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

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.

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