This morning, I got all riled up about a comment on the blog for Bryn Mawr Classical Reviews in which an anonymous Briton decried the “ignorant farmers” who, by plowing their own fields (imagine the gall!), have destroyed ancient and Ottoman roads. I know that such things shouldn’t upset me, but they do.
The comment appeared as a response to Graham Shipley’s review of Yannis Pikoulas’ magisterial study of the ancient road network of Laconia. Pikoulas’ methodology in this book (as in his past work) is to talk to locals (most of whom are, of course, farmers), who then show him sites of interest, especially but not exclusively ancient roads. So these farmers are in fact helping Pikoulas to document and preserve antiquity.
Our experience in the field has been that local farmers are friendly, generous, and interested. They’ve helped us to locate areas of interest (local toponyms that show up in old archaeological reports but aren’t on the Greek army maps). They seem genuinely curious about, and interested in, what we’re doing. They do plow their fields, not out of ignorance, but because it’s their job to grow and sell agricultural produce. In fact, we’ve often wished that they plowed their fields more often, as it would make it easier to navigate the countryside, map survey units, and to find artifacts!
You can read our permit and the deathless prose of the Ministry of Culture and Sports here, on the website Δι@ύγεια (“tr@nsparency”), maintained by the Ministry of Administrative Reform and E-Governance (Yπουργείο Διοικητικής Μεταρρύθμισης και Ηλεκτρονικής Διακυβέρνησης). It seems amazing that this is the new normal in Greece: googling your name (in Greek, in the genitive) to find and download your permit.
Greeks often complain — to me, at least — about the difficulty of their bureaucracy, and they assume that things are much more efficient in North America (and moreover that this difference explains the economic differences between Greece and the US/Canada). North American archaeologists also like to complain about the difficulty of Greek bureaucracy. But I wonder. Greek bureaucracy sure seems difficult to me, but I’m a total stranger to it. And when I think about my (relatively few) encounters with bureaucracy in the US and in Canada, I can recall plenty of examples of difficult scenarios. I once waited six months (!!!) to get a new Social Security card issued so that I could take my driving test, only to be told when I showed up with the card that I didn’t need it. So although it would be easy to agree with my Greek friends who complain about the difficulty of Greek bureaucracy, I tend to agree with Michael Herzfeld, who wrote in 1992:
In the industrialized societies of Western Europe and North America, no less than in remote villages in Greece or Italy, people find it necessary to explain away their inability to deal effectively with the bureaucracy. Everyone, it seems, has a bureaucratic horror story to tell, and few will challenge the conventions such stories demand. Hearers know that they will soon want to use the same stereotypical images in turn.
A good archaeologist once told me that excavation required hands in the dirt. The feel of the soil, the sound of the trowel in the matrix, and the appearance of each layer of strata combined to organize archaeological space.
A survey archaeologist spends much less time with dirt between his or her fingers and no time at all with the ting or tang of the trowel (depending on the brand). We spend our days walking across units and feeling the differences in soil with our boots.
A field plowed several seasons ago feels different:
From a field plowed this season:
The loose soil in a field with cobbles and coarse gravel feels very different:
from a field hard packed and baked in the summer sun:
Real archaeological projects in Greece go on field trips. Lots and lots of field trips. This involves waking up earlier than we want to on the weekend (or on religious holidays), driving in caravans of small rental cars that can’t both run the AC and go up mountainous roads easily, getting lost, taking the wrong turn, doing a crazy three-point turn, then finally reaching the destination, traipsing through overgrown archaeological sites that are seldom visited but extremely important, and standing around in the sun while one person talks. Then we scramble over the site, get back in the cars, and start all over again.
Our normal time for field trips is Saturday morning. That gives all of us Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday to do some paperwork, go to the beach, and recover from the week. (Different members of the project do different proportions of these activities; I haven’t been to the beach yet, unfortunately). So this Saturday was our first field trip. We also went on a field trip today (Monday), because it is a religious holiday and we can’t work without our friendly supervisor from the local archaeological office.
On Saturday, we stayed local. First we went to the site of Lerna, famous for its Early Bronze Age corridor house, commonly known as the House of Tiles but as an “Early Helladic palace” on the on-site signs (left). Lerna allowed us to show the students what saddle querns look like — there’s a whole stack of them near the House of Tiles — and to introduce them to the Early Bronze Age, and at a site that is almost literally spitting distance from where we eat dinner every night.
Next was the theater of Argos (right), where Scott ably summarized a millennium of Argive history and archaeology, followed by a tour of the agora of Argos. Unfortunately we then made the decision to go to the Larisa (the acropolis of Argos) through downtown Argos, which was at the time holding its laiki (farmer’s market). That was a bad decision. Stuck in traffic, I convinced Bill to jump out of the car to buy donuts at a local shop, but at that point traffic starting moving quickly enough that our donut plan was thwarted.
Next, we hit the Larisa and the Aspis, the two acropoleis of Argos (Livy 34.25: nam duas [arces] habent Argi). From the Larisa we had beautiful views of the Argolid:
Here, Bill briefly reviewed the history of post-Roman Argos, picking up where Scott left off. (Notice that we are all standing in the sun). Conveniently, a Byzantine chapel formed the backdrop to his talk.
We ended the day on the Aspis, where Bill got really excited when he started talking about the early Christian basilica (left) next to the sanctuary of Apollo Pythios.
Monday we headed north and into the mountains. First we hit the remains of the Hadrianic aqueduct that brought water from Stymphalos to Corinth. There are seven arches just outside the village of Gymno, where I presented a short report summarizing the high points of the excellent article on the aqueduct by Yannis Lolos. (That part of the trip involved crazy three-point turns and people getting lost, which was mostly my fault).
From Gymno, we proceeded to Aidonia, the site of an important Mycenaean cemetery with a controversial past. Fortunately, we ran into Kim Shelton, who’s beginning a project to salvage the rest of the cemetery, which is now being looted (again). After a quick tour of the site, we moved onto the main show: Stymphalos.
Here, Sarah presented on the history and archaeology of the city. (Like WARP, the Stymphalos excavations are a project of the Canadian Institute in Greece). Sarah is herself a veteran of the excavations, and although back then (in 1999) she considered herself a prehistorian, she’s since become an expert on the Hellenistic period in the northeastern Peloponnese: so Stymphalos is now squarely in her wheelhouse!
We then went to the Cistercian monastery of Zaraka (below), where Bill presented on the architecture of the monastery and the history of the Frankish Peloponnese.
From Stymphalos, we drove back home via Nemea, past the Ayia Sotira excavations in which I participated as an excavation supervisor. I had hoped that we could visit the tower above Kephalovryso and the fortification walls of ancient Alea, but alas, time is limited. Next week: Tiryns and Nafplio!
This past week, I went on a little hike up the side of a hill to look at a cave situated to the west of a high saddle in the mountains that bound the south of our survey area in the Western Argolid. The cave, of course, was natural and was probably used at some point as a shelter for local shepherds, their flocks, and their dogs (judging by the remains).
The high saddle and pass associated with it probably did not serve as a high traffic route even for shepherds taking their flocks to the mandres in the surrounding uplands. The route is too steep.
The walk itself, though, was worth it. It took me up through dense maquis beyond the highest and now neglected terraces to areas frequented by goats. The slopes of the valley were quiet except for the wind and an annoyed hawk floating in the updrafts.
The survey teams disappeared into olive groves, terraces, and fields of wild oats.
The trip down, of course, is always a bit more challenging then the trip up the hill. On the way up, there are certain economies of effort that lead to calculated decisions in how to ascend a hill. You tend to scrutinize the possible routes because the cost in ascending the wrong way is substantial and immediate.
Descending is another matter. I find that I tend to chose my paths more impulsively and get stuck moving carefully over steep rocks, entangled in impenetrable barriers, and negotiating sprawls of scree.
It was a pretty exhausting hike, but we now have a set of notes on the hill, the cave, and the route up to the high saddle.
We’re off to the region around Lake Stymphalia and the lovely Cistercian Abbey of Zaraka today since it’s Pentecost and everything is closed. Look for updates on this trip and some other #WestARP adventures tomorrow.
We started fieldwork this week on the Western Argolid Regional Project (WARP) and so it is only natural that I share some photographs of our time in the field.
I really like the valley-edge view of our survey area particularly the bands of olive trees on the sides of the valley above the village of Lyrkeia in the distance.
This is the view from where we generally eat dinner. The hill of the Palamidi outside of Nafplio is in the distance under the large cloud. It’s a great view, but generally we’re too tired to enjoy it much.
I’ve been trying to get a photo of the teams working in the field that shows the paperwork side of things. This is my best so far:
The project directors, Dimitri Nakassis and Sarah James, have their dog with them in the field on most days. The dog is cute and named Holly. This is my best picture of the dog so far:
WARP has just finished its first week, and although it was a short one — our first day in the field was on Wednesday — it was exhausting. Results have been encouraging, however. In only three days of survey, we have surveyed 177 units covering 0.435 square kilometers (these figures were kindly calculated for me by Sam Walker). If that doesn’t sound like much, it’s worth noting that we only started work on Wednesday, the first several hours of which were taken up by training exercises. We’ll get faster. We’ll need to become faster and more efficient with experience if we’re going to cover most of the 10 km2 that constitutes our study area for 2014, but I’m confident that we will. Our team leaders and student field walkers are excellent.
Our average unit size is just under 2500 m2, which is slightly smaller than we’d like it to be, but our survey units are largely based on modern agricultural fields, and many of these are very small, narrow fields that are very different with respect to the factors that allow them to be effectively surveyed. For example, survey archaeologists often focus on a field’s visibility — that is, the percentage of the ground surface that is visible to field walkers. Obviously the higher the visibility, the more likely it is that field walkers will be able to see and collect artifacts. We therefore break up fields with different visibilities into different survey units. If we don’t — if we lump them together — then it becomes very difficult to unpack the processes that shape our data. For instance, in an area full of material, one field yielded no pottery. That might be a meaningful pattern, but in actuality that field’s visibility was extremely low, suggesting that we’re simply unable to see artifacts in that field. So, unless the fields become larger and more uniform in size, we’ll probably be stuck with relatively small units. One the one hand, this gives us greater spatial control; on the other, it does slow us down.
On a personal note, I continue to be overwhelmed by the non-archaeological tasks that remain to be done. On Friday, Sarah and I spent a good hour or two waiting for the technician from the phone company to install the phone line in our storage facility, only to be told that the phone line couldn’t be installed because (a) the phone company’s line to the building was faulty, and (b) someone had cut the phone lines within the building, so that even if their line was functioning properly, we would need to get the phone line repaired on our end. We’re still waiting for security measures to be installed and for electricity, in addition to our phone. We’ll also spend much of Tuesday attending to similar administrative issues.
Tomorrow is a holiday, however, so we can’t work in the field, or deal with administrative tasks, because offices will be closed. So we’ll take the students on a trip to some archaeological sites that are always open to the public, supplementing our usual Saturday trips to local sites of historical and archaeological significance.
I had a mini database meltdown on the first day of field work and data entry. The specific problem with the database mostly involved how we were using it (and the limits on the particular tool we chose to use), but it highlighted the relationship between the unit as space and the unit as a procedural unit in intensive pedestrian survey. To put this another way, we can only walk the same unit once, and we are thinking about how to make our database reflect this.
We began the process of creating new unique number for each field by creating a value that reflected the space of the survey (keyed to a polygon in our GIS) and the procedure we used to walk the unit. We identified four procedures: standard survey, grab samples, resurvey, or unsurveyed (used to describe, for example, a fenced area or a unit that is too close to the edge of a sheer cliff).
As I thought about this unique identifier for each unit in our database (and in our analysis), I got to wonder whether we need to refine this identification of a unit more. For example, there is the slim possibility that we could resurvey a unit more than once. So perhaps we should use as our unique identifier the space of the unit, the procedure, and the team leader. After all, this would allow us to distinguish as unique, different engagements with the unit led by different individuals. Even this might not be enough. If we’ve learned anything from Big Al Ammerman, it’s that you can never walk the same survey unit twice. Maybe we need to make the unique identifier the unit number, procedure, team leader, and date.
This is all a good bit to think about on the first day in the field, especially when it was damp, overcast, and muddy. Maybe it was being out in the field, however, and away from the blue light of the computer screen that prompted me to think about how we imagine space. It could also be that I managed to help to screw up mapping a few units as I got my survey legs back. Nothing like real fields in a changing landscape to shade my understanding digital contexts.
Last night’s rain made our first day in the field a very muddy experience. That isn’t normal for Greece in June. Mud caked the bottom of our shoes, making them heavy and unwieldy. At some point I tried to kick mud off of my shoe and the entire shoe came off my foot, flying across an olive grove. (At another point I was also successfully kicking mud at Bill, which amused me and annoyed him). It was also unseasonably cool and overcast:
But it didn’t rain, and that allowed us to stay in the field. After a training session on survey methodology (run by Bill) and identifying tile (run by Sarah), we began walking units. Between our five field teams, we managed to cover over 40 survey units, even though some of them were difficult to walk and others were full of surface material (both of which tends to slow walkers down).
The team leaders and field walkers all did an excellent job. You never would have know that this was entirely new to almost all of them. All in all, it was an extremely good, productive, and tiring day. This afternoon the teams will start entering their data from their field forms.