Byzantine Survey Archaeology: Looking across Chronological Boundaries

October 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

As my post yesterday mentioned, I am going to present a paper in the final panel at this spring’s Dumbarton Oaks Spring Symposium on Byzantine Survey Archaeology. The symposium is an exciting one and will hopefully initiate an important conversation about the role of survey archaeology (and perhaps even contemporary archaeological practice) in the study of Byzantium more broadly. 

I’ve been asked to speak specifically about diachronic approaches in survey archaeology. Since I’ve spent most of the last 15 years working on various diachronic survey projects which have at least hoped to include a substantial Byzantine chronological component, this seemed like a reasonable request. Over the last week or so, however, I’ve been struggling with how to think about the place of Byzantine survey archaeology in a diachronic context. As my abstract below points out, the Byzantine period is often grouped in a larger “post-ancient” category or associate with medieval and post-medieval periods particularly in Greece. This periodization strategy compels those of us interested in the Byzantium to reflect quite explicitly on the relationship between the Byzantine period and periods more close in time to the present day. Not only does this relationship encourage a reading of Byzantium that problematizes the tension between the remote and exotic and the familiar and mundane, but it also tempts us to consider the archaeological processes that create continuity or discontinuity in the archaeological landscape. In effect, it locates our archaeological sensibilities at the intersection of landscapes as historically imagined places and spaces of constant change.

NewImageSpeaking of change…

Here’s the first draft of my abstract.

Dumbarton Oaks Spring Symposium
Byzantine Survey Archaeology: Reflections and Approaches

Looking across Chronological Barriers
William R. Caraher, University of North Dakota 

In some circles, it remains common to group Byzantine archaeology in Greece in the broad category of post-antique archaeology or to place it in synthetic works alongside discussions of medieval and post-medieval material culture. This periodization scheme reflects not only long-standing privileging of the Classical and Ancient (and the grouping of other periods as either pre or post this central age), but also coincides with perceptions developed in the field. Byzantine architecture, ceramics, social institutions, and even literary forms extend well beyond chronological periods defined by the political entity known as the Byzantine Empire. This has largely coincided with the tendency of diachronic survey to avoid rigid boundaries that locate artifact, architecture, and landscapes within a single post-ancient period. As result, scholars drawn to research questions more narrowly defined by the fields of Byzantine archaeology or Byzantine Studies have consistently found themselves pushed into dialogue with landscapes that conform to different economic, political, and, perhaps, settlement frameworks. The tensions between different chronological and periodization regimes provides an opportunity to problematize Byzantine archaeology in ways that shed light on formation processes, narrative strategies embedded within the landscape, and practical issues of continuity and discontinuity in place and space. By adopting perspectives and practices that push us to look across chronological barriers, Byzantine archaeology moves to a future endowed with significant methodological and interpretive sophistication.

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