The UCSD Levantine Lab in the Most Influential BASOR Articles

A list of the "10 Most Influential BASOR Articles" was posted about two weeks ago over at the ASOR Blog. I've been meaning to post about it since all 10 went up, but it's been a busy two weeks.

Topping the list, quite excitingly, is “A New Chronological Framework for Iron Age Copper Production at Timna (Israel)” by former UCSD Levantine Lab grad student (and current Tel Aviv University professor) Erez Ben-Yosef, as well as UCSD SIO professor Lisa Tauxe, SIO post-doc Ron Shaar, and Hebrew University researcher Hagai Ron, who sadly passed away in September of last year, not long after the paper was published. The paper, which pretty much does what it says on the tin, is an excellent reassessment of the chronology of copper production in the southern 'Araba Valley based on some of the excavations Erez conducted as part of his dissertation work. It's fantastic that Erez and colleagues made it to the top of the list, and they certainly deserve it for their great work.

The other exciting thing about this top 10 list (for non-BASOR subscribers who don't have JSTOR access through a large university library, anyway) is that you can download all 10 for free until the end of July. I like that ASOR is increasingly making some of their publications available for free, even if only for limited periods. It's not open access, really, but at least it's something.

The list itself, though, I find rather strange. Of the 10 articles, seven deal with the Iron Age (ca. 1200-500 BC), and none deal with topics earlier than the Middle Bronze Age (late 3rd - mid-2nd millennium BC) or later than the Roman period (ca. late 1st century BC - mid-4th century AD). On the one hand, I feel like this might actually represent BASOR's readership, or even ASOR's membership, fairly well. When ASOR changed the name of their more "general interest" publication from The Biblical Archaeologist to Near Eastern Archaeology in 1998, there were (I hear, since I was just starting high school then) a lot of complaints, which I assume stemmed from the fact that many members of ASOR didn't consider periods not covered in the Bible to be a topic of general interest (and I suspect some still don't).

On the other hand, I am a bit surprised that none of these papers made the cut:

1) Whitcomb, Donald. 1988. Khirbet al-Mafjar Reconsidered: The Ceramic Evidence. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 271:51-67.

2) Holum, Kenneth. 1992. Archaeological Evidence for the Fall of Byzantine Caesarea. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 286:73-85.

3) Avner, Uzi, and Jodi Magness. 1998. Early Islamic Settlement in the Southern Negev. Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 310:39-57.

Certainly there are others that could be suggested (and I'm not even going to try for the prehistoric periods), but these were the three that I had in mind as I read through the list, expecting to see at least one of them. I'm not saying that Islamic archaeology (or, for that matter, Neolithic archaeology) is necessarily being intentionally slighted here; the Iron Age is a big period, and there was definitely an attempt to cover a lot of ground in this list. But it does seem to emphasize that although Islamic archaeology is becoming a bigger part of ASOR, we still occupy a fairly marginal position there.

But again, it's still quite exciting to see that Erez made it to the top of the list. If you have any interest, you should definitely download his paper for free while you have the chance!

More on the Exodus at UCSD

Recently, a page dedicated to the Out of Egypt conference went up on the Calit2 (actually, now the Qualcomm Institute) site. As I mentioned previously, this is the conference that the EX3: Exodus, Cyber-Archaeology and the Future exhibit was associated with, and Tom Levy and our colleagues at Calit2 have done a fantastic job of making everything available to those who couldn't attend the exhibit or conference.So, in addition to seeing photos from the conference (if you scroll through long enough you can see a few of me with the rest of the Levantine Archaeology Lab crew and some other UCSD Anthro folks), you can also watch videos of every talk that was given at the conference and get a guided tour of the exhibition (from Tom himself!). Plus, at the bottom of the page, you can read the three panels on the Exodus in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, including the contribution I put together with Prof. Babak Rahimi.I have to say, I'm impressed with how much of the conference has been made available online. It would definitely be a good thing if, at some point in the near future, it became common for conference organizers to provide open post-conference access to talks and other materials.

Donner on belief

A few weeks ago, I was asked by my advisor (who also happens to be the curator of this exhibit) to put together a few paragraphs describing Islamic traditions of the Exodus story for an exhibit called EX3: Exodus, Cyber-Archaeology and the Future (I planned to post this while the exhibition was still open, but it closed over the weekend). This is actually a topic I didn't know all that well before this, so although the panel had a maximum of only 250 words, I ended up doing a fair amount of research. In the course of this, I came across a quote from the historian Fred Donner that, although it's actually a metaphor for Islamic history, sums up pretty well some of the issues of Biblical archaeology:

But the parting of the waters – the actual supernatural event that, according to the story, was God's act of salvation for the Israelites – this the historian simply cannot evaluate. . . . because it involves an event that is explicitly represented as supernatural, it is simply beyond his competence as a historian to evaluate its supernatural content. (Donner 2011:34)
It's a useful compromise in some ways, and reminds me of a quote that Aren Maeir used in his presentation at the conference associated with the exhibition. It's by the Zionist author Ahad Ha'am, from his essay "Moses":
For even if you succeed in demonstrating conclusively that the man Moses never existed, or that he was not such a man as we supposed, you would not thereby detract one jot from the historical reality of the ideal Moses — the Moses who has been our leader not only for forty years in the wilderness of Sinai, but for thousands of years in all the wildernesses in which we have wandered since the Exodus.
For the believer, this seems like a rather sensible position to me.(Actually, though, we all know that what these quotes really remind me of is "Lisa the Iconoclast," the episode of The Simpsons where Lisa proves that beloved town founder Jebediah Springfield was actually the murderous pirate Hans Sprungfeld, but as a serious academic I can't bring that up. It's a perfectly cromulent association to make, though.)Works CitedDonner, Fred M.2011 The historian, the believer, and the Qur'ān. In New Perspectives on the Qur'ān: The Qur'ān in its historical context 2. G.S. Reynolds, ed. Pp. 25-37. Routledge studies in the Qur'ān. New York: Routledge.

Does the word "sugar" come from southern Jordan?

As I've mentioned before, my research on copper production has led me to be more interested in the history and archaeology of sugar production than I otherwise might be. This interest has exposed me, on several occasions, to a wonderful etymology for the English word "sugar." Allow me to present a brief outline:At some point in the second millennium AD, the technology of sugar production made its way west into the southern Levant, where sugar became a lucrative cash crop in Galilee, the Jordan Valley, and – the important part for our story – the lowlands (aghwar; أغوار) around the Dead Sea (the exact date is a bit unclear, but some time in the 12th century AD is likely for the area around the Dead Sea). One of the key centers of this production was a town to the southeast of the Dead Sea, in Ghawr al-Safi, known then as Zughar. Zughar produced a lot of high-quality sugar, some of which was exported to Europe. Because of its quality, or the amount they produced, or whatever else, the name of the town became so closely associated with sugar that people simply began using the name of the town to refer to the sweetener.It's a neat story, especially for those of us who work in southern Jordan, as it confirms our suspicion that our research area is the center of the world. That's not to say that Zughar wasn't an important place, of course. 19th century scholars like Le Strange (1890:287) noted that, "[t]o the Arab Mediaeval writers, Zughar, the City of Lot, was as well known a place as Jerusalem or Damascus," which isn't that much of an exaggeration. Al-Muqaddasī (1896:2), for example, calls the town a "little Busrah."Getting back on track, I've always wanted to repeat this story, but two things have stopped me from doing so. First, it's simply too good a story, which raises my suspicions. Things that seem too good to be true, as the old adage goes, probably are. Second, it's difficult to trace the origins of the story. For example, the Rough Guide to Jordan tells the story and attributes it to a museum display. Politis repeats the story in brief reports in the AJA and the ACOR Newsletter, but doesn't give a source (Politis 1999:519; Politis 2010:4). I'm sure I've seen it in other sources (and I've been told the story in person on several occasions), but it's difficult to make much sense of where it came from, and I've been looking.I was rather content to regard this story as probably apocryphal without looking into it too much, but this quarter I'm TAing for a world history/writing course covering the period from 1200-1750 AD. One of the themes of this course is the commodification of luxury goods in the Early Modern period, and sugar is, of course, one of the goods that we're discussing. I'm certainly no linguist, but I have a passing interest in etymologies (and I enjoy ruining everyone's fun), so I decided to look into this one a bit to see if there was anything to it (tl;dr version: not really).My first thought, before really looking into it, was that the word for "sugar" is more or less the same in most languages I'm familiar with, including Arabic, and a quick look at the OED more or less confirms this. The first example given in the etymology for "sugar" is the French sucre, and most European languages seem to use basically the same word, derived from the Arabic sukkar (سكر). The exceptions are, of course, English, which replaces the "k" sound with a "g," and Spanish and Portuguese, which also include the Arabic definite article (in Arabic, al-Sukkar (السكر) is read "as-sukkar"). (Messner [1992] points out that leaving the article off is characteristic of Arabic words coming through Italian, apparently.) Ultimately, the Arabic word is derived from a Persian word, which in turn comes from an older Sanskrit word. All of this took place before sugar was produced in Zughar, so already things aren't looking good for our story. Let's not stop there, though.It's still possible that European sources conflated the two words (sukkar and Zughar), linking the two as sugar became more common in Europe. This also seems unlikely. As one example, William of Tyre's Historia refers to the town as "Segor" (see here, Book 10, section VII), but calls sugar zachara (unfortunately this isn't in the Fordham Medieval Sourcebook version, but see here, for example). It doesn't seem likely, then, that these two were closely associated, at least in William of Tyre's mind.The only thing we're really left with is the anomalous English word, with its "g" sound. As the OED notes, though, this isn't entirely uncommon in English, either. The word "flagon," for example, is derived from the Old French word flacon, and even in Middle English was flakon. It seems much easier to attribute the English word "sugar" to this change, rather than to an association with a town that most people in England were certainly unaware of.I wonder, to some extent, if the origins of this story don't have as much to do with the true etymology of the English word "sugar" as they do with a bit of clever wordplay on the name of the town. Obviously there's the "Sugar from a town called Sugar? No Way!" response that we can imagine. Beyond that, though, there's this excerpt from Yāqūt in Le Strange (1890:291): "The name of Zughar, according to the same authorities, is also spelt Sughar and Sukar." It seems fairly straightforward, then, to assume some connection between sukkar and Sukar. The hint to what's going on here, though, is in the fact that Le Strange also calls Yāqūt "Yakut," and generally transcribes the Arabic letter qaf as "k." What he's saying, then, is not that the town is also known as Sukar (سكر) but Suqar (سقر). And therein lies the punchline.You see, one of the sources that gives this alternate name is al-Muqaddasī, who quips, "The people of the two neighbouring districts call the town Sakar" – (read: Saqar, سقر) – "(that is, 'Hell'); and a native of Jerusalem was wont to write from here to his friends, addressing 'From the lower Sakar (Hell) unto those in the upper Firdûs (Paradise)'" (1896:62). So it seems that Zughar was closely associated with hell before they ever produced sugar there. If you've ever been through Ghawr al-Safi in summer, of course, you know this is pretty accurate.Overall, it doesn't seem like there's very much truth to this story. I definitely don't blame people for repeating it. It's certainly, to borrow a term from journalism, a story that's too good to check. Of course, it often turns out when you do check them that they're too good to be true, as well.Works CitedLe Strange, Guy1890 Palestine under the Moslems: A Description of Syria and the Holy Land from A.D. 650 to 1500. London: Alexander P. Watt.Messner, Dieter1992 Further Listings and Categorisations of Arabic Words in Ibero-Romance Languages. In The Legacy of Muslim Spain. S.K. Jayyusi, ed. Pp. 452-456. Leiden: Brill.al-Muqaddasi1896 Description of Syria, Including Palestine. In The Library of the Palestine Pilgrims' Text Society, Vol. III. Pp. 1-103. New York: AMS Press.Politis, Konstantinos D.1999 Deir 'Ain 'Abata and the Ghor es-Safi. Pp. 518-520 in Archaeology in Jordan. Virginia Egan and Patricia Bikai, eds. American Journal of Archaeology 103(3):485-520.Politis, Konstantinos D.2010 Ancient Landscapes of the Ghor es-Sāfī: Surveys and Excavations 1997-2009. ACOR Newsletter 22(2):1-5.

Some scattered thoughts on sciencey archaeology

Well, I've reached the point where I have a bit of down time to update here (as in, I'm no longer desperately rushing to finish a project I'm behind on), and there are a few things I've been meaning to mention for weeks but haven't had the time for. Now that I have the time, I suppose I should actually do it.The first thing I wanted to point to is this Antiquity Project Gallery by some of my colleagues in the UCSD Levantine Archaeology Lab and CISA3, as well as Chris Tuttle, Associate Director of ACOR. They discuss a short project that involved documenting some of the features at Petra with the digital tools that ELRAP uses in the field. Although I was in Petra the weekend they did this, I was also supervising excavations at KNA during the week, so I spent my weekend relaxing in my hotel and sightseeing, rather than working. Even though I wasn't involved, though, this was a neat collaboration between ELRAP and the Temple of the Winged Lions CRM Initiative (TWLCRM), and it's worth checking out if only for the vertigo-inducing Figure 3 (assuming you haven't already been sent this link 15-20 times like I have). On a related note, Chris also has a paper in the first issue of Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies on the TWLCRM project, which you can take a look at here.The second thing I wanted to mention, and have been meaning to mention for some time now, is that I've had a bit of time to decompress and organize some of my thoughts about WAC 7 at the Dead Sea. So much time, in fact, that I've mostly forgotten what those thoughts were. Luckily, I took some notes that I can refer to.As I've said before, in general the conference was quite interesting. The session I was in, "Deep-time Perspectives on Culture Change in Jordan: Cyber-Archaeology, Production and Exchange," actually had, in case you couldn't tell from the title, many of the same people as the Antiquity Project Gallery I just linked to – enough of them, in fact, that it ran for two sessions (that's 5 hours!) – and was organized by the ELRAP PIs. Although all good, many of the papers seemed to side-step the session theme of "grand narratives," which was somewhat disappointing, as that was one of the (several) things that set our session apart from the other sessions broadly devoted to "digital archaeology." On the other hand, there were papers that confronted this theme head-on, notably a nice summary paper by a bunch of authors associated with the long-lived and inimitable MPP. But enough about us.I don't really want to detail every session I attended, because I went to quite a few, but I found one particularly thought-provoking: a forum called "Science in archaeology: Where to next?" This raised, for me at least, two related issues. The first, which started the general discussion, was about why the Journal of Archaeological Science, as the leading archaeological science journal, has such a low impact factor. One of the responses people gave, and the one that occurred to me first, is that for an anthropology journal, JAS doesn't have a particularly low impact factor. In fact, at 1.914 it probably has the highest impact factor of any archaeology-specific journal (I'm not aware of any over 2 [edit: turns out Radiocarbon is 2.84. Wow!]). There are certainly higher-impact anthropology journals, as this now rather outdated list shows – especially certain four-field journals and many of the bioanth journals – but JAS does pretty well.On the other hand, this concern was primarily raised from the perspective of people in departments other than anthropology (especially in the "harder" sciences) and people who frequently collaborate with non-anthropologists. Everyone knows, to some extent, that impact factors aren't really comparable across fields – for a variety of reasons – but this can make collaboration difficult, especially when it comes to publishing. For example, coming from a field like ecology, where none of the top 20 journals have impact factors below 4, 1.914 probably isn't very appealing. I could ramble at length about the usefulness of impact factors in anthropology and archaeology, but I won't.This brings up the second point, though. The previous discussion prompted two related questions: 1) Why don't archaeologists cite archaeological scientists more and 2) why don't scientists cite archaeological science more? Leaving aside the issue of what archaeological science actually is, if neither archaeology nor science, there was some debate in the room about which of these was a bigger deal. For some, although archaeological science is its own discipline with its own set of questions, these should be integrated more tightly into general archaeological theory. As an archaeologist, rather than an archaeological scientist, this is the view I tend to agree with. Others, however, pointed out that since archaeologists are content to publish in low-impact journals anyway, archaeological scientists should be looking at ways to get cited more often by scientists. Overall, though, the bigger issue seems really to be about the relationship between archaeological science and archaeology generally, which can't be easily answered by simply saying things like, "Well, but archaeology is a science." There's actually a session at the SAAs this year exploring this issue, called "Integrating Archaeology and Theory: How Does 'Archaeological Science' Really Contribute to the Science of Archaeology?" I'd love to attend it, but unfortunately we're giving our paper at the same time, so I can't. I'm curious to hear if anything useful comes out of it, though.

Ghost towns on BuzzFeed

Travel Nevada has a BuzzFeed photo set featuring 20 photos of two early 20th century boomtowns (now ghost towns): Goldfield and Rhyolite. They actually posted this about a month ago, but I didn't see it until today when, through the miracle of the "related posts" links on some other article I was linked to, I stumbled across them. As you might have gathered, short-lived mining towns happen to be an interest of mine, so this naturally I had to look through these. The photos themselves are pretty neat, but none of them are so spectacular that I would have written this post to link to the set.What really caught my eye, though, was photo 19, which is one of the more interesting in the set in terms of subject matter. I don't consider myself a "truck person," but I recognize a late 1940s Ford when I see one, and that's a funny thing to see in a town that was abandoned in 1920. It really makes you think about the processes of abandonment and reuse in these ghost towns. As the Wikipedia article notes, Rhyolite may have been abandoned by 1920, but reuse – both as a movie set and a tourist destination – occurred as early as the mid-1920s. So, on the one hand, nobody was living there permanently, but on the other hand it's not as if everyone suddenly forgot about it and we've now found it as it was when everyone left. This truck, now presented in an "eerie" abandonment photo, wasn't even produced until almost 30 years after Rhyolite became a ghost town, and now it, too, has been abandoned there.

Filling gaps in Middle Islamic settlement

My colleague and good friend Kyle Knabb just posted an abstract for a paper he's giving at the SAAs in Honolulu this year, and I thought, "Oh, I'm also presenting half of that paper. I should probably mention it."So, as Kyle said, we're working together right now to analyze some of the pottery from an intensive survey he led in Wadi al-Faydh, near Petra, in 2009. I was a member of his survey team, so it's exciting to get to analyze a lot of this material finally. As Kyle also mentioned, the majority of the assemblage is made up of rather coarse hand-made pottery (how coarse, you ask? Here's an example collected in Petra by the International Wadi Farasa Project, which gives you an idea of what we're talking about). In addition to not being the most attractive pottery (though I would argue that it has its charms), much of it is also rather difficult to date, especially when it comes from surveys, rather than excavations. One of our arguments, however, is that recent (and in some cases not-so-recent) excavations have produced evidence that enables us to date some of the ceramics Kyle found – especially some distinctive decorated forms – to the 11th and early 12th centuries AD.Our abstract begins with a related problem, which is that evidence of settlement during this period has been somewhat tricky to actually find. To get an idea of this, we just have to check out the DAAHL's (that's the Digital Archaeological Atlas of the Holy Land, for those not yet in the know) Archaeological Periods page. If you zoom to the study area and select Fatimid or Crusader, you see relatively little settlement. If you click Ayyubid, Ayyubid/Mamluk, or Mamluk, the picture is different (and this is also true if you select 'Abbasid/Fatimid, actually). If, as we're going to argue, many ceramics of the Fatimid and Crusader periods have been misclassified as Ayyubid/Mamluk – especially in the south – we have to wonder how good our understanding of settlement patterns in the Middle Islamic I (1000-1200 AD) actually is.These dating concerns have implications beyond simply establishing the chronology of settlement in the region. The biggest issue for me is that sites which weren't occupied during the same period obviously can't be directly connected to one another. This is important for reconstructing local patterns of trade, and one of the things I'm concerned with in terms of my work in Faynan. As the dating of sites becomes more precise, connections that seemed obvious when all the ceramics were lumped together as "Ayyubid/Mamluk" suddenly disappear. But that's a different story for another day. . .

Middle Islamic Faynan in BASOR

Oh right.  I meant to post something here right when this paper came out, but didn't, in part because of the beginning of a new quarter here at UCSD – as well as my first teaching assignment in two years, preparation for WAC 7, and some post-excavation things that needed to be taken care of – and in part simply because I completely forgot.  So, here we are, several weeks later, and I'm finally getting around to doing it.Anyway, as I said, I've just published a paper. The authors are myself, Tom Levy – my advisor – and our Jordanian colleague and co-PI of ELRAP, Mohammad Najjar, and it appears in the most recent issue of the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. If you have access to BASOR through JSTOR, you a) can just click that link and download the paper and b) have probably already seen the latest issue anyway.The paper is, essentially, a heavily-revised version of my master's thesis, and so represents the culmination of a few years worth of work getting the Islamic Faynan portion of ELRAP off the ground and running. Primarily, what that involved was a (preliminary) analysis of the ceramics collected during the 2002 JHF (the Jabal Hamrat Fidan Project; ELRAP's predecessor) surveys of Wadi al-Ghuwayb and Wadi al-Jariya (I'd link to a PDF, but that doesn't seem to exist at the moment; there's this, though), focusing on the material collected at Khirbat Nuqayb al-Asaymir (KNA), a site I've mentioned before. Our main goals here, in addition to finally presenting the later material from these surveys, were (1) to tighten up the chronology of KNA with a large ceramic sample (1300 sherds exactly) and (2) to put forward some ideas about why copper production was revived in this period.(1) In the paper we argue, based on the ceramics and other evidence, that KNA is primarily an early 13th century site. This isn't a terribly huge redating – most previous work assumed it was primarily a 13th century site – but it has some interesting historical consequences, as we make no assumption that there's an early Mamluk period occupation at the site. We left ourselves a bit of room to adjust this, and pointed out that we couldn't really rule out a later 13th century date, and that the late 12th century also seemed like a possibility. Now that we've excavated the site for two seasons, I'm glad that we left ourselves that room, as the ceramic assemblage has surprised us a bit. In one sense, the excavated ceramic assemblage is rather different from the survey assemblage in terms of the wares that make it up (though I don't want to talk about this too much until we've had more time to go over the material and compile better frequency data), but it's also forcing us to think about dates that are a bit earlier, again. That in itself was interesting, though not entirely unexpected, and we'll be addressing the point in at least one upcoming paper.(2) We were rather dissatisfied with existing explanations for the re-emergence of the Faynan copper industry in the Middle Islamic period, which we thought were either overly dismissive or somewhat anachronistic. Our suggestion, instead, is that mining in Faynan primarily supported the sugar industry. This would have gone primarily toward making boiling vessels – known in Arabic as dusūt – for the cane juice. This image, from flickr user ciamabue, shows an iron boiling vessel from the U.S. It's not an exact match – for one thing, the vessels we're thinking of are made of copper, obviously – but the image at least gives you a sense of scale. 13th century dusut were about 3 feet in diameter and could weigh as much as 550 pounds, so we aren't exactly talking about the Mauviel in your kitchen. This is something that would require a significant amount of copper.So, that's a short summary of two of our key points from this paper. The project is still a work in progress – and will eventually become my dissertation – but the early stages are now published and out there.

Jones, Ian W. N., Thomas E. Levy, and Mohammad Najjar2012  Khirbat Nuqayb al-Asaymir and Middle Islamic Metallurgy in Faynan: Surveys ofWadi al-Ghuwayb and Wadi al-Jariya in Faynan, Southern Jordan. Bulletin ofthe American Schools of Oriental Research 368:67-102.Levy, Thomas E., Russell B. Adams, James D. Anderson, Mohammad Najjar,Neil Smith, Yoav Arbel, Lisa Soderbaum, and Adolfo Muniz2003  An Iron Age Landscape in the Edomite Lowlands: Archaeological Surveys AlongWādī al-Ghuwayb and Wādī al-Jāriya, Jabal Ḥamrat Fīdān, Jordan, 2002.Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 47:247-277.

One thing I didn't miss about Jordan

I've just returned to the States from a week-long trip to Jordan – after less than two months back in San Diego following my fieldwork in Jordan this fall – to attend the 7th World Archaeological Congress. The conference was interesting, and the crowd was rather different from most of the meetings I've attended recently (more on all of this, hopefully, in the near future).  It was a bit strange to be back in Jordan so soon, though, and for such a short amount of time.Overall, I genuinely like Jordan a lot, and this trip was quite pleasant, even though I had to wake up and leave my hotel before dawn (and, more importantly, before they served breakfast) in order to get to the conference center on time. One thing I was reminded of, though – especially since I was waking up early every day – is how difficult it is to find a decent cup of coffee (by which, being an American, I mean "stock") in Jordan. That isn't to say that good coffee doesn't exist there. I actually find Arabic/Turkish coffee, generally served mildly sweet with cardamom added, quite delicious. But I usually prefer American coffee, and when that's served there, it's almost always instant coffee, generally referred to by the generic trademark Nescafe (نسكافيه).When we're out digging, we tend to have genuine Nescafe, usually the ubiquitous Red Mug variety, which is, at least, recognizable as something approaching actual coffee, although I wouldn't call it something I particularly like.  This trip, though, every cup of American coffee I drank was off-brand instant coffee, which can be surprisingly bad. I still gladly drank it (any port in a storm and all that), but it did make me reflect on how good we have it out in the field sometimes. We might be living in tents and waking up at 4:30 in the morning, but at least our Nescafe is, comparatively, not that bad.

Looking forward to Copenhagen

Well, it's been a while since I've posted anything here, in part because I've been pretty busy.  But following my colleague Kyle Knabb, I thought I'd share an abstract I submitted, and which has been recently accepted.  I unfortunately can't attend the ASOR Meeting this year, since I'll be digging in Faynan in November, but I submitted an abstract for the MIRI workshop on the Materiality of the Islamic Rural Economy (they, probably wisely, do not use the acronym MIRE), at the University of Copenhagen.  I'll mostly be talking about the results of the small excavation we conducted at Khirbat Nuqayb al-Asaymir in 2011, but I also want to talk about the suggestions I've recently made (and which will, hopefully, be published soon) about the relationship between Faynan and the agricultural economy of Transjordan in the 13th and 14th centuries AD.  This will be the first time I've really discussed this in a formal setting (other than submitting it for publication), so I'm looking forward to getting some feedback on it, but also a bit nervous about how it's going to be received, since it is rather speculative.Anyway, I'm looking forward to the workshop.  Now all I have to do is write the paper and figure out how I'm going to get to Copenhagen. . .

Here's the abstract, in case you're curious (the title is perhaps a bit obscure, but it's a reference to Levy, et al. [2003]):

Beyond Iron Age Landscapes: Copper Mining and Smelting in Faynan in the 13th Century ADIan W. N. Jones, Thomas E. Levy, and Mohammad Najjar

Although work in the area has been expanding, many aspects of the Middle Islamic period in southern Jordan remain poorly understood. This is perhaps less true of the Faynan district, where several survey projects have investigated and published material from copper production sites of the Middle Islamic period. On the other hand, these projects have understandably tended to focus on periods of more intensive copper exploitation in Faynan, with the Middle Islamic period occupying a somewhat peripheral position in their research. This is unfortunate, as Faynan contains probably the best-preserved Middle Islamic copper smelting sites in the southern Levant.With this in mind, in the fall of 2011 the Edom Lowlands Regional Archaeology Project conducted a sounding at Khirbat Nuqayb al-Asaymir, a copper production site of the 13th century AD. This small excavation revealed the remains of a copper smelting workshop including, to our surprise, a well-preserved smelting furnace. Relatively complete furnaces of any period are rare in Faynan, and this workshop has the potential to greatly increase our understanding of Middle Islamic period copper production.This paper presents the results of the 2011 sounding at Khirbat Nuqayb al-Asaymir, and draws on the available evidence to offer a preliminary reconstruction of the process of copper production in 13th century Faynan. Additionally, building on our previous work, it attempts to locate Khirbat Nuqayb al-Asaymir’s place in several “levels” of regional economy, from the mostly pastoral economic base of Faynan to the expanding economy of central and southern Jordan.
References:Levy, Thomas E., Russell B. Adams, James D. Anderson, Mohammad Najjar, Neil Smith, Yoav Arbel, Lisa Soderbaum, and Adolfo Muniz2003   An Iron Age Landscape in the Edomite Lowlands: Archaeological Surveys Along Wādī al-Ghuwayb and Wādī al-Jāriya, Jabal Ḥamrat Fīdān, Jordan, 2002. Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 47:247-277.

All of MSR now available online

A few days ago, I was checking out the University of Chicago Mamluk Studies Resources page, and I noticed something very exciting.  All of the back issues of Mamluk Studies Review, going back to 1997, are now available for free online.  The last time I looked, which was late last year sometime, the 2007 volume was the earliest one available, so they've been pretty busy over there.  This is especially exciting for me, since our university library owns exactly zero volumes of MSR, so I've had to request a few papers from the earlier issues via Interlibrary Loan.  I'm also excited that they now let you download individual papers, rather than the entire issue.  I can see some advantages to getting the whole issue, depending on how you store your PDFs (and they still give you the option), but it was a real pain keeping track of them this way in my Papers library.Anyway, this probably isn't news to anyone interested in MSR, but it's nice to see that they've completed the project and all of the back issues are available online.  I wish more journals would start doing this.

Why open-access is a good idea

There's a specific type of work that I often like to do during my morning coffee drinking/news reading ritual.  It's a kind of low-intensity reading of things that are interesting, but only marginally related to my current projects.  This morning, that took the form of reading a few pieces of William of Tyre's Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum, a 12th century account of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.  (Parts of it are available in translation here, if you're interested.)  This inspired me to check Google Books to see if they had a preview of a book I was looking for, so I wouldn't have to go to the library to get it.  They didn't, but the search also turned up a book I hadn't heard of before: Unknown Crusader Castles by Kristian Molin.  I have no idea whether this book is good or bad, as I only found out about it this morning, but it sounds like something that would have some appeal even beyond an academic audience (or would, at least, if it were available as anything but a $220 hardcover. . . another downside of many academic publishers).So, to determine whether I had much interest in tracking it down, I went looking for some book reviews. The second Google Scholar result was, indeed, a book review, in The English Historical Review.  I clicked the review and met, to my surprise, an Ingenta paywall.  This wouldn't have surprised me, except that I was already logged into my university VPN, and know I have several EHR papers in my Papers library.  Moreover, our library pays for access to a number of journals I regularly read through Ingenta.  But no, Ingenta wanted $36 for a two-page book review.  That wasn't going to happen, so I figured I would try JSTOR, but didn't have any luck there, either, since the review was from the year after the JSTOR cutoff.  Finally, I did the sensible thing and searched my university library's catalog, and found that we subscribe to the EHR through four services, including JSTOR, but that Ingenta isn't one of them.  In the end, it took far more time to actually track down the review than it did to read it.There are a few things wrong with this picture, but the one that really stands out to me is that Ingenta wanted $36 for a copy of this review.  I understand that the per-article fees are designed to encourage subscription, rather than to actually give access to individual papers, but that's an outrageous amount of money for two pages of book review.  In this case, too, it really highlights the problem everyone seems to have brought up with academic publishing: there's really no way for anyone to have access to a lot of this stuff unless they're affiliated with a research institution that has a good library.  Even for the most interested non-academic, buying a $36 book review to determine whether you should buy a $220 book isn't worth it.

Some academic navel-gazing

Recently, in the course of my blog-reading, I was pointed to two articles, one in the New York Times through Bill Caraher and one in the Chronicle of Higher Ed through John Hawks.  The first is a piece about the purpose of undergraduate education, while the second is about the quantity vs. quality of research being produced in the humanities.The NYT piece is interesting in its own right, but the comments were actually what stuck out most to me (I know, I know. . . call it a guilty pleasure).  Some of these seem to be obvious trolling, since it doesn't exactly take keen Google-fu to figure out that increases in fees at public universities have nothing to do with funding research in the humanities (actually, it doesn't take much Googling at all to see that, at the UC at least, this is something of a shell game; if the UC is to be believed, these increases are to make up for the fact that state funding per student in 2009-2010 was about half of what it was in 2000-2001).  I've noticed, though, that the idea that universities should adopt a corporate model comes up a lot in comments on articles like this.  It's also something I heard a lot when I was teaching writing.  The idea was that students often consider their fees as a payment for a product: a grade, a degree, etc. (I noticed that this product was never "an education," though -- why would you pay for something so trivial, I guess).  I wonder, would that system actually be a lot different from the one we currently have?  Theoretically, in a system like that you would shift the focus of professors away from teaching toward activities that pull in grants; after all, the students are only paying for their grade or their degree, so there's no reason to put a lot of effort into teaching them, and it's cheaper to hire TAs or adjuncts to do it, anyway.  Likewise, you would want to bring in as many out-of-state students as possible, since they pay just a bit more than in-state students do.  The big difference seems to be that in a perfect world you would just eliminate less profitable departments entirely.  That last comment was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek until this morning, when I read this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed by Nancy Scheper-Hughes and remembered that Florida Gov. Rick Scott basically said exactly that, but seriously, earlier this year.  I agree with Scheper-Hughes that the problem really isn't that public universities need to adopt corporate models, but that these have probably been adopted much too easily (I disagree with her, however, on the issue of professors needing secretaries. . .).I don't have as much to say about the second piece, and I think John Hawks gives a good summary of the ways that this problem is related to the problems that the first one brings up, specifically the focus on research at the expense of teaching.  As Bauerlein says, the solution is probably to change the practices of hiring and tenure committees.  I did want to point out, though, the somewhat odd position archaeology is in, at least compared to many humanities disciplines.  It's arguable that overproduction of writing is a problem in our field, as well, but on the other hand, many sites continue to be under-published (or not published at all, in some cases).  For us, I think, we need not only to consider adjusting our priorities in terms of the research/teaching balance, but also our priorities when it comes to what we actually publish.

Hyperion in Faynan

Here's another thing that came out while I was in the field, and that I meant to write something about.  A paper by Stephen H. Savage, Thomas E. Levy and myself, titled "Prospects and Problems in the Use of Hyperspectral Imagery for Archaeological Remote Sensing: A Case Study from the Faynan Copper Mining District, Jordan," was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.  Actually, it's in the Feb. 2012 issue, but through the magic of the publishing process and the internet, this issue is already available.  You can get the article from ScienceDirect here, and Steve has made the preprint available on his web site here.As the title implies, one of the things we tried to do in this paper was describe the things that didn't really work, as well as those that did.  The inclusion of the section on the Principal Component Analysis is a good example.  Some large-scale landscape features were clear, but the false positives and negatives were a bit troubling, and reflect some of the weaknesses of the method and the instrument itself.  One of the biggest problems with using Hyperion for archaeological research is the rather coarse spatial resolution.  Although the spectral resolution is quite good, with 242 narrow bands (for our purposes only 156 were usable), the spatial resolution is only 30 meters.  As a comparison, newer commercial satellites like GeoEye-1 offer resolutions under 2 meters in multispectral bands, and under half a meter panchromatic.  What this means is that some things just don't show up on Hyperion images.  For example, the primary focus of my research, Khirbat Nuqayb al-Asaymir, is a fairly large site (something like 7 hectares -- 70,000 sq.m.), but it's sparse enough that it's basically invisible on the Hyperion images.  This is something of a limitation, and one of the reasons that the focus of this paper is the Iron Age smelting center of Khirbat en-Nahas, which, as you can see if you read the paper, is pretty densely packed with slag mounds.Anyway, I think it's important to publish negative results along with the positive ones, and I'm glad that we did that here.  You can, of course, read the paper and judge for yourself.

2012     Savage, Stephen H., Thomas E. Levy, and Ian W. JonesProspects and problems in the use of hyperspectral imagery for archaeological remote sensing:a case study from the Faynan copper mining district, Jordan. Journal of Archaeological Science39(2):407-420.

The Sex Pistols, graffiti, and archaeology

"I watch and understand that it don't mean a thingThe scorpions might attack, but the system stole the sting" - Crass

It seems that the latest issue of Antiquity included a paper on "recent archaeology" in the form of some graffiti done by the Sex Pistols (Graves-Brown and Schofield 2011).  This has actually been out for a few weeks now, but I've been in the field, so it passed me by when everyone was talking about it.  Bill Caraher at New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World posted about it, focusing on their points about "anti-heritage" and the, perhaps unintentional, way that the paper highlights some of the contradictions of punk.

For me, though, one of the strangest things about the paper is how much justification the authors feel they need to do.  A full half of their abstract, for example, is devoted to stating that the paper is not a joke.  Perhaps part of this has to do with the "heritage" context the authors see the paper as coming out of, but in terms of archaeology in general, I don't really see the issue.  The Garbage Project predates the Sex Pistols by two years, and at my alma mater, UMass Amherst, Martin Wobst fairly regularly teaches a course called "The Archaeology of Us" dealing with the material culture of the very recent past.  Likewise, the subject matter itself doesn't seem to me to need justification.  There are already plenty of academic studies of punk.  The question really isn't whether punk is a suitable thing for archaeologists to study, but whether archaeologists bring a lot to the table in studying punk.

I'm not really sure about the answer.  Certainly, I think we could, but this paper seems to miss the mark a bit.  Overall, the focus is on the Sex Pistols and the inhabitants of the 6 Denmark Street flat, which is fine, and there are some interesting insights.  None of these seem to have been revealed by the graffiti, per se, but the graffiti provide an interesting context for them.  In other places, though, the weaknesses of treating these as "archaeology" is clearer.  When the authors state that a portrait was "unidentified and cryptic" (Graves-Brown and Schofield 2011:1393), I can't help but think of a comment my colleague Erez Ben-Yosef once made to me: "This is ridiculous.  You aren't dealing with a 15th-century manuscript.  Just ask him what he meant!"  The big difference between the 6 Denmark Street graffiti and the cave art the authors compare it to is that John Lydon is still alive and playing.  Why not just ask him what it meant?  Maybe this isn't the case, but it seems that the approach taken here excludes some productive avenues for studying the material.

And that's really the problem, to me.  There are a lot of things that could be brought in and connected here, but instead the focus is on whether the site is important enough to be preserved, which is also a bit odd, since their ultimate recommendation is a "DIY" approach to heritage management.  In the end, I don't really know how I feel about this project.  It's cool, certainly, but the approach is missing something.

2011     Graves-Brown, Paul, and John SchofieldThe filth and the fury: 6 Denmark Street (London) and the Sex Pistols. Antiquity 85:1385-1401.

Americanisms and the BBC

This article on Americanisms appeared in the BBC News Magazine yesterday.  I'm not what you'd call a "language expert," and I probably wouldn't comment on this article here, except that the author (I can't find a byline anywhere), Matthew Engel, makes a claim at the beginning that seems both too good to check and like something you could easily check over your morning coffee.  So I decided, since my university library provides access to the OED, to spoil everyone's fun and check it while drinking my morning coffee.  That claim, if you haven't read the article yet, is that five words listed at the beginning of the article "were never part of the English language until the establishment of the United States."Never?  Well, here's what I found (all information from the OED, should you want to check).  "Lengthy" does, indeed, seem to be an Americanism; the earliest example the OED gives is from the diary of John Adams in 1759.  We're off to a good start.Engel proves to be less reliable (get it?) with the next four, however.  "Reliable" has, in fact, been a part of the English language since the mid-16th century according to the OED, although it seems to have become rare for a few centuries and then made a comeback as an Americanism.  Nonetheless, Engel is technically incorrect; the word predates the establishment of the United States.  "Talented" is, arguably, even older, although its 15th century usage relies on an archaic meaning of "talent."  Still, the earliest examples of the modern sense are all British, and one, with a similar but slightly different sense, is from the early 17th century.  "Influential," again, predates the United States.  The earliest example the OED gives is from an Anglican sermon in the mid-17th century, although this is in the sense of being influential on something.  The first use in the sense of "an influential person" is from the early 18th century, and, of course, by a British man.  "Tremendous," in the sense of something awful, also dates back to the early 17th century, and the OED examples for this use are British.  The hyperbolic sense that we use it in now is later – early 19th century – but the earliest usages are, somewhat predictably, British.  I guess one out of five isn't too bad.Engel fares a little better with the rest of the words in the article, although there are still quite a few that don't meet the initial claim.  I'm also a little skeptical of the statement at the end of the article that modern British English is the "original version" of the language, though.  Do the British still use thorn and wynn when we Americans aren't looking?Edit (07/16/2011):  Looks like Mark Liberman, who actually is a language expert, covered this piece this morning over at Language Log, complete with an explanation of why it doesn't really matter whether or not the claims Engel makes are actually true.

Iraq and looting

There are two interesting news pieces about Iraqi antiquities that have been making the rounds recently.  The first one is an opinion piece by a U.S. Marine Colonel who argues that looted antiquities from Iraq are being used to fund terrorist activities.  It's a short read, and another interesting and depressing perspective on looting in the region.  My opinions about the relationship between collecting and looting tend to be somewhat negative, and so I wasn't surprised that Col. Bogdanos points out that a lot of these objects end up seeming "clean" because it's more profitable for museums and auction houses to simply not bother questioning their invented provenances.  I'm also not sure I hold much hope that this particular line of argument will be more successful in preventing people from buying illicit antiquities than any other.  This isn't Looting Matters, though, and I'm actually bringing the piece up for a different reason.  I was initially a bit offended by this statement he makes on the second page:

But here's another reason to stress: and that is that most of the pieces that were looted in Iraq pre-date Islam, pre-date the split between Sunni and Shia Muslims, pre-date Christianity, pre-date even Judaism.
I may be a bit biased, but I'm of the opinion that the archaeology of more recent periods is rather important, too.  I can see what he's trying to get at, but it still seemed like an odd thing to say. Then, yesterday, I saw this AP story.  I think I had heard about the story behind this before, but had forgotten it.  When I read this update, though, I did have to wonder if it was at all related to the statement that had surprised me in the first story.

Balzac on history

Though today is the 4th of July and it would be appropriate, I don't have anything to post about United States history or pyrotechnics (but, luckily, other people do). Instead, I want to share a quote with no relation at all to the 4th of July. Well, it comes from someone who did have a lot to say about the July Revolution of 1830. Does that count? Bear with me here, I'm reaching.Anyway, I'm currently reading (among other things) Collingwood's The Idea of History and Balzac's Béatrix. I mention Collingwood because in this passage, from the first paragraph of Béatrix, Balzac also comments on the philosophy of history:

Whoso would travel as a moral archaeologist, observing men instead of stones, would find images of the time of Louis XV in many a village of Provence, of the time of Louis XIV in the depths of Pitou, and of still more ancient times in the towns of Brittany. Most of these towns have fallen from states of splendor never mentioned by historians, who are always more concerned with facts and dates than with the truer history of manners and customs.
Balzac's nostalgia is evident here, but it's still something to ponder. I'll just let it stand without (further) comment.

You always have friends in Acre

This AP story promoting travel to Acre got forwarded around various archaeology lists the other day, and it got me thinking about my visit to Acre in 2009.  I was digging at Tell es-Safi at the time (there's a Crusader castle there, too, called Blanche Garde, although the current excavations focus on the earlier periods), and four of us decided to take a trip to see a few sites in northern Israel, including Acre, Caesarea Maritima, and Megiddo.  Acre was definitely a memorable place, and I'd say it's certainly worth a visit if you get a chance.The history of the site is, of course, fascinating.  As the article mentions, it was an important Frankish port up until its destruction in the late 13th century by the Mamluks, as part of a larger campaign wherein they destroyed nearly every Mediterranean port in the Levant (Gaza being the one exception).  Following that (and its abandonment in the 14th century), the city went through some ups and downs in the Late Islamic (Ottoman) period, and there are a few interesting stories there.  Notably, it was briefly a holding of Fakhr ad-Din II, starting in 1610.  Hartal (1997:111) describes that situation like this:

Following Fahr ed-Dîn's conquest of the city in 1610, he cleaned the harbor, renewed maritime trade, enlarged the city, and built some new buildings . . . In 1613, however, when the Ottoman Turks campaigned against him, Fahr ed-Dîn ordered the harbor to be filled in and had the city devastated.
I've always found this to be an amusing story, in a way.  In 1610, he cleans the harbor and expands the city, and three years later fills the harbor in and destroys part of the city.  There's also the story, mentioned in the AP article, of Napoleon's failed attempt to take the city in 1799, when it was controlled by Jazzar Pasha.  Al-Jazzar (الجزار), incidentally, is not a very nice nickname; it means "the butcher."  After Napoleon's unsuccessful siege, Jazzar Pasha understandably decided to fortify the city, using stone taken from the Crusader city as well as 'Atlit castle (Hartal 1997:112; generally, Hartal [1997] has a good, brief discussion of the post-Crusader architectural history of the city).Reading the story, though, I decided to go back and look at the photos I'd taken while I was there.  Of course, I got some nice, scenic shots of the city, like this one:Acre HarborLike most of coastal Israel, it really is a beautiful place.  I definitely wouldn't mind spending more time there.I also took quite a few photos of buildings in the Crusader city, like this one:AcreThis isn't the most interesting photo I've ever taken, but if you look at it closely you get some hints at the construction phases of the building.Then there's this one, taken in the refectory (dining hall) of the Hospitaller fortress in the old city:Acre, Crusader refectoryOh, hello there. . . didn't see you guys up there before.
1997     Hartal, MosheExcavation of the Courthouse Site at 'Akko: Summary and Historical Discussion. 'Atiqot 31:109-114.

And trying to meet halfway

I started this post in February, and didn't quite know how to finish it, so it sat here for months waiting for me.  I didn't want to post anything else until it was finished, and so I've decided to finally just finish it quickly (and not entirely satisfactorily) and put it up.YouTube can be a funny thing. Its suggestions are often really far off, but sometimes you wind up with something that's not really related to what you were looking for, but completely fascinating. Today Months ago, I came across this video in the sidebar to another video I was watching:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lq0dG0h8TokIf you aren't familiar with Centralia, PA, it's a fairly recent ghost town, abandoned as the result of a coal seam fire that's been burning for the past 50 or so years. These are actually not as uncommon as you might think – the more notable examples include the Brennender Berg in Saarland, which has been burning since the mid-17th century, and Burning Mountain in New South Wales, which has been burning since the 4th millennium BC (there's also the well-known and striking Darvaza, in Turkmenistan, which wasn't a coal seam fire, but a long-lasting natural gas fire). And there are, of course, others.This video is rather interesting for a few reasons. First, most of the stuff you see in Centralia is no longer around. All of the buildings were condemned in 1992, and as a quick scan of Google Earth will tell you, most of them have been bulldozed. I was thinking this might be an interesting use of Google Earth's historic imagery feature, but unfortunately this only goes back to 1993 for the area, so you don't see a whole lot of change.  Of course, YouTube is facing no shortage of videos of what Centralia looks like now to juxtapose with this one.  Many of them compare Centralia to Silent Hill, but I've watched a few of them and no one seems to have caught the monsters on film, so I'm not sure this is the most apt comparison.  You can also get a glimpse of Centralia in 1986 in the beginning of Made in U.S.A. (soundtrack by Sonic Youth!), which is, as I update this in June, currently streaming on Netflix.But then there's an odd combination of a few other things. The mundanity of the video itself is almost striking, given what would eventually become of the city. It's a great example of an unintentional historical document: a record of a family trip (I assume) can become a record of a place that they simply passed through. The video is called "A Trip to Centralia, Pa Circa 1957," but the main event here actually seems to have been the Bloomsburg Fair. At roughly 2:03 or 2:04 there's a brief and ominous glimpse of the mining operation itself, but it only lasts a few seconds.  These things stand out now, but the video itself almost forces you to realize that nothing seemed out of the ordinary in the late '50s.I'm also reminded of this story I read in Wired (now more than) a few months ago about Picher, OK, another recent industrial ghost town, although abandoned for different reasons.  In that case, toxic mining waste made the town uninhabitable, and yet a few people continue to live there, which was the point of the Wired story.  In both cases, it's this emotional attachment to a place that interests me most.  The circumstances were, of course, much different, but it makes me wonder about the ancient miners and smelters in southern Jordan, and what they felt when those sites were abandoned.