Category Archives: Dimitri Nakassis

How to eat souvlaki

Every great cuisine has meat on a stick. Okay, that’s probably not universally true, but meat on a stick is still a wonderful thing. It’s portable and simple and delicious. And Myloi, where our project’s base is located, is famous for having the best souvlaki in the Argolid (in Greece, Livadeia is the champ). Souvlaki is Greece’s contribution to the fast food meat-on-a-stick. It was a staple of my childhood summers, and I’m pretty passionate about it. I have a little mental database of my favorite places, and I sometimes talk (half-seriously) about opening my own super-authentic hole-in-the-wall souvlaki joint in north America.

So you can imagine my horror when I realized that most of the students and staff on WARP don’t know how to eat souvlaki properly. So I thought that I’d provide a little primer for people who haven’t grown up eating meat on a stick.

DON’T USE UTENSILS

Souvlaki is street food, so using a fork or any utensil is improper.

souvlaki_fork_sj
INCORRECT

DON’T NIBBLE

Do not eat souvlaki like it’s corn on the cob. It’s gross and messy.

Nice shirt, Joey, but bad technique
Nice shirt, Joey, but bad technique

DON’T POINT THE STICK DIRECTLY INTO YOUR MOUTH

IMG_20160711_141243
This is dangerous.

DO USE THE “TEAR” METHOD

The only correct method is to tear individual chunks off the stick by biting down on an individual chunk and pulling it off of the stick.

CORRECT
CORRECT

DON’T ORDER CHICKEN SOUVLAKI

Chicken doesn’t have enough fat, so chicken souvlaki is way too dry. Best to avoid it. The only correct meat for souvlaki is pork. Lamb souvlaki is not a thing  in Greece (although Turkish Çöp şiş is delicious), and beef souvlaki is an abomination.

DO EAT SOUVLAKI WITH BREAD AND FRIES

Souvlaki is always served with bread and french fries. You might ask why you need two different starches. That would be a bad question. Put it out of your mind.

souvlaki_salt_bread_fries
Extra salt is recommended

DO PUT LEMON ON THE SOUVLAKI

Souvlaki needs freshly squeezed lemon juice on it immediately before serving.

Lemonate!
Lemonate!

DO SOAK THE BREAD IN THE JUICES

It’s delicious.

Yum.
Yum.

Spring cleaning!

You know you’re gearing up for a new season in the field when you’re cleaning up a winter’s worth of dust, cobwebs, etc. in your storage and study facility. This is really sensitive work that only people with highly specialized degrees and extensive archaeological experience are capable of doing:

Scott sweeping
Scott sweeping
Dimitri vacuuming
Dimitri vacuuming

My camera lens isn’t dirty; that’s the distinctive blur from fine dust agitated by sweeping and suspended in the air…

Archaeology and destruction

Archaeological sites are sites of destruction. They are destroyed by people for all kinds of reasons, including good ones. Excavation, too, after all, is a kind of destruction. And some destruction is inevitable. Especially in countries like Greece, there has to be a balance between development and heritage. People need to build houses and roads, after all. And farmers need to work their fields, which in this day and age often requires modifying the natural landscape to make it more conducive to mechanization and irrigation.

One of our sites from 2014 was pretty badly bulldozed this year. I found the evidence of it two days ago, when I was driving around our survey area inspecting our old sites. A farmer has purchased (or perhaps he always owned) a large number of contiguous plots of land, and he’s bulldozed and plowed them in order to make a large apricot grove. In the process, he used his bulldozer to make large terraces up the hillslope. These cuts have clearly sectioned archaeological levels. There is freshly-broken material everywhere.

It was upsetting to see the destruction, and it was disorienting to walk around a once-familiar landscape that suddenly made no sense to me. I couldn’t quite remember what exactly had been there before, where the fields were where in 2014 we had found some whole loomweights and spools.

On the one hand, I can’t really blame the farmer. If I had to guess, I’d guess he didn’t know what he was destroying. He also needs to earn a living. The field isn’t so big; it wasn’t some faceless, evil agroindustrial villain that did this, I don’t think. Agricultural modification of the landscape is as old as the hills (figuratively). And this is what survey is for: rescuing some information for archaeological research. In 2014 we collected an enormous amount of data about this site. Short of excavating it, we’ve extracted almost as much data as we can, and in our publication we’ll be able to say quite a lot about it. And part of the reason to do survey is to capture this information before development destroys it forever.

On the other hand, the destruction bugs me. I wish that this farmer hadn’t done this, that our site could have stayed the way that it was, split into little, grassy fields.

I know. It’s a dumb, romantic wish.

Over Hill, Over Dale

[Ed.: Originally posted on the Canadian Institute in Greece‘s site]

DSC00207_sm

The Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP) has just concluded its second field season. Whereas in the 2014 season the project surveyed in the area of the modern village of Lyrkeia, which sits on the northern edge of a wide open mountainous river valley, the 2015 season focused on the lower reaches of the Inachos river as the valley begins to flatten out and open up into the Argive plain, in the territories of the modern villages of Schinochori and Malandreni.

This farm house is evil.

 

Over the course of six weeks (3 June — 14 July), our six field teams intensively surveyed 6.8 square kilometers in 2,699 survey units, criss-crossing the sometimes rough and rocky terrain of this year’s survey area. Like last year, we found a wide variety of artifacts and sites, from the Early Bronze Age to the Modern period, with Archaic to Hellenistic predominating. The total artifact density for 2015 was about two thirds of that from the 2014 field season. This is very surprising considering that (1) we were operating in such close proximity to Argos (about 10 km) and (2) this year’s survey area is a much more actively utilized modern landscape, with many more field houses (kalyvia), threshing floors (alonia) and other agricultural installations. Many of these were no longer in use, giving us an opportunity to do some targeted survey and study of abandoned modern buildings. At next year’s annual meeting of the AIA we’ll be presenting a paper based in large part on this year’s work entitled “Roads, Routes and Abandoned Villages in the western Argolid” as part of a colloquium on deserted villages organized by Deb Stewart and Kostis Kourelis.

WARP_2015_group_photo

Our team was bigger than last year’s: we added an extra field team and in total there were 22 field walkers, evenly split between students from Wilfrid Laurier University (Scott’s home institution) and the University of Colorado Boulder (Sarah’s home institution). They patiently endured the less fun parts of the Greek landscape, like spiders and ankle-turning fields of weeds, with good cheer, and even embraced the challenge of walking directly up rocky slopes! We were lucky to retain almost all of our graduate students from the 2014 season, so students were expertly guided by a remarkable group of very experienced, intelligent, and hard-working team leaders.

2015-08-28 blog 4

Like last year, we took students on field trips to sites in the northeastern Peloponnese, including the CIG excavations at Stymphalos, but there were some changes, too: this year we went as a team to a performance at the Epidauros theatre. We saw a riveting performance of Euripides’ “Trojan Women” by the National Theatre of Greece. To help us appreciate the play, Professor John Gibert (University of Colorado Boulder) visited the project for just over a week and gave presentations on ancient theatre (in the ancient theatre of Argos) and on the “Trojan Women” specifically. Also unlike last year, this year we were joined by some new staff: Ioanna Antoniadou, an archaeologist and anthropologist who worked with the team for eight weeks as the project’s ethnographer, and Joe Desloges and Pamela Tetford, fluvial geomorphologists who studied the Inachos river and its effects on the landscapes of the western Argolid. These specialists are fleshing out our understanding of the recent past and the present of the local communities with and around whom we work, as well as the geological past and present of the region. Although these studies are still preliminary, they have already helped the project immeasurably, not only for research but also for student training.

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

Ceramicists take to the field!

All archaeological work is constrained: by budget, by personnel, by university structures, by local administrative structures, and so on. Our project is no different. Bill, Sarah and I worked on a project — the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS) — where we were limited in our ability to collect artifacts. What this meant was that survey teams would collect artifacts and then leave them in the field. Artifact processing teams would then analyze these artifacts, usually under a shady tree. As you might imagine, this wasn’t what EKAS had in mind when the permit request was written, but the project managed to find some positives from this restriction. As we wrote back in 2006,

An unexpectedly positive response to the restriction on nonsite collections was found in the creation of in-field artifact-processing teams that examined the finds in their contexts of discovery. In-field processing became a fundamental component of our integrative philosophy, and serendipitously enforced our inclination to limit artifact collections for other reasons: the negative impact on the surface archaeological record and the crisis of storage space in Greek museums.

Having ceramicists out in the field isn’t normal for most field surveys. Instead, ceramic analysts are usually to be found in the lab, processing and analyzing material that field teams have collected. This is the way that WARP works, or at least, is meant to work: Scott and Sarah stay in our laboratory and read pottery during the day.

The reason that we do this, in part, is because of limitations placed on us: our laboratory is secured by the guards of the local museum, and they hold the keys and they know the security codes. (The material in our lab is, after all, their responsibility as guards). So they open the laboratory for us in the morning, and they shut it in the afternoon. That means that our lab time is limited to 8 am to 2 pm at best, as we work around the regular working hours of the museum guards. Our field time is also limited by these hours: we need to return from the field by 2 pm, so that the artifacts we collect can be placed in our secure labotary/storage facility. Other projects are allowed to work in the lab in the afternoon and evening, after the field-work is done, but this is a luxury that is not available to us.

So, if we’re going to keep up with the material we’re collecting (which is important for all kinds of reasons), Sarah and Scott need to be working full-time in the lab. The downside to this is that we miss their expertise in the field, and they miss out on experiencing the landscape as they would like (and as we would like them to).

But things changed on Tuesday, as our ceramicists took to the field:

IMG_20150714_075442

What you’re seeing there is an awful lot of expertise, collecting all the good stuff — by which I mean diagnostic bits of pottery and tile. What I want to stress is that what we gain in efficiency by having Scott and Sarah in the lab we lose in in-the-field expertise. We lose what EKAS had: all of its experts in the field at once. Indeed, having Scott and Sarah in the field on Tuesday was incredibly useful, as they were able to pick up material that gave us a lot more chronological and functional information about the areas that are of particular interest to us. It’s also incredibly useful for the project to have our experts out in the field because invariably the more sets of knowledgeable eyes we have on our survey area, the better our interpretations will be. Sarah will look at the landscape differently than I, but the best interpretations will take account of both of our impressions and understandings.

Perhaps this is yet another example of the trade-offs between efficiency and expertise. It is efficient, given the restrictions under which we work, for me and Bill to work in the field and for Sarah and Scott to work in the lab — mostly because Bill and I would make a hash of our survey pottery — but this really limits the very thing that fieldwork needs most to produce good knowledge: expertise at the edge of archaeological discovery.

Good things

DSC01124

Part of the thrill of archaeology is finding things. No matter how scholarly, serious, or scientific a project is (or pretends to be), people will always get really excited when something neat shows up in a survey unit or a trench. This interest even created a category called “good things” at the Corinth excavations, the peerless training ground of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Here’s how “good things” are described in the 2008 version of the Corinth excavation manual:

“GOOD THINGS FROM BAD PLACES” (GTs) This is a special category reserved for particularly nice or otherwise interesting finds that were not found in their primary context, that is, they have been disturbed since their original deposition in the ground and are chance finds in another context. GTs do not actually tell us anything about the context they were found in, but we don’t want to Throw them because of some special quality they have. GTs get weighed and counted with the rest of the context and that information is entered in the Original column. GTs need to go to the museum after pottery reading. Make sure to check the GT box next to this object(s) in the database.

This is my idea of a really good thing to find on an archaeological project.

All this is a kind of introduction to my thoughts on Alex Kord’s thoughtful blog post last week.  She is like every other archaeologist in the world in that she wants to find good things. We all get excited by the kinds of things that you get to see but not touch in museums. (Only a select few of us get excited by Linear B tablets and it’s probably not very cool to admit that you do). On the other hand, it would be a weird survey if we found high density units full of cool things everywhere, even in a place extremely rich in archaeological interest (like Greece), so part of the point of survey is to get positive and negative results: we find some high density units, but these are separated by units that are empty or that contain only a handful of finds.

In fact, for the past 40 years survey archaeologists have been obsessed with low-density units, and our survey is no different. High-density units are seemingly easy to explain: they are “sites.” People lived there (or did stuff there) and left behind material that we find, some of it good but most of it very mundane. But what about low-density units? What if we find a single Archaic bit of pottery in a field where the conditions are good for seeing and recovering artifacts on the surface? What do we do with that? This is partly what Alex was asking herself to do. It’s a difficult question and one definitely worth asking.

The answers have broadly fallen into three categories. The first is something like “I don’t care.” As Kent Flannery’s RMA (Real Mesoamerican Archaeologist) says:

surface remains are just that — the junk you find on the surface — and nothing more. And I say, screw them.

So, many early surveys ignored low-density fields. They instructed teams to keep walking until they found lots of stuff (high-density fields) and then they paid attention to documenting that stuff.

The second theory has to do with manuring. The idea here is that manure is a fertilizer that would have been kept on farms and spread onto and plowed into fields, especially nearby fields. In some cases, bits of broken and discarded pottery would have been thrown on the trash heap and transported out into the fields alongside the fertilizer. If this is the case (or perhaps, where this is the case), then low-density scatters would be an index of agricultural activity.

The third theory argues that most small-scale settlements — “farmsteads” — would have stripped of any useful material when they were abandoned. As David Pettegrew argues,

When Greek families did abandon their homes, they exhaustively moved all usable household items, including the construction material of the house, to the new place of residence. The material that was left behind was ‘garbage,’ broken or useless objects that the householders did not think worth the effort of carrying to the new place of residence. Scavengers
and neighbors sometimes picked clean even this remaining refuse.

If this is so, David went on to argue, then low-density scatters could represent settlement, albeit a form of settlement that doesn’t result in high-density surface scatters but instead in small amounts of non-salvageable garbage that wasn’t stripped when houses were abandoned.

These competing models for understanding low-density units aren’t mutually exclusive, of course: some lonely sherds may be random junk, others may be the result of manuring, while others represent abandoned small settlements that have been stripped and salvaged. But these are questions that have been central to archaeologists for decades and that continue to be investigated. So Alex showed us that walking fields doesn’t just build character; it also pushes you into thinking seriously about how we get material on the surface and what it can mean.

Radio silence

It’s been a busy couple of weeks here at WARP, hence the radio silence, which I finally have the chance to break thanks to our decision to take the last Friday of the field season off. So much has happened and is still happening as we rapidly approach the end of our field season. Yesterday was the last full field day with all of the students. Today the students will be working together with the team leaders to produce their teams’ final reports, which we’ve divided chronologically. The staff will have a couple of days in the field next week and then we’ll start wrapping up. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Archaeology in time of crisis

There is an awful lot of uncertainty in Greece right now, but it actually hasn’t affected us much. There are limits on how much people can withdraw from the Greek bank accounts (60 euros per day) but foreign accounts aren’t affected by this. This is fortunate, since we need to pay for things like food, and the preferred form of payment is cash. Credit cards aren’t commonly used in Greece — they’re expensive for the stores that use them — and now wire transfers are avoided since there are restrictions on withdrawals. There are lines at the ATMs, and our schedules are tight, so I’ve started waking up early and making ATM runs well before the sun rises.

sunrise

Other than lines at ATMs, and less activity at cafes and restaurants, there aren’t a lot of visible signs of the crisis. There is a lot of talk, of course: everyone talks about the crisis all the time in Greece. But the crisis has been borne with about as much nobility as I can imagine.

Work, work, work

Everyone has been incredibly hard at work the last couple of weeks, so much so that our day off was more or less forced on us. Most of us, especially me, would have happily gone back into the field today. In fact, yesterday I was telling everyone how much I wanted to go back into the field — as I lay on a cold concrete slab at lunch. We all clearly need some time off. (This did not, however, stop about 20 project members from playing three hours of soccer with our friends here in Myloi from 9:30 pm to 12:30 am last night; needless to say, the old men of the project, Bill and I, didn’t go).

Over the past couple of weeks the degree of difficulty of our units has increased, as we’ve started covering the ridges that run through our survey area. Walking unit after unit like this, especially when the fields are rocky (they’re almost all very rocky) is physically exhausting and tough on the ankles:

slope_walking

The toughest bit has perhaps been the village of Chelmis, where we spent a day documenting the abandoned houses as a big group; the slopes above the village were surveyed by Teams 1 and 3 using a method that was convenient for mapping but tough on the field walkers: walking straight upslope! These are not easy slopes to walk:

chelmis_slopes

 

I’ve been really impressed by our students’ willingness to work really, really hard. They’ve embraced the challenge of walking these slopes, which often don’t yield much material. And we’ve been remarkably accident-free lately, too:  we’ve all been drinking lots of water and being careful in the field to avoid turned ankles etc.

In the field

On a personal level, this year has been very different from the last field season. Last year I spent a lot of time in Argos and Nafplio on administrative tasks associated with setting up our storage and laboratory space (our apotheke) etc. while Sarah and Scott were in the field. This year I’ve spent almost every day in the field, scouting, mapping, or field walking. And Sarah and Scott have read all of the finds as they’ve come in, something that was impossible to do last year. The systems that seemed to take so long to set up last year, moreover, which include everything from how we do our lunches to organizing teams in the field, have run smoothly this year, so that this year has had a very different feel to me than last year. A lot of the credit goes to our incredible team leaders. As I’ve said often to everyone who will listen, at this point we directors would have to begin an active program of sabotage (like sending them off to do crazy things) to derail them.

The results

We’re still figuring those out, of course; we’re not even done entering all of our data. But Bill just told me that our current, and essentially final, numbers are 2637 survey units covering ca. 6.8 square kilometers. Those numbers reflect the very real accomplishments of our wonderful team this year. Here we are, in all of our glory:

WARP_2015_group_photo

(Bill is not in the picture because he’s taking it; no, Bill, we are not phasing you out!)

 

Η μπουλντόζα

I am fond of telling non-Greek speakers how most loan-words in Greek are neuter and don’t decline. Sometimes I have tried to decline them, usually with hilarious (for other people) results. Once I talked to my uncle about whiskies — ουισκιά, a made-up plural — and got laughed at. But some loan words, special ones, get a non-neuter gender and get to decline like real, grown-up, Greek words. You know, really important words, like Κόκα-Κόλα (Coca Cola) and μπουλντόζα (bulldozer).

We’ve been talking a lot about bulldozers these days on WARP because the landscape many of us are now encountering is so obviously shaped by bulldozers. As farmers convert their fields from olives to apricots and other fruit, they are preparing them through scraping and the removal of stones to the edges of the field. For example, this is what the edge of a Greek agricultural field normally looks like (with Melanie Godsey for scale):

field_wall

 

This is what some field walls look like in our current survey area, again with Melanie:

rock_pileThis is not even the largest of these rock piles, which stick out like a sore thumb on our satellite images and are composed of rocks of all sizes, from cobbles to enormous boulders. The farmers that we encounter in the field acknowledge the massive changes to the landscape wreaked by these machines.

We anticipated that the landscape of the 2015 survey area would be much more intensively used by modern farmers: even a casual glance at the maps made by the Greek army show many more houses and animal pens in this year’s area compared to last year’s, not to mention other installations like wells and (now abandoned) threshing floors. Still, it is striking when you come across heavily modified field after heavily modified field, especially after the much more traditionally maintained landscape of the 2014 field season around the village of Lyrkeia.

These landscape modifications are not uniformly destructive when it comes to the archaeological record: we’ve been able to recover useful data from scraped and bulldozed fields, and those scraped fields that have yielded virtually no material do not seem to differ significantly from their un-scraped neighbors with respect to the archaeological materials on the surface. But just because the bulldozer isn’t uniformly destructive, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t destructive: of course it is. In many of these fields, for instance, it is likely that the surface assemblage is all that is left to document.

 

Our trip to the eastern Argolid

Our Saturday trip yesterday featured the other side of the Argive plain: the more famous  eastern Argolid. We visisted Mycenae, the Argive Heraion, and the middle Byzantine church of the Koimesis at Merbaka (Ayia Triada):

Photo Friday

Normally this is Bill’s thing, but since he’s already posted today I thought that I’d give it a go. It’s been a busy week, with wild weather for Greece in June (rain! more than once!) and three visitors (Joe Desloges, Pam Tetford, and Alexis Young) joining our ranks. And despite the setbacks, it was an enormously productive week for the project.