Major NEH Grant awarded for the Digitization of Excavation Records at Isthmia

It’s not every day that one sees friends and colleagues awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop open-source applications for uploading, organizing, and sharing archaeological data and records. I was delighted last month when I saw the announcement circulate on FB that Dr. Jon Frey of Michigan State University received a Digital Humanities Implementation grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities on the order of $324,586—all to continue to develop and expand a tool called Archaeological Resource Cataloging System, or ARCS for short. These grants are incredibly competitive and award little more than 10% of applications, so congratulations to Dr. Frey and his colleague Ethan Watrall for developing a compelling archaeological tool that has earned the national recognition of a tough group of external reviewers.

I’ve invited Jon to contribute a post about the work of Michigan State University and Ohio State University at Isthmia over the last few years in digital affairs, and map out what he plans to do with the grant he’s been awarded. So, tomorrow’s post will come straight from Jon. In the meantime, here’s the press release from the NEH.

And the press release from Michigan State University:

“The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded nearly $1 million to Michigan State University as part of its Digital Humanities Implementation Grants program.

Marking the largest grant, Jon Frey, assistant professor of art history and visual culture, and Ethan Watrall, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and associate director of MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences, received $324,586 for ARCS: Archaeological Resource Cataloguing System.

It will provide an open-source application in which users can upload, tag, sort and link digitized copies of photos, drawings and archaeological documents. The project builds upon the original case study of Ohio State University’s Isthmia excavations, for which Frey is field coordinator….”

The blog site for MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences at MSU, provides a little more context:

“Originally funded by an NEH Digital Startup Grant and developed as a proof of concept by a small research group in the College of Arts and Letters (http://arcs.cal.msu.edu), ARCS is an open-source application designed to reintroduce many of the advantages of traditional archival research into its new electronic form. By means of an intuitive web-based interface, users can upload, visually scan, keyword, sort, and link together digitized copies of photographs, drawings, and (frequently handwritten) documents that together are the most faithful representation of the archaeological record. What is more, ARCS relies on a crowd-sourced approach to augment the information it contains. This not only provides a ready alternative to archaeological projects that lack a staff of dedicated archivists, but also encourages collaboration among scholars as well as public interest in a project’s ongoing research.

While the start-up phase of the project was very successful, the NEH Digital Implementation Grant will allow the project team to address several key software, design, and sustainability issues, including improved software architecture, interoperability, and community adoption and use.

As part of this new phase of the ARCS project, the project director’s have identified three archaeological projects that have already begun to digitize their primary documents and are interested in using the ARCS software in order to meet their research needs. Implementation at each of these projects will involve a further development of ARCS, which will in turn yield an even more flexible platform that can be customized to match each individual project’s unique system of archaeological documentation. Most importantly, because our implementation of the software involves multiple projects, we will be uniquely suited to develop a middle-ground solution that bridges the gap between the need to preserve the unique character of each project’s evidence and the larger goal of utilizing the evidence from several locations in research at a regional scale.”

Stay tuned for Jon’s fuller presentation of his work with ARCS and outline of where he plans to take it.

Posted in American School Excavations, Digital Corinthia, Isthmia, Periods, Diachronic | Leave a comment

Touring Corinth (virtually) with the Field Trip App

About a month ago, Andrew Reinhard of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens announced a new digital tour of Ancient Corinth that accompanies the publication (in press) of Ancient Corinth: A Guide to the Site and Museum. The book, which will hit the market this fall, marks the first guidebook to Corinth published by the ASCSA in over half a century, and it should offer a total overhaul of the sixth edition of the old guidebook. Here’s a description of the new (physical) guidebook:

“This is the first official guidebook to the site of Ancient Corinth published by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 50 years. Fully updated with the most current information, color photos, maps, and plans, the Corinth Site Guide is an indispensable resource for the casual tourist or professional archaeologist new to the site. The Guide begins with a history of Corinth and its excavations, followed by a tour of the museum. The Guide continues with a route inside the fenced area of the archaeological site from the Temple of Apollo to the Bema to the Peirene Fountain and more. The final section describes the ancient monuments outside the fence: the Odeum, the Theater, and the Asklepieion, and then the various remains of Ancient Corinth located within and outside the ancient Greek walls, including the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore and the Lechaion Basilica. Short bibliographic notes for many entries lead the reader to fuller descriptions of monuments, objects, and concepts. A glossary is also provided. Interspersed between descriptions of 69 monuments are seven Topographical Notes and focus boxes on special topics such as geology, Pausanias, St. Paul, and prehistoric Corinth and the Corinthia.”

What makes this seventh edition of the guidebook particularly interesting is that the ASCSA partnered with Google to make much (all?) of the content of the guide available for free via Google’s Field Trip app (which you can download here for iPhone and here for Android). In fact, given the partnership with Google, the app enhances and even changes the reader’s experience of the tour. As their press release notes, “You will be notified by your device’s GPS when you approach any of over 50 Corinth monuments. View images, descriptions, links to more information on ascsa.net, and related Hesperia articles. Field Trip frees you to tour Ancient Corinth however you like in whatever direction you choose.” In other words, you can jump in and out of tour from anywhere on site and are not constrained by the linear presentation that the physical guidebook assumes. All you need is a phone and connection.

As for the app itself, the iPhone page notes that

“Field Trip runs in the background on your phone. When you get close to something interesting, it will notify you and if you have a headset or bluetooth connected, it can even read the info to you. Field Trip can help you learn about everything from local history to the latest and best places to shop, eat, and have fun. You select the local feeds you like and the information pops up on your phone automatically, as you walk next to those places.”

Field Trip works just as this description suggests. When I downloaded and loaded the app, a map appeared showing my location as a blue dot in Camp Hill, PA, with yellow dots representing the sites in surrounding Harrisburg. There are cards for monuments, churches, synagogues, and sites associated with Harrisburg’s place in the American Revolution, Civil War, City Beautiful, and historic floods, among many others. Clicking on the dots loads cards containing photos and information related to the place, and external links to relevant sites. The app, which is designed especially for, well, “field trips,” spotlights sites in the vicinity of your current location. The designers have not yet made it easy for “virtual” field trips.

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I was curious, though, whether I could access the Corinth tour virtually from my home in south-central Pennsylvania. I discovered that I could, in fact, but not as easily as I would have expected. The app does not include, so far as I can see, an inbuilt search feature that will zip you around the world instantaneously to another place like Ancient Corinth, but it does include a global map, which you can slide to any location in the world by zooming out and then in.

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I was disappointed at first to see no yellow dots over Ancient Corinth and assumed the app didn’t work from remote location, but the cards appear once you zoom into close range.

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Unfortunately, the app is really not designed for this purpose. For example, you can’t save your particular place on the map if you’ve strayed far from home, and if you’re looking at Ancient Corinth from Harrisburg, PA, and accidentally tap on the “Map” or “Nearby” button on the bottom, and (sometimes) the “Back” arrow when looking at a card, it will teleport you back to where you actually are.

These foibles aside, there’s still much to gain from a virtual field trip. There are dozens of cards with up-to-date information and scores of beautiful high-quality color and B&W photos. In their brevity, the cards oversimplify the debates over particular places in the Corinthian landscape, but they do hint at the scholarly controversies. I was glad, for example, to see in the discussion of the fortification walls of Corinth the two hypotheses about the date of the Late Roman wall, the Theodosian and Justinianic. The cards also link to additional information beyond the app, although the external links to bibliography are selective.

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Two other things struck me as I was using this app and thinking ahead about teaching this upcoming year. First, as I work today on my syllabus for a course in Historical Archaeology, I’m considering having my students take the virtual tour of Corinth and see what they can do with both the urban topography of Corinth and the ways that archaeologists construct knowledge in a landscape. The aerial view, in particular, could encourage students to consider the city in terms of topography and natural resources.

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Second, as I’m planning for another field school and museum program with the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project in Cyprus, I’m struck by how easy it could be to create Field Trip cards (or use those that already exist) for the sites of Cyprus, which form our itinerary when we visit the island in late May.

Posted in American School Excavations, Digital Corinthia, Periods, Diachronic, Teaching Corinth, Urban Center | Leave a comment

Zigzags (and Technology) in Early Corinth

Live Science seems to have made something of the most recent Hesperia article on the Panayia Field by Guy Sanders, Sarah James, Ioulia Tzonou-Herbst, and James Herbst. The Hesperia piece from early 2014 offers an important synthetic overview of remains in the Panayia field dating from the Neolithic age to the Hellenistic period excavated in 1995-2007.

The short piece from Live Science, which was published online yesterday, focuses on the “Zigzag Art”  on Geometric vessels from a sarcophagus of Corinth dating to the early 8th century BC. It suggests that the discovery was recent, but those tombs were dug almost a decade ago now. Here’s a bit from the article:

“Archaeologists working at the ancient city of Corinth, Greece, have discovered a tomb dating back around 2,800 years that has pottery decorated with zigzagging designs.

The tomb was built sometime between 800 B.C. and 760 B.C., a time when Corinth was emerging as a major power and Greeks were colonizing the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea.

The tomb itself consists of a shaft and burial pit, the pit having a limestone sarcophagus that is about 5.8 feet (1.76 meters) long, 2.8 feet (0.86 m) wide and 2.1 feet (0.63 m) high. When researchers opened the sarcophagus, they found a single individual had been buried inside, with only fragments of bones surviving…..

[Break to zigzags]

….The vessels were decorated with a variety of designs, including wavy, zigzagging lines and meandering patterns that look like a maze. This style of pottery was popular at the time, and archaeologists often refer to this as Greece’s “Geometric” period.

You can read the rest of the piece here. There are plenty of zigzags in the Hesperia article, of course, but, as the author himself notes, there’s nothing really exceptional about them on Geometric vases. The author missed the real story here, which is about the early technological achievement of the population of Corinth.  These limestone sarcophagi are absolutely massive — they include the longest and largest found to date — and indicate major displays of wealth in burial and status differentiation. Especially important are their early date, which pushes stonecutting back to 950-900 BC, and weight (1.5-2.5 tons), which indicates sophisticated technological capabilities to transfer the monolithic pieces out of the quarry below the Temple of Apollo and lower into a trench cut for burial in the Panayia field. I was at Panayia field when several workmen pried open the lid from one of these sarcophagi. The lid itself is massive.

It’s great to see the Panayia field excavations get some press, and the half dozen photos presented from the excavations are fun. But for the implications of these discoveries, look at the Hesperia article.

Posted in American School Excavations, Archaeological Discoveries, News Stories, Panayia Field, Periods, Archaic, Periods, Geometric | Leave a comment

A New History of Hellenistic Corinth

There was buzz around Corinth this summer about Michael Dixon’s forthcoming book on Hellenistic Corinth. I wasn’t expecting the work to arrive so quickly, but friends have passed on good news of its publication. Here’s the bibliographic reference:

Dixon, Michael D. Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Corinth, 338-196 BC. Routledge Monographs in Classical Studies. New York 2014.

The book description at Routledge as well as sections of the introduction made available at that site show that the book comprises a study of Corinth’s relationship with the Macedonian kings and the Achaian koinon between the late classical period and the settlement following the Second Macedonian War. Here’s the abstract from the publisher’s page.

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Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Corinth, 338-196 B.C. challenges the perception that the Macedonians’ advent and continued presence in Corinth amounted to a loss of significance and autonomy. Immediately after Chaironeia, Philip II and his son Alexander III established close relations with Corinth and certain leading citizens on the basis of goodwill (eunoia). Mutual benefits and respect characterized their discourse throughout the remainder of the early Hellenistic period; this was neither a period of domination or decline, nor one in which the Macedonians deprived Corinthians of their autonomy. Instead, Corinth flourished while the Macedonians possessed the city. It was the site of a vast building program, much of which must be construed as the direct result of Macedonian patronage, evidence suggests strongly that those Corinthians who supported the Macedonians enjoyed great prosperity under them. Corinth’s strategic location made it an integral part of the Macedonians’ strategy to establish and maintain hegemony over the mainland Greek peninsula after Philip II’s victory at Chaironeia. The Macedonian dynasts and kings who later possessed Corinth also valued its strategic position, and they regarded it as an essential component in their efforts to claim legitimacy due to its association with the Argead kings, Philip II and Alexander III the Great, and the League of Corinth they established.

This study explicates the nature of the relationship between Corinthians and Macedonians that developed in the aftermath of Chaironeia, through the defeat at the battle of Kynoskephalai and the declaration of Greek Freedom at Isthmia in 196 B.C. Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Corinth is not simply the history of a single polis; it draws upon the extant literary, epigraphic, prosopographic, topographic, numismatic, architectural, and archaeological evidence to place Corinth within broader Hellenistic world. This volume, the full first treatment of the city in this period, contributes significantly to the growing body of scholarly literature focusing on the Hellenistic world and is a crucial resource for specialists in late Classical and early Hellenistic history.”

And the table of contents:

1. Corinth, The “Gateway of Isthmian Poseidon”

2. Corinth in the Age of Philip II and Alexander III, 338-323 B.C.

3. The “Corinthian Troubles,” Corinth and the Diadochoi, 323-301 B.C.

4. Antigonos Gonatas and Corinth, “The Passion of his Life”

5. Monuments and Cult in Early Hellenistic Corinth

6. The Achaian Interlude, 243-224 B.C. From Liberation to Rebellion

7. The End of Macedonian Corinth

8.Conclusions and Reflections Bibliography

This looks like a book of major importance for understanding the late Classical, Hellenistic, and early Roman interactions in Corinth. I’ve just ordered a copy for my college’s library.

Posted in Corinthian Scholarship (monthly), Destruction of Corinth, Fortifications, Periods, Classical, Periods, Hellenistic, Periods, Roman, Urban Center | Leave a comment

An Update on the Isthmus Project (and a promise to unleash some mid-summer Corinthiaka)

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while know that I have slowly been making progress on a historical study of the Roman Isthmus. Every so often, I rehearse the background of the project and offer an update of how it has developed—mainly to apologize for the sporadic character of posts on this blog.

So, the rehearsal: The project began a little over a decade ago as a dissertation about the late antique landscape that centered on the survey data of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey. In completing that project in 2006, I recognized that understanding the Isthmus in late antiquity demanded a real understanding of the region in earlier Roman times. But pushing into earlier centuries naturally ushered in the complex patterns of continuity and change in earlier periods. Before I knew it, my focused study of a late antique landscape had morphed into a century by century treatment of contingency and connectivity from the archaic age to the end of antiquity. The heart of the study is a fine-grained presentation of the EKAS survey data contextualized in terms of the primary textual sources for the period and synthetic summaries of archaeological investigations. My aim has been to show how connectivity in the landscape related to the broader interactions of the local, regional, and global: Roman imperialism, colonization, the visit of an emperor, Greek elite education, and foreign invasions were some of the short-term contingencies that affected the development of the region in the long term.

The good news (the update) is that I’m in the final stages of finishing this thing. I have a contract, a publisher (Michigan), and a manuscript that is taking its final shape. It’s been reviewed. A couple of times. In fact, I thought I was finished in January, but some late reviews from anonymous reviewers and friends encouraged me to add two more chapters. As I wrap up those final chapters, I’m hopeful that this will be in finished state (again) by the end of the year at the latest. Indeed, I have a strong incentive to finish by summer’s end since LP3 (Little Pettegrew #3) is due to arrive in early September just in time for the new school year. Of course, I’m almost always unrealistic about the time needed to finish projects so we’ll just see how it goes.

The chapter divisions and content as it currently stands—last minute reorganization could shuffle the content of Ch. 2-4:

1. Introduction

2. The Isthmos: conceptions and definitions of the isthmus in the Classical and Hellenistic era

3. The Crossroads: the physical developments of the regional structures from the archaic to Hellenistic periods

4. The Fetter: the Isthmus as it relates to the Roman destruction of Greek Corinth

5. The Portage: the interim period

6. The Bridge: the first century of the Roman colony

7. The Canal: the third quarter of the first century AD

8. The Center: late first to early third century

9. The Countryside: mid-third to late fourth

10. The Fortification: late fourth to early seventh

11. Conclusions

With some optimism about an end in sight, I’ll start releasing some of the Corinthiaka that I’ve been hoarding in recent months. Some of this will be familiar stuff to the Corinthian Studies FB group, so apologies to readers who are seeing old news in these posts.

Posted in About, Archaeological Survey, EKAS (Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey), Periods, Diachronic | Leave a comment

Kalamaki Hill

I had always wanted to climb the ridge above Kalamaki Bay on the mainland (eastern) side of the Corinth Canal. Ridges often reward archaeologically-minded hikers with unexpected rewards,and this one was already associated with ancient remains.

The Kalamaki Ridge is that prominent height that one passes beneath when entering the Peloponnese via the old national road, new highway, or the high-speed train. In the olden days, say the 16th-early 19th century, travelers misidentified the peak as “Mount Oneion,” following a confusing note of the geographer Strabo about the location of that mountain. The good work of topographers and surveyors in the 19th and 20th century set the record straight: Oneion was the spine on the southern side of the Isthmus, not the little hill at Kalamaki Bay.

The Kalamaki ridge is the top peak in the image below.

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Unlike the Monastery of St. Patopios, the ridge above Kalamaki is much less accessible. Although it’s not a rugged path to get there, there is no signage to direct the visitor along the path to the peak. Kaylee, Tim, and I were forced to resort to trial and error (with some in-built GPS in our smart phones) to navigate our way along the correct roads linking the road to Loutraki with the series of spurs trending north-south above the narrow coastal plain.

Our first go was a miss. The ridge we hiked up to was not the right one. But we did stumble upon an impressive rural Classical-era site — a farmstead perhaps? — with amphora fragments, stone vessel rims, and painted Laconian rooftiles that had been turned up by some (presumably clandestine) excavation. Without access to my notes, I’m not sure whether this site was one of the two sites identified as “Kalamaki A and B” by James Wiseman in his important book on Corinthian territory.

Our second hit was more successful. We found the road that followed the spur to the very tip. As we walked down a long gravel road leading us deeper into a remote location and heard voices in the distances, we each imagined that we were going to stumble upon some illicit activity. We were not disappointed to find only a woman and two men gathering firewood for next winter.

The reward for our efforts was a commanding view of the two capes that defined the Isthmus: Akra Sophia (center) and Akra Sousaki (visible in the second picture below).

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Also splendid shots of the narrow strip of coastal plain.

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The Ayios Dimitrios Ridge (left-center foreground), the real Mt. Oneion range (left-center background), and Acrocorinth (right) in the distance. That’s Kaylee Schofield and Tim Hampton in the abandoned remains. I warned them not to stand along the edge which is sheer cliff. The woman told us that the ruined building on the peak marked the remains of a German guard tower from World War II. Given the numerous German remains on the Isthmus, that is certainly possible.

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What is indisputable is the geodetic marker on top. Another photo to prove I was there.

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Another day, another good hike that has helped to visualize how ancient writers defined the landscape known as the Isthmus.

 

 

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From the Monastery of St. Patapios

The sisters of the monastery of St. Patapios may have the best perspective on the entire Corinthia. Perched high on the steep slopes of Mt. Geraneia, they peer down at the Isthmus, ancient Corinth, the Corinthian Gulf, and the broader world they’ve left behind.

I had driven beneath that monastery so many times on trips to and from Perachora that I had long convinced myself that I had visited it. I had to remedy my oversight, and convinced two students to drive up yesterday morning to have a look.

I’ll admit that my motives for visiting were flat and mundane. I wanted some good photographs of the northern side of the Isthmus. I’ve been cooking up some new ideas about how ancient writers defined and perceived this landscape and needed some high-resolution photos of the coastline for support. In that respect, I was not disappointed. With the morning light behind us and the winds clearing the air, the views were just breathtaking.  This photo, taken just inside the entrance to the monastery, shows New Corinth on the left with Acrocorinth behind. I love how this perspective seems to cancel out the significant spatial distance between  the two as though Acro sits immediately above New Corinth.

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The photo below shows the Saronic Gulf on the eastern side of the Isthmus with the Oneion backbone on the right side. Like the vantage point from Acrocorinth, Mt. Oneion, or the mountains of the southern Corinthia, the monastery offers glimpses of Corinth the twin-sea’d.

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This one — to prove that I was there — shows the main road in Loutraki (to the left of my right shoulder) and the entrance to the canal (to the right of my left shoulder) and a great image of the Isthmus.

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Despite these uninspiring reasons for a visit, I was impressed by St. Patapios and the religious community formed in his honor here. The church itself had panel scenes of the life of Christ and a sort of icon hall of fame of famous Corinthian saints (or those connected in some way with Corinth), with New Testament notables like Paul, Apollos, Priscila, Aquila, Phoebe, Lydia, Crispus, and Gaius (and the list goes on), and more recent ascetics like Nektarios. The cavernous shrine to the left of the church — with its web of lanterns dangling from the cave ceiling –housed the relics of Patapios.photo 3

It was a pleasure to talk to the nuns who were clearly proud of their place and graciously welcomed us to visit the church, treated us to coffee, and discussed the iconography. One told us about her conversion at a young age to the ascetic life, her decision to leave Corinth for the monastery, and her younger brother’s decision to go to Mt. Athos. Having lived in the convent for 58 years, she had a unique perspective of the region.

We ended our visit there with a stop in the bookstore, where I purchased an icon and a life of St. Patapios, the late antique ascetic from Egypt who moved to Constantinople, and whose relics were translated to the  mount some 700 meters above Loutraki around the year 1453. I was delighted to open the life and see that his memory is honored on December 8, the feast of the immaculate conception in the Catholic church — and my birthday.

 

 

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