More on Chris Witmore’s Old Lands

I finished Christopher Witmore’s  Old Lands: a chorography of the Eastern Peloponnese (2020) this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. As I said last week, it was a great way to kick off my summer reading and a useful tonic for a summer without fieldwork.

This is the kind of book that will likely resist any kind of useful, formal review. It’s easy enough to note places where Witmore overlooked scholarship relevant to his larger arguments (e.g. Kostis Kourelis’s important 2007 Hesperia article, “Byzantium and the Avant-Garde” would have fit nicely into Witmore’s treatment of Corinth, for example, or Evi Karouzou’s 2014 monograph,  Les jardins de la Méditerranée: agriculture et société dans la Grèce du sud, 1860-1910, would have complemented and expanded his considerations of the agricultural history of the Corinthia and Argolid, or, finally, David Pettegrew’s observations on Kromna on the Isthmus of Corinth would have complicated Witmore’s analysis of that site). Likewise, it will also be convenient for a reviewer to observe that the routes Witmore took through the Northeast Peloponnesus overlooked certain areas like the Southeastern Corinthia, the Western Argolid, or the Inachos Valley. As a result, he overlooked the delicious abundance of souvlaki stands at the intersection of the old national road and old Peloponnesian narrow-gauge railway in the village of Myloi. There are, of course, little factual slips from time to time: the Athos canning plant near Nauplio (referred to in Route 18) is probably the former Kyknos canning plant.

None of this really matters, however, because the book is not meant to be an exhaustive history of the landscape of the Argolid and Corinthia. Instead, the book represents an unapologetically personal look at the region. This approach reflects Witmore’s commitment to the tradition of chorography which he offers as both a kind of critical commentary on the ancient writings of Strabo and Pausanias, the Ottoman period in the writings of Evlyia Celebi, the early modern works of Jacob Spon and George Wheler and the Expédition scientifique de Morée, and the modern period with the travels of Martin Leake, Edward Dodwell, and Gertrude Bell. Contemporary scholars, John Cherry, Alex Knodell, join Witmore from time to time as do various other Greeks, American students, and family members. At the center of the book, however, is Witmore and his interests, relationships, and restless feet guide carry the reader through the Greek countryside.

Chorography, if I understand it, challenges views of the landscape dominated by cartography, geography, and modern landscape archaeology which serves to create the homogeneous spaces of the modern map. If the lines and points of the modern scholar serves to measure and rectify space into some form of universally recognized pattern, the routes of the chorographer are embedded in the landscape itself and follow the contours of the land, the rhythm of the fields, and the often abrupt discontinuities between the present and a visible past. While archaeologists have often seen Witmore’s work elsewhere as overly (and maybe even oppressively?) theoretical, Old Lands serves as a critical and important corrective. Witmore’s goals are not to use the eastern Peloponnesus as at the basis for some kind of theoretical exegesis, but to offer this landscape as a kind of anti-theory (echoing, in some ways, the work of Peter Sloterdijk who appears frequently in his footnotes). For example, the landscape is not a text to be decoded or deconstructed. It is not a place to be unpacked, analyzed, compared, or abstracted. Instead, it’s a space to be experienced and encountered.  

At times (and as an avowedly selfish reader), I wondered how Witmore’s chorography relates to our modern and perhaps contemporary experience of tourism. His effort to defamiliarize a landscape well-known to archaeologists and scholars evokes the modern promise of the tourists gaze which seeks to bridge the gap between the everyday and the exotic. Witmore makes romantic a walk through an olive grove which represents one of the most banal and unremarkable experiences of time in the northeast Peloponnesus. Fishfarms, irrigation systems, terrace walls, dirt and paved roads, goat tracks, maquis, and even the annoying hillsides of Jerusalem sage take on a wondrous quality in Witmore’s work. But is this because these experiences are wondrous or because, in Witmore’s able hands, he is creating a wondrous experience for the reader in much the same way an able tour guide brings a landscape or encounter alive and something as banal as “Mexican Coke” becomes an invitation to an unfamiliar world. (This relates, of course, to my own work along similar lines here.)

Witmore’s work also nudged me to think a bit more about my idea of a “slow archaeology.” While most of my work has focused on “slow” as a challenge to our technologically mediated encounters with archaeological work, Witmore’s chorography with its attention to the details of experience and encounter feels like it occupies a similar space. The absence of any technology in Witmore’s work (other than the maps which he includes at the end) and the emphasis on the individual rather than the team of archaeologists, the procedures of data collection, and the methods of analysis, creates a view of archaeological practice that differs from the almost-automated routines of the intensive pedestrian surveys or of systematic excavation that so defined the archaeological landscapes of the northeastern Peloponnesus.

In this way, Old Lands offers a critique of contemporary archaeological practices, but doesn’t reject them. It also offers a new way to think about the field of Mediterranean archaeology. In recent years, Mediterranean archaeologists have pushed more archaeological practices that align more closely with our peers in “world archaeology.” This frequently involves more specialized training in scientific methods, the use of digital tools, and systematic approaches grounded in the literature of anthropological archaeology. Witmore doesn’t contest this, but by grounding his approach in chorography, he proposes an alternative that is no less grounded in the latest technologically mediated approach to the past, but is also explicitly aware of the experience of being in the landscape. 

Old Lands: Nostalgia, Archaeology, and a Summer without Fieldwork

This weekend, I started to read Chris Witmore’s Old Lands: a chorography of the Eastern Peloponnese (2020). Witmore is perhaps best known among archaeologists as a theory guy whose work on thingness, symmetrical archaeology, and agency has contributed to the larger “thing turn” or “material turn” in the field. 

This book certainly draws upon his formidably grasp of archaeological theory, but much of it is not explicitly theoretical. Instead, it offers a series of “segments” between points win the northeastern Peloponnesus that provide an opportunity for Witmore to dilate on various topics ranging from fish farming to tourism, antiquity, archaeology, history and agriculture. The thread connecting these largely self-contained segments, each of which gets its own bibliography is the heterogeneity of space and place. By following the things “on the ground” rather than the discursive pathways established by our disciplinary training and knowledge, Witmore offers a literary simulation of the typical archaeological encounter. This encounter, at least in my experience, almost always begins with the question: “what the hell is that?” And proceeds from there.

I haven’t finished the book yet, so I can’t offer more than a superficial reaction, and I’ll probably write a more formal review sometime next week when I’ve had more of a chance to digest it. I will offer three observations now, though:

First, this book couldn’t appear at a better time. Like many academic archaeologists, I’m still coming to grips with the idea that there will be no fieldwork or study this summer. While I have plenty of writing and reading to do and have no projects that required fieldwork this summer, it’ll still be strange to be at home rather than living out of a suitcase in Cyprus and Greece and attending to the needs of objects, landscapes, buildings, and places (as well as maps and databases). I do have some fieldwork in town here and a plan for some work in August in Idaho that might still happen, but even that seems unlikely right now.

More than that, I’m worried that without being in Greece and Cyprus and without spending time in the landscape, village, storerooms, and survey area, my reservoir of encounters will diminish. It’ll be harder for me to ask “what the hell is that?” and to follow these encounters in new directions and toward new hypotheses. 

As an aside, I had long wondered what this odd building was south of Kiveri near where the Western Argolid Regional Project was based in Myloi. Apparently it was a pumping station designed to tap a fresh water spring beneath the saltwater Argolidic Gulf. So there you go.

Second, I’ve been thinking a good bit about nostalgia lately. I’m partly blaming this on Don DeLillo’s Underworld (1997), and partly on a new, small-scale research project into the history of the suburbs, and partly on being an old white male. When I was younger, I spent a good bit of each summer hiking around the landscape of the Eastern Corinthia, looking for and at sites, wondering about things, and talking with guys like Tim Gregory, David Pettegrew, and Dimitri Nakassis. More recently, I spent time walking the Western Argolid with Dimitri, Grace Erny, Machal Gardoz, Joey Frankel, Melanie Gadsey, and Alyssa Friedman. While in most cases, we were mapping survey units, it also afforded me the opportunity to become more familiar with the Inachos valley and surrounding landscape.   

Old Lands is set in the olive grooves, orange orchards, dirt roads, “not paths, but routes” hills, valleys, ravines, seaside towns, inland villages, and cities of the northeast Peloponnesus. This is where I’ve learned to be an archaeologist (and continue to learn from both my colleagues and the landscape). Feeling nostalgic for the long days in the field may be no more than just the idylls of a privileged white male, but thinking about those days and weeks walking in the countryside push me to recognize this privileged perspective and reflect on the tension between my own encounters, my memories, and these rugged and difficult landscapes.

Finally, so far, Witmore’s book has reminded me how much my understanding of the Greek countryside is anchored in place. In other words, so much of what I know about Greece is based on my encounters with buildings, landscapes, and relationships rather than predefined academic problems. Whatever one thinks of the theoretical perspectives offered through symmetrical archaeology (e.g. here), Witmore’s book does a good job (again, so far) connecting how archaeologists make knowledge to the landscape itself and then introducing the secondary literature. Witmore’s process of describing the situation with detail and nuance, however literary it is in presentation here, mimics the process of engaging the landscape and starting with the question “what the hell is that?”

As I said, this is my impression based on the first 350 or so pages. I’ll prepare a more careful review sometime in the next week or so.

Writing during The COVIDs: Lakka Skoutara

As the realities of staying at home during the “Time of the COVIDs” has sunk in, my writing routine is looking more and more like the fourth round of the infamous second Lennox Lewis – Oliver McCall fight. If you have no idea what that means, you can watch it here. It’s not violent, but it certainly ain’t pretty.

In an effort to resist just wandering around the ring in tears, I’ve tried to invest some time in revising things that had slipped to being overdue. 

Last week, I revised a paper that Amy Papalexandrou, Scott Moore, and I had submitted to a volume on Byzantine neighborhoods which is now headed out for peer review. 

This past week, for example, I took a few days to revise a paper that is due to Becky Seifried and Deborah Brown for a volume on abandoned settlements. David Pettegrew and I decided that it was a great place for our long-standing project on the site of Lakka Skoutara in the southeastern Corinthia. 

Here’s the abstract.

Life in Abandonment: The Village of Lakka Skoutara, Corinthia

Between 2001 and 2018 a team from the Eastern Korinthian Archaeological Survey investigated a small, semi-abandoned settlement in a remote upland valley of the southeast Corinthia. Known locally by the toponym Lakka Skoutara, the settlement consists of a church, six standing buildings, a dozen abandoned and collapsing houses, dense ceramic assemblages, groves and fields, and agricultural and domestic features dating to the 19th and 20th centuries. Teams documented the valley through intensive pedestrian survey, interviews with local informants, and a thorough recording of the houses and their assemblages. Our documentation highlighted the complex material signature of dynamic land use patterns in the Greek rural landscape, as well as the formation processes of use, recycling, and abandonment associated with domestic residence. By combining the survey of houses, features, fields, and oral information obtained from local residents, we have been able to create a rich record of abandonment in a small Greek village. Our observations complicate tidy definitions of abandonment sometimes assumed by archaeologists in showing the small-scale continuities of settlement, building refurbishment, seasonal habitation, olive cultivation, shepherding, hunting, and investment in road infrastructure.

Here’s the original version that we submitted.
Here’s the slightly revised version.

Stay tuned for the published version of this paper in early 2021!

Excavations at Corinth in Hesperia

I really like Hesperia. It’s the journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. The quality of production and editing is outstanding and I can find something interesting in almost every issue that appears. I’ve submitted a few articles to Hesperia over my career, in part, because my work fits their remit, but also because the results are such fine quality. I know that they treat even the most modest contribution to the journal with the same care and attention that they lavish on the most dynamic, important, or sophisticated article.

This past issue had a long article on recent excavations at Corinth, “Corinth, 2018: Northeast of the Theater” by the project’s new director Chris Pfaff. The article is over 65 pages and I’d guess about 20,000 words of text plus another 10,000 of notes and bibliography; by my count, the article clocked in at just under 35,000 words. It was pretty amazing, and I keep going back to it. Unlike many Hesperia articles, Pfaff’s article lacks a clear thesis. It’s not an argument. And what makes it most wonderful to me is that it doesn’t even have a conclusion. In fact, it just ends after the description of some kind of early modern or medieval ditch that cut across part of the site. That’s it. A “Diagonal Ditch.”

Here’s the final paragraph:

The purpose of the diagonal ditch remains unknown. No masonry of any kind was found within it to support the idea that it served as a founda­tion trench for a built structure. Its great length would be consistent with a ditch to accommodate a drain or pipeline, but no drain tiles or pipes came to light in the fill. In general, the finds from the fill, including an equine cranium, can be characterized as refuse that has no association with the original function of the ditch.

This isn’t the say that the article was pointless, of course. Part of me suspects that this article represents a throwback to a tradition of reporting on the annual work at a site. When we started our project on Cyprus, for example, we published short descriptive annual reports in the Report of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus that we hoped would let folks know that a particular site existed, give them a sense for what we found, and announce ourselves as serious archaeologists doing serious work. They were provisional and preliminary, and, to my mind, a fine thing for a junior scholar to write when starting work on their first project.

This logic, of course, does not apply to Corinth. Chris Pfaff is a senior scholar and nothing in the report would strike someone casually familiar with Corinth as surprising. Most of the material is Late Roman in date, most of it derives from secondary contexts as one would expect at a continuously occupied site, and none of the results would challenge long held views or announce some distinct, new aspect in the history of the city.

Instead, the article simply runs up the flag that work is ongoing. It appears, from what I can tell, to be continuing in the same vein as excavations over the last 20 years. The article lacks much in the way of a formal catalogue, assemblages are only presented in a summary way, the architecture and features consist primarily of walls, roads, and known buildings (like the Late Antique “Good Seasons” mosaic and the course of the Late Roman (perhaps 6th century?) fortification wall). None of these features is published in enough detail to be considered a final publication. It’s nice to know that they are still there though and to know someone cares.

What’s great about this article is its attention to description. Rather than present some sweeping conclusion, launch into some theoretically overwrought article, or attempt some kind of exhaustive review of past literature, this article simply describes things. In other words, in its unusual way, it takes things seriously, even when these things are a “diagonal ditch” with the skull of a horse and some early 20th century artifacts in it. By putting aside, at least explicitly, the need for a formal thesis, Pfaff’s article refuses to reduce the “things” of archaeology to the status of evidence in the service of an argument. Even the occasional objects in the article that received more careful description floated against an ambiguous background and often lacked fully developed archaeological context. At best they represent types of evidence as if to say that the excavators have this kind of thing and this kind of thing can speak to chronology, function, or context. But at no point do they unpack the entire context of a strata or an assemblage. They do, as one would expect, locate the objects within a context, but this remains hard to understand to a reader because most contexts are not fully described. Thus this treatment of things alludes to a context, but also avoids becoming unduly burdened by it. The photographs of the objects against a white background reinforce their independence and integrity.

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This image of iron hobnails(?) could inspire a volume of essays.

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It’s also worth noting that this article also lacks people. Some of the previous excavators are present: Henry Robinson and Charles Williams make cameos to personify their interpretations and work, but the 2018 excavations largely occurred without human intervention. There are no decisions presented and the descriptions of features and things stand on their own. This is both bracing and just a bit disconcerting. A generation of reflexive practices and methodological preoccupation which have so frequently sought to diminish the significance of things in the name of relationships with humans is refreshingly absent.

In the end, this article is provocative. I calls into question the goals of archaeological publication. Surely, it is not meant to be a definitive “final” publication. As I’ve said, it’s also not meant to be a preliminary report. No one needs to 30,000+ to know that Corinth has a prosperous and complex Roman and Late Roman phase. It doesn’t offer enough detail or context for regular citation. The objects represented throughout are generally of a type that is known both at Corinth and more broadly in Southern Greece and the Peloponnesus.

Instead, the purpose of this article appears to be simply to present these things, features, and lightly sketched contexts. Hesperia’s typically fine and careful style allows the things to stand on their own and largely to speak for themselves and, in some way, speak to themselves (rather to other things or to some kind of abstract notion of argument, assemblage, or context). As such the article is both a step backward in time to a day when such reports regularly appeared in scholarly journals to let far flung colleagues know about “the work of the School” as well as a step forward in a practice of presenting things in a disconcertingly discrete way.

Lakka Skoutara and Abandonment: PrePrint with Pictures

Over almost 15 years, David Pettegrew and I have been revisiting the rural settlement of Lakka Skoutara in the southeastern Corinthia and documenting the changes. At first, our interest was to document site formation processes at the site and observe how abandoned buildings and houses fell down over time.

Figure 8 house7 image20 2009 d263338a90

After only one or two visits, however, we discovered that these houses were not simply left alone to collapse in the Greek countryside, but continued to be centers of a wide range of rural activities. For example, several of the houses lost their ceramic tile roofs during over the past 15 years, and others have seen regular maintenance and, in at least one case, expansion. As a result, our research shifted from a rather abstract (and naive) view of this settlement as a case study for site formation to a more dynamic and complex project designed to document the material engagement with the Greek countryside over a period of 15 years.

While it goes without saying that the history of rural Greece continues to attract attention from anthropologists, historians, geographers, as well as local antiquarians, there has been relatively less formal and systematic archaeological study of 20th century rural sites. Our work at Lakka Skoutara is not entirely unique, but it makes a useful contribution to the small number 20th century rural sites that have received systematic and sustained archaeological study in Greece.

You can download a draft of our paper here. Or read about our most recent visit to the site here.

Lakka Skoutara: (Almost) 20 Years at a Rural Site in Greece

This past week, David Pettegrew and I revisited the rural site of Lakka Skoutara in the southeastern Corinth. This is a settlement that developed over the course of the  first half of the 20th century with around 15 houses loosely clustered around a rural crossroad with a church dedicated to Ay. Katerini. There is also the crusher base for what must have been an olive press that likely dates to before the 20th century settlement, a number of impressive threshing floors, and series of cisterns providing water to this dry upland depression. Residents from the nearby village of Sophiko had occupied the houses in this valley periodically over the course of the 20th century usually during the harvest. There were periods when residents lived more or less full time in these houses in an effort to escape from the mid-century disruptions of World War II and the Greek Civil War. In 2001, we visited the valley and found that the houses were in various states of abandonment that ranged from total abandonment to occasional use and seasonal re-use.

The goal of our visit yesterday was to see how houses that we have documented (somewhat) regularly over the last 19 years were holding up. The initial goal of the project, when we started it, was to use these houses to think about formation processes in the Greek countryside. This visit was our first since 2009 (although we seem to recall a visit in 2012, but so far we can’t seem to find the photographic evidence for that trip). Having decade between visits meant that we had to get re-oriented to the area, but after a bit we were able to find our study houses, take some (but not nearly enough) photographs, and think about change (while) in the Greek countryside.

We have three snap impressions from our day wandering this settlement:

1. Houses fall down at an irregular pace. One thing that we certainly noticed is that relatively little had changed for buildings whose walls had collapsed prior to our first visit in 2001. In some cases, the walls were more visible because of changes in vegetation. But the general character of the collapse and associated material appeared more or less unchanged with some of the same scatters of artifacts present collapsed houses being more or less stable over the past 10 years.

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The reasons for this are, of course, obvious. The largely collapsed houses are less the focus of human activity and, as a result, less susceptible to various curation strategies and various other intentional and accidental human interventions. The remains of these houses are more resistant to various natural processes as most of the vulnerable elements in the houses have already given way, collapsed, or otherwise deteriorated. The remains, for example, of a brick and tile oven look essentially the same after 10 years.  

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2. Wall plaster disappears quickly. When we first encountered House 14 in 2001, it had some of its roof intact as well as plaster on its exterior walls and on a plaster-and-lathe dividing wall that originally separated two rooms. By 2009, the roof had collapsed and exposed the walls and the plaster-and-lathe wall had fallen to the floor. In 2018, most of the plaster had melted from the exterior walls and the plaster on the lathe wall had vanished to the point where the wall was no longer visible.

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BillCaraher 2018 May 30 12018

3. Continuous Change. One of the less surprising aspects of Lakka Skoutara is the continuous change to the region and to its buildings. In one house, that appeared to be maintained but not in significant use, a plaster-and-lathe dividing wall was carefully removed. 

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Another house, constructed of cinderblocks in rough courses received a new balcony and a series of nicely built patios suggesting a transition from a kind of rough functionality to perhaps a more recreational purpose.

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The western part of the Lakka has seen the development of all sorts of new structures.

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These include some curious examples of reuse.

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Lakka Skoutara remains a dynamic landscape even in “abandonment.”

Corinthian Landscapes

Anything that Kostis Kourelis writes is a “must read” for anyone interested in the history of archaeology in Greece. Over the past ten years he’s written a book – more or less – on modernity, archaeology, and Greece with articles on the Byzantium and the avant-garde, the modern fictions of Byzantine houses in Mystras, and, this past week, “Flights of Archaeology: Peschke’s Acrocorinth” in the most recent issue of Hesperia.

Kourelis explores the intellectual and cultural world of the 20th century artist Georg Vinko von Peschke who worked in Greece in the service of American excavators. This article developed from his work organizing  an exhibit of Peschke’s works at Franklin and Marshall College and then Bryn Mawr a few years back. But as with so many of Kourelis’s articles, Peschke serves as a point of entry into the rich(er) world of early 20th century archaeology inhabited by architects and artists, archaeologists and poets, and numerous other cultural figures who embraced the avant-garde, modernism, as well as rigorous archaeological research. This article also featured the mountains of the Corinthia and Acrocorinth, in particular, as a Romantic backdrop to the rational archaeological work at the site of Corinth itself. Peschke’s 1932 painting of Acrocorinth served as a point of departure for Kourelis’s consideration of modernity and archaeological culture.

The article is too rich and complex and “Kourelian” to describe here in any detail, but two things struck me about this article:

First, it reminded me how much working in the shadow of Acrocorinth shaped my work. Within days of arriving in Greece for the first time, my friends and I hiked up the hill of Acrocorinth to survey the region. I remember being struck by the unkempt and confusing settlement between Acrocorinth’s two gates and the prominent mosque and church inside the course of its crenelated walls. As someone who has never embraced the formality required of careful excavation, exploring the abandoned and decrepit settlement on Acrocorinth and looking across the Isthmus offered me a perspective on the past that wasn’t to tightly bound to minute detail. If the rigor of modern excavation at the site of Corinth below caused me apprehension, the expansive views from Acrocorinth drew me into a landscape that seemed to resist tidy fragmentation and beg for grand (and probably overly general) diachronic and regional statements.  

My inability to cope consistently with the routine of field survey complemented the lure of the mountains and drew me to working extensive in the landscape. This led to my first two archaeological publications which featured sites that I documented while hiking the mountains of the Corinthia. Years later, my work with the Western Argolid Regional Project continues to draw me to mountain tops and forgotten routes and passes. While my body is no longer able to endure quite as much adventuring as I could as a 20something, the pull is still there and I like to imagine that it came, in part, from my encounter with Acrocorinth.

Second, I wonder whether the weeks and months spent hiking about in the Greek countryside have shaped my view of our field of archaeology. While I recognize that Kostis’s article samples the most rarified air from a generation of fieldwork that included as much rigorous documentation as imaginative encounters – and indeed Peschke’s ability to cross between the world of high art and formal documentation is what make him and his archaeologist colleagues so worthy of attention, I wonder whether today our balance has tipped too far in the direction of industrial production and away from the spirit of craft?

I won’t allow this post to devolve on another preachy meditation on slow archaeology, but Kostis’s articles always make me wish for an archaeological practice more explicitly informed by craft. Of course, craft is present in field work. Watching an experience colleague or workman handle a trowel or a pick demonstrates a kind of embodied expertise that no field manual can instill. At the same time, as I work on the final publication for my project on Cyprus, I often feel that the goal of archaeological publication (and even documentation) is to remove the artistry from our experiences with both objects and the past.

Peschke’s art and Kostis’s vision of early 20th century archaeology reminded me that while disciplinary practices remained deeply embedded in industrial forms of organization and technics, a parallel course has long existed that recognized the deeply personal dimension of archaeological work. Archaeological work in this context was a form of expression that resisted narrow disciplinary definition, subservience to objectivity, efficiency, and clarity, and embraced the complexities of experience without marginalizing archaeology’s methodological or intellectual goals.

Conversations with David Pettegrew

A week worth of conversations with David Pettegrew is pretty challenging and invigorating stuff. 

Part of the great value of doing field work is the conversations during downtimes. David and I have been immersed in working on the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology for the last two years, but we’ve been chatting about other projects – including our next book project, An Introduction to Early Christian Archaeology.

This summer we chatted about a potential collaboration between his brilliant Digital Harrisburg project and maybe a new tourist guide and The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. This led to a productive conversation about the potential of digital and public humanities. I suggested that the limited time that faculty have to dedicate to public humanities projects may well parallel the limited time that consumers of public humanities projects have to engage them. (In my experience, faculty are not particularly voracious consumers of public humanities projects.) 

We also discussed the strange tension between public humanities as opportunities for student learning, but also as having to compete with myriad distractions of modern life from video games and movies to work, sports, kids, and other media. A significant challenge for the historian or public humanist, who often works constantly between an academic and public audience, is finding ways to present what we know and do in a way that competes with professionally generated media. We’re underfunded amateurs who are often expected to bring students into projects that are intended to compete for attention with highly paid professionals capable of slick production, with access to marketing teams, skilled programers and developers, and massive media markets. 

At the same time, we celebrated the potential of “punk projects” with low costs, modest goals, and do-it-yourself practices. As we contemplate the demise of the National Endowment for the Humanities we began to imagine a world where competition for grants could give way to greater impulse for collaboration and the often large, lavish (but not always even in humanities terms) grants and projects funded by the NEH would be replaced by denser networks of collaboration among humanists. To be clear, I don’t think that more organic and DIY practices could replace the sustained and systematic investment and leadership of the NEH, but I do wonder whether there are positive, alternative ways to think about how the humanities works.

Invariably, David and I also talked about intensive pedestrian survey archaeology. We reflected a bit on the rise and decline of methodology as a central feature of the discourse of intensive pedestrian survey in the Mediterranean. I offered the observation that with the growing acceptance of intensive survey among Mediterranean archaeologist has blunted the apologetic tone so prevalent in survey literature in the immediate aftermath of the Second Wave survey projects. It’s hard to know for certain if this lull is real or just the maturation of the conversation which results in fewer blockbuster methods articles and more incremental change. At the same time, it is clear that the way that we talk about intensive survey practice and methods has become more confident and perhaps less critical and reflexive.

Finally, we’ve talked about our work at Pyla-Koutsopetria. We have a small, but tightly controlled body of data from three(plus) seasons of excavation and five worth of study that now almost ready for publication. The most interesting conversation focused on our careful and exhaustive (and exhausting) analysis of the plow zone assemblage from the site of Pyla-Vigla. This assemblage could be compared profitably to the assemblage produced during intensive pedestrian survey to offer a small, but well-controlled case study for the relationship between the surface, plow zone, and subsurface remains.

We usually circle back to our work at the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey and various ways to prepare a “final publication” that at least leads researchers to our data (when it’s fully published) if not to a particular set of conclusions or interpretations. 

Most conversations with David conclude with the refrain that we have too many projects and too many top priorities, but I think we both agree that this is better than being bored!

Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual

It is my pleasure to announce the publication of the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. Written and compiled by Guy Sanders, Sarah James, and Alicia Carter Johnson as well as other longtime contributors to the Corinth Excavations, the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual is the first major field manual published from an American excavation in Greece and among a very small number of manuals published from the Eastern Mediterranean in the last generation.

The book is available under a CC-By 4.0 license as a free download as are all the forms used at Corinth Excavations. Download it here and should be available in glorious paper by the end of the week!

CEM CoverDIGITAL

The appearance of this book is timely as there is a growing interest in field methods and the history of excavation practices throughout the discipline of archaeology. Moreover, Corinth Excavations has long held a special place in American archaeology in Greece as the primary training excavation for graduate students associated with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. As a result, the field manual has had a particular influence among American excavators and projects in Greece, among Mediterranean archaeologists, and in archaeology classrooms.

Published as a technical field manual, an archival document, and a key statement of practice from a major excavation, the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual presents a guide for daily procedures at the Corinth Excavations, a complete record of documentation forms used in the field, and a practical glimpse into the functioning of a complex, major, project. The manual is a landmark text appropriate for the university student, the scholar of methodology, and the working field archaeologist.

A Forthcoming Book from The Digital Press: Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual

This week has been pretty great. Yesterday I put the finishing touches (well, hopefully) on one of the most complex book projects to come through my little press: Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual. The manuscript has been sent to the printer (so to speak) and proofs are apparently ready to be sent.

As I have discussed earlier, the layout of this book was pretty tricky and even yesterday, the formatting complicated even very simple edits. The result was a marathon book making session that resulted in the final draft of the book being sent off just moments before I had to go to a meeting. Phew!

The good news is that the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual will be read next week in digital form and, with any luck, in print shortly there after. Just to prove it, the cover is ready:

CEM CoverPrinting

The back cover reads:

The Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual is first major field manual published from an American excavation in Greece and among a very small number of manuals published from the Eastern Mediterranean in the last generation. The appearance of this book is timely, however, as there is a growing interest in methodology and the history of excavation practices across the entire discipline of archaeology. Moreover, Corinth Excavations has long held a special place among American archaeologists in Greece as the primary training excavation for graduate students associated with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. As a result, the field manual has a particular significance and influence among American excavators and the archaeology of Greece.

Published as a technical field manual, an archival document, and a key statement of practice from a major excavation, the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual presents a guide for daily procedures at the Corinth, a complete record of documentation forms used in the field, and a practical glimpse into the functioning of a complex, major, project. The manual is a landmark text appropriate for the university student, the scholar of methodology, and the working field archaeologist from the excavation team of a Corinth Excavations.

All of the authors have worked on the excavations at Corinth in various capacities. This manual was developed under the directorship of Dr. Guy Sanders by former field directors Alicia Carter and Dr. Sarah James. Additional contributions come from past and present Corinth staff including assistant director Dr. Ioulia Tzonou-Herbst, architect James Herbst, conservator Nicol Anastassatou, and archaeo-botanical specialist Katerina Ragkou. The authors would also like to recognize the contributions of the many ASCSA students that used earlier versions of this manual for their valuable feedback over the past 10 years.

As a little sneak peek, here’s a link to the downloadable packet of forms associated with book.

More on another new book tomorrow.