The Last Days in the Field in Western Argolid

Earlier in the week, I posted on these final days with the Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP) and the thought that these might the final field days of my career as a survey archaeologist working with big project teams. We had a couple days of especially rugged terrain, and some remarkable finds. Alyssa Friedman, one of our exceptional group of team leaders, took some fun photos of me in the field. 

IMG 4231

IMG 4420

We took a great team of students up into a densely vegetated hill slope and did some rather extreme intensive survey.

DimitriNakassis 2016 Jun 29

IMG 4456

IMG 4450

Of course, these two days of surveying reinforced my general idea that I’m too old for this kind of work. In fact, I needed a little rest in a tangle of thorny vines.

IMG 5052

It feels like this is a fitting final image:

IMG 4989

A Career in Landscapes

We have about one more week of field work on the Western Argolid Regional Project. The project has been at full strength for the last three and a half weeks and the field teams have been remarkably efficient, averaging about .3 sq km per day.

I’m tired. My body aches, and fieldwork has increasingly become an exercise in pacing, energy management, and hydration as teams wrap up surveying difficult units or work on special documentation projects across our survey area.

IMG 4933

It dawned on me that this could be my final field season on a major project in my career. I’m in my mid-40s and by the time this project is published and my other projects are done, I’ll be pushing 50.

IMG 4936

Whatever type of fieldwork I do as a 50 year old won’t be the same – or probably even similar to what I’m doing now. Last week, I went on one more hike just to check if a web of goat tracks could have been a route between two areas of our survey zone.

13529144 10208422747859877 2046565323561421576 n

It was obviously a way, but clearly not a route (much less a path or road). These long walks were my archaeological calling card for years, particularly in the Eastern Corinthia, but after this week’s hike, I’m pretty sure my boots will be reserved for the more mundane and low impact tasks like keeping my socks clean.

IMG 4938

The biggest thing I’ll miss (other than, you know, finding stuff and the bizarre conversations one has while stomping through dense maquis in the Greek countryside) are the unexpected vistas that appear as one rounds craggy hills or looks back on ones path.

IMG 4940

They seem to scale endlessly across ever shifting foregrounds and backgrounds. Hills become ridges, ridges become plateaus, plateaus become fields. The landscape goes from olive trees and plough marks to fields and the countryside. Paths so obvious from maps or photographs disappear into vegetation.

I’m sad that I’ll likely never again hike around with the same sense purpose as I did last week and on-and-off over the previous 20 years.

Landscapes, Olive Sieves, Tiles, and Pallets

Another week in the landscape of the Western Argolid brought another little assemblage. This time we discovered four or five olive sieves in a group. An olive sieve removes leaves and twigs from the olives making it easier to prepare the olives for pressing or curing.

They’re little studies in design and improvisation with bike wheels, snow fencing, chicken wire, and rebar attached to improvised frames and boxes. 

P1150262

P1150263

P1150264

P1150249

IMG 4860

We also checked out a few small houses that dot the olive groves. Most of them look pretty recent in date, but they have collapsed roofs and tile scatters. 

IMG 4874

P1150240

P1150238

P1150232

And, of course, landscapes:

IMG 4875

IMG 4869

IMG 4872

IMG 4880

Oh, and pallets!

P1150215

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.

P1140966

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

P1140977

P1150007

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

IMG 4747

P1150021

P1150037

P1150041

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

IMG 4740

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!

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. 

IMG 3476

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. 

IMG 3439

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.