Saturday, December 16, 2017

Spring is coming

As a break from our regularly scheduled Bronze Age posts we bring you this:

Filoli Gardens

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Finding the site of Malesina - Hagios Georgios in Locris (C5169)

I'm currently integrating Bronze Age sites from Kramer-Hajos [2008] into the Mycenaean Atlas Project.. 

Kramer-Hajos' work deals with Bronze Age sites in Locris; it's probably the best overall source for Locris currently in print.  Some of her sites are quite obscure, not well-known and not published.  More than that I'm having trouble following her directions; particularly for the site of Malesina - Agios Georgios.

Here's a map of the general area.  The town of Malesina is at the lower left and I give its coordinates on the right.  Just to the NE of the town is the monastery of Saint George.

The actual site of Malesina - Agios Georgios consists of five excavated chamber tombs and in one of them a Mycenaean sherd was found.  The relative insignificance of the site is reflected in the obscurity of her directions.  See what you think:

"Directions: From Malesina, follow signs northward to the Agios Georgios monastery.  Pass by it and keep going north to the steep slope towards the sea.  Take the second road to your left, a sharp turn, and again the second road to your left.  Continue on the dirt road until it turns right.  In the hill on your left five excavated chamber tombs are visible."   (1)

Huh?  This is a good example of the kind of thing I'm always complaining about.  Is it too much trouble just to locate the thing with a lat/lon pair?  Apparently it is.  There are several ways to parse her directions but let's take it apart and look at it piece by piece.

a. follow  signs  northward to the Agios  Georgios  monastery.
b. Pass  by  it  and  keep  going
c. north to the  steep  slope towards the sea.
d. Take the second road  to your left ,
e. a sharp  turn,
f. and  again  the second road to your left .
g. Continue  on the dirt road  until  it  turns  right.
h. In the hill on your left five excavated chamber tombs are visible.
i. In one of them a Mycenaean sherd  was  found.

Let's take these one at a time and at the same time follow along on the map that I've made:

The first three steps are shown in the photo above.  Point A represents coming to the Monastery road from Malesina.  Point B corresponds to 'Pass by it and keep going ...'.  Point C represents the first problem.  Here you can go left or right but KH does not tell us which.  She simply says 'north to the  steep  slope towards the sea.'  I prefer going to the right (East) here.

In step D KH tells us to take the second left.   Here's what I think that looks like:

Continuing on from the turn at C we pass the driveway on the left (turn 1) and reach the fork at D (turn 2) and take the left fork.  That's what I believe she means by taking the second left.  That would make the sharp turn in step E correspond to the sharp turn at E in the photograph.

Now in this photograph we are following on from the curve at E in the lower right.  We pass the first left turn at '1' and then we come to the second left turn at '2'.  This corresponds to 'F' in our list of instructions.  We turn onto that road and go on until it turns 'right'.  I make that to be the point marked at 'G' on the photo.  The actual Chamber tombs are somewhere 'to the left'.  I've drawn arrows to show what I think that that means.  I've put the constructed location at 'H' but the tombs could easily be 50 m. or so to the east of this point.

Anyway, that's what I've been able to make out of her directions.  I'd put the odds of this reconstruction being correct at about 50%.  And when giving directions using the terms 'right' or 'left' please remember my cautions in the essay #Things_Mycenologists_Say which I linked to above.

Mycenaean Atlas Project.

I just delivered what I hope is a much-improved software version for this site.  It features a much better search facility but one which does not eliminate what was already there.  For the new features you can see the usage page which I rewrote.  Find it here.

Large changes like these can introduce lots of new problems and errors.  Please e-mail me with a complaint if you experience some bug or other.  I always want to hear from people who have corrections or ideas about new sites that are not yet in the Atlas.

You can reach me at bobconsoli 'at'

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1. Kramer-Hajos [2008] 51.


Kramer-Hajos [2008]:   Kramer-Hajos, Margaretha.  Beyond the Palace: Mycenaean East Lokris, BAR International Series.  2008.,  "Malesina - Agios Georgios", 51.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Major Changes on Helladic.Info (12/06/17)

Previously this website supported a miscellany of search methods.  There were separate methods for place-name search, place key search, and regional site search.  In this new release these methods have been combined into a generalized search method which now appears on all pages.  You can search for all the things you could formerly search for.  In addition any text string can be searched on and every instance of that string in the database will be returned with a link to the site page or feature page on which that string appears.  For example, strings such as 'vasilios', 'Simpson', 'Banou', etc. can now be searched on.

There is a new Feature Key page which gives basic information about all features (which are non Bronze Age things such as bridges, towns, churches, etc.).  Features can be searched for by using their feature key (which always begins with an 'F'), e.g. ‘F346’.

Sites can now be searched on by using the place key identifier (which always begins with 'C'), 'C100', 'C5140'.

Regional site search now functions differently.  When you input a regional name such as ‘Laconia’, for example, you will see a list of all the sites in Laconia along with every other use of the term ‘Laconia’ on the web site.

There is a new Search Results page.

A new Database (MAP_Rev_0.045__12_06_17) has been delivered.  This new DB supports the enhanced search facility.

A change of this magnitude usually turns up glitches.  Please report problems to 

bobconsoli "at"

An enhanced site usage section for the new changes is currently being prepared.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Further reflections on a Methodological Problem: The argument that Cyclopean walls were built to display status or power

'He's large.'
Olive Oyl sings about her upcoming wedding to the villain, Bluto.
Lyrics by Harry Nilsson.
"Popeye", 1980

In a previous post I made much of the fact that many Mycenologists have claimed that a major motivation for the building of Cyclopean fortresses was ‘projection of status’ and ‘exhibition of power and/or wealth’. I presented citations from a number of scholars who, in my view, have committed this methodological error.

Mycenaean art installation or did it have utilitarian purpose?
East walls of the citadel of Tiryns. Observer facing SW. Perhaps mid-14C BC.

In addition to the citations in that post I have since discovered that Nancy Loader makes this idea the organizing principle in chapter two of her Ph.D. dissertation. She has this to say:

“Although the size and structural arrangement presupposes that Cyclopean masonry was used for its strength, its appearance also suggests that it provided a means by which to convey wealth and prosperity of the territory within which it was based. This does not imply that defence was not a consideration of the Mycenaeans, but that danger was by no means imminent." (emphasis mine)”[1]

In this post I want to take a closer look at the logical problems which this type of claim raises.

To start, the claim that the Cyclopean fortress walls were intended to display power, wealth, status, what-have-you, is an emotional projection into the past. That this is the case is admitted by Schofield who says that since she’s impressed then everybody must have been. [2]

This resort to psychologizing about the motives of the Mycenaean leaders[3] raises many problems, not the least of which is the problem of consistency. We see this from our own citations which I have put into tabular form:

hardness, inapproachability, power
impressiveness, status
power, status
enhance prestige, display wealth, display power
convey wealth, convey prosperity

Our scholars, as seen by this table, do not themselves agree on what message the Mycenaean leaders are trying to convey. For our modern savants the walls appear to be a Rorschach test. Do the walls convey ‘wealth’, ‘power’, ‘prosperity’, ‘hardness’, or ‘inapproachability’? The differences are not resolved. Nor can they be. Each observer brings his or her own unique life experiences to bear. Each of our scholars commits the fallacy of the Universal Man; which ‘assumes that people are intellectually and psychologically the same in all times, places, and circumstances.’[4]

I have to remark that such statements betray an impoverished ethnographic awareness on the part of our scholars. More experience with traditional and/or tribal cultures would have shown that there is a rich range of emotional states and attitudes that can be retrojected onto these walls. Why should our mental palette be limited to displays of power, prestige, or wealth? If we’re going to intuit mentalities why not go all the way?

1. It’s entirely possible that the creation of these walls was looked on as a great communal project in which all participated; an expression of ‘nationality’ (if I may be allowed such an anachronistic word here), ‘communitarianism’, or solidarity.

2. Perhaps the walls were intended as a display of up-to-date technical know-how.   On this showing the walls would be an example of the scientific prowess on the part of the Mycenaean leadership; a display of Mycenae’s modernity.

3. The Mycenaean lords may have performed violent and bloody deeds on their subjects and the walls were intended to conceal such practices. In such circumstances the walls would inspire, and were intended to inspire, fear and trembling.

4. Perhaps there was a myth, now lost, of the ideal dwelling place of the Gods - a kind of Mycenaean Valhalla which the walls were intended to replicate and invoke in the mind of the viewer.  Or, what the heck, maybe they were intended as a representation of the seat of the Gods on Olympus.  In other words the walls would be a display of religious content.[5]

5. The walls may have originated as a giant unemployment project; a kind of Mycenaean Keynesianism in times of stress. Onlookers of the time might have viewed the walls with gratitude and as a symbol of the beneficence of wise and generous rulers.[6]

6. In order to get the walls built (for whatever reason) the Mycenaean rulers may have had to quash the powers of various lords who refused to provide corvée labor and rations for the work at hand. As a result the walls may communicate feelings of joy (or the reverse) at the crushing of the nobility and represent the final emergence and consolidation of a Mycenaean paramountcy or kingship.[7]

There’s no end to the mental states that we can project onto these walls but, as the question is fundamentally undecidable, I forbear.

It's not difficult to see from where it is that our scholars derive their views. There is warrant for this type of reasoning in anthropology. In a well-known article from 1996 the anthropologist Elizabeth DeMarrais describes the concept of 'materialization'. This is defined[8] as the making visible of symbolic and ideological concepts in the form of material production. This includes, but is not limited to, such things as elaborate costumes and weapons, monuments, writing systems, and even ceremonies. In general, I believe, Dr. DeMarrais and her co-author Timothy Earle mean this word to cover all instances of ideological reification no matter what form they take or in what medium they are expressed. And these other scholars whose views I have just been describing are treating the Mycenaean walls (and, par extenso, other practical projects among the Mycenaeans) as objects of materialization in the sense intended by DeMarrais et al.

Is this legitimate and did DeMarrais and Earle understand walls to be includable in this category?
In their article DeMarrais and her co-authors have this to say:

"Public monuments and landscapes - mounds or pyramids, ceremonial facilities, large buildings and centers of political activity, or defensive structures - associate a group with a place and represent the power and authority of its leaders."[9]  Emphasis is mine.

So it appears that the usage of this term by DeMarrais et al. would include Cyclopean construction of walls (and every other Cyclopean construction) among those objects suitable to be described as materialization of the ideology (and pretensions) of the ruling class.

But this is a self-evident absurdity because the instant that DeMarrais utters the word 'defensive' she removes that object from the realm of ideology and transfers it to the realm of practical necessity. In order for us to believe that a vitally necessary structure is simply an instance of propaganda (DeMarrais presents no examples[10]) we would have to suppose that every possible activity of the ruling class must be subsumed under the activity of ideological broadcasting no matter the practical emergency to which it may be a response. Any activity of the ruling class that results in a physical manifestation of whatever kind must, by this definition, have only the purpose of announcing the importance of the ruling class and the cogency of the ideology that supports it. In the extreme case we should suppose that, faced with a real live enemy, the King who hands out swords to his army is spreading his ideology through the materialization of weapons.  This lends a weird air of abstracted unreality to the discussion. Sometimes a sword is just a sword and a wall is just a wall.

This type of reasoning subtly predisposes us to think that all Cyclopean wall building and, more broadly, all building projects on the part of the Mycenaeans were about the display of ideology, power, or wealth.

And that is flatly untrue.[11]

For example, it would be very difficult to accept that the 22+ km wall which the Orchomenians built around the northern edge of the Copais Basin for the purpose of draining the lake (the wall was 30 m wide in places [12]) was done as an expression of wealth and prestige. This project, the largest in the Mycenaean world, was (and we are as sure as we can be given the nature of the data) part of a massive land reclamation scheme; virtually certain to have been initiated by the rulers of Orchomenos and exploited for their benefit alone. If I may be allowed a tautology it was the wealth of the Orchomenians which was their projection of wealth.[13]

In the thirteenth century BC a large port was built near Pylos.[14] I think it would be silly to suggest that this port was built in order to project the wealth, power, or status of Pylos. It was made to harbor trading vessels, tout court. The same observation may be made about the diversionary dam outside of Tiryns or the land reclamation project near Nemea. These great projects were strictly utilitarian and, while I’m sure that a case could be made that Bronze Age builders worked with care and consistency, the idea that these constructions arose from motives of aesthetics, vanity or display is exceedingly unlikely and not demonstrated.

This methodological error is compounded - as I noticed last time - by a reliance on the false dichotomy of 'defense' vs. 'display' and prevents us from searching around for alternative explanations. As I suggested in my previous post, there are alternative utilitarian explanations for the cyclopean fortifications which do not rely on the backwards projection of emotional states.

Update on 11/25/17

Richard Hope Simpson refused to have anything to do with the idea that Mycenaean walls and towers were built for aesthetic purposes.  Above all he emphasizes the defensive role that they played and he also pushes back against Bintliff's idea that absence of warfare meant that the walls must have been built for display.  'Defensive measures, in the form of walls or other barriers, do not necessarily imply the absence of peace, nor do they presuppose any warlike disposition.  Indeed such static defences often signify the exact opposite (e.g. the French pre-World War II Maginot Line).' [15]

Simpson also points out that the power of these societies depended on agricultural produce and that walls were a way to secure both that and the population that produced it.[16]


[1] Loader (1995) 30. Dr. Loader traces this idea to Iakovidis (1983).

[2] Schofield (2007) 78-9. Referring to the walls she says “They certainly are, even today, awe-inspiring.”

[3] If fact this particular argument does not psychologize about the Mycenaean leaders themselves. It psychologizes about these leaders’ speculation about the desired psychological impact on their subjects and unnamed others – a double remove.

[3a] Maran [2006] 79; Hitchcock [2010] 206, 208; Schofield [2007] 78-9; Dickinson [2006] 36,42; Loader [1995] 30. Middleton [2008] 152 follows Dickinson into the same trap in his Ph.D. dissertation.  Wright [2006] 59.

[4] Fischer (1970) 203 ff. ‘People, in various places and times, have not merely thought different things. They have thought them differently. It is probable that their most fundamental cerebral processes have changed through time. Their deepest emotional drives and desires may themselves have been transformed. Significant elements of continuity cannot be understood without a sense of the discontinuities, too.’ We would be closer to my own thought if we added to Fischer’s description the words: ‘These differences must be presumed to exist because people were and are enculturated differently.’ And how differently is difficult for us to grasp without extensive exposure to ethnography. If my, admittedly non-specialist, reading in modern research on neural networks and their training is applicable at all to physical changes in the learning brain then Fischer's statement '.. their most fundamental cerebral processes have changed through time ..' will be the literal truth.

[5] It is appropriate here to quote Geertz on the nature of the Balinese state and the doctrine of 'the exemplary center':

'This is the theory that the court-and-capital is at once a microcosm of the supernatural order - "an image of ... the universe on a smaller scale" - and the material embodiment of political order.  It is not just the nucleus, the engine, or the pivot of the state, it is the state.  The equation of the seat of rule with the dominion of rule, which the negara concept expresses, is more than an accidental metaphor; it is a statement of a controlling political idea - namely, that by the mere act of providing a model, a paragon, a faultless image of civilized existence, the court shapes the world around it into at least a rough approximation of its own excellence.  The ritual life of the court, and in fact the life of the court generally, is thus paradigmatic, not merely reflective, of social order.  What it is reflective of, the priests declare, is supernatural order, 'the timeless Indian world of the gods" upon which men should, in strict proportion of their status, seek to pattern their lives.'  Geertz [1980] 13.

Thomas Palaima provides a discussion of what can be known about Mycenaean religion based on Linear B sources in Trzaskoma et al [2004], 'The Gods in Linear B Tablets', pp. 443-454.

[6] Potentially a major factor in traditional societies.  James C. Scott emphasizes the role that Keynesian economics can play in his examination of the peasant societies of south-east Asia. 'It is entirely possible that the Hindu and Buddhist doctrines of the responsibility of the king for the welfare of his subjects made for monarchs who went easy in times of dearth and devoted much public  revenue to irrigation works and public relief.' Scott [1976] 93, n. 6.  Scott sees all such schemes as part of the peasant's 'moral economy'.   The first and primary function of the moral economy is to keep the peasant and his family alive and it may be understood as a set of remissions and redistribution schemes that function to prevent disaster in times of want.

[7] This was the sequence of events in Hunza in the early 16th and 17th centuries. The Mirs had to destroy competing clans in order have access to the men and rations that would enable the creation of the great irrigation projects there. See Sidky (1996) 50-51.

[8] DeMarrais et al. [1996]. And for an additional discussion of 'materialization' in the Hawaiian context see Kirch [2012] 291-2, 298. Kirch names, as examples of materialization, the temple platforms, full-time priesthoods, awe-inspiring ceremonies and displays, as well as such things as elaborate feather-work as well as whale tooth pendants for the Hawaiian elite.

[9] Ibid. 18.

[10] DeMarrais mentions those constructions that could come under the label of 'materialization', namely, pyramids, great grave sites, etc. Nowhere can I find that she lists actual defensive structures or walls. Nor does Earle himself. In Earle [2002] 356 we read "Public monuments and landscapes are mounds or pyramids, ceremonial facilities, large buildings and centers of political activity, or defensive structures that associate a group with a place and represent the power and the authority of its leaders." Emphasis is mine. But when he comes to list such objects (356-7), once again, true defensive or offensive structures are omitted.

[11]  For a good example of this cross-contamination of ideas, Tartaron et al., in a valuable paper about the recently discovered LH habitation and port at Kalamianos in eastern Corinthia, when discussing the placement of large stones at the corners of walls (quoins) or in doors  (jambs), say this

"The stones used in wall construction at Kalamianos vary greatly in size, but even in relatively small structures many of the stones are remarkably large.  Blocks 1 m or more in length are not at all uncommon, and this gives many walls a “cyclopean” appearance (Fig. 18). While the ready availability of large stones at the site might account for their liberal use, care was apparently taken to set them in conspicuous positions, whether they are worked (at corners or near doorways) or unworked (especially on the eastern facades of buildings). This careful placement of large blocks, along with the use of the lighter-colored, banded limestone blocks in similar positions, recalls the use of conglomerate blocks in the palaces at Mycenae and Tiryns, where James Wright has argued for their deliberate employment as a display of palatial power."   Tartaron et al. [2011] 584.  Emphasis is mine.

The reference to James Wright is Wright [2006] 59.  I have discussed Dr. Wright's position here.

[12] Diagrams and measurements in Kalcyk and Heinrich (1989) fig. 4-2, p. 59; fig. 4-5, p. 67.

[13] Orchomenos’ wealth was proverbial. Iliad, IX.381 [LCL 170: 422-423] "… all the wealth that goes to Orchomenus"; Iliad, V, 706-9 [LCL 170: 258-259] "Oresbius with flashing apron, who dwelt in Hyle on the border of the Cephisian lake, greatly concerned for his wealth; and near him dwelt other Boeotians having a land exceeding rich."; Pausanias,Boeotia, XXXVI.4 [LCL 297: 335 ] "The revenues that Minyas received were so great that he surpassed his predecessors in wealth."; Boeotia, XXXVIII.7-8 [LCL 297:345] "It is not likely either that the Orchomenians would not have discovered the chasm, and, breaking down the work put up by Heracles, have given back to the Cephisus its ancient passage, since right down to the Trojan war they were a wealthy people. There is evidence in my favour in the passage of Homer (Iliad ix.381.) where Achilles replies to the envoys from Agamemnon:— 'Not even the wealth that comes to Orchomenus', a line that clearly shows that even then the revenues coming to Orchomenus were large."

[14] Zangger et al. [1997] 619 ff.; Zangger [2008] 69-74.

[15] Simpson and Hagel [2006], p. 143.

[16] Ibid., 23 and fn. 1.


Cline [2010]: Cline, Eric H., The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean. Oxford University Press. 2010.

Davis et al. [2008]: Davis, Jack L., Sandy Pylos; An Archaeological History from Nestor to Navarino.  The American School of Classical Studies at Athens.  Princeton.  Second Edition.  2008.

DeMarrais, et al. [1996]: DeMarrais, Elizabeth, Luis Jaime Castillo, Timothy Earle. "Ideology, Materialization, and Power Strategies", Current Anthropology. Vol. 37, No. 1 (Feb., 1996), pp. 15-31. Online here.

Dickinson [2006]: Dickinson, Oliver. The Aegean from Bronze Age to Iron Age. Routledge, 2006.

Earle [2002]: Earle, Timothy. 'Ideology, Materialization, and Power Strategies', Chapter 14 in Earle, Timothy S., Bronze Age Economics: The Beginnings of Political Economies, Westview Press, 2002.
Chapter 14 was originally printed as DeMarrais, et al. [1996].

Fischer [1970]: Fischer, David Hackett, Historian's Fallacies: Towards a Logic of Historical Thought. Harper Perennial. 1970.

Geertz [1980]: Geertz, Clifford.  Negara; The Theatre State in Nineteenth-Century Bali.  Princeton University Press.  1980.  978-0691007786.

Iakovidis [1983]: Iakovidis, S., Late Helladic Citadels on Mainland Greece. Leiden: E.J. Brill. 1983.

Kalcyk and Heinrich [1989]: Kalcyk, Hansjorg and Bert Heinrich. "The Munich Kopais-Project" in Boeotia Antiqua I: Papers on Recent Work in Boiotian Archaeology and History. John M. Fossey F.S.A., ed. McGill University Monographs in Classical Archaeology and History. McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada. 1989. 55-71.

Kirch [2012]: Kirch, Patrick V. A Shark Going Inland is my Chief; The Island Civilization of Ancient Hawaii, University of California Press. Berkeley, CA., 2012.

Loader [1995]: Loader, Nancy Claire. The definition of cyclopean: An investigation into the origins of the LH III fortications on mainland Greece. Ph.D. Dissertation. Online here.

Maran [2006]: Maran, Joseph. "Mycenaean Citadels as Performative Space". In Constructing Power: Architecture, Ideology, and Social Practice, edd. Joseph C. Maran, Carsten Juwig, Hermann Schwengel, and Ulrich Thaler.  Hamburg: LIT. 2006, pp. 75-91.

Middleton, Guy Daniel (2008) The collapse of palatial society in LBA Greece and the postpalatial period, Durham theses, Durham University. Online here.

Schofield [2007]: Schofield, Louise. The Mycenaeans. Getty Publications, Los Angeles, California. USA. 2007.

Scott[1976]: Scott, James C.  The Moral Economy of the Peasant; Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia. Yale University Press, 1976.  ISBN: 978-0-300-02190-5

Sidky [1996]: Sidky, H., Irrigation and State Formation in Hunza: The Anthropology of a Hydraulic Kingdom. University Press of America, Lanham, Maryland, USA. 1996.

Simpson and Hagel [2006]: Simpson, R. Hope and D.K. Hagel, Mycenaean Fortifications, Highways, Dams and Canals.  Sävedalen 2006, Paul Åströms Förlag.  SIMA CXXXIII.   ISBN: 978-917081-212-5.

Tartaron et al. [2011]: Tartaron, Thomas F., Daniel J. Pullen, Richard K. Dunn,  Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory, Amy Dill, Joseph I. Boyce, "The Saronic Harbors Archaeological Research Project (SHARP); Investigations at Mycenaean Kalamianos, 2007-2009.  Hesperia 80 (2011), 559-634.

Trzaskoma et al. [2004]: Trzaskoma, Stephen M. and R. Scott Smith, Stephen Brunet.    Anthology of Classical Myth; Primary Sources in Translation.  Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Indianapolis/Cambridge. ISBN: 0-87220-721-8.

Wright [2006]: Wright, James C., "The Social Production of Space and the Architectural Reproduction of Society in the Bronze Age Aegean during the 2nd Millenium B.C.E.", in Constructing Power: Architecture, Ideology, and Social Practice, edd. Joseph C. Maran, Carsten Juwig, Hermann Schwengel, and Ulrich Thaler, Hamburg: LIT. 2006, pp. 49–73.  Online here.

Zangger et al. [1997]: Zangger, E., Timpson, M.E., Yazvenko, S.B., Kuhnke, F., Knauss, J., “The Pylos regional Archaeological Project, Part II. Landscape Evolution and Site Preservation,” Hesperia 66. 1997. 549–641. Available online here.

Zangger [2008]: Zangger E., 'The Port of Nestor' in Davis et al. [2008] pp. 69-74.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Hoard of Bronze Axes from Ioannina (C5033)

In 1970 a hoard of bronze axes and other objects was found outside a town called Katamachi in Ioannina (Epirus). [1]  It was found by a shepherd who was taking his flocks far up the side of Alysos or Vritzaha and at well over 1000 m.  They seem to have been deposited by some itinerant smith of the LH IIIB-C who had every intention of coming back for them.   Mount Alysos (Vritzaha) is here 39.468391 N, 20.645149 E.  But where was the hoard found?

The only information we have about that is in a photograph from the AAA of 1972.[2]

Oooff!  What are we going to do with this  photo?  One of the reasons I write this blog is not just to recreate photographs but to show how much life there is in these old scholarly snaps.  A few judicious passes in Photoshop and we have this:

Well, doesn't photographic post-processing distort or falsify what was in the original picture?  Not if the original picture can't even be seen - as this one cannot.  Much depends on what was done.  Here's what I did to the original in this case:

1. Contrast range restored with a curves control.  That got rid of the ghastly artifacts in the sky and it definitely improved the brightness range.

2. Since this was ostensibly black and white I selected the luminosity blending mode to dump the color (there are other ways of doing this).

3. The photo was then sharpened - a lot.

4. I still didn't like the brightness range so I implemented another curves control.

5. The result appeared yellowish (probably my monitor) so I put a dark blue layer over the whole thing and then set it to screen mode.  I then turned the opacity down to 37%.  That gave it a slightly blue cast in the shadows but the blacks definitely looked much better.

6.  I touched up the brightness range with another curves control.

There's a lot more visible in the final result than there was at the start.  Almost all scholarly photos would benefit from judicious post-processing.  Scholars and researchers are often reluctant to do this because they think that they're falsifying the photo.  But a photo is never any kind of absolute truth.

Now that we can see where the treasure was found (hint: the arrow) we have to see if we can reconstruct this image in Google Earth.  If that can be done then we have a shot at locating the find spot quite accurately.  After a little work I produced this:

Well, things have changed over the last 47 years but I'm reasonably certain that the pale spot, a scree or rock-fall, under the black arrow is the same as the pale spot under the red arrow.  If that's the case then the hoard was found within a few meters of the spot at  39.480157° N, 20.645232° E.

There's a close-up of this scree where the hoard was found:

This is the man who discovered it; a goat-herd from the vicinity.  Here he stands at the base of the scree where the hoard was found. [3]

So, takeaways:

1) Old photographs, even for scholarly purposes, have a lot of life left in them given the right post-processing.

2) Photographs need to be explained.  We need to be told what we're seeing and not just shown.

3) Reconstruction of photographs in Google Earth (or other visualizing product) is one way to retrieve accurate locations for things - even a nearly invisible scree on the side of a mountain.


[1] Kleitsas [2014], 1.  The hoard is illustrated in this article.

[2] Athens Annals of Archaeology (5:1), p. 113, 1972.   The article is by I. Vokotopoulou, ‘Hoard of Bronze Axes from Katamachi, District of Jannina’, pp. 112-119.

[3] Loc. cit., 117.


Kleitsas [2014]: Kleitsas, Christos N.,  ‘The Bronze Age in Epirus (Part 4); The Late Bronze Age: The metalworking‘,  Archaeology Wiki.  November 3, 2014.   Online here.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Delivery of Database 43 and a discussion of how to handle ceramic horizon names in searches.

So, I’m sure that my readers are aware that the dating of Mycenaean (and other) sites is based, usually, on the types, shapes, and decoration of ceramic objects that are found on site.  These ceramic horizons are the familiar ‘Middle Helladic’, ‘Late Helladic’, etc. and their innumerable subdivisions.  For example ‘Late Helladic’ is divided into ‘Late Helladic I’, ‘Late Helladic II’, and ‘Late Helladic III’.  ‘Late Helladic III’ is further subdivided into phases A, B, and C.  These can, in turn, be further subdivided.

The upshot of all this is that sites are dated to several very different degrees of precision.  Site A may be dated as ‘LH’ while Site B, perhaps nearby and in reality built at the same time, may be dated more precisely as ‘LHIIIA2’ because a definitely identifiable sherd of that period was found there.  As far as we know the first site may have been built/occupied at any time over some time span of 500 years while the second site is more securely dated to within 50 years.

How do we compare these two sites on the Mycenaean Atlas Project site?    If the user specifies ‘LH’ as a dating criterion then we feel that more should be returned than just those sites which are vaguely dated as ‘LH’.  That criterion should return all sites that are ‘LH’, ‘LHI’, ‘LHII’, ‘LHIII’ and all the further subdivisions all the way down the tree.

Up until now that hasn’t happened on this site.  When a user formerly specified ‘LH’ or ‘MH’ what was returned was only those sites given those vague time scopes.  ‘LH’ as a search criterion returned only ‘LH’ not ‘LH’, ‘LHI’, ‘LHII’, etc.

Now I’ve implemented that common-sense orientation.  Users requesting ‘MH’ get ‘MH’, ‘MHI’, and ‘MHII’.  A request for ‘LH’ returns all the sites with at least one date starting ‘LH-‘, i.e., ‘LHI’, ‘LHII’, ‘LHIII’, ‘LHIA’, ‘LHIB’, etc., etc.  And the same goes for all the other sites which have dates that are, themselves, further subdividable.

All this by way of announcing a new delivery of database and software. 
The database is MAP_Rev_0.043__11_9_17_Test.   Among other things it provides a new table to support the software change outline above.   Many minor changes have been made to the site data.  The most important is that Privitera [2013] is now integrated with sites for Attica.

New software for map creation and .kml/.csv generation has also been delivered.  The major software change is as I explained above.   It also fixes a distressing fact that the numbers of results from both map creation and .kml/.csv creation tended to be different.  The queries that support those things have now been harmonized.

Do you have a suggestion for the Mycenaean Atlas Project?  Let us know in the letters section at the end of this post.  Or write to me at bobconsoli ‘at’


Privitera [2013]:  Privitera, Santo.  Principi, Pelasgi, e pescatori: L'Attica nella Tarda Eta del Bronzo.  Paestum: Pandemos. 2013.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The location of Aphidna and its tumulus

The acropolis of Aphidna (C1503), on the hill Kotroni, is located at  38.187173° N, 23.879093° E.  It is associated with a tumulus burial which is at, approximately,  38.175410° N, 23.871020° E.  These two sites straddle the extreme NW end of Lake Marathon in northern Attica.

For many yearts it has been a project site of the Swedish Institute at Athens.  Their project website is here.  The acropolis itself is easy to find.  There is a photograph of the hill on the SIA website.  Here it is:

This is trivially simple to replicate in Google Earth:

The untitled placemark in the foreground is at  38.192352° N, 23.878794° E

The Swedish School site tells us that Aphidna was 'an important fort protecting the northern Attic border.'   It was also on an important route between Attica and Boeotia.[1]

The Swedish School do not quite make clear that the tumulus is separate from the acropolis; about 1.5 km. distant from it.

The tumulus was first investigated by Sam Wide and the German archaeologist Bulle in 1894.  Wide returned that same year to investigate the tumulus with a colleague, Lennart Kjellberg.  Together they dug up a number of graves, retrieved many vases and sherds, and demonstrated that the tumulus was a Bronze Age construction.[2]   There is a description of the vases and fragments in Frazer [3]; the tombs in Pelon.[4]

Where is the tumulus?

Sam Wide tells us that on the German map he is using the mound is marked 'Grave with wall surround'.[5]  We are further told that it is south of the Charadra stream and about 25 minutes (walking) from the peak of Kotroni.[6]

Simpson says that it is on '...low ground about 1.5 km. to south-southwest of the acropolis, ...'.  What low ground is there south of the Charadros and about 1.5 km. from the peak?

Judging from Curtius' map Lake Marathon hardly existed in Wide's time.  In the following image the Charadra is shown in blue.  Let's estimate walking distance over this kind of somewhat rough ground at about 2 miles/hour.  25 minutes of this represents 0.8333+ miles or about 4400 feet.  In the next picture I center a 4400 foot circle at the Aphidna acropolis; the red circle.  I then drew a 1500 m. circle centered on the Aphidna acropolis; the green circle.  For this kind of work they are virtually the same circle and they give us an outer bound.  I then drew in what I considered to be a typical (i.e., entirely made-up) path.  That is shown in light brown; it is 4400 feet in length.   The straight yellow line has its origin on Kotroni and an angle of 202.5° (SSW).  So the tumulus is somewhere to the SSW of the acropolis, south of the Charadra, and within the 4400 feet (or about 1500 m.) circle in the 'low ground'.   The following image tries to meet all these constraints.  No matter how I tried I couldn't get them to cohere unless I also crossed the next little stream to the south of the Charadra (the Prepagouri?). The blue paddle marker (C1502) seems to me to be in the correct area.  I drew a confidence circle with radius of 300 m. (the smaller red circle).  Most probably the tumulus is somewhere within that circle.

Without more information I can't get any closer than that.

Update on 11/05/17

Dr. Jeannette Forsén is the author of a recent paper on Aphidna [7].  In a personal communication of 11/05/17 Dr. Forsén writes as follows:

"Of course the large tumulus is more or less gone I think, due to farming activities and might even be in a fenced in grove, to which we have no access.  It is sad, but to my knowledge no one has been able to find any traces of Wide's tumulus - and many of us have tried."

I drew Dr. Forsén's attention to a feature that has remained stubbornly uncultivated at least since 2004 in the corner of a nearby field.  It is located at  38.177512° N,  23.873209° E and labelled 'uncultivated feature'.  I picture it here:

It resembles a pile of stones that may or may not have been bulldozed into a corner.  She replied:

"Indeed this feature I have seen myself, it was completely overgrown, but may very well be what is left of the tumulus.  In the same field around the larger tree of that field there was some pottery also, but nothing stood out."

In this composite shot we see this feature at several different times of the year.  The dates are the dates of the Google Image used.  One thing to notice is that this uncultivated feature seems to contract over the years - appearing largest in 2004 and significantly smaller in 2014.  In the 2014 photo the size of this feature was 35 m. x 17.7 m.

You'll notice that the paddle labelled 'Uncultivated Feature' moves around relative to the ground from image to image.  This happens because, over time, Google does not use the same model when fitting photos to an idealized underlying model of the earth.  For more on that issue see this.

That this tumulus may have been bull-dozed into a pile of rocks is, perhaps, reminiscent of the fate of the tholos of Mandhra in Messenia (C124) which appears to have met a similar end.

So it isn't just me.  The location of Wide's tumulus is really not now known with any precision.


[1] Privitera [2013] 156, "... e lungo un'importante strada di collegamento tra Attica e Beozia."

[2] Middle Helladic.  In Privitera [2013] 156, "...un tumulo funerario risalente all'inizio del ME..."  And in Pelon [1976] 82, "La céramique, bien que d'un type particulier, permet de placer le tumulus à l'HM."  Simpson [1981] 51, "It is possible that some of these [finds from the tumulus, RHC] may belong to early Mycenaean times, since they are similar to tumuli excavated at Koukounara in Messenia (F 29).  There is, in any case, no doubt that Aphidna was an important Middle Helladic and Mycenaean settlement."

[3] Frazer [1913] 560 ff.

[4] Pelon [1976] 81 ff.

[5] Wide [1896] 388.  "Der Tumulus, der auf der deutschen Karte als 'Grab mit Mauereinfassung' bezeichnet wird, ..."  The map is Ernst Curtius & Johann August Kaupert, Karten von Attika, Berlin.  1885.  This very plate, xix, is reproduced here but not very readable although it is good enough to establish that the Lake of Marathon was nearly nonexistent a century and a half ago.

[6] Wide [1896] 388, "Zusammen mit meinem Landsmann, Herrn L. Kjellberg, unternahm ich Ende Oktober und Anfang November 1894 eine archäologische Untersuchung bei Aphidna.  Das Hauptinteresse concentrirte sich auf einem grossen Grabhügel, der südlich von der Cháradra, etwa 25 Minuten von der Spitze der alten Burghöhe entfernt liegt."

[7] Forsén  [2010].  I did not have access to this paper when writing this post.


Borgna and Celka [2008]: Borgna, Elisabetta and Sylvie Müller Celka   Ancestral Landscape. Burial mounds in the Copper and Bronze Ages. Proceedings of the International Conference held in Udine, May 15th-18th 2008.  Lyon : Maison de l'Orient et de la Méditerranée Jean Pouilloux, 2012

Forsén [2010]:  Forsén, Jeannette, 'Aphidna in Attica Revisited', in A. Philippa-Touchais et al. (eds.), Mesohelladika. La Grèce continentale au Bronze Moyen (Bulletin de Correspondence Hellenique, Suppl. 52), Paris-Athènes, 2010, 223-234.

Frazer [1913]: Frazer, James G.  Pausanias's Description of Greece.  Translated with a Commentary.  Vol. V, Commentary on Books IX., X., Addenda.  Macmillan and Co., Limited.  St. Martin's Street, London.  1913. Online here.

Papakonstantinou [2012]: Papakonstantinou, Maria-Photini   'Bronze Age Tumuli and Grave Circles in Central Greece: the Current State of Research', in Borgna and Celka [2008], pp. 391-399.  2012.  Online here.

Pelon [1976]: 'Pelon, Olivier.  Tholoi, tumuli et cercles funéraires; Recherches sur les monuments funéraires de plan circulaire dan l''Égée de l''Âge du Bronze (IIIe at IIe millénaires av. J.-C).  Bibliothèques de l''École française d''Athènes et de Rome - Série Athènes, 229. 1976.  Online here.

Privitera [2013]:  Privitera, Santo.  Principi, Pelasgi, e pescatori: L'Attica nella Tarda Eta del Bronzo.  Paestum: Pandemos. 2013.

Simpson [1981]:   Simpson, Richard Hope. Mycenaean Greece. Park Ridge, New Jersey: Noyes Press, 1981.,  "B 44 Ancient Aphidna", 51.

Wide [1896]:   Wide, Sam.  "Aphidna in Nordattika", Mittheilungen des Kaiserlich Deutschen Archaeologischen Instituts; Athenische Abtheilung, Band XXI, pp. 385-409.  1896.,  "Aphidna in Nordattika", 385.  Online here.  The map that Wide refers to on p. 388 is here (although not very readable)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Modern features now visible on MAP Place Key Report

Some time ago I wrote about the importance of keeping track of modern features even though assembling an atlas of the Bronze Age.

All during the creation of this database I have dutifully kept track of all the modern features which I judged relevant for locating Bronze Age sites; all the various churches, towns, signs, hills etc. which the literature includes in its directions.

Here’s a simple example:

In Simpson [1981] we read this about the site of Ritsona.  ‘The site is a low knoll about 400 m. southwest of Rhitsona and 300 m. west of the road from Thebes to Chalkis.’[1]  The first challenge is to find Rhitsona.  I know that this isn’t hard but I located the town anyway and added it to the ‘Features’ table in the database.  

Now if you look for the site of Ritsona/Mykalessos (C810) you’ll get a Place Key Report.  The map on that Report will now show modern features as well as the site you’re looking for.  These modern features will show up as a red paddle with an ‘F’ on it; the actual BA site has been changed to render as a blue paddle.  The map for Ritsona looks like this:

These new paddles also support tool tips.  That means that if you mouse over the paddle the name of the feature will pop up.  Clicking on these paddles does nothing.  They don't support info boxes although I might add that in the future for the modern feature paddles.

For each site I show features for approximately two kilometers in each direction.  If you zoom out you'll see that the features are limited to places around the sought-for site.  That way they load fast and you don't have to wait for all 3300+ to load.

Each feature has its own unique number, a feature number, which appears in the tool tips.  You can always refer to each feature uniquely.

Keeping track of modern features is an important part of the Atlas both because these modern references are very common in all the literature I've examined and also because locating these modern features helps in a big way to keep the older scholarly literature current.

Until now there hasn't been a way to show these features on the Place Report map.  Now you can see them.


1. Simpson [1981], p. 73, ‘C 34 Rhitsona: Ancient Mykalessos’.


Simpson [1981]: Simpson, Richard Hope. Mycenaean Greece. Park Ridge, New Jersey: Noyes Press, 1981.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Database Release Rev 0.042 for Helladic.Info

Today the website has received a new database: MAP_Rev_0.042__10_23_17_Test

This DB fixes many minor errors and finishes the integration of Banou [1996].  It also adds the following Mycenaean find sites:

Key           Name                                          Lat                     Lon                    Region

C5043 Aetos: Skala 39.572055 20.357397 Epirus
C5044 Anthochori: Agioi Apostoloi 39.738985 21.12192 Epirus
C5045 Hydas/Selimiye 36.704264 28.094181 Caria
C5046 Kadikalesi 37.791729 27.270687 Ionia
C5047 Çine Tepecik Höyük 37.609346 28.01202 Caria
C5048 Perge 36.961157 30.854204 Pamphylia
C5049 Kilisitepe 36.502329 33.553426 Cilicia
C5050 Kinet Höyük 36.853609 36.157014 Cilicia
C5051 Tell Tayinat 36.248157 36.375783 Seleucia
C5052 Ilioupolis/Kara 37.930173 23.762682 Attica
C5053 Munichia: Temple of Artemis 37.939834 23.655682 Attica
C5054 Merenda: Mycenaean Cemetery 37.882438 23.969516 Attica
C5055 Glyka Nera - Fouresi 38.0067 23.849567 Attica
C5056 Nekyomanteion 39.236154 20.534308 Epirus
C5057 Skoura: Melathria: Cem 37.038056 22.498089 Laconia
C5058 Ayios Vasileios 2 36.98242 22.482425 Laconia
C5059 Chrysapha: Panagia Chrysafio. 37.078249 22.529832 Laconia
C5060 Chrysapha: Palaikastro 37.06787 22.53428 Laconia
C5061 Phoiniki (Ntouka Rachis Phoi. 36.715509 22.9271 Laconia
C5062 Panaghia: Cem 36.484393 22.939592 Laconia
C5063 Ayios Yeoryios: Cave 36.537201 22.993183 Laconia
C5064 Aigies 36.777244 22.51641 Laconia
C5065 Aphissou 37.078788 22.452966 Laconia


Banou [1996]:   Banou, Emilia. Beitrag zum Studium Lakoniens in der mykenischen Zeit, Albert-Ludwigs-Universität zu Freiburg. 1996

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Origin Point for the grid system for Laconia Survey, Cavanagh, etc.

Users of Chapter 23 of the Laconia Survey, Cavanagh et al. [1996], etc. will probably be frustrated by the unnecessarily arcane Transverse Mercator system used by the authors.  Those who wish to use the location information in the book should be aware that the origin of their system (which they do not supply) is equivalent to  UTM:

34S, 619880.00 m E, 4091741.00 m N.

It is about 1300 m. N and slightly west of Mt. Taygetus.

In decimal lat/lon terms this is:  36.964135° N,  22.346662° E

(The absolute origin of their system is approximately 519880.00 m E, 3991741.00 m N in UTM.  The authors describe this as being to the SW of Cape Tainaron.  It is, in fact, to the SW of Cape Akritas.)

The value I have supplied for their origin is an approximation but very close to the real value and was obtained by manual iteration.  At any rate precision of placement is not a real goal for these authors since their coordinates designate 100 m. (1 hectare) squares.  Nevertheless the reader may use this origin value with some confidence and I believe it useful to locate most of their sites.


Here's an example from Cavanagh et al. [1996],  p. 289:

The Palace of the Despots in Mystràs is located at UTM:  621480.00 m E,  4104041.00 m N (the sector is 34S).  This value obtained by inspection in Google Earth.

The position given by them for this location is 1600 m E, 12300 m. N, which is to say, 1,600 m. E of their origin (given above) and 12300 meters N of their origin.   Adding these two values to the origin is:

Easting: 619880 + 1600 = 621480 (result in UTM, suitable for entering into Google Earth)
Northing: 4091741 + 12300 = 4104041 (UTM)

Setting the Tools> Options > Show Lat/Long to Universal Transverse Mercator and then creating a place mark with coordinates 621480, 4104041 will put the place mark on the Palace of Despots in Mystràs.


Cavanagh et al.  [2005]:  Cavanagh, Wiliam,  Christopher Mee, Peter James Neil Brodie and Tristan Carter.  'The Laconia Rural Sites Project', in The British School at Athens, Supplementary Volume 36, pp. iii-xv and 1-350, [2005].

Cavanagh et al. [1996]:  Cavanagh, William,  Joost Crouwel, R. W. V. Catling, Graham Shipley, Pamela Armstrong, Tristan Carter, David Hibler, Richard Jones, Jo Lawson, Marco Overbeek, Apostolos Sarris, Heleen Visscher And  Mark Ydo.  'Continuity And Change In A Greek Rural Landscape: The Laconia Survey. Volume II: Archaeological Data',  The British School at Athens. Supplementary Volumes, no. 27, pp. iii-xxx and 1-459.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Promiscuous Lex

‘.. let us go down, and there confound their language,
that they may not understand one another’s speech.‘
Genesis  xi.7

   So, imagine that there are two websites, and and they both blog about, guess what, Napoleon Bonaparte.  And these are two reputable scholars although A blogs mostly about the period before 1804 and B blogs mostly Imperial period with some overlaps.  Here’s the idea: someone says ‘what a great resource it would be if we could put these two together somehow’.    And when we consider that there’s a large amount of material on the web related to Napoleon it would be great if this could be automated.  That is, from a multiplicity of on-line resources, to create one large indexable or searchable reference on Napoleon!  

And not just search; we should be able to ask questions.  Simple questions like ‘When was the Battle of Marengo?’ and more complex questions such as ‘Was Napoleon good for France?’  Automation is the key, but how would that be done?  Well, as a number of computer types have pointed out, all these sources use the very same nouns or referents.  For example they all use such words as: ‘Napoleon’, ‘empire’, ‘Pope’, ‘Josephine’, ‘France’, ‘Marengo’, ‘Austerlitz’, etc., etc.  What we need to do is come up with a formal way of representing all the relevant nouns, enumerate their properties, and relate them to each other.  The sites, after all, are quite different in style and presentation but they are semantically similar.  And that leads us to formulate such quasi-RDF (Resource Description Format) triples as:

‘Napoleon’ ‘has-a’ ‘wife’;
‘Napoleon’ ‘is-a’ ‘general’;
‘Marengo’ ‘is-a’ ‘battle’
‘General’ ‘has-a’ ‘army’;
‘Josephine’ ‘is-a’ ‘wife’;
‘wife’ ‘has-a’ ‘husband’

And if we defined enough of these, a large number to be sure but graduate students have lots of time, we’d create a representational form strong enough to describe Napoleon and all of his works.  A computer program could be written that would search the aforementioned blogs and find each noun and relate it to the relevant triplet in our database and automatically place it in context.  In that way the various sites on Napoleon would be united in a Semantic Web.  We would be able to ask questions about Napoleon or related subjects and not only learn where the answers are but the answers themselves.  And, of course, not just Napoleon but every conceivable subject – a grand semantic web that unites all knowledge (on-line at least) and allows us to ask questions about anything and receive complete and detailed answers along with the degree of the reliability of that answer.   And the important thing is that all of this would be automated.

This kind of work is attributed to Tim Berners-Lee.   But, of course, none of this is new.  Philosophers have been trying to reduce reality to a series of unambiguous predicates since the dawn of time.  The only thing that’s new here is the intended scale and the means; computers have allowed dreamers to envision a totally automated and effortlessly constructed compendium of every conceivable statement about reality.

It is darkly curious, then, that none of this ever seems to succeed.   Whenever you DHers hear the words ‘Semantic Web’, ‘RDF’, or ‘XML’ I solemnly warn you that you are about to be bamboozled into wasting huge amounts of your valuable time.

Please take that to heart.  Just ignore advocates of such schemes; like the religious fanatics that  pass out pamphlets at your door (and religious fanaticism is exactly what drives the semantic web) they’ll go away if you ignore the door bell.  Remember that you are scholars and RDF/XML semantic web schemes are the death of scholarship.

What’s so wrong about the Semantic Web?


The problem is that there is an infinite number of domains of discourse and no Semantic Web can ever hope to unite them.  To see this imagine that we have a third website to be covered by our Napoleonic RDF.  It is called ‘’ and it tells the compelling story of how Napoleon came from outer space to wreak havoc in order to pave the way for an alien invasion.  But, foiled by the crafty British, and imprisoned on Saint Helena, his avatar went back into space – there to bide its time on a moon of Saturn where it waits to try again.  And, even though this site uses the same referents as the first two sites, ‘Napoleon’, ‘Marengo’, ‘Josephine’, etc., and even though its propositions can be expressed in the same or similar RDF,  it does not belong to the same domain of discourse.  No attempt to unite these three sites can ever lead to anything except nonsense.  Now, of course, you’ll say that no coo-coo web site like that should be included in our semantic web.  But a human being would have to make that judgment.  To make the judgment, that is, that this web site belongs to a totally different domain of discourse.  So much for the dream of automation.

And, in fact, there's no guarantee that any particular web site is consistent in the domains of discourse that it presents.  That means that even if you choose a website to include in your semantic web scheme that someone knowledgeable still has to go through each statement and test it for reliability (however reliability is defined in your particular semantic web).

Darker examples could be adduced.  Imagine two web-sites, ‘’ and ‘’, the first a pro-evolution site and the second vehemently anti-evolution.  They both use the same terms, ‘evolution’, ‘fitness’, ‘selection’, and in, probably, very similar ways.  The same RDF could be formed for both.  But at some point someone is naively going to ask our semantic web about the truth value of evolution and survival of the fittest.  Any semantic web that tries to unite these two domains of discourse will be incoherent on that question.  There is no knowledge schema that covers or can cover these two separate realities.  Again the problem could be solved by a human being culling the web sites covered.  That is, by reading all of them and making a human judgment about which are reliable.  (Another name for this is 'scholarship'.)  Again, the death of automation.

And what about these two: ‘’ and ‘’?  Or these two: ‘’ and ‘’?  Or these two: ‘’ and ‘’?  Or these two: ‘’ and ‘’?

In other words the proposed RDF schemes will fail precisely where we, as human beings, are most concerned to know something reliable.  That is, where our very selves are most involved, RDF and related schemes are powerless.  RDFs through all time have relied on the idea that all knowledge is one; that Truth is One.  I blame Plato for this but that’s just me.  The fact that some of these RDF schemes are ‘ISO-certified’ is just the rotted icing on the absurdist cake.(3)

The truth is not One.  And call me a grumpy old man but I have decades of experience in advanced computer science and I've never personally encountered a computer scientist who was educated about anything outside the narrow field of computers (and it is a narrow field).  They are not to be trusted on the issues with which the rest of us are concerned (although I might make an exception for Jaron Lanier).

What divides us as human beings isn’t just a few propositions which, once we learn them, will put us on the track to ‘right thought’.  It is not information that divides us.  This is the classic mistake of computer scientists – and the Holy Grail for every totalitarian.  Au fond, most computer scientists really believe that things are only words.  But they aren’t.  We, as human beings, live in our own inherently valuable universes.  Not all of those universes can be harmonized with all the others.  What separates these universes – these selves – are not wrong propositions, or bad-thought, but deeply felt passions, needs, appetites, and loves.  Other human universes cannot be stormed by the Dialectic.  Our connections have to be built up patiently over time.

And no automation can replace scholarship.  By scholarship I mean the several activities of gathering evidence, organizing, patient collation, reflection, judgment and the expression of these activities in the form of essays, books, diagrams and, yes, even in the form of web sites or blogs.  There is no grand slam against reality; no Tower to the Heavens that we can build that will let us storm the citadel of knowledge.   We have to patiently scrape away at the matrix of the Unknown with our small intellects in order to see it more plainly.

Just as we have to work to see each other more plainly.


(1) The best critique I know on this subject is Hubert Dreyfus’ invaluable (it deserved a Pulitzer) What Computers Can’t Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason from 1972 and his new edition, What Computers Still Can’t Do, from 1992.  The budding DHer can also benefit by reading the amusing remarks of Turow (2010) on Tort law.  Turow shines a brilliant light on this very problem of knowledge representation and of reasoning from slightly differing circumstances.

(2) A very mild formulation compared to what we often find on the internet.

(3) ISO is another bad idea from the ’80s whose sell-by date has long passed.


Dreyfus (1972): Dreyfus, Hubert, What Computers Can't Do: A Critique of Artificial Reason.  Harper and Row.  1972

Dreyfus (1992): Dreyfus, Hubert. What Computers Still Can't Do.  MIT Press. 1992.

Turow (2010): Turow, Scott.  One-L.  Penguin Books (reprinted 2010).