Susan Sutton at the American School

Susan Sutton gave a fascinating talk at the Trustees Lecture here at the American School on Tuesday.  She reviewed her long career as an archaeologist and anthropologist who studies the modern Greek landscape.  She worked on several of the most influential intensive survey projects in Greece including the Southern Argolid Survey, the Kea Survey, and the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project and made it almost a requirement for every subsequent project to have someone who uses ethnography, archival research, and archaeology to study the modern landscape. 

Her talk like much of her research emphasized the “liquidity” of the Modern Greek landscape.  She stressed how older models rooted in a kind of Orientalism romanticized the Greek peasant and imagined them to be unchanged over countless centuries.  In place of this patronizing and colonial image, Sutton showed how the Greek countryside, particularly the village, was a dynamic and fluid place shaped by engagements with international markets, a long tradition of flexible agricultural and settlement strategies, and nationalism. 

For the second part of her talk she explored the relationship between her carefully wrought view of the Greek village and countryside and that understood and promoted (in some ways) by Classical archaeology.  In particular she discussed the relationship between the Sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea and the village of Iraklio where she had conducted so much of her fieldwork during the Nemea Valley Archaeology Project.  She noted how the site of the temple of Zeus with its three standing columns had long been abstracted from the landscape.  This was first done by the early travelers who drew the remains and often consciously removed any signs of the modern settlement nearby in their illustrations.  It has been continued by the archaeological treatment of the site which is now a 40 acre archaeological park, set off from the village by a high fence, and further decontextualized through its austere “excavated” appearance and strict rules governing a visitors engagement with the place.  The results of this, she argued, is that visitors to the Temple of Zeus rarely recognize the modern village in which it stands (much like the ancient travelers), although she makes allowances for recent efforts by the excavators there to make the site more accessible and more integrated in its surroundings. 

Her ethnographic work among the villagers in Iraklio allowed her to introduce their perspective into her reading of the archaeological landscape.  She noted how they had a much stronger attachment to the “Lion’s Cave” where Herakles was said to have killed the Nemean Lion. Unlike the Temple of Zeus the Lion’s Cave was not fenced off, largely unstudied by archaeologists, and well-integrated in the local landscape.  Moreover, she argued that the story of the Nemean Lion had special significance to the local population who had moved down from mountain villages into the plain in the 19th century and worked hard to tame the wild and uncultivated environment. 

Sutton’s talk resonates well with some of the themes in this blog (in particular see: Four Views of the Corinthian Landscape); in fact, it was largely through her work that I first endeavored to understand the modern Greek landscape.  Her talk resonated well with Tim Gregory’s talk last Tuesday, A New History of Byzantine Greece: An Archaeological Perspective (click the title for a podcast of the talk; for some comments see: An Archaeological Perspective on the History of Byzantine Greece) which began by placing the Byzantine archaeological landscape in the historical context of 20th century Greek scholarship and its views of this period.  Unfortunately no podcast on her talk, but we do have a podcast on her talk from the AIA in Chicago earlier this year where she explored some of the same ideas.

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