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Summer reading, 2021

Bill Caraher’s blog post on his summer reading list prompted me to do the same. Like Bill, I’m not planning to go to Greece this summer. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been away from Greece for this long… it was sometime before 1998, which was the last time I didn’t go to Greece. So in theory I should have more time to read, and here’s my aspirational and totally unrealistic reading list, in no particular order:

  • Chrysanthi Gallou (2020) Death in Mycenaean Laconia
  • Nicoletta Momigliano (2020) In Search of the Labyrinth
  • Dan Hicks (2020) The Brutish Museums
  • Ester Salgarella (2020) Aegean Linear Script(s)
  • Anna Judson (2020) The Undeciphered Signs of Linear B
  • Dan-El Padilla Peralta (2020) Divine Institutions
  • Guy Middleton, ed. (2020) Collapse and Transformation
  • Tim Ingold (2021) Correspondences
  • L. Vance Watrous (2021) Minoan Crete
  • Ariel Sabar (2020) Veritas
  • Marina Rustow (2020) The Lost Archive
  • Marcel Piérart (2020) Klyton Argos
  • Whitney Battle-Baptiste (2011) Black Feminist Archaeology
  • Roderick A Ferguson (2012) the reorder of things
  • Michael Herzfeld (2020 [1982]) Ours Once More

I’m sure there are some books I’m missing or not thinking of — I largely made this list by frantically looking around my home office — but this is just my starting-point.


A word cloud of the 2019 AIA annual meeting

Two years ago I made a word cloud of the titles of the panels and talks at the annual meeting of the AIA. Here is one for the 2019 annual meeting in San Diego (I used Word Art):

AIA 2019

And here are the data for those who are interested (I did manually remove the least common words so that the word cloud wasn’t overwhelming).

My impressions? I’m sort of surprised how traditional many of the titles continue to be. Most talks are about the “core” regions of modern Greece and Italy (“Africa” and “Egypt” are pretty small, for instance). We don’t see much that indicates new methodologies (“digital” and “network” are small) or theoretical approaches. The focus on traditional sites is still very much a thing: there’s a fair amount of Athens, Rome, Corinth, Pompeii, although perhaps their dominance is on the wane… as a landscape guy myself, it’s nice to see “Landscape” displayed so prominently.

Linear B translated: PY Cn 608

This is the first post of a series of translations of Linear B tablets. I’m asked every so often where to find good translations of Linear B tablets online, and the answer is, there isn’t such a place. I complain every so often (and on this very blog) about the lack of outreach on the part of the subdiscipline of Linear B studies, so maybe I should do something about it… so I’m going to try to regularly post transcriptions and translations of Linear B tablets here. Because it’s the start of the semester and I don’t have loads of time, I’ll start with one I’ve already translated:

Cn 608 (Hand 1)
.1 jo-a-se-so-si , si-a2-ro
.2 o-pi-da-mi-jo
.3 pi-*82                SUS+SI 3
.4 me-ta-pa           SUS+SI 3
.5 pe-to-no            SUS+SI 6
.6 pa-ki-ja-si          SUS+SI 2
.7 a-pu2-we          SUS+SI 2
.8 a-ke-re-wa        SUS+SI 2
.9 e-ra-te-i             SUS+SI 3
.10 ka-ra-do-ro     SUS+SI 2
.11 ri-jo                  SUS+SI 2

.1 thus will they fatten fatted pigs
.2 the community officials:
.3 Piswā PIGS 3
.4 Metapā PIGS 3
.5 Pethnos PIGS 6
.6 Sphagiānes PIGS 2
.7 Aphus PIGS 2
.8 Agrēwā PIGS 2
.9 Elatos PIGS 3
.10 Kharadroi PIGS 2
.11 Rhion PIGS 2


  • The “header” of the text announces the purpose of the document: the community officials will fatten fatted pigs, presumably in order for them to be delivered to a location (or locations) for their sacrifice and consumption in a state-sponsored feast (on the Linear B evidence for these feasts, see this article by Tom Palaima).
  • jo-a-se-so-si = /hō asēsonsi/, “thus will they fatten” (cf. ἆσαι)
  • si-a2-ro = accusative plural of /sihalos/, “fatted pig” cf. σία^λος
  • o-pi-da-mi-jo = nominative plural of /opidāmios/, a compound of opi (cf. Greek επί) and dāmos (cf. Greek δῆμος , Doric δᾶμος)
  • The ideogram SUS+SI is a ligature of the standard ideogram for pig (normally transliterated with the Latin SUS in small caps) and the syllabogram for si, presumably used here as an abbrevation for si-a2-ro, “fatted pig.”
  • Because the verb is in the future, and the palace was destroyed probably not long after this text was written (the tablet was found in Room 7; on the findspots in Rooms 7 and 8 of the Palace, see this article by Kevin Pluta), it’s probable that these pigs were never fattened.
  • The “community officials” are referred to as o-pi-da-mi-jo, presumably /opidāmioi/, so those people “in charge of the dāmos“. This term has been interpreted in different ways, but this seems to me the most probable.
  • Piswā, Metapā, Pethnos, Sphagiānes, Aphus, Agrēwā, Elatos, Kharadroi, and Rhion are all place-names in the “Hither Province” of the Pylian kingdom, located west of the mountain range that separates western Messenia from the Pamisos valley. On the two provinces of Pylos, see these articles online by John Chadwick, John Killen, and the directors of the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project (PRAP)
  • This presumably means that each of these places had, or constituted, a dāmosThis is interesting because the later Greek word δῆμος , Doric δᾶμος means “district, country, land” as well as the “people, inhabitants” of such a district (I’m quoting the lexicon of Liddell and Scott here). The Mycenaean dāmos seems to have been an important, semi-independent institution that appears in the Linear B texts as an organization that deals with agricultural activities, like fattening pigs, or allocating plots of land.

Field archaeology & sexual harassment

Field archaeology has a sexual harassment problem. Everybody knows this, at least anecdotally; we’ve all seen, experienced, and/or heard about it. It’s especially problematic in a field that is numerically dominated by women but where many of the directorial staff are men. It’s scandalous that this is the case, and it’s scandalous that our institutions seem to be doing nothing about it.

A recent article in American Anthropologist about this problem, “Signaling Safety: Characterizing Fieldwork Experiences and Their Implications for Career Trajectories,” suggests some ways forward. They find that sexual harassment and assault are systemic problems in fieldwork (not specifically, but including, archaeological fieldwork) and that these behaviors hurt women in a variety of ways, including their careers. That’s not surprising. What is useful is their finding that clear rules and consequences are clearly associated with healthier projects. That is to say, on such projects

field directors and researchers participated in explicit conversations, training, or meetings to establish site-specific policies. Senior researchers engaged in implicit modeling of these rules to other field researchers and often made themselves available for discussion. There was also evidence that the rules at these sites were enforced with observable consequences. In one specific example, the sexual harassment of a peer resulted in the perpetrator being asked to leave the fieldsite.

The other major, related, finding was that good projects

were fair and/or egalitarian in execution, living and working conditions were intentional and safe, and directors anticipated problems and created avenues for conversations or reporting. Respondents who described these experiences highlighted the importance of having women in leadership roles at their sites, particularly if the rest of the site leadership valued those women’s roles.

My own experiences tally with these findings, especially when it comes to the project that I co-direct. I wish that this article had come out before we started our project, because it would have changed the way I did some things – I would have been much more explicit about our policies on sexual harassment, for instance – but most of them were things that we did on our project. The negative findings also tally with my experiences and what I’ve heard about bad projects.

The big problem here, from my perspective, is that projects are not held to account by the institutions that regulate archaeological field work. The Archaeological Institute of America’s Code of Professional Standards says that archaeologists shouldn’t harass or discriminate, but that has no teeth. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens requires an application for a field permit to include statements about research questions, methods and techniques, site conservation, a budget, etc. but nowhere is anything said about policies to enforce issues arising from discrimination and harassment. The same is true for the Canadian Institute in Greece. Searches for “harass” and “harassment” on their websites yield nothing about policies about sexual harassment.

This is unsatisfactory, because as many of us know, the worst offenders can be the project directors themselves. It doesn’t help that although women are probably the majority of all field projects, they are severely underrepresented among directorial staff. (And this criticism is true of my own project: men outnumber women on the directorial staff, but virtually all of our supervisors are women and most of our students were).

I don’t think that we can claim, in the face of all the evidence, that this is simply a question of a few bad eggs. This is a systemic problem and it requires a systemic solution.

My suggestion would be that applications for field permits in Greece should be required to include policies that govern discrimination and harassment. If they refuse to include such policies, their request should be denied. Participants need to be made aware of these policies, and that they may report violations to the Director of the American School or the Canadian Institute (and to the relevant fieldwork committees), since we know what happens when such problems are dealt with internally. This is a serious problem, and we need to deal with it seriously.


Athens is an amazing place of contrasts. It’s a real center of intellectual activity and talent from all over the world. I’ve never attended talks packed with as much academic firepower as I have in Athens (which is a terrifying thought; I’ve given two talks here in the past couple of months!) and there’s no place in the world with this density of archaeological institutions: all the foreign schools, the University of Athens, the Archaeological Society, the National Museum, and so on. There are multiple talks, every. Single. Night. Besides the foreign schools, there are seminars devoted to every single chronological and thematic region: the Palaeolithic Seminar, the Minoan Seminar, the Cycladic Seminar, the Mycenaean Seminar, etc. When I was a student at the School (2003-4), I didn’t take advantage of hardly any of this. Indeed, I was only marginally aware of it. Maybe it wasn’t as intense back then? I doubt it.

This intellectual activity is taking place in a radically different context from 2003-4. Then, Greece was a booming economy (GDP growth was 5.8% in 2003!); now, not so much. Athens is chugging along, but for those of us who have known the city for years, the signs of economic downturn are there. And of course everyone’s talking about the refugee crisis. My friends are volunteering at centers who need people to sort and deal with donations. The foreign schools are all collecting materials (canned goods, medical supplies) that they’re donating to refugee aid centers, a practice with deep historical roots. There are announcements before lectures start, reminding everyone to do their part. Meanwhile we keep hearing news about borders being shut, the horrible conditions in the camp at the border, and the rise of anti-immigrant parties and sentiment in Europe. This in a Greece where the local population is suffering economically, where pensions are set to be cut by 1% of GDP, and whose government can hardly afford additional expenses. After the past five years of crisis, it seems clear that the political class of Europe has been a colossal failure.

But I’m an archaeologist, not a policy wonk. I read Paul Krugman and nod, donate money to humanitarian organizations, and draw comfort from the history of the modern Greek economy, which is a story of setback and recovery. I am also amazed at the reaction here in Greece, which is incredibly noble and generous.

And through all of this, Athens is as amazing as it ever has been. I know many of my archaeologist friends don’t like Athens. I like to tell them that if you don’t like Athens, you don’t like Greece. Greece is a nation of many regions, each of them different: Crete is not like Messenia, which is not like the Argolid, which is not like the Corinthia, which is not like Thessaly, and so on. And the only place where people from all parts of Greece live together and break bread together is: Athens.

But besides that, Athens is a city of intellectual might, with plenty of grit and frenetic energy. There’s not a drop of Disneyfication here. I’ve barely scraped the surface of her depths and can’t imagine a better place to spend my sabbatical.

My sabbatical II: Old skool

Since the new year, my sabbatical has changed gears significantly. I’m currently based in the most old skool of old schools: the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. My daily routine now revolves around the Blegen Library and Loring Hall in a way that it’s only done in 2003-4, my regular member year. Regular membership is something that was considered de rigeur in my graduate program at the University of Texas at Austin and my regular year was a formative experience for my professional career and personal life.

I’ve found it really fun and productive to work in a carrel in a non-circulating library, surrounded by (almost) all of the books that I could want for my various projects.


The view from my carrel

What else? I’ve also started keeping many of my notes in a notebook with high-quality thick paper to absorb the ink from my Pelikan fountain pen:


This isn’t some weird affectation or rejection of technology – it’s actually allowing me to make better use of my computer. My laptop, with only a 13″ screen, is perfect for travel and working on the go, two things that I do plenty of, but it means that it’s hard to have more than one or two things open at a time. When you’re working with Linear B texts, lexica, prosopographies, etc. all at once while writing a paper that you’re rapidly realizing isn’t close enough to done even though you’re leaving town in less than a week, it’s useful to have pen and paper handy in order to multitask. (And I do really love the way my fountain pen writes; it’s a really good pen. I’m not trying to be weird). It still feels awfully old-fashioned, but I’ve filled up this notebook faster than almost any other.

Being back at the American School has been weirdly nostalgic, but it’s also been an amazing place to work. It’s given me a boost in productivity when I’ve needed it most (I’ve given three papers in Athens, London, and Cambridge in the past month, with a fourth at the BSA in less than a week), it’s given me the opportunity to hang out with old friends and make some new ones. The American School and Athens can really feel like the center of the world, as well as a wonderful place to hole up in the library and read, read, and write. Once I’ve given my talk this Monday I’ll have a bit more unstructured time to do some things in Athens outside of the familiar walls of the School.

The End of the Quartet: The Day the Music Stopped at Ploutarchou 9

From the Archivist's Notebook

Jack L. Davis, Carl W. Blegen Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and a former director of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2007-2012), here contributes an essay about the last days of Carl W. Blegen, Elizabeth Pierce Blegen, Bert Hodge Hill, and Ida Thallon Hill, the archaeological “Quartet” of Ploutarchou 9.

The Blegen/Hill house on Ploutarchou 9 in the 1950sThe Blegen house at Ploutarchou 9 in the early 1960s. Saved from the demolitions of the 1970s, today the “Blegen house” is the seat of the J.F. Costopoulos Foundation.

This short essay was composed to satisfy my own curiosity. Having recently edited Carl W. Blegen: Personal and Archaeological Narratives (Atlanta 2015) with Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan and Vivian Florou, it occurred to me that virtually the only aspect of Blegen’s life that had received no attention was its end. Nor had we, or indeed any of the authors who contributed to that volume, written of…

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Over the past couple of weeks I’ve appeared as a guest on two podcasts. The first is Historically thinking, a podcast maintained by Al Zambone, a historian of the colonial American South and professor in the history department of Augustana College. I was visiting the fair quad cities on a short AIA lecture tour. You can see the talk I gave at Augustana here.

The second is Caraheard, the podcast of my friends and fellow EKAS alumni, Bill Caraher and Richard Rothaus. I’ve embedded the Caraheard podcast but make sure to check out the show notes for many explanatory notes and references.

Thinking digital archaeology

This post is prompted by a recent (and freely available) article in the Journal of Field Archaeology, “Excavation is Destruction Digitization: Advances in Archaeological Practice” by Chris Roosevelt, Peter Cobb, Emanual Moss. Brandon Olson, and Sinan Ünlüsoy. Let me begin by saying that the article is really great. What the project is doing is innovative, cutting-edge, and thoughtful. But like Bill Caraher, I worry about some of the implications of the article, a couple of issues that caused me to frown and think.

Data and interpretation

The authors of the article make the important point that archaeological data are produced by decisions (and interpretations) made by archaeologists in the field, such that full digital documentation is not of the pristine archaeological record but rather of the excavators’ interactions with that record. Yet this point, once made, is not repeated, and the authors focus on improvements to accuracy and efficiency — for good reason, and persuasively so. Accuracy and efficiency are excellent goals, but once achieved, so what?

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. And in archaeology, what we want (I think, but I’m pretty jetlagged right now) are better understandings of the ancient world. And it seems to me that the authors haven’t made a particularly cogent argument connecting their methods and this ultimate goal. To be fair to them, this is not the main point of their article, but they do address the issue. First, we are told,

…we are, in effect, increasing efficiency and thereby providing greater opportunity for in-the-field reflection about depositional and post-depositional processes and the human behavioral and natural conditions that drive them.

Second, we are told that

Data sharing allows for the sort of broadbrush,inter-site comparisons that can increase understanding of some of the greatest concerns of humanity more so than can single datasets: climate change, social inequality, and urbanism, for example. If archaeologists argue that their work provides such public benefits, they must be willing to provide full access to their complete and original data as well as to their analytical results (Gestrich 2011). A significant goal for archaeology, then, is the free and open accessibility of such datasets. The most efficient way to reach this goal is to generate publishable or near-publishable quality data at the time and place of collection, so that additional data preparation—sure to slow publication—becomes unnecessary.

So, more efficiency is good because it means more time to think, and more (digital, standardized) data are good because they promote most efficiently large-scale comparison and querying. With regard to the first claim, when has increased efficiency in data collection ever yielded more time for contemplation? In my experience, it tends to produce the opposite: a stronger push to collect more. That’s been my experience working on my own digitization project, at any rate: I interact with the digitization and data capture, counting on the fact that the data I produce will bail me out down the line when I need to get to analysis. I’m somewhat less skeptical of the second claim, but it relies on the promise of future gains of comparison between field projects that, even if they use the same systems, are fundamentally dissimilar in all other kinds of ways. After all, as the authors point out in the first page of the article, digitization doesn’t actually record some archaeological truth, but rather the archaeological process of discovery. So publishing raw data, while laudable, doesn’t help us to understand urbanism (say) without an intimate knowledge of the archaeological processes that produced those data.

In sum, then, I suggest that while gains in efficiency and accuracy are great, it remains to be demonstrated that they get us something important. For instance, the authors present us with the example of a granary and their documentation of their excavation of it. It is impressive. But does it help us interpret the granary any better? It hasn’t seemed to thus far.

Skilling and deskilling

Another objection (or potential objection) that the authors confront is de-skilling:

others might fret that such developments are potentially ‘‘de-skilling’’ (W. R. Caraher, personal communication 2014), or at least that they diminish the reflexive value of mechanical or analog archaeological methods. On the contrary, we argue that skills are not lost, but only shifted from analog to digital.

Part of the problem here is that deskilling has a more specific meaning than loss of (some) skills. As Wikipedia, the font of all truth, helpfully informs us,

Deskilling is the process by which skilled labor within an industry or economy is eliminated by the introduction of technologies operated by semiskilled or unskilled workers. This results in cost savings due to lower investment in human capital, and reduces barriers to entry, weakening the bargaining power of the human capital.

It seems to me that this meaning of deskilling is what is at stake, and the argument therefore misunderstands the perceived objection. And this brings us back to my core concern about archaeological interpretation. Does this shift away from analog to digital skills help us as archaeologists to understand the ancient past? A deskilling argument would suggest that in this shift, we lose quality and skill in favor of efficiency. Think, for instance, of handmade goods made by craftsmen (e.g., a fine wooden rocking chair handmade by Ron Swanson) as compared to their modern counterparts made by unskilled and cheap factory workers.

Maybe? Probably? Probably maybe? I’m not sure. I do know that I’d prefer a rocking chair handmade by a craftsman than an efficiently-made, super-standardized rocking chair made in a factory. And I’d prefer a site excavated expertly and documented with paper notebooks than a site excavated reasonably well but with full digital documentation.

I suppose one could argue that this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t digitize, because we can still innovate and improve. I agree. Yet it seems to me that what archaeological projects really need is lots of expertise at the edge of discovery. The Kaymakçı Archaeological Project (KAP), on which the authors work, clearly has that. But that expertise, in my view, will be much more decisive in their analytical success than their digital methods. And if this is true (or even partly true), then much more decisive for the field than the development of new digital methods will be the training of good archaeologists.

Gender disparities in archaeology

The blog Doug’s Archaeology recently had a great post about the disparities in NSF archaeology grants between men and women. Briefly, he showed that about 70% of all applications for NSF grants in archaeology are held by men. But this figure is even less than the proportion of all applications for NSF grants in archaeology that are made by men (75%). So there is a gender disparity between the proportion of applicants, but not in acceptance rates.

A separate issue is the composition of panels at conferences. One study of the annual meetings of the American Society for Microbiology found that the number of women invited to speak at organized panels correlated with the number of women involved in the organization of those panels. Thus, panels organized by men invited mostly male speakers (75%), whereas the representation of women increased (from 25% to 43%) on panels whose organizers included at least one woman.

Curious, I ran a quick analysis of the last annual meetings of my professional association, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). I found that in panels organized by one or more men (and no women), 66% of the speakers were male; in panels organized by one man and one woman, the speakers were 50% male; and in panels organized by one or more women, 47% of the speakers were male. [Disclosure: I organized a panel at the 2014 annual meeting of the AIA with two other men; we invited two women and three men to present papers.]

Most panel organizers were men (24, compared to 14 women) and most invited speakers were men (69, compared to 53) women, so that in sum, 57% of all invited speakers at the AIA were men. (Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to run the numbers on the open panels, to see what proportion of speakers are male and female.)

Of course, my “study” hardly qualifies as such, since it only included one annual meeting and I didn’t control for anything at all. Even so, it seems plausible that we have a problem similar to the NSF: more organizers are male, resulting in gender disparities among speakers. Likewise, in the NSF study, it seems that more men are PIs of projects, resulting in many more applications by men. I have no solutions to this problem, although I can think of at least one potential solution that I’m entirely opposed to.