Late Roman Economy and Formation Processes

I’ve spent some quality time with the most recent volume of Late Antique Archaeology this past month in preparation for writing a short contribution with David Pettegrew on connectivity in the Late Roman eastern Mediterranean. We plan to compare the Late Roman assemblages produced by two survey projects:  Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Project and Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeology Project. An important component of both assemblages is Late Roman amphoras: EKAS produced substantial quantities of Late Roman 2 Amphora probably produced in the Argolid; PKAP produced quantities of Late Roman 1 Amphora produced both on Cyprus and in southern Cilicia. We hope to discuss how the concentrations of these common transport vessels reflected and complicated how we understand economic patterns in the Late Antiquity.

Over the past half-century two basic models for the Late Roman economy have emerged. The earlier models saw the state as the primary engine for trade in antiquity. More recently, however, scholars have argued that the core feature of ancient trade is small-scale interaction between microregions across the Mediterranean basin. While there is undoubtedly some truth in both models, the latter has substantially more favor among scholars at present and the volume dedicated to connectivity focuses on the kind of small-scale interregional exchange that created a network of social, economic, and even cultural connections that defined the ancient Mediterranean world. The classic question introduced to complicate our view of ancient connectivity is: if the ancient Mediterranean is defined by these small-scale connections, then why did the political, economic, social, and even cultural unity of the communities tied to the Middle Sea collapse with the fall of Roman political organization in Late Antiquity?

Figure4 18

This is where David and I want to introduce the complicating matter of formation process archaeology. The substantial assemblages of Late Roman amphora represent the accumulation of discard from two “nodes” within the Late Antique economic network. These two nodes, however, are particularly visible because of the substantial concentration of a class of transport vessel.

These transport vessels most likely served to transport supplies to imperial troops either stationed in the Balkans or around the Black Sea, or in the case of the Eastern Korinthia, working to refortify the massive Hexamilion Wall that ran the width of the Isthmus of Corinth or stationed in its eastern fortress near the sanctuary of Isthmia. The visibility of these two areas depends upon a kind of artifact associated with a kind of exchange. As David has noted the surface treatments associated with LR2 amphora make them highly diagnostic in the surface record. LR1s, in turn, have highly diagnostic, twisted, handles that make them stand out from a surface assemblage dominated by relatively undifferentiated body sherds. In other words, these amphora assemblages represent a visible kind of economic activity.

The impact of this visible type of economic activity on our understanding of Late Roman connectivity is complex. On the one hand, the kind of persistent, low-level, economic connections associated with most models of connectivity are unlikely to leave much evidence on the surface. The diverse and relatively small group of very diverse amphoras, for example, found upon the coasting vessel at Fig Tree Bay on Cyprus would have been deposited at numerous small harbors along its route. Moreover, the fluidity of the networks that characterized connectivity would have made the routes of caboteurs irregular and contingent on various economic situations throughout the network of relationships. This variability and the small-scale of this activity is unlikely to have created an archaeologically visible assemblage at any one point on these routes. More than this, overland trade in wine or olive oil may not have used amphoras at all further impairing the archaeological visibility of the kind of low-level connectivity characteristic of Mediterranean exchange patterns. Between ephemeral containers and variable, low-density scatters, the regular pattern of archaeological exchange characterizing connectivity will never be especially visible in the landscape.

In contrast, imperial provisioning requirements, fueled for example by the quaestura exercitus, would present exceptionally visible assemblages of material. The interesting thing, to me, is that the amphoras visible on the surface in the Korinthia and at Koutsopetria  are not what is being exchanged, but the containers in which exchange occurs. The material exchanged, olive oil and wine, are almost entirely invisible in the archaeological records on their own. The visibility of these two places reflects the presence of outlets for a region’s produce. The produce itself, however, leaves very little trace, and we have to assume that networks that integrated microregions across the Mediterranean functioned to bring goods from across a wide area to a particular site for large-scale export.

The collapse of these sites of large-scale export during the tumultuous 7th and 8th centuries did not make trade between microregions end, but it made it more contingent and less visible, as I have argued for this period on Cyprus. The absence of large accumulations of highly diagnostic artifact types in one place represent a return to our ability to recognize normal patterns of Mediterranean exchange as much as the disruption of this exchange. The decline of these sites both deprived archaeologists of visible monuments of exchange and ancient communities of a brief moment of economic stability within longstanding contingent networks.

Western Argolid Regional Project T-Shirts

Every real archaeology project needs a t-shirt for every field season. Experienced archaeologists collect these shirts as a living symbols of their archaeological prowess. (And I mean living literally. After a few days or weeks in the field archaeology t-shirts come to support a thriving ecosystem of bacteria, funguses, and tiny insects).

On WARP we invited our students to contribute suggestion for the shirts. All of the contributions were good, but two were the best. 

The front of the shirt shows a field walker in profile holding a compass in his or her left hand. The rakish hat and backpack add a bit of style to the figure. The text says Western Argolid Regional Project 2014.

IMG 1785

The back of the shirt, designed by a different student, shows the great Larissa fortress that overlooks the Argive plain. Beneath it roll the six cars transporting the eager field teams through the dawn light to their assigned tasks. 

IMG 1784

We think they’re pretty nice!

Features and Forms Again

I probably have one more day in the field this season on the Western Argolid Regional Project. Over the last 6 weeks, we’ve surveyed close to 2500 units and recorded important data for each unit on paper maps and paper forms. We then keyed this data into a database and plotted our maps on a GIS to produce density maps. Our ceramicists, Scott Gallimore and Sarah James, continue to move through the 30,000 artifacts recovered from the field. These objects come from about a 10% sample of the surface of our survey units (in other words, we walked each unit observing 2 m of 10 m swath, but only about 50% of each swath was visible.)

All of our field data was recorded on paper forms in pen by our field teams. It is instructive for us to understand that over the course of a 6 hour field day (around 7 am to around 1 pm) our teams spent around 2 hours walking. The remaining four hours was spent filling out paperwork, moving from unit to unit, and taking care of collected artifacts. As readers of this blog know, I’ve been thinking a bit about the benefits and liabilities of increasingly the efficiency of fieldwork. In fact, I’ve generally advocated approaches to fieldwork that encourage teams to slow down, move more carefully, observe more closely, take time to think critically, and resist the urge to turn time in the field into simply recording.

Of course, it is easy to advocate these practices from the luxury of a faculty office at repose in the warm embrace of tenure. In the field, where resources and time are limited (both to a 6 week season and a 3 year permit in Greece), it is really hard to slow down field work. If anything, there is relentless pressure to speed up, do more, sleep less! The temptation is particularly strong when it comes to the systematic collection of data. The urge to produce an impressive map, a substantial database, and quantitatively meaningful dataset can quickly drown out a commitment to more open-ended practices. If handwriting, paper forms in the field, slow the pace of data collection or even improves our ability to understand the complexities of the archaeological landscape, then perhaps the extra time necessary to write on paper is worth it.

Even a continued commitment to paper forms, however, does not ensure that our team leaders and field teams record thoughtfully (rather than just systematically) everything that they observe in the field. For example, we noticed that larger features that cannot be quantified or documented according to a set of rigorously enforced standards tended to get less attention from our teams. For feature recording we asked our teams to describe walls, buildings, kilns, wells, cisterns, or other manmade “features” in a free text area of the survey form. In general, these teams struggled to consistently record the shape, construction style, and location of features in units. We don’t think that our teams overlooked features as much as under-documented them over the course of their typical field day. The filling out of a survey form, then, became a microcosm for the larger issue facing intensive survey (and perhaps all of archaeology). The temptation is to collect easily quantifiable data or phenomena that we can articulate within relatively narrow parameters at the expense of more complicated artifacts in the fields. The latter slows the field team down because each instance requires a new description and this kind of creative engagement with each instance on its own terms produces a kind of messy data that is difficult to aggregate. The request by team leaders and field walkers to streamline feature description reinforced the pressure that they felt to document objects in the landscape in a thorough and systematic way without structured prompts.

As we spend the week organizing data from the field, I once again thought about whether we need to move more aggressively to using tablets to collect data in the field. Part of me sees the transition from paper forms as part of a larger process of improving the efficiency of basic data recording. This should, in turn, free up our team leaders to understand the landscape in a more nuanced and synthetic way. On the other hand, the demise of paper forms may push us further along a path where we engage the landscape in a highly fragmented, systematized and granular way in the name of efficiency.

So as we continue our digitally-mediate move toward efficiency in archaeology, I’ll continue to think about how the tools we use shape the landscape we create. 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on the Western Argolid Regional Project 2014

Yesterday was the last full field day with our field teams on the Western Argolid Regional Survey. So I thought I should do a traditional “Good, Bad, and Ugly” post from our field season. 

I should emphasize that the project was pretty remarkable. We covered an amazing amount of territory (almost 5.5 sq km), our field teams held up well, our team leaders remained (more or less) in good spirits, and we produced interesting results. With one week remaining we mostly have odds and ends to sort out, some drawings and photographs, and the usual work of data curation.

So without further ado:

The Good.

1. Units, Resolution, and Efficiency. We walked close to 2400 units while keeping our average unit size to under 2500 sq. m. and through most of the field season we walked an average of 92 units per day. The average unit took a little over 5 minutes to walk so taken together our field teams walked for around 7 hours and 40 minutes per day or about 2 hours per team per 6 hour field day. There are certainly gains to be made in efficiency, but the cost will be steep with our current manpower. 

2. Good Field Clothing. The project produced a spectacular display of innovative, synthetic, hip looking field clothes. The maquis, heat, spiders, and sweat took a toll on all field clothing. I destroyed a pair of decent field pants, but my Mountain Khakis held up with only one repair (generously made by Sarah James). Better still, my sub-$20 Dickies long-sleeve work shirts proved their reputation for indestructibility. Whatever I lost in terms of being stylish, my clothes survived the rigors of a 6+ week field season.

P1060856

3. Beautiful Landscapes. We could not ask for a nicer survey area in terms of scenery. The upper reaches of the Inachos Valley was beautiful especially in the morning light which filtered through the olive trees and the vanishing dew.

P1070124

P1080032

4. Maps. We mapped our survey units using two sets of very recent satellite images on we printed on a sheet of paper and other we carried with us on our Garmin Oregon GPS units. The two maps were taken at different times of year so they provide different views of the vegetation in our survey area. Mapping onto these high resolution and very recent satellite images was much easier than our practice with earlier surveys where we mapped onto 1:5000 maps or the 1960s era aerial photographs taken by the Greek army.

The Bad.

1. I’m old. This was the hardest field season that I have ever experienced. My body started to ache about week 4 or 5 and by the end of week 6, I was ill with some kind of fatigue induced cold. My ankle is swollen, my knee is glitchy, and I’m riddled with little cuts, sores, and rashes. 

P1080028 

2. Boots. The sharp-edged limestone of the Argolid and Corinthia is absolutely brutal on boots. So far this season, I’ve seen gashed soles, torn leather, eviscerated nylon, and other boot related disasters.

3. Puppies. I’ve never been a dog person, but I’ll admit that watching the puppy saga unfold this year on WARP was heartrending. I’m glad that we managed to save the “micro-dog” although I’m worried that it’ll never learn to walk properly (although people say at 6 weeks no puppy can walk properly). So this is not a bad thing in a traditional sense, but it was an unexpected emotional outlay. 

The Ugly.

1. Spider Sticks. The Western Argolid is filled with large spiders who build beautiful webs between closely spaced trees. These things are creepy and the webs are sticky and annoying especially when you come upon them unexpectedly while field walking. Students (and staff!) discovered the value of a the spider stick. This is a stick – usually made of olive wood – that can brush aside spider webs as you field walk. Unfortunately, they can also be used as weapons to beat down a team leader who has pushed a bit too hard. We only narrowly averted a spider stick uprising in the waning weeks of the season.

P1080008

2. Paper Forms. Our data recording involved two steps. Writing on paper forms in the field and keying the data into a database. The days of paper forms are almost over, however. We saw how the Mazi Project is using iPads to streamline data flow from the field to the laptop. I think there is also a chance that iPads will allow for better, more robust datasets that include more images, more field drawings, and more integrated data both in the field and in the lab.  

P1080042

3. Larry Potter.  This season was the season of Larry Potter. As my colleagues pointed out, this cohort of students have been involved with Larry Potter from the time they learned to read and the novels, movies, and soundtracks dominate their world. In fact, we had to talk about the possibility that the bamboo sticks used to separate lots in our workspace might be tempting swords, Quidditch sticks, or wands and how that might be facilitate an unhelpful blurring of the line between the productive space of the archaeological workroom and the fantasy space of Larry Potter and friends.

Towers on Euboea

The most recent Hesperia has an interesting article on the ancient towers of the Paximadi Peninsula on Euboia. This is one of the best know groups of towers in Greece despite their poor state of preservation. Becky Seifried and Bill Parkinson begin their work with the catalogue of 25 towers prepared by Donald Keller in the 1980s and then expanded by Southern Euboia Exploration Project some ten years later.

The article presents a revised and expanded version of Keller’s catalogue and offer some significant insights into the function of these towers. Without going to too much detail, Seifried and Parkinson more or less agree with many of the observations that David Pettegrew, Sarah James, and I made about the fortifications at the site of Ano Vayia (.pdf). We argued that, at least for the Late Classical and Early Hellenistic period, many rural fortifications reflect local concerns rather than concerns of the polis or some kind of central authority.

(As an aside, I was really excited to see all the round towers of Classical date on the Paximadi peninsula. I tended to associate round structures with more sophisticated building practices and a more skilled workforce perhaps associated with regional level powers. This, then, confused me when we encountered a round tower at the relatively isolated site of Ano Vayia. The frequency of round towers on the Paximadi peninsula provided me with a nice body of comparanda for our fortification at Ano Vayia (below).)

Www ascsa edu gr pdf uploads hesperia 40981055 pdfFortifications on Ano Vayia in the Corinthia

Our arguments, however, were limited by our focus on a single site with a unique location, Seifreid and Parkinson take our argument a step further by looking at a group. One of the more intriguing aspects of their argument is the possibility that the towers built during the Classical period served to protect the limited agricultural resources present on the peninsula. In fact, the towers may have been built by individual landowners to protect their farms and land. The high degree of inter visibility between the towers of Classical date suggests that landowners worked together to create a mutual defense network.

Seifried and Parkinson 2014 Offprint pdf page 34 of 39Lines of site between Classical period towers on the Paximadi Peninsula, Euboia

The relationship between the towers, then, is not the product of a central government, but rather the relationship between individual landowners who invested in a kind of social insurance based on the locating of towers in intervisible locations in the landscape. One might even see the locating of towers as part of a community of practice that recognized mutual defense in a threatening world was as much a priority for farmers as terraces, threshing floors, and access to water. 

Western Argolid Regional Puppies

Every archaeological project experiences a crisis at some point. Fortunately, the Western Argolid Regional Project managed to avoid all serious crises until the very last week of intensive field work.

P1070980

Over the last week or so a dog and her puppies has been hanging out at the church of Ay. Eleni and Konstantinos in our survey area. Apparently they were left in the care of the saints at some point in the last few weeks. A local woman was feeding the dogs and we provided them with some food and water. On the whole, it was not a very good situation, but one that was stable.

P1070969

One of the puppies grew up and “went off to college,” but the other puppy seemed to be doing fairly well. This weekend, the mother decided that she had done her best and left to try her luck elsewhere leaving the puppy alone.

P1070972

When we understood the situation, Dimitri Nakassis and I immediately panicked. We then called Sarah James. And I then called my wife. All the while Machal Gradoz was bonding with the puppy and decided to take it back to adopt it on the spot. We made a quick run to the vet in Argos and got some puppy supplies and puppy formula and the crisis has been averted.

The puppy’s name is Eleni after the saint who looked after her for the first few weeks of her life.

Photo  7

So for today, we are the Western Argolid Regional Puppy (project).

Photo Friday on the Western Argolid Regional Project

Now, I’m almost entirely sure that there is only one more week of full on field work. This past week was cooler and slightly less exhausting, but we still have two weeks to go before we wrap up the first season of the Western Argolid Regional Project.

This morning, I did some field walking for the first time this year. As we filled in a few units that the survey teams missed, Dimitri Nakassis and Stephanie Steinke check the GPS unit to make sure that we are in the right spot.

P1070880

The sheep are out in the field first thing in the morning:

IMG 1706

The day before I hiked up to the rock shelter fort for the last time this season to fill in a few points on our plans and finish one drawing. It was a cool opportunity to think about how archaeological field work shapes how we hold our bodies.

P1070828

P1070825

P1070830

P1070668

P1070777

I continue to document the things Greeks hang from trees:

P1070636

P1070900

P1070906

P1070654

I’ve also been drawn to other agricultural equipment in the field. For example, I liked how these irrigation heads looked in a klouva and the alternative:

P1070674

P1070677

Sunrise over the survey area.

P1070877

P1070582

And some high-tension electrical wires:

P1070697

The survey area from the north:

P1070556

And a field selfie for kicks:

P1070887

Pallets and Scavenging

Archaeologists are scavengers. We collect objects that have been cast aside and reuse them as sources for reconstructing the past.

As a result archaeologists are pretty good at finding inventive ways to reuse whatever is at hand to serve their purposes. As part of my Pallet Project, my buddy Chris Cloke sent along some pallet pictures from Alex Knodell’s new Mazi Project in Attica, Greece. To pinch some pennies, the project acquired shipping pallets which after some cleaning and basic maintenance became project beds.

 

 

 

 

Bees and Marginal Landscapes in the Western Argolid

Bees! I hate bees. I’m partially convinced by the position of the environmentalist lobby that bees somehow contribute to the good of all humanity. That being said, we should recognize that pollination but like global warming, evolution, and gravity, is a THEORY meaning that it may or may not be true. Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, and all that.

At the same time, I’ve become interested in the use of marginal landscapes in the Western Argolid for bee keeping, and keep my eye out for evidence of these practices on the Western Argolid Regional Project.

On Monday, we encountered a bee keeping complex on the northern slope of the Inachos valley above the village of Lyrkeia. There was evidence for long term olive cultivation and the neglected remains of broad terraces serve as reminders of grain cultivation.

Today, however, the olives are mostly neglected and the grain has gone wild, but bees continue to be kept and honey harvested. There were a few active hives near the compound (I didn’t get too close!), but it looked like the area was mostly used for the preparation of hives with bee food, broken down hives, and various storage containers in evidence.

P1070608

The compound was filled with empty bee hives, metal lined covers, and the metal racks where the honey comb develops. The wood on many of these abandoned hives is beginning to rot, but the metal frames and hinges will stay behind long after the wood disappears.

P1070610

The Inachos river is another marginal landscape. It is seasonal and during the dry summer months, it serves as a road, dumping ground, and temporary apiary!

P1070707

Further up on the slopes, discarded be hives litter an open field. The frames in some were intact, although the metal lined covers had been largely removed.

P1070720

I suppose in a few years, when all the bees are gone, all we’ll have left to show their impact on these marginal landscapes will be scraps of metal. 

Photo Friday on the Western Argolid Regional Project

This week, I mapped some, drew some, and barely survived the rest of the time. I’m pretty sure that this is the last week of the season on the Western Argolid Regional Project.

I got some good photos of members of our field teams out working. Grace Erny is super photogenic in the field (although she’d deny it). She’s always doing something archaeological:

GraceBrighter

One of the project directors, Dimitri Nakassis, is very proud of being a University of Michigan graduate and also very happy to finally be getting into the field on a consistent basis:

P1070331

Phil Cook and I spent a long day drawing a an early modern fortified site:

P1070371

I saw the usual array of scenic and curious things in the field.

Prof. Nakssis makes lots of phone calls from the field because he’s the boss:

P1070232

This is what a day that will approach 40 degrees looks like at the start:

P1070508

This what about 38 in the field looks like:

 

P1070522

On a hot day of mapping, we were caught off guard by a ZETOR in the wild (it’s a Czech tractor company):

P1070507

A magic bus:

P1070531

More of things Greek farmers put in trees.

A hoop:

P1070315

More bottles presumably of pesticide:

P1070537

A bucket:

P1070530

Coat and boots:

P1070221

One last picture… the low clouds snagging on the peak and the dramatic difference of scale and focus gives the picture a tilt-shift look:

P1070218

For more on what’s going on with the project, check out the project blog here.