Friday, August 15, 2014

The Western Argolid Regional Project 2014 Field Season

The summer of 2014 was the first field season of the Western Argolid Regional Project, or WARP, an archaeological survey co-directed by myself (Dimitri Nakassis, University of Toronto), Scott Gallimore (Wilfrid Laurier University) and Sarah James (University of Colorado Boulder). For six weeks, our team of thirty-one students and staff explored the valley of the Inachos river in the area of the modern village of Lyrkeia, in an attempt to document human activity in the region from prehistory to the modern day through a systematic survey of materials visible on the surface, mainly fragments of pottery and tile, but also stone tools and standing architecture.

Looking west across our survey area towards the mountains the divide the Argolid from Arcadia
Our project was interested not only in answering fundamental questions about the nature of settlement and other activities in the area, but also in addressing issues of connectivity and of power and resistance. By connectivity, we mean how particular micro-regions were connected to each other in various periods. We know that a major ancient road, called the Klimax by Pausanias, passed by the fortified city of Orneai in our survey area on its way to Arcadia. Many scholars have suggested that roads and military movements were closely connected to each other, and indeed our valley was important strategically. But what about the more quotidian traffic through the Greek countryside? Does this parallel, or cut across, the political and military movements that we know from our historical records? Power and resistance are more familiar concepts, but broadly speaking we want to understand the way that the western Argolid experienced power relations in various periods. For instance, the Argolid is full of fortifications and our region is no different: the valley is dotted with them. Do these represent outposts of central powers (for instance, the city of Argos), or do they represent some local response?

Grace Erny (CU Boulder) records while her team walks a field
To answer these questions, we needed to understand more about human activity in this landscape. On a typical day, our survey teams drove from our base in the coastal town of Myloi to our survey area in the Inachos river valley, maps and GPS units in hand. Each team consisted of undergraduates with a graduate student team leader, all from universities in Canada and the US. This group collaborated in the field not only to document each survey unit effectively using a paper form, but also to come up with the most efficient approach to their daily work. As the teams worked, they annotated their paper maps and forms, and on their return from the field they handed them over to our GIS specialist. She digitized the units daily while the teams diligently keyed their data from the field and monitored the overall quality of their procedures in the field. Teams also cycled through our laboratory, helping Scott and Sarah to wash, photograph, and record the finds as they came in. By the end of the season, we had a brilliantly colored density map of this year's survey area as well as an impressive list of recommended improvements from our field teams.

Sam Walker (Trent University) digitizes survey units while others enter data
The first field season was a big success, largely thanks to the hard work and dedication of our students, who braved the spiders of the Argolid to help us understand its past. We worked in the field for 26 days, we walked some 2,500 fields, collected almost 30,000 artifacts, and covered an area of 5.5 square kilometers. We explored seven major sites, some known, some newly discovered, and documented many more previously unknown small sites. We also had a lot of fun, visited a lot of archaeological sites, spent time on the beaches of Myloi, and rescued a couple of puppies.

Sunset on the beach at Myloi
We did so much work, in fact, that we are only beginning to understand what we found and answer the research questions that brought us to the area. The discoveries from this year ran the gamut from the Early Bronze Age to the Venetian and Ottoman periods, with an awful lot of material dating to the Classical and Hellenistic periods. In the summer of 2015, we will continue our study of materials from 2014, and we plan to continue our exploration to the south along the Inachos river, bringing us closer to the city of Argos. Our 2015 season will, we hope, allow us to trace changes in settlement patterns and material culture as we move from the more mountainous river valley of modern Lyrkeia towards the upper end of the Argive plain and the territory of the city of Argos.

Looking south towards our 2015 survey area and Argos in the distance
For more information on WARP, please visit our project website and blog at!

Dimitri Nakassis
University of Toronto

1 comment:

  1. Very ambitious project. It is very likely that your research will confirm the hypothesis of connection. Trade patterns and mobility between the sites was crucial to the success of the Argolid.