Friday, July 22, 2011

Field Project Visits 2011: The Leukos Survey Project on Karpathos

The Director’s summer road tour continued this week with a visit to the Leukos Survey Project’s final field season at Kato Lefkos on the western side of the island of Karpathos. I was able to participate in the final day of their fieldwork on the small island called Sokastro, which lies just off the shore to the northwest of the location of the Late Roman/Early Byzantine period port city that was possibly called Nisyros. In the previous two field seasons their research focused on the remains situated around the three small harbors or coves.

Dr Ian Begg (Trent University) and his three co-researchers, Prof. Michael Nelson (Queens College), Prof. Todd Brenningmeyer (Maryville University) and Dr Amanda Kelly (University of Ireland, Galway), along with two volunteers, tackled the challenges of surveying the extensive architectural remains on this impressive fortified massif. After a leisurely boat trip to the island, just getting up to the plateau on the top is a hot, sweaty physical challenge. Once there it looks like a moonscape with piles of rubble everywhere where ancient structures once stood, some of them churches, and the partially preserved remains of tens of barrel-vaulted cisterns. These come in all sizes and states of preservation from small to huge. The total capacity of these is mind-boggling. During the winter the total rainfall must be tremendous to fill the largest ones. Why there is this capacity is an unanswered question. I should note here that there is no shade anywhere from the relentless sun except for the shelter provide by one large, well-preserved cistern.

To make sense of this landscape the team has created day-by-day a high-definition topographical map using aerial photographs taken by a kite-supported digital camera and high resolution GPS data that are integrated into Quickbird satellite imagery. This is Todd’s area of expertise in which he excels. Michael and Amanda, with the volunteers’ assistance, conducted the intensive surface survey. The endless piles of rubble reduced the visibility greatly. Nevertheless, they were able to collect enough useful material to date the principal period of occupation to the 11th-13th centuries CE, with very little evidence for earlier or later use according to Amanda. Michael also made architectural drawings of the best preserved standing structures.

In three very short field seasons, with tight budgets, the researchers have amassed large, varied and detailed archaeological and topographical data sets. It is most impressive what they have done in combining cutting-edge digital technologies, innovative data collection strategies and traditional survey practices to extract so much information from a demanding physical environment. Bravo sas paidia!

Yes, Virginia, one can survive the Sokastro experience!!!

David Rupp

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