Home > Survey Archaeology > Some Thoughts on Future of Survey Archaeology in Greece (and the Eastern Mediterranean)

Some Thoughts on Future of Survey Archaeology in Greece (and the Eastern Mediterranean)

A few months ago, I presented an overview of the survey archaeology to the Regular Members in the Corinthia.  Jack Davis, Tim Gregory, and I followed this up with survey archaeology day in the Corinthia taking in parts of the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project and the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey.  As a result of “teaching survey” on site, I have begun to think about the future directions of survey as a method for exploring, documenting, and creating the Ancient and Medieval landscape.  I have recently thought about writing a short, speculative (if informed) article on the topic while trying to envision what the next generation of survey projects might look like.  Today’s post is basically a brainstorm written on the fringes of coherence that explores several interrelated themes current in my own work as a survey archaeologist.

Scholars have argued in the past that survey archaeology has approached a “threshold of intensity” (which is a version of Blanton’s Mediterranean Myopia) that involves the collection of massive data sets of both “archaeological” data (sherds, sherd densities, features, buildings, roads et c.– not to mention data generated by various remote sensing techniques), but also environmental data (visibility, land use, high resolution topographical maps, geological and geomorphological data, et c.).  This data allows survey archaeologists to possess an unparalleled number of variable to understand the cultural and natural formation processes and tempts us to read these elaborately constructed survey universes as totalizing discourse of the landscape. 

This increase in intensity (coupled with a tendency for increasingly limited permits particularly in Greece) has tended to produce surveys of much smaller scope than the first generation of survey projects or similar projects in a North or Meso-American context.  Rather than covering hundreds of square kilometers which would encompass a large percentage of a economic or politically constituted region in the ancient Mediterranean, surveys have become more focused endeavors emphasizing the micro-region, sometimes as small as a few square kilometers, as the primary unit of analysis.  Such micro-regions may or may not be constituted in direct relation to any pre-modern (pre-industrial) system.  In fact, modern conditions ranging from development, to agricultural land use, the limits of past archaeological investigation, or even the institutional borders of the archaeological bureaucracy of the host country exert strong influences over the shape of the intensive pedestrian survey “universe” (i.e. area of investigation). 


If survey intends to address regional concerns, then they must find a way to overcome the methodological and practical limits that are likely the shape the future of the discipline.  In particular, there is a need to produce results that are compatible and comparable with the results produced by other surveys in order to create the kinds of large scale data sets required for regional analysis.  The growing potential for digital publication of relatively “raw” survey data holds forth one important prospect for creating large scale integrated regional and trans-regional data sets.  By manipulating the primary data from surveys, scholars will be able to find common ground for analysis between projects and ideally construct data sets suitable to address concerns that exceed the scope any one survey area.  This will require, of course, substantial quantities of carefully prepared “metadata” necessary to provide an interpretative context for any single project’s data.  In some cases, it will involve creating (and maintaining!) normalized data sets in electronic form.  The re-analysis, re-processing, and maintenance of the archaeological data from earlier projects is a tedious task, but it will be vital for our ability to analyze systems that function on levels that greatly exceed the scope of any single project.


Revisiting archaeological survey data also encourages us to reconsider the methodological assumptions that shaped the investigation of the countryside.  For example, artifact level survey rooted deeply in the tradition of processural archaeology has tended to view the landscape in a way that marginalizes the role of the individual and privileges the analysis of systems, society, or even culture.  Recent work on the role of the individual and agency in archaeology (usefully summarized in: A. Bernard Knapp & Peter van Dommelen, “Past Practices: Rethinking Individuals and Agents in Archaeology,” Cambridge Archaeological Journal 18 (2008), 15–34) has exposed some of the tension between the archaeologist as interlocutor and narrator (for an interesting recent post on this see: Christa M. Beranek, “Imagination to Interpretation”) and ancient society.  Michael Given et al. ( in “Joining the Dots: Continuous Survey, Routine Practice and the Interpretation of a Cypriot Landscape (with interactive GIS and integrated data archive)” Internet Archaeology 20) have called for projects to work toward “verbing the landscape” as a way recognizing the archaeological landscape as evidence for past activities.  Work such as Christopher Witmore‘s 2005 dissertation at Stanford , Multiple field approaches in the Mediterranean: Revisiting the Argolid Exploration Project, seek not simply to resturcture the archaeological data, but to reposition the archaeologist’s relationship to the processes and the material which constitute archaeological landscapes.

So, my post today has mapped two future paths for survey which are closely related (1) the cross-project integration of survey data for trans-regional analysis and (2) negotiating the role of the individual (both in antiquity and in more modern times) in creating the archaeological landscape.  Both tasks build upon the methodological self awareness developed by survey archaeology in the last four decades and call upon its practitioners not only to continue to be reflexive concerning methodology and field procedure producing data that anticipates its integration into larger regional interpretations, but also to go beyond this to consider the place of the archaeologist amidst the modern and ancient landscape.RoadPictSM

Since, I am unlikely to re-catagorize my past postings on survey archaeology, I have included an index of entries on survey archaeology in this blog:

Survey Archaeology, Pottery, and the Chronotype System
Four Views of the Corinthian Landscape
Recent Work on Survey Northeast Peloponnesus
Geographic Information Systems and Regional Survey at the American School
Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey on the Web
The Corinthia and Survey Archaeology
Filmmaking and Archaeology
New Research in Late Roman Boeotia
Categories: Survey Archaeology
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