Tag Archives: publication

Publishing in Aegean prehistory

Towards the end of his review of the archaeology of palatial Crete in Archaeological Reports, entitled “Palatial Crete: recent discoveries & research, 2014–2019,” Kostas Christakis writes,

The study of old and new data with a view to examining the political, economic and ideological organization of the various Bronze Age polities and the impact of Minoan culture beyond the shores of the island forms the subject of a series of recent conferences. The most important of these are, in my view, those held at Louvain and published in the Aegis series (Akan and Bárta 2017; Driessen 2018; Schmitt et al. 2018; Caloi and Langohr 2019; Devolder and Kreimerman 2020). The proceedings of these conferences are a source of inspiration, and their themes indicate the broader direction of Minoan archaeology in recent years – which was, in fact, the subject of a special conference in Heidelberg (Cappel et al. 2015). This trend combines theoretical and anthropological patterns and methodological models in the treatment of excavated testimonies. It is worth noting the shift in research interest towards the study of the ‘great unknown’ of the various Minoan communities: the lives of ordinary people, a field hitherto neglected due to the traditional elite-orientated approach to archaeological research. The most recent published example of this is the proceedings of the OIKOS conference (Relaki and Driessen 2020). The desideratum here is for these research efforts as a whole to escape the confines of the narrow regional Cretan context and adopt a broad perspective that connects Crete to the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean, in order to answer big questions about the human past.

(Christakis 2020: 160)

I agree with Christakis’ evaluation. For those who don’t know, Aegis is a series of monographs and edited volumes organized by Jan Driessen and published by the Presses universitaires de Louvain. What’s striking is that whereas in many sub-fields of art and archaeology the most important work is published by ‘major’ university presses like Oxford University Press, Cambridge University Press, etc., this is certainly not the case for the Aegean Bronze Age, and for many subfields of field (or ‘dirt’) archaeology. A glance at the citations in Christakis’ article illustrates the point nicely:

A breakdown of the citations in Christakis’ article

Of the 176 citations in Christakis’ bibliography, most are articles (‘article’ in the pie chart) or publications from conference proceedings (‘conference’ in the pie chart above). The latter are entirely comprised of papers from two conferences: the International Congress of Cretan Studies and the Αρχαιολογικό Έργο Κρήτης. The articles tend to be drawn from journals that focus on the publication of primary data:

JournalNumber of articles
Αρχαιολογικόν Δελτίον16
Archaeological Reports8
Πρακτικά της εν Αθήναις Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας5
American Journal of Archaeology4
Annual of the British School at Athens4
Studi micenei ed egeo-anatolici3
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology2
Ten other journals (Annuario della Scuola, BCH, BICS, CIG, Hesperia, JMA, KretChron, PloS ONE, Quarternary International, Rivista di archeologia)1 each

The monographs, edited volumes, and chapters from edited volumes display a similar pattern: very little is being published by the “major” Anglophone presses. Of the 14 monographs, half are published by INSTAP Academic Press (Philadelphia); the other are published by the British School at Athens (2), Τα πράγματα (2), the Cycladic Museum (1), The Ministry of Culture (1), and the Scuola Archaeologica di Atene e delle Missioni Italiane in Oriente (1). Of the 10 edited volumes, seven are published by the Presses Universitaires de Louvain (i.e., Aegis), two by the Danish Institute at Athens, and one by Kapon Editions. Individually-cited chapters display the same distribution:

PublisherNumber of chapters
Presses Universitaires de Louvain7
Oxbow Books4
Aegaeum (now published by Peeters Publishers)3
Cycladic Museum2
Kapon Editions1
Oxford University Press1
Philipp von Zabern1
University of Crete 1

One article can hardly be representative of the entirety of publications about Bronze Age Crete or the Aegean Bronze Age, of course, and Christakis’ article is especially focused on new work, which explains the large percentage of papers from conference proceedings. Yet these results are broadly consistent with my experience, which is that the most important new work is not published by the presses that most American and British scholars consider “important” (the Oxbridge presses being the most iconic). When I proposed my book project to one of these presses, I was told in no uncertain terms that they were not interested in publishing a technical volume about Linear B. (Even if we consider more synthetic work to be important, many of the most important and progressive syntheses appear in such publications. A quick perusal of the bibliography of a 24,000 word summary of the Aegean Late Bronze Age that I wrote for the Oxford History of the Ancient Near East [Volume 1 has just come out; my chapter is in volume 3] is dominated by such publications.)

Yet it is precisely in technical volumes that new data and new methods are presented. Most early career scholars have important technical material to present, and these publications will ultimately establish their reputation in the field as excellent practitioners. The big presses, on the other hand, are more likely to send their books out to review, giving them a broader audience. A kind of prestige is also attached to their names that is likely to be important to tenure and promotion committees, and hiring committees. Similar dynamics obtain among journals. This is unfortunate, for it contributes to disconnect between what is rewarded (publication in big journals and big presses) and what is important to the vitality of research in the field (publication of original material and technical methods).


My grand challenges for archaeology

Doug Rocks-McQueen invited me to participate in a blogging carnival about the “grand challenges” of my archaeology. I meant to give this some serious thought and to write a blog entry (slowly, as is my wont) but I’ve been swarmed by a bunch of deadlines that I’m trying to keep, so instead this will be short and sweet. It will also be relatively undigested and maybe even stupid.

  1. Rapid publication. Everyone I know, including myself, thinks that rapid, open-access, digital publication is good. It is good. We have a duty, especially when our work is being publicly funded, but not just because of that, to publish our results (meaning data and interpretations) in a rapid, accessible way. The internet has made this a real possibility just when the amount of data being produced by archaeologists has sky-rocketed. That’s great. On the other hand, we don’t want a situation where data is being live-streamed at the trowel’s edge to the point that the producers of that knowledge have no ability to think seriously about it, because that’s also bad; bad for knowledge production, because real advances and good interpretations require careful contemplation (Bill Caraher’s slow archaeology extends beyond the trench’s edge to interpretation), but also it would be bad if field archaeologists were mere data-producers for high-minded armchair archaeologists who immediately accessed it, processed it, and produced narratives and interpretations in which the interpreters were entirely separated and disembodied from the archaeological process. This sounds oldy-timey, I know. But I have friends who spend an awful amount of time doing hard work in the field only to have it “scooped” when they present it at conferences or in blog posts or whatever. This isn’t a problem with rapid publication per se, but the rapidity of the process, while wonderful, has other consequences.
  2. Archaeology and the public. Where I work, in Greece, there is a tension between the official organs of archaeological practice and the public at large. Especially the rural public, where I work, tends to be suspicious and resentful of archaeologists who can threaten their livelihood by expropriating their agricultural land. The archaeologists, in turn, are suspicious of looters and looting. This is a difficult situation in which to work, because I want to have an open discourse with the local communities in which I work. My own feeling, which is perhaps naive, is that the best way forward for archaeology and archaeologists is to open dialogues with local communities and the public, to encourage a feeling that the cultural heritage in their backyards is their cultural heritage and ought to be something that they value and protect. At present, that’s not really the case. People tend to have a fairly pragmatic view of the ancient Greek material past where I work: if it can be monetized by attracting tourists (as at Mycenae, although most of the people I talk to don’t think that the inhabitants of that village have done a good job capitalizing on tourist revenues), that’s great; otherwise, it just gets in the way. From the perspective of the archaeologist, that’s clearly a problem, but at the moment, I feel caught in the middle: I want to open a dialogue to educate and inform – and again, I feel that this is my duty – but neither do I want to go against the wishes of the local authorities, whose job it is to manage and protect the cultural heritage of the Greek nation. I really respect the job that they do, and I want to help. I suppose that at the moment, I’m not convinced that business as usual will lead to a long-term improvement of the risks faced by cultural heritage in Greece.

These are not the grandest of challenges – I know that archaeologists elsewhere face much greater ones. And in a country suffering from economic recession/depression and doing its best to help refugees from drowning in its seas, these grand challenges seem especially trivial. But they are the things that I worry about.