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.

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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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A Career in Landscapes

We have about one more week of field work on the Western Argolid Regional Project. The project has been at full strength for the last three and a half weeks and the field teams have been remarkably efficient, averaging about .3 sq km per day.

I’m tired. My body aches, and fieldwork has increasingly become an exercise in pacing, energy management, and hydration as teams wrap up surveying difficult units or work on special documentation projects across our survey area.

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It dawned on me that this could be my final field season on a major project in my career. I’m in my mid-40s and by the time this project is published and my other projects are done, I’ll be pushing 50.

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Whatever type of fieldwork I do as a 50 year old won’t be the same – or probably even similar to what I’m doing now. Last week, I went on one more hike just to check if a web of goat tracks could have been a route between two areas of our survey zone.

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It was obviously a way, but clearly not a route (much less a path or road). These long walks were my archaeological calling card for years, particularly in the Eastern Corinthia, but after this week’s hike, I’m pretty sure my boots will be reserved for the more mundane and low impact tasks like keeping my socks clean.

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The biggest thing I’ll miss (other than, you know, finding stuff and the bizarre conversations one has while stomping through dense maquis in the Greek countryside) are the unexpected vistas that appear as one rounds craggy hills or looks back on ones path.

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They seem to scale endlessly across ever shifting foregrounds and backgrounds. Hills become ridges, ridges become plateaus, plateaus become fields. The landscape goes from olive trees and plough marks to fields and the countryside. Paths so obvious from maps or photographs disappear into vegetation.

I’m sad that I’ll likely never again hike around with the same sense purpose as I did last week and on-and-off over the previous 20 years.

Houses and Landscapes in the Western Argolid

This week we had a chance to check out some nice early-20th-century seasonal houses in the Western Argolid. 

I got a little bit of artificial tilt-shiftiness in the image probably because of the haziness of the ridges in the background and my playing a bit with aperture settings.  

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A nice example of a heavy layer of mud-mortar used along the top of the wall.

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And a really nice example of the layering of tiles, mud, and reeds to form a water tight seal for the roof:

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A Balkan-style long house where half of the house is set aside for animals (and in this case milking and cheese making) and other half for living space. 

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A well-built, mud-brick dividing wall between the living quarters and the area for animals: 

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And some mappers, team leaders, and field walkers in the landscape:

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And this for MAXIMUM GREEKNESS:

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Landscapes, Olive Sieves, Tiles, and Pallets

Another week in the landscape of the Western Argolid brought another little assemblage. This time we discovered four or five olive sieves in a group. An olive sieve removes leaves and twigs from the olives making it easier to prepare the olives for pressing or curing.

They’re little studies in design and improvisation with bike wheels, snow fencing, chicken wire, and rebar attached to improvised frames and boxes. 

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We also checked out a few small houses that dot the olive groves. Most of them look pretty recent in date, but they have collapsed roofs and tile scatters. 

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And, of course, landscapes:

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Oh, and pallets!

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The First Days of the Western Argolid Regional Project 2016

Today was the first full field day of the final full field season of the Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP). It was immeasurably better than the first full day of the project last year and probably a bit better than our first field day in 2014.

While we still have some open plains around the Inachos river, for this season, our survey area is a striking mix of narrow valleys and steep hill slopes. 

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Oranges, apricots, olives, peaches, vineyards, and the occasional pomegranate trees, planted in neat rows organize our survey units.

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More than any other year, we’ll have to contend with the early modern and modern landscape.

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So think of us as we stagger to our cars at 6:30 in the morning.

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Systematically Sampling the Large Site

It was good timing that the newest Hesperia (85.1 (2016)) on the first weekend of my spring break. I particularly enjoyed the field report on the 2013 season of the Molyvoti, Thrace Archaeological Project (MTAP). This project has explored a large coastal site (approximately 50 ha) located on the Molyvoti peninsula in northern Greece. The current project is a collaboration with the Greek Archaeological Service and built upon their earlier topographical and excavation work at the site.

The article is one of those massive article that only places like Hesperia can publish. It runs to 65 pages and includes a little of almost everything from ceramics to coins, faunal remains, geophysical prospecting, surface survey, and, of course, excavation. The main focus is on a site that flourished in the 4th century BC and was at least partly reoccupied in Late Antiquity. Go read the article (if you can) in all its expansiveness. Here are my more limited observations.

1. Sampling the Large Site. The last decade has seen some interesting work done on large and midsize sites in the Mediterranean world. The combination of geophysical work and targeted excavation has started to replace the old “big dig” mentality for both practical and methodological reasons. On the practical side, Mediterranean archaeologists no longer have access to the vast resources of previous generations nor do they have the luxury of decades to excavate and expose large tracks of the urban plan. In terms of methodology, archaeologists have come to understand such massive scale excavations are not necessarily the most desirable approach to understanding the the dynamics of human activity across a large settlements. Our focus on economic activities, movement through space, expansive sampling strategies, and other concerns that are not necessarily rewarded by large-scale excavation focused on monumental architecture.  

While projects still look for monumental buildings and spaces, make efforts to reconstruct the urban plan, and, of course, trace city walls, archaeologists are becoming far more interested in also sampling artifacts from across the site generally through pedestrian survey. The goal of these more spatially extensive sampling methods is not necessarily to find specific variation in function across the site, but to produce a more diverse assemblage of largely ceramic artifacts that allows scholars to consider diachronic change, economic and cultural connections with other regions, and the presence of activities that may not manifest in monumental architecture.

2. Amphoras and Trade. One of the key contributions of this report is a more detailed understanding of the place of this peninsula in regional trade particularly in the Classical period. The majority of the amphoras came from the northern Aegean indicating that trade was rather localized. This may fit into a model of Mediterranean trade that emphasized dense networks of local connections rather than large-scale interregional exchange. In other words, a site like Molyvoti may well represent a local node in a network of exchange that expands largely by short connections between places rather than long-range economic ties. It was interesting to note that intensive pedestrian survey of the site produced more amphora sherds than excavation demonstrating that an more spatially expansive sample can lead to different conclusions about a site.

3. Late Roman Reoccupation. It’s now almost expected to find Late Roman material at any site in Greece. In fact, the absence of evidence for Late Roman occupation in a region is now met with skepticism. It appears that the site on the Molyvoti peninsula was re-occupied during Late Antiquity. The material present at the site included imported fine wares from North Africa (ARS) and from the Aegean (Phocaean Ware). Most of the material looks to be 4th or perhaps 5th century with some later sherds. The relatively early date of most of the Late Roman material accounts for the absence of explicitly Christian imagery. The faunal remains associated with Late Roman levels demonstrate a change in diet with an increase in pork. 

4. Diachronic Study. One of the coolest things about this report is that the authors documented a strange, post-Late Roman round structure of uncertain function. They also documented trenches dug across the site by Bulgarian soldiers during World War I. Rather than simply “digging through the Byz” or ignoring modern features of the landscape as later intrusions into otherwise “pristine” ancient levels, the excavators and surveyors took seriously these features and took pains to document them appropriately. It remains shocking, however, that the Bulgarian trenches preserved no modern artifacts. In our age of abundance, this is almost inconceivable. 

5. Co-Authors and Collaboration. Congratulations to Nathan T. Arrington, Domna Terzopoulou, Marina Tasaklaki, Mark L. Lawall, Demetrios J. Brellas, and Chantel E. White for their collaborative publication. They were a far cry from the Hesperia record of 11 co-authors, 6 is a nice start and obvious evidence for the collaborative, transnational nature of archaeological work. I only wish it was available open access… 

Adventures in Podcasting: Richard and I talk with Jon Frey talk about Digital Humanities, Greece, and Spolia

Since I have now outsources all non-Tourist Guide related related work to Dr. Rothaus (Thanks, Richard!) at least until the end of next week!

So please enjoy his show notes and his mad editing skills on our most recent Caraheard podcast:

(And, yeah, Richard, I’m going to step it up!)

Podcast fans can join Bill and Richard this episode in the rousing excitement of a discussion with Jon Frey on how to Stare at Walls!  or Scan Someone Else’s Notes!   We also discuss digital humanities and archaeology, swap some Ohio State University Excavation at Isthmia stories, and discuss Jon’s shiny new book Spolia in Fortifications and the Common Builder in Late Antiquity.

This weeks show notes are short because both Bill and Richard are grumpy, and together they are an exponential bad attitude multiplier.  But the critical info is here, as well as this gratuitous photo of Richard and Jon and the inimitable Tonga Room and Hurricane Bar in San Francisco.

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During the podcast, we discuss how Jon illustrated some of the blocks of interest in his discussion of walls:

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Jon uses a word that you almost never hear several times: euergetism.

Things we mention: