Koreh Ardeshir

Khoreh Ardeshir - no I don't know what it is either. Photo by dynamosquito
Khoreh Ardeshir - no I don't know what it is either

Khoreh Ardeshir, Sasanian palace at Buzpar (say Boshpar), close to the achemenid tomb aka Gur Dokhtar”, says the photo description. I guess that’s not a standard Romanisation of the name, as I can find very little on the web to give me much of a clue as to what this is. The Sasanians were very big in the Middle East between 300 and 600 CE, and a pain to the Romans, so this could be something very interesting. If you have any information please feel free to add it in the comments below.

The reason I’ve chosen it as a photo of the week is that I like the effect of the converging parallel lines.

Photo: Khoreh Ardeshir by Dynamosquito. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence.

Sabratha, Libya

A Tourist Police agent is watching the Roman ruins at Sabratha, 60 kilometers west of Tripoli, Libya, on September 6, 2011.
A 'Tourist Police' agent at Sabrata, Libya. Photo by Ammar Abd Rabbo.

This week’s photo is of ruins at Sabratha, Libya, originally founded by the Phoenicians around 500 BC and later a Roman city. It’s a World Heritage Site, and in the recent civil war Sabratha was captured and re-captured a couple of times. In the modern world there’s a big divide between Europe on the north of the Mediterranean and Africa on the south. The Roman view would have been vastly different, with the major cities of the Empire being on the shores of Mediterranean and the further reaches of Europe to the north of Italy being awful places where the savages lived.

[yt video=owLSIfVQzgc]A Visit to Sabrata[/yt]

The city was re-taken by anti-Gaddafi forces in August. The speed of protection for the sites is therefore astonishing. This photo was taken on the 6th of September. Elsewhere in Libya the fight continues.

Free access to Maney Archaeology and Heritage Journals for a month

Terrae Incognitae coverManey Publishing are offering a free 30 day trial of journals in their Archaeology and Heritage collection. There’s quite a few journals in the collection. The one the caught my eye was Terrae Incognitae. If you’ve not heard of this journal, it’s a journal of the history of exploration from ancient to modern times. Even if you’re a hardline single-subject archaeologist there’s still relevant papers to read. In the most recent issue there’s a paper “The Palace Façade and the Urban Form in the Documenting of Hispanic America” which proposes a relationship between the architecture of Spanish colonisers and the monarchical urban policies of the 16th century. This sounds like something archaeological testable to me.

Another journal in the collection is Public Archaeology. I see that “From Respect to Reburial: Negotiating Pagan Interest in Prehistoric Human Remains in Britain, Through the Avebury Consultation” came out this year, which I really ought to read. Other recent papers have looked at the Philippines, Cambodia and “Archaeology as a Tool to Illuminate and Support Community Struggles in the Black Metropolis of the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries” based in the south-side of Chicago, which I’d never heard of before.

You can visit the Maney website to see the full list of journals. There’s a mixed bunch, but it looks particularly helpful for post-med and industrial archaeologists and researchers interested in the Levant. Maney have helpfully tweeted the offer is open to everyone, so it’s well worth checking out.

Croxden Abbey

[yt video=vohLD32fyNw]Croxden Abbey Illusion[/yt]

I’m trying to catch up with work, hence the skipped week. You can see the work at aobblog.com, which is a HTML5 page template among other things. Something more interesting is the Photo Search tool for botanical photos. If I can write a search engine for botanical images, then I can write one for archaeological images. When I get time to look over this site I’ll look at adding a similar engine. If you’d like to request archaeological photo pools to search, then leave a comment below.

Because I’m pushed for time it’ll be something I made a while ago that I put up as photo of the week. It’s based on this image of Croxden Abbey, a Cistercian Abbey dating from the 13th and 14th centuries. For the optical illusion, you need to stare at the black dot at the centre of the image. After around 30 seconds something will happen, but will you see a colour image or is it black and white?

Linda Shevitz, Maryland Women’s Heritage Center

Why the West Side Matters: Linda Shevitz, Maryland Women's Heritage Center
Why the West Side Matters: Linda Shevitz, Maryland Women's Heritage Center. Photo by Baltimore Heritage.

It’s easy to take women’s equality for granted. Particularly if you’re a man. In my own case a female friend said that Prof. X.* had a habit of ignoring female grad students. I replied he’d never noticed that when I’d had to see him and, after about five minutes, I realised why. But we have history books, empowered rap artistes and occasionally a middle-aged politician will helpfully highlight what has changed by ranting about feminists promoting drug abuse, communism or inappropriate transport for marine life. Do we need physical places as well? Whatever the state of equality, it’s hard to see removing an old building changing the law.

At Baltimore Heritage, you can read why it matters as part of a series on Baltimore’s West Side. The Center acts as a focus for research and community based around women’s heritage, and there’s plenty there as you can see at their website. But even if the center were rubbish, I’d still argue it’s physically important. As Eli notes in his post, the corner was a site of a major open-air rally, that eventually lead to the passing of the 19th amendment. Places don’t just have locations, they have associations. They can be personal, the place where you first kissed your beloved or where you were first arrested. They can be communal. I used to live somewhere that has markers for plague infested traders, public hangings and a small but thorough massacre.+ Having somewhere that has positive connotations as a touchstone for a community is something worth holding on to.

The reason I’ve chosen this photo is partly because Baltimore Heritage has been up to a lot of interesting work this summer with their public Civil War digs. There’s also a chance to work there yourself. If you’re in the USA, you can access this page advertising a post for a Historic Preservation Officer. If, like me, you’re not American you can visit the page, get blocked and logged and then ask for a link to the site. The reply was impressively fast. The other reason is that often when I take photos indoors near displays I get a colour cast on my photos. This photo is well-lit, evenly exposed and has what looks like a good white balance.

Photo: Why the West Side Matters: Linda Shevitz, Maryland Women’s Heritage Center by Baltimore Heritage. Photo licenced under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence.

*Unnamed as it’s my friend’s decision not mine whether or not to give details, and as you can see she had enough problems already.

+They were Vikings, so they tend not to get much sympathy.

Laboratory at the Museum of Natural History, University of Oregon, 1966

Laboratory at the Museum of Natural History (now the Museum of Natural and Cultural History), University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon (USA) 1966
Laboratory at the Museum of Natural History, University of Oregon, 1966

I’ve been looking to use one of John Atherton’s photos for a while. He has a lot of photos of archaeologists at work in both the USA and Africa. I chose this one as it gives me a sense of peering into the past.

I’m not entirely sure what we have this week, but I can say we have something on Korean archaeology tomorrow from Martin Bale and Mark Byington tomorrow. It also has an excellent photo of archaeologists at work. If all goes well I’ll also have a reliable broadband connection from tomorrow, which could revolutionise how I use the internet – like I’ll be able to use the internet and chase up emails.

Photo: Laboratory at the Museum of Natural History (now the Museum of Natural and Cultural History), University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon (USA) 1966 by John Atherton. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence.

Archaeology as a vendetta

A belated post from yesterday as I couldn’t get onto the Berkeley server and because I couldn’t make up my mind about which book I was going to blog.

Sacred Geography coverSacred Geography: A Tale of Archaeology and Murder in the Holy Land by Edward Fox is a book I’ve been meaning to blog about for years. Various things have put me off, but the key one is the theme, violence and the location, the West Bank. There’s a possibility that it’s a case of sticking a lightning rod into a site, because a small but vocal minority do like to argue that saying side A doesn’t deserve everything they get means that you secretly want side B to be massacred. Ratchet up this tension and what you get is the West Bank as described by Fox. A place where ordinary people try to live while extremists fuel violence to attempt to polarise communities and strengthen their own political position.

It’s in this place that the American archaeologist, Albert Glock, worked. It’s not unusual to find American archaeologists in the Levant, but Glock was unusual. From the article Cultural Bias in the Archaeology of Palestine in the Journal of Palestine Studies:

Albert Glock, the head of the archaeology department and the founder and director of the Institute of Archaeology at Birzeit University, was murdered by unknown assailants in 1992. He wrote this article, previously unpublished, in late November 1987 for presentation to several universities in India and Pakistan.

Beyond that trying to eke out more facts objectively is difficult. In the afternoon of the 19th of January 1992, Albert Glock visited the home of his assistant in Bir Zeit in the Occupied Territories. Three shots were heard and witness say they saw someone dressed like a member of Hamas jump into a car either registered in Israel or a Jewish settlement (you can tell by the colour of the numberplates) on the West Bank with two accomplices. An ambulance was called but took two hours to arrive and the Israeli army took a further hour to arrive. At the time there was an intensification of violence in the West Bank following the collapse of another round of peace talks. Foreigners were targets for Palestinian anger. Additionally Glock had been involved in a fractious dispute with a Palestinian member of staff over a job appointment. The murder has not been solved, but a member of Hamas interrogated with what we now call enhanced interrogation techniques made a vague reference to BirZeit University that could be related to the killing.

Israeli police have closed the case. The murder remains unsolved.

There are more details and depending on the order I present them I could slant the presentation of the facts one way or the other. Laying out the details without getting pulled into the wider political debate of the region and taking sides is difficult. Fox does this well, which is why I’m not really willing to give more information about the killing. It would spoil the book for you. So what can I talk about?

While it’s hard to ignore the Political (capital-P) issues in the death of Glock, Fox also draws attention to the political (small-p) implications of archaeology, though this being the Middle East, even that p is probably in bold letters. Glock was working on Palestinian archaeology because he thought the Palestinians were not being served by the archaeology of the region. Rather than having over two thousand years of history, some archaeologists felt that 2000 years of the past had to be removed in order to get to the history. In a less contentious setting, much medieval archaeology was lost in Britain by excavators eager to find the important stuff in the Roman layer. Equally you’d be a brave archaeologist to find a magnificent classical mosaic in Greece and dig underneath to find out about the earlier occupation of a site. Investigating the strata between modern Israel and ancient Judea has more meaning than simply finding out what happened in between.

As for Fox’s description of Glock, if I were murdered and in a state to care about afterwards I’m not sure I’d want Fox writing the book about it. I’d want someone who has Mr Clippy appear in her word processor to say: “Hello, it looks like you’re writing a hagiography. Would you like some help?” Glock is someone who went looking for archaeology away from the easier sources of funding from rich Christian philanthropists and set up a new institute in a place where archaeology was seen as a tool of the enemy. It would be easy to get carried away. Fox’s Glock is very human, with human faults. If Fox is accurate then while I could admire Glock’s work, I’m not sure I’d have liked the man.

As for the conclusion, I’ve lent the book to a few friends and got a different answer back each time as who they think did it. There is a tendency for people to think people who shot at them in region also shot at Glock. I’ve not been shot at in the Middle East, so I don’t know if that gives me some objective distance or if that’s a lack of useful experience.*

If you hear “Glock was shot by someone who appeared to be from Hamas who escaped in a car that appeared to be registered in Israel”, and you immediately know who did it then congratulations! You’re not going to enjoy the book. If you’re looking to piece together the clues and you aren’t discomforted by the sense paranoia and claustrophobia that sometimes comes across in the descriptions then you could find this interesting.

There’s a couple of places you can read about the murder of Albert Glock on the web.
The mysterious death of Dr Glock The Guardian
Who killed Dr Glock? “Archaeology is not a science, it is a vendetta.” Geoffrey Wheatcroft on the assassination of an American who became caught up in the land disputes of the Middle East New Statesman

Archaeology Magazine’s review
Brief review at NY Times
Reviews on Goodreads

Published as Palestine Twilight in the UK.

*This is not a request to be shot at in the Middle East or anywhere else.

Are you looking at me?

Bust of Caracalla.
A Quizzical Look. Photo by Trey Ratcliff.

This is the best shot I’ve seen of the hall of Roman Emperors in Naples. It’s by Trey Ratcliff, better known for his HDR work at Stuck in Customs. HDR is a method for compensating for wide variations in brightness for exposures, and so it’s usually very well suited for indoor work with natural light from outside, which makes it more unusual that this photo isn’t HDR. You can find his tutorial on the technique at his site.

Hopefully there will be more posts this week. I’ve been cut off from the internet to a large extent after moving house, and will be for a while yet. Everyone else is on fieldwork – which is more fun.

Photo: A Quizzical Look by Trey Ratcliff. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence.

Ancient Guide

An inuksuk in Nunavut
An inuksuk in Nunavut. Photo by Mike Beauregard

In the northern hemisphere it’s the hottest part of summer, so I thought this week I’d chose a nice upbeat summer photo. It is a summer photo, taken the second of July 2009, I checked. This is an Inuksuk, a marker found in the arctic of Canada. It’s easy to see the arctic as a desolate wasteland. A marker like this shows how different it could be. Physically it’s a pile of rocks. It’s probably a sturdy pile of rocks because any pile of rocks that isn’t sturdy will be blown over rapidly by the arctic winds. Yet pile of rocks says very little about what it is. And from the way I’m rambling it should be obvious I don’t know what it means. It could be a navigational guide, or a warning or simply a sign that other people were here.

There is a danger that Inuksuit (plural of Inuksuk) will become increasingly rare due to expansion of the mining and energy industries. One the one hand this isn’t a physical problem. As Scott Heyes points out in his article Protecting the authenticity and integrity of Inuksuit within the arctic milieu, things like GPS are replacing traditional methods of navigation. Yet Inuksuit are not just about navigation to physical places. There’s a cultural landscape as well as a physical landscape and so far this has not been replicated with GPS. Given that native shamans of the arctic would say that they were walking over the ice to the Moon, that could be quite a navigational feat to replicate.*

If Inuksuit say someone was here, is their removal an archaeologically traceable sign that someone was removed?

Photo: Ancient Guide by Mike Beauregard. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY licence.

*Walking to the moon is an interesting concept. This far north in the summer the Moon doesn’t really leave the southern horizon, so for a while it’s easy to conceive of the Moon touching the Earth. Also, the plural of shaman really is shamans. Shamen is a pop group not an anthropological term<.

Digging in the Dark

Archaeologists digging in the dark
Digging in the Dark by Wessex Archaeology

It was the Day of Archaeology last Friday. Unfortunately I didn’t get a post in, despite days of archaeology clearly including night sometimes as this photo shows. I had to check I hadn’t already chosen this as a photo of the week, because it’s one I keep coming back to. Usually the aim of a photo is detail, but here the silhouette of the diggers gives it much more drama.

It also reminds me of the dig at Tanis conducted by Prof. Henry Jones Jr. shortly before the Second World War.

Photo: Digging in the Dark by Wessex Archaeology. Licenced under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence.