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The Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey: integrated methods for a dynamic landscape: research philosophy and interdisciplinary approaches.


A persistent concern in regional archaeology is the continuing inability of survey data to support increasingly sophisticated social questions. Because archaeological survey permits in Greece typically do not allow regional data sets to be strengthened through complementary excavation, coring, or long-term replication studies (see below), survey archaeologists have found that the most effective response is to improve the practices by which data are collected and incorporated into a project's "archaeological knowledge system." (34) EKAS focused on data collection first through a series of "quality control" practices, and second by emphasizing the free and timely flow of information among project members at every stage of the research. In this section we describe fundamental principles that guided our collection and treatment of data.

Research Integration

Modern survey projects tend to be regional in scope and heavily multidisciplinary, yet, as Tjeerd van Andel has noted, research agendas and interactions of experts from various disciplines are often poorly coordinated. (35) Although close coordination across disciplines would seem to constitute a common-sense approach that ought to be universal in multidisciplinary projects, experts such as natural scientists and pottery specialists continue to be marginalized in survey design and fieldwork. (36) These experts often serve as independent consultants excluded from guiding the fieldwork, and most detrimentally in our view, from the contexts of archaeological discovery. EKAS tackled this problem by emphasizing close collaboration of experts from all participating disciplines, beginning with the planning and organization of the project, and continuing through all preliminary studies, the archaeological survey, and subsequent data recording, analysis, and interpretation.

The fieldwork aspect of this philosophy entailed in-field collaboration in the acquisition of primary data. For example, archaeologists participated in geological and geomorphological mapping in seasons prior to the commencement of the surface survey, and geomorphology interns were attached to archaeological survey teams on a daily basis. The geoarchaeological program of EKAS exemplifies our commitment to true interdisciplinary research, an explicit response to van Andel's call for daily communication and "intensive exchange of information, ideas, and procedures from the planning stage through to final publication" between archaeologists and geological scientists. (37) In the field, specialists in artifacts of many periods formed processing teams, which followed the survey teams to examine the finds in their contexts of discovery. Survey team leaders were assisted in decision-making by in-field consultation with experts in geomorphology, archaeology, and other disciplines. The result was enhanced communication and deeper understanding of the data across disciplines. Other examples of this collaborative approach are described in relevant sections below.

This philosophy finds an interesting parallel in the "reflexive archaeology" practiced at the new excavations at Catalhoyuk. (38) Ian Hodder and his colleagues brought specialists to the trenches to observe the recovery of material "at the trowel's edge" to counteract the usual practice of removal by excavators and subsequent analysis by others with no experience of the primary context. (39) In a similar way, the participation of specialists (both archaeological and nonarchaeological) in EKAS field teams created a "rich interactive matrix" (40) between surveyors and specialists, who shared the experience of contexts of discovery and opportunities for mutually enlightening consultation.

Sampling, Survey Coverage, and Flexibility

EKAS is situated in the Mediterranean tradition of systematic, nonsite (or "siteless"), intensive survey, (41) in clear distinction to surveys that do not walk the survey universe in a systematic way, or which focus on the discovery and investigation of "sites," however defined, to the exclusion of other material in the landscape. The nonsite, intensive approach implies a commitment to landscape-based rather than site-based survey, (42) a distinction that underscores ontological problems with the concept of site. (43) EKAS employed a stratified sampling scheme in an attempt to extract data that would be as representative as possible of the characteristics of the entire study area. We first divided the survey universe into environmental strata, or zones. A first stratum consisted of six major drainage systems encompassing the 350-[km.sup.2] survey area (Fig. 4). Within each drainage, further stratification identified local environmental and ecological variability.


Set in this broader environmental background, EKAS sought to investigate selected parts of the area between the ancient city of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf, in part to explore how ecological diversity may have affected life over the past 8,000 years. Long transects, made up of small, contiguous survey units, were walked across a selection of the strata we defined (Fig. 4). These transects were intended to be representative of the environmental and cultural diversity of the survey area, but their locations also reflected the limitations imposed by our annual permits.

Each season, we were denied access to portions of the requested survey area, and we had no foreknowledge of which areas would be excised. The geographical extent of intensive survey was limited primarily to the northern Corinthian plain (the Examilia and Isthmia basins), with quite small areas approved for survey in other basins (Fig. 4). Total coverage in survey units amounted to 3.85 [km.sup.2], rather than a projected 12 [km.sup.2], in large part because bureaucratic delays in issuing permits reduced our total field time for archaeological survey over four seasons to nine of the planned 16 weeks (Table 4). This modest coverage was augmented by extensive survey in nonsystematic (scouting) mode, which permitted us to examine a further 20 [km.sup.2] or more within the zones designated under our permits. Coverage in survey units was particularly restricted during the first season, when our permit was interpreted to mean that objects could not be moved, compelling us to use a cumbersome system of flagging artifacts for inspection. In subsequent seasons we were not permitted to remove artifacts from our survey units, although it was acceptable to collect artifacts from many "sites." Although we would have preferred to make targeted collections from off-site units, the material we retrieved under a liberal designation of sites is preserved for future examination by specialists.

While our sample did not much resemble the plan we drew up initially, the losses were to an extent offset by the project's other components (Table 2), several of which operated in a broader geographic framework without the same restrictions on field schedules, and which together formed an illuminating context for the natural and cultural history of the full study area. To cite two examples, the geomorphological component and the coasts and harbors survey operated throughout the study area under geological permits. Certain archaeological sites encountered outside the Examilia and Isthmia basins during this work were later approved for archaeological investigation.

An unexpectedly positive response to the restriction on nonsite collections was found in the creation of in-field artifact-processing teams that examined the finds in their contexts of discovery. In-field processing became a fundamental component of our integrative philosophy, and serendipitously enforced our inclination to limit artifact collections for other reasons: the negative impact on the surface archaeological record and the crisis of storage space in Greek museums. (44)

The issues that engender conflict between the goals of survey archaeologists and those of the Greek archaeological establishment are complex, (45) and beyond the scope of this article. Certainly, we do not pretend that conditions were optimal for our survey, or that unencumbered by these restrictions we would have done everything the same way. Yet the important point about the EKAS research model is that the presence of experts from all relevant disciplines in the field afforded unusual flexibility, enabling us to undertake the necessary redesigns as unpredictable circumstances demanded. These adversities tested, and ultimately validated, the flexibility we built into research design, staffing, and logistical capability. In the currently uncertain climate of survey archaeology in Greece, adaptability is essential.

The Survey Universe as Geomorphological Space

The landscapes of the eastern Corinthia preserve pervasive evidence of natural (e.g., alluvial, colluvial, tectonic) and anthropogenic (e.g., plowing, bulldozing, removal of soils) processes that disturb soils and sediments, and consequently the ancient surfaces and deposits they may contain. Failure to recognize and control for this complex transformational history before performing survey may result in specious interpretations of the surface record. A central innovation of EKAS was the explicit geomorphological foundation for defining and analyzing survey space.

Prior to archaeological reconnaissance, a geomorphological survey provided maps of landforms and soils that influenced the selection of survey units, the way such units were treated in the field, and the interpretation of archaeological data. The survey universe was first divided into geomorphological spaces, at different scales; the most relevant of these are the Morphostratigraphic Unit (MU) and the Geomorphic Unit (GU). The MUs are defined as major landforms shaped by tectonic, alluvial, colluvial, or littoral processes, and identified by their distinct surface forms. MUs associated with alluvial processes might include terrace deposits, fans, flood channels, and floodplain insets. The boundaries between MUs commonly occur at breaks in slope, angle, or aspect. The GUs are individual pieces of landscape, however small or large, that have formed under the influence of a single geological (e.g., alluvial or colluvial) or cultural (e.g., bulldozing) process during a discrete period of time. The boundaries of the GUs take into account the effects of such processes on artifact movement and location. The GU is generally a smaller unit within the larger MU, although they can be coterminous.

Geomorphic Units formed the basis for the placement of our archaeological Discovery Units (DUs). The inviolable principle of our survey was that DUs must not cross GU boundaries. Within the GU, archaeologists were free to define as many DUs as they deemed necessary, primarily according to uniform conditions of discovery, such as visibility and ground cover (Fig. 5). For this reason, survey units were generally small, the mean size being ca. 0.3 ha and the median 0.21 ha. The DUs were placed in the field by teams of geomorphologists and archaeologists. The GU/DU system permitted us to recognize formation processes at a very fine scale, and to use that knowledge to better understand the integrity of the artifact distributions that we encountered. As a result, the inferences that we have drawn from the surface material have an explicit geomorphological foundation.


This approach differs from standard techniques of defining survey units. (46) One traditional method is the long transect (with or without subunits) superimposed on the landscape without regard for topography, terrain, or depositional history, designed to avoid judgmental placement and to provide a statistically valid sample. Another method defines "tracts" according to units of modern land use (e.g., an agricultural field or the land lying between two roads), ostensibly homogeneous in terms of topography or ground visibility. Yet survey spaces defined by these two methods ignore the fine-scale depositional history of sediments, and in our experience tend to mix geomorphic deposits impacted by bulldozing, sediment transport, and other processes.

A second innovation was the attachment of a trained geomorphology intern to each survey team. (47) On a daily basis, the geomorphologist accompanied the team to perform fine-scale mapping and to consult with the team on geomorphological processes within the survey units. With the benefit of this collaboration, we avoided creating units comprising mixed contexts, preserving a meaningful basis for interpretation of the survey results. Archaeologists developed a better understanding of surface dynamics, and geologists became more sensitive to archaeological problems and cultural material.

The field geomorphologists' contributions were vital on many occasions, as two brief examples will show. During discovery-phase survey at Rachi Boska, an uplifted marine terrace overlooking the northern Corinthian plain (Fig. 6), we observed that recent deep plowing for a new vineyard had exposed copious remains of a multiperiod site, including segments of a Classical or Hellenistic fortification wall and a dense scatter of artifacts indicating repeated use from Neolithic to Roman times. To investigate the site, designated LOCA 9001, we superimposed a grid of 90 10 x 10 m collection squares over the vineyard (Fig. 7). Before the collection began, the geomorphology team identified a subtle disturbance that had escaped the archaeologists' notice: the deliberate movement of some of the plowed soil (along with the artifacts it contained) from the northern to the southern half of the vineyard, presumably to level an east-west-trending gully. This disturbance, detected on the basis of subtle properties of color and texture in the dumped sediments, was significant because it involved the removal of artifact-rich soil from one part of the vineyard to another with far lower artifact density. Without this intervention, it is virtually certain that our investigation would have produced a false impression of the extent of the scatter by grossly overestimating the amount of material in many southern grid squares. We excluded those squares from our grid collection, and later found that low artifact densities in DUs surrounding the affected area justified the modification.


At another site, the Saronic coastal site of Vayia, geomorphological analysis provided pivotal evidence leading to a chronological framework for limestone cairns and other architecture. (48) In this case, geomorphologists examined karstic dissolution features, known as karren, as well as other formational features on the limestone (Fig. 8). They recognized differences in the progressive development of these features, suggesting a relative chronological framework with two broad phases in antiquity. Combining these observations with archaeological survey and site mapping, we were able to demonstrate a clear association between the older phase architecture and Early Helladic (EH) II artifacts, the only material recovered from the interior of the cairns and sharing with the stone certain geomorphological features such as calcium carbonate accretions. As a result of this interdisciplinary effort, we recognized a fortified EH II coastal settlement overlooking a superb harbor, and developed a geoarchaeological method for studying architecture that may have broad applications in karstic regions worldwide.

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Author:Tartaron, Thomas F.; Gregory, Timothy E.; Pullen, Daniel J.; Noller, Jay S.; Rothaus, Richard M.; Ri
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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