Comparing Assemblages

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working with the data collected from the Western Argolid Research Project. Mostly this has involved going through the survey unit data that we collected as a way to determine general patterns of artifact recovery rates from across the survey area. This is important work, but largely unrewarding. I had run many of the queries on the fly while survey teams were still working in the field and had started to recognize the general patterns as they were emerging in the data. That said, it was still necessary to check things with the complete data set and I’ll post some more on this next week.

For today, I want to post on another aspect of my work with the WARP data. Over the three main field seasons, we conducted a series of revisits to our survey units to collect additional samples of material from the surface. Teams did this by collecting all artifacts in a circle with a 2 m radius from the survey units. We selected units for resurvey on the basis of location within the survey area, surface visibility, and artifact densities. 

These revisits had two main goals. First and foremost, we sought to use them to calibrate the assemblages produced through our standard survey methods where we collected density data and artifacts from a 20% sample of the surface through traditional field walking techniques. Secondly, we hoped that these total collection circles would also provide us with more robust samples from units where visibility, for example, compromised artifact collection.

I had started messing with this data in 2018 and made only a tiny bit of impressionistic progress. The biggest challenge for me was figuring out how to compare the three assemblages in a useful way. I discuss some of my difficulties here.

The biggest challenge was dealing with various chronologies that we assigned to our ceramics. The chronotype system allowed our ceramicists to assign a range of chronologies (and dates) to artifacts recovered in the survey. In some cases, these were immensely broad (e.g. “Ancient Historic” which has dates from 1050 BC to AD 700) and in some cases they were particularly narrow (e.g. Roman, Early which dates from 50 BC to 150 AD) and, in many cases, they were of more middling resolution (e.g. Roman which dates from 50 BC to AD 700). The different assemblages produced artifacts not only from different periods, but also from periods with different chronological resolutions. So answering the question whether more intensive collection strategies, such as total collection circles, produced different or just more material had to take into account the different resolutions at which we identified artifacts. In other words, we had to figure out whether recovering material dated to the “Early Roman” period in a resurvey circle mattered if we collected material datable to the broader, but inclusive “Roman” period in standard survey.

The solution to this problem was doing a little Aoristic analysis as a standardized way to represent the chronological profile of different assemblages. Aoristic analysis assumes that all artifacts have an equal chance of appearing in any year of a given chronological range. In other words, an artifact dated to the Roman period has an equal chance of appearing in any year between 50 BC and AD 700. Artifacts from more narrow period have greater values per year reflecting the increased likelihood that they would appear in any given year in the span. To complicate matters a bit, I also factored in the number of artifacts from any particular period. As a result, the charts that follow reflect not only the likelihood that an artifact dates to a particular year, but so the quantity of artifacts present in the assemblage with any probability of appearing in any particular year. I recognize that this is combining apples (that is probability of any artifact appearing in a year) and oranges (the quantity of artifacts present with various probabilities), but if we are using Aoristic analysis and its corresponding visualizations as a heuristic, then this kind of conflation is maybe a reasonable way to combine various kinds of data into one chart.  

Let’s look at some data. For the unit 2517, which is near the acropolis of Orneai and had 30% visibility, we did standard survey and two total collection circles. The standard survey produced 89 artifacts and the resurvey units produced 77 and 146 respectively. Despite the differences in quantity, the assemblages had rather similar profiles with the only exceptions being a bump in the Early Bronze Age generated by a small number of rather diagnostic EHI-II and EHI sherds. Resurvey 1 produced a Late Roman and an Early Medieval sherd which created the slight bump in the orange line. The presence of artifacts dated to the Archaic-Hellenistic period in Resurvey 2 created a more nuance profile in the centuries prior to the notable Classical-Hellenistic spike. The general similarities of the two profiles reflects the basic similarity between the three assemblages, but it is clear the material from resurvey did provide chronological nuance to the 

UntitledImage

Another unit from the same area, 4345, had three resurvey circles. Unlike unit 2517, it had higher visibility and a correspondingly more robust assemblage with 434 artifacts recovered during standard survey and 45, 173, and 68 recovered from three resurvey circles.

Similar to unit 2517, the basic profile of the assemblages appear the same, but the resurvey units do produce some notable spikes. Resurvey 2, for example, produced a single Late Helladic IIIA sherd. Resurvey 3, recovered 6 artifacts dating to the Archaic-Classical period and one Archaic sherd producing a narrower spike than the material dating to the Archaic-Hellenistic period recovered in the standard survey and in Resurvey 2. Resurvey 1 produce a single piece of Ottoman semi-fine ware which has a narrow 120 year date range and produced a late spike in the chart.   

UntitledImage

I have more case studies withs smaller assemblages that I’ll share later this week, but for now, this kind of visualization seems to be a useful way to compare groups of artifacts produced by different methods from the same units. What this will reveal about survey methods, both in general and in different circumstances, remains the question that more analysis will hopefully answer!

Preliminary Thoughts on Artifact Recovery Rates from the Western Argolid Regional Project

This past week, I’ve started the intimidating task of crunching the data produced over three field seasons with the Western Argolid Regional Project. While we’ve made a few efforts to make sense of the data over the past five years, our dataset has been varying degrees of provisional and more pressing matters in the field and in the storerooms often attracted our attention. With the field and storeroom over five thousand mile away and our data as clean as any project can reasonably expect, now is the time for number crunching! 

In the past, we have tried to focus on a number of rather well defined publication projects: a preliminary report and various side projects that required some attention. This year, we wanted to shift our attention back to analysis and instead of producing fully formed publishable quality manuscripts, we wanted to produce some reports and moved the project forward without the pressure of polished final publications.

This summer, I elected to look at the variables that shaped artifact recovery in the field with the hope that this might inform how we analyze artifact patterns in the landscape. So far, I’ve just started but I can make a few observations (and these, if I recall correctly, largely follow observations that I made several years ago when analyzing a rougher version of the same data).

First, the most significant variable in artifact recover is surface visibility. Survey archaeologists have know this for years so it comes as no surprise. It appears that sherd density tracks pretty closely with density up to the highest visibility units (100%) where densities drop rather steeply (as does sample size!).

WARP Charts  Google Docs 2021 06 08 09 43 32

WARP Charts  Google Docs 2021 06 08 09 44 16

 

 

Tile densities track visibility a bit less regularly and follow a kind dromedary curve with a hump at 40% visibility and another peak at 90%. The reason for this is a bit unclear. It may be that tiles are generally a bit more visible in the plow zone so surface visibility doesn’t impact their recovery quite as dramatically. A good example of this is that many of the highest density units with tile are from the immediate vicinity of collapsing houses at Chelmis and Iliopouleika (6 of the top 10 and 13 of the top 20), and these units tend to have visibility below 50%. In these units, tiles are abundant and often fairly well preserved and this likely contributed to their relatively high recovery rates even from units with lower visibility.

Second, my old buddy David Pettegrew has been running similar analyses on the EKAS data (which is rapidly becoming available at Open Context). Of particular interest to him (and to us!) is the impact of background disturbance on artifact recovery rates. As we say in the WARP field manual: this category represents the degree to which a field walker’s ability to see artifacts on the ground is hindered or obscured. This is a distinct category from visibility since even a field with 100% visibility could still have heavy background disturbance. A useful rule of thumb is that when walkers are spending much of their time picking up rocks they think are pieces of pottery, the background disturbance is heavy.

There are any number of ways to measure background disturbance. For example, units with high background disturbance took about 2 minutes longer to walk than units with moderate or light background disturbance despite having an average visibility of 68.5% as compared to 47.3% and 57.0% for light and moderate background disturbance respectively. Units with high or moderate background disturbance had a tendency to produce more “Stone, Unworked” (which are really just rocks) than those with light or none (2.8 and 2.3 rocks from units with high and moderate background disturbance and 1.9 rocks from those with light and none). 

On EKAS, there was a relationship between background disturbance and artifact recovery rates. In fact, David has proposed a metric that takes into account background disturbance and visibility to understand recovery rates in those units (and he has plans to unpack some of this in a future publication). That said, when we analyze the background disturbance from the Western Argolid, it doesn’t seem to have a particularly strong relationship with recovery rates at least as manifest in artifact densities. 

For units with the heaviest background disturbance (n=672), in fact, artifact densities tracked more or less along with those from similar visibility units with the exception of two spikes at 40% (n=33) and 90% visibility (n=88) where units with heavy background disturbance produced higher densities than might be expected from visibility alone. In contrast, units with moderate and light background disturbances more or less followed the expected trajectory based on visibility alone. This suggests that background disturbance did not exert a predictable influence over artifact recovery.

WARP Charts  Google Docs 2021 06 08 09 45 08

WARP Charts  Google Docs 2021 06 08 09 45 59

WARP Charts  Google Docs 2021 06 08 09 46 42

We obviously recorded more variable than background disturbance and I have began to run quarries on our data that looks at these variable as well. So, if you’re a survey archaeology “method-head” you might want to stay tuned for more “exciting” methodological reflections in the coming week.

In the meantime, I also ran some queries based on artifact recovery and vegetation in our units. We had standardized recording terms for vegetation in each unit which ranged from “weeds,” “maquis,” and “phrygana,” to “citrus,” “olives,” “grain,” and “grain stubble.” It was possible to select multiple vegetation types for each field resulting in 27 combinations which appeared in at least 50 units. Various combinations produce artifact densities that under performed what one might expect from visibility alone.

The lowest visibility were typically flat units lower elevations (< 200 masl) with citrus or stone fruits (and not infrequently weeds). My guess is that these units were as likely to be shaped by their proximity to the Inachos River and its wandering course that deposit sediments carried toward the Argolidic Gulf. In contrast, units with higher slopes and elevations, often populated with olives, weeds, and (mostly volunteer) grains produced artifact densities that exceeded those predicted by visibility alone. This is as likely the result of historical phenomena as artifact recovery variables and shaped by the dense scatters associated with the fields around the acropolis of Orneai.

As you might guess, such hypotheses will have to be tested using our GIS data, but for now, I’m mostly just crunching numbers without too much attention to spatial concerns. Once again, this means more “method-head” goodness is likely to appear in these pages in the near future!   

WARP 2021 Study Season

The 2021 WARP study season starts tomorrow. This means three things.

First, it means DATA. Like many contemporary archaeological projects and certainly most contemporary surveys, WARP produced a ton of data from its four seasons in the field and three study seasons. Despite spending some quality time with this data each year, it remained a bit provisional as our finds data was refined and updated and our survey unit data was polished. Moreover, as we digitize and analyze maps, we continue to produce more data that can inform our larger analysis. In short, this means a season of sitting in front of my laptop and crunching numbers.

Our biggest goals this season is to determine the main factors that impact artifact recovery rates from our survey area and then attempt to determine whether the variables impact recovery rates in the same way for artifacts from every period. 

Second, it means DISPLACEMENT. Some of my fondest memories of archaeological work do not involve toiling in a trench or slogging through another field looking for sherds. They don’t even involving hiking up a mountain and the rush at “discovering” an undocumented or unpublished fortification. Some of my favorite memories of doing archaeological work involve sitting at my laptop in the tiny room underneath the Marinos house in Ancient Corinth, crunching EKAS data with David Pettegrew. I also have fond memories of working on Polis data on Cyprus while sitting in the Polis storerooms or in the main room of our little apartment in the village.

In both of these cases, we had the ability to go out the door and wander around the excavation area or go and check out a particular unit, situation, or view. I’ve never been one for aimless driving around or hiking or other random outdoorsy activity that I don’t perceive as having a clear goal in mind. I do enjoy, however, checking things out and revisiting sites or scrutinizing problems at a site or in the landscape. The dialogue between the data and sites and landscapes ensures that the data remain tied to experience. In fact, I often think of data that we take with us into the field (either in our minds or quite literally when we check a measurement or test a hypothesis) as embodied data. These data are data that blend seamlessly with the sites themselves.

Of course, this year, like last, we can’t do that. I’m feeling a distinct sense of displacement from the field and it reinforces my idea that data as data, set adrift from a sense of place, loses something significant. 

Finally, no study season can happen without DONUTS. Tomorrow is National Donut Day. My plan is to make a donut pilgrimage to Sandy’s Donuts in Fargo to mark the official start of the WARP study season. 

WARP Field Manual: A Manual for an Intensive Pedestrian Survey

Over the last month or so, I’ve been puttering around with the field manual from the Western Argolid Regional Project. This was an intensive pedestrian survey conducted in the Inachos River valley from 2014-2016 (with study seasons in from 2017-2019).

We produced a field manual that we then updated as the project went along. In an effort both to contribute to the small number of publicly available field manuals from field projects and to make our project a bit more transparent, we decided to tidy up our manual and make it available via tDAR.

Some of my long-time readers might remember that a few years ago, I was keen to formally publish as many field manuals as I could via The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. We formally published on field manual, the iconic Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual in 2017 and it has been a solid and consistent performer, download over 1000 times and used in any number of university and college classrooms. We also prepared a little archive of archaeological field manual and you can explore it a bit here.

This work generated some tepid interest in formally publishing field manuals, but nothing came of it. In fact, even my WARP colleagues were pretty ambivalent about publishing our manual. I did typeset the WARP manual together so that if someone wanted to publish it, they could. We also made it available under an open access CC-By license.

In any event, you can download the WARP manual here. It’ll be up in tDAR in the next week or so and I’ll share that link as well.

WARP COVER FINAL01

Finalizing a Survey Field Manual

A few years ago, I casually floated the idea that projects should publish their field manuals. This was in conjunction with the publication of the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual (by Guy Sanders, Sarah James and Alicia Carter Johnson) by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. There was a pretty tepid response with a number of project directors agreeing that this was a good idea in theory, but no one took me up on the suggestion and submitted a manuscript.

I’m still very open to the idea and I’d love to publish a manual from any of the iconic excavations in the Mediterranean! Field manuals represent the crucial link between methods (and methodology) and field practices that often have a significant impact on the kind of knowledge a project produces. They also provide insight into project and situation specific constraints, offer a kind of paradata (as well as metadata) for the project’s data, and give some indication of the work conditions and work rhythms present on site. Manuals also have pedagogical value as both evidence for how students learn archaeology on the ground and as examples in the classroom for how methodology plays out in the field. Finally, a publicly available field manual provides the kind of transparency that is good practice for the discipline. 

As part of The Digital Press’s project to publish the Corinth Excavations Archaeological Manual we also published an archived list of project manuals which is available here.

Part of the challenge, of course, in publishing a field manual is that field manuals tend to be dynamic documents that change over time. Even for a relatively short project, such as our Western Argolid Regional Project, the manual underwent a number of changes over its four seasons of use. We were particularly fortunate to have active and engaged survey team leaders who provided not only input into the manual itself, but also helped us revise it each year. As a result, publishing a final manual is not as simple as just formatting a document and sending it to an archival repository like tDAR. We spent some time (by we, I meant, mostly Sarah James) revising our manual and providing some additional context so that a working document can be useful to someone not familiar with all the ins-and-outs of our specific project, its history, and goals. This morning, I’m going to go through it one last time and provide a brief preface that situates this finalized manuscript in the history of our project and our field work. 

Here’s my draft of the preface:

Preface

Field manuals are living documents which not only are adapted over the life of a project to suit the needs of each field season, but are interpreted daily in the field and workspaces of a project. This document is no different.

This finalized manual from the Western Argolid Regional Project is an effort to produce an honest version of the manual that both reflects the day-to-day practices of the project as well as our regular efforts to adapt the manual to the needs of the teams and slight shifts in our methods. As a result, this is a composite document that conflates and combines any number of adjustments offered by team leaders particularly during the first two field seasons of the project. For example, we developed our site revisit procedures over the first two seasons and settled on a procedure during our time in the field. There were also adjustments made to how we documented artifacts in the project storeroom in response to requests from local officials. We have included these changes in this document to reflect our practices in the field and in artifact processing. We made these changes in consultation with our team leaders who are the co-authors of this finalized text because the both made this manual work in the field and made the text itself better.

We also added an introduction that provides some broader context for the project, its goals, and its methodology. We have also added a number of appendices that reproduce our unit form, a field guide to surface visibility and conditions, and a list of abbreviations for artifact types within the Chronotype system.

The goal of publishing this document is to preserve a record of our field practices as well as to offer a resources to other projects looking to follow similar methods in their work. In the interest in making the genealogy of field practices somewhat easier to trace through grey paper documents such as field manuals, we have released this under an open-access, by-attribution, share-alike license. This allows anyone to use freely the text of this manual, but requires that this manual be cited and any future documents based on this manual to be made available under a similar open access license.

Siteless Survey and Intensive Data Collection in an Artifact Rich Environment (15 Years Later)

It is hard to believe that my colleagues, David Pettegrew, Dimitri Nakassis, and I published “Siteless Survey and Intensive Data Collection in an Artifact Rich Environment: Case Studies from the Eastern Corinthia, Greece” in the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 19.1 (2006) almost 15 years ago. This article has become my most widely cited publication and, in many ways, represents a touchstone for my thinking about intensive pedestrian survey until this day.

In fact, this past week, we’ve been working on a pair of articles from the Western Argolid Regional Project. One will be a fairly conventional preliminary report with a brief methodology section. We plan to submit it to Hesperia next month. The other will be a more methodological piece that we hope to submit to the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology before the end of the year. Both pieces are a bit challenging because they involve multiple authors and an effort to balance our desire to describe our work against an interest in providing some kind of larger analysis of our methods. Plus, there’s a pandemic which seems uniquely designed to unsettle even well thought out plans. 

The article that I’d like to see us prepare for the JMA would take our 2006 JMA article as a point of departure. It’s tempting to title our new piece ““Siteless Survey and Intensive Data Collection in an Artifact Poor Environment: Case Studies from the Western Argolid, Greece.” 

The main point of our new JMA piece could be that we’ve taken some of the lessons from the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS) that we outlined in the 2006 JMA article and applied them at scale to a rather different landscape in the Western Argolid. In particular, our survey in the Western Argolid demonstrated that applying intensive collection practices to low and moderate density scatters can unpack the complexities of artifact distribution across a landscape. This approach, while it might seem intuitive, runs counter to the traditions of site-based collection which approached the highest density places in the landscape through higher intensity collection strategies such as gridded or total collection. In this context, low density artifact scatters were often relegated to “off site” status and subjected both to less intensive collection regimes and generally mapped at a lower level of spatial resolution. 

In our 2006 JMA article, we argue that these practices tend to overlook evidence for short-term, season, or low-intensity activities in the countryside. We also argued that this approach obscures the fact that many high density consist of overlapping material from various periods which might extend in far lower densities into “off site” areas. Like a Venn diagram, then, the main area of artifact densities speaks less to the range and distribution of material at a single site either over time or from any particular period and more to the visible densities that their overlap creates. 

The main critique of the kind of rigorous, siteless approach employed by EKAS is that the intensity of this approach limited the area that we could survey. Our article recognized that the intensity of Mediterranean survey could be seen as leading to a kind of “Mediterranean Myopia” that treated surface assemblages like those produced by careful stratigraphic excavation where every sherd could be the type fossil that provides a terminus post quem for the level. While this attention is warranted in excavations, it limited the ability of survey to speak to regional issues because the scale of intensive survey projects remained limited.

WARP recognized these concerns and while many of the high-intensity siteless predecessors to WARP – namely the EKAS and PKAP, a large site survey on Cyprus – remained limited in spatial extent, WARP surveyed the majority of the 30 square kilometer area allowed by the Greek Ministry of Culture. While this is not nearly as expansive as the largest Near Eastern or North and Central American survey projects which could encompass hundreds of square kilometers, a survey that covered the majority of the territory allowed by the Greek state represented a much larger survey than the territory covered by EKAS or PKAP. Moreover, in the rugged landscape of the Western Argolid, the territory surveyed by WARP represented a topographically and historically plausible micro-region. In effect, we can propose that WARP managed to implement a highly intensive survey model in a way that responded to the historical geography of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Peloponnesus.

The article, as we now have it, includes two case studies. One examines the Roman period from the end of the Hellenistic period to Late Antiquity and shows how low density scatters shed light on the activities in the Roman landscape of the survey area. At the same time, it argues that certain periods, such as the Middle Roman period, produce less diagnostic pottery that only becomes visible under more intensive collection regimes that go beyond the typical focus on diagnostic artifacts. While the chronotype system was originally designed as both a standardized method for recording ceramics and a sampling strategy for artifact rich environments. On EKAS and PKAP, field walkers only collected one of every unique kind of artifact according to fabric, decoration, vessel type, and part of vessel (i.e. rim, base, handle, body sherd). This helped the projects manage the potential processing and storage burden associated with the collection of massive numbers of duplicate artifacts. Various experiment conducted on PKAP (and reported here) demonstrated that chronotype sampling did, in fact, preserve the functional and chronological range of artifacts in high density units, but under represented the diversity of chronotypes present. For a periods like the Middle Roman with less diagnostic artifact types susceptible to being overlooked in collection and recording, a more intensive collection regime increases the potential that we would recognize this material.

The second case study evokes the analysis of Kromna in the 2006 JMA article by examining the multiperiod scatter that constitutes the high density “site” of Panayia-Trelo in the Western Argolid. Like Kromna in the Corinthia, this site represents a series of overlapping scatters. The focus of the case study will be on the Archaic to Hellenistic period during which time the region’s relationship with Argos underwent significant change. The goal of the case study is to show that regional level analysis is not only possible from projects that prioritize higher intensity collection and spatial resolution over extent, but also requires the higher level of intensity to produce nuanced historical analysis.

Today’s blog post is just a the gentlest of sketch of what this piece needs to do to be compelling and significant. The most daunting task will be to review the scholarship published between 2006 and today to see how Mediterranean survey projects have adapted their methods to accommodate varying artifact densities. Needless to say, there’s a ton of scholarship to navigate. Stay tuned. 

Kephalari Blockhouse

I know that I’m not the first archaeologist to observe that without a field season this summer, we have theoretically more time to spend thinking carefully about our material and sites, tidying data, and preparing publications. This means, at least for me, trying to get some momentum on some lingering projects.

Two, in particular, are begging for attention. First, we have an almost complete draft of the publication of the area EF1 at Polis complete. In fact, I think we could have it ready for submission in two weeks.

More pressing at the moment, though, is a little article on the Late Roman finds from the Kephalari blockhouse in the Western Argolid. These finds were discovered in Corinth storerooms a few years ago and a group of us agreed to publish them. Of course, since that time lots of things have happened including WARP seasons, Polis stuff, a PKAP volume that’s not yet done, and The COVIDs. But this spring, the article received the ultimate motivating push: my colleague Scott Gallimore wrote up the catalogue and analysis of the finds.

So now it’s time that I do my part, which is writing up the “Discussion” section of the article. My goal is to offer a concise synthesis of 7th century settlement and rural insecurity in the northeastern Peloponnesus. It’s obviously a work in progress!

 

The assemblage from the Kephalari block house adds another small body of evidence to the increasingly complex mosaic of material from the later 6th, 7th, and early 8th century in the northeastern Peloponnesus. While the presence of material from the region’s significant urban centers, particularly Argos and Corinth, is well-known, archaeologists have only just begun to unpack and understand the situation in the countryside during these decades. The small number of excavated and well-published rural sites even in the well-studied northeastern Peloponnesus creates a particularly challenge for situating the reuse of the Kephalari blockhouse in its regional context. The growing number of stratified sequences, especially from Corinth, however, has made it increasingly possible to analyze the growing body of intensive survey data from this region from the end of antiquity. This, in turn, has offered new perspectives on a number of long-standing academic debates including changes in rural settlement patterns and urbanism, the character of the so-called “Slavic Invasions” of the late-6th century, and the presence of rural refuges such as the Andritsa cave.

Scholars have recognized that the reoccupation of rural sites, such as Pyrgouthi and the Kephalari block house appear to indicate significant investment in the adaptation of existing rural sites for reuse in the late 6th and 7th centuries. The appearance of window glass at Kephalari, for example, and the large-scale reconfiguration of the Pyrgouthi tower into a farmhouse with a courtyard suggests efforts to reoccupy these sites on a permanent basis. The evidence is less extensive from the other blockhouses and pyramids of the Argolid, but it appears that these sites were cleaned up with much of the material from earlier periods removed and the interior organization of the spaces modified with new walls and additions (Pettegrew 2006; Lord 1938; Scranton 1938).

Intensive survey has produced scatters of ceramics in the countryside that not only suggest that other Classical and Hellenistic sites experienced reoccupation in the Later Roman period, but that these sites were part of a larger reoccupation of the countryside. The site of Kastraki, for example, in the Inachos Valley, while unexcavated, may well be a similar site to Pyrgouthi or Kephalari in that it was a Classical or Hellenistic tower set atop a low rise in the valley bottom surrounded by a scatter of Late Roman material. The site of Any Vayia in the southeastern Corinthia likewise produced a low-density scatter suggesting a possible short-term reoccupation (Caraher et al. 2010) which found parallels elsewhere including on Euboea (Seifried and Parkinson 2014) and at the Vari House in Attica (Pettegrew 2006, p. 33).

Other smaller sites with material dating to the late-6th and 7th centuries exist throughout the Western Argolid survey area in the Inachos Valley and generally follow a pattern of settlement present in the 5th and 6th centuries. Athanasios Vionis and John Bintliff have argued for Late Antique Boeotia, urban and rural sites represent opposite sides of the same coin (Vionis 2017; Bintliff 2013). The persistence of sites in the countryside and even the expansion of activities into places like near coastal islands reflects the expansive use of diverse rural landscapes for agricultural purposes as well as nodes in regions and Mediterranean wide trade networks (Gregory 1984; 1995).

Urban sites continued to provide markets for rural agriculture, points of contact with larger imperial command economy, centers for manufacturing, and ecclesiastical and a certain amount of political authority. While the Finleyan concept of the “consumer city” should be laid to rest, work at Corinth (Sanders; Rothaus; Brown), Athens (Hayes), and Argos (Oikonomou-Laniado 2003) and in Boeotia (Bintliff, Vionis) have demonstrated that urban areas in Late Antiquity continued to serve as key places in Greece into the 7th century with continued investment in monumental architecture, urban amenities, and public spaces fortified in part by the growing spiritual, political, and economic role of urban bishops and the persistent reach of the imperial government.

This is not to suggest that the 7th century was not a period of significant disruption in southern Greece. Urban areas clearly experienced contraction and settlement in rural areas and this is visible in the larger WARP survey area as well as in urban surveys in Boeotia. The changes in rural settlement, including the emergence of fortified settlements in the countryside, seem to accompany continued economic activity in rural areas. While the evidence for such sites in the Argolid remains limited — the site of Kastro near the village of Tsiristra being a possible exception — the reoccupation of places like the Kephalari block house may well represent the need for both additional security and as well as continued economic viability in the countryside (Vionis 155-157). The reoccupation of fortifiable, if not necessarily fortified, sites in the Argolid may also shed light on the status of sites like the Andritsa Cave. If continued occupation of the countryside indicated the continued viability of markets and networks open to agricultural production and the fortified sites not only in Greece but across the wider Eastern Mediterranean reflects larger insecurity in the region, then places like the Andritsa Cave may well reflect the local realities of both rural wealth and instability. The so-called isles of refuge first recognized by Sinclair Hood and critiqued by Tim Gregory in the 1980s and 1990s, may also reflect the same effort to reconcile economic potential with the need for added security during unstable times.

More on Chris Witmore’s Old Lands

I finished Christopher Witmore’s  Old Lands: a chorography of the Eastern Peloponnese (2020) this weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. As I said last week, it was a great way to kick off my summer reading and a useful tonic for a summer without fieldwork.

This is the kind of book that will likely resist any kind of useful, formal review. It’s easy enough to note places where Witmore overlooked scholarship relevant to his larger arguments (e.g. Kostis Kourelis’s important 2007 Hesperia article, “Byzantium and the Avant-Garde” would have fit nicely into Witmore’s treatment of Corinth, for example, or Evi Karouzou’s 2014 monograph,  Les jardins de la Méditerranée: agriculture et société dans la Grèce du sud, 1860-1910, would have complemented and expanded his considerations of the agricultural history of the Corinthia and Argolid, or, finally, David Pettegrew’s observations on Kromna on the Isthmus of Corinth would have complicated Witmore’s analysis of that site). Likewise, it will also be convenient for a reviewer to observe that the routes Witmore took through the Northeast Peloponnesus overlooked certain areas like the Southeastern Corinthia, the Western Argolid, or the Inachos Valley. As a result, he overlooked the delicious abundance of souvlaki stands at the intersection of the old national road and old Peloponnesian narrow-gauge railway in the village of Myloi. There are, of course, little factual slips from time to time: the Athos canning plant near Nauplio (referred to in Route 18) is probably the former Kyknos canning plant.

None of this really matters, however, because the book is not meant to be an exhaustive history of the landscape of the Argolid and Corinthia. Instead, the book represents an unapologetically personal look at the region. This approach reflects Witmore’s commitment to the tradition of chorography which he offers as both a kind of critical commentary on the ancient writings of Strabo and Pausanias, the Ottoman period in the writings of Evlyia Celebi, the early modern works of Jacob Spon and George Wheler and the Expédition scientifique de Morée, and the modern period with the travels of Martin Leake, Edward Dodwell, and Gertrude Bell. Contemporary scholars, John Cherry, Alex Knodell, join Witmore from time to time as do various other Greeks, American students, and family members. At the center of the book, however, is Witmore and his interests, relationships, and restless feet guide carry the reader through the Greek countryside.

Chorography, if I understand it, challenges views of the landscape dominated by cartography, geography, and modern landscape archaeology which serves to create the homogeneous spaces of the modern map. If the lines and points of the modern scholar serves to measure and rectify space into some form of universally recognized pattern, the routes of the chorographer are embedded in the landscape itself and follow the contours of the land, the rhythm of the fields, and the often abrupt discontinuities between the present and a visible past. While archaeologists have often seen Witmore’s work elsewhere as overly (and maybe even oppressively?) theoretical, Old Lands serves as a critical and important corrective. Witmore’s goals are not to use the eastern Peloponnesus as at the basis for some kind of theoretical exegesis, but to offer this landscape as a kind of anti-theory (echoing, in some ways, the work of Peter Sloterdijk who appears frequently in his footnotes). For example, the landscape is not a text to be decoded or deconstructed. It is not a place to be unpacked, analyzed, compared, or abstracted. Instead, it’s a space to be experienced and encountered.  

At times (and as an avowedly selfish reader), I wondered how Witmore’s chorography relates to our modern and perhaps contemporary experience of tourism. His effort to defamiliarize a landscape well-known to archaeologists and scholars evokes the modern promise of the tourists gaze which seeks to bridge the gap between the everyday and the exotic. Witmore makes romantic a walk through an olive grove which represents one of the most banal and unremarkable experiences of time in the northeast Peloponnesus. Fishfarms, irrigation systems, terrace walls, dirt and paved roads, goat tracks, maquis, and even the annoying hillsides of Jerusalem sage take on a wondrous quality in Witmore’s work. But is this because these experiences are wondrous or because, in Witmore’s able hands, he is creating a wondrous experience for the reader in much the same way an able tour guide brings a landscape or encounter alive and something as banal as “Mexican Coke” becomes an invitation to an unfamiliar world. (This relates, of course, to my own work along similar lines here.)

Witmore’s work also nudged me to think a bit more about my idea of a “slow archaeology.” While most of my work has focused on “slow” as a challenge to our technologically mediated encounters with archaeological work, Witmore’s chorography with its attention to the details of experience and encounter feels like it occupies a similar space. The absence of any technology in Witmore’s work (other than the maps which he includes at the end) and the emphasis on the individual rather than the team of archaeologists, the procedures of data collection, and the methods of analysis, creates a view of archaeological practice that differs from the almost-automated routines of the intensive pedestrian surveys or of systematic excavation that so defined the archaeological landscapes of the northeastern Peloponnesus.

In this way, Old Lands offers a critique of contemporary archaeological practices, but doesn’t reject them. It also offers a new way to think about the field of Mediterranean archaeology. In recent years, Mediterranean archaeologists have pushed more archaeological practices that align more closely with our peers in “world archaeology.” This frequently involves more specialized training in scientific methods, the use of digital tools, and systematic approaches grounded in the literature of anthropological archaeology. Witmore doesn’t contest this, but by grounding his approach in chorography, he proposes an alternative that is no less grounded in the latest technologically mediated approach to the past, but is also explicitly aware of the experience of being in the landscape. 

Old Lands: Nostalgia, Archaeology, and a Summer without Fieldwork

This weekend, I started to read Chris Witmore’s Old Lands: a chorography of the Eastern Peloponnese (2020). Witmore is perhaps best known among archaeologists as a theory guy whose work on thingness, symmetrical archaeology, and agency has contributed to the larger “thing turn” or “material turn” in the field. 

This book certainly draws upon his formidably grasp of archaeological theory, but much of it is not explicitly theoretical. Instead, it offers a series of “segments” between points win the northeastern Peloponnesus that provide an opportunity for Witmore to dilate on various topics ranging from fish farming to tourism, antiquity, archaeology, history and agriculture. The thread connecting these largely self-contained segments, each of which gets its own bibliography is the heterogeneity of space and place. By following the things “on the ground” rather than the discursive pathways established by our disciplinary training and knowledge, Witmore offers a literary simulation of the typical archaeological encounter. This encounter, at least in my experience, almost always begins with the question: “what the hell is that?” And proceeds from there.

I haven’t finished the book yet, so I can’t offer more than a superficial reaction, and I’ll probably write a more formal review sometime next week when I’ve had more of a chance to digest it. I will offer three observations now, though:

First, this book couldn’t appear at a better time. Like many academic archaeologists, I’m still coming to grips with the idea that there will be no fieldwork or study this summer. While I have plenty of writing and reading to do and have no projects that required fieldwork this summer, it’ll still be strange to be at home rather than living out of a suitcase in Cyprus and Greece and attending to the needs of objects, landscapes, buildings, and places (as well as maps and databases). I do have some fieldwork in town here and a plan for some work in August in Idaho that might still happen, but even that seems unlikely right now.

More than that, I’m worried that without being in Greece and Cyprus and without spending time in the landscape, village, storerooms, and survey area, my reservoir of encounters will diminish. It’ll be harder for me to ask “what the hell is that?” and to follow these encounters in new directions and toward new hypotheses. 

As an aside, I had long wondered what this odd building was south of Kiveri near where the Western Argolid Regional Project was based in Myloi. Apparently it was a pumping station designed to tap a fresh water spring beneath the saltwater Argolidic Gulf. So there you go.

Second, I’ve been thinking a good bit about nostalgia lately. I’m partly blaming this on Don DeLillo’s Underworld (1997), and partly on a new, small-scale research project into the history of the suburbs, and partly on being an old white male. When I was younger, I spent a good bit of each summer hiking around the landscape of the Eastern Corinthia, looking for and at sites, wondering about things, and talking with guys like Tim Gregory, David Pettegrew, and Dimitri Nakassis. More recently, I spent time walking the Western Argolid with Dimitri, Grace Erny, Machal Gardoz, Joey Frankel, Melanie Gadsey, and Alyssa Friedman. While in most cases, we were mapping survey units, it also afforded me the opportunity to become more familiar with the Inachos valley and surrounding landscape.   

Old Lands is set in the olive grooves, orange orchards, dirt roads, “not paths, but routes” hills, valleys, ravines, seaside towns, inland villages, and cities of the northeast Peloponnesus. This is where I’ve learned to be an archaeologist (and continue to learn from both my colleagues and the landscape). Feeling nostalgic for the long days in the field may be no more than just the idylls of a privileged white male, but thinking about those days and weeks walking in the countryside push me to recognize this privileged perspective and reflect on the tension between my own encounters, my memories, and these rugged and difficult landscapes.

Finally, so far, Witmore’s book has reminded me how much my understanding of the Greek countryside is anchored in place. In other words, so much of what I know about Greece is based on my encounters with buildings, landscapes, and relationships rather than predefined academic problems. Whatever one thinks of the theoretical perspectives offered through symmetrical archaeology (e.g. here), Witmore’s book does a good job (again, so far) connecting how archaeologists make knowledge to the landscape itself and then introducing the secondary literature. Witmore’s process of describing the situation with detail and nuance, however literary it is in presentation here, mimics the process of engaging the landscape and starting with the question “what the hell is that?”

As I said, this is my impression based on the first 350 or so pages. I’ll prepare a more careful review sometime in the next week or so.

Three Thing Thursday: Greeks, Roads, and Oil

For whatever reason, I’m having trouble getting myself into gear over spring break and have been jumping from one thing to the next all week. It’s predictable, then, that today blog post will be a dreaded “three things” rather than a more sustained consideration of one issue, topic, question, or publication. What’s the biggest bummer is that I wanted to write more about each of these three things. Maybe I can next week, but for now, here’s a sampling of what I’ve been up to.

Thing The First

If I had all the time and energy into the world, I’d publish a little volume featuring the work of Byzantine and Late Antique archaeologist outside of the Mediterranean basin. David Pettegrew and Kostis Kourelis would appear in it, of course. This week, I was really happy to receive a copy of Pennsylvania History 87.1 (2020) which is co-edited by Pettegrew and includes an article by Kourelis and Pettegrew on the Greek communities of Harrisburg and Lancaster, Pennsylvania in the early 20th century. 

The article draws primarily from census data to paint a picture of the changing Greek communities in those towns and their divergent trajectories. The broader argument is that the tendency to emphasize Greek communities in major urban areas (Chicago, New York, et c.) obscures the fact that most Greek communities were small. More than that, these small Greek communities developed according the vagaries of these locales. The city of Harrisburg with its higher rents and involvement in the City Beautiful movement saw a very different kind of Greek community than the city of Lancaster. The Greek community in Harrisburg was more male-dominated and slower to include families although perhaps slightly more affluent, and these features most likely delayed the organization of a Greek church in the city which further slowed the development of this community.

Pettegrew and Kourelis construct their images of these two communities from the scrappy evidence provided by the census and their broad understanding of trends in these two cities. Their ability to paint vivid pictures from fragmentary evidence almost certainly derives from their years of patient work with the fragments of the Late Roman and Byzantine periods in Greece. 

(I couldn’t find the article online yet, but a few of the articles from the special issue are available here for free!).

Thing the Second

A good bit of our work on the Western Argolid Regional Project has focused on roads through our region. As a result, I’ve been trying to digest anything that drifts across my desk about roads in the Eastern Mediterranean. A couple of weeks ago, I spied Peri Johnson and Ömür Harmanşah’s “The Political Ecology of Roads And Movement: The Yalburt Yaylası Archaeological Landscape Research Project 2018 Season” from The Archaeology of Anatolia, Volume III (2019). Ömür Harmanşah has quietly established himself as one of the most insightful readers of the Mediterranean landscape and this article with Peri Johnson reflects his careful sophistication.

Johnson and Harmanşah consider the roads through their survey area in Central Anatolia from both a diachronic and decentralized perspective. In other words, they were not as concerned with the well-known roads through their area in particularly well documented periods and more interested in the ways in which local communities in their area interacted with one another and the wide region. By decentering their research and engaging with local communities, they were not only able to discover neglected roads and routes, but also associated sites. 

Their work and the situation in their survey area has close parallels with ours in the Western Argolid where in the Inachos valley formed the major route through our area throughout the ancient and into the modern period. At the same time, it has become clear that a number of significant routes linked sites in our survey area in ways that did not follow the dominant interregional road along the valley bottom. 

Thing the Third

I read John Sayles’ new book Yellow Earth this weekend. I really want to write a more substantive review of it, in part, because I really wanted to like it more than I did. Here are a few quick observations.

First, a colleague of mine mentioned once that most novels these days are really just short stories cobbled together. This book is that with plots and characters that come and go, intersect obliquely, and sometimes just fade away.

Second, Sayles does some interesting things with time. The book begins in the early days of the Bakken boom and ends just as the bust begins. For the characters, however, time passes at different rates. For two of the characters, their final year in high school traces the trajectory of the boom. For another, it occurs over the course of her pregnancy. For another still, it follow the construction of a house, the life span of a strip club, or the travels of a Mexican migrant from the border to North Dakota. The varying times at play during a boom is fascinating.

Third, the book navigates a difficult space in that one of the main characters is modeled after Tex Hall, the well-known and controversial former chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes. This means Sayles spends much of the novel writing a number of Native American characters. While I don’t necessarily want to imply that his depiction of these characters was somehow inappropriate, instead, I’d like to acknowledge the ethical complications associated with this move and with depicting and understanding the complex attitudes among the Native American community to the oil boom.

Fourth and finally, for now, I still rankle at the depiction of the Bakken as the Wild West. I understand and appreciate the drama and the moral ambiguity latent in the concept of the Wild West, but I worry that this depiction somehow naturalizes the situation in the Bakken and undermines a reading that recognizes a series of very deliberate choices that allowed corrupt practices to prevail.