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Site Reports Revisited

Dedicated readers of this blog know that I have already offered some commentary on the American School practice of Site Reports.  These short(ish) reports by the Regular Members have formed a central pillar to the regular program from time in memoriam (and should generally be distinguished from the times when the excavators of a site or scholars with some particular expertise present the sites).  Regular Member Site Reports are largely performative (as opposed to providing information regarding the site per se): students act out on site their scholarly persona and recite with proper emphasis and deference the main contours of the relevant academic debates.  The best reports use the archaeological material visible at the site to to comment on the validity of past scholars’ claim; the more mundane reports merely demonstrate an awareness of an academic tradition.  Despite these subtle variations, most sight reports are boring.  They are not, generally speaking, innovative scholarship and, at their worst, take up a substantial amount of time on site (with the most decadent running for over 40 minutes) thereby cutting into our time actually spent looking at the archaeology (although as I noted in an earlier and not-entirely-well-received post, spending time actually on site may be overrated: Lessons from the Borders of Attica). 


That being said, site reports do provide the impetus to dig deeper into the historiography of a site.  After all, it is generally because scholars have written about these places that they appear on the ASCSA itinerary in the first place!  It would be disingenuous to ignore the scholarly debate that makes the site, in fact, something worth seeing.  Moreover, it would be inhumane to expect the Mellon Professor who leads the trips to prepare a bibliography for every site.  The students must be involved in the presentation of the site, if for no other reason than to drive home the point that sites in the Greek landscape are largely products of an academic discourse. 

The real issue, however, is balancing the need to be aware of the archaeological discourse as emerging professionals in the discipline and the dreadful tedium of site reports, which are inevitably more boring than the archaeology of the site itself.  Moreover, having at least one individual at the site who has read over all of the excavation reports does make viewing the site more interesting.  The real issue is, then, how do you enforce the historiographical rigor and ensure at least one very well-informed interlocutor on site without crushing boredom of site reports?

What I have done is prepare short papers on the site which provides a good bit of descriptive and when applicable historiographic information on each site.  As I have noted, this doesn’t necessary always succeed in engaging the students in the place, but if these short papers were distributed prior to arrival on the site, they would not only provide an introduction to the place, but also form a handy reference on site.  They might be slightly more work for the Regular Members, but they have the advantage of coming together to form the basis for a guide to important Greek sites at the end of the program.

The downside of this, of course, is that it does take away the experience of lecturing on site — an important skill for academics who might want to lead study tours or give site tours in the future.  Moreover, the Regular Member who is responsible for the site itself, must still be able to engage the material remains at the site.  The best alternative might be a combined system where each student must give one formal (15-25 minute) site report and otherwise provide short papers (2-3 pages) on each site for which they are responsible.  When the School visits the site, the students should point out features in their short papers, but cannot go on for more than a few minutes. 

It’s an inelegant solution.  I know.  I’ve appended my site report from yesterday to this post and some photos of the Byzantine Church of Holy Apostles below.


The Church of the Holy Apostles

The earliest remains on the site appear to be a Nymphaeum of the 2nd C. A.D. The church dates to the late 10th or early 11th century and marks it the earliest standing Middle Byzantine buildings in Athens. Earlier churches, however, appear to have all been destroyed (John Mangoutis (9th c.), Prof. Elias sto staropazaro (10th? c.), Taxiarchs sto staropazaro (Early 11th ? c.). The church stood in the Solaki neighborhood probably the name of an important Athenian family who lived nearby. The church evidently remained in continuous use from the time of its construction serving the residents of this area of the Agora. There is evidence for at least 4 major modifications from its original construction until the 16th, 17th,and 19th century including the construction of numerous tombs under the Middle Byzantine floor level. Renovation work carried out in the 1954-1956 removed most of the later additions and restored the church to its Byzantine form. The church was first noted by Lenoir in 1839 and photographed by Lambakis in 1890

The plan of the church is a tetraconch. The western apse, however, had largely been destroyed during modifications which extended the western end of the nave into an elongated narthex. The basic plan of the building, however, evokes typical cross-in-square type architecture with four columns (three of Hymettian marble with spoliated capitals) supporting a Attic-type octagonal dome on pendentives (triangular sections of a sphere). The masonry is cloisonné type with double layers of brick in horizontal courses (cf. Os. Loukas Theotokos church). The vertical joins between the bricks received pseudo-kufic design (cf. Kapnekarea, Ay. Theodoroi, Os. Loukas, Soter Lykodemou). Further defining the exterior the building are a series of 5 dentulated frieze courses. The courses not only frame the windows, but coincide with the major architectural divisions of the building. The topmost course marked the eaves of the apse and the second course marking the springing of the interior vaults. The windows are of the arcade-type.

The windows and masonry provide a date for the building based on Megaw’s typology of church architecture. The arcade-type windows (cf. Skripou (9th) and Moni Petraki (10th)) are his earliest type window. The well-wrought Ps.-Kufic masonry design is 10th-11th in date.

While the dating of the church makes it contemporary with the major wave of Middle Byzantine church building in Athens, the design of the church is distinct. Despite its cross-in-square core, an octagonal shape is formed by the four major apses which project beyond the core of the building and alternate with four smaller apses at the angles bet
ween the cross arms. This octagonal plan has parallels with buildings of the more imposing cross-domed-octagon types (cf. Panayia Lykodemou, the Katholikon Os. Loukas, and Daphni). The cross arms of Ay. Apostoloi extend beyond the northern and southern walls evoking free-cross building like the Koumbelidiki at Kastoria. The most obvious problem that the architect needed to overcome was joining a centralized, tetraconch plan with the western narthex. This architect managed this with some elegance by adding two lateral spaces on either side of the western apse and piercing the northwest and southwest apses with doors. The wall of the western apse guides the visitor toward the doors in its flanking apses thereby unifying the lateral space of the domed narthex with the centralized plan of the church. It does not work perfectly but it is the best solution among the Middle Byzantine churches in Greece.

A. Frantz, The Church of the Holy Apostles. Agora XX. Princeton 1971.

A. Lenoir, L’architecture monastique. Vol. 1. Paris 1852.

H. Megaw, “The Chronology of Some Middle-Byzantine Churches,” BSA 32 (1931-1932), 90-130.


  1. David
    March 7, 2008 at 6:02 am

    It would also help if there were a ten minute cap on site reports, forcing students to define what is most significant about the site.

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