Monday, March 23, 2009

From Town to Country: The Archaeology of Modern Greek Landscapes

There are two colloquia that I have been working on this year. Since I have already posted the details of the first one, First Out: Late Levels at Early Sites, I should also post details for the second, co-organized with Effie Athanassopoulos. The Modern Greek Studies Association (MGSA) conference, which takes places every two years, will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia. I have never attended the MGSA meetings, and this is the first time the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology in Greece AIA Interest Group has submitted a panel. On March 21, we learned that our panel was accepted. Congratulations to all the wonderful contributors and their papers.

Modern Greek Studies Association Annual Symposium 2009

October 15-17, Vancouver, Canada

From Town to Country: The Archaeology of Modern Greek Landscapes

Organizers: Kostis Kourelis (Connecticut College) & Effie Athanassopoulos (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

Respondent: Susan Buck Sutton (Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis)

Since the birth of the nation-state, the identity of Modern Greece has been defined by its relationship to antiquity. The discipline of archaeology has, thus, played a central role in the construction of Greece, but only in so far as it concerns ancient periods (archaia). For Greece, the archaeology of the recent past is an etymological contradiction. Material culture dating to after 1850 is considered non-archaeological; it can be exported and traded freely. Archaeological studies on 19th- and 20th-century Greece are greatly lacking, leaving a huge disciplinary gap with Historical Archaeology, a discipline that flourishes in the United States.

This panel brings together recent work applying archaeological perspectives to the material culture of Modern Greece spanning a spectrum of ecological milieus from the metropolis, to the small town, the village, the monastery and the rural landscape. The theme that connects the individual papers is that of “landscape” approached through the lens of archaeology. Landscape as a concept refers to the external world mediated through subjective human experience. In archaeology, approaches to landscape have changed drastically over time, from economic and ecological perspectives of the 1960s to more recent post-modern views that focus on the social and symbolic construction of landscapes. In Greece, the field of landscape archaeology has grown out of the tradition of archaeological regional surveys, introduced by American scholars during the 1950s.

The individual papers offer diverse perspectives and examine a wide variety of landscapes in the 19th and 20th century. The settings range from the urban space of 19th century Athens to the town of Corinth, to rural space in the upland basins of Corinthia, to monastic space in Mount Menoikeion in northern Greece, and to landscape features such as Mt. Pentadaktylos in Cyprus. Each paper applies a different methodological tactic. Some revisit older historical records, others collect new data or re-conceptualize physical relationships. Collectively, they represent the richness of a growing field. Susan Buck Sutton, who pioneered the study of the Modern Greek countryside and single-handedly developed the discipline of ethno-archaeology, has agreed to serve as the panel’s respondent.

The panel is sponsored by the Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology in Greece Interest Group of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA). The Group consists of AIA members with an interest in the archaeology of post-classical Greece, and in promoting its understanding through various programs and publications.

Athens in the 19th Century: Archaeological Landscapes and Competing Pasts

Effie Athanassopoulos (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)

This paper examines the changing archaeological landscape of Athens in the post-liberation phase, in the decades following the establishment of the Modern Greek state in the 1830s. During the Othonian period (1833-1862) large scale demolition of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine buildings took place in the new capital. These actions were an attempt to eradicate the physical evidence of an “inferior” past, which interfered with the efforts of the decision makers to establish an unbroken continuity between classical antiquity and the re-born state.

The government officials of the 1830s and 1840s were all proponents of a purist classical perspective. Their goal was to enhance the classical buildings by freeing them from additions of later and ‘lesser’ eras. The ‘purification’ of Athens was carried out by archaeologists who shared these views and felt little sympathy for the material remains of the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine eras. Thus, churches, mosques and other structures were demolished on the Athenian Acropolis and in the lower town. Some churches were destroyed because they stood near ancient monuments. Others were viewed as obstacles in the opening of new roads and the beautification of the capital. According to one estimate, approximately seventy-five churches met that fate; they were noted on maps of the early 1830s but disappeared in the next few decades. The ‘cleansing’ of the Acropolis is well documented, the destruction of churches in the lower town less so. Here, I will document several examples through plans and drawings of European visitors as well as archival research.

Another goal of this paper is to examine the relation of the discipline of archaeology to evolving national ideals. The initial hostility towards Byzantium shared by the educated elite gradually waned. In the 1850s the work of an influential historian, Konstantinos Paparrigopoulos, led to the inclusion of the Byzantine past into the national narrative. In turn, Byzantium’s new role influenced the direction of Greek archaeology, which gradually began to lose its exclusive classical emphasis. Still, the purist classical ideals prevalent in the Othonian period have left their indelible mark; they guided the physical reorganization of the archaeological and urban landscape of Athens in the course of the 19th century.

Ancient Corinth from the Ottoman Empire to the Archaeologists

Amelia R. Brown (American School of Classical Studies at Athens)

Most modern visitors to Ancient Corinth come to see the ruins, the fenced-off ancient city at the center of a town whose houses, shops and churches were largely built since the 1950s. Only a few roadside shrines and now-crumbling structures still hint at the 19th-century town, a far-different Corinth which once occupied the same basic landscape. The written accounts of Corinthians, European travelers and American archaeologists add depth and color to these physical traces, as do archival photographs and the archaeological excavation of 19th-century remains recently undertaken by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. All this evidence is worth studying for several reasons. First, few if any towns in the Peloponnese boast such rich sources for the 19th century, the era in which Greece emerged as a nation-state, began industrial development and became a mass-market European tourist destination. At Corinth, these external shifts meant the destruction or abandonment of the urban and social fabric of the Ottoman town, the founding of a “modern” city on the coast, and a revolution in agriculture on the plain in between the two. The Grand Tour, Greek nationalism and the growth of classical archaeology also spurred interest in the traces of antiquity, once completely integrated into the Ottoman urban fabric. This interest culminated in the establishment of the large-scale excavations which continue to this day, but which have only sporadically taken account of the town which continues to thrive around them. Though these excavations initially sought only “Ancient” Corinth, today their archives and recent finds alike form a unique testament to the dramatic changes in and since the 19th-century. In this paper, I integrate this disparate source material to reconstruct the cityscape of 19th-century Corinth, both to better understand Corinthian and Peloponnesian history in that era, and to tease out what kinds of continuities do, in fact, exist in every city ever established on the shores of the Corinthian Isthmus.

Between Sea and Mountain: The Archaeology of a 20th-Century “Small World” in he Upland Basins of the Southeastern Korinthia

William R. Caraher (University of North Dakota)

David K. Pettegrew (Messiah College)

Timothy E. Gregory (Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia)

Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory (Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia)

Between the villages of Sophiko and Korphos in the southeastern Korinthia are a number of geographically well-defined and fertile upland basins or poljes, each one accompanied into modern times by a cluster of farmsteads and used for agriculture and pastoral activities. The heavily forested slopes adjacent to these basins were systematically exploited for resin production, a flourishing industry in the wider region especially after World War II, which is now in serious decline. Although physically isolated from major urban centers, these microecologies played a vital role in the subsistence of its local population, which originated primarily in the nearby mountainous village of Sophiko. Placing these isolated, yet deeply interconnected places into their regional context provides another key case-study for the contingent character of the Greek countryside in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Between 2001 and 2009, the authors investigated these basins, with a primary focus on the largest, known locally as Lakka Skoutara, through two archaeological projects: the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (2001-2003) and the Saronic Harbors Archaeological Research Project (2008-09). The former studied Lakka Skoutara as part of its emphasis on the archaeology of the modern period (19th-20th centuries), while the latter conducted archaeological investigations in several of these basins as part of a larger regional survey of the Saronic coastline.

Typical of the other basins, Lakka Skoutara presents a remarkably robust assemblage of material including domestic and religious architecture, agricultural installations, and ceramics scatters. This material reflects the dynamism of changing land use patterns in the Greek rural landscape as well as the formation processes and life cycles of use, reuse, and abandonment connected to domestic residence. By combining archaeological survey with oral information obtained from local residents, we were able to reconstruct part of the landscape history of this small, low-density rural settlement and its relationship to the wider world. This micro-level analysis of the site complements the broader perspectives offered by regional level data collection, oral history, and comparative studies from elsewhere in Greece. Lakka Skoutara and its neighboring poljes offer both snap shots of historical processes affecting the countryside over the last two centuries as well as the dynamic archaeological environments of semi-abandoned settlements recorded over the much narrower horizon of a decade of field work.

The Sacred Grip: Landscape, Art and Architecture in Mount Menoikeion (19th-20th Centuries)

Nikolas Bakirtzis (The Cyprus Institute)

Kostis Kourelis (Connecticut College)

Matthew Milliner (Princeton University)

Mount Menoikeion near Serres preserves a rich tradition shaped around the 13th-century monastery of Saint John Prodromos. The monastery evolved into one of the major monastic centers, surviving through volatile chapters of Balkan history. It is a spectacular monument of Byzantine art and architecture surrounded by an equally spectacular natural environment. In 1986, the deteriorating architectural shell was taken over by a female community of nuns whose spiritual guide, the Athonite monk Elder Ephraim, resides in Arizona. Although reviving older Orthodox traditions, Prodromos presents intersections between Byzantine and modern realities, between monastic life and local communities, ecclesiastical authorities, productive resources and the landscape. The Program in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University established an annual field seminar to investigate the site’s complexities as exemplary of the Modern Greek condition. Since 2005, the Mount Menoikeion Workshop has brought together a diverse group of scholars and students from anthropology, archaeology, history, classical studies, religious studies and art history. Our paper concentrates on the archaeology of 19th- and 20th-century life, represented in the cultural landscape, the architecture and the artistic treasures of Mount Menoikeion.

Landscapes are the product of ecological and human processes. What to the romantic eye seems idyllic and “natural” is, in fact, the product of continuous inhabitation and exploitation. In order to read the chronological development of the monastic landscape, we have mapped all evidence of cultural activity--caves, chapels, roads, paths, fields, orchards, farm buildings, sheep pens, trash heaps, industrial installations, water channels, memorials, inscriptions, markers and quarries. The early modern landscape reveals an inherent tension between the ideal of monastic wilderness and its aggressive human exploitation. Architecturally, Mount Menoikeion contains an intricate complex of buildings emanating from the Katholikon. Additions, towers and chapels tell a story not only of Byzantine tradition, but of modern Orthodox responses to more recent challenges, including Ottoman patronage, the ravages of the Balkan Wars and the effects of World War II, which in Menoikeion took the form of a Bulgarian occupation. Of special interest are the monastery’s 19th- and 20th-century art. Byzantine art historians have traditionally ignored this period as inferior and entirely derivative. The artistic culture of Prodromos demonstrates not only a flexible multilingual visual language but also deeper insights into the Orthodox community’s negotiation on multiple fronts, from its benevolent Ottoman patrons, to its western European markets and to an independent Greek nation-state further south.

The Body of the Land and the Land as Body in Greece and Cyprus

Nassos Papalexandrou (The University of Texas at Austin)

This paper explores conceptualizations of the land as body in the Hellenic Mediterranean. The evidence for the culturally ingrained tendency of thinking the landscape in terms of somatic metaphors is variegated and richly documented from antiquity to today. It may be attributed to a cultural poetics that enabled the extravagant vision of turning Mt. Athos into a colossal image of Alexander the Great or the perennial association of landscape features with important figures of myth and legend. Somatic metaphors also are deeply embedded in everyday vocabulary as toponymical or substantive terms (e.g. Greek “rachi,” “ophrys,” “neromana” etc.). This phenomenon may derive from the perennial need of humans to create intimate bonds between themselves and their (home)lands. The projection of human categories to the surrounding inanimate world may also register a relationship of mutual respect and interdependence—values, that is, currently in crisis in an increasingly urbanized world.

However this may be, this peculiar connectedness to the land is a universal cultural phenomenon. In this paper I propose that its Hellenic inflection should be studied as such. A good case for this study is the island of Cyprus, the geomorphology of which is rich in toponyms and oral traditions. This is especially evident in the case of Mt. Pentadaktylos (or Keryneia Mountains, in the occupied territory of northern Cyprus), a special geomorphologic feature of which still embodies the memory of the epic hero Digenis Akritas—a gigantic somatic “relic” of a heroic age in the Greek history of the island. The somatic nature of this feature may have motivated a recent Turkish-Cypriot monument that takes the form of a gigantic flag on the north slope of the mountain. This gigantic sign, I argue, “brands” the land/body of Pentadaktylos as an inalienable possession even as it cries out, in image and text, an altogether new but ambivalent identity. This “branding” of the landscape is literal and metaphorical. It derives its referential capacity from the actual branding of possessions, like cattle or enslaved human beings in the past.

Nassos Papalexandrou had to withdrew his submission because of a timing conflicting, but I include the abstract because it's a fascinating paper.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States