antica di Kyme. Osservazione preliminari sui materiali dagli scavi dell'Università di Napoli 'Frederico II'" found in L. Scatozza Höricht, ed. (2007). Kyme e l'Eolide da Augusto a Costantino. Atti dell'Incontro internazionale di studio Missione archeologica italiana : Napoli, 12-13 dicembre 2005 Naples. I don't have access to the whole volume yet so I'm happy to have this preview. As noted by Dr. Di Giovanni in an e-mail correspondence, the Kyme assemblage overlaps well with what we have at Ilion/Troy. Not ware-for-ware, form-for-form but the two sites are close enough to be part of similar large-scale exchange networks.