Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Byzantine Archaeology: An Intercollegiate Proposal

During last Spring's Dumbarton Oaks Symposium, I got a chance to meet Margaret Mullett, the new director of Byzantine Studies. At the end of the conference, a small group gathered for lunch and brainstormed on the future of archaeology at Dumbarton Oaks. The conversation has blossomed into a public workshop this weekend (see here). Over the summer, brainstorming and consultation lead to the idea of an undergraduate field school in Byzantine archaeology. In the Fall, I wrote up those thoughts into an email. Now that the conversation on archaeology is formalized, I thought I might post that email. Some of the ideas were also discussed in the 2010 annual meeting of the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology Interest Group of the Archaeological Institute of America and were warmly received. I thank all the people whose brains I picked last summer.

I should also note that during my paper in last May's symposium, I made a comment about Dumbarton Oaks lack of support in surface surveys. My May 21, 2010 follow-up "Dumbarton Oaks and Surface Survey" addressed some criticism. I think it is no coincidence that I have been paired with Sue Alcock, the queen of reflecting on surface survey, in this weekend's conversation.

Email to Margaret Mullett
Sent September 21, 2009

Dear Margaret

It’s been a while since we last communicated. We met last May during the Dumbarton Oaks Conference. Thank you for inviting me to the lunch meeting where we discussed the future of archaeology at Dumbarton Oaks. I’ve been giving your questions a lot of thought in the last four months and I would like to share some of my thoughts and conversations with other young archaeologists.

Some of our conversations have been directed towards engaging undergraduates as much as graduate students in field archaeology. One idea that we have kicked around is organizing a field school, or a summer program similar to DO’s Byzantine Greek seminar. We are envisioning an intercollegiate program with many collaborators and components. This would be different from DO summer grant program. DO’s sponsorship would be primarily institutional and organizational. The field school would hope to bring both students and faculty. It could serve as the network for exploratory research taking place across the collaborating universities and faculty. So, in addition to a number of people gathering at one excavation in the summer, there could be educational coordination back in the United States, including visiting lectures and workshops.

Given the recent landscape of excavation permits, it seems that Turkey has now become as difficult as Greece. Over the summer, I began a series of conversations with a growing community of researchers and institutions in Cyprus. An intercollegiate program has been operating in Cyprus at the Pyla-Koutsopetria Project Archaeological Project (PKAP). The recent hire of Nikolas Bakirtzis at the Cyprus Institute adds an additional component in the landscape, and CAARI is looking forward to any new collaboration. The local archaeological service is extremely keen in having PKAP extend their survey (which was completed this last season) into an excavation. William Caraher (PKAP co-director) and I have worked closely the last four years in the creation of the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology in Greece Interest Group of the AIA. The group meets every year at the AIA meetings and strategizes over future projects, conferences, PR, and advocacy.

An intercollegiate archaeological field school in Cyprus seems like an excellent means to pool resources and create a platform of collaboration. A short excavation season could be supplemented by additional experiences. The team, for example, could be taken to other sites and introduced to other methodologies (archival work, dendrochronology, GIS, etc.) Given the number of collaborators, the project could also extend across countries and continents. After working in Cyprus, for example, I could take the students to Corinth for a week of analyzing the 1930s house excavations, and Ann Marie Yassin could take them to Rome. Although we could set up collaborations between our colleges independently, Dumbarton Oaks would provide the platform for a conversation – maybe even an undergraduate workshop back in the US.

I am not sure if this is an avenue that resonates with your plans for DO. One thing that would be nice to do is organize a workshop in the Spring, where a number of us gather and critically address the future of Byzantine field archaeology. Although it doesn’t have to be a formal conference, we could each present components of our concerns and ideas. Such a brainstorming gathering might lay the foundations for a common project, even if it doesn’t end up in Cyprus.

Thanks for hearing my thoughts. The Medieval and Post-Medieval Group will be meeting at the AIA conference in Anaheim, California, where Sharon and I have organized a panel called “First Out: Late Levels of Early Sites.” The Group also organized a colloquium at the Modern Greek Studies Association Meetings in Vancouver, “City, Village, Monastery: The Archaeology of Modern Greek Landscapes.”


-Kostis Kourelis

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States