One past or two? Ancient History and Archaeology in archaic Sicily.

I’ve been looking at the colonisation of Sicily by the Greeks in the early 1st millennium BC. Some time around the mid-eighth century it seems as though parts of Greece exploded leaving Greek cities around the Mediterranean. It’s not that distance so much that interests me it’s the distance between Ancient History and Archaeology in explaining how this happened. A lot of ancient historians see archaeology as a method of filling in the gaps in the historical record. I think there’s much more to be said for using them as two independent approaches to a common past.

Blue pins: Greece, Chalkis and Eretria Euboea - Italy, Pithekoussai and Naxos
Yellow Pins: Greece, Corinth - Italy, Syracuse
Green Pins: Greece, Megara Nicaea - Italy, Megara Hybalea
Red Pin: Italy, Himera
View Greek Colonies in a larger map

Ancient Historians have Greek colonisation pretty much worked out, barring the finer details. In the case of the western Mediterranean the earliest vessels set sail from Euboea, the first colony not being on Sicily at all but Pitheokoussai in the Bay of Naples around 750 BC. Dates for Sicily in the magisterial An inventory of archaic and classical poleis, which I’m about to deeply disagree with, 735/4 BC for Naxos from Euboea, 733/2 for Syracuse from Corinth and 728 for Megara Hyblaea from Megara Nicaea in mainland Greece. The prevarication on the dates is because Greek years did not start and end at the same time as ours. The dates and origins are derived from Thucydides and there’s good reason to assume they’re accurate. In the case of Pithkoussai, the earliest layers do have Euboean pottery. The same goes for Naxos. In Syracuse, the earliest pottery is indeed Corinthian, if you ignore Euboean and Athenian pottery below the Corinthian (Boardman 1999:163-4) and the indigenous pottery that is found before settlement that continues during through to 650 BC at the site (Frasca 1983:597-8). Megara Hyblaea in contrast has Corinthian pottery in its early layers. The solution is to conclude that pottery is diagnostic, unless the answer is wrong in which case it’s merely evidence of trade. In this case the same is true for the east Greek wares (Boardman 1999:174).

Megara Hyblaea poses more of a problem. The earliest burials at the site are not typical of Megara Nicaea. In fact the homeland styles don’t start appearing till around 650 BC (Shepherd 1995:51-82). I’m kicking myself for not making a note where I read that the earliest letter forms in Megara Hyblaea were also not similar to Megara Nicaea. Finally temples in Megara Hyblaea do not appear till after about 650 BC. None of this proves that Megara Hyblaea was not founded from Megara Nicaea, and the historical record is wrong. However, if the historical record is accurate then is there likely to be a stronger archaeological trace of ethnic and economic links?

If these colonies didn’t come from Greek settlers arriving en masse then where did they come from? Syracuse is traditionally thought to be an excellent example of Greek settlement in action because a native settlement is clearly removed with a destruction layer and a Greek layer over the top. In fact the archaeological record is more of destruction lenses, with some native houses continuing in use and with some continued use of native pottery. Is this more indicative of Greek arrival in native settlements? Himera, founded in the mid-seventh century BC, was surrounded by indigenous settlements (Vassallo 1996). The shock of the arrival of this new city on the native settlements was negligible. The closest comparison I can think of is the Islamisation of Swahili towns on the East African coast. Wynne-Jones (2007, and other papers by other authors) note two possible origins for the self-identified Omani towns. Either they were settled by Omanis, or else élites attracted Omanis in via exchange and inter-marriage. The lack of settlement shock means that places like Kilwa Kisiwani are assumed to have been native developments that pull settlers in, rather than sites of settlers pushed out. The traditional model for Greek colonisation is a push model from a limited number of sites. Is a pull model feasible?

Ancient Historians are happy that cities could pull in trade, to account for inconvenient pottery at sites, so the possibility for pull colonisation is not in doubt. What is lacking is evidence this happened, but it is possible that the evidence is not in Sicily, but rather Greece. Olympia and Delphi are both home to treasuries from cities around the Greek world. These were both from homeland cities, and from colonies in the Mediterranean who were placing themselves in the heart of the Greek world. At Olympia we can see this started happening. Gela, a city in southern Sicily, put down one of the early treasuries (Gardiner, 1925 dates it to the second half of the seventh century BC, but most recent books I’ve read while fact-checking this give an uncited date in the sixth century BC. If you know where this date comes from I’d be delighted if you let me know in the comment box.) and many other cities from the west followed. None of this conclusively settles the argument in favour of a pull model, but it does raise the question as to why Thucydides is so uncritically followed by ancient historians who would normally pull out all sorts of overlooked detail with forensic skill. Ancient Historians in turn could ask, if the push model is flawed, why did Thucydides write about these pushes out to settle colonies – and this is where I’m most puzzled of all.

Thucydides was an Athenian general and his history is a History of the Peloponnesian War. The foundations of Sicilian colonies are mentioned, but they’re only mentioned as they are relevant to Thucydides’ aim, which is recording the conflict between Athens and Sparta. Thucydides wrote at the end of the fifth century BC. This means that he was not witness to the foundation events. Instead of recording the mid-eighth century and the settlement of Sicily, he is recording what people in the fifth century thought happened three hundred years earlier. This solves a lot of problems. For example, in the mid-eighth century BC a lot of Greek cities did not exist. Corinth only came into being as a polis around 750-ish BC, it organised quickly enough to send out fully fledged cities within twenty years. We have no date for the cities of Euboea forming, but if history is followed then they were establishing a colony at Pithekoussai before Corinth was a polis. Is perhaps more likely that Thucydides saw cities in Sicily and described the foundation of cities because what he knew where there were fifth-century cities that needed to be explained? Possibly, but then why the detail about the order of settlement?

Megara Hyblaea and petrochemical plants
Megara Hyblaea is surrounded by petrochemical plants, giving at a pervasive stench of death. The consequent lack of tourists and facilities gives it the impression of somewhere that was built to be an abandoned city.
There is a less manipulated version of the photo at Flickr.

The dates do not only give an account of when something happened, but also of precedence. The major sea routes to Sicily arrived first at Naxos, possibly because this was the polis closest to the striking landmark Mount Etna. It’s geographical location as the first place you arrive at in Sicily suggests that it should have chronological primacy too. Syracuse, with its power and harbour is clearly the next most prestigious city. Fifth-century Greeks would not have cared that eighth-century sailors beached their vessels rather than use harbour. The history then becomes not what happened, but a tale to explain why things are the way they are now. Puzzlingly, this is not new. It’s the first lesson on any ancient history course, so the emphasis on Thucydides as a reliable source is odd.

This doesn’t simply mean that archaeology is good and history bad. It does mean that using history to analyse archaeology and vice versa is a very poor substitute to using archaeology to analyse archaeology and history to analyse history. The archaeological record gives a very different story to late prehistoric Sicily than the history recorded by Thucydides. Yet at the same time, the historical record gives a much richer account of the local ethnicity and allegiances of the fifth century BC than the archaeology. Corinthian pottery might get everywhere, but the history clearly shows that does not make everyone Corinthian. It also opens another possibility that both archaeological and historical attempts to explain Greek colonisation in Sicily could be flawed.

The notion of Greek ethnicity is based in history. I believe that the history is anachronistic, but Hall (2004) goes further. He argues that the idea of a Greek ethnicity is, in this period, possibly anachronistic. Did a Greek identity arise as a response to increased interaction across the Mediterranean? It’s common for historians to talk about ancient Greeks as though they are one thing over the course of several hundred years. We see a process of becoming Greek, and by the fifth century there is a difference between the Greeks and the barbaroi. While the archaeological record shows Greek pottery getting everywhere, the ethnic information – that some people still thought of themselves as Sikels – is purely from the historical data, which is late fifth century. This is after the invasions from Persia in Greece, and the battles with Punic forces in Sicily. Is a hunt for Greek cities taking a recently developed sense of common identity and anachronistically searching for it into the past? Hall’s proposal raises the possibility that much work, including my own, is excessively teleological.

There was one past for archaic Sicily. Instinctively I can’t help but feel that approaches that pull archaeology and ancient history together should be a good thing. However, I wonder if there’s a danger that when you do try that it becomes effectively one discipline judged by the approach of another. By keeping a distance between the two approaches you get the advantage of two independent viewpoints.

Breaking the news

Sometimes, intercommunal distance can actually ease conversation, by freeing the conversants of the fear of causing offence or giving up power. Interpersonal distance can help communication too, by breaking up normal politesse on the rough terrain over which it is dragged or pushed – sudden meetings, awkward settings, imperfectly-spoken languages.

I experienced that, during my research into the destruction of cultural heritage during the Cyprus Conflict. One afternoon, I drove into a formerly-mixed village in Cyprus in a Turkish Cypriot car. When I asked, one of the Greek Cypriot residents immediately insisted that there had never been a mosque in the village. Then the Greek Cypriot asked me if I was Turkish Cypriot and, on finding out that I wasn’t, equally immediately pointed out the wasteland where the mosque had once stood.

Sometimes, information would breach emotional barriers and bond individuals and communities together. It would help people meet each other as individuals, rather than as representatives of groups (or as true representatives of groups being themselves, rather than as community members playing heroes, defending themselves against mythical enemies). Yet it cannot be communicated directly, because it would not be accepted as information if it were presented by the ‘enemy’ community.

I’m currently living in Kayseri, in southern Turkey. While walking around a suburb called Talas (or Mouttalas), I visited Yaman Dede Camii (or Panagia Rum Kilisesi) – the Mosque of Yaman Dede (or the Ottoman Greek Church of the Virgin Mary). I noticed some people who looked slightly less foreign than me, and realised they were Greek tourists.

The Christian Greeks filed up and down the steps to the church-mosque in small groups, each showing different understandings of history and attitudes towards Turks and Muslims. On our way up the steps, one woman read the brown sign that indicated both of the building’s identities. She rolled around her mouth the Turkish-language version (“Rum”) of the Ottoman Empire’s Greek Orthodox Christian community’s name for themselves (“Romaioi” [ref](East) Romans; Byzantines. There were solely Ottoman/Turkish-speaking Orthodox who called themselves Rum, and bilingual Konstantinoupolites still call themselves Rum in Turkish.[/ref]).

At the church-mosque, in one group, one person reminded another before they went in, ‘you are to take your shoes off [na vgaleis ta papoutsia sou]’. In another group, one person stood outside uncertain what they had to do to show respect until another, who was already inside in a shared-word and mime-based conversation with the caretaker, smilingly explained that all they had to do was ‘take off your shoes and come in [vgale ta papoutsia sou kai bes]’.

In yet another group, one person was in the process of taking their shoes off when another bitterly scolded them, ‘don’t be taking them off [mh vgazeis ta]’ – because that is only correct etiquette if the building is a mosque, not if it is (still) a church. Some people refused even to get off the bus to look at the converted building.

Church of the Virgin Mary, Mosque of Yaman Dede; Kayseri, Turkey
The Ottoman-Turkish church-mosque, Kayseri, Turkey

The caretaker pointed out a string of prayer beads hanging from a wire above us, then he and a man from the tour group grinned as they mimed out to each other a playful boy flinging his beads high into the air until they caught the wire – ‘chak!‘ – and swung around it. Studying the style of prayer beads, the caretaker and the tourist both thought the boy had been from the other community.

We all admired the Ottoman Christian architecture and (most, if not all of us) the sympathetic conversion (for example, the minimalist interpretation of a minaret). It was particularly pleasantly surprising because the church was converted into a mosque in 1925, just a couple of years after the last grotesque acts in a conflict that comprised states’ wars against each other, communities’ massacres of each other, and a religious nationalist parastate’s genocide of non-Turkish non-Muslim communities.

Yaman Dede Camii minaret, Kayseri, Turkey
View of the minaret of Yaman Dede Camii, Kayseri, Turkey

I hadn’t expected the following conversation, and even before it started there was already a jumble of Greek and Turkish in my head and mouth, so I can’t remember it word-for-word. Nonetheless, in the street, before we left, the Turkish-speaking Greek tour guide and I were told that Yaman Dede was Orthodox Christian, then he became Muslim; he converted to Islam, then he converted the church into a mosque.

The tour guide thanked the person who told us this, then with an apologetic smile that said “I’m sure you’ll understand”, the guide suggested, ‘don’t say that [to them] – I’ll explain it to them, when we’re back on the bus…’.

Ireland and the ‘vagaries of war’

There’s a somewhat long tirade by way of an introduction to this post on distance, perceptions from afar, and the current state of Ireland so, indulge, or bear with, me while I set the scene!

Writing in the Irish Times just before the visit of the queen of England to the Republic of Ireland in May, wherein, as we are not subjects of her majesty, we are not required to bow or curtsey, or capitalise the word ‘queen’ (I may have made that last bit up – or my Republican Grandmother did), Irish comedian Dara Ó’Briain notes that:

‘There is a joke that all Irish comics have a version of, but the most economic expression is from Andrew Maxwell. He would declare in an English comedy club “The Irish love the Muslims…” and after a long, long pause, “They’ve really taken the heat off us”.’

Ó’Briain’s point is that, in Britain, the Irish have ceased being identified a major ’terror threat’. We have been normalised in British society. The visit of the queen signals a further stabilisation of our relationship with our nearest neighbours and the culmination of a long and difficult peace process on our Island. Unfortunately no member of the public, other than some local celebrities (they’re always smaller than you thought, you  know) were allowed within 50km of her majesty, in case we’d do something embarrassing like keep our hands in our pockets or something! Our local media framed the visit as ‘the Nation growing up’, a sign of our ‘maturity’, and carefully sanitised the past.

(Photo: Whitehouse)

President Obama’s later visit, predicated on his (very) tenuous family links to a small village in County Offaly (see Moore Group’s blog here), took place over less than 24 hours, and copper fastened his vague Irish credentials, as well as providing US media outlets the golden opportunity to promulgate the great Irish clichés (drink) and document the new national stereotypes – our newly poor property developers and other Celtic Tiger grotesques (sorry, but I’m too stuffed with potatoes, and langered with porter to summon up any outrage). Inevitably, the local media for both visits were fawning and obsequious, and internationally the most memorable images presented were of a British queen politely ignoring a pint of Guinness, and an American President embracing one (and sinking it with gusto). Guinness, owned by the multinational company Diageo, had a great advertising opportunity and, after the guests had left, promptly announced 400 future layoffs. No mention or query during Obama’s visit about US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner’s apparent blocking of an IMF plan to allow Ireland to burn some of our bondholders, thus maintaining the financial burden on the country and adding greatly to our general misery and wretchedness – no, it was all hugging babies, our two countries being bound by affection, history and friendship…. Nice articulate, inspiring, bondage, nonetheless.

Meanwhile back in the US, Imagine Ireland is pitching Irish ‘Culture’, which according to their website ‘is the means by which most Americans now encounter Ireland’. Funded by the Irish Government, the project aims to connect with Irish-Americans (all 40 million of them – down mysteriously from 70m in the previous census [maybe I made that up too]) and other Americans (all 271,353,043 of them), by presenting a wide ranging programme of arts and cultural events and collaborations across the States.

‘Brand Ireland’ has clearly been in overdrive for the past month.

These events, and the associated marketing, are all part of a huge effort to repair our perceived international reputational damage as a result of our economic collapse, to change our tourism pitch from the overly expensive Celtic Tiger garish spa tourism of the early 21st century to ‘culture’ (archaeological sites, music and drink) and green tourism, and to present a new, positive face to the world. So, the main pitch of our tourism chiefs is that Ireland is a place of fun, stout and ‘the craic’, with green fields and archaeological sites featuring prominently in that marketing, depicting a country which is both rural and traditional. The Presidential and queenly visits provoked an all-pervasive ‘positive thinking’ rhetoric in both the new and old media and even infected the pubs (the cynics have only now in the past week begun to rear up again). In the end this might sell a few more pints of Guinness over the next few years and fill up our empty hotels (financed by ill-advised tax breaks for the ultra-rich in the noughties).

From the dizzying heights of the Celtic Tiger years, when we were ‘the envy of the world’, a shining light of economic openness, Ireland has now descended into economic freefall, and our cultural heritage sector has not escaped the collapse. The current best estimate by the Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland (IAI) of numbers working in the profession is 350 – from a peak of 1700 in 2008. This may even be overestimated, as, anecdotally, we’re hearing of widespread unemployment nationwide, with people working only sporadically and others on short term or part time hours, a scenario reflected in my own business, which now employs 4, down from a peak of 18 four/five years ago.

It’s in this context that my attention was drawn to the recent AIA ball and its focus on Ireland. Part –funded by Imagine Ireland as an element of their great American Journey, the Gala was addressed by our cultural ambassador, Gabriel Byrne (of In Treatment and Bracken fame). The event seems to have been a great success and showcased our remarkable cultural heritage and stock of monuments with apparently excellent addresses by both Pat Wallace of the National Museum of Ireland and Gabriel Byrne; but I was surprised by a small paragraph describing how some of the proceeds from the Gala were to be used:

Each year hundreds of irreplaceable archaeological sites are destroyed by unrestrained development, looting, the vagaries of war, and environmental changes.  With the help of gala attendees, we are able to preserve these sites for the future.

During the Gala, guests had the special opportunity to  support the AIA’s efforts to preserve Irish cultural heritage—a portion of the proceeds from the Gala auction will be used to directly support archaeological sites in Ireland…

This may be a case of a simple cut and paste on the part of an AIA website editor. However, it did elicit a brief stir on twitter with a few Irish archaeological tweeters noting the tone and import of the paragraph, a paragraph which was later repeated in the introduction to a new AIA Irish Archaeological Heritage Google Earth skin announced here. As Charles Mount points out in his blog ‘I hope this misplaced rhetoric won’t discourage any visitors to Ireland’. Further to Charles’ blog post the section was removed from the Google Earth announcement on the AIA site (although it still appears on the ‘Saving Irish Sites‘ section of the website).

With regards to ‘the vagaries of war’ mentioned therein, it should be pointed out that the conflict in Ireland is a sensitive subject and we have gone through a long and difficult peace process, building on the 1998 Good Friday agreement. Ireland is now one of the safest places in the world (consistently ranking in or around the world’s top ten safest and most peaceful places).

We haven’t had war in the Republic for 90 years (both my Grandfathers were locked up for that one – but that’s another story), we have one of the lowest murder rates in the world, no one carries a gun, and, shure, we’re half stupefied with de demon drink most of the time, so, ‘vagaries of war’ – not a threat to our cultural heritage or prospective visitors…

As to unrestrained development: Well, the recklessness of our bankers and the hubris of our property developers, aided by ineffectual government, political clientelism, the general global collapse and our innate cute-hoorism (see here and here) has put the kibosh (which word some would say is derived from the Irish word Cabáiste meaning ‘cabbage’, or caidhp (an) bháis meaning ‘cap of death’) on that.

Looting in Ireland has not been a huge problem, metal detectorists require a licence to prospect in the vicinity of archaeological sites, and our legislation, described by someone as ‘the most draconian’ in the world  ensures strong protection for our archaeological sites. In saying that, there was one disturbing recent incident of looting of a WW1 Uboat in Cork.

And, ‘environmental changes’; well apart from coastal erosion, sea level rise and other climatic processes, not a great problem…

No, the most pressing threat to Irish archaeology is none of the above… it is a combination of decreased funding, cut throat competition in an era of much reduced developer funded work, growing unemployment, emigration and the resultant brain drain. Experienced archaeological field workers face the choice of retraining, pursuing a new career path or leaving the country. Those who remain (and are lucky enough to have a job) face a different challenge – crap conditions and pay….   a reversion to the bad old days when archaeology was seen as a ‘vocation’ (this word is creeping back into the Irish archaeological lexicon and should be taken as code for badly paid, crap conditions), a job you do for the ‘love of it’. From the anecdotal evidence this is becoming a reality, with indications that those who remain in employment at the lower grades are being paid barely above the minimum wage (which itself has been reduced, but will apparently be raised again shortly).

Another problem is dissemination of all the data from the past few years. The last 20 years have resulted in an unprecedented number of discoveries and a wealth of new information on Irish archaeology, the road and house building boom producing unequalled amounts of data, but this is so far largely hidden in technical reports and unpublished material archived in formal Department locations. Although state agencies such as the NRA (National Roads Authority, nothing to do with guns) are busy publishing the results of the road projects, and some of the surviving consultancies are getting their data out (witness eachtra’s exemplary Journal and our own humble blog), there’s still a danger that much of this information will get lost along the way, if the excavators leave Ireland or consultancies shut down or simply no longer have the resources.

I’ve a much longer list of the problems and dangers for Irish archaeology in my head, but I won’t go into them here. Anyone who wants to read more on the great challenges and apparent opportunities, just click here for a discussion document on the Archaeological Profession in Ireland, arising from a recent seminar facilitated by the Irish Heritage Council.

Doubtless there are dangers to our cultural heritage, but certainly not from the vagaries of war, nor from looting or unrestrained development (perhaps from environmental changes).

Irish commercial archaeology has come a long way, and our knowledge of our past is being transformed but right now we’re busy taking stock of where we are and where we’re going, in terms of our society at large and also in terms of our cultural heritage. Tourism and our well preserved and presentable cultural heritage is an integral part of our future sustainable survival and perceptions from distant markets are important to that future. Our nations story of progress to independence, through poverty and emigration, sudden wealth and subsequent collapse, with the prospect of lasting unity and peace has not been untroubled, but, despite my earlier cynical tone, that trouble is largely behind us, and we wholeheartedly welcome all our visitors…  and they can rest assured that we won’t hurt them.

And as a reward for getting all the way to the end, please stand for Ireland’s alternative national anthem…

[yt video=UVj7cwnFtYI]Ireland Ireland Duckworth Lewis Method[/yt]

Distances in landscape archaeology

Distance is one of the easiest geographical attributes archaeologists can measure these days. The availability of digital data and the existence of free data providers such as Google Earth mean that the location of virtually every place on the Earth can be measured in relation with another. Computerized tools such as AutoCad or Geographical Information System allows measuring distances with precision; in addition, the latter allows manipulating distance measurements in different ways and creating visualisations of different kinds of distances. However, not all distances are archaeologically significant.

Distances have to be substantiated in archaeology. They have to relate to something tangible, something material. Distance is a corporeal quality in a physical world. We have to find dating evidence to measure distance between two ancient towns, different archaeological sites or two find spots. In addition, there is a cost to be measured and this can be measured in distance, energy or speed. Now matter how the measurement is made it has to connect two points that had significance in the past.

Distances do not exist only on the paper maps or digital coverages but in our minds. We evaluate distances and attach values to them. We consider affordances (Gibson 1979) and take journeys on that basis. We use our subjective mental maps (cf. Ekman and Bratfisch 1965; Gold 1965; Gold and White 1974; Downs and Stea 1973; 1977) and behave accordingly (cf. Guttenplan 2000, 17-26).

People have through time had different preferences. These preferences guided travel and potentially made daily lives different from one period to another. One can map these taskscapes (cf. Ingold 1993) through distributions of chronologically distinct finds (Rajala in press). Potentially significant distances can be measured between entities. In my own research I have measured the distances between a central place in a territory and datable finds. This approach has shown that the relationship between the ancient town of Nepi and taskscapes changed through time.

View Nepi in a larger map

Naturally, the distance from Nepi, settled from the 9th century BC onwards, did not correlate with the amount of prehistoric flints in any way. On the other hand, prehistoric pottery (Neolithic – Late Bronze Age/ Early Iron Age) was found farther away from Nepi than any other material group. A respectful distance was left between proper sites; this is confirmed by the existence of the bronze age Il Pizzo at Nepi. There was no correlation between distance from Nepi and the amount of Orientalising and Archaic pottery. However, the distribution was slightly skewed towards longer distances and variance was higher than with any other category. This suggests that the distribution originated from both settlement and funerary sites and was influenced by many varied processes. Dissimilarly, distance from Nepi was almost significantly different between the units with and without Roman pottery; Roman pottery was found nearer the centre. This shows how intensive the Roman land use was and how rural settlement started from the outskirts of the town unlike during the previous periods. The town had pulling power.

On the other hand, the distances affect archaeologists intellectually. We have our own mental maps moulded by our interests, attitudes and values. The archaeological attitudes towards meaningful change and this can be measured in distance. I showed some time ago (Rajala et al. 1999) how road networks defined landscape in archaeological survey in central Italy during the 20th century. Roman archaeological remains as a dominant feature guided archaeological research in the area (cf. Ashby 1927; Fredriksen and Ward Perkins 1957). Archaeologists followed the Roman roads and looked for visible remains in their vicinity.

This classical emphasis became weaker towards the end of the 20th century when blanket surface survey became a standard method. For example, Potter’s (n.d.) survey in the southern Faliscan area as part of the groundbreaking South Etruria Survey (cf. Potter 1977; Patterson 1998; Coarelli and Patterson 2008) on the western side of the Tiber aimed at exploring sites in all accessible fields with surface visibility. This can be measured by defining the distances between the known Roman roads and the surveyed sites and comparing them to those by Fredriksen and Ward Perkins (1957). The difference between two surveys and their mental landscapes can be visualised through GIS maps (see Figs. 1 and 2). The visualised distances are Carthesian; if the cost of movement, i.e. the roughness and steepness of landscape, would have taken into account, the difference may have been even clearer.

Figure 1
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 2

The proof of the bias came through a simple statistical analysis. Nearly all sites visited by Fredriksen and Ward Perkins (1957) located less than 500 metres from a Roman road. A one-sample chi-squared test confirmed that the H0 hypothesis could be rejected with complete confidence. This showed that Roman roads affected the discovery pattern and that this survey method resulted in a distorted picture of the real settlement pattern. In contrast, the sites Potter surveyed (listed in Potter n.d.) located in average at 550 m from the Roman roads. The chi-squared test showed that the chi-squared was clearly lower than the µ-value at the 95 % level of significance. The distance from Roman roads did not affect the finding of sites.


Coarelli F., and Patterson, H., 2008 (eds). Mercator Placidissimus – The Tiber Valley in Antiquity: New Research in the Upper and Middle Valley, Rome, 27–28 February 2004 (Quaderni di Eutopia 8). Rome: Quasar.

Downs, R. M., & Stea, D., 1973. Image and environment: Cognitive mapping and spatial behavior. Chicago: Aldine Pub. Co.

Downs, R. M., and Stea, D., 1977. Maps in minds: Reflections on cognitive mapping. New York: Harper & Row.

Ekman, G., and Bratfisch, O., 1965. ‘Subjective Distance and Emotional Involvement: A Psychological Mechanism’, Acta Psychologica, 24, 446-53.

Frederiksen, M. W., and Ward Perkins, J.B., 1957. ‘The ancient road systems of the central and northern Ager Faliscus (notes on southern Etruria, 2)’, Papers of the British School at Rome 25, 67-203.

Gibson, J. J., 1979. The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Gould, P.R., 1965. On mental maps. Discussion paper no. 9. Ann Arbor: Michigan Inter-University Community of Mathematical Geographers.

Gould, P.R. and White, R., 1974. Mental maps. London: Penguin.

Guttenplan, S., 2000. Mind’s Landscape. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind. Oxford: Blackwell.

Patterson, H. and Millett, M., 1998 ‘The Tiber Valley Project’, Papers of the British School at Rome 66, 1–20.

Potter, T. W., n.d. An archaeological field survey of the central and southern Ager Faliscus. Unpublished manuscript.

Potter, T. W., 1979. The changing landscape of south Etruria. London: Elek.

Rajala, U., in press. ‘Political landscapes and local identities in Archaic central Italy – Interpreting the material from Nepi (VT, Lazio) and Cisterna Grande (Crustumerium, RM, Lazio)’, in S. Stoddart and G. Cifani (eds.). Landscape, ethnicity and identity in the archaic Mediterranean area. Oxford: Oxbow.

Rajala, U., Harrison, A., and Stoddart, S., 1999. ’The enhancement of the south Etruria survey. GIS in the study of the research history of the southern Faliscan area’, in Archaeology in the age of Internet. CAA97. British Archaeological Reports, International Series (CD).

Gifts from the Distance: flotsam as a cultural resource in island societies

To a continental/ mainland mindset, islands can often seem marginal, although in fact they may have been at the centre of widely-connected seaborne trade routes. Despite the scope for maritime trade, material acquisition may be difficult. Island flora and fauna are usually impoverished relative to continents, particularly with respect to terrestrial species, and mineral resources may also be quite poor. In this scenario, items cast ashore by the sea (for simplicity I’m going to call them ‘flotsam’, although that term implies a specific provenance much narrower than the range of things I’m going to be talking about) can represent a valuable source of raw materials This post is going to briefly consider this in relation to the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, because those are the islands with which I’m (archaeologically) most familiar.

The Outer Hebrides (also known as the Western Isles) lie to the north-west of Scotland, separated from the mainland by a sea called the Minch, some 50 – 80 km wide. There’s a deep trough in the Minch, which means that there was unlikely to have been a land bridge to the mainland at any point during the Quaternary. To my eyes, raised in the gently hilly, verdant and closely managed landscape of southern England (see Colleen’s comments on this at Middle Savagery), the Western Isles are a wild, rugged place. It rains a lot, and is very windy. Although pollen and snail records indicate that there was fairly extensive tree cover in earlier prehistory, human activity and a change in climatic conditions with the onset of the Little Ice Age have left the islands virtually treeless. During the last glaciation most, if not all, of the island land surface was under ice some 400-700m thick, therefore the terrestrial plants and animals of the Outer Hebrides are all post-glacial arrivals. The geology of the islands is almost entirely Lewisian gneiss, which dates to the Precambrian, almost 3 billion years ago. It is not a good building material, as it is friable, does not produce regular blocks, and disintegrates when heated (Barber 2003, 21).

Part of Pobull Fhinn (Fionn's People) stone circle, North Uist, Outer Hebrides (photo by Matt Law)
Part of Pobull Fhinn (Fionn's People) stone circle, North Uist, Outer Hebrides (photo by Matt Law)

Despite these conditions, humans have lived on the islands for at least 9000 years. The earliest known site is at Northton, on the Isle of Harris, although no occupation dating to the Mesolithic has yet been found, most likely because sea level rise and the advance of blanket bog conditions across much of the interior since then make older sites difficult to find. In these resource-poor circumstances, the sea becomes incredibly important. There is open sea between the west coast of the Outer Hebrides and North America, and driftwood is frequently cast on the shores. Driftwood timber is a source of building material as at Iron Age Dun Vulan on South Uist and Dun Bharabhat on Lewis, as well as fuel for fires. At Norse-period Mound 3 of Bornais on South Uist, larch or spruce charcoal was identified. Neither taxon is native to Britain – the wood must have originated in North America or northern mainland Europe (Gale 2005, 163). Finds of probably North American spruce charcoal have also been reported from Barra and from Barvas on Lewis (Dickson 1992, 50). As late as the nineteenth century, household dressers were generally made from driftwood (Webster 1999, 59). An especially interesting piece of driftwood – a carved statue – is on display at Kildonan museum on South Uist (see

Stone may also be cast ashore. Pumice (which can float), most likely from the Katla volcanic system in southern Iceland, is a relatively frequent find at Hebridean sites (e.g. Newton & Dugmore 2003), and is occasionally fashioned into perforated floats for fishing nets, or used as sharpening stones. Similarly, flint tools found at archaeological sites in the Outer Hebrides may be from beach pebbles as there is no natural source on the islands. There is, however, a flint source at nearby Skye (Finlay 2003, 113).

Beached marine animals are another important resource. Whale strandings in particular are reasonably common. Whale bone is useful as a raw material for building and for tool and ornament production. In the Outer Hebrides, whalebone artefacts include combs, knifes, mattocks, pegs, plates, chopping boards and “pot lids” (Mulville 2002). The bone also has a high fat content, and is useful as fuel (blubber may also be used as fuel). At Iron Age Bornais, a number of burnt whale bones were found in association with metalworking debris (Mulville 2002, 44).

Beached whale on South Uist, September 2010 (image by Matt Law)
Beached whale on South Uist, September 2010 (image by Matt Law)

The utility of these gifts from the distance (as well as more local coastal resources such as fish, shellfish and seaweed) has implications for the organization of island societies. Routine exploitation of the coastline is an important task, and the unpredictable nature of, for example, driftwood landings, requires vigilant monitoring of the shore (Sharples 2005, 162). Access to these resources may be subject to close controls (indeed in the UK, items washed ashore are still subject to the control of the Receiver of Wreck). In the context of island and coastal archaeology, the distance implicit in the wide expanse of the oceans can be a positive influence, capable of bringing in materials otherwise unavailable (or only available via complex and potentially expensive trade arrangements) to past societies.


Barber, J., 2003. Bronze Age Farms and Iron Age Farm Mounds of the Outer Hebrides. Scottish Archaeology Internet Reports No 3. Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Online at

Dickson, J.H., 1992. North American driftwood, especiallyPicea (spruce), from archaeological sites in the Hebrides and Northern Isles of Scotland. In: J.P. Pals, J. Buurman and M. van der Veen (Editors), Festschrift for Professor van Zeist. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology, 73, pp. 49-56.

Finlay, N., 2003, Lithic Assemblages, in Barber, J., 2003. Bronze Age Farms and Iron Age Farm Mounds of the Outer Hebrides. Scottish Archaeology Internet Reports No 3. Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Online at, pp.133-134.

Gale, R., 2005. The Shore. 3. Wood, in N. Sharples (ed.), A Norse Farmstead in the Outer Hebrides: excavations at Mound 3, Bornais, South Uist. Oxford: Oxbow. p. 163.

Mulville, J., 2002. The role of cetacea in prehistoric and historic Atlantic Scotland. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 12(1), pp.34-48.

Newton A.J. and Dugmore A.J., 2003. Analysis of pumice from Baleshare, in Barber, J., 2003. Bronze Age Farms and Iron Age Farm Mounds of the Outer Hebrides. Scottish Archaeology Internet Reports No 3. Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Online at pp. 135-138.

Sharples, N., 2005,  A Norse Farmstead in the Outer Hebrides: excavations at Mound 3, Bornais, South Uist. Oxford: Oxbow

Webster, J., 1999. Resisting Traditions: Ceramics, Identity, and Consumer Choice in the Outer Hebrides from 1800 to the Present. International Journal of Historical Archaeology, 3 (1), pp 53-72.

Memories of haunted places: An Andean village after the violence

In the small Andean village of Pomatambo, ruined adobe houses stand next to new brick ones. Decay and renewal dot the landscape just as people are struggling to balance painful memories of war and loss with new optimism for community unity. Landscape and place activate certain memories of the past and aspirations for the future in Pomatambo.

Villagers and visitors celebrate the annual patron festival of Pomatambo by dancing through and around the borders of Pomatambo.
Villagers and visitors celebrate the annual patron festival of Pomatambo by dancing through and around the borders of Pomatambo, August 2006. In the valley is the burnt ruin of the hacienda of Ayzarca, where Sendero Luminoso assassinated the administrator on Christmas Eve of 1980.

Pomatambo, a village of about two hundred people, is nestled high in the Andes in the province of Vilcashuamán. The Vilcashuamán area was at the epicenter of a civil war in the 1980s and 1990s. During the violence, over a third of the villagers abandoned Pomatambo. Every family in Pomatambo lost at least a member during these years, and abandoned houses and memorials mark where people lost their lives. In Pomatambo, people are generally reluctant to talk about those painful years and for good reason. During the violence, not only were the villagers caught between the army and the Maoist Shining Path guerrillas, the conflict also entered their families, dividing loyalties and increasing mistrust in the community.

A small, subterranean cave atop 'Aya Orqo' or the 'Hill of the Dead.'
A small, subterranean cave atop “Aya Orqo” or the “Hill of the Dead.” This cave was filled in by the villagers during the 1980s to prevent the Peruvian army from “disappearing” people into it.

When they walk or dance over the landscape, however, the villagers open up about the past unprompted. A cave: filled in by the villagers so that no one would be “disappeared” into it. A ruined adobe house: the place where two children became orphans. A cross amongst the stones of a wall and thicket: where a local had lost his life while walking away from the army, not understanding he needed to stop. Through the stories that accompany such places, a fractured, but mending, social landscape is revealed.

An abandoned adobe house facing the 'Hill of the Dead.'
An abandoned adobe house facing the 'Hill of the Dead.' This house was where Sendero Luminoso had executed a couple for allegedly being informants for the state, leaving orphans who refuse to return to the village.

How can we as archaeologists make sense of the material remains of memory and landscape? More specifically, how do we reconcile abstract distance, both temporal and spatial, with the ways people experience distance on the ground? And what social significance do such differing views of distance hold?

In Pomatambo and elsewhere in the rural Andes, temporal depth and spatial distance are highly variable depending on how certain memories are practiced. The daily circuits going to the fields, maintaining the roads, herding, and visiting relatives activate non-chronological recounting of different histories. Hundreds of years may be compressed into the same story. For example, while atop Aya Orqo, or hill of the dead, someone may tell you that the cave on top of the hill was covered by the community in the 1980s to prevent soldiers from disappearing people into it. Then he may tell you that, before it was covered, his son explored it to discover it was like an ancient temple with stone figurines. Then he may point in the direction of a rocky feature that is said to cry blood. Someone else may chime in that Aya Orqo was the base of an Inka bridge that was kilometers long, and that the Inka had an iron staff with which to command the huge stones into place. Looking in the same general direction, he may notice the burned hacienda of Ayzarca and recount how the Shining Path had assassinated the hacendado as one of their earlier actions. Then looking in the opposite direction, he may point out the abandoned adobe house where the Shining Path had executed a couple for allegedly being informants to the state, leaving behind orphans who refuse to come back. Then turning to the right, he may point out the church that the community was currently building, emphasizing how everyone is working together again. All of the stories were unprompted. Though the details and chronological order of any history may change depending on location and the individual recounting, the process is similar: the long history of suffering and fracture is also a long history of constant renewal. History is a cycle situated in the present.

Women sing the <em>harawi</em> to a community <em>minka</em>, or house-raising.
Women sing the harawi to a community minka, or house-raising. The house is made of brick and financed by one of the sons of the community who left the village permanently during the violence.

Something similar happens with spatial distance. I have been visiting the area since 2004, and no matter which village I am in, I always find myself exhausted getting to my next destination. When I ask, “How far is so and so?” The answer depends not on absolute distance, but on how familiar the person is with that location. Because most people in the area do not make a habit of using watches, they have a compressed sense of distance. You may be told half an hour, when in reality, it is two hours (or an hour and half for someone more athletic than I). If where you are trying to get to is on their daily circuit, then the time will be even more severely underestimated. During festivals, villagers will dance with their extended families around the limits and through the important landmarks of the community, further strengthening such familiarity with the geography. Therefore, from an abstract point of view, space and time around familiar or personally historically relevant places are compressed, making those places seem present. One can imagine a density map showing “hot spots” of such places. They are the nodes and pieces with which people make sense of their daily lives and social obligations.

While we generally interpret the invention of historical depth as a means to legitimize political claims, we could view the same phenomena not as the invention of historical depth but of historical nearness. Through daily circuits in the village, the villagers are reminded of their personal understandings of history, and through the seasonal and annual festivals, they are reminded of their cohesion and nearness.

How could we as archaeologists begin to infer the sense of nearness or farness in the archaeological record? Perhaps by understanding how well trodden certain places and paths were and any drastic changes to such movement, we could begin to cross-check this with other material changes, for example, the standardization of iconography. Such ruptures may mean changes in how people perceive historical nearness on the landscape and therefore imply drastic social change. Furthermore, such ruptures may point to different education regimes about the past. It was always the older generation who told such stories. As the young were taught in school about people like Simon Bolivar and Manco Capac, the legendary first Inka emperor, they forgot about the  little places in the community and the haunted histories they hold.

The cross memorializes the place where a villager had lost his life as he was walking away from the army.
The cross memorializes the place where a villager had lost his life as he was walking away from the army. Photo courtesy Adam Webb.

Value at a Distance: Coins in early Australia

Spanish dollar - reale - pieces of eight

It’s stating the obvious: coins are important for archaeologists and historians alike.  They last a long time, they tell us when and where they were minted, and often indicate something about the preoccupations of the state or other entity that produced them.  Crowns or kangaroos?  Images or inscriptions?  People carry coins, and hoard them, and deface them in interesting ways – by clipping or splitting or over stamping them.

They can also deceive, particularly because coins, with their intrinsic metal value, travel in people’s pockets well beyond their original origins.  So the discovery of a Chinese, or Portuguese, or Dutch coin somewhere along the Australian coastline does not necessarily demonstrate the existence of a mysterious Chinese explorer or Portuguese shipwreck or unknown Dutch settlement.

The first British settlers of New South Wales in 1788 were convicts and soldiers.  Neither had much use for money.  Some British coins came with them, but most early local trade was conducted by barter, or promissory notes for larger items.

Nature abhors a vacuum, however, and other coins began to circulate as trade.  In October 1804, Governor King published a general order in the Sydney Gazette, listing the coins then in circulation, and their value in sterling:

Governor King - Proclamation

Governor King - Proclamation cont.

King’s list tells us a good deal about the patterns of trade between Sydney and the world in 1804.  The guinea, shilling and copper coins were English.  The Spanish dollars were silver reals.  These coins could have come from anywhere, for they were in general circulation throughout the Pacific, but ships from Sydney sailed to China via Manila, in the Spanish Philippines, while a few Spanish ships were captured by privateers off the South American coast during these years.

The Johanna and half Johanna were Portuguese.  These also probably reached Australia via China merchants based in the Portuguese enclave of Macao.  Australia also had early to the Portuguese settlement in Timor, the first European settlement that ships encountered sailing west through Torres Strait en route to Java.

The Dutch guilder and ducat come from Java, or perhaps from trade with more easterly Dutch settlements in what is now Indonesia.  During food shortages, the early colony bought rice and dhal in Lombok, and this trade continued.

British Museum, in Wikipedia Commons

The gold mohur and silver rupee probably come from Bengal, while the East India Company struck the pagoda in southern India.  All illustrate the close ties, economic, cultural, and sometimes familial, between the East India Company and the Sydney traders.

Governor King set exchange rates for government purchases.  In other contexts, they were only suggestive.  18th and 19th century traders were used to dealing with multiple coinages.  I’ve no evidence for early New South Wales, where a population of less than 10,000 didn’t allow for much specialisation, but in Calcutta or Canton, merchants used professional ‘shroffers’ to deal with their mixed bags of coins. According to Hobson Jobson’s dictionary,

The word is used by Europeans in China as well as in India, and is there applied to the experts who are employed by banks and mercantile firms to check the quality of the dollars that pass into the houses.

These experts assessed coins for the weight and quality of their metals.  Many small denomination Asian coins were designed with this in mind, with a central hole so that they could be tied together, and traded according to weight, regardless of their minted origins.

Ching dynasty coin, from Yale images, Peabody Museum of Natural History

Which brings us back to Australia, and New South Wales’s most celebrated early coins.  By 1812 the shortage of coins in the colony had become a serious problem.  That year, Governor Macquarie imported 40,000 Spanish dollars, and had them split into 2, an outer circle of silver with a nominal value of 5 shillings, and the central inner piece, to be worth 15 pence.  These quickly became known as the Holey Dollar and the Dump.

Holey dollar and dump

Macquarie’s actions are usually interpreted as a clever way to get two coins for the price of one.  True enough, but since Macquarie had served in the Indian army, he knew what Asian coins looked like.  A coin with a hole it in would make perfect sense to him.

Sydney Gazette in Trove Newspapers, National Library of Australia

Image of Spanish Dollar from Museum of Australian Currency Notes, Reserve Bank of Australia

Image of Gold Mohur from Wikimedia Commons

Image of Ching coin from Yale images, Peabody Museum of Natural History

Image of Holey Dollar in Recollections, National Museum of Australia

Edited 15 June, in response to comments on Spanish coins. Thanks.

What Distance Taught Me in Bioarchaeology

When the topic of distance was proposed for blog posts in archaeology, my first thought was not distance as a spatial measure in ancient cultures, or distance in time between the archaeologist and the material under investigation. I thought of the distance of both theory and space between the various academic programs I have attended. The biological side of Bioarchaeology has been treated in a manner similar to that of anatomy, a hard science with a focus on hands-on lab work and the determination of fact. The archaeology component of bioarchaeology, like all things in anthropology, requires interpretation. How we make this interpretation and how to determine the demographic characteristics of the people we study is highly dependent upon the methods we employ and the theories that guide us.

Over my academic career I have taken a multitude of courses in archaeology and human osteology in three different countries. Not only has this variation expanded my background in the field, it has also shown me the diversity within it. What I have learned from the diversity of bioarchaeology classes I have taken is that it is not a discipline built on fact… unless truth varies by country. From my initial training in New York, to my fieldwork in Poland, then my masters in the United Kingdom, and now back to working on my PhD in Michigan I have learned a valuable lesson about the distance between theories and methods.

US - UK blended flasg
Source: commons/9/9a/US-UK-blend.png

My primary osteological training came from SUNY Geneseo, a small state school in Upstate New York, and my first fieldwork in bioarchaeology was in Poland (although it was taught by US graduate students). In bioarchaeology, analysis is conducted through the use of standards. These standards have been well defined, and any student who’s taken bioarchaeology knows that when you want to know something about a skeleton you check your Buikstra and Ubelaker’s Standards (1994) or Bass’s  Human Osteology (1995) or White’s Bone Manual (2005). These were my sacred books, they were my guide to reconstructing populations in the past, and they were the only way I knew how.

Then, in 2009, I moved to Scotland and enrolled in the University of Edinburgh to obtain my MSc in Human Osteoarchaeology. Given my prior experience, I wasn’t too worried about the coursework. The overall skeletal identification was the same, excluding the slight shifts in pronunciation. It was when we began learning about the methods for determining demographic characteristics that I began to see that what I had assumed were universal standards were actually a selection of methods from a wide range of possibilities. It was as if I had been wearing blinders for the past five years. I learned new methods for aging, since the emphasis was on dentition rather than other indicators, and a different way of cataloging remains. The most salient moment was when I was working on an independent volunteer project for the city of Edinburgh. I needed to classify the preservation. Instead of using my Buikstra and Ubelaker Standards (1994), whose method for classifying preservation relies on a study and method done on animal bone, I used the method in the UK standards by Brickley and McKinley (2004). The UK standards for classifying taphonomy were based on human remains and were easier to apply than the US standards. I had never considered preservation to be important to bioarchaeological reports, because the method for classifying it seemed too clumsy to be applicable, but with this new method for preservation analysis I now found it an important part of my assessment.

The archaeological world is one of interpretation. This applies to all aspects of archaeology, including bioarchaeology. As archaeologists, we can benefit from recognizing the diversity of approaches that are out there, as well as understanding their advantages and disadvantages. With the introduction of new technology and new perspectives we need to be open to them.

Had I not gone to the UK for school I wouldn’t have had this lesson so strongly demonstrated. Now, my methodological tool kit includes a combination of methods from a variety of countries. I think its important that we grow beyond the theories and methods we are first taught. I don’t think everyone needs to travel across a great distance to make this realization. With the rise of the digital resources (and blogs such as this one) there is increased communication between countries.

Through increased international collaboration we can bridge this distance. With an increasingly digital world, we can directly connect to other nations, we can share new methods and techniques, and we don’t have to be limited by distance.

CFPo: Distance

Distance buttonI don’t think that telling bloggers “Go, be social with one another and form a community” is that best way to seed a community. There are also effects that happen when you pull people on to a similar subject, even if it’s a loose focus. So we’re going to have themes that run for a month. For we’ve decided stylistically that themes will be based around a word (with an optional subtitle). For June the theme will be ‘Distance’, so here’s a CFPo, a call for posts rather than papers.

It’s an intentionally abstract term because archaeology usually involves thinking across a distance in different ways. It’s often the study of human behaviour of a different time, but it can also be a matter of a different place. It involves translating what you see and placing your findings in terms of your own culture – or an imagined pan-academic culture. Here is different to there and how we come to terms with that difference matters. You can take the prompt in other ways. Does academic archaeology ignore commercial archaeology from inside an ivory bunker? Is there an Atlantic divide in archaeology, or is there a bigger intellectual distance between European archaeologists and the English-speaking world? Or there are practical problems. What is the most remote place you’ve worked? What techniques have you developed to record a site from a different vantage point away from the work area?

I’ve got a hit-list wish list of people I’ll try to get blogging on the theme who I’ll be contacting later in the month, but that’s no reason to stop you saying you’d like to take part now. Either leave a comment on the Facebook page or below and I’ll arrange an account for you. For the sake of my nerves I’d like some completed posts ready before June starts, but the posts will be scheduled to appear throughout June. If you’re not a blogger, but want to take part I can convert plain text or a rtf / doc / pages file into a post for you. Yes, some non-bloggers are on my wish list too.

If you’d like to run a theme of your own, then that would make me very happy too. Again contact me or Colleen Morgan via the Facebook page or the comment form below and we’ll try to sort something out.

Not all entries in June have to be on theme, so if you’ve got something you’d like to say and want to give Distance a pass you can do that.