Two Articles on Early Christian Archaeology

This year, I’ve been returning to my roots and thinking more seriously about the archaeology of the Early Christian world. I’ve been reading a bunch of the recent work focusing on the intersection of Early Christian studies and archaeology, and surfing through some of my favorite journals to catch up on recent articles on issues like Christianization and the construction of Christian landscapes. I was fairly intrigued by Troels Myrup Kristensen’s article in the Journal of Early Christian Studies, “Landscape, Space, and Presence in the Cult of Thekla at Miriamlik” and Jacqueline Sturm’s, “The Afterlife of the Hephaisteon: the Interpretatio Christiana of an Ancient Athenian Monument,” in Hesperia

Troels’ article examined the creation of a Christian landscape in the complex space of Thekla’s shrine at the ancient site of Miramlik in Turkey. He interleaves the two, well-known texts associated with Thekla, the rather early Acts of Paul and Thekla, and the fifth-century Miracles of Thekla, with a sensitive reading of the region around Miriamlik’s landscape and history. The site of Miriamlik has seen relatively little formal archaeological investigate over the past century, but there remained plenty of significant archaeological analysis possible on the basis of what is already known.

For example, Troels notes that as late as the fifth century, the pagan landmarks remain sufficiently well-known to represent a significant foil to the Christian landscape constructed on the basis of Thekla’s miracles. He also unpacked potential political, religious, and even visual relationships between the site of Thekla’s sanctuary the nearby city of Seleukeia, the pagan sanctuary of the Sarapeion, and the surrounding productive landscape. The links between the city of Seleukeia and the sanctuary as well as between Miriamlik and the coastline defined more than simply routes of travel, but also the relationship between the site and pilgrims, local ecclesiastical official, and other travelers. Finally, Troels explores the experience of a pilgrim to the site and the contrast between the open space of the basilica-style church and the more enclosed and intimate space of a cave sanctuary (which evoked other cave sanctuaries in the region and in the Christian tradition)l  The article unpacks the complexity of the local landscape, the role of two prominent Early Christian texts, and the place of the cult of Thekla in both the experiences of visitors and in establishing new relationships in the region. 

Jacqueline Sturm’s article on the Christianization of the Hephaisteion is remarkable for several reasons. First, like the site of Miriamlik, the Hephaisteion has not seen significant new archaeological investigation for two generations. In fact, there has been little significant archaeological work on the Christianization of Athens in the last 50 years and most of the more recent scholarship has been a reconsideration of longstanding archaeological evidence with all of its limitations and ambiguities. Sturm’s article argues that the Centauromachy on the temple’s frieze was susceptible to an interpretatio Christiana which saw the battle as the conflict of good versus evil. This led to the temple undergoing a “gentle” conversion to a church in the fifth-century rather than showing evidence for more destructive forms of spoliation and conversion. 

Sturm does a nice job exploring the role of iconography in Christian practice and the context of the building in the Christianization of Athens. The challenge, as always, is chronology. No major Christian or Christianized monument in Athens has been dated on the basis of stratigraphic excavation. Instead, the evidence comes from a small number of literary sources (most notably the Vita Procli of Marinus), evidence for reuse of spolia from better known monuments, and the poorly understood role of historical figures like Eudokia and events like the Visigothic raid to punctuate the lives of various buildings throughout the city. Like the shrine at Miriamlik, the conversion of the Hephaisteion represents a negotiation between the needs of the Christian community, persistent notions of civic identity, spatial politics, and economic realities of the Late Roman world.    

Both articles consider some central themes to the study of Early Christianity through archaeology. First, they recognize the vital role of urbanism and pre-Christian religious practices in the ordering of Early Christian space. Second, both article understand the intersection of Christian visual culture and both texts and the wider monumental and iconographic world of antiquity. Third, they seem to understand that Christian landscapes and monuments are fundamentally social objects and the creation of Christian space relied on memory as a contemporary practice as opposed to some disembodied residue that clung to old things. Finally, the archaeology of Early Christianity involves both archaeology and material culture as well as the excavation of earlier field work with all of its limitations and potential.

The Medieval Countryside at a Regional Scale in the Western Argolid and Northeastern Peloponnesus

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a call for papers for a panel  on the Medieval Countryside at the Archaeological Institute of America’s annual meeting next January.

Life intervened and we missed the deadline to submit a paper. Fortunately, the organizer, Effie Athanassopoulos was merciful and nudged the deadline a bit for us.

Here’s our abstract:

The Medieval Countryside at a Regional Scale in the Western Argolid and Northeastern Peloponnesus

Dimitri Nakassis, University of Colorado
Sarah James, University of Colorado
Scott Gallimore, Wilfrid Laurier University
William Caraher, University of North Dakota

The study of the Medieval Mediterranean is paradoxical. On the one hand, scholars have continued to define the master narrative for the Medieval and Byzantine periods in the Mediterranean through politics and church history. On the other hand, few periods have seen as concerted an effort to understand the life and experiences of non-political classes from villagers to monks, mystics, and merchants. At the risk of simplifying a complex historiography, historians of the Annales school pioneered the study of everyday life in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. At the same time, Byzantine historians have drawn influence from concepts of cultural materialism to critique the co-development of particular economic and political systems and to recognize the fourth to fourteenth century as a period of rural transformation. This work has found common ground with landscape archaeologists who since the 1970s have sought to emphasize long-term, quantitative methods within tightly defined regional contexts to understand the tension between local and regional developments in the Medieval the countryside.

Recent work in the Peloponnesus and central Greece by the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project, The Argolid Exploration Project, the Boiotia survey, the Methana Survey Project among others, provides a methodologically-sophisticated, regional perspective on the Medieval countryside that is almost unprecedented in the Mediterranean. This paper add to this existing body of regional evidence based on three seasons of the Western Argolid Regional Project. From 2014-2016, this project documented 30 sq km of the Inachos river valley through highly intensive pedestrian survey. This work has revealed significant post-Classical activity ranging from Late Antique habitation to 13th century settlements and Venetian towers. These sites derive greater significance from both the impressive body recently published fieldwork on the countryside of the northeastern Peloponnesus and the well-documented histories of the urban centers of Argos, Nafplion, and Corinth. The existence of both rural and urban contexts in this region offers a unique opportunity to consider the tensions between town and country and rural life and urban politics in the post-Classical centuries. The result is a study of the Medieval countryside that probes the limits of the long-standing and largely urban and political master narrative while also demonstrating significant regional variation.

 

NVAP II: Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside

It was pretty exciting to read through one of the most eagerly await archaeological volumes of the last decade, Effie Athanassopoulos’s Nemea Valley Archaeological Project II: Landscape Archaeology and the Medieval Countryside (2016) published by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. The book is impeccably produced with lots of color, glossy pages, well-set and proofed texts, meticulous detail, and fine illustrations, maintaining the ASCSA’s standing as the most consistently elegant of the major archaeological publishers. 

The book itself is a hybrid, bridging the gap between the great second wave survey projects in Greece and more mature, contemporary attitudes to landscape and intensive pedestrian survey. Traditionally, intensive surveys in Greece are published in one of two ways: a series of articles dedicated to methods and particular periods or in a single, massive tome which approach the landscape in a diachronic way through various methods. Effie’s book is a single volume dedicated to the Medieval period from an intensive survey, and in this way is rather unique (or at very least comparable to F. Zarinebaf, J. Bennet, and J. L. Davis. 2005. A Historical and Economic Geography of Ottoman Greece: The Southwestern Morea in the 18th Century (2005)). Moreover, unlike Zarinebaf, Bennet, and Davis, NVAP II is strictly archaeological with only very cursory references to texts.

After an introduction of less than 60 pages, most of the book is dedicated to the intensive documentation of individual sites. This includes large and important 12th-13th century settlement site called “Site 600″ or Iraklio/Medieval or Turkish Fountain which extended over 34 ha and produced nearly 1000 potentially Medieval sherds as well as much smaller sites sometimes producing little more than a handful of Medieval fineware sherds. A number of the sites are associated with standing churches with a number of them (e.g. Site 501 and Site 509) also preserving evidence for agricultural production. What is interesting is that these sites are presented as from a survey archaeologists’ perspective with survey unit illustrations, ceramics, and brief descriptions that make almost no reference to standing architecture. In this way, Effie’s book differs from, say, Christopher Mee and Hamish Forbes’ Methana survey volume where significant attention was given to churches as architectural objects that stood apart – to some extent – from artifact level survey work. The significance of this approach in NVAP II is that it marks a shift in emphasis for Medieval archaeology in Greece away from its traditional focus on ecclesiastical architecture and toward the more mundane world of settlement. In this way, this book manifests a kind of confidence in the work of the survey and landscape archaeology which sets its own priorities and agenda without deferring too much to the past practice. 

That being said the majority of this volume is a well-presented site catalogue. This reflects in some ways the priorities of second-wave survey projects in Greece which were feeling their way forward from traditional gazetteers produced through extensive survey toward artifact level and distributional analysis. The greatest shortcoming of the book is the lack of distributional perspective that brings together the landscape of the Nemea Valley project into a single, methodologically integrated whole. While early articles from NVAP have stood as a significant contributions to the development of intensive pedestrian survey methods, this volume does not seem to return to methodology in a substantial way. This probably speaks the maturity of intensive survey in that not every presentation of survey results need be detailed treatment of methods and procedures. At the same time, I wonder whether some attention to methods might have given this book a broader relevance to current conversations about intensive survey. For example, the visibility of certain types of Medieval pottery, almost certainly shaped the kinds of landscapes that intensive survey recognized. Site size has prompted extensive methodological reflection over the past four decades and relates directly to how we understand function in the landscape. Geomorphology, routes and paths, micro-regional variations in climate, vegetation, and soils, all have shaped the distribution of artifact, settlements, and ultimately people across historical landscapes. So as much as this book reflects the growing confidence and autonomy of intensive survey as a mode for understanding the landscape, it also reflects an earlier tradition of site-based documentation with lavish catalogues, site maps, and illustrations. 

In both ways, it represents a significant contribution to the field.

More on Lolos’s Sikyon and Regional Scale Archaeology

The arrival of the Journal of Roman Archaeology – by mail no less – is one of the highlights of my year. I was very excited to see an extensive review of Y. Lolos’s Land of Sikyon: The Archaeology and History of a Greek City State. (2015) by long-time colleague in Corinthian archaeology, Joe Rife.  It’s “Surveying Sikyon from the State to the Land,” JRA 29 (2016), 864-874.

(As an aside, it’s one of two reviews of recent work on Sicyon (the other being a review by K. Slane of Conor Trainor’s The Ceramics Industry of Roman Sicyon (2015)) and this reflects the quantity and quality of work being done in the northeast Peloponnesus. In fact, it shocked me that there were two books on Sikyon and no books reviewed on Roman Cyprus.)

Joe is smarter and better scholar I am, and his review is smarter and more expansive than mine. The review not only deals with the book in detail, but addresses the larger issue of how to think about regional level archaeological projects. Rife points out that while Lolos’s work is carefully considered and reasoned (which it is!), he, nevertheless, tends to view the territory of the city of Sikyon as a persistent lens for social, political, and economic analysis. While the Lolos’s focus on the Sikyonian chora was undoubtedly appropriate for the pre-Roman era, Rife rightly asks if such “state-bound” approaches are optimal for regional level studies. The association of places with say the defensive needs of the state implies that existence and persistence of boundaries though time.

Likewise, Rife is skeptical of the stability of roads through the landscape which also shaped Lolos’s interpretation and is reflected in the thorough studies of his mentors Y. Pikoulas and W. K. Pritchett. Rife’s view of a “land-bound” approach to regional work would account for the shifting routes of roads across territory and decouple long-term settlement patterns from the more ephemeral pattern of routes through a territory.

Rife’s review also comments on the challenges of narrating a regional level archaeological project. The tension between a narrative confined artificially at times by archaeological, practical, and political boundaries. As he states, there is a need “to balance readability and referability.” Digital publication of the maps and maybe, in the future, the data could open Lolos’s careful documentation to new forms of scholarly attention and analysis. 

None of these observations are new, of course, but Rife’s review offers them in a compact and specific way and in clear reference to a well-done and thorough survey.

Greece and the Bakken

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been reading things on the current situation in Greece. Most of it is written by scholars. I blame Kostis Kourelis for this and Richard Rothaus. They introduced me to the fine work of Heath Cabot who has written on both the ongoing financial and refugee crisis in Greece. I’ve enjoyed surfing around in two of the three books that Panos Leventis reviewed in the Journal of Architectural Education.

I’ve found the treatment of graffiti in Greece in Remapping ‘Crisis’: A Guide to Athens intriguing and the discussion of the privatization of public space especially relevant in my community of Grand Forks and consonant with some my experiences in Bakken. While our experiences in western North Dakota have generally been positive, some of my colleagues were once stopped by private security on a public road as they photographed a flare at night. The incident de-escalated fairly quickly, and while the presence of private security in the Bakken is understandable, the confrontation on a public road did demonstrate the growing reach of private concerns to public land and concerns. Similar concerns appear in the open publication City-Scapes: Athens and Beyond. I particularly enjoyed the treatment of flows which embraced the movements of humans and infrastructure. This offers a more sophisticated and obvious  treatment of what I was trying to do with my tourist guide to the Bakken. Between roads, rail, and pipelines, the Bakken is defined by flows of oil, people, and trains.

Yannis Hamilakis interest in the refugee crisis and the archaeology of forced and undocumented migration has fueled not only a forum in the Journal of Contemporary Archaeology, but also conferences and panels both in Greece and abroad. While the significance of this work to the lives of the refugees remains unclear,  there is no doubt that the efforts by Hamilakis and colleagues are arming scholars and hopefully policy makers with a new set of both archaeology tools and data to address real world problems.

The quality and intensity of the academic conversations about the Greek refugee and financial crisis has been remarkable. The recent events surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline (recently summarized in the New Yorker, but getting heavy local and national media coverage) demonstrate that extractive industries here in the North Dakota continue to impact the state even after the most recent boom has subsided. For example, anyone thinking about the recent boom and the current crisis could do worse than reading Sebastian Braun’s contribution to our Bakken Goes Boom or buying a copy of Trout, Broby, and Houston (eds.) Fracture. Braun reminds us that “All the booms and frontiers on the plains have one thing in common: water is the key resource.” While his article focused on the twin challenges of fracking and wastewater disposal, he is clearly aware that it’s not merely the consumption of water but also the risk of contamination that locates water in the same category as air when assessing the impact of extractive industries on a global scale. As a result, the DAPL protest can’t be just about local water, Native American rights, or even North Dakota politics – any more than the Greek financial or refugee crisis is about Europe or Greece. These situations are global concerns that cut across national boundaries and highlight a wide range of political, environment, and ultimately human failings. Hopefully, scholarly attention on these situations will continue to provide a useful – if modest – counterweight to corporate publicity machines, media hype, and political rhetoric. Whether the work of scholars actually matters, remains uncertain.

New Work at Isthmia: Old Excavations, Traces, and Memory

I was thrilled to see Jon Frey and Tim Gregory publish a lengthy article on their ongoing research at the site of Isthmia in Greece. In “Old Excavations, New Interpretations: The 2008–2013 Seasons of The Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia” (Hesperia 85 (2016) 437-490), Frey and Gregory re-examine decades old excavations around the Roman Bath and the Hexamilion wall at the Panhellenic sanctuary of Isthmia in the eastern Corinthia.

The article is remarkably rich and detailed (in the way that Hesperia articles can be) so there’s not much point for me to try to summarize it. Frey and Gregory identify some new buildings, they add to our scant knowledge about the earliest Roman phases of the re-established sanctuary, and, in general, offer evidence that makes Isthmia look more like a Panhellenic sanctuary. What is more interesting to me, is the big picture value of their work as a model for approaching older excavations without conducting massive new field work campaigns. Since I’ve started working at the site of Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus where we have worked to publish 30-year old excavations, I’ve become convinced that the future of Mediterranean archaeology is in returning to old sites with new perspectives, questions, and technology.

So here are a few observations.

1. Notebooks. Excavation produce so much information ranging from physical evidence (architecture, ceramics, scarps) to illustrations and plans and notebooks. It is hardly surprising that these artifacts can support multiple interpretations of the history and archeology of a site. This kind of work reminds us that there is not a linear relationship between excavation “data” and archaeological knowledge production. Archaeological documentation is messy, copious, and complex making old excavations not “done deals,” but abundant sources for new interpretations and new analysis. 

2. Trenches. Frey and Gregory returned to trenches that had been excavated and neglected for decades. I visited Frey a few times while he was removing weeds and straightening scarps in a trench that I had walked by dozens of times without thinking much of it. His work in these trenches, however, revealed features that the original excavators overlooked allowed for new measurements, and recognized details that had received only inconsistent reporting. For example, he recognized evidence for looter pits that the original excavators had missed, connected architectural features across multiple trenches at the site to reveal an massive porticoed gymnasium building, and identified new evidence for early Roman work at the site that previous excavators had no reason to even note in their work.

When I first started working on the notebooks at Polis-Chrysochous, I had this naive idea that I could largely reconstruct the excavation of the site from the notebooks and various plans. As archaeologists, we imagine that our documentation preserves the site even as we “destroy” physical evidence through excavation. In fact, “preservation by record” policies reflect this basic assumption about how archaeology works. A recent article, for example, celebrates this very idea and suggests that digitization will help us overcome the reality with the title: “Excavation is Destruction Digitization.” Most archaeologists know, however, that archaeological excavation is not really destruction, but the production of archaeological knowledge. While field work will always will come at a cost (both literally and figuratively in the reorganization and physical displacement of material), it seems to me that the disciplinary arguments for excavation as destruction do more to occlude alternate interpretation grounded (literally!) in the same space and documentation than to discourage careless digging. After all, the irregularities in the excavation methods used even 30 years ago at Polis are as much a source for the sites interpretation potential and vitality as carefully excavated sites present their interpretations as the natural outgrowth of rigorous methods. There’s a certain irony that sites excavated in less rigorous ways then have the potential to create more archaeological foment than those produced through the hyper-confidence of methodological rigor. Isthmia would seem to be a good example of this.

3. Memory and Architecture. Jon Frey has done significant work on the study of spolia and construction practice in Late Antiquity (we talked to him about his book on the Caraheard podcast here). Lurking in the background of this article on Isthmia is the ghostly outline of a massive porticoed gymnasium associated with athletic events at the Panhellenic sanctuary. Frey argues that the Hexamilion wall, the massive 5th-century AD fortification wall that bisected the Isthmus of Corinth, followed the outline of the gymnasium and incorporated not only spolia from this building, but also part of its foundations and walls. The reasons for this would appear to be profoundly practical. The Hexamilion was a massive building project and any opportunities to take advantage of existing structures offered significant labor savings. The use of part of the gymnasium, then, reflected the practical realities of such a massive construction project, but at the same time, it the course of the wall preserved the imprint of the gymnasium through spolia and its shape.

I have tended to think of memory in antiquity as a conscious act to commemorate an earlier monument, ritual, event, or person. In the context of Isthmia, it may be that memory of the earlier monument is less a conscious act and more like the muscle memories that we develop as we type, ride a bike, or even go about our daily lives. We remember how to hit the brake pedal at a stoplight, but we don’t consciously think “I remember last time I was hear I moved my right foot juuuuust so to slow down the car.” Instead, we just act and move in a way that consistently produces certain results. The practical element of memory preserve the outline of an earlier building in the same way that a palimpsest preserved the record of an earlier text. This commemorative practice was not bound up in a series of conscious efforts to preserve the past, but in a kind of muscle memory embodied in the practice and contingencies of construction.

Just as excavations and their documentation produce evidence for past practices that do not necessarily lead inevitably to certain conclusions, construction practices in antiquity preserve the traces of past landscapes in unexpected and perhaps even unintentional ways. Frey and Gregory weave together these two kinds of practices – one modern and one ancient – in a paper that should serve as a model for archaeological work at old sites in the present.

Some Bits and Bobs from my Summer of Fieldwork

Survey archaeology offers plenty of good opportunities to  walk around thinking about stuff, but the hectic pace of the survey season makes it hard to articulate anything in a complex way. Instead, I have lots of fragments of ideas that have floated through my mind over the last 7 weeks on the Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP).

Here are a few random thoughts.

1. Aqueducts. One of the known features in our survey area is a Roman period aqueduct. This isn’t a new discovery, but it has been cool to examine the route of the aqueduct through our survey area in some detail. While the construction of the aqueduct is interesting in and of itself, what’s more fun to think about is how this Roman period structure shaped the ancient landscape of the Western Argolid. The aqueduct brought water from springs to the northwest of our survey area down the Inachos valley to Argos itself.

The aqueduct entered our survey area about half way down the Inachos valley and it runs more or less parallel with the river. As a result settlements settlements down stream from where the aqueduct entered the river valley could have tapped the aqueduct for water (whether they did or not is an open question), whereas settlements further up the Ianochus valley, before the joining of the aqueduct would not. 

The visual impact of the aqueduct through the landscape would have connected communities along the lower reach of the Inachos more visibly with Argos than those further up the valley. This would not have been a simple matter of proximity, as we might expect communities along the aqueduct’s route outside (our survey area and) the Inachos valley would have also recognized this feature as a clear connection between their community and the Argos as a major regional center in antiquity.

Water was not the only thing moving along the aqueduct, of course. It would have likely required regular maintenance, for example, which would have been probably coordinated at Argos. Moreover, the aqueduct would have probably required a certain amount of policing as well to prevent water from being siphoned off as it wended its way through the valleys and passes to the city. The aqueduct stood as both a visual and practical link of the countryside to the city in the Roman period.   

2. Data, Writing, and Work. As I wandered the countryside looking at the ground with the Western Argolid Regional Project, many of my colleagues were working hard on revising their contributions to a book that my press is publishing based on the Mobilizing the Past conference held in 2015. These papers got me thinking, once again, about how we do archaeological work and produce archaeological knowledge.

It was pretty easy for me to think about our work this summer as a kind of data collecting. We focused on documenting the landscape and gathering data on the basis of a more or less rigorous method (actually quite rigorous, but we also knew when to adjust it to different circumstances). At some point toward the end of the season we began to talk about the various publications that we envisioned from this project, and used that to help us prioritize our field work. 

It got me thinking about whether archaeological projects struggle to publish, in part, because we think so much of field work as “data collection” rather than part of the writing process. In fact, it’s really difficult to find time to write arguments and narratives during the field season which is driven more by the need to do things best accomplished when we are “in the field” than thinking about what we’re going to do when we leave the field. I wonder how much our priorities get blurred by being in the field. In other words, I wonder how much our being in a place make it hard for us to think about the ultimate outcome of our work. Is the simple act of being in the field and immersed in the moment and the place inimical to our ability to think about our work as words on the page?

3. The Bakken. I’ve started to put together a little website for my little book that is slated to come out his fall in the NDSU Press Heritage Guide Series. I haven’t added much content, but I’m thinking of using the site as a place to write marginalia on my book, update sections, and even develop more thoroughly arguments and observations that I’ve had a chance to think about more carefully since I’ve submitted the final manuscript. 

My publisher is pretty adamant that I not put too much of my work online, but hopefully I can find ways to talk around the book without giving too much away. I have this idea that I can develop the website to build out in a more expansive and academic way from my initial body of observations. We’ll see.

4. Puppies. For years I’ve rolled my eyes at students bringing ratty, dirty street animals home from Greece, but somehow this year, I’ve found myself attached to a puppy who left – probably to die or be saved – outside our apartments this year. A few trips to the vet, some vaccinations, paperwork, and about eight phone calls to my airline, and he’s going to be on his way to a new home on the northern plains. He’s already pretty attached to his neon-green bag and to me (I think). Hopefully the flights are smooth and he’s patient with our travel.

His name is Argie, which is short for Argos, and he already wants to do what he’s told to do and party like it’s 2016.  

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Three Years of WARP

As the last field season of the Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP) winds down this week, I got to thinking about what I’ve learned working with a remarkable group of graduate students and friends. While it’s impossible to compare archaeological projects, I can honestly say that this one provided me with an advance course on archaeological work. I was largely free from thinking about logistics, budgets, or even meals, and could think about 90% of my time about archaeology.

I got to see some remarkable sites, think expansively about our 30 sq km survey area, take in some amazing views, and play with an impressive dataset. We have years of work ahead of us to understand our field work. 

At the same time, I think I’ve learned some things about archaeological projects over the past three years. Most of these observations are personal (and not entirely professional), and speak to my interest in the personal mechanics and procedures at the core of archaeological work more than formal methods.  

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1. People Power. On both of my major archaeological field projects, we had great team leaders and trench supervisors. Over the course of three or four field seasons, these graduate students became increasingly autonomous in the field. During the most recent season on WARP, our team leaders more or less ran the day-to-day field program. The directors would provide big picture ideas of how to approach various goals and the team leaders would then organize the teams and take them to various areas and offer quick reports at the end of the field day. They’ve increasingly taken ownership of the data that they collect and their approach to our larger field program and with any luck this ownership will extend through the analysis, writing, and publication process.

The other thing I learned on WARP is that nothing makes up for people power. On WARP we had 6 field teams with 5 teams in the field at once and this allowed us to churn out about .3 sq km per day. No improvements in efficiency – using technology or other Taylorist methods – makes up for simply using more people in the field. More people allows us to do more work. Archaeological work is still a matter of person power and the more survey teams in the field, the more gets done.

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2. Communication.  One thing that I know I need to improve is my ability to communicate consistently and clearly with our team leaders, my colleagues, and our students. On the one hand, we tried hard to communicate the big picture to our students and team leaders. We did a series of lectures at the start of the season and interaction in the field. The problem, as always, is that the big picture is always changing and as parts of the landscape start to “make sense,” we end up reformulating hypotheses and shifting our priorities appropriately. Communicating this on the fly is a challenge and even more challenging to communicate across six field teams and their field walkers.

It was also challenging to keep lines of communication open between the folks working in the apotheke and in the field. While this year, they managed (remarkably) to more or less keep pace with the field teams so we had a pretty decent idea what we were finding and where. But there was always a bit of lag between weekly plans and daily discoveries so that teams often found themselves just a bit out of sync.

Finally, there is a balance between overwhelming team leaders with daily meetings (and impinging on their already limited free time) and having meaningful conversations on a regular basis as to the plans and logistics of a project. At the same time, we had to balance conflicting levels of commitment to the project, different research interests, and daily personnel changes.

3. Structuring my Days. I am a creature of routine and my routine helps me to anticipate how long things will take and how much energy things will require. In other words, structure dictates my productivity in a very straight forward way. I got up around 5 am to do email and blog, and then fieldwork runs from 6:30 AM to around 12:30 or 1 pm. After lunch and a short nap, I spend some time on data management, my notes, and planning the next field day. 

Structuring my day became all the more important because for the first time in my archaeological career, however, I had to divide my attention between long-term academic (writing, publishing, thinking) projects and my daily fieldwork regimen. Fortunately, my colleagues here on WARP made it easy for me to structure my afternoons out of the sun so I could focus on my myriad little projects and responsibilities that do not vanish when I get into the field. My daily schedule is the key.

4. Pacing and Patience. I’m impatient. I want all the data, all the knowledge, all the field work, and all the features, sherds, and places at once. Of course, archaeology doesn’t work like that. Archaeologists must be patient, stay focused on a method, and record diligently, and for the most part I do that. But it takes a massive effort on my part to reinforce our methods in the field, to stick to a plan, and to communicate this plan effectively to our students and team leaders. Archaeology takes time.

Pacing then becomes a really important part of field work, because it ensures that our patience can keep up with our work. We’ve been fortunate the last two seasons to have a running start. We tend to work long days in the first two or three weeks of the season and then let our foot off the gas in the last two weeks or so. For example, we leave the field a bit earlier and I tend to take a day off per week to recover and process data. This means that as the project develops and as we have more data from the field, we have more time to process, organized, and analyze the data coming out of the field. 

This isn’t to say that we’re not exhausted at the end of the season, but that our pace has ensured that our patience was exhausted at the same point the we accomplished our research plan for the field season. 

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5. The Archaeological Body. I’ve blogged a bit about how archaeological work – especially intensive pedestrian survey – punishes the body. Archaeology does more than simply exhaust the body, but the entire process of archaeological work exerts a tremendous force upon our person. Our schedules become dictated by the demands of archaeological work on our bodies. Physical fatigue influences our patience, frustration levels, attention to detail, and our ability to concentrate, and this, in turn, shapes how we document the landscape.

In a more productive way, our body in the landscape becomes a way of understand scale and movement through space. Gentle slopes on maps become steep climbs in the field. Densely vegetated hill slopes give way to easy paths. Points on the map maybe closer than they appear or much further apart depending upon the ease of movement through the landscape.

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The Last Days in the Field in Western Argolid

Earlier in the week, I posted on these final days with the Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP) and the thought that these might the final field days of my career as a survey archaeologist working with big project teams. We had a couple days of especially rugged terrain, and some remarkable finds. Alyssa Friedman, one of our exceptional group of team leaders, took some fun photos of me in the field. 

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We took a great team of students up into a densely vegetated hill slope and did some rather extreme intensive survey.

DimitriNakassis 2016 Jun 29

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Of course, these two days of surveying reinforced my general idea that I’m too old for this kind of work. In fact, I needed a little rest in a tangle of thorny vines.

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It feels like this is a fitting final image:

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