Fieldwork: Looking at fragments – September 2023

In September 2023, my investigations of the Asklepieion near Pergamon involved reviewing the material culture of the sanctuary.

While the aim of the 2021 season was to identify on site and understand the 18 different architectural layers identified by the excavators (see the blog ‘Tracing Walls’), it was now time to examine the material culture in closer detail. Our Deep-Map of the Asklepieion contains over 3000 items, all of which have been published, largely in the Altertümer von Pergamon series. While several inscriptions may be seen on site, just a few select items are on display in the Bergama Museum, so I was very fortunate to get to spend time in the depots, to now come to terms with the vast quantities and variety of material culture at the shrine, indicating the broad scope of activities that went on there, over a long temporal arc expanding from prehistoric times to the present. It was interesting to see the selection process, especially by Gioia da Luca, whose work at the time formed a benchmark for much of the subsequent work on Hellenistic pottery.

The amount of material was both exciting and sobering, as it quickly became clear that the material in our deep map is only a fraction of the material from the sanctuary! Nonetheless, this gives an indication of the many different uses of the shrine over time, as well as some of the hotspots. I plan to return next year to continue these studies.

The central rooms of the Asklepieion, where ritual sleep presumably took place (photo cgw)

This fieldwork was possible through support from the project team of the DAI Istanbul, directed by prof.dr Felix Pirson, and with great help from Ulrich Mania, and the team of the TransPergMikro project. I am also grateful to the Max-Weber-Kolleg of the University of Erfurt, who provided funding through the project ‘Religion and Urbanity. Reciprocal formations’ (FOR 2779).

Distant deities, central places – reconsidering the ‘extra-urban’ sanctuary – April 2023

Sanctuaries located at a distance from major centres of population in the ancient world are conveniently labelled by scholars as ‘extra-urban’. Most scholars have an idea as to what kind of sanctuary this indicates. But how accurate is this image? How has the designation of ‘extra-urban’ steered our thinking about these special places of cult? What implications does the term bring with it, and what other dynamics might be left out of the picture?

Thomas Cole, ‘The Temple of Segesta with the Artist Sketching’, oil on canvas, 49.85 x 76.52cm, c.1842 – Museum of Fine Arts Boston –

These are questions that a couple of colleagues and myself have wrestled with for some time in our research. Axel Frejman, who has studied Labraunda, among other sanctuaries, and I have especially been discussing this for some years, and this led to the Complexity at Sacred Sites workshop in Uppsala in November 2022. This was intended as a step towards an international conference in 2023. Floris van den Eijnde joined our team, he investigates among others the sacred landscape of Attica.

Together, and with substantial support from the Riksbankens Jubileumsfonds, we organized a conference last April via the Swedish Institute at Athens under the title Distant Deities, Central Places – Reconsidering the ‘Extra-urban’ Sanctuary. The central aim was to address the questions above by reconsidering the terminology that we use to describe and discuss sanctuaries with our colleagues, but also by realigning our thinking about places of cults, and our positioning of them in the divine and human landscape.

We were able to attract an international group scholars, at different career stages, who addressed topics ranging from the Bronze Age to the imperial period, and from Italy in the West to Syria in the East, with approaches that questioned terminologies and theories while being substantiated with case studies and a spectrum of empirical evidence – as the programme flyer indicates.

Distant Deities, Central Places – 4-6 April 2023, Athens – programme

We were very pleased at the richness of the papers, which no doubt raised some eyebrows – Delphi as a very urban sanctuary, the Artemision at Amarynthos, or Kakopetria-Agilades on Cyprus as vitally central places of connections, the networks of Minoan peak sanctuaries, and cave shrines connecting maritime sites along the coast of the Ionian islands, to name just a few. The broad range of topics and approaches allowed us all to draw some comparisons between cultures, places, and over time. In short, the different papers showed us how truly complex sanctuaries beyond the boundaries of the urban nucleus can be, and the many functions that they can fulfil simultaneously, spilling well outside the confines that our scholarly frameworks often squeeze them into.

We were very fortunate to have Jenny Wallensten, the director of the Swedish Institute at Athens, make arrangements for the conference to be held in the lecture hall of the Italian Archaeological School at Athens, the same venue as the workshops organized by Robin Hägg on Greek religion several years before. The conference proceedings will be published in the same series, on Greek religion, Acta Instituti Atheniensis Regni Sueciae 4˚ series.

Story Maps in the Classroom

Last Friday (17 March) we just gave another edition of our story map workshop for this year’s MA course Atelier Living Heritage, taught by Professors Knoeff and Santing of the History Department at the University of Groningen.

In this session I first discussed the spatial turn, how maps always tell stories, and what deep maps are. The students read Earley-Spadoni 2017 ahead of time and came up with a lot of good ideas on what deep maps are, focusing on the many layers that they can have.

We then talked about Story Maps as a way to convey a deep map, and then Alexandra explained what a story maps is, using a new example: On the Road to Healing. This new story from the Asklepieion in Pergamon focuses on the Sacred Way, or Via Tecta, that links the Asklepieion to Pergamon.

To open the On the Road story map separately, click here.
See also our growing collection of story maps on the Asklepieion here

I wrote a short text, gathered images, and Alexandra turned them into this exciting and immersive story map, which centers on the story of Tapari, who traveled to the Asklepieion in search of healing for their eyesight.
NB: spoiler alert – this is based on a real Tapari known from the inscription IvP III 111b!).

Using the text and images as pre-fab building blocks, students got to recreate this story map, while getting ideas about how they could use story maps in their own projects. They are all responsible for making some kind of public outreach, and towards the end we discussed how story maps might be a good way to communicate information of historical objects, architecture, events, or personal experiences (like Tapari’s). The students have a lot of individual projects going on, connected to different museums or collections in and around Groningen, and they had several interesting ideas about how to story maps could create a good link with their audience.

Alexandra has also instructed students from previous courses on the use of story maps. Another recent MA course at Groningen, Urban Timescapes in the Graeco-Roman World, which focused on the use of temporal narratives in establishing social and political presence, through sanctuaries, public spaces, and also necropoleis and other ritualized settings. Students came up with some excellent story maps, which they presented in the Reality Theatre at the University of Groningen, with the help of Adri Mathlener.

Their final story maps give excellent insights into different ways that time was used in urban contexts, in examples that range from Asia Minor, the Aegean, the Greek mainland, and the Italian peninsula.

To open this collection in a separate window, click here


T. Earley-Spadoni (2017) ‘Spatial history, deep mapping and digital storytelling. Archaeology’s future imagined through an engagement with the Digital Humanities’, Journal of Archaeological Science 30, 95-102.