Planning a Project

Unlike most research in the humanities, archaeological field work requires a significant amount of logistical preparation and organization. During the first year of a project, it frequently feels like the logistics overwhelms the archaeology in terms of time and attention. The number of participants in a project also increase the level of complexity and the time committed to making arrangements and plans. 

This summer, instead of directing my own project with my colleagues R. Scott Moore, David Pettegrew, and Brandon Olson, I’m taking some time to work with Dimitri Nakassis, Sarah James, and Scott Gallimore on their project, the Western Argolid Regional Project, a new intensive survey that will focus on a valley in the western hinterland of Argos.  

As the project is gearing up, I’ve had a chance to contribute to creation of the database, preparing the GIS, and getting our field team leaders up to speed on survey methods and procedures. Fortunately, I’ve been spared most of the logistical aspects of the project (so far), and I have to admit that I do not miss them at all.

To give you a sense of the kind of logistics, I’ll offer a few examples.

1. Rooms. One of the biggest expenses and headaches on a project is figuring out how to organize the rooms in an efficient and humane way. We are in the small village of Myloi (or Mili) on the Argolic Gulf. The student accommodations are first rate, but they are expensive and when the entire team is here, the project will have students scattered throughout the village. I suspect each hotel has different rates, different room types, and different availability. On my first day here, I witnessed a rather intense conversation among the project directors as they sought to sort out the various rooms available for the team leaders and myself. The goal is to use the rooms as efficiently as possible and adapt the accommodations so the changing needs of the project. This is a nightmare, but one that WARP has handled well.

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2. Food. The next great logistical hurdle for any project is arranging meals. Right now we eat in the village for dinner and have lunch and breakfast in our rooms. The savings on lunch and breakfast make it easier to spend money on dinners, but when the entire team arrives next week (25 undergraduates), dinners will come from local tavernas, but lunch will still be served in the rooms. This may sound simple enough, but it means that food must be purchased daily, prepared, cleaned up, and arrangements have to be made at multiple establishments for dinners. This involves different rates, different receipts, lots of contact with taverna owners, and this all takes tons of time. It is vitally important that our field teams (and staff!) be well fed to keep morale high and field work consistent and efficient. 

3. Budget. The biggest nightmare for archaeology in the 21st century is the budget. Unlike our friends in the hard and applied sciences, archaeologists do not have a support staff dedicated to streamlining the receipting and budgeting process. So it generally falls on the archaeologist – often in the field – to make sure that all activities fall within the increasingly restrictive accounting guidelines. In the last few decades budget guidelines have become more and more restrictive as universities seek to demonstrate fiscal responsibility in an era of spiraling tuition and heavily critiqued budgets.

(Of course, the irony is that every accountant hired to scrutinize submitted receipts likely costs more than an assistant professor in the humanities contributing in their own way to increased tuition, but this is the cost of good political theater in a risk adverse environment.)

So the project directors, particularly Sarah James, have to be careful how they spend their money not just to stay within budget, but to stay within budget guidelines that often do not apply to the real world in Greece. To make matters worse, our budget for this summer draws on multiple grants that each have their own restriction.

I’m immeasurably grateful for the efforts that the project directors have made to keep my insulated from the financial and logistical challenges of running a project on this scale and in this environment. It frees me up to actually think about archaeology, but watching them deal with the intricacies of leasing a apotheke (a secure storeroom for artifacts), negotiating the changing assemblage of rooms, and building up the contact and social capital to make all the other logistical aspects of a project run smoothly.

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