Thursday, September 27, 2012

1829 Man Camp Navarino

Many people knows of Napoleon's Scientific Expedition to Egypt (where the code for hieroglyphic was cracked). Less known is the Scientific Expedition to the Peloponnese, the Morea Expedition (1829-33). In addition to producing a most spectacular set of engravings and the most detailed map, the Expedition initiated some of the earliest excavations including the discovery of Olympia. I was leafing through the first volume in search for some public domain illustrations for an article I'm trying to finish, and I chanced upon an image of the expedition's lodgings, a veritable man camp from 1829. As readers of this blog know, we've been working on the man camps of the Bekken Oil Fields. My little sketch above shows the lodging arrangements for the French team (botanist, archaeologist, architect, artist, etc.) They pitched tents on the road between Navarino and Modon next to an Ottoman fountain, the necessary source of water. The gentleman sleeping at the opening of the tent is most likely the Expedition's dragoman, the local translator and sentinel. See, Abel Blouet, Expedition scientifique de Moree I (Paris, 1833), p. 8, digitized by the University of Heidelberg here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Quest

Saint Andrews University excavated subterranean passages leading to Chamber V that contained 12 chests. What became The Great Palace Excavations, a landmark of Byzantine archaeology, began as "The Quest," a psychic search to connect with Emperor Justinian via his chambers. Read more here.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mystical Interference


(Part I, here)

Byzantium’s role in the development of the Christian tradition has apportioned to the study of its material culture a magical aura. The pilgrimage to the East has always held a magical, or in the case of Protestantism, a crypto-magical dimension. Under the cloak of archaeological science, Byzantine Studies has served a variety of spiritual agendas. Consider, for instance, one of America’s earliest expedition into Byzantium sponsored by the Metropolitan Museum (1906-36), or more specifically the Episcopalian J. P. Morgan who could bypass the problems of Catholicism (i.e. his low-class Italian and Irish laborers) via Early Christianity. Similarly, expeditions to the East by Francis Kelsey (University of Michigan) were were conditioned by a need to collect magical works of Protestant sensibility (and do some missionary work on the side, particularly in regards to the oppressed Armenians). The Protestant tradition has always incorporated an ethos of missionary activity. In the 1930s, the religious fervor was translated into the secular religion of art.

As is evident from the extensive genre of travel literature to Greece, western travelers saw contemporary Greece as a mystical, oriental, primitive other. Travelers would recount Orthodox religious beliefs as exotic evidence of the population’s contemporary inferiority. The traveling observers who became the first archaeologists, however, were incapable of articulating their own subjectivities and magical assumptions. Protestant travelers, for example, took for granted their missionary engagement and the doctrine of good work. The conversion of Muslims was illegal by Islamic law, a political fact that directed Protestant missionary activities towards the Christian subjects of the Ottoman Empire. The Orthodox populations targeted by missionary work were de facto the living traditions that mitigated between two groups of Christians estranged from each other both by religious traditions and imperialist geopolitics. Early travelers, antiquarians and archaeologists were no less mystical than the post-Byzantine subjects that filtered Byzantine material culture. The Protestant work ethic, for instance, was applied onto the post-Byzantine world and flavored the activities of early archaeological engagement. Some of the earliest scholars and scholarly institutions were unapologetically missionary in character. Through Roberts College in Istanbul to Misses Hill’s School in the Athenian Agora, British and American scholars engaged Byzantine material culture in order to reach personal salvation through doing good works. Protestantism’s theology of salvation through archaeological work was utterly incomprehensible to post-Byzantine subjects.[1] The philergetism of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens was a selfless gift to the Greek other, but also a dress rehearsal for capitalist domination in the spirit that Max Weber had outlined in his treatise on the work ethic.[2] Jack Davis, Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, Betsey Robinson and Niki Sakka and others have begun to enumerate the specifics of the American work ethic in an upcoming volume Hellenism, Philanthropy, or Political Convenience? American Archaeology in Greece [3] Burt Hodge Hill’s obsession with watering the Corinthians, Rodney Young’s hand loss driving an ambulance through he war fronts of Albania, or the archaeological connections with the Red Cross reveal a hidden spiritual agenda. Unlike the overly-performative liturgical magic of the post-Byzantines, however, the spiritual ethos of Protestantism took the form of work. Foreign archaeologists in Greece occasionally criticized the local populations as deficient in work ethic. British and American archaeologists, in particular, embraced the scientific labor of rigorous archaeology with a religious fervor. Keeping immaculate excavation notebooks, recording a multitude of facts, excavating as vigorously as possible and outshining other institutions in scholarly productivity have produced the foundations of an objective science. At the same time, and less obviously articulated, such endeavors fulfilled an irrational metaphysical agenda of personal salvation.

Protestant notions of salvation through work, however, are not the only magical paradigms applied onto the Byzantine archaeological field. The positivist developments in archaeological methods in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were coupled by a growth in spiritualism. A non-sectarian form of spiritualism grew in a variety of fronts, whether from universalist deist movements, like theosophism, or directly from the sciences. Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity that posited the transformation of matter into energy, Carl Jung’s spiritual psychology and other mainstream academicians precipitated a methodology towards material culture that involved the supernatural. The Excavations of the Great Palace in Istanbul serve the best example. The 1920s are a critical decade in the development of scientific method developed by Mortimer Wheeler and espoused by Cambridge archaeologists. It is important to note that Wheeler perfected his stratigraphic method in Segontium (1921-1922), a Roman fort that included Byzantine-period phases.[4] In 1927, the same year that Wheeler publicized his principles in a lecture at the Royal Society of Arts, his colleagues applied stratigraphic methods on the first Byzantine site, the Hippodrome in Istanbul.[5] The project produced the first discussion of “strata,” as well as the first systematic serialization of Byzantine pottery and was followed by an equally objective project the Great Palace Excavations carried out between 1935 and 1938.[6]

Looking at the final publication of the Great Palace excavations, one only sees the positivist discourse. But what lies behind the rational discourse are the invisible metaphysical practices of the project. The Great Palace excavations were executed by the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland and led by three individuals, the manufacturer David Russell who provided financial support, James Houston Baxter who was professor of church history and Tudor Pole who belonged to a merchant family and served at the Middle East in the First World War. What all three had in common was an association with spiritualism. Pole considered himself a psychic and while visiting Istanbul in 1908 had an intense sensation that Justinian’s house was in the vicinity. Soon thereafter, he became engaged in a great “Quest” to discover the precise location of the palace and ultimately excavate it. After the Russian Revolution in 1917, a number of Russian refugees migrated to Scotland. Russell took refugees under his financial control, including Russian monks that had first hand experience with Constantinopolitan manuscripts in Russian monasteries. Among the refugees under Pole’s patronage was Prince Oleg of Saxe-Altenburg whose psychic powers were more intense than his own. In a 1933 letter to Baxter, Pole notes that Prince Oleg and three other refugees will assist them in psychic methods towards a more precise find-spot of the sensations from 1908. Those mystical communications, in effect, identified the subterranean chambers that included twelve chests full of treasures including the sword Emperor Arcadius used as scepter in his coronation and a sapphire described as “The Eye of God.” David Russell had met Pole through spiritualist circles, as president of the Leven Lodge of the Theosophical Society (founded in New York in 1875). In 1906 Pole’s psychic visions had assisted the discovery of a sapphire bowl in Glastonbury and Russell visited Bristol to visit him for the first time. James Baxter, the third partner in the Great Palace excavations joined “the Quest” in 1931. As an expert on ancient Christian texts, he was a popular academic among theosophists. In 1928, Baxter wrote the introduction to a visionary text, The Scripts of Cleophas, derived by Ceraldine Cummins a famous medium.[7]

Byzantium’s proximity to the origins of Christianity brought about an intersection between psychic preoccupations and material manifestations. Constructed in a Northern European Post-Reformation environment, theosophism and psychic spiritualism congealed well in Orthodox soil. Western archaeologists began a committed engagement with spiritually charged material culture at the same time that Greek folklorists began the scientific documentation of vernacular beliefs. Nikolaos Polites, a pioneer in folklore studies, compiled a corpus of popular beliefs assembled from scientific field work. Among the themes that he recorded was the super-natural power of archaeological culture that he cataloged in 1904. Among the specimen, for example, he includes a report documented in the newspaper Astei on August 2, 1893. “On the north wall of the old church of the Virgin, there is a statue that nobody dares to remove. It’s been a few years now since some little Mason tried to remove the sculpture from the wall at night. The next morning he was found dead right below the statue.”[8] Polites the folklorist, thus, provided the scientific evidence for non-scientific behaviors and beliefs and accounted for the survival of magical archaeology evident in the Byzantine tradition.

Another Greek scientist collecting data of the Greek vernacular was Angelos Tanagras, a founder of the Paraphysical Society of Greece. Tanagras went throughout Greece documenting paranormal phenomenon. Scientific method. Collaboration with archaeologists.

Housing the origins of the Christian tradition and located so far in time that it avoids sectarian strife, Byzantine archaeology remains dependent on the patronage of Christians. This is most evident in the financial patronage of fundamentalist Christians in the archaeology of Israel, as well as the tourist dollars on Biblical journeys.

The secularization of the West, many of the supernatural powers that held sway over Christian theology were aestheticized into the realm of art. What Walter Benjamin describes as the aura of the work of art vigorously interjected in the study of Byzantine art. Modern art’s abandonment of figurative representation and realism in the 1910s, lead to the discovery of Byzantium’s abstract visual tradition. Although Romantic theorists had already discovered the creative potential of Byzantium in the nineteenth century (Ruskin, etc.), Byzantine art entered canonical appreciation by a highly reified conception of artistic experience learned at the studios of Henry Matisse, Diego Rivera, Duncan Grant, Gustav Klimt or Konstantin Malevich. The theoretical tracts of Modernism made the visual of Byzantine art central. From Roger Fry’s art theory, to Willhelm Worringer's Empathy, Kandinsky’s Spiritual in Art.

The archaeology of Byzantium in the twentieth century was highly dominated with an aesthetic agenda. Whittemore; the Louvre and Princeton University, Mosaics. Michigan and Mount Sinai exhibition. Finally Getty Sinai and Metropolitan.

[1] See Heather Sharkey's work.

[2] Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905; English trans. New York, 1930). 1920s and economic imperialism exercised in Greece. Much different than the aggressive imperialism that the U.S. exercised after World War II and during the Cold War, or even the economic imperialism of the late twentieth century.

[3] Philhelenism conference, American School of Classical Studies at Athens (2010), see here; Bob Ousterhout and Renata Holod, Achaeologists and Missionaries in Ottoman Lands, conference in Philadelphia (2011), see here.

[4] R. E. M. Wheeler, “The Segontium Excavations 1922,” Archaeologia Cambrensis 77 (1922): 258-326. Segontium’s Period III was contemporary with the reign of Valens; Segontium’s Period IV was medieval (early ninth century).

[5] British Academy et al., Preliminary Report upon The Excavations Carried out in the Hippodrome of Constantinople in 1927 (London and Oxford, 1928); W. Müller-Wiener, Bildlexikon zur Topographie Istanbuls (Tubingen, 1977), 64-71.

[6] D. Talbot Rice, Byzantine Glazed Pottery (Oxford, 1930).

[7] Mark Whitby, “The Great Palace Dig: The Scottish Perspective,” in Through the Looking Glass. Byzantium through British Eyes. Papers from the Twenty-ninth Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, London, March 1995, ed. Robin Cormack and Elizabeth Jeffreys, (Aldershot, 1995), 45-5; Lorn Macintyre, Sir David Russell: A Biography (Edinburgh 1994), 6.

[8] Nikolaos Polites, Παραδόσεις. Μελέται περί του βίου και της γλώσσης του Ελληνικού λαού (Athens, 1904; reprinted 1965) vol. 1, 73, no 138.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Subjective Deviations


Postprocessualism remarks that what we consider as modern archaeology is only one epistemological variety of correlating material culture with meaning. Byzantium was a highly archaeological civilization that relished complex processes of relating past material culture with contemporary stories. So intensive was the exploitation of old buildings, for instance, that the imperial administration needed to legislate against spoliation as early as the 320s. [1] From the age of Constantine, whose own triumphal arch appropriated the monuments of Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus Aurelius, Byzantium developed a systematic identity of archaeological meaning ranging from the archaisms of its academic culture to the cyclical theological time where graves, relics, spaces, and objects contained multiple stratigraphic meanings. Sacred loci involved a process of historical discovery that often took the form of excavation. The archaeological practices of the Byzantines share neither the positivist nor the empiricist principles of modern archaeology, but they were systematic, centralized and shared socially.

“Go excavate in the garden, measure two cubits from the fence along the road that leads to Betherebin, and you will find two coffins, a wooden one enclosed in a lead one. Next to the coffins, you will find a glass vessel full of water, and two medium-size serpents that are tame and perfectly harmless.”[2] Texts containing such archaeological specificity were common in chronicles, saint’s lives and ecclesiastical histories. Recounted in the fourth-century ecclesiastical history of Sozomen, this archaeological text appeared in the dream of the farmer Kalemeros, who was instructed in discovering the relics of the Biblical prophet Zechariah near Eleutheropolis in Palestine. The tenth-century Life of Saint Elias the Cave Dweller describes a methodical survey of an abandoned tower that the wandering saint inhabits. [3] Eleias goal is to exorcise this ancient monument from the pagan spirits of its age. Despite the irrational character of exorcism, the monk follows a systematic process, going around the monument and surveying each one of its four corners.

As William Caraher has shown, Byzantium’s methods of magical archaeology constitute a tradition that continued to be practiced by “scientific” archaeologists in the twentieth century through séances, parapsychology and the surviving cosmologies of Orthodoxy. Although publicly embracing positivist methodologies, modern practitioners continued to employ indigenous archaeology side-by-side modern materialist methods. [4] Rather than dismissing such “premodern” or “indigenous” archaeologies” as ridiculous manifestations of superstitious peasantry, Yannis Hamilakis has made a convincing case that such modes of narrative offer an epistemology of resistance against the colonialist archaeology of the Enlightenment. [5] Most postprocessual theorists of archaeology have based their analyses on the archaeological canon of classical or pre-classical Mediterranean societies rather than the marginal field of Byzantine archaeology.

Christianity’s theology of commemoration guaranteed the continuous usage of many sacred buildings. Unlike the archaeology of antiquity, where the original inhabitants and religious systems have disappeared, the archaeology of Christian periods confronts an interesting dimension of heritage. Sites of sacred significance, from the Holy Sepulchre in Palestine to remote cave chapels in the Balkans, have passed on their meaning through continuous inhabitation and the codification of historical memory. Continuous occupation, however, introduces a reverse problem. In contrast to the maintenance of meaning, the maintenance of place requires the constant manipulation of the archaeological fabric. Even the slightest of renovation, restoration or renewal requires limited destruction. What Romantic historians like John Ruskin relished as an organic accumulation of history, involved topical archaeological practices. Even the simplest of building additions required excavation and the revelation of previously unknown strata. Thus, the afterlife of Byzantine sites engaged in an archaeological process of digging into previous layers and re-presenting them in conspicuous fashion. The prevalence of such situational archaeology in Byzantine monuments has produced some of the most stratified masonries in the history of architecture and has, consequently, given birth to a radical archaeological tradition of intense fragmentation.

The emergence of scientific methods in modern archaeology have encouraged the removal of the viewer’s subjectivity into the process of data collection. Since the eighteenth century, archaeologists have developed objective methods by which the viewer could remove himself or herself from observation and minimize interpretive contamination. Scientific methods of physical analysis, the spatial and temporal objectivity of stratigraphy and the processualist models of social science have certainly produced a scientific discipline of Byzantine archaeology. At the same time, however, more subjective methods of interpretation have been applied on the material record. Byzantium’s eminent visuality, as well as the vibrancy of its living tradition in contemporary subjects have led modern archaeologists into avenues of experimentation. The marginality of Byzantine studies as a discipline, moreover, has encouraged interdisciplinary experimentation and a laxity of rigor that have benefited premodern or postmodern epistemologies. One could thematize at least three modes of interference from positivist objectivity that have been particularly persistent in the methods of Byzantine archaeology a mystical interference.


[1] J. D. Alchermes, "Spolia in Roman Cities of the Late Empire: Legislative Rationales and Architectural Reuse," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 48 (1994) , pp. 167-178.
[2] Life of Elias Spelaiotes 20 (Acta Sanctorum, September 3, pp. 843-888), Dumbarton Oaks Hagiography Database. Washington, D.C.
[3] Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 9.17.2.
[4] W. Caraher, “Dream Archaeology,” University of North Dakota Faculty Lecture Series (Grand Forks, 2010)
[5] Y. Hamilakis, “Decolonizing Greek Archaeology: Indigenous Archaeologies, Modernist Archaeology and the Post-Colonial Critique,” in A Singular Antiquity: Archaeology and Hellenic Identity in Twentieth-Century Greece, ed. D. Damaskos and D. Plantzos (Athens, 2008): 273-284

Friday, September 07, 2012

Iggy's Trailer Park

 All this talk about the North Dakota man camps and readings on trailers, reminded me that back in 2008 I had a most generous invitation to give a lecture at Modern Greek Studies at the University of Michigan. Capitalizing on a paid trip, I made a pilgrimage to Ypsilanti, where Iggy Pop (the godfather of punk) was raised. Although Iggy's family trailer is clearly gone (his biography includes some photos of it).

James Newell Osterberg (Iggy Pop) was born at the town of Ypsilanti in 1947. He grew up at the Coachville trailer park on Carpenter Road ( 42°14'20.06"N, 83°40'40.17"W). Believe it or not, Ypsilanti was named after Demetrios Ypsilantis, the brother of the more famous Alexandros Ypsilantis, both heroes of the Greek War of Independence.  Iggy Pop attended Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor (42°15'46.37"N, 83°45'14.30"W) where he met Ron Asheton, Scott Asheton and Dave Alexander, who formed the Stooges in 1967. The Coachville trailer park was a very desirable address in the 1950s, an ordinary middle-class community of professionals.

Ypsilanti was an industrial hub in the 1940s fueled by the war effort (best known for its Willow Run B-24 bomber factory). Trailer parks became a respectable solution to house the booming labor working in Ypsilanti's factories. And after the war, the bomber factories transitioned into the production of Kaiser-Frazer automobiles (later bought by Chrysler).

For more Punk Archaeology, see MC5 archaeology in Detroit (here)

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Trailer Bibliography

In the 1990 census, seven percent of all Americans lived in mobile homes. Yet architectural historians have disdained the impermanence of this domestic form and have largely left it outside the canon. There is obviously a class bias; the majority of trailer inhabitants are in the lowest economic echelons and trailers offers a most flexible mechanism of economic coping, whether transitionally or permanently. J. B. Jackson's pioneering essay "The Mobile Home" changed the scholarly landscape. Here, I summarize what I have found to be the foundational studies on mobile homes. This is basically the beginnings of my bibliography for the North Dakota Man Camp Project (see Bill Caraher's postings on this project here)

1. J. B. Jackson, the landscape and vernacular historian best known for his The Necessity of Ruins (1980) has written the most influential essay on mobile homes: “The Mobile Home and How It Came to America,” in Discovering the Vernacular Landscape (1984), 91-101 [first published as "The Mobile Home," New Mexico Studies in the Fine Arts, 1982]. Jackson argues that for the entire pre-modern history of architecture two parallel building traditions coincided, one of temporary and permanent architecture. Temporary architecture was built and dismantled within an individual's life time, a tradition that waned in the eighteenth century. Hence, the American trailer is not expedient product of automobiles, but the unique survivor of to a medieval tradition. See Bill's thoughts on this essay here.

2. Two books offer the best historical coverage for campers and trailers. Allan D. Wallis, Wheel Estate: The Rise and Decline of Mobile Homes (1991) is the standard book on camping and campers. John Fraser Hart, Michelle J. Rhodes and John T. Morgan, The Unknown World of the Mobile Home (2002) does not focus on campers on trailer homes. Unlike campers, trailer homes become semi-permanent once they are set into a trailer park. The book contains a number of sociological case studies, including one on Minneapolis (pp. 84-96) and Mercer County, North Dakota (pp. 40-41), based on Caroline S. Tauxe, Farms, Mines, and Main Street: Uneven Development in a Dakota County (1993). It is no surprise that Hart, Rhodes and Morgan dedicate their book to J. B. Jackson.

3. The architectural history of trailers and mobile homes is best covered in Robert Kronenburg, Houses in Motion: The Genesis, History and Development of Portable Building (1995). This well illustrated book includes a fantastic image from the 1967 issue of Trailer Life Magazine (eBay anyone?) showing astronauts transported to their launching pad with an Airstream trailer. I was thrilled to learn about Ypsilanti, Michigan's special trailer history. This is interesting to me for the Punk Archaeology project, after visiting the trailer park in Ypsilanti where Iggy Pop grew up. The bomber factory at Ypsilanti hired 42,000 workers in 1941, more than half of whom lived in trailers. Reading about Iggy Pop, it is clear that there was no social stigma growing up in the trailer parks of Ypsilanti; they were perfectly accepted middle-class communities.

4. There is a growing focus on mobile architecture from the design field. Postmodern life and concerns over sustainability have caused a boom on portable architecture in design studios throughout the world. There are some wonderful and radical work out there, such as by Atelier Bow Wow (thanks to David Salamon for the cue). In order to get a handle on this creative field, Jennifer Siegel's Mobile: The Art of Portable Architecture (2002) and follow-up More Mobile: Portable Architecture for Today (2008)

5. Finally from the architectural field, the work of Charlie Haylie is important, as it focuses on camps as a new and unique space for our century. His two books are Camps: A Guide to 21st Century Space (2009) and Campsite: Architecture of Duration and Place (2008). Haylie teaches architecture at the University of Florida.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States