Catching up with WARP

WARP 2018: THE STUDY SEASON is over… sort of. I am still dealing with the data deluge and trying to rest up after a frantic end-of-season, and I’m even trying to catch up with all of the blog posts that Bill Caraher wrote about WARP. You should read them too. Here they are, in chronological order:

  1. Views of digital archaeology” (4 June 2018)
  2. Resurvey” (20 June 2018)
  3. Thinking about modern Greece” (29 June 2018)
  4. The site” (10 July 2018)
  5. Archaeology, nationalism, destruction” (12 July 2018)

In the meantime, I’m spending a a lot of time looking at this kind of thing (WITNESS MY DIGITAL ARCHAEOLOGY CHOPS)Agisoft "processing" bars

…when I’d much rather be looking at this (GREECE IS PRETTY):

The Lyrkeia valley illuminated by a sunbeam

Distributional Analysis

[Originally posted on Bill’s blog]

One of the challenges of siteless survey is shifting our intention from a focus on sites to the distribution of artifacts across a landscape. Over the last four years at the Western Argolid Regional Project we have collected artifact level data from over 7000 survey units that cover a significant percentage of our 30 sq km survey area.

The material includes several clear clusters of high density units some of which are associated with known sites as well as a wide scatter of material clustered in different ways across the modern countryside. The temptation is to focus on the larger and higher density clusters which have produced more robust assemblages of material and are more susceptible to analysis on the basis of function, chronology, and settlement structure. In fact, there is no escaping from the fact that the more material an area produces, the more we are able to say about the areas history, use, and regional context. What is harder to understand is how areas or even single survey units that produce small assemblages can contribute to the greater understanding of the landscape and region.

I’ve spent the last two weeks attempting to figure out how to describe the contours of the artifactual landscape of our survey area as a whole and to pull apart the high and low density clusters that constitute the artifact distribution. Some of the things that I had to consider are how to define a cluster: is it related to the number of objects? do the units that produced artifacts have to be contiguous or can they be interrupted? how do we control for surface visibility, background disturbance, and other variables that impact recovery rates on individual units?

Even when I was able to use various kinds of buffering and neighborhood analysis to create archaeologically plausible clusters of units with material from various periods, we then had to determine the arrangement of these clusters across the landscapes. The distance of one group of cluster from another (and the impact of the vagaries of our survey area on this kind of distribution) would appear to offer at least one indication of connectivity in our survey area and perhaps an indicator of density or intensity of human activity in the landscape. At the same time, factors such as period length and recovery rates associated with particular classes (or types) or artifacts likewise shape the visibility of periods and functions in the landscape.

Developing a template or a lens through which we define and construct assemblages for analysis is among the most challenging aspect of siteless survey and one that will likely occupy my time and energy for a quite some time to come!

Venetian maps of the Peloponnese

No trip to Greece is complete without multiple trips to the amazing bookstores of Athens. I now usually spend an absurd amount of money every summer buying a huge stack of big, heavy books and having them mailed back to the US. One of the first I picked up this year is an edited volume, published in 2018, with an exciting topic: the Venetian maps of the Peloponnese! I bought it at once:

This wonderful edited volume deals with a newly (in 1986) discovered archive in the Austrian War Archive, composed of 53 pages of maps drawn by Venetian engineers during the second Venetian rule of Greece, 1685–1715.

I bought this book because this period fascinates me and I know too little about it, but it’s also directly relevant to our project, because Argos and Nafplio were Venetian possessions, and so too were the villages of our survey area. I have read a little bit about the Venetian archives for the Peloponnese, in the books written by Panagiatopoulos (Πληθυσμός και οικισμοί της Πελοποννήσου: 13ος-18ος αιώνας [1985]) and Liata (Αργεια Γη [1993]), but the maps are especially interesting for the survey because of their topographical content. I’ve just read Liata’s fascinating chapter about the region of Argos in these Venetian maps and thought that I’d write a bit about my observations.

First, the Venetian maps don’t include many details from our survey zone. Basically it indicates the villages and toponyms that lie on the borders of the villages. I’m not sure if this means anything; it could mean, for instance, that this area wasn’t very interesting, or very wealthy, or it might just be an accident of preservation. As Liata points out, there are a lot of details that are recorded in Venetian archives that don’t appear on the map.

Second, not a lot seems to have changed! The villages are located more or less where they are now. It’s possible that the villages have moved somewhat (although we don’t have any archaeological evidence for that). The map isn’t detailed enough to say for certain, but certainly the map is consistent with the idea that the villages haven’t moved. The names haven’t changed much, either! Modern Λυρκεία, which was called Kato Belesi until 1938, is referred to as “Cato Belessi”, and the names of Malandreni and Schinochori also haven’t changed. An area now called Μουζάκι is identified as Musachi. Interesting, the village now called Sterna is identified as Grias to Lithari: i.e., Γριάς το Λιθάρι (“the old lady’s rock”). What’s really interesting is that this toponym still exists!

It’s also the case that the larger villages now were larger in the early 18th century (Kato Belesi [pop. 511 in 2001], Malandreni [pop. 540]), and the villages that are smaller now (Sterna [182], Schinochori [381]) are listed as being deserted (“desabitata”) in the early 18th century. So contrary to our expectations, perhaps, there’s a lot of continuity in that the bigger villages  stay big through the modern period.

Third, and finally, there’s more work to be done. The local toponyms that run along the borders of the villages are sometimes known, sometimes unknown, and I suspect that they have a story to tell, and as Liata effectively shows, the textual accompaniments to these maps, in connection with the maps themselves, are important sources that enhance our historical understanding.

It’s really amazing that such an important historical source remained hidden until so recently… I’m excited to read the other chapters of the volume. If you’re at all interested in the Venetian period or the Peloponnese, you really need to get your hands on this book.

Archaeology is hard

Today is day 3 of the 2018 WARP study season. My main observation so far is: archaeology is hard. OK, that’s something that I obviously know, but doing archaeology – especially after you haven’t been doing it for 10 months or so – makes it clear how hard it really is.

Most non-archaeologists don’t know this, and in part it’s our fault. After all, this is the kind of thing that we tend to post on social media:

Sunset, Nafplio

But pictures like these don’t really capture the flavor of what it’s like to work on a project, even on a study season, which to my mind at least is supposed to be more relaxed.

So far our study season has involved a lot of tasks, big and small, that occupy our time and attention. There is equipment (new and old) to prepare and computers to get up and running; there is a lab to clean (again), meetings for planning the season , and queries to run. Bill always needs to get a new Greek SIM card and we’re constantly running little errands. But besides all the little things that are required when you move into a new place, there’s effectively an infinite amount of work to do in a relatively short time. We’ll be here working on our material from now until July 11th, and our to do list looks pretty serious to me:

  1. Run a series of queries in GIS to analyze our data in a way that consonant with our siteless methodology;
  2. Make sure that we have adequate documentation of all of our “sites” that we explored from 2014-2017;
  3. Analyze the extensive materials from the modern abandoned villages in our survey area;
  4. Begin working on our publications, a preliminary report in addition to our final publication, focusing especially on a description of our survey area;
  5. Making sure that our data are clean and consistent;
  6. Continue work in the lab to (re-)analyze important materials, and
  7. Continue to get high-quality photographs and illustrations of important artifacts.

This isn’t an exhaustive list – there’s lots more – but even so these seven items are plenty. We already have a long list of tasks that require our immediate attention that need to be done by Monday, so there are effectively no “days off,” even with a team full of talented and hard-working colleagues who know the drill. When we’re not working on the project, we’re sleeping, eating, and attending to other responsibilities.

Of course, once we get into a groove, things will seem more normal. It’s just always jarring to me at the beginning of a new season how all-consuming an archaeological project is. It’s actually a big part of its appeal, I think… that, and beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and generally the beauty of the Greek landscape, and of course all of the joy from just being in Greece.