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.

New Business Cards!

Its not a very good picture, but I still wanted to show it off: My new business cards!! My brother-in-law made these for me as a Christmas gift. Figure they’re a nice thing to have, hand out to people who might be interested in having me work for them either on field projects, or as a copyeditor/writer/talking-head for any kind of media production. “Look how professional I am!” Ha!
In the meantime, its the holidays, and I’m making some spare cash between semesters working in that joyful *ahem* profession known as retail. I’ve worked in retail off and on for over 10 years now, and the sad thing is that I’m really good at it. Charming, reasonably attractive, good at sales pitches. And so whenever I return to retail, within a week they have me jacked back up to 40 hours a week. So, I’m off to work a 2pm to 11pm shift at one of Seattle’s busiest shopping centers. My excitement is positively underwhelming, and my feet are already aching just thinking about it. Oh, how I miss being in the field, with the sun beating down on me while I get all dirty and sweaty!!

First Post, New Blog

This is basically a holder post, simply pronouncing, that yes, this is my blog. I’m Eilis Monahan, aka Girl Archaeologist. I’m currently a graduate student at Cornell University, where I study (you guessed it!) archaeology. I’m a field archaeologist, a shovelbum, an excavation junky. I’ve dug in 3 continents, 4 countries, and 5 states. When I’m not digging in the ground, I like playing with technology… geophysical and aerial remote sensing, GIS, and videography. I have a bunch of followers on Twitter (User: GirlArchaeo) who I try to keep informed on happenings in the world of archaeology, interspersed with totally off-topic rants, and pictures of my most recent travels.

BTW, I’m also a video-blogger. Check out my YouTube account if you get the chance.

I’m morally opposed to all of the crap archaeoogy programs on tv. And of course, I believe the solution to this is for someone to give me my own show. I actually do have training in acting for stage and television, modeling, voice, and dance. Reel and headshots available upon request.

’10 M.A. in Archaeology, Cornell University
’01 B.A. in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology, Bryn Mawr College

Excavations and Surveys:
’09 Priniatikos-Pyrgos Project (Crete), Irish Institute for Helladic Studies
’08 Priniatikos-Pyrgos Project (Crete), Irish Institute for Helladic Studies
’08 Kalavasos and Maroni Built Environments Project (Cyprus), Cornell University and Ithaca College
’07 Elaborating Early Neolithic Cyprus, Cornell University and University of Cyprus
’07 Petra Pool and Garden Complex (Jordan), Penn State University
’06 multiple projects in CO, WY, and UT, Metcalf Archaeological Constulants (Eagle, CO) and TRC Mariah (Laramie, WY)
’05 Excavations at Idalion (Cyprus), Lycoming College
’05 multiple projects in Southeastern CT, Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Museum and Research Center Archaeological Crew