Pallet Project Update

June 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Pallet Project continues apace. I have developed an ad hoc sampling strategy which involves taking photos of pallets when I see them with my iPhone 5 camera. For a brief description of the Pallet Project, go here.

To be honest, I don’t really have a plan right now, but I suppose, being a bit of a compulsive archaeologist, I expect that once I get a substantial collection of randomly collected pallet photographs, I’ll build a typology.

So far, I can say that in Greece, pallets are set aside and stored, despite their seeming ubiquity. Sometimes they are set aside in designated areas, such as this growing stack of pallets behind a sports field in the village of Myloi:

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And other times, they are left about in plain view. These are on a busy side street near the municipal market in Argos:

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In a backstreet in Nafplio:

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Pallets appear regularly as walkways and steps:

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Pallets also serve as impromptu fences to keep goats from a little  garden high on the side of Mt. Braimi in the Argolid:

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These uses resonate, of course, with the use of pallets the world over.

Extensive Survey on the Western Argolid Regional Project

June 16, 2014 § Leave a comment

 It is almost inevitable. People invite me to join survey projects hoping that I can become a valued contributor to a well-ordered field season. Before long, however, I am sent off into the field as the “Extensive Team”.

Most intensive survey projects have a team responsible for exploring areas not suitable for intensive survey methods. These tend to be areas overgrown with vegetation, steep slopes, or marginal landscapes unlikely to support the kind of sustained human activities that tend to produce survey assemblages. The extensive team also serves as a good way to remove annoying people – like me – from regular contact with field walkers and staff. In my experience, extensive survey is practically defined as “survey of fields not near other people on the project.” That being said, I take my work seriously. I dutifully map areas onto a 1:5000 map and take detailed notes. 

Sometimes I find cool stuff in extensive survey (and this generally alarms people), but most of time I find spiky maquis, overgrown fields, goat poo, scree, and social isolation. 

So last week on the Western Argolid Regional Project where I serve as Assistant to the Directors, I was asked to take on Extensive Survey duties. Usually it takes a few weeks on a project to be “promoted” to the Extensive Team, but here at WARP everything takes less time. 

Despite the exile from all human contact, I find the Extensive Team a good chance to think. Today for example, I visited the remains of a well-appointed seasonal house or kalyvi near the village of Lyrkeia. The little house had lost its roof, but it was well-built.


Its two court yards were clearly defined and carefully constructed of slightly shaped field stones. The cypress trees were a nice touch.



Nearby, there are some beautiful terrace walls. It is well know that the team from the Argolid finished third in the International Terrace Building Competition held in Bern, Switzerland in 1928. A possibly apocryphal story holds that they would have finished higher had the Greek state appropriated sufficient funds to ship over 10 tons of local, Argolidic limestone to Switzerland for the Terrace Building Finals. Supposedly, Venizelos favored a Cretan team who finish first in the Greek Terrace Championship, but had been disqualified on a technicality. As a sign of support for Venizelos, the newly formed “five parties” coalition refused to support the shipment of stone for Greek team from the Argolid, and this cost them a better finish in Bern.

Whatever the case, the reputation of terrace builders from the Argolid was well deserved:


Near the elegant little kalyvi stood a similarly well-constructed mandra or animal pen. This animal pen crossed over a series of four small terraces. I suspect that animal pen was for goats. Its construction atop rather narrow terraces suggests the transition from growing grain on the steep and unforgiving slopes of the valley and using the slopes for grazing.  


Further along the same slopes were a number of lovely pocket terraces for olive trees. I haven’t seen many of these in my wanders around the eastern Peloponnesus so it was pretty nice to see them in our survey area.



The other advantage of being on the Extensive Team is enjoying a peaceful sunrise through the maquis.


Or over a lonely olive tree.


Snack-time views aren’t bad either. Note the cypress trees associated with the kalyvi in the center of the photograph.



Photo Friday on the Western Argolid Regional Project

June 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

It’s the end of the first full week of WARP, and I am glad we only have a few more days of field work left this season. 

So I stepped up my efforts for photo Friday in celebration of our vigorous activities.

First, I’ve been trying to capture the “essence” of survey archaeology. For me and for most of our dedicated team of field walkers, intensive pedestrian survey means forms and maps:



The look is familiar to most survey archaeologists. The head is inclined over a form:



I have also been trying to capture the range of things that Greek farmers hang from trees:



Finally, I’ve been working on some photographs of fields that convey the range of different textures and soils encountered in a field day:





From Atari to the Argos: Mediterranean and Modern Archaeology at UND

June 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Last month, I was prompted to write a little press statement for office of university relations at the University of North Dakota. It appeared on UND’s home page today with a little story. What made this even cooler was that my story appeared at the same time as the announcements that a paper by one of our undergraduate’s, Joe Kalka’s, had won the Merrifield Prize.

UND University of North Dakota

It’s always interesting to see how the office of university relations changes my text. Here’s the original:

Less than a month after excavating the famous Atari burial ground in Alamogordo, New Mexico, Bill Caraher traveled to the small sea-side village of Myloi, in the region of Argos, Greece to start his newest field project. The Western Argolid Regional Project is a collaboration between scholars at the University of Colorado, University of Toronto, and Wilfred Laurier University to study the archaeology of settlement and movement in a valley in the rural Greece. Caraher was invited to participate in this project as a specialist in Mediterranean archaeological survey, Geographic Information Systems, and data management.

The work in Greece is very different from his punk archaeology adventures in the New Mexico desert where he encountered a media circus surrounding the well-publicized excavation of thousands of Atari game cartridges from a landfill. The three-day dig in New Mexico attracted international media attention and even earned mention in the Grand Forks Herald.

“Being part of the team supervising and documenting the Atari dig in New Mexico was great. It gave me more first hand experience working in late-20th century archaeological contexts. This is work at the fringes of the traditional disciplinary definitions of archaeology which has tended to privilege the ancient or at least ‘really old’ artifacts.

“The Atari dig, however, can speak to us a in a very immediate way about how we live today. The rapid pace of change in contemporary world propels objects from being things we can’t live without to things that we cast aside, want hidden away from us and buried in a landfill. Archaeologists tend to study things that were, for whatever reason, cast aside, but with the Atari dig we had a chance to witness and participate in the rapid cycling of culture where something as common and popular as Atari games is desired, discarded, and, then, excavated as cultural, and historical artifact. So for us, the process of discard and discovery creates a cultural artifact, and the interest of the Smithsonian in some of the excavated games confirms the enduring importance of what we did and what it produced.”

His work in the Argolid, Greece is more consistent with what we imagine as traditional archaeological practice. The field project will focus on a valley that connected to prominent regions of the ancient world. Caraher will help manage the archaeological data both in the field and in the digital realm. He will draw upon over a decade of running his own projects on the island of Cyprus:

“Unlike the Atari dig where we basically has to combat the idea that what we were doing wasn’t archaeology because the objects and processes that we studied were so recent, work in Greece has to challenge the idea that the seemingly remote and picturesque Greek landscape has never been modern. In fact, the valley we’re studying has been a significant thoroughfare for thousands of years including today where Greece’s most modern highway runs along its north slopes. This should lead us to see the valley as unchanging over time, but to push us to understand how this region functioned in different economy regimes, political powers, social and religious systems over time. So to put it another way: by saying that the ancient is so similar to the modern, we’re observing not that the rural world of modern Greece is somehow static, but rather that we have every reason to assume that rural Greece in antiquity was every bit as dynamic as our modern age. The ceramics scattered across the surface of the ground are antiquity’s Atari cartridges and can tell us about how people lived and worked in the Classical, Hellenistic, Roman, or Medieval periods.”

The progress of the Punk Archaeology movement, his work on Greece and Cyprus, in the digital world, and all sorts of other stuff appears almost daily on his blog:

His work this summer can be followed on the hashtag #WestARP on the Twitters.

Archaeology with your Feet

June 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

A good archaeologist once told me that excavation required hands in the dirt. The feel of the soil, the sound of the trowel in the matrix, and the appearance of each layer of strata combined to organize archaeological space. 

A survey archaeologist spends much less time with dirt between his or her fingers and no time at all with the ting or tang of the trowel (depending on the brand). We spend our days walking across units and feeling the differences in soil with our boots.

A field plowed several seasons ago feels different:

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From a field plowed this season:

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The loose soil in a field with cobbles and coarse gravel feels very different:

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from a field hard packed and baked in the summer sun:

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So as we spent the day on the Western Argolid Regional Project mapping units for our field teams to walk, I thought as much with my feet as my eyes.

Sometimes a Cave is Just a Cave

June 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

This past week, I went on a little hike up the side of a hill to look at a cave situated to the west of a high saddle in the mountains that bound the south of our survey area in the Western Argolid. The cave, of course, was natural and was probably used at some point as a shelter for local shepherds, their flocks, and their dogs (judging by the remains). 



The high saddle and pass associated with it probably did not serve as a high traffic route even for shepherds taking their flocks to the mandres in the surrounding uplands. The route is too steep. 


The walk itself, though, was worth it. It took me up through dense maquis beyond the highest and now neglected terraces to areas frequented by goats. The slopes of the valley were quiet except for the wind and an annoyed hawk floating in the updrafts.


The survey teams disappeared into olive groves, terraces, and fields of wild oats.


The trip down, of course, is always a bit more challenging then the trip up the hill. On the way up, there are certain economies of effort that lead to calculated decisions in how to ascend a hill. You tend to scrutinize the possible routes because the cost in ascending the wrong way is substantial and immediate.


Descending is another matter. I find that I tend to chose my paths more impulsively and get stuck moving carefully over steep rocks, entangled in impenetrable barriers, and negotiating sprawls of scree. 


It was a pretty exhausting hike, but we now have a set of notes on the hill, the cave, and the route up to the high saddle.


We’re off to the region around Lake Stymphalia and the lovely Cistercian Abbey  of Zaraka today since it’s Pentecost and everything is closed. Look for updates on this trip and some other #WestARP adventures tomorrow.

Photo Friday: The First Week in the Western Argolid

June 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

We started fieldwork this week on the Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP) and so it is only natural that I share some photographs of our time in the field.

I really like the valley-edge view of our survey area particularly the bands of olive trees on the sides of the valley above the village of Lyrkeia in the distance.


This is the view from where we generally eat dinner. The hill of the Palamidi outside of Nafplio is in the distance under the large cloud. It’s a great view, but generally we’re too tired to enjoy it much.

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I’ve been trying to get a photo of the teams working in the field that shows the paperwork side of things. This is my best so far:


The project directors, Dimitri Nakassis and Sarah James, have their dog with them in the field on most days. The dog is cute and named Holly. This is my best picture of the dog so far:



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