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The Art of Destruction 29 August 2007

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Conferences , 3 comments

Aod - Poster

This is a call for papers – of sorts. With fellow Aarhus PhD students Tim (Flohr Sørensen) and Mads (Dengsø Jessen), I’m organizing a seminar and PhD course entitled “The Art of Destruction: Phenomenology, Fragmentation and Material Culture” in Aarhus, 6-7 December 2007. The seminar is generously funded by the Danish PhD School in Archaeology, which puts some limitations on the format. What this boils down to is that if you’re a PhD student and interested in attending, please contact me or one of the other organizers before applying. Funding for PhD students based in Denmark and Scandinavia has been secured on our end.

The overall scope of the seminar is to investigate and discuss in what way the experience of fragmentation and destruction of material phenomena – e.g. objects, architecture, animals, plants, human beings, and places – influence people’s actions and understanding of the world. We may observe a widespread tendency across many different disciplines to study things in their state of becoming and as products. The aim of the seminar is to supplement this tendency with a perspective from the dissolution of the material world, and thus focus on the role of destruction and fragmentation of material culture. Why are things destroyed and what does fragmentation consist of and mean? How do people understand and react to the desolation and dissolution of places? What does the destruction of human beings do to the understanding of the self, power and identity? Such topics are addressed at the seminar, which encourages interdisciplinary approaches and welcomes examples from the past as well as the present.

Four keynote speakers have been invited to participate in the seminar. We are happy to be able to introduce Professor Ian Armit from the University of Bradford, UK, Reader John Chapman from the University of Durham, UK, Reader Tim Edensor from Manchester Metropolitan University, UK and Post doc Adam Gutteridge from the University of Aarhus, Denmark.

The seminar is open to PhD researchers with an interest in the outline of the seminar. The seminar aims at a truly interdisciplinary mixture of participants, inviting such different disciplines as anthropology, archaeology, art history, geography, history, literature, philosophy, psychology, religious studies and


AIAC and why (printed) conference proceedings should be a thing of the past 14 February 2007

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AIAC has recently issued the call for papers to the 17th International Congress of Classical Archaeology to be held in Rome 22-26 September 2008 with the theme of “Meetings of Culture in the Ancient Mediterranean”. I’m planning to attend as part of a session organized by our late antiquity centre here in Aarhus.

The proceedings from the 2003 conference (in Boston) have also recently appeared: “Common Ground: Archaeology, Art, Science, and the Humanities“. It’s a chunky volume of some 640 pages and comes with a 85 quid price tag. It has taken 3 years for these proceedings to appear, which is – all things considered – not too bad. However, the proceedings are really little more than a glorified abstracts book. The longest papers are 4-5 pages (including illustrations), while the shortest are less than half a page. And indeed the publication would make sense if it had been an abstracts book available at the conference, so colleagues and potential collaborators could see what other archaeologists across the globe were working with. But then again, the volume didn’t appear until 3 years after the conference when most of the projects would already have been completed or published. On top of that, the book comes at a price that will be too hefty for many libraries, especially considering the lack of focus provided by the title. Why this was not published as an online book is beyond me.

Desert Chic in San Diego: A report from the AIA annual meeting 21 January 2007

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Marriott San Diego Marina & Hotel, site of this year’s AIA/APA annual meeting. Photo: TMK, January 2007.

Here is, as promised, a brief report from this year’s AIA/APA annual meeting in San Diego. Or rather, as I (just like last year) didn’t get a chance to attend any of the APA sessions, I can really only discuss the archaeology sessions. The conference hotel was fine and perfectly located, but its associated convention venue came off as a curious mix of Libyan “desert chic” and charmless concrete with a marine decor. However, in spite of this marine theme, the building made no use of its seafront setting, which I thought was just bizarre.

Anyways, I greatly enjoyed the “Aphrodisias” session. It included a very interesting paper by Chris Ratté on the regional survey in the territory of Aphrodisias which has been going for a couple of years now. They have located some 300 sites ranging from prehistory to the Medieval period. A survey project is just what the Aphrodisias team has needed to compliment their major urban finds and it’ll be exciting to follow the project over the next years. Peter De Staebler discussed the extramural cemeteries of Aphrodisias, mainly based on evidence from the many fragments of sarcophagi and other grave monuments that were built into the city walls in c. 350 AD. The decision to re-use the graves for city defences must have been a grave one (no pun intended), and it would be interesting to know how and why it was made. Was it, for example, part of a general scheme to ‘de-paganize’ the city or was it simply a matter of saving the city from the ‘barbarians’? And can it be connected with the contemporary trend of re-use of the previously sacrosanct portraits? Phil Stinson reported on his recent excavations in the South Hall of the Civil Basilica, which is among the three largest preserved basilicas of the Roman empire. It was originally constructed in the late first century AD but has a long building history up till late antiquity. Finds include a 2-3rd century AD male portrait and a topos inscription that could suggest that the South Hall was used for commercial activities. Mark Abbe gave a fascinating talk on his “micro-excavations” of Roman statues from Aphrodisias, revealing traces of their original painting and gilding. What I found most interesting was the evidence for several layers of paint and gold, meaning that the statues over the times were re-painted and re-gilded. Finally, Bradford Kirkegaard discussed the Christianization of Aphrodisias and showed how a festal route was created through the city as part of the celebrations of Christian martyrs.

An abandoned countryside? Corinth and surroundings as seen from Acrocorinth. Photo: TMK, October 2004.

Next, I attended the first AIA session organized by the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology in Greece interest group: “The Abandoned Countryside: (Re)Settlement in the Archaeological Narrative of the Post-Classical Mediterranean“, although I only managed to catch the first three papers. David Pettegrew discussed material from his recent dissertation on survey archaeology and made the point that pottery is evidence of connectivity and not necessarily continuity (or lack thereof), a very good point indeed. Amelia Brown compared the evidence for abandonment and continuity at Corinth and Thessaloniki. She asked an important question: what was the original context of the many late antique statues from Corinth? Unfortunately, this can be a difficult question to answer, as their findspots (usually above the Classical layers) were often poorly reported in the early excavations. However, a lot of work is currently being done to rectify this situation. Effie Athanassopoulos presented a paper in absentia on the interpretation of material from the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project and other survey projects in southern Greece.

I then moved over to the “Roman sculpture” session, where Steven Tuck discussed the statue of Ganymede from Sperlonga (now in the on-site museum, a copy is barely visible above the grotto in the photo to the right). He concluded that the Ganymede was added after the deification of Titus in 81 AD and compared it with the strange image of Titus being carried by an eagle on his arch in Rome. Part of his argument was based on the fact that the statue is of a different material than the rest of the group. This has also always struck me as curious, but could it not have been for visual effect? The statue was, after all, located outside rather than inside the grotto. Ryan Ricciardi made an appraisal of third century AD female imperial portraiture, and concluded that there was a shift towards a more, militarized image emphasizing security and the divinity of the imperial family. Rebecca Reidel presented a paper on the early Christian iconography of the Good Shepherd, arguing that the Shepherd wasn’t always a simple symbol for Christ. Lori-Ann Touchette looked at artists’ signatures on Roman statues. These are mostly in Greek, although usually in Latin if they’re on a portrait of Roman. She argued that this is evidence for the Roman taste for all things Greek and their belief that the origins of art were to be found in Greece (cf. Pliny).

I wrote in an earlier post that I would only to do one AIA post this year, but this is getting too long. Part 2 will be up soon.

Off to San Diego 3 January 2007

Posted by Troels in : Archaeology,Conferences , 1 comment so far

When you read this, I’ll be on my way to San Diego for the 108th Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. It promises to be a very well attended meeting this year. Could the fact that it’s held in southern California play a part in this? Surely, I won’t comment on that. But there are also many interesting sessions this year. Here are those that I look particularly forward to and will try to attend:

1A. Aphrodisias
1D. Material Culture in Motion: Archaeological Approaches to Object Biographies
2B. Roman Sculpture
2H. The Abandoned Countryside: (Re)Settlement in the Archaeological Narrative of the Post-Classical Mediterranean
3H. Exploring the Identity of the Roman East
4A. Roman Provincial Encounters
5A. People in Prehistory: Agency, Identity, and the Individual in the Prehistoric Aegean
5E. Recent Investigations in Cilicia and the North Orontes Valley, Southeastern Turkey
5I. The Hellenic Brothel as Space, Place, and Idea
6G. Space and Memorialization in the Greek City
6H. Hellenistic and Roman Near East

You can also find me in session 3F “Late Antiquity and Beyond” giving a paper on the Christian destruction of pagan images in late antiquity. I can’t promise as extensive coverage as last year in Montreal though. But there’ll probably be a large summarizing post at some point. Autoposts will appear over the next couple of days with newsbits and varia.

AIA Montreal Day Three: A Little Bit of Everything 8 January 2006

Posted by Troels in : Conferences , 2 comments

On this last day of the AIA annual meeting, I frequently commuted between sessions. Consequently, I have organized today’s notes by session and not by the order that they appeared. I begun the day at the “Roman Houses and Villas”, another session chaired by Christopher Parslow (Wesleyan). Five out of seven papers were on villas, and although this was an open session and therefore not the fault of the organizers, it would have been nice to see some more variety. I saw three of the papers.

The Visible Villa: The Effect of Views and Visibility on Choosing a Location for a Villa
Eeva-Maria Viitanen, University of Helsinki
Eppu, another Nemi veteran, presented a GIS-based study of the importance of the visilbility of Roman villas in Tusculum and Tibur, just outside Rome. Villa owners favoured slopes and hills where their country homes would be seen by bypassers, and in some cases even all the way from Rome. This fits well with the requirements for a luxury domus famously outlined by Cicero, when he was real estate-shopping on the Palatine.

Oplontis cryptoporticus
The Cryptoporticus of the Oplontis Villa with the famous ‘zebra stripe’ decoration. Photo: TMK, May 2005.

(Crypto)Porticus in Roman Luxury Villas: Architecture and Cultural Implications
Mantha Zarmakoupi, University of Oxford
This paper dealt with the function of the villa cryptoporticus. The author suggested that there were two different routes through the Oplontis villa, one for friends and family, and one for business visitors, that led through the cryptoporticus. The cryptoporticus, introduced in the 1st century BCE, should not be seen as a service area, but rather as an indoor leisure hall for reading and walking.


AIA Montreal Day Two: From the Tiber to the Agora 7 January 2006

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I started the second day at the “Water as a Cultural Force” session, chaired by Rabun Taylor (Harvard). It was something of a mixed bag, but quite enjoyable. Like yesterday, I present a brief overview of the papers that I saw today:

The Palais des Congrés, Montréal – site of the AIA annual meeting 2006. Photo: TMK, January 2006.

Floods and the Distribution of Various Types of Buildings in Ancient Rome
Gregory S. Aldrete, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
This paper used topographical maps and GIS to simulate the effects of floods in Rome. Each generation would have experienced at least a couple of major floods, and a 15 m rise in the water level would have affected most parts of the city, including the Forum. The Forum Boarium, right by the Tiber, was one of the most frequently flooded areas of Rome. While some of the city’s most important monuments were in the danger zone, the only types of building that seems to have been deliberately kept away from the danger of flooding (at least from the 2nd century CE) were the imperial baths, all built on slopes or higher ground, and the luxury houses of the Roman elite on the hilltops.


AIA Montreal Day One: Sculpture and Slavery 6 January 2006

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I arrived early at the Palais des Congrés, but registration turned out to be a breeze. The morning was spent almost entirely in the (Re)Considering Roman Sculpture session, chaired by Elaine Gazda (Michigan). Due to a no-show and a cancellation, the session was unfortunately down to five papers. During the long break I had hoped to catch a couple of papers in another session, but their programme had changed as well and I only made it for part of the concluding discussion. Here’s an overview of the papers that I did see in their entirety today, along with a few comments:

Recarving the Past in Roman Athens
Celina L. Gray, McMaster University
This paper discussed the reuse of funerary monuments in Roman-period Athens. The author focused on the columnar grave stelai, that came into fashion in the Hellenistic period after the anti-luxury decree (see photo below). They have received little scholarly attention, so this was a refreshing paper. While Classical funerary stelai were reused for their iconography, the columnar grave markers were clearly chosen for their marble value. She presented some excellent examples of how the markers had been recarved for new owners. The big question is how this reuse worked in terms of practical details? It is difficult, but not impossible, to imagine that old graves were stripped of their sculptural furnishing for re-use.

Columnar grave markers in the Kerameikos, Athens. Photo: TMK, March 2003.


AIA Montreal Day Zero: Arrival 5 January 2006

Posted by Troels in : Conferences , 1 comment so far

Back in snowcovered, electioneering Canada. My connecting flight from Philadelphia to Montreal took us directly over a very wintery-looking Manhattan. However, just north of New York the clouds entirely covered the landscapes below. On arrival, everything was white and the snow was still falling, when I was lining up for the very long taxi queue at Trudeau Airport. I had some some fun though trying to spot Classicists arriving for the AIA/APA meeting. I opted for a non-conference hotel, just down the road from the Palais des Congrès, in cozy Vieux-Montréal. I’m currently taking advantage of the free wifi in the lobby. The room also comes with a copy of “The Confessions of Alexander the Great” by a certain Ashkan Karbasfrooshan – rather random!

Sessions and colloquia I look forward to include but are certainly not limited to:
(Re)Considering Roman Sculpture
Recovering Roman Slavery: New Approaches (See also my previous post on Roman slavery).
Politics and Propaganda in the Roman Provinces.
When Past and Present Collide: The Ethics of Archaeological Stewardship – workshop with Lynn Meskell, Ian Hodder and Alison Wylie among the panelists.

These are more or less the only sessions I will try to catch the entirety of. Otherwise, conference commuting will be in full effect.

Sheffield TAG and a Sense of Christmas 19 November 2005

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The timetables and abstracts for the sessions at this year’s TAG are now available online. There are several papers on sensory and phenomenological themes, so as I was doing my Saturday shopping this morning at “The Real Canadian Superstore“, I could not help to be overwhelmed by the international smells and sounds of Christmas in the age of late capitalism.

The Archaeology of Late Antique Paganism 28 October 2005

Posted by Troels in : Conferences,Quick Notes , add a comment

I haven’t been keeping up with entries lately. I plan to return to more regular updates next week.

In the meantime, here’s news about an interesting forthcoming conference – although this one I unfortunately won’t be able to attend.

KULeuven, Belgium, 25th-26th November 2005

Full programme below the curtain.