Over Easter, I’m giving a talk at the Spring Colloquium at Dumbarton Oaks. The topic will be looking across chronological boundaries in Byzantine survey archaeology. This was not exactly the topic that I would have picked, but it is a good and important one for reflecting on the current situation in Byzantine archaeology more broadly. I have written a first draft of the paper and a longer article-ish piece, but I’ll spare you the rough edges and give you a quick summary of where my argument tries to go.
1. Introduction. I begin with some quick words on the significance of survey archaeology for revealing the rural landscape and settlement, contextualizing known monuments, and informing our reading of the documentary and textual sources that exist for the Byzantine or Medieval countryside in the Aegean (e.g. the Cadaster of Thebes, various hagiographic sources, monastic typika, et c.). I also limit my comments on survey and the Byzantine countryside to Greece and – to a far lesser extent – Cyprus.
2. Historiography. I spend a little time treating two seminal discussions of survey archaeology in a Byzantine context: John Rosser’s 1979 article and Tim Gregory’s 1986 article in Byzantine Studies. I note that Rosser in his work with the Minnesota Messinia Expedition saw the need to look across chronological boundaries in order to understand the limits in which Byzantine rural society developed. Since the Byzantine countryside was largely unknown and we struggled to recognize Byzantine material in the context of survey, we had to attempt to understand this period through analogy to other post-ancient (and ancient) periods in a particular region. This approach intersected with the tendency of regional and “second wave” survey projects in the Aegean to be directed by prehistorians or scholars focused on historical antiquity rather than later periods. Following practices dating to the early 20th century, post-Classical material was grouped together in a single corpus and often studied alongside ethnographic concerns. In fact, the most recent major work on Byzantine ceramics from Greece, Joanita Vroom’s After Antiquity: Ceramics and Society from the 7th to 20th century A.C. does the same thing. This organization is largely a product of the disciplinary history of the field.
3. The Anatomy of Settlement. In the third section, I suggest that this approach, while problematic, can offer some significant insights. I highlight Jack Davis’s lengthy 1991 article “Contributions to a Mediterranean Rural Archaeology: Historical Case Studies from the Ottoman Cyclades” in the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology. At the end of this article, Davis notes that studying the better documented Ottoman and Early Modern periods can help us understand how various agricultural strategies and settlement patterns can help us understand rural landscapes in the Byzantine period. I then consider this approach in the context of my work (with David Pettegrew and others) at the site of Lakka Skoutara in the Corinthia where we have evidence for early 20th century settlement and an early and spatially distinct Medieval settlement (and more here). The assemblage of material from the Medieval period features the full range of ceramics (table wares, kitchen wares, and storage and utility wares) with the exception of highly diagnostic imported fine wares and coincides well with habitation. This comparative approach highlighted differing settlement and land use strategies in a relatively marginal landscape.
4. Archaeological Signatures and Formation Processes. The fourth section of the paper, looks briefly at some survey work that we did on the island of Kythera in 2001 that documented the ceramic material from around a series of Medieval and Venetian period churches. I note that these buildings provide windows into both an earlier landscape, but also into earlier practices (I can’t escape from Ingold’s taskscapes this week!). The presence of fine ware around the church of Ay. Onoufrios near the Medieval town of Paliochora echoes finds associated with the nearly contemporary site of Panakton on the Attic/Boeotian border which was one of the few buildings on that site to produce a notable assemblage of fine ware. I suggest that the distinct lifecycle of churches and the practices associated with their maintenance – including the accumulation of prestige goods, local discard of broken ceramics, and work to keep the area around the church clean and free from debris – informs how we understand the signature of Byzantine churches in the landscape. This approach to Byzantine sites in the countryside requires that we recognize that even datable buildings are not static markers in the landscape, but the product of diachronic processes that create corresponding complex signatures.
5. Dreams across Time. I conclude the paper with a short fantasy that the Byzantines themselves looked across chronological boundaries when they defined their landscape. Saints, bishops, and pious laymen all worked to recover and rebuild earlier monuments that they knew about in the landscape. The reuse and rebuilding of the landscape makes clear that the Byzantines recognized their landscape as a diachronic phenomena that not only represented distinct periods, but provided a space to create history.
I’ll post a more complete draft of this paper once I get done tuck pointing it.