Why PLoS?


I’ve pub­lished a paper with PLoS One which should be out today. The most com­mon ques­tion I’ve been asked so far is: Why there? I’m apply­ing for jobs in Archaeology and Ancient History, so why would I want to pub­lish in an online journal that hardly any­one in those fields has heard of? Surely pub­lish­ing in one of the big journ­als would be bet­ter? Here’s a few reasons.

  1. It’s fast.
    The paper was sub­mit­ted on the 8th of September and I got the accept­ance, sub­ject to revi­sions on the 30th of September. I wouldn’t be quite so happy if it had been rejec­ted, but you have to be pre­pared for that. The faster there’s a decision the quicker you can work on the revi­sions or else re-write for another journal. The rapid response means that I can cite the data in this paper in other papers imme­di­ately rather than delay­ing writ­ing about fur­ther work.
  2. It’s access­ible.
    Research might be inter­dis­cip­lin­ary, but not so many journ­als are. For this paper the altern­at­ives would be pub­lic­a­tion in spe­cial­ist archae­oastro­nomy, clas­sics, archae­ology or astro­nomy journ­als. I can do that and will do that in the future, but writ­ing for those journ­als means writ­ing for those spe­cific audi­ences. If they’re subscription-based they also lock out a large pro­por­tion of the poten­tial audi­ence. If an astro­nomer is in a uni­ver­sity without a clas­sics depart­ment then it’s going to be hard for him to get a copy of the paper. Likewise many uni­ver­sit­ies don’t carry archae­oastro­nomy journ­als. PLoS One gives me a plat­form to intro­duce the work and then I can pub­lish tailored art­icles devel­op­ing ideas in the spe­cial­ist journals.
  3. It opens con­ver­sa­tion.
    You can com­ment on the paper. So too can any­one else. This is par­tic­u­larly handy for inter­dis­cip­lin­ary work. I’m hop­ing the con­ver­sa­tion doesn’t end with this one paper. The article-based met­rics will included some of cita­tion search. Hopefully in a couple of years people read­ing this paper will be able to see where they can find cri­ti­cisms and devel­op­ments in other papers. That’s amaz­ingly use­ful for inter­dis­cip­lin­ary work where sub­sequent papers could be in journ­als in a vari­ety of disciplines.

I’ve decided some form of open-access is essen­tial for inter­dis­cip­lin­ary work. The paper stands or falls on whether or not the bino­mial dis­tri­bu­tion is the right tool for the task. That means for aca­demic hon­esty I have to sub­mit it to a journal where the I can be reas­on­ably sure it will be scru­tin­ised by people famil­iar with basic stat­ist­ics. Scientists might laugh at that as the math­em­at­ics in the paper is very simple. I think any clas­si­cist could fol­low it, but some could quite reas­on­ably be wary of it. Is it stat­ist­ical sleight-of-hand? They can read any com­ments left by stat­ist­i­cians or astro­nomers and judge how con­fid­ent they should be in the find­ings. Likewise people unfa­mil­iar with the Greek mater­ial can read the clas­si­cists’ and archae­olo­gists’ com­ments and see if the human aspect of the research is sound.

It’s also import­ant for me because I might learn some­thing, and indeed I did. This is a bet­ter paper post-review than it was when I sub­mit­ted it. I’ve re-thought how I pro­cess some of the data and that will have a pos­it­ive on the next pro­ject I do.

After going through the pro­cess I’m impressed with PLoS. I think I hit every bump in the sub­mis­sion pro­cess, most of it due to the order­ing of the paper being dif­fer­ent to how I would nor­mally write it. Still, the every­one was very help­ful along the way. If you’re a recent PhD or grad stu­dent with a need to put out some pub­lic­a­tions, I’d recom­mend pub­lish­ing with PLoS One. Of course I’m writ­ing this before I’ve seen how the paper has been received, so you can check on my art­icle met­rics your­self to see if it’s being read or else sunk into obscurity.

Starlight Expressed


This very briefly intro­duces the stat­ist­ical method I used to ana­lyse the Greek temples of Sicily for astro­nom­ical align­ments. It’ll be the basis for a paper On the Orientations of Greek Temples in Sicily. The whole thesis will be made avail­able later via Open Access some way or another. I would say via the British Library’s EThOS sys­tem, but I’ve had no luck with that.

The smell of corruption?


The Temple of the Dioscuri, Agrigento.

There’s an inter­est­ing story in the Independent today. A gas plant is set to be built about a mile away from the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. The plant itself would be a story, but what makes it spe­cial is how the plant was approved des­pite the archae­olo­gical zone being pro­tec­ted by envir­on­mental laws. It turns out the temples don’t exist. Going back to the ori­ginal story in Corriere della Sera:

Il provved­i­mento, adot­tato il 28 settembre dal min­is­tro dell’Ambiente (Stefania Prestigiacomo) «di con­certo» con il min­is­tro per i Beni cul­tur­ali (Sandro Bondi), è chiaro: dice che il pro­getto di un rigas­si­fic­atore da 8 mil­iardi di metri cubi l’anno, che l’Enel vuol realiz­zare nel por­tic­ci­olo di Porto Empedocle, «non incide su zone spe­ciali tutelate a liv­ello comunit­ario, in quanto i pro­posti siti di interesse comunit­ario più vicini (pSic) dis­tano da 13 a 20 km dall’area di intervento ».

which I get as:

The meas­ure, adop­ted on the 28th of September 28 by the Minister of Environment (Stefania Prestigiacomo) “in con­cert” with the Minister for Cultural Heritage (Sandro Bondi), is clear: it says that the plans for a refinery pro­cessing 8 bil­lion cubic metres of gas a year, that Enel(?) wants to build in the habour of Porto Empedocle, “does not affect spe­cial areas pro­tec­ted at EU level, as the pro­posed site is 13 to 20 kilo­metres from the closest sites of com­munity interest.”

The Valley of the Temples is a couple of kilo­metres away from Port Empedocle.

Agrigento is not the first UNESCO site in Sicily to be threatened by the pet­ro­chem­ical industry. The Val di Noto is threatened by a poten­tial oil plant. If you want to know what effect a refinery like the one pro­posed will have on the Valley of the Temples then you can visit Megara Hyblaea on the east coast of Sicily, a few kilo­metres north of Syracuse. It’s sat just south of a pet­ro­chem­ical plant and when the wind blows from the north the air is evil. It doesn’t help when the wind blows from the south either, because there’s another plant there too. The site isn’t fit for human hab­it­a­tion, and I feel sorry for whoever’s pos­ted there. The plant at Agrigento will cer­tainly cre­ate some jobs, but it will be a body blow to Sicily’s tour­ist industry.

Buildings at Megara Hyblaea
Megara Hyblaea and mod­ern industry.

The thing that both­ers me though is the way the per­mis­sion has been passed. I can see how the gov­ern­ment might decide that a gas refinery is more urgently needed than a tour­ist trap. I wouldn’t agree, but you could have an hon­est debate on the sub­ject. But to simply ignore the exist­ence of the site is deeply wor­ry­ing, espe­cially when one of those people is the Minister of Culture. That’s not a mat­ter of policy, it’s a mat­ter of com­pet­ence. If he can­not recog­nise a UNESCO site then exactly what could he recog­nise as ‘cul­ture’? How did this hap­pen? The accus­a­tion is that palms have been greased by crim­in­als in Sicily who have been doing ‘their thing’.

You can read more about it in English or Italian.

Whose tomb would you like to find?

Temple at Eraclea Minoa
The Tomb of Minos at Eraclea Minoa?

Archaeology Magazine are run­ning an inter­est­ing poll at the moment:

The tombs of so many of history’s great lead­ers are lost.
Which other ruler would you most like to see discovered?

That’s an easy one to answer I know which unseen tomb I’d like to find. It’s more dif­fi­cult if you spe­cify that the leader should already be dead, but I think I have an answer for that too.
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Oil, Heritage and Sicily


Via A Blog Clock Around the Clock, I’ve read about plans to drill for oil in the Val di Noto at the Skeptical Alchemist. To see what effect this might have you don’t have to look far, the coast has been developed by the pet­ro­chem­ical industry. It’s a par­tic­u­lar worry because this is a not­able region for for its remains, even by the high stand­ards of Sicily. What makes the Val di Noto par­tic­u­larly spe­cial is that it doesn’t just have ruins from one period. There are Greek and Roman remains like many other places in Italy, but it is is a major site for more mod­ern archae­olo­gical remains.

Noto Town Hall
Noto Town Hall. Photo (cc) Zeitspuren

In the late sev­en­teenth cen­tury earth­quakes struck this part of Sicily caus­ing dev­ast­a­tion. The town were rebuilt in the cur­rent style and so the Val di Noto is a time cap­sule of late Baroque archi­tec­ture. Its because of the pre­ser­va­tion of these build­ings that the towns of the Val di Noto are inscribed into the UNESCO her­it­age list.

Normally towns build organ­ic­ally, so many European cit­ies look like a mess with Roman phases over pre­his­toric set­tle­ments, which are super­ceded by medi­eval towns and mod­ern rebuild. Modern redevel­op­ment has to take into account the urban envir­on­ment it is being built into. The archi­tec­ture and plan­ning of these towns more reflects the thoughts and plan­ning of just one period.

Piazza Duomo, CataniaBaroque archi­tec­ture is about power, spe­cific­ally about reli­gious power. The Catholic church in this period saw emo­tion as an essen­tial part of art and archi­tec­ture if it was to con­vey their mes­sage to the masses. The archi­tec­ture drew on the clas­sical ideals made pop­u­lar in the Renaissance and turned them up to eleven. These build­ings were inten­tion­ally in-yer-face to push the reli­gious mes­sage with the ornate carvings and vivid paint­ings. Baroque archi­tec­ture is about shout­ing about Christ’s power and, by exten­tion, the power of the Church. It’s about refus­ing to be ignored. It’s no sur­prise that this should also have been the style favoured by the European powers when they star­ted build­ing in the newly foun­ded colonies.

This is cur­rently under a threat as part of the Val di Noto is set to be exploited by a com­pany drilling for oil. The com­pany isn’t going to be demol­ish­ing Noto, but Sicilians already have an example of what hap­pens when a pet­ro­chem­ical plant moves into the neigh­bour­hood of an archae­olo­gical site. You can see the effect at Megara Hyblaea.
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Planning Temples


One of the things that has kept me occu­pied recently is a series of trips down to Oxford chas­ing vari­ous plans and excav­a­tion reports. The series of plans I talked about last month can be found in a book Die griech­is­chen Tempel in Unteritalien und Sicilien by Robert Koldewey and Otto Puchstein. I say in a book, I mean more next to a book. The plans are massive and held in a case next to the ori­ginal book, which is equally large. The plans are in fact so large that I can’t pho­to­copy many of them on an A3 pho­to­copier. They’re really beau­ti­ful even more so than usual for me as they had north arrows, but I’ll get to that.

I’ll be hon­est they’re also a little odd. As I said the plans are large. One is so large is doesn’t fit onto one sheet, and so there’s an addi­tion slip of paper to attach to the bot­tom. It seems Koldewey worked to scale, but either he or his printer didn’t grasp that scales are scal­able. Hence the plan of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest ancient Greek temple, is slightly lar­ger than A1 in size.

So any­way if they’re so won­der­ful and well drawn why the con­fu­sion? Here’s a com­par­ison. Below is Koldewey’s plan from 1892 of the Temple of Concord.

Temple F

…and now here’s a plan in De Miro’s 1994 book La valle dei tem­pli.

Plan of the Temple of Concord, Agrigento

It’s a scan of a pho­to­copy, so it looks a bit odd, but you can hope­fully see the prob­lem.
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Confused by Shadows


I’ve been busy this week with trips to lib­rar­ies for research. In fact I’ve been made a little bit busier due to a prob­lem with some­thing I found.

Temple A
Temple A, also known as the Temple of Hercules. Plan from Pirro Marconi’s report of 1929.

I was check­ing the sizes and dat­ing evid­ence for temples at Agrigento. The plan of Temple A in Marconi’s report was very odd because it showed most columns mainly on the north side of the temple, and I thought the sur­viv­ing columns are on the south side. When I looked later at the plans for Temple D, I also found the shad­ows were point­ing in the oppos­ite dir­ec­tion. So it looked like Marconi had rotated the plan by 180° without not­ing it.

Temple of Hercules
Temple of Hercules viewed from the South. Photo (cc) Mark1706.

Then came the next prob­lem.
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