Archaeological Returns

I think most archaeologists now think of their fieldwork projects as having a shelf life. In other words, we work at a site or in a region with an eye toward answering certain questions. When those questions are answered, we might begin a related project, but we less and less frequently dive into the same river again.

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The reasons for this are complicated and probably have as much to do with issues like funding (and the difficulty getting funding to support a career (or decades) long projects and building the kind of persistent and sustaining infrastructure to make such projects possible) as fundamental changes in how archaeologists (at least in the Mediterranean) think about disciplinary problems and challenges. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the publish or perish treadmill that pushes most archaeologists to juggle multiple projects with different timelines and trajectories which range from relatively long-term study projects to short-term and more incisive field work ventures.

Whatever the reasons, many archaeologists think of rather goal oriented fieldwork with specific aims in mind and “endgames” for final publications, archiving, and site conservation, presentation, or what have you. At the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (PKAP) my colleagues and I wrapped up almost 15 years of work in the coastal zone of Pyla village by passing the project onto colleagues who are just starting their careers. Even as we are finishing our book, they’re working with us to start a new campaign of excavation on a coastal height called Vigla where we set down ten fairly limited soundings over three field seasons.  

I visited their project and “lent a hand” over the last two days and enjoyed their hospitality and banter. (Lending a hand for me involved watching them excavate through collapsed mud brick and commenting on how hard it seems and how much work it must be to dig through it.).  It was a bit bitter-sweet as my memories of work on the site filtered through my memories, but it was also really cool to see the new team so excited and engaged and motivated.

Tomorrow, David Pettegrew and I return to a site called Lakka Skoutara. This is an early-20th century settlement that the permanent residents have largely abandoned. We originally visited this site in 2000 (I think?) and have revisited regularly to document the formation processes at work in the structuring throughout this small upland valley. I’m looking forward to being back in the field with David. We haven’t managed to spend time together doing field work for a few years and his insights have helped me refine my archaeological thinking and seeing. 

It’s interesting that, in some ways, returning to sites after a few years never fails to reveal more about them. So archaeological returns are always a bit tricky. On the one hand, my experience has shown that returning to a site always offers the potential for new knowledge and insights. At the same time, leaving a site for another field team to study, document, and analyze ensures that sites are seen with fresh eyes, provide evidence for new questions, and refract through different methods and approaches.

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