Unfolding a Mountain

One of the particularly challenges that we faced on the Western Argolid Regional Project was how to understand a site at a rock shelter known as Daouli. The site featured a series of fortified rock shelters complete with cisterns and what we interpreted as “gun slits” (actually loopholes) that overlooked the Inachos River valley in the neighborhood of the village of Lyrkeia in the Argolid. The fields around these fortifications produced some Late Roman and Final Neolithic pottery as well as modern material. The fortifications themselves proved difficult to date; they are likely 19th century, but graffiti in the plaster of at least one cistern included dates from the 1940s.

Last weekend, I finally finished Niels Henrik Andreasen, Nota Pantzou, Dimitris Papadopoulos, and Andreas Darlas’s Unfolding a Mountain: A historical archaeology of modern and contemporary cave use on Mount Pelion. (2017). A used copy is available now for $21 on Biblio.

The book is really great. 

It describes a two year survey of caves on Mt. Pelion and considered the range of recent and contemporary uses of the caves through a variety of lenses ranging from archaeological survey, ethnography, epigraphy, and regional history. Mt. Pelion is the rugged and beautiful stretch of mountain that extends roughly southeast of Volos. There are a number of villages on the island, a narrow gauge railroad, orchards, overgrown terraces, stone mansions, and caves. 

The book does a few things that were really helpful. 

First, they demonstrate the wide range of ways that caves have been used in the modern and contemporary period. These range from a field hospital during the Greek Civil War to occasional shelters for shepherds, temperature stable storerooms, hermitages, and even periodically for housing new arrivals on the peninsula. The varieties of use reflect the cave’s location, their shape and size, and the changing political, economic, and social situation on the peninsula over the course of the 19th and 20th century. 

Second, they document the caves, related material culture, and graffiti carefully. Historical archaeology in Greece remains in its infancy, and while many projects recognize the significant of modern and contemporary material culture, most continue to document it in a rather less systematic and intensive way that ancient or medieval material. In Unfolding the Mountain, modern graffiti and stacked stone walls are documented with almost the same care that an ancient inscription would receive. Joanita Vroom’s study of the modern and contemporary ceramics emphasized that we still do not have the same chronological resolution for modern pottery as we do for certain periods in antiquity or, more accurately, other sources of evidence for the recent past offers more precision than we can extract from the long-lived ceramic forms.  

Graffiti on the other hand, often included specific dates or, at very least, years, which provided the authors with a more precise, if not entirely consistent, proxy for cave use during the 19th and 20th centuries. While they did acknowledge that the epigraphic habit changed over time, with certain decades less well represented than others, graffiti nevertheless offered insights into the broad patterns of cave use on Mt. Pelion.

The ebb and flow of resources, migrants, and challenges (including Italians, Nazis, Allies and the combatants in the Greek Civil War) shaped the use of the mountain over time. The agricultural practices and the construction of the railway drew Albanian migrants to the mountain and these workers left their marks on caves where they sometimes resided during their short-term stays in the region. Resistance fighters during the German Occupation and the Civil War used the caves to hide weapons, command posts, and hospitals. Miners and shepherds modified caves in various ways when there were markets for goats (and their cheese) and Pelion stone. 

What’s more striking, in their account is how today many of the caves have slipped into obscurity. Their informants described the mountain as “closed” and even denied the existence of caves in its rugged heights. The absence of grazing goals and cultivated fields outside the immediate vicinity of the villages has allowed the caves to disappear into tangled webs of vegetation. Pave roads, the end of transhumant practices, and fewer large flocks have also resulted in access to the caves being impossible. The authors readily acknowledged that their sample of caves only represented a fraction of what likely existed but was lost to knowledge or now too difficult to access.

As someone who has spent a good bit of time at the margins of the cultivated area in the Argolid and Corinthia, I’ve found it impossible to miss the signs – terraces, buildings, cisterns, wells, paths, et c. – that early modern agriculture and habitation was once far more extensive than it is in the 21st century. As a result, our intensive survey methods, wedded as they are to the flatter, more open, and often still cultivated fields of the valley bottoms and lower slopes around modern villages, can produce a pretty distorted view of the earlier land use. In fact, our tendency to conclude that modern and pre-modern land use and settlement were similar often owes itself, at least in part, to the part of the landscape that we can easily sample. 

The Pelion team does a nice job connecting this sampling bias to larger regional trends and demonstrating how the mountain, its villages, caves, and fields responded to larger regional and transregional trends, which, in turn, defined how archaeologists can understand the mountain today. 

Genealogy of Mediterranean Survey Archaeology

An article by Michael Loy has been making the rounds lately, and my colleague Grace Erny brought it to my attention this morning. It so happens that I’ve also been talking a lot of Greek survey (and Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey) with my old friend David Pettegrew lately because he is working on a book that brings together the analysis of survey area with the publication of EKAS data. We’ve also been working on preparing a preliminary report for the Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP) and working to locate it relation to earlier work in the field.

Loy’s article makes an effort to trace the development of Mediterranean intensive pedestrian survey primarily in Greece and the Aegean over the past 50 years. The method is largely anecdotal and focused on the relationship between project directors starting with the three early systematic survey projects: the Minnesota Messenia Expedition (1961-1968), the Cambridge-Bradford Boeotia Survey (1978-1991), and the Southern Argolid Exploration Project (1972-1982). From these projects, Loy identifies the “Cherry-Davis Network” from which sprung any number of significant intensive surveys in Greece with primacy given, perhaps, to the Namea Valley Archaeological Project and the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project. He also notes several other genealogies existed “outside” this network including the “Chronotype” family of projects associated with Sidney Cyprus Survey Project, the Troodos Archaeological and Environmental Survey Project, EKAS, the Australian Palaiochora-Kythera Survey Project, the Saronic Harbors Archaeological Research Project and Western Argolid Regional Project. Sadly, my little survey on Cyprus – the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project – slipped through the cracks here!

There are many ways to critique this article. On the one hand, the article reflects the relationships between project directors and gives some sense for how professional collaborations create genealogical relationships in disciplines defined as much by field-developed craft as the formal publication of methods, procedures, and practices. In fact, one thing that is striking about the development of intensive pedestrian survey as how quickly it intensified between the earliest project — like the MME and the Southern Argolid survey — and their siteless survey successors from the later 1980s (NVAP and PRAP being key examples).

On the other hand, this kind of network analysis overlooks the bottom-up influences that often influenced the development and transmission of survey methods. Individuals like Tim Gregory, who was my advisor, were often overlooked as significant participants in the functioning of these networks. Tim’s career intersected with both the Southern Argolid Exploration Project and the Cambridge Bradford Boeotia Project though his work at Thisvi in Boeotia. His surveys of islands in the Saronic Gulf and the Gulf of Corinth where he worked with P. Nick Kardulias (who studied with William Dancey, a key player in the development of siteless survey, in the anthropology program at Ohio State) grew from his work in Boeotia and the Southern Argolid respectively. Kardulias’s and Gregory’s work also intersected in their collaborations to survey and excavate the Byzantine fortress at Isthmia and to survey any number of small sites in the Eastern Corinthia. Tim’s and Nick’s work also intersected on Cyprus where Tim briefly worked on the later pottery from Athienou Archaeological Project’s Mallora Valley Survey Project directed by Nick and Ohio State anthropology professor Rick Yerkes.   

When the Eastern Korinthia Survey began, it also drew upon participants in the Southern Argolid project and NVAP such as the ceramicist Daniel Pullen who became co-director of EKAS when Fritz Hemans’s stepped down. These influences combined with those of sometime Corinthian archaeologist James Wiseman through Tom Tartaron and Carol Stein, respectively, who had worked with Wiseman on the Nikopolis Survey and who served as the field director and as a team leader respectively. Tom had also worked on the Berbati-Limnes Archaeological Survey. Neither the Nikopolis Survey nor Berbati-Limnes appear in Loy’s networks. 

Long, undoubtedly annoying, conversations with Tom Tartaron helped me, David Pettegrew, and Dimitri Nakassis develop our ideas about intensive pedestrian survey. As did conversations with Rob Schon who had worked on EKAS and both PRAP and SCSP and directed an experimental team on EKAS also informed my views on intensive pedestrian survey. More directly, my project with David Pettegrew on Cyprus was co-directed by R. Scott Moore who was a fellow Tim Gregory student with me and David, and worked with Tim at Isthmia and with the SCSP. We used the Chronotype system, in part, because we were all familiar with it from EKAS and SCSP where the data structure and sampling processes were refined and critiqued. Here the behind the scenes work of Richard Rothaus, another Tim Gregory student, who designed the survey database and at the same time was working with Nick Rauh on the Rough Cilicia Survey Project in Turkey. Versions of Richard’s database were used on PKAP, APKAS, and WARP and structured how we thought about survey units, walker transects, and descriptions collected via text fields, pulldowns, and check boxes. 

WARP brought together two directors who had experience on EKAS – Dimitri Nakassis and Sarah James both of whom also had worked with Michael Cosmopolos on the Iklaina survey project as well (if I’m not mistaken). Scott Gallimore, the third director, cut his teeth on the Gallatas Survey under Vance Watrous on Crete. Sarah James also worked closely with Guy Sanders at Corinth and, on WARP, often mediated between the siteless approaches embraced my Dimitri (and myself) and Guy Sander’s more critical position regarding survey methods in general. Scott Gallimore’s work on the rather different Gallatas survey provided an additional perspective that shaped our work.

Update: As Dimitri reminded me in this little Twitter thread, he also was a student of John Cherry and Sue Alcock at Michigan  and worked with Jim Wright in Nemea connecting WARP with the “Cherry-Davis-Wright” network as much as the SCSP/EKAS lineage.

It’s telling and significant that graduate students who worked with us on WARP have now worked on other survey projects in the Aegean basin and have undoubtedly transmitted certain ideas as well as contributed their own critiques to the development of field practices.

None of this is meant to necessarily contradict Loy’s top down view, but to complicate the implicit assumption that survey directors define the discipline in such an explicit way. A more subtle reading of survey project (which would involve more complex genealogies that extended well below the level of project director) would reveal a more dynamic space for the foment and transmission of ideas. Instead of the dendritic networks presented in the article a more rhizomic understanding of how ideas and practices shaped intensive survey. 

Indeed, one of the things that always attracted me to intensive survey is its relative simplicity in practice and its largely non-destructive nature encouraged a more egalitarian attitude among its practitioners. Moreover the granularity of survey data and its digital format allowed projects to open up the process of analysis to more participants than many traditional excavations. As a result, it would seem that the character of intensive survey in the Mediterranean would reward the development of genealogies that looked beyond the hierarchy of project directors and first authors. This is not meant to take anything away from Loy’s work, but to suggest that he has just scratched the surface of the networks and relationships that have shaped contemporary survey practices in Greece and the Aegean.

Eleutherai

Over the weekend, I read Sylvian Fachard, Sarah C. Murray, Alex R. Knodell and Kalliopi Papangeli’s article on the late Classical fortress at Eleutherai in the latest issue of Hesperia.

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The fort is not only spectacular, but it also brings back one of my fondest memories of my time as the “Melonaki” at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. For whatever reason, I was asked the lead the day trip for the Regular Program to Panakton, Aigosthena, and Eleutherai. I suspect it was because of the important Early Christian basilicas, including the remarkable and oft-overlooked double-basilica at Eleutherai. (That’s an ASCSA joke there). Anyway, the weather was beautiful and sunny at Aigosthena, but by the time we were set to go to Eleutherai, it was raining and grey. There’s something about the wet cold of winter in Greece that is every bit as brutal as the sub-zero days here in North Dakotaland. We stopped the bus near the base of the fort where there was a bakery and most of the students got coffee and were clearly intent on hunkering down for the rest of the day. Ever mindful of my duty, I gently insisted that we ascend the track to Eleutherai and discuss on site the long-standing debate on whether the fort was Athenian or Boeotian, hunt for the handful of low polygonal walls, and discuss the role of rural forts in the Attic countryside. The students politely ignored me and made it clear that they’d prefer to stay on the warm and dry bus with their coffee. I then begged a bit more insistently that they join me on the walk to the fort and they as insistently declined. Finally, I just went with maybe one or two students who felt bad for me. I suspect that the rest of the students eventually felt sorry for me as I wandered up the track in the steady drizzle to examine a fort as grey as the winter sky. Most of them eventually made it up to the fort and enjoyed some dramatic scenes of the fort in the low clouds. To this day, the attempted ASCSA mutiny reminds me of my limits as a teacher and that maybe not every fort in Attica is interesting in the rain. 

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This has nothing to do with the Fachard et al. article which is just as interesting on a rainy Sunday afternoon as it would be in the bring sun of an Attic summer. Not only do the authors produce a new stone-by-stone plan of the fort, but they also resolve some long-standing issues with its chronology and construction technique and its role on the Athenian-Boeotian border. They also contribute some useful observations regarding rural fortification in general which will help the WARP team make some progress on its stalled article on the fortifications of the Western Argolid. 

I won’t try to summarize the article’s 75+ pages; after all, I think that you can download the article for free from JSTOR. Instead here are a few highlights.

First, the authors not only prepared a plan of the fort, but they also conducted an intensive pedestrian survey. This survey which was part of the larger Mazi Archaeological Project documented the distribution and chronology of artifacts present around the fort. While artifact densities were predictably high, the percentage of diagnostic pottery was rather low (<15%). This was presumably in keeping with the utilitarian function of the fort and its rural setting over time. They did count almost 10,000 fragments of tile which was unsurprising. The team also collected grab samples from around various features. 

Overall, the rather small assemblage of diagnostic pottery confirmed their argument that the fort saw the most intensive activity during the Classical and Hellenistic period with limited evidence for Late Bronze Age activity on the hill, a gap in the Archaic period, and some indication of Late Roman and later reuse of the fort based as much on architectural evidence as ceramic finds. Their analysis here was more or less compelling, but I am curious about the 85% of the material that was not collected and whether it might fill in some of the chronological gaps at the site.  

Second, they do a masterful job identifying an earlier phase of fortifications at the site and tracking the various fragments of polygonal masonry and earlier lines of walls to demonstrate that the fort likely had an earlier Classical form that was replaced during the same period with the impressive coursed trapezoidal-rectangular masonry that is now visible.

Along similar lines, they also note evidence for later activity at the site including signs of Late Roman rebuilding perhaps as part of the larger effort to fortify the Greek countryside in the 6th century. Eleutherai would have been an ideal site of refuge for the nearby Late Roman settlement during times of instability. I would have loved to understand a bit more specifically the distribution of evidence for modern activity at the site particularly during World War II and the Greek Civil War when the fort guarded the road through the Kaza pass and saw military action.  

Third, the authors do an amazing job demonstrating that despite the size and substantial character of the fort, it would have likely cost relatively little to construct (at least compared to other forms of military investment in the Classical period such as manning and maintaining a fleet of triremes). In fact, the authors argue that the rural garrison needed to man the fort was a much greater expense than the resources required for the fort’s construction. To be more specific, the authors estimate the cost of the building the fort was roughly equal to the expense of maintaining a garrison of 200 soldiers at the fort for a single year. They go on to propose that “It was therefore pointless to build a fortification in the chora without the means to garrison it over the long term, and indeed an unmanned fortification represented a risk if another polity took control of it” (p. 526).

I’ll have to mull this over a bit. While Eleutherai is an impressive fort, the Greek countryside is dotted with less imposing, but undoubtedly similarly functional fortifications that one could hardly imagine being garrisoned regularly. The argument that forts where relatively inexpensive to construct, then, might account for their regular appearance at strategic points. It might also suggest a high tolerance for the risk that an opposing force could gain control of a fort to gain a strategic advantage. The mitigating factor would be that the expense of maintaining a garrison at a strategic location (and general limits on ancient manpower) which might eventually lead a state to cede tactical superiority in the name of economy.

Finally, for many the question of which side constructed and controlled Eleutherai is a matter of some academic interest (although perhaps not enough to warrant walking up to the fort in the rain of a Greek winter). The authors argue persuasively (at least for me, who doesn’t really care one way or another) that the fort is Boeotian. I now regard this matter as settled.

I do hope that they lavished similar attention on the double basilica of Early Christian date to the southeast of the fort! It’s a remarkably unusual building for southern Greece and suggests that something odd was going on in the area in Late Antiquity. 

~

As per usual, Hesperia did an amazing job producing a text largely free of errors and sharp and clear illustrations. More significantly, they published an article that ran to nearly 80 pages (without an artifact catalogue!). There are fewer and fewer places for scholars to publish an article at this length. For archaeology, though, such long articles vitally important to our field in that they allow us to present often complex evidence in a thorough way and present the kind of analysis and interpretation that is key for the creation of new knowledge. 

Siteless Survey and Intensive Data Collection in an Artifact Rich Environment (15 Years Later)

It is hard to believe that my colleagues, David Pettegrew, Dimitri Nakassis, and I published “Siteless Survey and Intensive Data Collection in an Artifact Rich Environment: Case Studies from the Eastern Corinthia, Greece” in the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 19.1 (2006) almost 15 years ago. This article has become my most widely cited publication and, in many ways, represents a touchstone for my thinking about intensive pedestrian survey until this day.

In fact, this past week, we’ve been working on a pair of articles from the Western Argolid Regional Project. One will be a fairly conventional preliminary report with a brief methodology section. We plan to submit it to Hesperia next month. The other will be a more methodological piece that we hope to submit to the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology before the end of the year. Both pieces are a bit challenging because they involve multiple authors and an effort to balance our desire to describe our work against an interest in providing some kind of larger analysis of our methods. Plus, there’s a pandemic which seems uniquely designed to unsettle even well thought out plans. 

The article that I’d like to see us prepare for the JMA would take our 2006 JMA article as a point of departure. It’s tempting to title our new piece ““Siteless Survey and Intensive Data Collection in an Artifact Poor Environment: Case Studies from the Western Argolid, Greece.” 

The main point of our new JMA piece could be that we’ve taken some of the lessons from the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS) that we outlined in the 2006 JMA article and applied them at scale to a rather different landscape in the Western Argolid. In particular, our survey in the Western Argolid demonstrated that applying intensive collection practices to low and moderate density scatters can unpack the complexities of artifact distribution across a landscape. This approach, while it might seem intuitive, runs counter to the traditions of site-based collection which approached the highest density places in the landscape through higher intensity collection strategies such as gridded or total collection. In this context, low density artifact scatters were often relegated to “off site” status and subjected both to less intensive collection regimes and generally mapped at a lower level of spatial resolution. 

In our 2006 JMA article, we argue that these practices tend to overlook evidence for short-term, season, or low-intensity activities in the countryside. We also argued that this approach obscures the fact that many high density consist of overlapping material from various periods which might extend in far lower densities into “off site” areas. Like a Venn diagram, then, the main area of artifact densities speaks less to the range and distribution of material at a single site either over time or from any particular period and more to the visible densities that their overlap creates. 

The main critique of the kind of rigorous, siteless approach employed by EKAS is that the intensity of this approach limited the area that we could survey. Our article recognized that the intensity of Mediterranean survey could be seen as leading to a kind of “Mediterranean Myopia” that treated surface assemblages like those produced by careful stratigraphic excavation where every sherd could be the type fossil that provides a terminus post quem for the level. While this attention is warranted in excavations, it limited the ability of survey to speak to regional issues because the scale of intensive survey projects remained limited.

WARP recognized these concerns and while many of the high-intensity siteless predecessors to WARP – namely the EKAS and PKAP, a large site survey on Cyprus – remained limited in spatial extent, WARP surveyed the majority of the 30 square kilometer area allowed by the Greek Ministry of Culture. While this is not nearly as expansive as the largest Near Eastern or North and Central American survey projects which could encompass hundreds of square kilometers, a survey that covered the majority of the territory allowed by the Greek state represented a much larger survey than the territory covered by EKAS or PKAP. Moreover, in the rugged landscape of the Western Argolid, the territory surveyed by WARP represented a topographically and historically plausible micro-region. In effect, we can propose that WARP managed to implement a highly intensive survey model in a way that responded to the historical geography of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Peloponnesus.

The article, as we now have it, includes two case studies. One examines the Roman period from the end of the Hellenistic period to Late Antiquity and shows how low density scatters shed light on the activities in the Roman landscape of the survey area. At the same time, it argues that certain periods, such as the Middle Roman period, produce less diagnostic pottery that only becomes visible under more intensive collection regimes that go beyond the typical focus on diagnostic artifacts. While the chronotype system was originally designed as both a standardized method for recording ceramics and a sampling strategy for artifact rich environments. On EKAS and PKAP, field walkers only collected one of every unique kind of artifact according to fabric, decoration, vessel type, and part of vessel (i.e. rim, base, handle, body sherd). This helped the projects manage the potential processing and storage burden associated with the collection of massive numbers of duplicate artifacts. Various experiment conducted on PKAP (and reported here) demonstrated that chronotype sampling did, in fact, preserve the functional and chronological range of artifacts in high density units, but under represented the diversity of chronotypes present. For a periods like the Middle Roman with less diagnostic artifact types susceptible to being overlooked in collection and recording, a more intensive collection regime increases the potential that we would recognize this material.

The second case study evokes the analysis of Kromna in the 2006 JMA article by examining the multiperiod scatter that constitutes the high density “site” of Panayia-Trelo in the Western Argolid. Like Kromna in the Corinthia, this site represents a series of overlapping scatters. The focus of the case study will be on the Archaic to Hellenistic period during which time the region’s relationship with Argos underwent significant change. The goal of the case study is to show that regional level analysis is not only possible from projects that prioritize higher intensity collection and spatial resolution over extent, but also requires the higher level of intensity to produce nuanced historical analysis.

Today’s blog post is just a the gentlest of sketch of what this piece needs to do to be compelling and significant. The most daunting task will be to review the scholarship published between 2006 and today to see how Mediterranean survey projects have adapted their methods to accommodate varying artifact densities. Needless to say, there’s a ton of scholarship to navigate. Stay tuned. 

Kephalari Blockhouse

I know that I’m not the first archaeologist to observe that without a field season this summer, we have theoretically more time to spend thinking carefully about our material and sites, tidying data, and preparing publications. This means, at least for me, trying to get some momentum on some lingering projects.

Two, in particular, are begging for attention. First, we have an almost complete draft of the publication of the area EF1 at Polis complete. In fact, I think we could have it ready for submission in two weeks.

More pressing at the moment, though, is a little article on the Late Roman finds from the Kephalari blockhouse in the Western Argolid. These finds were discovered in Corinth storerooms a few years ago and a group of us agreed to publish them. Of course, since that time lots of things have happened including WARP seasons, Polis stuff, a PKAP volume that’s not yet done, and The COVIDs. But this spring, the article received the ultimate motivating push: my colleague Scott Gallimore wrote up the catalogue and analysis of the finds.

So now it’s time that I do my part, which is writing up the “Discussion” section of the article. My goal is to offer a concise synthesis of 7th century settlement and rural insecurity in the northeastern Peloponnesus. It’s obviously a work in progress!

 

The assemblage from the Kephalari block house adds another small body of evidence to the increasingly complex mosaic of material from the later 6th, 7th, and early 8th century in the northeastern Peloponnesus. While the presence of material from the region’s significant urban centers, particularly Argos and Corinth, is well-known, archaeologists have only just begun to unpack and understand the situation in the countryside during these decades. The small number of excavated and well-published rural sites even in the well-studied northeastern Peloponnesus creates a particularly challenge for situating the reuse of the Kephalari blockhouse in its regional context. The growing number of stratified sequences, especially from Corinth, however, has made it increasingly possible to analyze the growing body of intensive survey data from this region from the end of antiquity. This, in turn, has offered new perspectives on a number of long-standing academic debates including changes in rural settlement patterns and urbanism, the character of the so-called “Slavic Invasions” of the late-6th century, and the presence of rural refuges such as the Andritsa cave.

Scholars have recognized that the reoccupation of rural sites, such as Pyrgouthi and the Kephalari block house appear to indicate significant investment in the adaptation of existing rural sites for reuse in the late 6th and 7th centuries. The appearance of window glass at Kephalari, for example, and the large-scale reconfiguration of the Pyrgouthi tower into a farmhouse with a courtyard suggests efforts to reoccupy these sites on a permanent basis. The evidence is less extensive from the other blockhouses and pyramids of the Argolid, but it appears that these sites were cleaned up with much of the material from earlier periods removed and the interior organization of the spaces modified with new walls and additions (Pettegrew 2006; Lord 1938; Scranton 1938).

Intensive survey has produced scatters of ceramics in the countryside that not only suggest that other Classical and Hellenistic sites experienced reoccupation in the Later Roman period, but that these sites were part of a larger reoccupation of the countryside. The site of Kastraki, for example, in the Inachos Valley, while unexcavated, may well be a similar site to Pyrgouthi or Kephalari in that it was a Classical or Hellenistic tower set atop a low rise in the valley bottom surrounded by a scatter of Late Roman material. The site of Any Vayia in the southeastern Corinthia likewise produced a low-density scatter suggesting a possible short-term reoccupation (Caraher et al. 2010) which found parallels elsewhere including on Euboea (Seifried and Parkinson 2014) and at the Vari House in Attica (Pettegrew 2006, p. 33).

Other smaller sites with material dating to the late-6th and 7th centuries exist throughout the Western Argolid survey area in the Inachos Valley and generally follow a pattern of settlement present in the 5th and 6th centuries. Athanasios Vionis and John Bintliff have argued for Late Antique Boeotia, urban and rural sites represent opposite sides of the same coin (Vionis 2017; Bintliff 2013). The persistence of sites in the countryside and even the expansion of activities into places like near coastal islands reflects the expansive use of diverse rural landscapes for agricultural purposes as well as nodes in regions and Mediterranean wide trade networks (Gregory 1984; 1995).

Urban sites continued to provide markets for rural agriculture, points of contact with larger imperial command economy, centers for manufacturing, and ecclesiastical and a certain amount of political authority. While the Finleyan concept of the “consumer city” should be laid to rest, work at Corinth (Sanders; Rothaus; Brown), Athens (Hayes), and Argos (Oikonomou-Laniado 2003) and in Boeotia (Bintliff, Vionis) have demonstrated that urban areas in Late Antiquity continued to serve as key places in Greece into the 7th century with continued investment in monumental architecture, urban amenities, and public spaces fortified in part by the growing spiritual, political, and economic role of urban bishops and the persistent reach of the imperial government.

This is not to suggest that the 7th century was not a period of significant disruption in southern Greece. Urban areas clearly experienced contraction and settlement in rural areas and this is visible in the larger WARP survey area as well as in urban surveys in Boeotia. The changes in rural settlement, including the emergence of fortified settlements in the countryside, seem to accompany continued economic activity in rural areas. While the evidence for such sites in the Argolid remains limited — the site of Kastro near the village of Tsiristra being a possible exception — the reoccupation of places like the Kephalari block house may well represent the need for both additional security and as well as continued economic viability in the countryside (Vionis 155-157). The reoccupation of fortifiable, if not necessarily fortified, sites in the Argolid may also shed light on the status of sites like the Andritsa Cave. If continued occupation of the countryside indicated the continued viability of markets and networks open to agricultural production and the fortified sites not only in Greece but across the wider Eastern Mediterranean reflects larger insecurity in the region, then places like the Andritsa Cave may well reflect the local realities of both rural wealth and instability. The so-called isles of refuge first recognized by Sinclair Hood and critiqued by Tim Gregory in the 1980s and 1990s, may also reflect the same effort to reconcile economic potential with the need for added security during unstable times.

Greek Villages

Over the weekend, I read the special section in the most recent Journal of Modern Greek Studies dedicated to the Greek village. It consisted of five articles with an introduction drawn from a conference on the Greek Village convened by Sharon Gerstel at UCLA last year. 

The article were good and offered views of the Greek village that drew upon perspectives developed in art history, archaeology, anthropology, and history. In the background, as Gerstel points out in her introduction, is the changing meaning of the Greek village in light of the recent economic crisis in Greece which has pushed people to return to villages for a range of economic and social reasons.

It is also hard not to read these articles against Greece’s extraordinary response to the COVID-19 crisis as well. To paraphrase Michael Herzfeld’s title, did the ability of Greeks to “see like a village” shape their response to the coronavirus? Of course, as Gerstel, Foxhall, Herzfeld, Kourelis, and others make clear, the concept of the village (and of the villager) is not a neatly localized phenomena.

Villagers in antiquity drew upon a range of strategies which included dispersed landholdings to diversify their economic opportunities and to insulate themselves from environmental vagaries present in the Mediterranean basin. Foxhall’s work to extend the village from the nucleated settlement to its surrounding countryside echoes the strategies articulated by Thom Gallant, Horden and Purcell, and similar work on rural life in ancient Italy

Sharon Gerstell, in some ways, inverts this paradigm by focusing on how contemporary villagers read, understand, and contribute to the inscribed record of a Byzantine church in the Mani. The ability of a community to connect their material past to their own situation ensured that monuments like the Byzantine church in the village of Vamvaka in the Mani develop a significance that goes beyond their place in the history of Byzantine architecture and settlement. Instead, the regular interaction with this monument and its inscriptions connects current residents with their predecessors on a personal (and, in the case of inscriptions naming clergy ecclesiastical) past.

Michael Herzfeld’s “Seeing like a Village” offers a perspective on the tensions between village and national political and social culture in Greece. By returning to the site of his long-time ethnographic interest, the village of Zoniana on Crete, he explores the ways in which the less formal structures of village life instruct how villagers engage with the more rigid bureaucracy of the modern Greek state. The functioning of patronage, violence, and strong kinship ties at the village level refract in different and generative ways when they interact with the state. Herzeld’s piece was perhaps the most thought provoking when it comes to understanding Greece’s success in dealing with the COVID pandemic. How did village political and social culture with its intergenerational ties, strong kin relations, and distinct forms of authority complement and reinforce the restrictions promoted by the Greek state. This would seem to echo Herzfeld’s assertions that seeing like a village did not necessarily imply a kind of parochialism or narrowness, but could produce responses to government policies through networks of relations otherwise inaccessible to institutions that could only “see like a state.”

Konstantinos Kalantzis considered the way in which villages are mediated in popular culture, for tourists, and in architectural conventions through a case study of a highland Greek village in Crete. By considering such everyday tourist objects like postcards, Kalantzis explores how the depictions of village life shape the expectations of visitors and villagers alike. The more dispersed settlement style of Cretan highland villages, for example, often disappoints tourists expecting the denser arrangement of lowland villages. The reproduction of village public spaces in highland villages likewise served to conformant to the expectation of visitors and as a backdrop to Cretan hospitality. The way in which architecture, space, and media shape experiences and expectations provides an insight into how Greek national and regional identities are performed on the most local level.

Finally, Kostis Kourelis, offers a view of the Greek village through the lens of three women named Eleni. These women provide a perspective onto the transnational experience of Greek immigrants. Kourelis’s stories offer a contemporary take on Foxhall’s observation that villages are far more than their nucleated cores, and often extend into the countryside. Kourelis demonstrates that villages in the modern period often represent communities that exist on a global scale.

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!

Resilience in Antiquity

There have been a few articles recently on resilience in the ancient world (e.g. here, herehere, et c.) and considering the looming social disruptions caused by the COVID-19 virus, this work feels particularly timely.

Last week, the new volume of Studies in Late Antiquity appeared and it included an article by Tamara Lewitt titled “A Viewpoint on Eastern Mediterranean Villages in Late Antiquity: Applying the Lens of Community Resilience Theory.” It offered a particularly clear application of community resilience theory to the Late Roman world as a way to understand why some areas rebounded from the disruptions of the 6th centuries. Historically, historians and archaeologists have argued that the plagues, earthquakes, military activities, political and theological instability during the 6th century had a lasting social and economic on Eastern Mediterranean communities. More recently, however, archaeologists, in particular, have shown how communities not only survived these difficult times, but prospered. 

In some ways, an emphasis on community resilience is a useful response to scholars who have increasingly sought to understand large scale changes in the Late Roman world as shaped by non-human actors such as disease and climate and environmental change. A number of recent articles have sought to re-assert the role of human agents in Late Antique. I tend to find this line of argument vaguely misguided, but in the case of Lewitt’s article it offers a clear point of departure for her consideration of community resilience.

Lewitt argued that five things allowed for ancient communities to rebound for various disruptions: “high volume and diversity of economic activities, a degree of equitable distribution of income, effective routes of communication, the existence of social capital, and capacity for cooperation and technological innovation.”

She then draws upon archaeological data to demonstrate how the most resilience communities shared many of these features. Of particular interest to me was the role of the church which not only served as a nodes in larger communication networks, but also as institutions around which social capital accumulates. Lewitt suggests that the bonds created through shared support of the local church, for example, created pathways to pool resources during times of crisis. As an contemporary example, she notes that the Vietnamese community in New Orleans rebuilt more quickly after Katrina because they relied on close social bonds.

Years ago, I was interested in how Christianity introduced new forms of giving. Unlike the elite euergetism that characterized Classical antiquity and relied upon the generosity of a few very wealthy patrons who competed with one another for status, the church promoted a model of charity that applied to all Christians and led to individuals of even modest means contributing to the construction and decoration of churches as well as to other charitable ventures. This new vision of charity would have undoubtedly led to new forms of social organization that may have led to greater community resilience.

The other interesting observation is that communities with greater economic equality tend to be more resilient than those with great divisions in wealth. Lewitt looks at the relative size of houses in the deserted villages in Syria to argue for social and economic equality in those communities. Once again, Lewitt notes that part of the challenges facing recovery in New Orleans was the deeply uneven distribution of wealth which made cooperation and collective action more difficult. It almost goes without saying that it is very difficult to track economic and social equality in the ancient world other than at the very ends of the spectrum. Moreover, it seems that villages and rural settlements, especially in Greece and Cyprus, seem to have been abandoned whereas urban areas proved more resilient. If we understand smaller rural communities to have less social and economic diversity, then we might expect these communities to be more resilient than the evidence tends to indicate. That being said, this is not fatal to Lewitt’s arguments, but it does beg for an explanation for why certain kinds of resilience ultimately failed. 

It is interesting to see how this plays out around the world as we attempt to recover from the economic and human impacts of the current COVID-19 pandemic. Lewitt’s regular appeals to data from the recovery after Hurricane Katrina provide a modern point of comparison for resilience in antiquity. The recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will provide another.