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.


Sweeping is a big part of archaeology. Some would say that 90% of archaeology is sweeping. In an excavation, it’s really important to keep your trench clean. In a survey, it’s important to keep your apotheke (storage space) clean. We’re hoping that our apotheke will be approved for use soon, so we took the opportunity to clean it up a bit:

Scott sweeping
Scott sweeping
Dimitri sweeping
Dimitri sweeping

Scott and I weren’t the only ones; Melanie and Adrian also pitched in and helped.

Cleaning the apotheke felt like a Sisyphean task: there was always more dust to sweep up. But after a couple of hours we were pretty satisfied that it was mostly clean. It would be cool to have a pressure washer or a really powerful vacuum cleaner, but alas those are pretty expensive compared to a broom. (And, as Bill would be quick to point out, it is very important that you buy the brush separately from the handle. All proper tools are sold that way in Greece. Don’t ask why: there is no why).

In other news, our survey area is really stunning:

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And here’s Bill writing in his Rite in the Rain™ notebook with his Zebra pen:2014-06-15 10.57.21



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!