ICAS-EMME 2022 Conference Review

By Mahmoud Mardini, Associate Editor for Bioarchaeology

The 3rd International Congress on Archaeological Sciences in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East (ICAS-EMME 3) held at the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia between the 14th – 18th of March 2022, was co-organized by The Science and Technology in Archaeology and Culture Research Center (STARC), the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI), and the Archaeological Research Unit, University of Cyprus (ARU). The conference featured 132 contributions, including the keynote speech, 94 oral presentations, and 37 posters, with over 350 co-authors from 200 institutions, largely from Europe and the Levant, but also from Asia and America. This pattern highlights the growing interest and research depth of archaeological sciences in the EMME region. The conference aimed to promote multi-faceted applications and methods pertaining to a wide range of sub-disciplines in the archaeological sciences, including natural, material, and computational science methods, among the international scientific community of archaeologists and cultural heritage experts working in the EMME region.

The conference emphasized comparisons and parallels that are more conducive to academic debate than simple locally or regionally based studies. The following 12 sessions were held in this context:

1. Archaeological Science studies in the EMME region (Chair: Prof. Apostolos Sarris)

2. Mediterranean palaeomobility: written sources, material networks and skeletal data (Chairs: Dr Efthymia Nikita and Prof. Cyprian Broodbank)

3. Copper metallurgy in the EMME (Chairs: Prof. Thilo Rehren, Dr Myrto Georgakopoulou and Prof. Vasiliki Kassianidou)

4. An environmental history of ancient Cyprus: landscapes, plants and animals through time (Chairs: Dr Evi Margaritis, Dr Angelos Hadjikoumis and Prof. Paul Halstead)

5. Scientific analysis of ancient glass in the EMME region (Chairs: Dr Artemios Oikonomou and Dr Daniela Rosenow)

6. Multimodal digital heritage preservation in the EMME region (Chairs: Dr Dante Abate, Prof. Eva Savina Malinverni and Dr Roberto Pierdicca)

7. Modelling settlement transformations in the EMME region (Chairs: Dr George Artopoulos, Dr Katherine Crawford and Dr Iza Romanowska)

8. Digital documentation of heritage and the participation of local communities (Chairs: Dr Sorin Hermon, Dr Mia Trentin and Dr Anna Foka)

9. Interdisciplinary ceramic studies as proxies for approaching Eastern Mediterranean societies of the 2nd and 1st millennia BC (Chairs: Dr Maria Dikomitou-Eliadou, Dr Anna Georgiadou and Dr Artemis Georgiou)

10. Art characterization (Chairs: Dr Nikolas Bakirtzis and Dr Svetlana Gasanova)

11. Graduate research in archaeological sciences in the EMME region (Chairs: Meghna Desai, Carly Henkel, Anna Karligkioti, Mahmoud Mardini, Mehmetcan Soyluoglu, Kyriaki Tsirtsi, Chryssa Vergidou and Dr Lindy Crewe)

While all papers deserve detailed discussion, this review focuses on the participation of women academics in honor of International Women's Day on March 8, 2022. Specifically, the focus is on a group of early career researchers (ECRs) who presented at the session 'Graduate Research in Archaeological Sciences in the EMME Region'. The graduate session was organized for the first time in the 3rd installment of ICAS-EMME, and was chaired by 5 female and 2 male PhD students and Dr Lindy Crewe (CAARI director). The session managed to attract 21 submissions, with 12 papers presented by female ECRs. Given the broad range of topics in archaeological sciences presented during the session, it is not surprising to see the great potential and academic versatility of ECRs. The majority of the papers focused on human bioarchaeology (6 papers), followed by 2 presentations on maritime archaeology, with single papers for archaeobotany, environmental archaeology, imaging techniques in archaeology, and ceramic analysis. In the description below, I will be only referring to the first author per paper. 

Elissavet Ganiatsou’s (PhD candidate, Democritus University of Thrace) oral presentation delved into the weaning practices and breastfeeding duration of juvenile individuals (from birth to 6 years of age) from two cemeteries in the city of Thessaloniki, Greece, dating from the 4th century BC – 4th century AD. By sampling incremental dentine collagen and using nitrogen and carbon stable isotope analysis, a general breastfeeding duration of roughly 2 years was Identified, while some juveniles appear to have never breastfed. The weaning diet predominantly comprised of terrestrial sources, such as C3 and C4 plants, animal protein and animal by-products, as well as some marine protein (small fish), in accordance with historical records.

Sotiria Kiorpe’s (PhD candidate, University of Thessaloniki) oral presentation explored the burial conditions of the Petras cemetery (Early Minoan – Middle Minoan) to reconstruct the funerary practices of ancient human groups in Crete. With the exception of a few intact primary burials, analysis of the burial practices revealed that the majority of the skeletal remains buried at the cemetery were secondarily manipulated by being reduced and grouped into commingled piles of bones to make room for the burial of other community members. Mortuary practices at the Petras cemetery were also incorporated into a framework of social bioarchaeology by integrating parameters of bioarchaeology, funerary taphonomy, and historical sources to better understand the social processes that were in action in Minoan Crete.

Panagiota Bantavanou’s (PhD candidate, Democritus University of Thrace) poster presented the challenges of interpreting adult age-at-death when skeletal elements are modified by human activities and funerary practices (e.g. cremation). Two histological methods were applied on Roman era (1st – 4th century AD) human skeletal remains from Thessaloniki and then compared to a modern sample (University of Athens human skeletal collection) of known age-at-death. The team developed two sampling protocols and then adapted three regression equations to validate the applicability of these methods and better predict the age-at-death of adults with heavily altered and modified skeletal elements. 

Aggeliki Georgiadou’s (Postgraduate, Democritus University of Thrace) poster presentation on the ancient colony of Ambracia during the Archaic and Classical periods offers new insight into the dietary behavior of the local human groups at a time of cultural transformation in mainland Greece. 48 individuals were analyzed using stable isotopes, which revealed heavy dependance on terrestrial animal protein with less reliance on C3 plants and almost no preference for marine resources. This pattern complements other isotopic studies from the same time period in mainland Greece.

Anna Karligkioti’s (PhD candidate, The Cyprus Institute) poster presentation explored the biocultural determinants of identity of Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman era skeletal assemblages from the Messogeia plain in Eastern Attica. Preliminary bioarchaeological analysis supports different trends of health inequalities between Classical antiquity and the Roman period, offering valuable insights into the variation of life quality between different time periods in Greece. The study is still at an early stage and will be complemented with a larger sample size to systematically analyze other bioarchaeological parameters (e.g. activity patterns, dental disease, funerary patterns).

Chryssa Vergidou’s (PhD candidate, The Cyprus Institute) poster discussed the influence of micro-ecology on the dietary habits of two diametrically dissimilar human groups from Nea Kerdyllia and Pontokomi (1st – 4th century AD) through stable carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis. Preliminary results suggest that the diet of these geographically distant communities displayed very contrasting patterns, as expected. The results were also reviewed in the framework of previously reported macroscopic studies from Pontokomi to better contextualize bioarchaeological research in understudied regions of Greece during the Roman period. 

Maria Michael’s (PhD, University of Southampton) oral presentation provided a comprehensive review on fishing activity in Cyprus from the Neolithic to the Early Christian periods. The study explored fishing technology mainly through archaeological evidence, in addition to environmental ethnographic, iconographic, and historical data. This approach provides a more holistic understanding of the local maritime knowledge in relation to the surrounding cultural landscape.  

Alicia Johnson’s (Postgraduate, Alexandria Centre for Maritime Archaeology and Underwater Cultural Heritage) oral presentation used multiple examples of underwater cultural heritage sites to demonstrate the necessity to implement a sustainable management plan to protect historical diving sites and continue to promote public accessibility to them. Three different historical at-risk underwater sites (Roman wreck site at Fury Shoals, Ottoman merchant shipwreck of Sadana Island, Thistlegorm WWII shipwreck) were compared to demonstrate the potential effectiveness of a well-devised site management plan.

Kyriaki Tsirtsi’s (PhD candidate, The Cyprus Institute) poster presentation on Classical-Early Hellenistic Greece focused on unfolding aspects of daily life in Sikyon (Peleponnese) through the study of archaeobotanical remains. Macrobotanical remains (charred grains) revealed information on rural life in Hellenistic Sikyon by shedding light on human-plant interaction, such as agricultural and cooking activities, along with cultural modification of plants. Also, microbotanical remains (starch granules) were utilized to shed light on plant use and human dietary patterns. Contextualizing the exploitation of plant resources in Hellenistic Sikyon adds to the inter-disciplinary interpretation of the site within the framework of the collaborative ‘Old Sikyon Project’. 

Danai Theodoraki’s (PhD student, Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum) oral presentation offers preliminary insights into the climatic variability of the prehistoric site of Franchthi in Greece by investigating archaeological shell proxies. Applying different scientific techniques such as spectroscopy and chemical analysis, the molluscan record provided information on fluctuations in the ancient palaeoenvironments. This influenced the subsistence and social practices of ancient human groups throughout different chronological periods of occupation in prehistoric coastal sites in Greece.

Arentona Fostiropoulou’s (Postgraduate, Ephorate of Antiquities of Lasithi, Greece) poster presented the results of a Computed Tomography (CT) application on a pair of ancient female slippers from the Island of Chios in Greece. Footwear from the 20th century AD is not adequately represented in Greek collections, so the aim of the study was to provide details on the manufacturing technology and the composition of the production material to learn more about the significance of these objects. Manufacturing techniques, such as the direction and space of stitching, internal deformations of the material and the successive layers of the sole provided interesting information about the materials and techniques used. 

Maria Hadjigavriel’s (PhD candidate, Leiden University) poster presentation explained the necessity to develop a sampling strategy to investigate pottery technologies and their variability from various Late Chalcolithic sites across Cyprus. The sampling strategy focused on applying a variety of state-of-the-art techniques, including optical polarizing and scanning electron microscopy, to analyze the mineralogical, chemical, and microstructural properties of the ceramic assemblages under study.  

Despite its hybrid format, more than 70% of the participants physically attended the conference in Nicosia, adding to its success. An exceptional feature of the conference was the outstanding presence of female ECRs delivering high-quality papers on wide-ranging topics over the spectrum of archaeological sciences. We hope to see this pattern not only maintained but further strengthened in ICAS EMME 4!