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Three years of fieldwork in the western Argolid

[DN: This was a post written for the CIG’s website]

Our survey project, the Western Argolid Regional Project, or WARP, has just wrapped up the third year of fieldwork. Over three years, we’ve fielded 17 field teams, 62 field walkers and 12 team leaders from Canada and the US, and this remarkable group has surveyed nearly 8,000 units covering over 18 square kilometers. That represents the fieldwork that we applied to do in our five-year plan, submitted by the CIG on our behalf to the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports. It’s a pretty remarkable achievement, I think, and it’s entirely due to the incredibly hard work of all of the many students that have worked on the project over the past three years.

The landscape hasn’t made their work any easier. This year we worked in the zone between our 2014 and 2015 field seasons in the territories of all four of the villages that are part of our survey area: Lyrkeia, Sterna, Malandreni, and Schinochori. The terrain was really variable, from flat, well-maintained groves on the valley bottom to upland plateaus to steep slopes covered in maquis (mostly kermes oak, Greek πουρνάρι) that scratches skin and rips cloth, wild sage bushes that fill eyes and nostrils with pollen and dust, thistles, and thorny vines.

One of the interesting results of this year was the very low artifact densities. In 2014 we counted over 10,000 tiles and sherds per square kilometer surveyed; in 2015 that number was about 6,500, and in 2016, it was just above 2,700. In some ways, this wasn’t too surprising; a relatively large amount of our territory this year was taken up by long, high ridges oriented east-west that back up against the mountain range that separates the Inachos and Xerias river valleys. The ridges themselves were too rocky and removed from arable land to have sustained settlements in most periods. Rather, our sites this year tended to be located on small hills immediately above the course of the Inachos river, especially at “pinch points” where the valley narrows. On the east side of our survey area, this type of site was represented by Kastraki, where the ruins of a Classical farmstead, with the remains of its stone tower and a large millstone, were surrounded by a fairly dense scatter of sherds and tiles, including Late Roman material.

Many of our high density fields from the first two seasons were especially associated with Classical and early Hellenistic materials. Our 2014 season included the polis of ancient Orneai, which seems to have reached its maximum extent and intensity in these periods, and our 2015 season included a large settlement near Schinochori, probably a town associated with the Argive polity. In the 2016 season, however, only a scattering of Classical and Hellenistic artifacts were found on the left bank of the Inachos river. Thus, it may be that we have evidence for a boundary between the communities of the plain (surveyed in 2015) and those of the upper valleys (surveyed in 2014), manifesting itself as a largely empty space or borderland. This was not true in all periods, however: we found fairly consistent traces of Medieval and early Modern material in the 2016 season, especially on the slopes and hills above the river and its tributaries.

In non-archaeological developments, we continued our little traditions of Saturday fieldtrips to sites in the area, of going to see a play at Epidavros (this time, a raucously hilarious performance of Aristophanes’ Ploutos) and of adopting a local stray puppy and taking it back to North America.

For more information on WARP, please visit our project website and blog at westernargolid.org!

Dimitri Nakassis
WARP co-director

The Trash

I’ve been thinking a good bit more about trash this summer and had the chance to check out two interesting assemblages of modern trash in the Argolid in our first week of field work.

The first was at a crossing of the Inachos River in our 2014 survey area. The scatter of modern trash extends in a 8 m x 60 m strip down the center of the now-dry Inachos River parallel to a seasonal road along the river bed.

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The trash consisted of a combination of building debris and modern household trash.

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The most interesting concentration was a dump of school books perhaps deposited at the end of that academic year.

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There was the typical clusters of water bottles as well as clothing, household furnishings, and detritus from agricultural work.

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The other dump that caught my attention this week was around the small church of Ag. Panteliemon.

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The church is probably Early Modern and has a fantastic scatter of broken tile associated with a re-roofing project over the last few decades. The modern tiles on the church feature a 5-digit Greek phone number of the kiln placing the manufacture of the tiles prior to the change in the Greek phone numbers to 9 and then 10 digits.

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The tile scatter on the north side was complemented by a scatter of tile and plastic bottles that probably once contained oil left at the church for lamps. Clean up at the church involved dumping the used plastic containers over the side of the little paved area. 

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This parallels a little study that David Pettegrew, Tim Gregory, and I did a few years back (I summarize some of this project here) where we documented the artifact scatter around Byzantine churches on the island of Kythera. We discovered that the vicinity of churches produced more fine wares than elsewhere in the landscape. This is hardly remarkable, but perhaps the modern practices of trash disposal provide insights into the historical distribution of artifacts.

Some old images of the Inachos river valley

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This summer I picked up a cool little book on the ancient rivers of the Argolid in my favorite bookstore in Argos.  It’s got some interesting stuff in it, including some reproductions from Christopher Wordsworth’s Greece: pictorial, descriptive, and historical (London 1840), which includes nearly 400 images, mostly wood engravings but also some steel engravings too. There are two images of our survey area.

The first is a steel engraving entitled “Scene on the Inachus, near Planitza, from a sketch by Hervé.” Planitsa (or Planitza, or Panitsa/Panitza) is actually the old Greek name of the Inachus river, so perhaps there’s some confusion here in the label; or perhaps there was a local toponym also called Planitza?

Scene on the Inachus, near Planitza, from a sketch by Herve

In any case, you can see in the distance the distinctive profile of Mount Artemision, which looks like this, from a slightly different angle:

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The sketch, assuming that it’s reasonably accurate, must represent the narrowing of the valley just to the west of the village of Sterna, near the church of Ayios Nikolaos.

The second image, a wood engraving, is entitled “Scene on the River Planitza from a sketch by Hervé.” I’m honestly unsure where this is supposed to be…

wordsworth_planitza_p340Hervé, incidentally, was an English artist and author commissioned to create portraits of the leaders in the Greek War of Independence. He wrote a book about his travels, but there are only a couple of drawings in it, including one of Argos, and he spends more time talking about the snakes and dogs of Greece (“Another of the offensive objects in Greece consists in the dogs…”) than about Argos or the Argive countryside. I really need to track down his lithographs, despite his less than charitable views on early modern Greece (e.g., “the Greeks are so totally destitute of any idea of the art of painting” or “The mixture of rich luxury with primitive barbarism [in their clothing] is worth of remark” although he does say that men from Hydra are “particularly good looking” — useful information, I guess).

At any rate, it’s interesting that the first sketch includes a bridge over the river; in our survey we weren’t able to detect any traces of old bridges. It’s something that I meant to follow up on with some of the men in the village who have an enormous wealth of local knowledge that they’re interesting in sharing with me, but in the rush to finish up all of our work, I never managed to ask them. Next season!