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Landscape Archaeology in Southern Epirus, Greece 1

Landscape Archaeology in Southern Epirus, Greece 1

Edited by James Wiseman and Konstantinos Zachos (Hesperia Suppl. 32). Pp. xvii + 292, b&w figs. 109, color figs. 9, tables 21. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Princeton 2003. $35. ISBN 0-87661-532-9 (paper).

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Between 1991 and 1996 the Nikopolis Project, directed by the editors of this volume, along with Angelika Douzougli and Frankiska Kephallonitou, carried out four seasons of fieldwork and two study seasons in southwest Epirus. The aim was to examine the interaction between humans and landscape in the context of the changing environment in ca. 1,200 km2 of territory in this understudied part of Greece. This volume gives an overview of the project, a full discussion of the survey methods, and four specialist studies on the geomorphology and early prehistory of the survey area. A second volume will contain the full analysis of sites, survey tracts, and artifacts, as well as a chronological discussion integrating the archaeological and environmental data.

At the core of the project was a large-scale archaeological survey, whose methodology is presented in a clear and broad-ranging chapter by Tartaron. This is a helpful discussion of the principles and methods of undertaking such a survey, and would be a useful text for student survey classes, as well as for those designing their own projects. Particularly useful is the pragmatic approach to integrating intensive and extensive survey (28–34), the consideration of comparability with other projects, and the aim of leaving a usable “legacy of information” to future generations (26). In all of this it foreshadows the subsequent high-profile discussion of these issues by S.E. Alcock and J.F. Cherry (Side-by-Side Survey [Oxford 2004] 1–9).

There follow four specialist studies on the geomorphology and early prehistory of the survey area. Taken individually, these are interesting, well argued, and scrupulously supported by the data. They demonstrate very well the editors’ claim to be fully integrating archaeological and geomorphological approaches and data (265).

The longest discussion, and in many ways the core of the volume, is the chapter, “The Early Stone Age of the Nomos of Preveza: Landscape and Settlement,” by Runnels and van Andel. Their specialized survey focused on the Pleistocene “redbeds” formed in the limestone karst depressions, which attracted Paleolithic human activity and preserved the material. In a superb integration of geomorphology and archaeology, the authors give a coherent and fully backed-up presentation of the development of early human settlement and resource exploitation in Epirus. Topics of particular interest are the role of karst depressions in concentrating resources and acting as “magnets for animals and humans” (107), the authors’ success in dating open-air sites on the basis of paleosol stratigraphy and thermoluminescence/infrared stimulated luminescence (91–5), and the establishment of Mousterian behavior as economically rational, with specific sustained activities in particular locations (127–28).

There is then a spatial and artifactual analysis of the Early Upper Paleolithic site of Spilaion, which, with its ca. 150,000 artifacts, has to be one of the largest lithics sites in Greece. Two more chapters are geomorphological studies of specific areas: a study of the coastal evolution of the Ambracian embayment in the Holocene based on subsurface stratigraphy (by Jing and Rapp), and a study of the alluviation of the Glykys Limen and the chronology of the Acherousian lake in the Lower Acheron Valley using cores and ancient texts (by Besonen, Rapp, and Jing).

Taken as a whole, these four specialist studies give the impression of being freestanding projects rather than closely integrated components of a bigger project. The only indicated relationship with the main survey is that the Paleolithic survey element used the general survey for confirmation of observed patterns and as complementary data (96). Except for the Spilaion write-up, there is no cross-referencing between these chapters, and there is some repetition in their various discussions of the geological and tectonic background. Being separate fieldwork elements, they do not implement or demonstrate Tartaron’s excellent discussion of survey methodology.

Runnels and van Andel conclude their discussion of the association of Paleolithic human activity with the striking karst formations by saying that this is “surely” useful for students of historical periods. Absolutely. But why is there no general discussion of the area’s geomorphology that can then be applied to all periods, not just the Paleolithic? I hope the second volume will address this very interesting and important issue of the relationship between the unusual karst depressions and redbeds and historic-period settlement and resource exploitation.

In the two chapters on Holocene geomorphology, it is rather frustrating that the archaeology is passed over or even relegated to a footnote (179) when it is so clear that the full integration of geomorphology and archaeology would give added understanding. A full archaeological examination of the Roman-period harbor town on Ormos Vathy and the changing land use around it, for example, would inform the analysis of coastal change, hillslope erosion, and alluviation, as well as vice versa (177). No site numbers are given, so it is hard to know how easy it will be for the reader to cross-reference these geomorphological analyses to the site catalogue in the second volume when it appears. Even if they are cross-referenced, this is hardly the full integration of geomorphology and archaeology that distinguishes the early prehistoric analysis.

It is also slightly disappointing that the project only investigated material up to a rather vaguely defined “medieval” period (9). Quite apart from the intrinsic interest of later historical periods, their full examination would support important geomorphological issues such as river diversion (182) and anthropogenically-caused erosion. This last is a much neglected issue. It is referred to at various points as a possible cause of Holocene alluviation (e.g., 173, 226), but nowhere is it tackled head-on with a fresh suite of data.

The volume as a whole is clearly written and carefully edited. The maps and diagrams are clear and helpful, and the paleogeographic reconstruction maps are superb. The color photographs of geomorphological features and soil colors and the color GIS distribution maps are essential contributions to the analysis, and more publishers should follow Hesperia’s example of integrating color images in the text where needed.

In spite of the high quality of the fieldwork, analysis, and interpretation that this book represents, it reads like half a book. Some separate studies have also appeared (e.g., T.F. Tartaron, Bronze Age Landscape and Society in Southern Epirus, Greece [Oxford 2004]). The full integration of the archaeology and geomorphology, and of the different fieldwork and analytical elements of the project, will only come with the publication of the second volume, which is eagerly awaited.

Michael Given
Department of Archaeology
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ
United Kingdom

Book Review of Landscape Archaeology in Southern Epirus, Greece 1, edited by James Wiseman and Konstantinos Zachos

Reviewed by Michael Given

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 110, No. 4 (October 2006)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1104.Given

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