Age Gracefully and Stay Out of the Way

I’m not a huge “Day of Archaeology” guy. I guess I should be, but most of my days as an archaeologist involve not quite enough archaeology for me to talk openly about my work as an archaeologist per se. But, whatever, there seems to be some excitement about the Day of Archaeology this year, so I’ll post something here and shoot it out over the Twitters with the appropriate hashtags.

First, I did do archaeology today! I had a long chat with my collaborators, David Pettegrew and Scott Moore, about the final publication of our excavations at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. In particular, we discussed how we’ll publish material from an earlier excavation at the site and integrate it into our work. The conversation was mostly organizational. What numbers do we give artifacts found in these earlier excavations and how will these numbers coincide with the numbers that we assigned to artifacts and strata from our work? We also worked to track down some catalogue entries and readings of context pottery to make sure that we have as complete a data set in font of us before we start a week of writing on Monday.

For me, this speaks to what archaeology is about, especially as I enter the long “end game” of my career. I have been working in the field, every summer, and periodically during the rest of the year, for almost 20 years. I have a lifetime of archaeological material to publish scattered about in my head, on hard drives, and in storeroom and dusty sites. I’m sure that I’ll do more field work at some point, but as I look ahead to my late-40s I also realize that my body, my mind, and my career probably don’t need it. In some ways, the organizing and publishing of material from the field is both typical of this day of archaeology and perhaps most of my archaeological days for the rest of my life and career.

As I dragged my ragged and broken body and addled mind through hill and valley over the last few years, I was humbled and exhilarated to work with a group of energetic and smart graduate students and colleagues. These friends have shown me, if nothing else, that archaeologists must find ways to age gracefully, put aside their trowels and hiking boots, and let the next generation of scholars take on the challenges of the field and the opportunities of new finds, new sites, and new interpretations. My job, as a greying and increasingly broken-down Associate Professor, involves both supporting their work and as frequently, staying out of their way!

To support the next generation of scholars, I’ll keep working to create a new model to publish archaeological interpretation and analysis with my Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. In fact, just this morning, I tweaked away on the layout of a new book on digital tools and practices in Mediterranean archaeology. I’ll also work with more established presses to produce dynamic, linked archaeological volumes. This morning, I send a draft of a new digital edition of our volume on the survey at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. This digital edition includes links to our data in Open Context and will hopefully serves as a model for hybrid, paper and digital publications.

I’m also spending time reading books like Leonard Cassuto’s The Graduate School Mess (2015)in my capacity as director of graduate studies in the Department of History at the University of North Dakota. While I don’t agree with Cassuto’s premise or his solutions (to what I see as mainly non-problems), his book has kept me thinking about how we as faculty can continue to produce fertile ground for the next generation of historians and archaeologists. While getting out of their way is relatively easy, leaving the ground better for them looks to be more difficult as funding, educational, and cultural priorities change in the 21st century.

Finally, I did what I do most mornings. I wrote an entry on my long-running blog, The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World. While ye olde blogge is probably well past it’s heyday, it still attracts some reader and waves the flag for my research and interests in the mob-scene that is the internet. It provides a platform for my ideas, promotes the work of my colleagues in the field, and helps me maintain a certain amount of discipline each day in my writing (and, for whatever it is worth) my thinking.

New Tunes, Old World, and an Old Church

As an archaeologist in a History department, some days are more archaeological than others. This is doubly true this time of year when I am mostly glued to my computer writing rather than at my field sites in Cyprus or Greece. Mediterranean archaeology has always encouraged a kind of hybridity of purpose. Distance, permit restriction, funding, and schedules tend to limit the dirt under the fingernails” archaeology to less than a third of the year. The rest of the time, we spend whacking away at our computers in far from the exotic Mediterranean light.

So my day starts in a turn of the century house in Grand Forks, North Dakota. By 7:30 I’m sitting at my office (that is roughly the size of a jai-lai court) in a 1950s era building on the campus of the University of North Dakota.  A thermos cup of coffee is at my right hand and  Cricinfo is on my Mac’s second monitor clicking over the (somewhat shocking) first day of the Second England-India Test (85/5!?!?, but boy the tail does wag!!!).

My own Friday blog post creeps from my fingers as my brain engages the task at hand. By 8:30, it’s posted (here) and I have opened an increasingly overdue encyclopedia entry on Early Christian Baptisteries that demands editing. I can imagine Ravenna, Corinth, and the Syrian desert, but mostly I struggle with words and sentences more than pendentives, aedicula, or frescos. Interpol’s brilliant first album, Turn on the Bright Lights, streams from Spotify to my MacBook Pro, to my miniwatt N3 amplifier, to my Energy speakers which push their somber rhythms into the back of my head.

While it is simply to stream music from around the world to my office, it is a bit more involved to get research material to my little corner of the academic world. So I spend 30 minutes or so pushing interlibrary loan requests into the system so I can access scholarly articles with the same ease as my music. The topic of the day is Byzantine Archaeology, Time, and the Post-Colonial Critique. Sounds like the title of an article or an obscure post-punk album.

The day turns by 10 am. A colleague has gotten his hands on the keys to a turn of the century church which is owned by the city and will soon become the possession of our local land-trust. It’s fate is unclear despite it being a contributing monument to a local historic district.  The church was built around 1905 to house Trinity Lutheran, and represents one of the few remaining wood-framed “neighborhood” churches built on urban  lots around the turn of the century. It’s been empty, perhaps, since 1997, and apparently long since “scraped” of most its most interesting effects. Rumor has it, though, that squatters have lived in the building lately. I’m interested in squatting, so I am excited to check out what has remained from these squatters and what if anything can be done to document this church.

After a quick visit to the church, it was clear that the evidence for squatters was pretty minimal. The church itself was pretty empty. Evidence for a fire in the church in 1944 remained visible in parts of the roof above the present drop ceiling. In the basement the foundation looked pretty sound with sections of the characteristic buff to yellow North Dakota brick visible. The most interesting feature below the church was the concrete large baptismal font (we think) dating to the church’s long life as the home to a Church of God congregation.

The fate of the building remains unclear, but my visit has helped me understand the value and liabilities of this property. When the time for a community conversation comes, I feel like I can contribute a more informed voice the conversation.

Returning back to the office, I discussed with a local civic leader the potential for this building. We discuss its place in the local landscape, its potential as a anchor to the neighborhood, and the possibility that it is beyond repair.

A small stack of interlibrary loan articles await and some organizing for weekend work will usher my Friday afternoon into the weekend. A nice dinner with the wife will round out my day of archaeology. Undoubtedly we’ll talk about old churches will sitting in an restaurant in an old warehouse.