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:


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.

Five things

1. A mid-morning blow out

I felt the same way.

On Wednesday Bill and I hiked up the side of the mountain on the southern end of our survey area. We wanted to make sure that we hadn’t missed any major features. The result of our efforts was that we confirmed that we hadn’t missed anything, but in the process we had exhausted ourselves by 9 am and our knees were aching by the afternoon.

2. An iconostasis


At the northern end of our survey area, on the asphalt road from Lyrkeia to Douka, are two iconostaseis, one older and stone-built, the other of the regular metal variety. Above is a photo of the interior of the older iconostasis. Note the icon of Αγία Ζώνη (left) and the prophet Elias (rear). Here are the two side-by-side:


3. A nice wall


Bill blogged about a bridge and mentioned the road that it carried; here is the wall that supported that road. It’s much nicer than the standard terrace wall. In fact, Machal (pictured above) and I came across this wall before we hit the bridge, and I said, “Look at that wall; it’s nice. Could this be a road?” Finding the bridge was a nice confirmation of my instinct. Here’s what the road looks like:


4. A pocket terrace


Bill blogged about these, too. Now I’ve been obsessively taking pictures of different pocket terraces. This is one of my favorites because the terrace forms an almost-perfect semicircle around the olive tree.

5. Tires

Yesterday one of our cars got a flat (an inevitability, considering what we put those cars through on a daily basis) and I decided to get it fixed right away at a local tire shop. They had a remarkable quantity and variety of tires.

… and one last thing:


Sarah, with Holly dutifully at her heels.

Week Two Field Trips

Dimitri, Bill and Liz in front of the pyramid at Elliniko
Dimitri, Bill and Liz in front of the pyramid at Elliniko

Today was our third day of field trips. We hit a series of minor and major sites on the Argive plain. Just like last Saturday, we started local, with the pyramid in the village of Elliniko and the church of the Zoodochos Pigi at Kefalari. Both are within 10 kilometers of our home base of Myloi. The pyramid is an interesting site, because although it’s almost certainly a 4th century tower, it has been claimed to be 5,000 years old, which would make it older than any pyramid in Egypt. Needless to say, we were somewhat less than enthusiastic about this interpretation.

The church at Kefalari
The church at Kefalari

The church of the Ζωοδόχος Πηγή is a beautiful church built into a cave just above the springs at Kefalari that feed the Erasinos River. In antiquity, these springs fed Lake Lerna, which occupied much of the territory between Myloi and Argos that we drive through on the way to work each morning.

Then we crossed to the eastern side of the Argive plain and went to Tiryns, the Mycenaean citadel whose walls are so magnificent, Pausanias (9.36.5) the travel-writer of the 2nd century AD claims they are no less marvellous than the pyramids of Egypt. It’s difficult to capture how massive they are in a photograph.

Sarah talking about Tiryns
Sarah talking at Tiryns


The Early Bronze Age "Round Building" at Tiryns
The Early Bronze Age “Round Building” at Tiryns

Tiryns makes for a nice counterpoint to Lerna, in that like Lerna it was a major Early Bronze Age center. Beneath the Late Bronze Age remains is a section of a massive round building with a tiled roof, commonly interpreted as an enormous granary(left). But the famous walls of Tiryns date to the mature Late Bronze Age, commonly known as the Mycenaean period. It’s unclear how Tiryns related to its more famous neighbor to the north, Mycenae. Some believe that Tiryns was ruled by the wanax (the king) of Mycenae, and that Tiryns functioned as a secondary center of administration and as a port town (the coast was considerably closer in the Bronze Age). Others think that Tiryns was an independent center. Our survey area, although it’s in the western Argolid, may shed light on some of these issues of political geography. The co-directors of the Nemea Valley Archaeological survey have argued in print that Mycenae expanded into the eastern Nemea valley in the Late Bronze Age. But what about the western plain? Our survey area is rich agricultural land and would have been attractive to Late Bronze Age leaders seeking to expand their authority. The southern part of our survey was probably under the sway of Argos in the 1st millennium, but what about the end of the 2nd millennium? These are very much open questions, and ones that we would like to address in our survey.

From Tiryns we went to the most important sanctuary in the Argive plain: the Argive Heraion.


This sanctuary of Hera was much celebrated in antiquity. It is where the famous story of Kleobis and Biton took place. Agamemnon was selected as leader of the Trojan expedition here. Io was reputed to be the first (or second) priestess at the sanctuary, and in fact Hellanikos of Lesbos constructed a chronology of Greek history from a catalogue of the priestesses of Hera, one that Thucydides makes us of.

A lonely (and upside-down) column capital
A lonely (and upside-down) column capital
Bill explaining the temple foundations
Bill explaining the temple foundations

Like Tiryns, it’s not entirely clear how the Argive Heraion fits in. Literature from the 1980s had assumed that the Argive Heraion was an extra-urban sanctuary that belonged to the city of Argos, but an article by Jonathan Hall suggested instead that early on (ca. 1000-450 BC), the Argive Heraion was a shared sanctuary of the communities living in the eastern plain, among whom were Mycenae and Tiryns, and not until the 5th century, when these communities were destroyed and absorbed by Argos, did the Heraion become truly Argive.

Dimitri pointing at Argos from the Heraion
Dimitri pointing at Argos from the Heraion

The Argive Heraion is a really nice site. It’s easy to understand, it’s famous, it affords wonderful views of the plain, and it’s free. Bill Caraher suggested that it’s one of the top three archaeological sites in all of Greece. I demurred, but agreed that it was very underrated. That led to a spirited discussion of the most overrated and underrated Greek archaeological sites. Maybe we’ll come up with a list one of these days.

Only two sites remained. On our way to Nafplion, we stopped at the small church of the Dormition at Merbaka (Ayia Triada), which is variously dated to the 12th century AD (Megaw) or the late 13th century AD (Sanders). The chronology makes a big difference: if the church dates to the 12th century, then it’s a Byzantine church with some western elements. If it’s 13th century, then it’s a church built by William of Moerbeke, a Latin (Catholic) Archbishop; this raises the question why the church was built the way that it was, and why the spolia (earlier architectural elements) were incorporated into the church the way that they were:

Bill lecturing at Merbaka
Bill lecturing at Merbaka


A 1st c. BC inscription built into the church
A 1st c. BC inscription built into the church

Our final stop of the day was Nafplio and specifically the archaeological museum in the main square of the city. It’s a magnificent museum, recently designed, and wonderfully presented. And it just happens to be located in one of the best tourist destinations in Greece, so we left the students in Nafplio to enjoy lunch and its many attractions.


Field trips

Bill presents Monument M at Argos

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.

EH palace

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.

scott_argos_theaterNext 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 [arceshabent Argi). From the Larisa we had beautiful views of the Argolid:

Looking towards Myloi
Looking towards Myloi
Looking north towards our survey area
Looking north towards our survey area
Argos from the Larisa
Looking towards Nafplion
Looking towards Nafplion

bill_larisa 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.



Gymno_Dimitri_2000Monday 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.

Natural beauty!
Sarah, standing next to the tower she helped to excavate.
Sarah, standing next to the tower she helped to excavate.

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!



A very muddy first day in the field

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.