Speed

One of the more interesting trends emerging so far during the Western Argolid Regional Project season is competition among field teams. At the end of each field day, I typically ask team leaders how many units they have walked. This seemingly benign question helps us measure our progress through the survey area and gauge how much mapping is necessary to keep ahead of the survey teams. A quick tally of the number of units walked lets me begin to plan the next day as soon as the previous field day is over. 

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Generally our 5 field teams walk between 15 and 20 units and around 90 total. Each unit is around 3000 sq m. so we walk about 1.3 and 1.5 sq. km per week. The number of units we walk depend considerably on the character of the terrain, the size of the units, and the density of artifacts, vegetation, and other distractions to artifact recovery. The size of our field teams is four plus a team leader, but this week we lost a few field walkers to dehydration and bumps and bruises. So a team down a walker will move a bit more slowly than one at full strength especially if the units are slightly larger than average. Historically, field teams walk about 4 units per hour over a 6 hour field day with a couple of breaks for water, znacks (snacks), and transit to and from the field site. 

Teams generally develop a routine where one walker writes tags, one takes a center GPS point, one walker helps with forms, one takes photographs et c. This streamlines the bookkeeping and data recording aspects of intensive pedestrian survey and as the season progresses, small efficiencies occur based on familiarity with the process as much as anything. As the process become more efficient, we usually have to nudge the team leaders to slow things down just a bit to ensure that the teams recognize where they are in the survey area, fill out forms properly, and actually, you know, enjoy the process. Since our project runs as a field school, we see very little benefit to an overly mechanical process that makes our field walkers (and team leaders) into field walking robots (beep, boop, boop, beep, boop).

One thing that I did not anticipate this summer is that teams would start to compete with each other to walk the most units per day. It’s hard not to like the harmless morale boost that comes with walking the most units or besting a team nearby is fun. Moreover, we recognize the field walking – particularly in challenging topography which is difficult to grasp as a coherent space – can be boring and seem pointless. The assembly line was soul crushing in part because of the repetitive character of the work and, in part, because the repetition could obscure the role an individual played in the work’s final result. Unit counts keep the field day interesting.

At the same time, we’ve starting wonder whether there are some less than desirable byproducts of this competition. For example, we don’t want the push to walk more to exhaust field teams more quickly and to contribute to the attrition of team members. We also don’t want to compromise our data collection for some good-natured fun. Finally, we don’t want teams who walk more challenging areas to feel like their contributions are less significant because they didn’t walk enough units. The last thing we want is sad field walkers.  

  

The Fleas

The photo below might look like an ordinary enough farm house. In fact, the house and its neighboring farm yard are filled with FLEAS.

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For those of us who visited this interesting, multiphase building this morning, the fleas were more than a passing curiosity, but a profound annoyance.

We got covered in fleas. They got on our pants, on our shoes, on our shirts, then into our shirts, shoes, and pants. This situation quickly devolved into panic. First we tried to get the fleas off of our body in the field around the house. Then we realized that this was where the fleas were coming from and jumped in the car and raced off. But then we had fleas in the car and on our bodies. So we stopped at a nearby rural church and commenced a more thorough inspection and flea removal operation. Then we headed to our storeroom/laboratory for a quick vacuuming of our body and then the car keeping a safe distance from Holly Dog, the project directors’ beloved pooch.

The clothes went into the wash and I took a hot soapy shower and so far, aside from a few flea bites, we seem to have survived the flea attack no worse for wear. 

The worst part now is the fantom fleas that continue to jump around my body, inflicting imagined bites.

Photo Friday from my First Week in Greece

The morning light is amazing in the little village of Miloi.

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We’ve had a few days of afternoon rain leaving the fields of the area heavy with sticky mud.

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The landscape, however, remains as striking as always with the wet winter leaving fields filled with green weeds.

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It wouldn’t be intensive pedestrian survey if we didn’t spend a good bit of time hunched over our maps and pointing. 

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The use of an old rail car as a agricultural shed provides a nice example of some of things that I discussed in post earlier in the week.

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One last tube-photo showing the village of Schinochori and a small outlying settlement (a kalyvi).

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Managing the Modern in Intensive Survey

I’ve made it over to the Argolid and am ensconced in the comfortable accommodations in the village of Myloi for the next two months. My colleagues Dimitri Nakassis and Scott Gallimore have been in the village for a week or so already getting ready for the second field season of the Western Argolid Regional Project. 

I’m excite for this year’s survey area because it encompasses at least two modern settlements which are in states of abandonment. We’re anticipating already a greater amount of modern and early modern (for Greece this is the 19th century) material associated with these settlements. Most recent intensive survey projects make a big deal about being diachronic, but to be fair, the modern period tends to present particular challenges to survey projects. In general, survey archaeologists recognize that we cannot treat the modern period the same way that we treat earlier periods. 

The reasons are both complex and simple. The simple reason is that we simply cannot accommodate the super abundance of most modern material in our survey units. As Richard Rothaus and I discussed a few months ago on our podcast, there is a storage crisis in archaeology, and collecting modern material will only make this worse. In the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey we tried to document modern material without collecting using a “modern sweep” form. This form consisted of a long list of check boxes that tried to take into account the most common form of trash found in the Greek countryside. In practice, however, the survey teams mostly checked the box for “scattered modern trash,” and either failed or refused to distinguish between the various events that created the distribution of modern material through agricultural lands around contemporary villages. 

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I suspect that the difficulties dealing with the modern landscape also speaks to more complex challenges involving how we understand modern artifact distribution in the countryside where most modern survey projects are based. Modern material represents both very familiar practices – typically those associated with opportunistic discard of unneeded objects – and practices that are rather unfamiliar to archaeologists who are not well versed in modern, sometimes ad hoc, use of modern material in contemporary Mediterranean agricultural practices. For example, last year, I took numerous photographs of modified plastic water bottles hung from trees throughout the Argolid and the ingenious use of beer cans in modified irrigation systems.

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Our familiarity with the primary use of objects and simple discard practices has perhaps made it easier to overlook creative examples of reuse in the countryside. Modern objects have become so specialized, so disposable, and so common that we have to train our eyes to see them and our archaeological awareness to consider the range of uses possible in the countryside.

Traveling through Non-Place?

I’m sitting in the Larnaka International Airport reflecting on the Marc Augé’s idea that airports are quintessential examples on hyper modern non-places. Indistinguishable from one another and catering to displaced travelers, airports both ameliorate and exacerbate the sense of placelessness by being both familiar and non-local at the same time. As airports have become increasingly operated by multinational corporations and beholden to international security standards, they have only become more homogeneous in the 21st century.

At least that’s a simplified version of his argument brought up to date by some recent observations.

 

On the ride to the airport, though, my colleagues Brandon Olson and Dallas Deforest reminisced about old airports and their distinct character: the old Athens airport with its “flippy” list of arrivals and departures, the old Larnaka airport where you disembarked onto the tarmac with its distinct smell of the sea and jet fuel, and the chaotic nature of regional airports in Turkey. Maybe the de-placing of airports is a more recent phenomenon for many places in the world than Augéhas recognized.

Of course the airport in Cyprus has the added complication of being a product of the conflict that has seen the northern part of the island being governed by an unrecognized state. Prior to the invasion of 1974, the airport for the island was in Nicosia. It now stands in the UN controlled demilitarized zone. Few places on earth more poignantly reflect the character of late modern political space than these extranational zones which linger at the margins of formal political jurisdictions. At the same time, the old Nicosia airport has become a very local symbol of the island’s complicated last. It is simultaneously non-place and an highly nuanced political symbol.

I think my flight is starting to board now, but I wanted to write down a few thoughts (on my iPhone no less) while they were fresh in my mind. My next post will be from Greece!

Travelers Accounts and Formation Processes

I thoroughly enjoyed a recent article in the Journal of Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology and Heritage Studies by my fellow WARP staffer Scott Gallimore: “‘The Saddest of Ruins’: Travelers’ Accounts as Evidence for Formation Processes at Hierapytna, Crete.” Scott considers travelers accounts of ancient Hierapyta on Crete, the site of his dissertation research, as evidence for archaeological formation processes. 

This is a cool project for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it provides a useful archaeological and intellectual context for early travelers’ accounts of the ancient landscape. Traditionally, scholars have recognized the value of these account and often bring them into their consideration of a region as something of a bridge between antiquity and the modern era. Many early travelers, particularly those explicitly interested in antiquities like Cyriac of Ancona or the much later William Martin Leake provide a faint echo of our own archaeological interests and archaeologists have often borrowed their perspectives (critically, of course) as a way to see landscapes radically changed my industrialization, mechanization, and other transformations of the modern world. At their best, scholars have sought to understand the various perspectives that these “early” travelers and porto-archaeologists brought to their seeing and writing; at their worst, scholars have seen earlier travelers as another source of “data” to be mined in an effort to reconstruct some kind of authentic ancient past. 

Scott’s article offers a different approach to how ancient travelers can and should be used. They represent a guide to understanding time and process in the long gap between the creation of ancient buildings and our work to reconstruct and recognize archaeological remains. In particular, Scott is clever in noting how travelers often tend to recognize short-term transformations to the local scene ranging from earthquakes, attacks, or changes in political or economic regimes. They are less savvy when it comes to understanding long-term change, but this is actually better for archaeologists. Many early travelers present static, rusticated, and ruined backdrop against which they set their moralizing views. The curious thing is, as Scott shows quite cleverly, this backdrop provides points along a continuum that actually subvert the travelers intentions by revealing more gradual but no less significant processes so crucial in the production of modern archaeological sites. 

In other words, the tension between the short-term catastrophes and the enduring ruins in the earlier travelers provides an intellectual framework for formation processes that tend to oscillate between moments of dramatic collapse and long periods of gradual deterioration. Whether this is universally true, is open to debate, but there is definitely enough anecdotal evidence for archaeologists to be familiar with this kind of tension: walls will continue to stand as long as the building has a roof, but when the roof fails, the walls will absorb water into their matrix and erode much more quickly.

Once you finish enjoying Scott’s article, be sure to check out the rest of this issue which includes a series of articles on the archaeological challenges associated with the division of Cyprus. Some good perspectives offered here. I’ll write up something on these 

Adventures in Podcasting 9: What’s in your bag?

In this week’s episode, Bill asks Richard “what’s in your pack”, and we discuss equipment, and then we transition to “what’s in your truck.”  We transition to stories of the legendary Ohio State University at Isthmia Van, and discuss the archaeology of stuff field archaeologists leave behind.

We have two inspirations for this week’s podcast.  ASOR series has a fun series: “What’s in your dig bag.” And Bristol carried out the most amazing archaeology of a van project:  The Van/InTransit.   Be sure to watch the van movie.  And some van blogging.

Since Richard had a chance to talk about what’s in his field bag, I thought I’d add my bag’s contents here. (I did a version of this a few years ago with my more serious bag). I’m a survey archaeologist who works in the Mediterranean so my bag tends to be a bit less comprehensive than Richard:

  1. GPS unit. After my long-serving Gecko was stolen, I’ve upgraded to a Garmin Oregon 600. In the Western Argolid, we upload aerial photographs to the Oregon 600. 
  2. A couple cameras: My main field camera is the Panasonic GX-1 with a good lens. The days of carrying heavy, more delicate DSLR in the field are more or less over for all but the most determined archaeologists.  I’ll also carry a Cannon ELPH 135 which cost about $80 on Amazon.
  3. Rite-in-the-Rain notebook. I used the No. 374.
  4. Zebra pens. I insist on using Zebra pens pronounced as in this R-rated video or as in the name Debra. 
  5. A cheap Suunto compass.
  6. A “click-click-click” meter stick.
  7. A north arrow.
  8.  iPhone 6. 
  9. Copy of my permit.
  10. Snacks!

A Special Request to Isthmia Alumni:  Please send us your white van stories!  Seriously –  we want to write this history and we need your input.  Fire drills in the village of damned!  Squirting Bill and Dave with the windshield wipers!  Fire!  Mountain road turn arounds!  Trips to Epidavros!   richard.rothaus at gmail.com.

[It’s a busy week in ND, with Bill prepping for a field season and Richard doing suit-wearing type activities at the State Capital, so consider this a keyword list, not prose].

High points include:

Bill prompting Richard to keep the episode moving along.

Richard explains his “dig bag” and backpack contents.

Bill refers to Richard’s bag as a “stable entity”

Whirl-pak bags (Richard lied – he doesn’t use 5 mil).

Richard explains his technique to label photos with a white board, and Bill asks a critical question.

Bill discusses the importance of tags and how to get them right.

Richard mocks North American archaeologists

Bill and Richard discuss why notebooks and pencils.

Soil Knife, and the less useful obnoxious Ka-Bar.

Richard shares a grave desecration anecdote.  Bonus:  “A Local Mecca For Research” tells about those crazy days of Mille Lacs research.

Bill discusses why Richard really should carry pin flags.

Panty wipes, horsey tape, super glue, aspirin, steroids and first aid kits for real archaeologists.

Umbrellas!

Compass clinometers.

Bill points out the “black turtleneck” principle (no, not that “black turtleneck”).

We discuss that archaeology of field vehicles and what archaeologists leave behind.

Richard and Bill tell the secret tales of abusing the generosity of the OSU Isthmia excavation vehicles, and learning how to be self-sufficient archaeological grownups.

Bill explains how city design impacts the location of bus stations and hotels through amusing stories.

Bill and Richard talk about how travel difficulties and how they make partnerships strained.

Driving through fires!

Secrets of owning a vehicle as a foreigner immersed in a Byzantine bureaucracy.With actual lead seals!

Bribes?

Toward the end we tell THE CARBURETOR STORY and THE STOLEN BACKPACK stories.  They are epic.

Dimitri Nakassis on wandering and why he likes archaeology.

We conclude discussing why real archaeologists drive manly trucks.

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Episode Postscript:  Richard had an on-air epiphany when he realizes he did something terrible to Bill, and that event hardly registered in his memory.  Listen to get the story, but here is some additional information Paige Rothaus provides: The event occurred the year the Gypsies asked us how to use a passport to get to America.  That means this was the year Richard was doing a great deal of work at Lechaion and he befriended the young men at the Gypsy camp so that he could leave his equipment around and not have it “disappear.”  By the way, Romani is a better term than “Gypsies”, but no one understands what you are saying if you use “Romani”.)

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The opening track on the podcast is 80-R’s Pacific Rim.You can listen to it in its entirely here.

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Richard’s Equipment List

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The front of the OSU Isthmia van, with a very young Bill Caraher and backpack (which probably he doesn’t have anymore [Bill note: actually that’s the replacement backpack, which I do still use!]), and David Pettegrew with backpack (and very handy belly pouch) and, um, a fine staff member.

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The back of the OSU Isthmia Van, with Richard Rothaus and Carol Stein planning some awesome discovery.  Also – notice the tool belt.  For many years I was a tool belt and canteen guy.  That works when you have minions to carry things for you. Richard once left his pack on the wrong side of a mountain and everyone got an extra 2 hrs in the van to remedy the error.  After that, a minion was assigned to “always know where Richard’s bag is.”

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The OSU Van with Sam Fee, Nathan Meyer, Dan Pullen, and, um, a fine staff member.  This is after the van caught on fire.  Again.  A “Call for help if this van bursts into flame” sticker has just been attached.

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The OSU Van slumming.

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The Grey Escort!  With Tom Tartaron, who apparently just spray painted Συν[ασπισμός] on a rock.  Συνασπισμός is one the many Greek political parties.

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The OSU van with Ed Reinhardt, um, a fine McMaster Student, Amber Demorett, Lee Anderson, Ben Rothaus and Richard Rothaus.  We are tieing metal tubes onto the van so Dr. Reinhardt can do vibracoring in one of the Korinthian marshes.

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Oh no!  Greece is on fire and Richard needs to get to the airport, or ice cream, or something.

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Richard ‘s Truck

Bill’s Truck

Poetry for Greece

My post today is about poetry. It is also an advertisement. It’s not, an advertisement for myself, which will probably come as a shock to many of you.

My old friend James Bradley Wells has prepared his second book of poetry, The Kazantzakis Guide to Greece. His first book of poems, Bicycle, appeared a few years ago and you can get it here. He also wrote a book on Pindar.

If you like Greece and like poetry, then you should pre-order a copy of his book

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So, I’m advertising James’s poetry book here for a few reasons. First, the book is about Greece and is due to appear on July 15th. While I complained that this publication date made it impossible for me to take the book to Greece and read it after a long day in the field, James assured me that the best time for reading this book is in the late summer as I reminisce (fondly at that point) about my times in Greece while sitting on my front porch ignoring the start of the semester.  

Some of the poems came from his time at the American School of Classical Studies when we had neighboring rooms in the annex. He introduced me to performance theory and Erving Goffman and Richard Bauman, and patiently (tried to) explain to me how their ideas could expand my reading of Pierre Bourdieu and Anthony Giddens. To this day, I have never felt smarter (and more humble) than when I was sitting at Kolonaki Square with James on a Sunday morning, drinking coffee, talking about our work.

I can clearly recall his excitement when he returned from Crete having seen Katzantzakis’s tomb in Heraklion. So while I’m just making my way through a generously-offer (ok, I begged) manuscript now, I can already hear certain rhythms in his poetry that remind me of my time in Athens over a decade ago, and the list of sites evokes will only be more meaningful to people who endured the famous American School Regular Program. The American School should certainly pre-order a copy and add it to their collection of work produced under their auspices.

Finally, the book is being published by a small, but award winning press in Georgetown, Kentucky: Finish Line Press. They are counting on a certain number of pre-orders before they’ll begin production. While this might horrify those of us used to working with larger commercial ventures or subsidized academic, university presses, these kinds of strategies are what small presses need to do to make ends meet. What I like about this system, though, is that it makes buying this book less of a straight commercial transaction (I want, so I buy) and more of a decision about whether one thinks this kind of thing should exist. 

Here is some of the poetry:

I do not have the tonguefeel for nomenclature.
Names of things are the second fork beside
a dinner plate. I never know just what

to say if checkerspots, coppers, elfins, azures,
metalmarks light upon salvia, lavender blossoms,
coneflower, or coreopsis. If cedar waxwing

or purple finch complains when I compete
with them and pick serviceberries, I do not know
the words to mark the surprise of its being the case

that these creatures heckle me so. Nomenclature clouds
me over, but the panorama of wing
possesses me. A skybound god’s same unsayable

hemline trailing down the aisle of time’s
cathedral, wing and horizon are the same.

~~~~~

Here’s some more, a ghazal (which is not the same as an antelope, but some form of poetry). For those who know something about poetry and the ghazal, in particular, check out the last line for some insider, poetry cleverness. This is what happens when someone who studies Pindar

Olympia in nimbostratus October chronicles the word naós.
Zeus Olympios, Phidias’ art, Jesus Pancrator, each Lord’s naós.

Gold leaf, ivory panels, glass sheets, jewels, and copper fixed
to wooden core, the skyscraping icon dwelt in god’s naós.

One of the ancient world’s seven wonders, Phidias sculpted
Lord Zeus’ icon in his unquitting workshop, this replica naós.

Libation vessels, golden censers, the table where the reverent
offered bread, Antiochus pillaged the Jewish Lord’s naós.

Assyrians handwove a woolen curtain dyed in Tyrian purple,
the Temple veil that Antiochus offered at Zeus’ naós.

Archaeologists discovered sculptor’s tools, terra cotta molds,
centuries after Christians repurposed Phidias’ replica naós.

I belong to Phidias inscribed on the bottom of a cup.
Lichened, pockmarked column drums, Greek is a language scarred by naós.

~~~~

So pre-order copies of his book for yourself (because it’s good), for other people (as a gift), and for the entire community. Doing what we can for small presses like this to thrive and for passionate work to see the light of day is good for everyone. Plus, the book only costs a penny less than $12.50.  

Late Roman Pottery on Kythera and Middle Byzantine Pottery from Thebes and Chalkis

The most recent issue of the Annual of the British School at Athens is a treat! It contains an article on the pottery from the site of Kastri on Kythera and a chemical analysis of the “Middle Byzantine Production” pottery from the sites of Thebes and Chalcis. After the yesterday’s election, it seems appropriate to spend a little time thinking about Greece today.

Forty Years On: The Pottery from Historical Kastri Revisited” by A. Johnson, K. Slane, and J. Vroom re-examines some key depositions and assemblages at the site of Kastri on Kythera. This site was originally excavated and published by J.N. Coldstream and G.L. Huxley in the early 1970s and played a significant role in understanding the cultural and economic connections between Late Bronze Age Kythera and Crete to its east. The site of Kastri, however, continued to be occupied through the Medieval period, and the the long-running Kythera Island Project (KIP) reexamined the historic period pottery from the Kastri excavations in light of recent research. Of particular interest in this assemblage is the material from Late Roman and Medieval deposits. 

The Roman and Late Roman material was studied by Kathleen Slane. Of particular interest to me was the assemblage of African Red Slip and LRC (also known as Phocaean Red Slip) wares because these types have often served as useful indicators of regional trade networks and tastes. The presence of a remarkably robust assemblage of African Red Slip and a relatively common form of late Late Roman C ware (LRC 10c) indicate that trade networks continued to function in the Mediterranean well into the final decades of the 7th century. An earlier, but distinct Late Roman phase included a nice group of 4th and 5th century sherds. 

The later Late Roman material from this site is particularly interesting because it suggests that Kastri participated in similar economic networks as the site of Corinth, Argos, Emporio on Chios, and Saraçhane. What is absent is any evidence for Cypriot Red Slip (LRD) wares which we have come to understand continued to appear quite late (8th c?) and circulated as far as Crete and Chios as well as on the island of Cyprus, the Levant, and southern Anatolia where is was likely produced. Also absent were Cypriot produced Late Roman 1 amphoras, despite the regular contact between Cyprus and eastern Crete. Because we know that African Red Slip is not uncommon throughout Cyprus (and perhaps somewhat more common on the eastern part of the island) and even the latest LRC wares appear across the island in substantial quantities, it would seem that the distribution of LRD wares to sites on the Greek mainland and far western Aegean was rather less common. The movement of ARS west to east is not shocking, of course, but the presence of LRC wares does indicate movement of goods (at very least ceramics) east to west. The presence of some LR1 amphoras, probably from northern Syria or elsewhere in the Levant, further confirms the flow of good west even in the 7th century. The absence of LRD would seem to be a matter of taste or expense. Perhaps the ready availability of African Red Slips and some forms of LRCs drove out the Cypriot Red Slip as it would seem occurred at some sites on Cyprus itself. 

In the same volume is an article by S.Y. Waksman, N.D. Kontogiannis, S.S. Skartsis, and G. Vaxevanis on the “Middle Byzantine Production” (MBP) pottery from the city of Thebes and its port of Chalcis on Euboea. MBP is a group of pottery with green and brown glaze and sgraffito decorations largely dating to the 12th and 13th century. Before I go on, a disclaimer. I am not a ceramicist and my interest in Byzantine pottery production and circulation has largely been as a spectator. I’ve recognized the growing momentum over the last two decades to refine the current chronology of Byzantine fine wares that circulated widely in Greece and the larger Eastern Mediterranean. Waksman et al. conducted chemical analysis of fine ware of the MBP type from the 12th and 13th century context in the cities of Thebes and Chalcis. This study determined that pottery from the two cities are distinct, and, more importantly, these two groups appear to be manufactured locally based on comparisons with earlier locally made material from the region.

Identifying MBP as local to Thebes and Chalcis strengthens the growing impression that this region was an productive economic center in the Middle Byzantine period. We’ve recognized the city of Thebes as an important political center with landed wealth (visible in the so-called Cadaster of Thebes which dates a century earlier than the MBP group) and significant investment in silk and dye trade. Now it would appear that Thebes and Chalcis were deeply involved in pottery production as well. The MBP enjoyed a vast circulation with significant deposits appearing as far east as Cyprus and the Levant and as far west as Lyon and Italy. The primary market for these types, however, appears to be Aegean basin which scholars had long suspected as the production center for these types.  

The chemical difference between types associated with Thebes and those from deposits in Chalcis indicates that Chalcis was more than just an emporium for the city of Thebes, but a thriving production center in its own right. The significance of Chalcis as a production center is tied to the production chronology MBP throughout from the end of the Middle Byzantine period (with its attendant political disruptions) into the Frankish period where the Byzantine state largely ceased to function in the Aegean basin. In its place emerged new economic (as well as political) networks that leveraged existing production centers. For example, the production of ceramics at Chalcis benefited from the close relationship with that city and Venice in the Frankish period. This relationship almost certainly facilitated the distribution of MBP ceramics around the Mediterranean basin.