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.


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.



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. 


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.


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.  


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.






I continue to document the things Greeks hang from trees:





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:



Sunrise over the survey area.



And some high-tension electrical wires:


The survey area from the north:


And a field selfie for kicks:


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.


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.


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!


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.


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:


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:


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


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:


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


This what about 38 in the field looks like:



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


A magic bus:


More of things Greek farmers put in trees.

A hoop:


More bottles presumably of pesticide:


A bucket:


Coat and boots:


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:


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

Archaeology of Sound

Every now and then when I’m in the field, I panic about falling behind in my journal reading and letting the ENTIRE DISCIPLINE PASS ME BY.

WHAT?? Archaeological Dialogues has an issue dedicated to ROMANIZATION? I thought about that once, like four years ago! I must… read… now!

WORLD ARCHAEOLOGY has forthcoming volume dedicated to the archaeology of sound? I know people working on that RIGHT NOW and how can I possibly interact with them without being familiar with soon-to-be-published articles. More than that, I’m an audiophile and I need to understand the archaeology of connectors. And I’ve done archaeology of the contemporary world (forthcoming) so I must understand what was albums were found on the floor of a commune where the Grateful Dead once live.  

It’s not that it has to happen eventually – like say while I’m on sabbatical – it has to happen now.

So instead of spending a weekend catching up on vital scholarship and remaining relevant to my discipline, I decided to clean up some audio file that I captured over the past few weeks in the field.

On my hike to the cave, I encounter a fairly agitated hawk and this what he (or she) sounded like:

We’ve also had the good fortune of encountering some very vocal goats:

And some excitable frogs (especially at night!):

Finally, you can faintly hear the bells of the church at Kaparelli at the western edge of our survey area:

A Bridge

This is mainly to start a blog post with the line that I want you use at the beginning of an important article:

“The study of Ottoman bridges in the Western Argolid remains in its infancy. The goal of this brief article is to bring attention to a small, but important body of Ottoman bridge work in this region.”



This lovely arch spanned a small ravine and carried a switchback kalderimi road down a low saddle to the village of Lyrkeia and our survey area. The stone work is lovely consisting of local grey limestone faces with smaller stones used as chinking. The arch itself is made of thinner stones arranged carefully with a substantial quantity of pebbly white mortar.

The road that leads to this bridge runs on its own carefully wrought terrace through olive groves. The is evidence that the bedrock had been cut back to let the road pass more easily. The bedrock was close enough to the surface to allow it serve as paving for part of the route, and it probably made this particular field appealing for use as a road (and less than appealing for agriculture!).