“Ignorant farmers”

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!

2 thoughts on ““Ignorant farmers”

  1. The comment about ignorant farmers reflects the absolute failing of many scholars to recognize that their work is dependent upon the support and interest of a wider public, that the success and future of scholarship, and certainly the humanities, lies in public support, expressed especially through tax dollars or pounds, etc. directed for research. And for the preservation of the material cultural record there can be no way forward if the public–‘ignorant’ farmers, merchants, etc–are not involved as legitimate stakeholders. Shunning their participation and calling them names demeans the public’s capability and interest in owning the past and protecting it for the future.
    Jim Wright

  2. I agree. This is one of the great things I learned working with Guy Sanders at Corinth, in the field with Corinth’s workmen, and traveling on the ASCSA trips – just how important the local culture is. Many of these local people have the best knowledge of the land and the history, culture, and even the mythology of the areas in which they were raised. Locals are a wealth of information, very helpful, and very kind, in my experience. There’s just as much to be learned from those living today on the land as from the material culture buried within it.

    As an aside, really happy to see your project up and running, Dimitri! Looks fantastic!

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