While I cannot speak about anything in great detail or risk getting cross-wise with folks in charge of Greek Antiquities, work at Pyrgos has been moving along, and I’ve been working with students to clear out a jumble of collapsed architecture. On Friday we finally came down to a layer that appears to have a collapsed wall and a surface, so we’re finally getting beneath top soil and down to some more secure deposits. We’ve also been working inside of two structures and I haven’t moved much beyond getting the strat from the previous year in order and a preliminary skim of the room interior. So far it looks like the structure that hasn’t been excavated is not an ossuary, which is a relief. What it actually is remains to be seen, and from what I can tell there are only one or two courses left in the walls, so we might not get many deposits at all.
Regardless it’s always interesting to check out the archaeological subcultures around the world. Archaeologists are generally no more than one or two people removed–after a few years in the field when you meet someone you can usually figure out at least one person that you both know. People who have regional interests quickly become small communities, and I witnessed this in Jordan where they had a regional conference that I attended. Most of the presentations were from American projects and I quickly saw why everyone still digs in Wheeler boxes in that area–because everyone else does it too. They talk and think in squares and sections and it is part of their subregional archaeological culture. I think that’s partly why I’m so fascinated by what the team at Pyrgos is doing–they’ve changed from using the American system to single context and there has been some aches and pains associated by the shift, but they’ve done it and it’s working pretty well.
The one major impediment to true single context recording here is the fact that you cannot remove walls in Greece unless the project is headed by a Greek archaeologist. This means that the large Byzantine structure that we are digging will be left in place after we’ve taken away the last floor layer. While this may not seem like a big problem at first, it makes the underlying stratigraphic relationships difficult to see, as you are confined to working within structures that have no relationship to the deposits below. It’s like digging out all the dirt around a skeleton and trying to leave all the bones in place while you dig another skeleton lying below it. It’s also annoying because a lot of these walls aren’t that impressive–a few courses of stone doesn’t evoke much in the way of imagination. Still, I guess it would mean that you’d have to decide which period of history you felt was most important and leveling the architecture above.
In addition to the Madaba-area conference I attended in Jordan, I also attended a meeting at INSTAP, the regional research institute here in Crete. There was a lecture by a prominent archaeologist who was arguing about the dating of the destruction at Knossos, after all of the artifacts and excavation evidence was lost. It was mostly a debate about pottery chronologies and there were passionate counter-opinions in the crowd. I finally truly understood what it was like before some of the post-processual and feminist archaeologies came to the fore–nobody cared about who actually lived there, what their daily life was like, or even the localized consequences of this apparent destruction. They cared about the pottery sequence and what was reflected in the patchy historical record about kings and invasions.
I suppose I’m showing my Berkeley lineage here–Ruth has certainly had a lot to say about households and people with faces, but I guess I didn’t realize just how revolutionary that idea was until I saw in person what she was reacting against within the field.
This was a bit of a meander through archaeological subcultures and random excavation notes, but probably not unexpected as I’m using what little free time I have here in Crete to work on my dissertation. Which I should get back to, right about now.