Politiko Troullia Study Season 2017 Update

The coffee for my morning coffeebreak is Munsell color 7.5YR6/6. This is after diluting with water and adding 1/3 cup of milk. I get goosebumps with every sip, and if I survive I fear I may end up with hair on my chest. Note: John is no longer allowed to make the coffee.
Also, it’s unseasonably cold, and raining rather heavily, and then with no warning at all the rain stops, and its glorious and sunny again. Good times!

Hitting the ground running (sort of)

Tuesday was about as productive as I could reasonably have hoped for it to be, which in reality wasn’t very. I seem to be only slightly jet-lagged (hurrah!), so I managed to get to sleep around 1 and woke up around 9. Not too shabby, I thought! I spent the morning unpacking, and finally taking a shower. Apparently the institute has been having intermittent water problems. Sometimes (like last night) there’s no water pressure, and then sometimes (like tonight) there’s no hot water. These institutes, here and in other countries, tend to be in old British imperial period houses. They’re beautiful, but definitely getting rundown, and upkeep often outpaces what a small academic institution can reasonably afford to spend, so things tend to have to fall apart completely before they get fixed. In the case of CAARI, the big project this past year has been the construction of a massive addition to the library. It’ll triple the current size of the library, which we desperately need, but there’s one catch – no one would sell CAARI more land at an affordable price, so our new library is subterranean! There’s a giant hole where the garden on the east side of the building used to be, which currently has one floor, and soon will have two floors of a library built. Eventually the garden will be put back in and the new library will have skylights. I’m excited to see what it will look like, but the fact that CAARI has a massive empty parking lot to its west that we couldn’t afford to buy makes it a bit frustrating.

Anyway, I unpacked properly, which is nice… I’m not used to being here for long enough for it to be worthwhile, but I’m here for two months, and I have this room for at least 30 days, which is awesome, because it is easily the best room in the institute! Always make friends with the administrators… the directors may come and go, but the administrators will be here forever. In this case I’ve been coming to CAARI for 9 years now, and for years I was in room 7, which is the size of a closet! I’ve stayed in room 4 once (private bathroom, but you have a roommate), and recently I’ve been in room 2, which is great… nice size, nice light. But this time, I got room 1. Its huge. It has its own balcony and 12 foot ceilings. Its hard not to feel very colonial in this place, and I feel like I should be drinking Gin and Tonics. 10 am was morning coffee with the staff and the various researchers in the institute, which at the moment is really myself, a grad student from LaTrobe, and the Fulbright (from UVA) and her husband. I made the arrangements to get into the garage, which will be my lab for the next two months, but is currently being used as storage space. Oy. I also called our contacts in the village where my dig stays when we’re working in the summer, so I could get into our storage rooms. One phone number doesn’t seem to work (uh oh) so I may just have to track down the guy who runs the storeroom where we keep all our equipment on foot, but the other number got me through to the gentleman who owns the warehouse we use as out apothiki (Greek for warehouse, but its what Aegean and Cypriot archaeologists call the storehouses where we keep our equipment and non-valuable artifacts). However he was quite insistent that I could NOT come get anything out today or tomorrow, so Thursday I have to go have coffee with him at 11, after which I hopefully will have permission to actually get it and get our ceramics. I spent the afternoon reading, dealing with email, and contacting the museum (to get access to more pottery! Sherds! How I love my sherds!). Then off to Lidl, for the acquisition of groceries. The institute is self-catering, and the kitchen is perfectly adequate, but alas most grocery stores are too far to walk easily. Apparently there’s one not too far away now, but since I have a car for the next week I headed out to stock up cheaply. Apparently the long-lived Fulbright car is no longer in this world, so there is no other car currently here at the Institute. I foresee begging rides off my Cypriot friends in the future…

But then the exciting part of the day! I went out to dinner at the Berlin Wall 2, with my friends Tim and Efthymia. They work at the museum and they are just the most lovely, fun people. Efthymia knows the family that runs the Berlin Wall, so named because it’s built right up against the wall that divides Nicosia in half, separating the Republic from the occupied North. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, it left Nicosia as the last divided capital in the world. Not a particular point of pride, but it certainly contributes to the current character of the city, though less-so now that the border crossings are open and more lax. We had mixed grill and lefchanicho (wine sausage, so good), and yoghurt, hummus, salad, and french fries. Delicious. I swear (and I’m Irish here, remember) Cyprus has some of the best tasting potatoes in the world! I kept Tim and Efthymia out past their bedtimes, as we went to the Weaving Room afterwards for another drink. Its called the weaving room, because it was, in fact, a weaving workshop during the Ottoman period. Its a fabulous stone building, and they’ve left the original wood balcony inside, and its filled with books and chairs, and serves cold beer, hot coffee, and delicious traditional deserts, all at a criminally low price. I predict this will make a good writing spot. Conversation was good, and roamed all over. I learned all about dynamics of modern Cypriot politics I never knew, as well as their association with the various football teams. In many ways it reminded me of the situation in Ireland… revolution, followed by a civil war that no one wants to talk about, but which had a serious impact on the politics of the next several decades. Cyprus’ experience is 50 years more recent though, so the wounds are still fresh.

Home Again, Home Again (or Another Year, Another Season)

With the turning of the seasons, so shifts the thoughts of the young archaeologist from those of books and dusty libraries to those of blue skies and pottery-filled fields. This year the season starts early for me (March! Who’d have thought??) and will run through the end of June. First two months, though, I’m here in Nicosia, at the Cyprus American Archaeological Institute, where I will attempt to divide my time productively between analyzing ceramics from the Politiko-Troullia project, studying tomb group and survey material from the area around Politiko and Ayios Sozomenos at the Cyprus Museum, and (fingers-crossed) getting some writing done in the library here at CAARI. I got in later and more exhausted than I had expected, so last night consisted of getting unpacked, eating a typically ridiculous archaeologist dinner, made of the leavings of previous visitors to the institute. In this case, a can of tuna and a can of sweet corn stirred together in a bowl. I kid you not, and before you say ugh, I’ll have you know I was introduced to this exact combination by the Bedouin (true story). They also did it with tomato instead of corn, and it’s surprisingly palatable. I didn’t have any flatbread to eat it with, but that’s alright. So today the excitement begins! I need to get ahold of some of the gentlemen in the village where the P-T project stays, so I can head out there and get into our storage depots. I need drawing supplies, bags, labels, scales… and of course, pottery!

Day 1!

The students arrived yesterday, jet-lagged and delirious from their journey around the world, so they were duly fed and distributed to their houses, and everyone was up at 4:30 for a 5:15 start. Whee!

I was in the lab today, as will be the norm this season. We have a bit of a pottery backlog, and with such a huge team (7 trenches!!) the pottery will be coming in faster than I can process it. At this rate I’ll be just as pasty white when I get back to the States as I was when I left!

There’s one poor student from Melbourne whose bag didn’t get on the plane to Doha, so it won’t arrive in Cyprus until tomorrow afternoon, so without proper clothes or shoes we kept her back at the lab. With no new pottery to wash, I set her to labeling the remains of last year’s. Not the most exciting task in the world, but she took it in stride and with good humour. She is completely green, but she asked good questions, and I pointed out to her that the best way to learn pottery is just to handle thousands and thousands of sherds. After today, she’s well on her way…

The rest of the crew went out to the site to weed and clean and string baulks. We also took down an old baulk that has fallen victim to the vagaries of time (i.e. Cyprus’ periodic torrential rainstorms and the effects of plant growth) and had partially collapsed and was serving no purpose any longer other than a safety hazard.

I read two contexts from last year – reading a context means laying out all of the diagnostic sherds (rims, bases, handles, decoration, spouts… anything that tells me something about the form of the vessel the sherd came from). The southern courtyard continues to produce wonderful things that I’m not allowed to talk about until the department of antiquities has our reports, and Area H, in the north, which I had mostly written off last year as boring, weathered, ugly sherds from utilitarian wares, is suddenly producing high quantities of fine wares with large amounts of applied decoration in a style I’ve only ever seen on some of the pottery from the cemetery at Nicosia-Ayia Paraskevi, and no where else at this site. Weird. They are, however, still ugly and weathered, which is a pity. I think that part of the site is just above bedrock, so water running down to the ravine to the west just runs right through there. Topography!

In other news, we have a Lab Cat! Who is a lap cat! He’s clearly attempting to make a strong case for his Green Card application. I’m tentatively calling him Michael, but one of the students suggested Miles, which I rather like. He spent half the day on my lap and the other half of the day asleep on my backpack, with a short break to mew adorably at everyone while we ate lunch. Our dig cat from last year, the adorable tabby and white Molly, also reappeared last night at dinner. Its definitely her – some horrible neighborhood hooligan took a hole punch to her ear and the resultant hole is distinctive, but she seems to have found a good home, as she is looking well-fed, clean, and fluffy. This clearly hasn’t stopped her from being an incorrigible beggar, though.

Photo on 6-2-14 at 4.55 PM

The Calm Before the Storm

Its actually cool right now. I know it won’t last, but the illusion is lovely, and so I choose to revel in it. The directors have driven down to Larnaca, where they are meeting a chartered bus and 19 field school students that are flying in from Melbourne, via Dhubai. But right now, it is cool, and the only sound in the lab is the occasional typing by the registrar or the faunal analyst as they go about their business, and the pitter-patter of my preparing this note. Outside the birds are having a gay old time, and somewhere in the village a cat is mewling in hopes of some discarded souvlaki.

The buckets and tools are stacked by the entrance to the school, the dinner tables and chairs are out, the sunshades for afternoon pottery washing have been erected, and I should get back to inventorying the pottery drawings from previous seasons.

But right now its cool and quiet.

I give it about 2 hours…

Living the Dream

I’m sitting on the patio of the Krasares Restauraunt on the coastal road outside the village of Kissonerga in the Paphos District of Cyprus. Its the 4th day of the second week of excavation in the 2012 season at the Bronze Age site of Kissonerga-Skalia, directed by Dr. Lindy Crewe, of Uni. Manchester. I’m here in the role of advanced student/pottery assistant. Lindy is widely considered the finest ceramicist working on Cyprus, plus she’s just ridiculously wonderful to work with, and having weighed my options (including just staying in the States and working on my reading list – prudent, but BORING) I hauled myself, via 4 plane flights and 30 hours, to return to my favorite country to do archaeology. If you’re looking for a great field school in Cypriot archaeology, I highly recommend you check it out next year!

The project is going well this season, with 4 trenches open and digging is moving on apace. The site is fascinating, and confusing! We have loads of Chalcolithic material, which appears to have washed down from the site of Kissonerga-Mosphilia, sitting atop some layers which may be as late as Late Cypriot I (the earliest phase of the Late Bronze Age on Cyprus) and others as early as Early Cypriot I or even Philia (the earliest phases of the Early Bronze Age on Cyprus). Our primary goals are to figure out what was going on at this site during both its earliest and latest occupations, and to try to establish a stratified pottery sequence. The pottery sequence is particularly important, because the ceramics here in the southwest of Cyprus are quite different from those found in other parts of the island, and the pottery here has never really been studied. Lindy is working on developing a new typology for the Bronze Age ceramics of the area, which when correlated with the typologies for the southern part of the island, and the best known from the central and southern regions, will allow us to really see how the region fit into the broader history of the island. Big problem right now – we have some pretty diagnostic stuff for the latest and earliest phases, but right now recognizing the Middle Bronze Age is really difficult. Presumably it’s there, but we just don’t know how to see it!

I spent today drawing pottery, a skill I am now very glad I acquired, thanks in particular to Jorrit Kelder (check out his wonderful book “The Kingdom of Mycenae: A Great Kingdom in the Late Bronze Age Aegean”) who taught me the basics when I worked at Priniatikos-Pyrgos on Crete. Pottery drawing is a funny thing – more technical drawing than anything else, but I find its a great way to really get to know the material. I’m a very visual and hands-on learner (lectures go in one ear and out the other), so the act of handling the ceramic sherds, orienting them, and visually reconstructing the vessels really helps me to learn the shapes, fabrics, and decoration, in a way that reading publication reports never fully does. I’m planning on taking my camera out this week to document the pottery analysis and recording process, which I hope to post on this blog. Just don’t make fun of my drawings – they’re passable, but I’m no artist!

The first step in pottery processing, is every archaeologist’s favorite post-excavation duty (sarcasm? maybe not…), pottery washing. Today’s pottery washing was particularly entertaining though, since we found ourselves washing a bunch of things we shouldn’t have! These were objects that had been mistaken for pottery, because of their irregular shapes and being caked in dirt, so honest mistakes all, but still amusing. Since everything was kept with the material from the context in which it was excavated, we still know right where they were found. So, pulled out of the pottery buckets today were a) a beautiful chalcolithic polished stone chisel, b) a pierced stone disk, c) a deer antler prong (possibly a handle of a tool, or a tool in and of itself), and d) a really peculiar ground stone object which appeared to have been a piece of stone bowl or mortar in a previous life, but which had been reshaped into some sort of stamp or rubber.

Dinner tonight was roasted potatoes and aubergines with fresh feta crumbled and melted on top, a large greek salad, and pickled beetroot. So delicious! We eat here 4 dinners a week, one night is pizza, and two nights we’re on our own. Lunches we take turns cooking for the team (cooking for 30 is an adventure!), and breakfast is out in the field, a standard archaeological practice. The food so far has been excellent, and since I’m not excavating like I normally would be, as I stay back at the dig house to work on the ceramics, and since I’m eating so much, I fear I’m not losing weight, but may even be gaining it! But, with delicious Cypriot food in my stomach and the sun is setting into the Mediterranean, turning the haze yellow and pink and orange, it may be time to have a drink with the crew before heading up the hill for the night. Good night all!

Cyprus 1190-1570: A Good Idea Gone Wrong, or Why I Should Be in Video Game Development?

I’ve been pestering my brother-in-law ever since I came out to Seattle to buy Assassin’s Creed for his XBox 360. I actually wanted him to get the original even though the sequel is out, because I’m an obsessive compulsive purist when it comes to video games, and I wanted to play the series from the start, regardless of the known issues of the original game.

But my brother-in-law bought Assassin’s Creed II instead, because he wanted to run around Renaissance Italy, a period and location that both he and my sister are familiar and fond of, which I respect. Its fun to run around a simulation of place you’ve been in real life, particularly if its a good simulation, which AC II most certainly is. So for the past two days I’ve been watching him run around a stunningly well-depicted Firenze, with his Mom who is also visiting and who recently biked through the region pointing out landmarks, even the building that she stayed in. He’s racing through the game, because he really wants to get to Venezia, where he and my sister went last year for Carnival, at which point I expect his critique of the game to increase exponentially, though so far he seems quite pleased.

Now, when I play games I never race through them. I fit so squarely within the “explorer” paradigm of game players that I don’t even bother playing any sort of game on rails. They drive me bonkers. And while I watched him running through the streets of Florence, as I had previously watched friends run through the streets of Jerusalem in the previous installment of this series, all I wanted to do was grab the controller out of his hands and search all the nooks and crannies he was ignoring. And I was also thinking about how incredibly cool it would be if they set one of the Assassin’s Creed games in Cyprus.

Obviously, I’m partial to Cyprus. One might even say unfairly biased. I’ve worked there on two different excavations and two different surveys, as well as basing my Master’s thesis on the Bronze Age mortuary landscapes of the island, and spending a good chunk of time in the lovely Ottoman period mansion that now serves as the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute in Nicosia. In total I’ve spent nearly 6 months on Cyprus, and in that time I’ve managed to squeeze in a fair bit of a sightseeing, and Cyprus is the island for it, most particularly for the periods addressed in the Assassin’s Creed mythos. Forgetting the amazing archaeological sites that stretch from the far recesses of prehistory through the Roman period, the island is littered with Crusader castles, monasteries, and venetian walled cities.┬áNot to mention major holy sites that the folks back then loved to squabble over (oh, wait that hasn’t changed much, has it?) including the burial place of Lazarus (the second time he died, I guess Jesus wasn’t around to bring him back) and of the prophet Mohammed’s wet nurse, Umm Haram, who fell off a donkey in a battle during the Arab invasion of Cyprus in the 7th century.

Agios Lazaros Church in Larnaca, Cyprus
Hala Sultan Tekke, the Mosque of Umm Haram
Hala Sultan Tekke, the Mosque of Umm Haram

None of this is surprising if you look at a map! If somebody feels like invading or controlling the Holy Land, Cyprus is THE place to stage yourself. Heck, the same holds true today, with nearly 15% of the island designated as British military bases, and with the Turkish army having invaded as recently as 1974, leaving the island a divided political and strategic nightmare.

Particularly as befits the Assassin’s Creed series, the Templars spent some time on Cyprus after Richard I of England (the Lionheart) sold them the island after the Third Crusade. The Templars set up their base of operations in the city of Limassol, but they didn’t fare so well there either, and after a rather bloody insurrection on Cyprus in addition to their loss of the island of Arwad off the coast of Syria to the Egyptian Mamluks, they also took flight, selling the island to the Guy de Lusignan, in 1192, who was pretty much homeless after having lost Jeruslaem in 1187, being denied entry to Tyre in 1190, and failing to win the siege of Acre in 1191. Cyprus remained a crusader kingdom in the hands of the Lusignan family until 1489.

Kolossi Castle, built 1210, home of the Hospitaller Knights
St. Hilarion Castle, summer home of the Lusignan kings

The last queen of the Kingdom of Cyprus was the Nobil Donna, Caterina Cornaro. Her father had been a Patrician of Venice, and had produced four Doges. Her husband, James II (‘the Bastard’) died shortly after their marriage, and after her son died under suspcious circumstances, she became sole ruler of the island, but in 1489 she was forced by the ruling merchant class to abdicate her sovereignty to the Republic of Venice. It is reported that she and her former subjects wept when she was forced to leave the capital, which by this time had been moved from Limassol to Nicosia.

The Venetian fortifications still stand around Nicosia

The Venetians rebuilt the fortifications of the Lusignans as well as many of their own during their reign which would last less than 100 years, as they were deeply hated by their Cypriot peasants who supported, almost gleefully, the successful Ottoman invasion in 1570.

So what’s my point here? My point is that Cyprus during the Middle Ages was awesome. The architecture is stunning, and a lot of it is still standing! The politics of the period are as convoluted and fascinating as one could wish, perfect fodder for a game about assassins and intrigue. Free running through Limassol or Larnaca or Nicosia? Awesomeness. Racing up and down the cliffs and tiny back hallways of St. Hilarion? Trying to save (or kill) the Black Prince? Defend the monarchy from the avarice of the venetian merchants? Or running your own merchant vessels out of Kyrenia and Famagusta harbours? Protecting your castle from inevitable sieges, while building up your salt mines or sugar cane plantations? So many cool options, the mind simply boggles!

So, the day after I had the brilliant idea, I was milling around the kitchen while simmering a nice pumpkin curry for lunch when I picked up the January 2010 issue of Game Informer, to discover that someone had done it already. Seriously. There’s a new PSP game called Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines, that takes place on Cyprus. Only problem is that apparently it sucks. Combat sucks, plot development is poor (how?! Its Cyprus for god’s sake! Who were your writers?!?!), you only get to visit Limassol and Larnaca (no Nicosia? or Famagusta? What crack were you smoking and did you bother to do any kind of real location research?) and well, its on the PSP which is ALWAYS a bad idea. Epic fail. I’m totally bummed.