Studying the survey: the Western Argolid Regional Project, 2017

[Ed note: this blog post was written for, and originally published at, the Canadian Institute in Greece’s website]

The 2017 season of the Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP) was designated as the first of two planned study seasons in the five-year plan that the CIG submitted on our behalf to the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sports. We were a small team of faculty, returning graduate students, and visiting specialists, and our focus was improving our understanding of our survey area’s material culture. This was no mean goal: over the 2014-2016 seasons, we managed to collect nearly 70,000 artifacts.

We worked hard to re-study as much of this huge collection as we could in our storage facility in Argos. Sarah James and Scott Gallimore headed up an apotheke team of Grace Erny, Joseph Frankl, Alyssa Friedman, Melanie Godsey, and Machal Gradoz. This team looked more closely at significant concentrations of material and pulled material for cataloguing. Joining them was Heather Graybehl, an expert on ceramic petrography and the ceramics of the northeast Pelponnese, Daniel Pullen, an expert on the Greek Bronze Age and especially the Early Bronze Age, Guy Sanders, an expert on Medieval and post-Medieval archaeology, and Bill Parkinson, Dani Riebe, and Katerina Psoma, experts on chipped stone. All of this work has allowed us to refine our readings of the material we collected, giving us a much clearer idea of what we found in previous years. We’re hardly done with the study of our material—we have one more study season to go, in 2018—but we made important progress this year towards getting to grips with what we have. Sarah worked hard with Melanie and Machal, for example, on the area around ancient Orneai, to come up with a story for the site from the Final Neolithic to the Early Modern periods.

But our season this year wasn’t only a study season. We also held a survey permit in cooperation (synergasia) with Dr. Alkestis Papadimitriou, the director of the Ephorate of Antiquities of the Argolid. The survey permit was limited to a handful of sites, chiefly fortifications, that fell outside of our 2014-2016 survey area. These sites were known, but for a variety of reasons, it wasn’t practical to include them in our original permit request. It might seem odd to hold another survey permit while studying material from another survey permit, but as we move towards publication of the survey, we find ourselves thinking more and more about how our survey area fit in with what was already known from the extremely valuable work of topographers like Pritchett and Pikoulas. Without looking more closely at these sites, however, it would be difficult to really integrate them into a robust discussion. Pikoulas, for instance, has less than a page about Sportiza, a fortification with over half a kilometer of clearly-visible fortification walls! A small, targeted survey would, we felt, allow us to integrate these known sites into our discussion, and allow us to produce a thicker description of our little corner of the western Argolid.

Bill Caraher and I headed up the field team with the help of Rachel Fernandez and the occasional member of the apotheke team. Our main goal in the field was to adequately map and document standing features, and to make limited collections that would allow us to illustrate the range of material culture at each of the sites. In most cases we made use of “grab” samples. Although these grabs were unsystematic, they allowed us to collect quickly and efficiently, especially because our team was composed of experienced archaeologists. Most of our energy was focused on mapping standing architecture, however. The sites that we investigated included three large fortifications, three towers, a mountain pass that connects the Argolid to Arkadia, and the Roman aqueduct that fed Argos, so we were dealing with a good deal of architecture. We used a fancy Leica GPS (GNSS RTK) system that gave us extremely accurate measurements in the field, together with a robust system of photography, to document the sites.

Although we’re still in the process of dealing with all of the data we collected, we think that the work we did this year will really help us to contextualize what’s happening in our survey area. It’s prompted us to think about particular periods (like the 7th century AD), for instance. But it’s also given us a different spatial and geographic perspective on the western Argolid. Climbing up to these hills on the edges of our survey area and looking down on landscapes that we know so very well, walking out the Roman aqueduct that brought water from the mountain slopes of the western Argolid to the Nymphaeum on the slopes of the Larissa: they have helped us to understand how the different parts of the northeastern Peloponnese fit together.

A belated blog post about 2017

I was really looking forward to this year’s season. Mostly, it was going to be a study season, focused on studying the materials and sites that we had already studied in the previous three field seasons. We were going to be a small, tight-knit group of returning faculty and graduate students, with several friends coming through to help us out with our finds: Heather Graybehl for fabrics, Bill Parkinson, Dani Riebe and Katerina Psoma for the stone tools, Daniel Pullen for the prehistoric, and Guy Sanders for the Medieval and post-Medieval. I hoped that it would be relaxed relak: plenty of swimming, weekend trips around the Peloponnese, gelato in Nafplio, that sort of thing. But I suspected that it wouldn’t be like that. When we were running a big project (30-40 people), my tendency was to try to make sure that everything was functioning more or less as it should, and to use the rest of the time to rest or relax. But in a study season, there’s no shortage of work to be done, and it’s all to easy to try to do all of it. That’s more or less what happened, and there was no swimming, the weekend trips were cancelled, and I ate no gelato in Nafplio.

That’s not to say that it wasn’t fun. It was. See?

Mr. Joseph Frankl, having fun

Part of the reason this year was so hectic, and why I didn’t blog at all, is that we weren’t just in a study season. We also had a survey permit. See, when we were planning the survey, we were limited to a 30 square kilometer survey area. So we drew the survey area in places where intensive survey made sense (to us, anyway), where we could survey a contiguous block of fields that would allow us to talk about the region and its changing dynamics. To a large extent this has to do with our approach to this survey, and what we are trying to accomplish with WARP, which is to marry high-intensity methods to the large-coverage approaches of the “second wave” surveys of the 1980s.  But drawing our survey area this way excluded sites that are known from topographical work (by people like Pikoulas and Peppas) but that we would have liked to study in some more detail. So we put in a permit request to do limited survey at a specific number of sites on the edges of our 2014-2016 survey area, in cooperation with the local archaeological service.

Most of these sites are fortifications, and they weren’t easy to access. I think the worst was Palaiokastro, which involved 45 minutes of us pushing our way uphill through dense woods of kermes oak (Quercus coccifera, or πουρνάρι in Greek), without any real paths. Most of them weren’t so bad, but it was difficult work to hike up to these sites in order to document them, in addition to the regular study-season work that we were primarily there to do. It was work, but it was fun: a lot of the team had spent enough time in Colorado (and one is a native Coloradan) to have embraced the “it’s fun to hike up a mountain” attitude of the Front Range. And there’s lots of cool stuff on the tops of hills, standing architecture and magnificent views, too.

Livy 34.25: nam duas [arces] habent Argi
It was a strange season, with lots of moving parts and people moving in and out, but it was an enormously productive one. The study part of the project went through a huge quantity of material, revisiting some of our most interesting areas and refining our understanding of their surface assemblages, and the visiting specialists worked incredibly efficiently to help us understand the earliest and latest periods in our survey. The field part of the project, which I was more involved in, opened our eyes to what’s going on outside of our little survey area, and how it connects to the valleys to the north and south. It was super interesting, and a little strange, to be constantly working outside of the bounds of an area that we had become really intimately familiar with. And the newness wasn’t just geographical: we also encountered different kinds of material in our fieldwork this year, like a much broader range of prehistoric material and more Late Roman material than we’re used to, too.

It was a really nice season. We ate a lot of souvlaki. I mentioned that our group was small and tight-knit. It’s really great to spend time with so many friends; after three field seasons together, we’re practically family (“in a nice way,” Bill would add).

Check out Bill Caraher’s reflections on WARP over on his blog (June 14/June 28/July 3), and especially his “Foto Fridays” (June 9/June 16/June 24/July 7).

This is my favorite picture from this year:

“Do not collect the greens” (Μην μαζεύετε τα χόρτα)