Monday, September 30, 2002

Well, here it is over a week since I've been back and interest in Phoenix Earth remains rather low. Curiously, this is not as disappointing as I had thought it would be. As Mr. Clean reminded me, I can be assured that the crew back home is most interested indeed. And really, that's okay for now. I have the opportunity to play with lots of folks up here through the Stanford Gaming Society, but I'm a little put off by that whole deal, to tell you the truth. Mind, it's not that I think that they're bad players, or that they'll be way better than me. It's just that the vibe I get off of those games is that they're, well, games. And while I admit that that kind of thing can be fun, I don't roleplay to play a game. I do it to tell a story through the vehicle of a game, which is another thing altogether. And then there's the prevalence of the D&D 3rd edition (which I will refer to hereafter as the D20 system, though I realize that's slightly inaccurate).

Now, don't get me wrong. As a gamer myself, I do appreciate the virtues of the D20 system. From a gaming standpoint it's really rather impressively optimized for allowing players to beat merrily away at imposing ranks of monsters who exist for no particular purpose other than being beat upon. And it's not that I don't think that the D20 system could be used to tell stories - I rather expect that the game Red Jenny is involved in will do just that. But I think that when a good story is told in that system it's in spite of the system rather than because of it.

Allow me to elaborate. Roleplaying games exist on a continuum, with pure storytelling at one end and pure gaming on the other. The hobby actually started out on the pure gaming end. The further to that extreme you go, the more rules and restrictions you find yourself mired in. If you want to emphasize storytelling, then, you've got to either do away with rules entirely or else find yourself a system that mimics reality as closely as possible. A good roleplaying game consists fundamentally of a world - a set of universe laws (e.g., "physics remains unaltered; magic works in the following ways; here is the technology level we're at and the current state of knowledge") - and within those laws anything that would be possible ought to be possible in the game, and my intuitive sense of the world ought to apply to the results the rules of the game churn out. If I jump, I want the rules to say I come down. And this is where my problem with the D20 system lies.

My beef consists of two parts. First is the question of classes. I have no particular problem with the idea of classes, but I think the D20 system mplements them poorly because it plays too much with causality. Take the example of a paladin. A paladin in the 3rd edition is a holy knight with some vaguely defined devotion to righteousness, whatever that means. Because of this devotion he or she is granted several supernatural powers (by "righteousness," apparently ... but I digress). Now that's all well and good; I can accept a world where righteousness is some sort of force of nature or even a personal being. But the truth of the matter is that people play paladins because of their powers, not because of what they are. This is pointed out by the fact that if a mage decides to devote himself or herself to the pursuit of righteousness, what does he gain by it? A bunch of ethical restrictions, that's what. Of course the mage could just decide to level up as a paladin ... but that's to say that so far as the game is concerned the mage only gains the benefits of devotion to righteousness when he becomes a paladin. It's the way the game rules work, but not the way game reality works. A person's class should be defined by what they do, not the other way around.

Then there's the question of what classes are even available. Leveling up in D&D translates, essentially, into the ability to beat things more effectively. Now, that's all well and good so far as it goes ... but what about the other parts of life, the ones that don't involve mayhem? There are people who spend their whole lives studying etiquette, which is most assuredly a non-violent pursuit. Where is the provision in this system for skills and classes that are strong in the mental and social aspects of life (and no, wizards don't count. All of their arcane study has one ultimate goal: beating on things)? I don't object to carnage and mayhem in a roleplaying game, but most of life is nonviolent. And the D20 system utterly fails to model that.

Second is the question of armor. This is my huge and eternal complaint about the D&D system. Consider the example of a man wearing plate mail who is struck by a sword, and the example of a man wearing street clothes who is struck by a sword. According to the D&D system, I have a vastly inferior chance of wounding the man in plate. This is true. However, granted that I do wound them both, I will deal exactly the same damage to each.

This is obviously absurd. The only conceivable representation of this is that I have actually penetrated the clothing of both men and my sword is literally inside their bodies, displacing an equal amount of tissue. Now, I won't deny that that's possible - plate mail can certainly be penetrated by muscle power. But that means that every time I damage somebody in the D&D system, I leave them with a gaping hole in their armor. Which is obviously absurd (and let's not even think about how bludgeoning a man in plate has the same effect as bludgeoning a man in civies. Explain that one to me, if you can). Armor does more than deflect a blow, it also lessens the force of it. The system needs a damage resistance quality built into its armor - not just into the feats of certain classes - in order to accurately mimic reality. And that doesn't even begin to mimic the effects of a gun: if I shoot a man in plate and a man in civies they are both very likely to take comparable amounts of damage. Why? Not because the bullet does more damage to one than the other; it's still the same bullet. If I shoot a man in plate he falls down; if I shoot a man in civies he falls down - he doesn't explode or anything. So weapons too need a characteristic that allow them to bypass or partially ignore armor.

And then let's consider the question of wounding. There are, I believe, two methods of inflicting harm to the human body: tissue disruption or tissue displacement. A bludgeon (or a penetrating weapon that doesn't penetrate the skin) inflicts tissue disruption through the transfer of energy. We know that that can be damaging and even lethal (c.f. the case of the hoplite who dies of a head wound without his helmet ever being penetrated, or the man whose ribs get broken when a bullet strikes his bullet proof vest). But it's a very different quality of armor that stops tissue disruption as opposed to tissue displacement. Take the case of chain mail: a man in chain is reasonably well protected against most swords, for instance. He is less well protected against a maul. A man in thickly padded armor is reasonably well protected against bludgeons, but not less so against a sharp object. There needs to be some sort of distinction there, and in the D&D system there isn't.

And finally we get into the question of the type of attack. The plasma jet evolved by a shaped charge round is defeated by significantly different physical properties than defeat a kinetic attack, or an energy one. A rubber suit will protect me just fine from your chain lightning, but not from your sword. Rolled homogenous steel will protect me just fine from your sword, but not from your plasma jet (or your fireball). Where's the distinction? Why do we have a world where all those types of attack exist and a rules system that isn't even passingly aware of it?

Of course the argument against all that stuff is that they slow down gameplay. But I would argue that gameplay is not what roleplaying is about (and if you disagree, by all means go ahead and use the D&D system). Roleplaying is about acting, about telling a story. If we must have rules let them enhance the experience of the game. Let them give the players insight into what exactly just happened. Let them give the DM suggestions about how to narrate what just went on. Let them introduce an element of chance into the narrative. But let them be grounded in the narrative and never stray, or else they are inhibiting the point of the game itself.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

So I've got an hour before my next class and my last post was kind of a downer, which I try not to do. So I think I'll post. I am torn between terror and giddy satisfaction.

I've got several reasons to be disquieted, but my disquiet has been pushed into terror by the simple fact that I'm taking Intermediate Fiction Writing this quarter. I'm taking it with the same instructor as I had for beginning fiction writing, and she even remembered me, but I am still extremely apprehensive. Malinda's (since she's an instructor who I don't count as a personal friend, she doesn't get a blogname) class was a lot of work last time, and I don't expect it will be any different this time - except I'll be a lot busier this time around, or anyway I fully expect to be. And besides the pressure of turning out these stories, there's the added restriction of "no genre fiction." I don't normally read so-called realistic fiction, because I want my fiction to edify and inspire me with tales of good triumphing over evil, courage over cowardice, and honor over selfishness. In short, I want my fiction to be about what ought to be, not what is. I already know what is! Not that I doubt my ability to write good realistic fiction. I just don't care about it the way I care about fantasy and science fiction. And I am afraid of not having enough time to write good stories, and having other people workshop work that I know isn't good.

I suppose I'm also afraid that nobody will ever take seriously the writing that I care about. I know intellectually that that's not true - this is just one more part of my education where my duty is to play a game I don't care about. And I'm sure it will improve my craft, thus enhancing the work that I do care about. But sometimes it's hard not to think that nobody up here appreciates Christianity as an intellectual and philosophical system, and that prospect is at once disheartening and deeply offensive. Back home I can be assured that even my non-Christian friends respect my religion as a tradition that absolutely must be understood, either because they're still not sure what to think about it or because they realize that they live in a society that was at one point predominately Christian (and is, to be fair, still the most religious society on the planet). In some cases (e.g., The DM) it's especially my non-Christian friends who think that Christianity is worthy of treating respect. But up here ... I mean, what would it look like if I took a Phoenix Earth manuscript to the English department and asked for serious critique of a work of Christian science fantasy? I can't help but fear that the response would be ... well, misunderstanding.

And of course, then there's the fear that they just wouldn't care. I sent out an e-mail to the Stanford Gaming Society the other day announcing my intent to run a Phoenix Earth campaign, time and interest allowing. Time ... well, I'll make time for roleplaying. Gaming is too important to me, to much a part of who I am as a moral and spiritual being, for me to cut it out of my life entirely. Even if I can only run one session a month, I'll do it. But interest ... now, interest is another story entirely. These people don't know me, they don't know my system, and they don't know my world. Would you join a game like that? I'm not sure I would. And even though I know that those restrictions mean that a lack of interest in Phoenix Earth up here won't truly mean anything, it will be disappointing.

But that's enough depression. The other side of me is elated. With the exception of Malinda's, I'm taking classes this quarter that I'm truly and honestly excited about. And Testimony ... well, Testimony has had two really good shows in the past couple days. I don't mean to brag, but we rocked. And as many of us no doubt have noticed (and in some cases already posted), the Orientation Show order gave every impression that The Powers That Be have recognized that we are, in fact, very good. And not only that, but apparently we got a positive flood of auditonees since the last time I checked! How wonderful is that?

And, if that wasn't enough, I had Social Dance I today for the first time. I'm taking the class as a follow, and I was initially a little wary about the whole thing because I was reflecting that while I do want to be skilled in all sorts of dances, I don't actually like all types of dances. And I want to be skilled in all sorts of random things (like fencing - ooh, I think I'm gonna like that class!), so that's nothing particularly special. But I had forgotten how very fun dancing can be, and how fun the Dance Master's classes are. I came out of that class with a big grin, the kind that signifies an irrepressible, inexpressible joy - the kind that I used to get after a date with Princess or Thea. Yes, life is generally looking up.

I am also quietly pleased, despite some initial envy issues, to be serving on Testimony's [leadership\\officer] core for this year. Because I think we have a good team, and I think that we have a good possibility of actually being a spiritual covering for the group - and I am glad to have been called to be a part of that endeavor. This may not (never will be) the cove, but it is for the moment home. So I am home, writing stuff that I care about, listening to "Dust on the Bottle," ... and, of course, in good health.

Sunday, September 22, 2002

Well, I'm back at Stanford and more or less moved in. My gear is where it should be, Goochy is atop his lightning ball, and Hoplomachos looks down on me at my computer from his perch atop my bookcase.

My sister, meanwhile, is at Pepperdine, and I must say that I am vaguely jealous. Maelana is proud of her school, and I can't say that about mine. It's not that I'm ashamed of Stanford, mind you, but there doesn't seem to be anything about it that's really worth being proud about. It's smart, reasonably innovative, and morally mediocre. We have a surprisingly strong believing community, of course, but the institution itself is ... not much of anything. But I suppose it's really fairly rare to find a school or company that one is actually proud of, so all that is by the by.

What really vexes me about being back here is the way I seem to become more of a creature of emotion on this campus. The pettiest things can send me spiraling down into a self-pitying funk. It's like I'm contending with the spirit of this place, a spirit of self-importance ... which, come to think of it, sounds precisely like what I am doing. I shall have to take steps accordingly. I am glad that Eliani returned On Basilisk Station to me. In places like this it is good to have role models like Honor Harrington to remind me that there is a better way to live.

Of course, despite its various failings, I do still want to be back at Stanford. This is where I belong, and this is where I shall stay. And after all, I would do well to remember that I am here to grow up ... and one can hardly expect God to have sent me to a place where living was easier than home to grow me up. Besides, I have big plans for this year. The biggest of which is beginning the process of marketing Phoenix Earth, which process I will be pursuing on two different tracks. The thought fills me with trepidation now that I have actually begun to investigate what that entails, but I shall press forward. Phoenix Earth is not just my baby; it is my testimony. It's a story that I think deserves to be told. So I shall tell it, if I can.

Monday, September 16, 2002

I'm in the process of upgrading my computer to Windows XP, so I'll take this opportunity to fill in all who are interested about Zingaro and Palermo. We'll go in increasing order of complexity.

Zingaro Nature Preserve was essentially a beach, but it was the best beach that I'd ever been to. I guess it was a fifteen or twenty minute drive from the dig house, and people went fairly frequently - I guess there were maybe four or five trips to Zingaro over the course of the dig, which is pretty good for six weeks. You had to pay two euro to get in (~$2), but that was ok because the place was absolutely gorgeous. You got to the beach itself by walking, and after you walked through this big tunnel cut into the rock (for which you were heartily glad, given the ferocity of the sun) it was like you had entered Jurassic Park or something. The Mediterranean stretched out before you to your right, windswept and a deep jewel blue, and ahead and to your left were these great cliffs that jutted into the air, and were all the more dramatic for the fact that they were covered in the greenest grass despite the precipitous incline. The first time we went we hung out on this rock outcropping and swam in the water (which was absolutely clear and warm enough that even I didn't get cold). That was cool, and I got to meet people on the dig for real for the first time. But the sun and complete lack of shade, plus the fact that the rock we were on was inhabited by tiny worms that would poke their heads out of the holes they'd burrowed into the rock and bite you, detracted somewhat from the trip.

The second time around we hiked around this outcropping - and hiked for about thirty minutes in sandals, which was less than pleasant despite the spectacular vistas it afforded. I was very glad for the CamelBak I was carrying. The beach we got to, however, was worth it. The water was even clearer than before, and really shallow for about sixty yards or so, so you could see the bottom really clearly even without goggles. The beach was little pebbles instead of sand, which was all to the good in my opinion since sand has an irritating habit of gluing itself to you when you're wet whereas pebbles do not, and these pebbles were just as soft as sand. And the beach was this sheltered cove, too, so we even had shade. Oh yeah, and the beach was almost deserted. Quite phenomenal.

So, as Her Majesty would say, to Palermo then! Palermo is Sicily's largest city at about 700,000 residents. It felt like a big city, anyway, even though I know 700,000 isn't all that much compared to the places I've spent most of my life. I went with a group for the weekend in an attempt to ration my leisure activities (which, at the dig house, were essentially limited to cards, books, music, and Phoenix Earth) by doing something that got me out of the dig house. As most of you know, I'm not much for big cities (in point of fact, they make me uncomfortable), but I figured the company would be enjoyable. As it was; I got to know the Conservator and Tango on that trip.

The plan was to walk around the city enjoying the sights for the first day, those sights including the outdoor market, big cathedral, and a number of smaller ones throughout the city, renting a hotel for the night, and then visiting the archaeological museum and catacombs on Sunday. So we mostly wandered around for the first day. The outdoor market was noisy and sprawled for street after street of the most random stuff: lingerie hanging from lines drawn across the street, bootleg CDs, coffee percolators, handpainted ceramics, groceries, and on and on. The cathedrals ... well, I guess I can't say much about the cathedrals, which is strange because they were really breathtaking. I am most indebted to Chaminade (my high school) for giving me the ability to appreciate and comprehend Catholicism. That has proved important any number of times, and it came in handy again when taking in the cathedrals at Palermo. The thought I had most was taken from Gladiator: "I didn't know men could build such things." There is something curious about cathedrals, which I find neither beautiful (despite the beautiful artwork) nor stately (despite the grandeur of the architecture) but simply ... well, grand.

We stumbled upon a traveling exhibit of Elymian Sicily that first day, which was really cool because they had the niftiest stuff in it. There were several stelae that they had dug up, which gave a chronology of this one site (unfortunately I couldn't read the Greek, to my great frustration). We saw some reconstructed pithoi, which were huge (and rather ugly) and I also saw some bronze arms: a bronze spearhead (ceremonial, I conjecture), a greave, three helmets ... it was so cool.

The hotel was only a one-star hotel, but it was remarkably nice. The room (well, my room; we got three) was rather spacious, even, and certainly clean. And the amenities were nice. Anyway, the next day we saw the archaeological museum, which was like the traveling exhibit only a hundred times cooler. And all the stuff was rather poorly displayed, so our little group went around explaining stuff to each other. We saw a whole bunch of sculpture that still had the original paint on it, which was way cool for the Conservator since that's what she's interested in, and whole pieces of temples, and vase paintings of all kinds - most particularly interesting to me were those depicting hoplite battle, since those very paintings are critical to our modern understanding of what went on on the Greek battlefield.

The catacombs were also interesting, but from a more philosophical standpoint. They were mostly in use in the 16th century, if I recall correctly, and haven't had another interment for about 80 years. Some people thought it was creepy - which I guess I could see, given that the bodies were just there within arm's reach (beyond the chain-link, of course) and some of them were kind of falling apart. Mostly I thought it was interesting to contemplate the mindset of a people who would inter their dead that way, and wonder how much of it was sociopolitical and how much of it was actually theologically motivated. The latter was particularly interesting to me since the text seems to indicate to me quite clearly that when the Resurrection occurs we get new bodies ... so what use in preserving the old ones?

So that was about the size of my big outside adventures. Now you're all caught up with Sicily. And I'm about to go back to school, so probably I'll have to skip the rest of summer unless there are some specific requests.

Friday, September 13, 2002

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m back. I’ve actually been back for some time, if by “back” you mean “in the United States rather than Sicily,” which of course is where I was for the first six weeks of summer and the principal reason I stopped blogging. Not that I ever intended for this to be a consistent news update. Blogs are information dumps and nothing more, and there is something distinctly ungentlemanly about expecting people to read your blog rather than talking with them. Speaking Natalie will remain an exercise in Speaking Natalie.

All that notwithstanding, I do understand that many of you are probably curious about Sicily and how it went. So here I sit with Martina McBride singing over my speakers to tell you about Sicily and how it went. For convenience’s sake I will divide this post into three main sections: where we were digging, how we were digging, and what we were digging. This will likely be a very long post, but if you don’t want to read it (or want to stop reading once you realize how long it is) don’t feel bad. I give you leave to stop. Really.

For those of you who don’t know, let me give you a little background on our site. I was digging at a hill in western Sicily called Monte Polizzo, which in the 6th century BC was home to a settlement of a people whom the Greeks called Elymians. We don’t know what they called themselves, or if they even thought that the “Elymians” were a single cultural group, so until we find out how the Elymians thought of themselves, Elymians they shall stay.

The basic picture we get here is that the Greeks and Phoenicians did their colonizing thing in the 8th century BC, which is how you get Phoenician (i.e., from Lebanon) cities like Carthage out in the middle of North Africa and Greek cities around the Black Sea. Naturally both peoples colonized Sicily (well, okay, the Phoenicians only sort of colonized it, but for purposes of our discussion let’s just say they did). For a while the natives and newcomers coexisted in relative peace. Around the 6th century, the Greek cities started wanting more land (after all, you need a hinterland if you’re going to be a proper Greek polis) and things got kind of ugly. The Greeks being a rather nasty militaristic people, the Elymians got the short end of the stick and started fleeing inward to these hilltop sites which were miserable to live on but easy to defend against the faceless bronze-clad bourgeois hordes. Monte Polizzo is one such site.

So that’s where we were digging. As far as how we were digging: The town of Salemi, which is where we were staying ‘cause it’s right near the hill, has been kind enough these past several years to provide the dig with a house at its own expense. This is essentially because we’re the biggest thing that happens to Salemi all year, excepting the Mafia – I mean, the pharmaceuticals industry. So every day, except for Sundays and every other Saturday, we’d get up about 0600 and stagger into our digging clothes and go outside. Going outside was absolutely necessary, for two reasons: 1). The dig house, like virtually all buildings in Salemi, had no air conditioning to combat the humidity; 2). The food was outside. So we stumbled outside, and those of us who drank coffee (which does not include me) drank shots (from little plastic shot glasses) of coffee from these aluminum percolators whose handles were only technically attached to their bodies, which made pouring coffee (or worse, making it) somewhat hazardous. Then we would battle the meat wasps for the materials to make our lunches and stumble into the vans and cars that would drive us most of the way up the hill. Standard load-out for a digger was four liters of water, though as it turned out we generally didn’t drink that much. We left the house by 0630 and were generally on-site by 0700.

Of course getting to the site included walking the last ten minutes or so, which wouldn’t have been bad except for the severity of the incline. But once we got to the top (and I do mean the top, as in the highest point on the hill) of Monte Polizzo we could take a breather near one of our rock piles or under a tarp. Oftentimes the hill would be shrouded in thick white mist that rolled by with a beauty that was almost eerie; half the time I expected Ringwraiths to come striding out of the mist. On mornings like that you could see your shadow projected onto the mist, and visibility was less than fifty yards. It was beautiful.

The soil at Monte Polizzo was really hard once you got through the top soil, so we dug with pick-axes. I’m told that in wetter climes, such as Britain, the soil is so soft that you can’t even use a brush on it because you’ll smear the layers too much that way. At Monte Polizzo, we literally ran into rocks that were easier to chop through than the “soil.” So we used big picks to take out large amounts of dirt (this stuff laughs at shovels unless it’s already broken up by a pick), and small picks to take out small amounts of dirt, and we only broke out the trowels when there was absolutely no other choice. You’ll probably wonder if we didn’t break stuff, blasting into the soil with big metal blades (naturally we used the blade end of the pick, rather than the pointy end) all the time. And, well, yes, we did. But if we ever broke anything truly important, which was pretty rare, the folks in the pottery lab could always put it back together. And it’s either dig with picks or don’t dig at all. Besides, pottery is surprisingly resilient. Many of the sherds we dug up could take several direct hits from a small pick and show only scratches. There’s a reason this stuff has lasted twenty-six hundred years.

Except for the first two days, when we laid into the local vegetation with picks and sickles to clear a plateau for the new Zone D and moved all the rocks dug up last year, the work was actually surprisingly light. I mean sure I moved several metric tons of dirt by hand, but over six weeks that’s not all that hard. The procedure is essentially to pick off a layer of dirt about a centimeter thick or so, then take your brush and dustpan and sweep it all up and dump it in a bucket. That stuff would eventually get sieved, so we didn’t have to be too careful, but the truth of the matter is that it was generally pretty easy to see the pottery, bones, or iron that we were digging up. And of course the wall was fairly unmistakable, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Weather on the hill was generally pretty clement, and up at the very top of the summit (Zone A, where I was working) there was a nice breeze for most of the day. But it was quickly apparent that nobody who wasn’t deathly afraid would live up here voluntarily. Every so often the nice breeze would turn into a scouring sandstorm that blasted across the hill and made life absolutely miserable. Dustpans would get blown for fifty feet or more if you put them down wrong, and every single particle of dirt you dug up got picked up by the wind and blown into somebody else’s eyes. Then there were the days when it was miserable and chill, and the fog enveloped the hill all the way through noon. And the days when the breeze didn’t come and the air was so still you wondered why it didn’t fall to the ground like a bunch of atmospheric marbles and you just baked. But most of the time it was relatively pleasant, if you brought plenty of water (the nearest spring is naturally down the hill, which would have meant a long walk for our Elymian friends).

At 1030 we’d break for about fifteen minutes, and at 1130 we’d break for lunch for half an hour. Then at 1430 we’d pack up our finds for the day and drive them back to the dig house, where we’d wash the bones and pottery and put them into these plastic trays called cassettes to be taken away into the lab and never seen again.

But what were we digging, you ask?

Finds-wise, we dug up mostly broken bits of pottery. Monte Polizzo is literally covered with pottery; the stuff littered the ground on the way up to the site. My tango-dancing friend whom I will refer to as Blue Tango worked in Zone D, half of which was literally carpeted in pottery – that’s about twenty-five square meters of the stuff. And there was lots of bone, too, both burned and unburned. We dug up a lot of that in Zone A, though hardly as much as one of the Zone B trenches (which, to be fair, was digging up a bone-working workshop). Most of our bone was pretty small – if you cook bone enough apparently it turns all white and black and blue and shiny and then it explodes, so naturally the burnt bone fragments were all very small, usually smaller than your pinky nail. But even the unburnt fragments were fairly small in our area.

We also dug up a fair amount of metal stuff. Mostly the metal finds were unexciting, just little lumps of rusted iron. But sometimes we found cool stuff: e.g., three bronze Punic (= Carthaginian) coins, two bronze pendant earrings (or possibly necklace pendants), a bronze key (we think), an iron javelin head. That stuff was all pretty cool. When we dug up something fairly rare like that we’d call over the GPS rod or the infrared range-finder team and get the 3D coordinates of the object where we found it, so somewhere there’s a three-dimensional map of our hill with individual rocks and building stones mapped in, and you can see the relationships of all of our “small finds” to that. Wherever that is, I’m sure it’s very cool.

By far the coolest stuff in Zone A, however, was the buildings. Monte Polizzo was a settlement, and two of our zones (B and C) were digging up houses. Zone D was digging up a storage courtyard (which had some man-sized storage jars, or pithoi, lying in the ground where they fell. It was way cool; those jars are totally going to get reassembled). Zone A was digging up a religious structure.

I say “religious structure” instead of “temple” because we don’t know very much about Elymian religion. We don’t know what their temples looked like, or even if they had the concept of “temple.” We do know that there were two altars at this site, both of which had oodles of burnt bone around them (some of it worked, presumably from Joe’s Worked Bone and Antler, down in Zone B). The center of the zone was dominated by a circular structure with thick stone walls (like, two meters thick) that contained the remains of terracotta basins which still contained ashes. So obviously religion was important to these people (this “temple” is sited directly on the highest part of the hill, at the center of the settlement) and included sacrificing very select parts of animals (as it turned out). My trench in particular was chasing a low, curving enclosure wall of stones that came off of the main circular structure. We ended up finding a small … well, rectangular space right next to the enclosure wall, barely wide enough for a man to lie down in. Don’t know what it was – a closet, a strongpoint of a wall, or what. Very interesting though.

So that’s essentially the dig in a nutshell. Professor Morris will be giving a lecture sometime in the fall to update folks about what exactly they’ve concluded now they’ve had time to look at this season’s data crop, and you can go to that if you want. I’ll post an announcement about it here. Sicily was, however, interesting for other reasons.

First and foremost – indeed the primary reason I went – was the amount of spiritual growth that took place over this trip, despite the lack of fellowship and teaching. There was some very good worship out back behind the dig house with just me and God and my mp3s, and that of course was merely the beginning. But that’s all I’m going to say about that. I just didn’t want to gloss over it entirely.

It was also interesting for the people I met. The Newspaperman, the Archaeologist, Blue Tango (no conceptual relation to Blue Rose), Songstress, the Conservator, the Assassin, and of course Her Majesty Padme Amidala. If not for those people my days at Sicily would have been incredibly dull. I may even look some of them up when I get back to campus. I wouldn’t mind spending more time with the girls, anyway. The guys … well, I’m glad I met them on the dig but they aren’t precisely the kind of people I’d normally hang out with. No, I don’t have crushes on them, and yes, they almost all have boyfriends. Besides, only the Songstress is Christian.

Most interesting of all from a wisdom standpoint was watching the people in charge, however. This dig was quite the exercise in watching different styles of command. I have come out of the experience with the conviction that authority – real authority, the loyalty-inspiring kind that makes performers devoted to a director or makes soldiers follow an officer into certain death – comes from the confluence of two factors. These are competence and character. A person with much competence and no character cannot command his subordinates any farther than they will go because it benefits them. Likewise for a person with much character but no competence. A person with both, however, may wield true authority: people will follow such a person against all rules of self-preservation, sacrificing personal comfort, scheduling convenience, or indeed their lives (at the extreme) for no other reason than who that person is. (This confluence of competence and character is, by the way, the heroic talent of the epic heroine Honor Harrington, and why I hold her in such esteem). Steven Pressfield put it succinctly into the mouth of Alcibiades in Tides of War: somebody asks Alcibiades how you lead free men, and he replies quite simply, “by being better than them.” The dig provided several examples of good and bad authority.

At the low end of the spectrum was our House Manager, who was a genial guy most of the time but had a short temper and a tendency to snap at people for unjustifiable reasons because he was annoyed at little things they did earlier. It wasn’t even that the man wasn’t good at what he did; he was. But he didn’t display sufficient strength of character for that to matter. He was a man who had position but no real authority, for he commanded no respect.

This was all in marked contrast to Trinity and Professor Morris, our assistant director and project director respectively. Both of those individuals were equally good at their jobs, but they displayed real concern for the wellbeing of the members of the dig – when I got left behind one day Trinity not only exempted me from pottery washing but bought me a beer (well ok, so I don’t drink beer, but it’s the thought that counts in this case). That shows the character necessary to wield authority. And then of course there was my zone supervisor, Lady Margaret, who will be teaching me Greek in the fall and whom I shall refer to as Meg Anassa (literally, Lady Meg) as well as Lady Margaret (it’s a Zone A joke). How pleasant it was to work under a woman who spoke well of me when I did a good job, who brought pastries and frozen juice boxes up to the site for us on special occasions, and who was involved in every detail of her zone’s excavation without hovering over our shoulders all the time? I am, by the way and needless to say, quite pleased to have the opportunity to have a class with her.

Well, I expect that will do it for the moment. If you want to hear about side trips to Zingaro Nature Preserve or Palermo you can certainly ask me about those, but I think I’ve read your eyes off enough for one post.