We anticipate that the directors of each one of these projects will write an Institute blog this summer so as to give you our loyal followers some idea of what they have found and what materials they are studying this year. So starting in July, look eagerly for these guest blogs!
When an archaeological project undertakes a comprehensive pedestrian survey of an area it discovers many things it wasn’t expecting along with those which were the primary objectives for the fieldwork. Sometimes these unexpected revelations were always in plain sight, but their potential and significance were overlooked. To understand and to interpret such a dataset requires additional work, sometimes in the field but often in archives and/or through interviews with local informants.
The Institute’s Sphakia Survey, co-directed by Jennifer Moody and Lucia Nixon in the late 1980s and early 1990s, explored a large research zone in southwestern Crete seeking information on human settlement and resource exploitation from 3000 BC to 1900 CE. Nixon became interested in the many outlying churches (exokklesia) and the numerous icon stands (eikonostasia) that they encountered, scattered across the landscape apparently randomly. The examples from the 20th century, and the reasons given by local informants for their erection and placement, add an important dimension to this investigation.
Using a postprocessual approach derived from Chris Tilley’s Phenomenology of the Landscape. Places, Paths, and Monuments (Oxford, 1994), she sees these religious structures of Hellenic Christianity as components of a sacred landscape of the region constructed during the Byzantine-Venetian-Turkish periods that continues to the present. The natural and cultural landscapes were transformed into a scared space by the placement of these structures. Their spatial distribution, Nixon argues, is based on a “grammar of location”. A major factor in the grammar is the capabilities of the landscape in terms of water and good land. By erecting these structures the land was defined and claimed in order to defend against perceived external and later internal threats. Their relationship to settlements and other such monuments also plays a role in the placement, especially in terms of inter-visibility.
The fact that some of these churches and icon stands are located in the same place as earlier religious sacred places might give credence to the idea of continuity of location. By examining carefully the locational grammar for Minoan, ancient Greek, Christian/Greek Orthodox and Christian/Roman Catholic sacred places, however, she concludes that such is best explained as an overlap of the individual locational grammars.
Her fascinating, detailed, complex and provocatively-argued study (with four appendices and an exhaustive catalogue of all of the monuments studied) was published in 2006 as, Making a Sacred Landscape. Outlying Churches and Icon Stands in Sphakia, Southwestern Crete (Oxbow Books). This well-documented and well-illustrated book should be read by anyone examining sacred landscapes and how they were constructed as well as those researchers who utilize a landscape archaeology approach to analyze and to interpret the patterning of human settlement and exploitation.