Wednesday, July 19, 2017

New web address for blog!

Thanks for following Under the Mediterranean Sun.  I've created a new website to host this blog, my publications, and other material related to the ancient Mediterranean at

Friday, June 23, 2017

JVRP Study Tour 2017

On Thursday evening we wrapped up our five-day study tour of archaeological and cultural sites in northern Israel.  I've been assisting with the tour since 2014, and I think this has been one of our best years.  This year, we added a few stops to our usual itinerary in order to take be able to speak with excavators in the field and other experts two could offer their insight into new archaeological research.   We were able to visit Tel Kabri during the opening week of their excavation, and Eric Cline and Assaf Yassur-Landau were generous enough to give us a tour of the site and discuss some their finds from previous seasons and their goals for 2017.
Assaf Yassur-Landau explains Tel Kabri
 We visited Beit She'an, which is a perennial favorite.  The site features a classic near eastern tel, along with Roman city below.  Most of the visible remains from the Roman site date to between the fourth and sixth centuries, when the city was know as Scythopolis and served as the capital of the Roman province of Palestina Secunda.  Scythopolis is of particular interest to me, as excavators found multiple pilgrimage souvenirs in one of the late antique shops, which suggests a secondary market for pilgrimage goods.  In addition, the city appear in pilgrimage itineraries and there is evidence for a martyrium-style church on the top of the ancient tel, above the remains of a Roman temple.
Tel Beit She'an.  I love this tree.  It reminds me of the U2 song "One Tree Hill

An OU student examines a fallen column on the streets of Roman Scythopolis, likely evidence for the final earthquake to destroy the city in the eighth century.  

Tel Beit She'an from the main Roman street.  
We added the Roman site of Omrit to this year's program, and we were fortunate to have of the excavators give us a tour of the site during the final days of their season.  The site features a multi-phase Roman temple that dates to about the first century CE and was constructed on top of an earlier Hellenistic shrine.  Interestingly, the Christian living at the site in the Byzantine period built over the temple's altar with small church.

Roman Temple at Omrit

We again visited Nimrod's Fortress, a medieval Islamic fortress, which offers fantastic views of the valley below.  Many of the towers remain largely intact and visitors can climb through the ancient gates all the way to the keep.

OU students at Nimrud's Fortress 
Our final stop of the tour was the Roman site of Caesarea.  The remains are immediately impressive, and this year we had the added bonus of a tour by Beverly Goodman, who discussed her research on the destructive effects of tsunamis at Caesarea.

Late Roman/Byzantine mosaics near the harbor at Caesarea

Beverly Goodman explains the appearance of tsunami-caused deposits in strata within the hippodrome at Caesarea
We begin excavation on Sunday.  So, stay tuned for more in the weeks ahead!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The 2017 Study Tour and Legio Excavations

I'll be back in Israel this summer, to help lead students on a study tour of archaeological and modern sites.  We have eight University of Oklahoma students with us this summer, almost as many students from SUNY Brockport, additional students from other schools, and some independent adventurers.

Our tour schedule is available here.  We'll be keeping to the same general itinerary as in previous years, but with some exciting additions.  For example, Beverly Goodman is scheduled to talk to us at Caesarea.  Goodman's work on ancient tsunamis has transformed our understanding of such events in the Mediterranean.  It should be exciting to hear from her about her underwater archaeology work.

For part of the tour, we'll be staying at Kibbutz Mizra, an old favorite from past years, where the residents do some really creative things to re-use old bottle and decorate their gardens.

A re-used bottle windmill at Kibbutz Mizra
Following the tour, we'll take part in the excavations at Legio, the castrum of Rome's Legio VI Ferrata.  More details about Legio and what the excavations hope to accomplish this summer can be found here, and a news report about discoveries at Legio in 2015 can be found here.

I'll be updating the blog with details and photos from the tour, so stay posted!  In the meantime, here's a picture of sifting at sunrise from 2015.
Legio and sunrise on the Jezreel Valley, 2015

Friday, February 24, 2017

A note on objects in Orhan Pamuk's "A Strangeness in my Mind"

My research dealing with objects related to pilgrimage, magic, and late antique piety has shaped how I read fiction.  In my last post, I commented on the role of objects, in particular Frank Frink's creation of American art, in the book and film adaptation of Man in the High Castle.  This week, I finished reading Orhan Pamuk's A Strangeness in My Mind, which follows Mevlut from his Turkish village to Istanbul in a saga stretching from the 1960s into the 2000s.  The tale is told by a cast of first person narrators and occasionally an omniscient third person.  The entries for each narrator are short, typically one to three paragraphs, and occasionally a few pages.  Through their collective eyes, we see the sympathetic protagonist Mevlut arrive in Istanbul as an adolescent, build a squatter's home in Istanbul with his father and other relatives, begin selling yogurt in the day and boza at night, try to finish school and fail, do his army service, court an older sister through letters when he believes he is courting the younger one, elope with the older sister, realize his mistake, marry the older sister anyway, start a family and raise two daughters, sell rice and chicken from a food cart, lose his cart, oversee a kebab restaurant, lose his job when he fails to report an employee scam, open a boza shop with his childhood friend, see the shop closed because of forces beyond his control, work as a parking lot attendant, quit after his wife dies in a home abortion, begin working with the same childhood friend as an electrical inspector, lose that job after the same friend is murdered, marry his childhood friend's widow (who is also the younger sister of his wife whom he thought he was writing letters to years ago), see his daughters married, and see his childhood squatter's home purchased for a large sum of money and turned into a high-rise apartment, in one of which he and his (second) wife will live before relocating to be further from their extended family.  As should be obvious, the story of the humble Mevlut is epic in length and scale.

A constant if Mevlut's life is his love for the streets of Istanbul and his constant desire to walk the streets selling boza, a mildly alcoholic drink make from cereals.  Pamuk's descriptions of the objects associated with Mevlut's making and selling of boza, as well as his food cart, the furnishings of his squatter's house and his later apartments, and other objects and spaces are where the book really shines, and such details unify an intentionally fractured narrative and not-enterirely-honest narrators.  Pamuk has focused on the relationship between memory, narrative, and everyday objects in other works -- most notably Museum of Innocence, which has small museum in Istanbul where objects from the book are displayed, and perhaps my favorite Pamuk work, The New Life, which vividly describes nostalgia for the commercial objects of one's childhood and lost cityscapes.

The pole that Mevlut uses to carry yogurt and boza trays across his back is introduced early in the book, and through all the vicissitudes of Mevlut's life, this object is a constant presence, even as friends, a spouse, his childhood home, and daughters are all lost or change.  His journey with the pole and the objects it carries becomes a meditation for Mevlut until he can finally realize the continuity between his inner life and the streets and public life of the city.

Other, minor objects receive just enough mention to evoke their presence and make their significance to the story felt.  The glasses that are constantly being washed at the boza shop are tangible and their presence -- demanding filling and washing.  Mevlut's food cart provides a livelihood for his family and his family surrounds it with their efforts to make his (not very profitable) enterprise a success.  The cart was an object around which the family gathered, chained safely to a tree at night in the courtyard.  When it is stolen, Mevlut cannot choose another, even when a replacement is offered to him.

I cannot hope to do justice to the range of objects and material spaces that operate in the story, and obviously there are other aspects of the book that are worthy of praise and comment.  However, in this short note, I want to point out that the humble objects associated with Mevlut's work and the way those everyday objects can summon connections to his family and Istanbul that have stuck with me after finishing the book.  I can still see Mevlut's cart chained up to a tree and see the cups that his wife and sister in law washed in the back of the boza shop.  I can still see the swept-dirt floor and table of the house his father built.  Such objects and spaces render sensible the imagined lives and voices of his story.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Power of Objects and Art in "The Man in the High Castle"

So,  I've been thinking of reviving this blog for some time, but I've been struggle with exactly what to write about here.  As some readers may know, my current research relates to Roman and early Christian pilgrimage, and specifically the role of objects and space in the shaping pilgrimage experience. Over the past few years, I've also been reading works of fiction in which objects come to exert powerful forces on the characters and narrative.  I've decided to dedicate at least a few entries to my thoughts on some of these works of fiction, all of which have served to stimulate my thoughts about the power of objects and space in late antique religion.

My first essay is inspired partly  Bill Carahers's blog and his discussion of the role of objects in Philip K. Dick's novels, as well as by the Amazon series based on "Man in the High Castle." After watching the Amazon series, I decided to read Dick's novel of the same name.  The Amazon series diverges from the original book in many ways, which is to be expected, but I found one point of divergence to be particularly enlightening as to the role of art and objects in the book vs. the adaptation, the function of the art that Frank Frink produces.

Viewers of the Amazon series will recall the bendy-heart-shaped necklace that Frink produces for Juiana, which she takes to Rocky Mountains and back to San Francisco before it eventually ends up on the desk of Mr. Tagomi, the Japanese Trade Minister.  Tagomi seems to recognize something of its merits, declaring that the pendant has great "wu"  and meditating on the pendant at his desk.  In the series, the production of new American art appears to be outlawed, and only American art of the past can be bought and sold -- as happens at Mr. Childan's store.  The implication is that Japanese authorities recognize the power of art as a potentially subversive force and have thus banned the creation of new American art.  Frink's creation, and Juliana's and Tagomi's possession of it, is therefore illegal, and perhaps an act of resistance.

The book describes Frink's creation of a similar object, along with others.  Ed McCarthy assists Frink with his creations, and (unlike in the series) Robert Childan agrees to sell their creations at his store on consignment.  As in the series, a Japanese man recognizes the great "wu" of Frink's creations.  However, it is not Tagomi who recognizes it here, but Paul Kasoura, an attorney who (along with his wife) is an aficionado of Americana.  Kasoura's and Childan's relationship is similar in the book and the movie -- with Childan trying to ingratiate himself with a powerful Japanese couple by presenting them with American art.  In the book, however, Childan takes a risk and gives Kasoura one of Fink's consignment pieces as a gift, thinking that perhaps the Japanese collector will like it, even though Childan himself doesn't seem to think much of it.  Childan only sees the new American art's merits when Kasoura perceives it, describing the appearance of new, American, art and marveling at its existence.  Kasoura's pronouncement that new American art exists is met with incredulity (at first) by Childan and by Kasoura's Japanese colleagues.

The impossibility of American art is a revealing divergence between the book and series.  In the series, such art is illegal because Japanese authorities recognize its power.  In the book, it is not that American art is illegal, it is simply inconceivable.  Dick's descriptions of Childan's and Kasoura's dawning recognition of what they are seeing in Frink's work are evocative of how one learns to "see" art and recognize the power of objects to shape and transform.  Soon after this recognition, Childan begins to believe in a new, authentic American material culture and (it seems) in the idea of America as well.

The appearance and recognition of Frink's new American art builds along the same time-line as Juliana's journey towards her apparently anticlimatic meeting with the Man in the High Castle [Hawthorne Abendson], who consults the I Ching to discover that the book (yes, here it is a book, not films) he has written about the Allies winning the war is true -- although this would seem not be so, as Germans and Japanese have divided up much of the world.   As he and Juliana say regarding the Oracle's response:

Raising his head, Hawthorne [the man in the high castle] scrutinized her. He had now an almost savage expression. "It means, does it, that my book is true?"
"Yes," she said.
With anger he said, "Germany and Japan lost the war?"


The book ends rather abruptly after the meeting of Juliana and the Man in the High Castle.  The reader is left to wonder in what way Germany's and Japan's loss is "true."  One possibility is a multi-verse, a idea borne out more fully in the series than the book.  However, the role of Frink's art in the book suggest other possibilities, such as the re-appearance and re-emergence of an authentic America in the midst of occupation.  Frink's art suggests that the story of allied struggle against Japanese imperialism and European Nazism is not over.  Rather, America lives and that, is spite of appearances, Germany and Japan may have already lost the war.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Returning to the Med and Reviving the Blog

As is obvious, this blog has been in hiatus for a couple of years.  However, even though I have not written anything here in a long time, I continue to get comments on the posts.  In fact, when I was introduced as a guest speaker this spring to a group of high school students visiting my home institution, the University of Oklahoma, it was my blog that my introducer had read.  That, of course, got me thinking about the value of blogs and on-line publication for disseminating knowledge and informing a wider public about on-going research and (frankly) what it is professors do.  While a lot of people are familiar with the sorts of classes that humanities and social science professors teach, fewer people know that professors like me are expected to spend about half of their time on research and writing.  For those outside of academia who know that historians and archaeologists are supposed to research and publish, they may not know what that looks like.  And, even if they do know what it looks like, they may work outside of academia and appreciate an informal running commentary on one professor's research dealing with late antique religion, travel, art, and material culture.  In sum, I've decided to revive my blog.

For the next two months, the blog will be dedicated to documenting and commenting upon my teaching, research, and travel in Israel and Italy.  So, first, a brief outline of what those activities will look like.  Once again, I'll be leading OU students to Israel to take part in excavations at Megiddo.  We'll be working with our consortium partners the Jezreel Valley Regional Project and the Megiddo Expedition.  As well as learning a lot of proper archaeological field methods, students can expect to see beautiful sunrises over Mt. Tabor, like the one below.
 The OU students will also take part a the five-day study tour of archaeological sites prior to working at Megiddo.  The goal of the tour is to provide students with an orientation to the landscape and material culture of the site, Megiddo, where they will be excavating.  It is also a lot of fun.  See, don't the students from last year's tour look like they are having fun at Beit Shean? They are even doing that weird "OU" arm thing, like they are at a modern stadium.

The study tour this year will include a couple of new destinations: Huqoq, where Jodi Magness and her team have recently excavated a late antique synagogue with fascinating mosaics, and Beit Shearim, the site of a late antique Jewish necropolis.

In addition to helping lead the study tour and helping to teach the archaeological field school, I'll be doing some of my own research while in Israel.  Specifically, I'll be investigating some of the locations the 4th century Bordeaux Pilgrim and the 6th century Piacenza Pilgrim visited on their respective journeys to the Holy Land.  I'll also be examining some of the late antique pilgrimage souvenirs and souvenir molds in the Israel Museum's collection, where the curator of Byzantine antiquities has generous offered to let me examine objects in storage after I'm done excavating at Megiddo.  I hope that my preliminary research there will provide me with the information I need to plan for a longer visit in the future.
The pilgrimage souvenirs in the Israel museum are similar to the  5th/6th c. flask below from Egypt, depicting St. Menas, and now at the art institute in Chicago.  

Both my study of pilgrimage souvenirs and my examination of pilgrimage destinations are part of my current research project which examines the motivations of Roman and early Christian pilgrims -- specifically their search for empirical proof of the divine.  The study of pilgrimage souvenirs builds on my earlier article published in JLA and available here.  After working in Israel, I'll be traveling to Italy to visiting some stops on the Italian itineraries of the Bordeaux and Piacenza pilgrims.  I'll also be visiting Monte Gargano, an ancient and modern-day pilgrimage destination that unites my current research on pilgrims' motivations and my previous studies of angel veneration.  This is because, at Monte Gargano there is a shrine dedicated to the archangel Michael, which houses a spring that reportedly sprang when he appeared in the early middle ages, as well as Michael's cape, which he reportedly dropped.  The story of the shrine's origin can be found in J.C. Arnold's recent book, found here. The cape is only one of two relics of Michael that I'm aware of.  The other is at Mont S. Michel in Normandy.  I find the cape and the spring very interesting because both are taken to be physical proofs of past angelic epiphanies and demonstrations of continuing divine presence.  More on what I find there, along with photos, later in the summer.

In the meantime, I'll be gearing up for travel and excavation in Israel. So, expect a post soon on another favorite subject of mine: dig boots!

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Acropolis Museum

Now that I'm back in the States and have resumed teaching at the University of Oklahoma, I thought I would write about a few topics that occurred to me over the summer but that I did not have time to write about while abroad.

The first of those topics is the new Acropolis Museum in Athens.  I must admit that I was such a big fan of the old museum -- the one built on the Acropolis itself -- that I was hesitant to even see the new museum.  I mean, the old one was just really cool!  You could walk around the Acropolis, visit the Parthenon and Erechtheion, and then descend into the rock itself.  In the Old Museum, you entered into set of doors that looked like they concealed a space about the size of a large broom closet, but somehow the museum just kept going and going, like some kind magic space in Harry Potter (I'm thinking of Ron's family's tent).  It's hard to complete with that.

However, the new museum is simply amazing.  It would be a mistake to visit Athens and not see it.  I emphasize this point because two American college students (Californians, to be specific) waiting in line in front of me did exactly that, walking out of line when then they found out that the cost of the museum was not included in the ticket to see the Acropolis itself.  Now, they claimed they were tired from a trip to Mykonos, and I can sympathize with the frustration felt at seeing that every site around the Acropolis requires a separate ticket.  The South Slope, for example, should be included with admission to the Acropolis.  I mean, come on!  The South Slope! Also, I'm fairly certain that half the people visiting the South Slope after exiting the Acropolis Metro station think that they are entering the Acropolis.  Now, as some visitors will know, you can buy a pack of tickets for 12 euros, that will allow you to visit the Acropolis and six other sites, such as the South Slope, the Agora, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and others.  The tickets are valid for a week.  If you are going to see more than Acropolis and the Agora, it's worth it.  Also, buy the tickets at the Agora, where there is hardly ever a line, and then go to the Acropolis, where there is always a line.  In the summer, this could save you an hour or more of waiting at the Acropolis.  The ticket pack does not, however, include a ticket to the new Acropolis Museum, as the Californians discovered, which caused them to depart Athens without having seen the real maidens from the Caryatid porch, although they presumably saw real maidens with much less clothing while on Mykonos.

Back to the Museum!  There are a number of critical reviews of the museum available on line and in print.  I'll limit myself to pointing out a few of my favorite things about the new museum and one point of criticism.

Things I loved about the New Acropolis Museum:

1.) Archaeological excavation under the museum.  If you visit the museum in summer, odds are you will have to wait in line for 30 minutes or so.  However, the line forms over a plaza that features clear flooring and open spaces with railings that allow you to see the archaeological excavations under the museum.  According to the museum guidebook, as construction began on the museum, significant archaeological remains, primarily from the late Roman period, but also from earlier periods, were discovered.  Rather than removing the remains, as had been done during construction of the nearby Metro station, architects and archaeologists decided to leave most of them in place and raise the museum above the excavation on pylons, making the excavations visible to visitors and allowing continued investigation of the area.  The result is awesome.  Even if I did't have to wait in line, I would have spent at least 30 minutes looking at the remains visible in the forecourt plaza.  So, if you are waiting in line, be sure to look at late Roman Athens visible trough the floors, and if there is not a line, be sure to check out this part of the museum (also, it's free!).

2.) The building and its spatial arrangement.  The building is beautiful -- lots of filtered natural light and great views of Athens, as plants of critics will have noted.  The arrangement of material really works with the building.  As mentioned above, I really liked descending into  the Old Museum.  However the ascent into the new museum follows the spatial and chronological arrangement of the acropolis, which is very cool.  Here is what I mean.  The ground floor contains material from the slopes of the acropolis, which is what one would see first as one approached the site itself.  The visitor then ascends chronologically from the archaic acropolis to the Parthenon gallery, which presents the Parthenon freize (molds and originals) as it would have run around the outside of the cella of the Parthenon, something the old museum could only do on the inside of a room.  Oh, and the windows and views on the parthenon gallery give stunning views of the acropolis and other parts of Athens.

3.)  The restaurant.  You can eat on a terrace looking in one direction at a beautiful modern museum, in other directions at Plaka, and then directly at the Acropolis and the Parthenon.  The food is very good, intended to give a sampling of different regional Greek cuisines, and it is reasonably priced.  Definitely eat lunch at the restaurant.  More about it here.

4.) The Museum Guide, available in the museum store.  It's got lots of great, high-quality pictures of pretty much everything on display.  It tells the history of the site of the museum, of the acropolis, and contains lengthy descriptions of the most important finds.  It's a steal at 15 euros. 

The one thing I did not like: the no-photographs policy and, more specifically, it's random enforcement.  In some areas of the museum, like display of the original Caryatids, photographs were allowed, in the presence of a docent, in front of sign stating that photographs were prohibited.  And when I say allowed, I mean that visitors were lining up to take their pictures next to the Caryatids.  In other areas, however, where there were no visible signs prohibiting photographs, docents were sternly warning visitors away from photographing the displays.  This made no sense to me.  Especially since, in the latter case, the finds had already been published.  If there is to be a no-photographs policy, that needs to be made clearer and it needs to be consistently enforced.

But, if you are someone who gets miffed at not being able to take photos in the museum, buy the guide, it's beautiful, and the photos are probably better than yours would be.