Forms and Features in the Western Argolid

Those of you who follow this blog regularly probably caught hints of my newest adventure in the Western Argolid. Starting this past weekend, the Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP) began its maiden season. To be fair, the project’s directors, Dimitri Nakassis, Sarah James, and Scott Gallimore, have been working hard for weeks and months leading up to this weekend to make sure the local logistics, funding, and permits are in the works, but the team of archaeologists have only begun to arrive over the last few days. I’m part of that team.

The plan is to conduct an intensive pedestrian survey in the Western Argolid near the modern village of Lyrkeia and the ancient polis of Orneai. The region consists of an east-west running valley formed by the Inachos river and providing a major land route between the city of Argos, which stands beyond the eastern limits of our survey area, and Arcadia to the west.  

IMG 0693

The method we use to document this valley will be familiar to all lovers of Mediterranean intensive survey. Teams of 4 field walkers, spaced at 10 m intervals, will walk units of between 3000 and 5000 sq. m., and count and collect all the artifacts they see in their 2 m wide swath. Ceramicists will study the artifacts, the teams will record the context of these artifacts in a database, and we’ll map the units in a GIS application. The general approach is time-tested and straight forward in Mediterranean archaeology and familiar to anyone who has worked in Greece over the past thirty years. 

My job on the project will focus on helping with field and digital aspects of data collection. So, this week, for example, I’ll work on preparing the databases that the project will rely upon to record information as it comes out of the field. I’ll also work closely with our GIS specialist to prepare a daily workflow that ensures that field teams have maps for the field, have guidance and support when entering their spatial data (e.g. survey units) into the project’s GIS, and have a system set up for daily data recording by team members and project leaders in a series of databases. I fulfilled a similar role on the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project over the past decade, and much of our data structure will come from that project.

So far, we have a form:

WARP 2014 unit form

WARP 2014 unit form 2

The only part of the form that’s not complete is the feature field. We had a monster 8 hour meeting yesterday focused largely on features. I proposed a romantic and impossible idea of arming each team with a 1:1000 plan of each units with a satellite image as a faint base map. The teams would then prepare a sketch plan of the unit including any cultural (terrace walls, cisterns, piles of plastic pipe, ancient tholos tombs, Early Christian basilicas, et c.) and natural (slope, subtle soil changes, drainages, et c.) features on this map. We anticipate being able to walk 500-700 units this summer and I was enthralled with producing an amazing mosaic of hand-drawn interpretative maps of the neighborhood of Lyrkeia. My colleagues – bless them all – systematically demonstrated how this would not work procedurally with out slowing the pace of the field teams to a crawl, confusing and annoying our rather exceptional corp of team leaders, and burdening our GIS person with an endless routine of preparing over 100 individual maps each day. It could also be a challenge economically: the cost of printing hundreds of maps daily would soon tax our limited “office supply budget” and cut into, say, the availability of food for the survey methods and data specialist. So, to keep the peace, I relented. (Scott Moore and David Pettegrew will recognize my willingness to let go of impossible plans gracefully a hallmark of Bill 2.0). I still plan to mention the idea from time to time. 

So without my genius plan for preparing hand-drawn maps of the entire valley (which is very much in keeping with my interest in Slow Archaeology), we are forced back to something less elegant (but probably more possible) like a combination of field notebooks and free-text boxes in the database which is probably better than an unwieldy and swarm of check boxes associated with features. Maybe I can get the directors to relent and encourage the teams to produce daily maps of their area…

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Keep checking back here for more on the project this summer and we’ll even post sometimes to the Twitters using the hashtag #WestARP.

Starting up

Sunset over Mount Artemision from Myloi
Sunset over Mount Artemision from Myloi

This week has been the first official week of the 2014 WARP season. Beginning on Saturday the 24th of May, graduate students and senior staff gathered in the village of Myloi, our base of operations. It affords us wonderful views of the Argolic gulf, the town of Nafplio across the water, the acropolis of Argos, and gorgeous sunsets (at right).

This post is also an introduction of sorts to this blog, which will attempt to document various aspects of the project, from serious archaeological and historical issues to the silly. In this we’re following in the footsteps of other projects that we’ve worked on. We’ll hopefully be cross-posting from Bill Caraher’s blog here. Those of you who are in need of constant updates can follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Waiting in an office

Thus far, things are going well. Much of my own time has been spent moving between, and waiting at, busy offices (right). We are renting a space for storage and study of the artifacts we gather from the field, and that has meant getting a lot of paperwork in order. I’ve quickly become much more familiar with Greek bureaucracy, and it with me — I am now a recognized figure at the local tax office, and I now have an accountant in Nafplio. I’ve translated two official letters from Greek into English, and then paid a lawyer to translate those same letters back into Greek, and taken those letters to the courthouse to have them stamped and authenticated by the local bar association — an example of a typical morning activity.

It’s been a fascinating and exhausting week (plus, as I’ve been here in Myloi since the 15th of May). It’s also given me a lot of appreciation for all the work, most of it behind the scenes, that directors of archaeological projects do!

DN