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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Baroque 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.
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.
…and now here’s a plan in De Miro’s 1994 book La valle dei templi.
It’s a scan of a photocopy, so it looks a bit odd, but you can hopefully see the problem.
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, 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 viewed from the South. Photo (cc) Mark1706
Then came the next problem.
This is a mock-up of a sunrise I prepared for I forget what. If the view looks familiar then this is because it’s a photo I abuse a lot. It’s from the interior of the temple at Segesta and it’s a handy photo to use. One reason is that it’s a very Greek looking temple with the columns and so forth and it’s hand to be able to view it from the inside. Ironically it’s not a Greek temple. It was built by Elymians, natives asssociated with the west of Sicily.
Lest you be overly impressed that I should get up early enough to blag my way into the site and photograph the sunrise, below the fold is the original version of the photo. If you look at the sunrise location you can see where I’ve removed a hill, so this is not intended to be strictly accurate.
…because I’d do something like this.
You’d think putting a cover over an ancient theatre would be a Good Idea. At least I would. This is the theatre at Eraclea Minoa and it’s crumbling under its canopy. It’s acting as a condensation trap and helping water seep into the sandstone. It’s very easy to criticise with hindsight, but when you look at other methods used to conserve sites, like the generous use of concrete that you can see at ancient sites across Europe, it does sound like something worth trying. They’re now, if I recall correctly, trying to get the money together to conserve the site as they planned and the extra to fix the problem with the previous attempt at conservation.
Not recent news, and I had lifting whole stories for quotes, but I need a record of the news story and it looks like it’s disappearing from ANSA.