Monday, June 23, 2008

Say What?

Good people sometimes go off the rails. Peter Tompa is a good person and his "Cultural Property Observer", although filled with conclusions with which I disagree, at least tries to be well-reasoned and calmly argued. In the comments to this post on PhDiva, our Observer manufactures a set of circumstances and pressures which become the basis for excusing lawless removal of cultural artifacts by in-country military forces. This is odd at best and it is disappointing to see that an advocate of the personal retention of cultural heritage can't even condemn the behavior noted by Dorothy King.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Kommos 4

I came across a digital version of Kommos 4, edited by J. and M. Shaw, on the University of Toronto's institutional archive [worldcat]. The text is here. The plates here. Oddly, the plates are distributed under a Creative Commons "Attribution - Non-Commericial - No Derivatives" license, whereas the text has the more generic statement, "All items in T-Space are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved."

For myself, I'm glad to have Hayes' discussion of the Roman pottery on my hard drive. It begins on p. 310. The relevant plates begin on the twelfth page of the PDF file titled "Kommos_volume_4-2_256-275". You'll see what I mean if you follow the links given above.

But there's much of interest in this publication, something for most everyone really, so I recommend downloading all the files.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Holed N. African Amphora at UPenn

The UPenn Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has a Late Roman Amphora (L-771-1) on long term loan. In form it's a Keay 62a, a type that was produced from 450 to 600 AD in North Africa. The name is taken from S.J. Keay, (1984), Late Roman Amphorae in the Western Mediterranean. A typology and economic study: the Catalan evidence, BAR Int. Ser. 196, Oxford. [worldcat]. In 1998 Keay updated his chronology for the whole series in his contribution to Lucia Sagui (ed.), Ceramica in Italia: VI-VII Secolo. Atti del Convegno in onore John W. Hayes Roma, 11-13 maggio 1995, Florence [worldcat]. You can find his chapter "Roman Amphorae" on p. 141. M. Bonifay includes observations about the form on p. 137 of his 2004 volume Etudes sur la céramique romaine tardive d’Afrique, BAR Int. Set. 1301, Oxford.[worldcat].

Here are some pictures taken with my iPhone and presented unprocessed except for resizing. You can see that the results are OK for images taken from a distance but blurry for close-ups.


Close-up of Neck

Side view of handle

Partial view of "button toe"

Close-up of the surface

Close-up of plugged hole

The last image of the plugged hole is an opening for further comment. Ted Peña, in his book Roman Pottery in the Archaeological Record [worldcat], follows Bonifay (above, p. 467-8) in listing four methods of holing amphoras that contained liquid commodities. The first consists of:
the creation of one or two small holes ca. 1-2 cm. in diameter, usually by means of a drill, though sometimes by means of punching or chipping, generally in the lower third of the vessel's wall. This method is attested almost exclusively with examples of the Neo-Punic amphora, the "a gradino" variety of the African 2A, and the Keay 25. (p. 67)

The UPenn piece shows such holing in a Keay 62. Of course, we don't know that the vessel was pierced in antiquity and we don't know why the hole was re-filled, or when. It looks like the fill is lead, which certainly could be ancient. It seems likely that something was attached at the point of the hole, perhaps just excess lead. Perhaps not since the marks in the accretion show an incomplete ring as well as distance from the hole. I'm not sure what this means so comments are welcome. And what about the chips below the ring? There's a lot going on here when you take the time to look closely.

One reason to discuss holing of amphoras now is that tomorrow (6/20/2008) is the first day of the conference, "'Pottery in the archaeological record: a view from the Greek world'. A Workshop on J. Theodore Peña’s publication, Roman Pottery in the Archaeological Record", hosted by the Danish Institute at Athens. Consider this post a small contribution to the topic.

I'm grateful to Brian Rose for permission to discuss this piece, and to Lynn Makowsky for accession information.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

To Dorothy King

Dorothy King is frequently a cogent commentator on matters ancient and modern. But I was unhappy to see her beginning a recent post with:
I sometimes get frustrated with archaeologists who seem to be more worried about preserving every single little broken bit if pot everywhere - and ignore the human cost of war. To some people, the men and women who have given their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq seem to have become theoretical statistics.

To suggest that archaeologists ignore the human cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is a serious charge and to use "seem" without providing any specific references is unfair.

For my part, I am not so vain as to think she had anything I've written in mind, but I can't help but personalize my response. As a citizen I can express my horror at the human cost by voting, contributing to political campaigns and expressing my opinion. In doing so I am one voice among millions taking part in our pluralistic democracy. As a parent I can teach my three children to honor the service of the troops while disparaging the appointed leaders who have served them so poorly. I do this in my home and usually wouldn't mention it here.

But as an active field-archaeologist and museum professional with direct experience of and expertise in the losses to world cultural heritage wrought the by the international trade in illicit antiquities, I can focus my writings and advocacy on the deleterious effects of these two wars on archaeological knowledge. That this intellectual loss pales in comparison to the human loss should most often be able to go without saying.

To go a step further, I actually think there is a very strong correlation between a focus on the material consequences of the war in Iraq and an understanding that the predictable human cost was one reason to find a better way. To put this differently, I don't personally know archaeologists who strongly supported the war and one basis for their concern was the inevitable loss of life. I am not suggesting a causal relationship: opinions held as a citizen and opinions held as a professional are distinct, but in this case they seem to have overlapped. Since I take this step on the basis of anecdote and conversation, I can't directly cite my sources.

So, I'll stand up for archaeologists as caring as much as any other group of citizens about the human costs of war. When acting as archaeologists, however, we will speak to what we know best, which is the consequences of war for our chosen profession.

Monday, June 16, 2008

"Stolen Artifacts Returned to Iraq"

That's the headline of a brief NYTimes article. Here are the opening sentences:
A cache of ancient artifacts stolen from the National Museum of Iraq during the American-led invasion in 2003 were returned to Iraq’s Antiquities Ministry on Monday in a ceremony in Baghdad, Reuters reported. The items, 11 cylinder seals made from agate and alabaster between 3,000 and 2,000 B.C., were found in Philadelphia last month by American customs officials and turned over to the Iraqi embassy in Washington, a spokesman for the ministry said.
Those of us interested in the legitimate protection of the world's cultural property have realized that looting and theft in Iraq feeds the international market in illicit antiquities. While it is unfortunate that this story proves us right, it is a counter-balance to those who discount such a connection. As an example of such thought I offer this post from Peter Tompa and its admonition to:
watch out for claims that the long-promised 'tidal wave' of looted Iraqi material has finally left its secret warehouses for our shores!

Does the Times story describe a tidal wave washing back to Iraq? No. But add in the Syrian return mentioned there, along with what looks like an upcoming return from Jordan predicted in the Reuters version, and it's hard to justify the lighthearted approach to the problem of stolen Iraqi property taken in Tompa's "Cultural Property Observer".

Coins on the Move

The ANS has moved all its coins and other objects. I mention this because the whole event got coverage in the New York Times. Check out the photo essay as well.

My contribution to this process was only the design of the database we used to track all the crates and their contents. My colleagues did all the heavy lifting.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"Earliest Church" in Jordan

Dorothy King, among others, notes reports of an early church in Jordan. A first century date is almost certainly too early for the pottery shown:

Those look to be amphora necks near in form to Late Roman Amphora 1 from Cilicia or Cyprus. As also indicated by their reasonably good preservation, they should date from the late Roman use of the church and have little to do with any earlier phase.

So... that's a great illustration but is misplaced to the extent that lay-people might think it shows early Roman (let alone "Christian") pottery.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

More on Barrington Atlas IDs and a Question

Sean Gilles has blogged about deriving unique representations of geographic names from the Barrington Atlas.

He suggests the pattern:{label-normalized}-{map}-{grid}

See the complete post for how to transliterate names containing non-ASCII characters into URL friendly (near) equivalents. It's mostly simple: 'Ağva' becomes 'agva' but there are more interesting cases.

Quick question: should the host component of the url be '' or ''? This may not matter from a redirection point-of-view but consistency, searchability, and interchange issues might make it desirable to designate one or the other as the preferred form.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Mapping GRBPIlion

I continue to be interested in using the Atom Syndication Format, Georss, KML and Google's mapping tools to express the geographic component of data related to the ancient Mediterranean. These formats are all simple, well-documented and xml-based so that Greek, Roman and Byzantine Pottery at Ilion (Troia), in which we try to use open standards, is a good test-bed for trying out ideas.

To cut to the chase, the following URLs show what I'm up to:Clicking on the Google Maps link shows a browser-embedded map with a short list of sites on the left. It's early yet, but that list will expand. Regardless, clicking on a site name on the left will bring up a text-bubble pointing to the right place on the map. Within the bubble are one or more links to relevant pages on the GRBPIlion website. Imagine more dots and you get the idea.

The implementation is pretty simple but should give me flexibility going forward. There are three basic components. The file "geography.atom" defines geographic entities. If you look inside you'll see that I derive unique IDs from the Barrington Atlas, so Gaza is "". In doing so, I follow the suggestions of Tom Elliot of ISAW. Looking inside "groups.xml" - which instantiates concepts such as "African Red Slip" for rendering into html - shows that a few such groups make reference to these geographic entities. Search for 'rel="geographic"' to see what I mean. Finally, I munge those two files into "grbpilion.kml", which can be shown directly in Google Earth or via Google Maps using the URLs listed above.

The xslt that does the munging is "kml.xsl". It's pretty ugly right now but it works so will do for the short term.

At a more abstract level, I can theoretically put elements such as '<link rel="geographic" href="" />' anywhere in the publication. Right now I only implement this idea in groups.xml but I look forward to extending this system to individual sherd descriptions and to the bibliography.