Mapping inscriptions at the Asklepieion with help from Zürich

Good news! Since December of 2021 we are working together with the team from the Ancient History section of the Historisches Seminar at the University of Zürich. Under the direction of Prof. Dr. Andreas Victor Walser, and with Dr Ursula Kunnert, this team is tracking the inscriptions of Pergamon in the context of their project ‘Inschriften von Pergamon’. Their project aims to re-examine the inscriptions of Pergamon published by Max Fränkel in 1890 and 1895 (Alterümer von Pergamon VIII. 1-2), but also those from the Asklepieion that were published by Christian Habicht in 1969 (Alterümer von Pergamon VIII. 3). The project also compiles ‘new’ inscriptions that have only provisionally been published, or not yet at all. This exciting project will result in a new publication within the series Alterümer von Pergamon that promises to deliver many new insights that will surely lead us to rethink some of our interpretations of the Asklepieion as well as Pergamon in general.

The depot south of the Asklepieion, where several of the inscriptions are stored

Part of the project included a careful inventory of the current location of the inscriptions, and both Prof. Walser and Dr Kunnert have kindly and generously shared the results of many long hours in the sun and careful location and identification of the inscriptions, across the landscape of ancient Pergamon and modern Bergama.

We are grateful to be able to include this level of detail in our deep map of the Asklepieion. This new modern layer of location has sparked some discussion on the mobility of monuments, both in ancient times, as some of extant inscriptions seem to have been moved to the North stoa of the imperial shrine, which seems to have functioned as a Hall of Fame, as well as in modern times, as some inscriptions are placed more or less near their original locations, others are kept farther away – some on site, some in the museum. We found ourselves asking who (across the ages) decides which inscriptions are seen, which are stored away?

These are important questions in considering the narrative function of a deep map!

Read more about the Zürich project here:
https://www.hist.uzh.ch/de/fachbereiche/altegeschichte/lehrstuehle/walser/forschung/pergamon.html

Deep-mapping in Mainz and Uppsala – November 2021 and May 2022

The presentations of our approach have led to updated versions of our story map, in which we discuss our approach towards deep-mapping, and how we apply that to the sanctuary of Asklepios in Pergamon.

On 29 November 2021, we were invited by Dr Matthias Grawehr to present the project at the Klassische Archäologie / Alte Geschichte / Karpeia of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. This gave Alexandra the opportunity to go into more detail on the data that we are incorporating as shapefiles in GIS. She created a separate story map Deep-mapping Different Data Sources that addresses her approach and types of data.

The Archaeology and Ancient History department of the University of Uppsala has also been very supportive, and during a short fellowship in the spring we were able to present the project at the Wednesday Seminar via the story map Deep-mapping the Asklepieion of Pergamon.

So the story map has been evolving since we first used it over a year ago, in 2021, until its present state. We see it as an ideal medium for online audiences, and will continue to update it. Story maps are just that, they tell stories through maps, but also through a mixture of media, with the text oftentimes in the supportive role, rather than the other way around.

But fortunately talks and lectures are increasingly in person these days, and for that we feel it more effective to focus on the images and functionality, rather than longish narratives that not everyone can read – at the end we send the audience to the story map through a link that they can access in their own time.


Tracing walls at the Asklepieion – September 2021

From 25 September to 3 October 2021 I was able to go on a research trip to Bergama in order to examine the Asklepieion in closer detail. The aim of this visit was to identify on the ground the numerous walls and structures that predate the grand imperial shrine of the second century AD (Shown here below, left). Some 18 constructions phases (Bauphasen) were identified in Altertümer von Pergamon XI.1, presented on Table 69 (below, right).

This is the plan that is generally used in discussions of the Hellenistic sanctuary

mapping the walls

In practice, I both superimposed the plan on a satellite image, to roughly detect what could still be seen of the walls of the structures, since much of the surface area of the sanctuary is now covered by soil.

This helped in identifying the visible walls on the spot and connecting this to the different periods of the sanctuary. I also used photos from the excavation publications in Altertümer, which also gave an indication of the erosion that has taken place in the years since excavation – good thing that most of the walls are now covered up again!

Identification of walls and structures in the building phases

More impressions of the walls of the Asklepieion…

The result is a new, annotated working version of Taf. 69 from AvP XI.1, making it much easier for me to visualize the extent of the sanctuary in its landscape in the earlier phases and to understand its development.

AvP XI.1 Taf. 69 – working version

This sheet, and the photos, have helped us untangle the architectural complex, and its intricate chronologies. The excavators were primarily focused on the building history and its sequences, and so their understanding of the architectural development is literally the backbone of the chronology of the Asklepieion, at least in the temenos area, as almost all of the finds from the excavations were linked to the building phases of the walls that they were associated with, even though some individually date to an earlier or later period in time. This makes it all the more important to understand the temporal sequence of these construction phases.

Spreadsheet listing the structures and the building phases and periods in which they were extant.

Based on this list, we can now get an indication of the periodization of the many structures in our GIS deep-map model of the shrine. This will make it much easier to run cross-analyses over time and space. Now we can decide whether we want to view the different periods of the shrine all together (below, left), or focus on a one or two phases (below, right).

The background image in these two figures is based on the Pergamon Digital Map shapefile of the Asklepieion, generously made available by the DAI on the TransPergMikro website.


This trip was made possible through additional support from the German Archaeological Institute (DAI, Abt. Istanbul) and the Transformation of the Pergamon Micro-region Project (TransPergMikro), funded by the DFG (German Research Council), and the DFG-funded Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies (KFG) “Religion and Urbanity: Reciprocal Formations” (FOR 2779) at the Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies of the University of Erfurt, Germany.

Deep-mapping the Asklepieion of Pergamon

The current project focuses on the Asklepieion of Pergamon, and mapping the manifold stories through its sacred space. The Asklepieion is perhaps the richest of the three case studies in variety of data, and provides a good way to explore the different possibilities of creating a deep-map.

Methodology

Deep-mapping can take a variety of forms, but if you really want to apply spatial analyses then a good start is with GIS – despite the drawbacks, misleading representations, or even methodological hypocrisy of using a metrical tool to analyze phenomenological perceptions. Nonetheless, GIS has the capacity to act as a reservoir for a wide variety of data.

Assimilating data in GIS

In deep-mapping the Asklepieion of Pergamon, the focus is on how narratives interact with space but also each other, to produce several layers of meaning. This means collecting a variety of spatial data, starting with the topography of the site, but also the inscriptions, and the relevant data in Hieroi Logoi of Aelius Aristides (see next section). This approach, focused on spatial narratives, complements the current archaeological and geophysical fieldwork now being conducted in the area, directed by Ulrich Mania in the context of the DAI Project ‘Transformation of the Pergamon Micro-region’. See also Pirson, F. et al. (2021). Pergamon – Das neue Forschungsprogramm und die Arbeiten in der Kampagne 2019. Archäologischer Anzeiger, 2020/2, 1-245.

With the help of Pim Schievink and Alexandra Katevaini, I began collecting data pertaining to the Asklepieion of Pergamon. Sources are principally the Altertümer von Pergamon XI. Vols 1-5 (1968-2011) Ziegehaus, de Luca, Hoffmann) from the 1958-1969 excavations.

Facilities for reproducing the large plans from the AvP for use in GIS were pretty limited in 2020, but the Geodienst was nonetheless able to georeference the scans, creases and all, to indicate the location of the different structures.

Georeferenced plan of the Asklepieion, showing the outlines of the plan (derived from AvP XI) of the site superimposed over a satellite image

The next step is collecting the data in spreadsheets – I started with the inscriptions from the Asklepieion (compiled by Pim Schievink, from Altertümer von Pergamon VIII. Teil 3 (Habicht 1969)) and the relevant textual passages in Aelius Aristides’ Hieroi Logoi – with these I am also looking beyond the Asklepieion for spatial references.

These are then transformed to shapefiles, or layers of information that are imported into a GIS environment – here we use ESRI ArcGIS. The points from Aelius Aristides were converted by the Geodienst team, while Alexandra Katevaini connected the inscriptions to polygons defined based on the map.

This process is described in more detail, with examples, in a story map, created with ArcGIS online: Deep-mapping the Asklepieion of Pergamon

We recently presented this at the Hieron Spring 2021 workshop ‘Asking About Asklepios’ (06.05.2021), a Brown Bag session of the Groningen Ancient History Research Collective (19.05.2021) and the Athens Greek Religion Seminar at Swedish Institute at Athens (25.05.2021) – see News and Events.

A shout out to all those who provided comments and suggestions! Your feedback will help move this project forward in significant ways!


Place-making in absentia?

Usually crammed with bicycles and students hanging out or darting across to the library, the Academieplein in the Broerstraat in front of the signature-building of the University of Groningen has never looked so barren as it does now – not even in summer. Although I will admit to enjoying the quiet, it is at the same time a depressing sight. But is it the vacancy, or the building itself, that seems out of place?

Academieplein, Groningen – Wednesday 15 April, 2020, 10:00 am

What is it about a place that gives meaning to a crowd or public gathering? The current modus operandi for non-essentials such as myself of working-at-home (or ‘shelter-in-place’) provides a unique chance to observe the impact of physical interaction and group dynamics through their absence, as we shift our social spheres to virtual reality.

Ancient History Research Collective in Groningen – holding its first online brown-bag meeting

Of course, we do everything we can under the circumstances to stay connected, and might even have more contact hours than under regular working conditions. What we do have at least is a new perspective of each other in our domestic habitats, and our own self-created places at home. Yet the move of meetings to online formats also demonstrates what we lose when we are no longer within each others’ breathing spaces. The knock on the door, the informal quip in passing, the short chats at the coffee machines, the rolled eyes, all of which are simple mechanisms of building ties. Even the basic impossibility of making true eye-contact (rather than staring at your webcam, or staring at a screen of someone staring at their webcam, or looking down because they are staring at you) means we miss out on so many subtle forms of communication.

Eye contact can generate the kind of mutual connection that is so vital to human interaction (Schilbach 2015). In his volume on rational rituals, Michael Suk-Young Chwe (2001) considers this to be essential to coordinate action, instantaneously generating common knowledge through the reciprocal sense of ‘I know that you know that I know that you know that …’. Spaces of ‘inward-facing circles’, e.g. theaters, stadia, facilitate this mutual gazing. But there is more to human contact than the gaze. What would Erving Goffman have to say, with his ‘interaction rituals’ (1967), or Randall Collins, who developed this into ‘interaction ritual chains’ (2004), have to say about our new disembodied world? These theories, among others, stress the importance of presence as we physically respond, even subliminally mimic, each other’s social behavior in ritual (i.e. habitual or customary) settings.

So what happens to our rituals when they are ‘out of place’? Physical religious gatherings these days are taboo, how does that change the rituals? We know that ritual is affected and (partly) determined by their spaces, but we also know of the impact of ritual on space, the deep recurring patterns of habit and memory etched into the surfaces of cathedrals, but also market squares, supermarkets, and even the steps of the Academie Building in Groningen. So the larger question is, what happens to our places when they are ‘out of ritual’? We perform ‘place-making’ processes by making them part of our lives, whether consciously, e.g. ‘my office’, ‘my church’, ‘my city’, or subconsciously, e.g. by taking the same route, parking your bike or your car in ‘your spot’, internalizing certain landmarks, however accidental. We mark these places through the rhythm of the day and they become part of our lives. How will this change once we are released back into them?


Some literature

  • Chwe, M.S.-Y. (2001) Rational ritual. Culture, coordination, and common knowledge, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Collins, R. (2004) Interaction ritual chains, Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Goffman, E. (1967) Interaction ritual. Essays on face-to-face behavior, New York: Doubleday.
  • Schilbach, L. (2015) ‘Eye to eye, face to face and brain to brain: novel approaches to study the behavioral dynamics and neural mechanisms of social interactions’, Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences 3, 130-135.

Support grant from the Geodienst

I am thrilled to announce that this project has been selected as a winner for the highly competitive Spatial Data Call put out by the Geodienst from the University of Groningen. Their expertise in working with geographical data will give this project a significant boost and the support will be used in a pilot project:

Aelius Aristides – spatial narratives of the Asklepieion in Pergamon

Aelius Aristides, was a famous rhetorician and presumed hypochondriac in the second century AD who frequented the healing shrine of Asklepios near Pergamon, writing about his adventures in his Hieroi Logoi (The Sacred Tales). His work uniquely provides insights into the ‘total experience’ of a sanctuary, its rituals and divine encounters, and it includes several spatial references to places concerning the Asklepieion as well. The Hieroi Logoi is an invaluable source for positioning the sanctuary in its physical and social context. A challenge will be to geo-reference literary sources within a larger GIS environment, and so this pilot will also serve that purpose through a selection of relevant passages.

The Asklepieion near Pergamon (photo: CGW 2019)

After this pilot, other data sets pertaining to the Asklepieion will be integrated: architecture, inscriptions including multivocal testimonies of healing (dedications of gratitude) and even ‘graffiti’ where possible. The sanctuary is moreover a large repository of honorific and dedicatory inscriptions, some of which once held statues, and texts of cures from a variety of individuals.

Taken together, the Asklepieion provides a remarkable assemblage of sources rich in multi-vocal data across time, which this ‘deep map’ hopes to unlock. Stay tuned!