WARP Gear: Pants, Watches, and Socks

I like stuff. Readers of this blog know that my interest in things extends from by interest in archaeology, things, and ancient artifacts to modern audiophile gear and the things that archaeologists use in the field. As the first week of Western Argolid Regional Project is almost done, I wanted to share some of my new favorite things.

Last spring, Richard Rothaus and I chatted at some length about what’s in our bags, our trucks, and our archaeological tool kits. A few years earlier, I presented what was in my bag. Most of that still holds, with a few exceptions. For example, I’ve upgraded my headphones, my amplifier, and my portable music player. I accidentally left my beloved Wonpro plug strip in the Polis storerooms. Otherwise, my bag looks pretty much the same.

I did add a little gear to person, though, that makes intensive pedestrian survey and archaeological fieldwork, in general, better.

  1. Mountain Khakis. A few years ago on a lark, I bought a pair of Moutain Khakis to wear in the field. These pants changed my life. For the past four field seasons I’ve worn them almost every day in the field. They’re thick enough to prevent all but the most insistent thorns from getting through and they’re cotton which breathes well in the hot Mediterranean summer. These are canvass pants. They’re great. Get them for field work.

  2. Seiko Watches. I wear a watch in the field for lots of reasons. Mostly I like to wear a watch, and, in particular, I like to wear a mechanical watch. It’s not that digital and quartz watches aren’t fine things, but for the dollar, a well-made mechanical watch is the way to go, and they don’t have batteries to worry about. Last year, I relied on a trusty Seiko 5, a more or less bullet proof Seiko watch that runs about $50 on Amazon. This year, I upgraded to something a bit more rugged, a Seiko dive watch, and a SRP777 in particular. This watch is a reproduction of the iconic 6309 diver made in the 1970s and 1980s which was known for its cushion shape and slightly recessed, polished bezel. It has a solid, mid-range, Seiko movement in it, is hacking, automatic, and hand winds. I get about two days of reserve on it. It’s a nice watch and great field work piece.

  3. Smart Wool socks. Dimitri Nakassis mentioned these socks to me last year in an offhand way, and when I started looking for a some field socks this spring, they were there staring at me at a local sporting good store. So I got a few pairs to trial this season. So far, they’re great. Not only are they super comfortable, but they dry super quickly which is important when quick turn around after washing is important.

The First Days of the Western Argolid Regional Project 2016

Today was the first full field day of the final full field season of the Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP). It was immeasurably better than the first full day of the project last year and probably a bit better than our first field day in 2014.

While we still have some open plains around the Inachos river, for this season, our survey area is a striking mix of narrow valleys and steep hill slopes.

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Oranges, apricots, olives, peaches, vineyards, and the occasional pomegranate trees, planted in neat rows organize our survey units.

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More than any other year, we’ll have to contend with the early modern and modern landscape.

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So think of us as we stagger to our cars at 6:30 in the morning.

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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]

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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.

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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.

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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!

Real Tools for Academic Landscapes

Over the last few months, I worked my way through Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft (2009). The book argues for the value of “real,” hard work which he distinguishes from the professions that dominate the white-collar, college-educated, information-based, and academic worlds. Crawford himself straddles the line between academia, where he’s been a fellow at various prestigious universities, and work at his Richmond, Virginia area motorcycle repair shop.  On the whole, Crawford finds the latter work not only more challenging, but also more morally rewarding in that the relentless reality of vintage motorcycles refuse to be re-imagined, to succumb to elusive academic arguments, or problematized in more nuanced ways. If he wanted to make a living, he had to fix real, mechanical problems for his customers. The book is well-known and has been reviewed by more thoughtful critics than me. 

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It was fun to think about this book while I worked away on the landscape of the Western Argolid with the Western Argolid Regional Project. My job on the project was relatively unspecific, but I spent most of my field days walking our survey with one of our talented graduate students team leaders and dividing it into units to be walked by one of our 5 or 6 field teams. On an average day, we walked 5-7 miles through olive, orange, and apricot groves, up and down terrace walls, and through dense patches of maquis. As I’ve noted on this blog before, it was hard work, but at the end of the season, I felt like I had a much more thorough understanding of the landscape than was possible from viewing the splendid World View 3 satellite images on my laptop.

This got me thinking about how important having the right tools for my job is. The right tools were not important in the abstract way that having the right software for my laptop made a job easier, but in a genuinely physical way. For example, having the right pants for hiking around the Greek countryside prevented my legs from being cut to shreds by the thorny vegetation of the Mediterranean. Over the past four or five years, I’ve discovered the value of long-sleeve work shirts to protect my arms from sun, thorns, and insects. Boots are another matter entirely. This summer, I wore a pair of decent (and rather expensive) boots that barely stood up to my day-to-day. They were rugged enough to not disintegrate, but they did not provide enough cushioned to protect my feet from the daily pounding. 

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The right pants, shirts, and (probably the wrong) boots did remind me that there were physical realities to archaeological work that directly related to the kind of data that we collected from the field. I realize that other academic scholars confront these kinds of realities daily – whether they relate to the access hours of an archive or the maintenance of a fussy instrument in lab. At the same time, I wonder whether the relationship between our research and our bodies in archaeology (and this is true of all of the field disciplines) anchors our thinking in the same landscape (and perhaps even a shared physical reality) as the people whom we study. 

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:

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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

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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