You are here

At Empire’s Edge: Project Paphlagonia. Regional Survey in North-Central Turkey

July 2011 (115.3)

Book Review

At Empire’s Edge: Project Paphlagonia. Regional Survey in North-Central Turkey

Edited by Roger Matthews and Claudia Glatz (British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara Monograph 44). Pp. xi + 273, figs. 312, tables 21. British Institute at Ankara 2009. $100. ISBN 978-1-898249-23-8 (cloth).

Reviewed by

At Empires Edge represents the initial findings of a multiyear survey project, undertaken in Çankırı province, Turkey, conducted between 1997 and 2001. The study area is located in north-central Turkey and includes a variety of landforms—fluvial, steppe, and mountainous regions/areas—and is situated at the interface between the drier upland plateau of central Anatolia and the wetter, more mountainous Pontic region along the south coast of the Black Sea. In terms of cultural history, the region was known generally as an area of peripheral importance for most of its history, more often than not serving as a border area between states or other political centers.

The project seeks to understand the effects of large state systems (such as the Roman, Achaemenid, and Hittite states) on settlement patterns of marginal regions. Matthews and Glatz would view the word “marginal” as describing location, not level of importance. Rather, they view regions on the fringes of cultural or environmental systems as dynamic points of change and negotiation, where the stresses of a system would be most apparent. Understanding the relationships between complex states and their changes over time therefore requires the consideration of areas that are not centrally located within a system. Key issues considered by Project Paphlagonia include general questions common to most (if not all) survey projects, namely, the factors that govern the development of sociocultural systems.

The methods used to answer these questions consist primarily of extensive survey, with intensive approaches used as a “check” against the broader patterns viewed from extensive survey alone. The extensive methods consisted largely of informant-based reconnaissance. While this approach may be crude, one must be aware of the size of the project area (8,454 km²) and the amount of previous survey conducted in the province (none). The intensive methods will be seen as unique to those familiar with intensive survey methods found in Greece and elsewhere. Particular sections that were felt to hold a representative sample of the overall area were identified. Fieldwalkers were then spaced equally along a 100 m baseline and walked a distance of 2 km, holding to this spacing and a common bearing. The team then pivoted, and returned to its origin. This process was repeated in the opposite direction, creating a walked footprint of 4 km x 200 m. The intensive methods employed were intended to ensure that the patterns observed via the extensive survey were representative of the total population of sites within the area. The results of the intensive survey did not conflict with patterns observed in the extensive survey.

Numerous elements of Project Paphlagonia highlight the problematic nature of Mediterranean regional survey and survey within Anatolia in particular—especially in methodology and presentation. The area under study is quite large, such that the level of intensity required to cover the entirety of the area of interest was low. Therefore, the conclusions reached can only be speculative—particularly given that our understanding of ceramic typologies for the region is still in its infancy. Moreover, the methods used for intensive survey are atypical of many surveys. Given the overall size of the project area, the amount of intensive fieldwalking conducted is extremely small (ca. 28 km², 3% of the total area), and the level of intensity vis-à-vis the spacing of fieldwalkers varies widely. While the intensive results do not conflict with the overall patterns observed in the extensive survey, the reviewer wonders if this conclusion would still be the case if more intensive work was conducted.

The authors make numerous references to the fragmentary nature of the ceramic evidence, yet the discussion of the ceramics is quite limited. Having a thorough discussion of the evidence collected, despite its fragmentary and incomplete nature, would have assisted in moving the discussion further, and this reviewer hopes that more extensive publications on the ceramic evidence are in preparation.

Despite these issues, Project Paphlagonia is among a number of other projects conducted during the late 20th–early 21st century designed to draw out the land use and settlement histories in areas of central Anatolia outside the direct influence of major urban centers (e.g., the Göksu Archaeological Project, Hacımusalar Regional Survey Project, the Rough Cilicia Archaeological Survey Project, the Avkat Archaeological Project). As such, Project Paphlagonia addresses some of the more pressing issues of Anatolian regional studies—that of addressing the factors affecting the sociocultural developments of the rural Anatolian landscape. Understanding these dynamics is of key importance for considering wider issues of state formation and the maintenance of complex state societies in a number of periods throughout human history. The project, taking place in the late 1990s, represents an early implementation of Real-Time Kinematic Differential Global Positioning Systems (RTK DGPS) and GIS in Anatolian regional survey. While current methods have surpassed these uses, the level to which the environmental and geological sections in particular were aided by the uses of satellite imagery and GIS is laudable. Furthermore, the project’s emphasis on long-term processes and patterns aids in bringing central Anatolia into wider discussions of long-term historical transformations and patterns in a fashion that more traditional survey practices in Anatolia, focusing on a single or more restricted chronological phase, are unable to accomplish.

In sum, the project encompasses a vast territory and covers a wide span of time. In many ways, the project area is too large and the level of intensity too light to completely address the questions posed. The oft-repeated lack of understanding local ceramic traditions is a major hindrance in providing appropriate chronological fixes to sites or other broader patterns. As such, Project Paphlagonia provides an initial (as opposed to final) foray into Çankırı province and does so with an eye toward contributing to understanding broad patterns of state formation and engaging in a dialogue on the nature of the relationships between centers and peripheries in Anatolia.

James Newhard
Department of Classics
College of Charleston
66 George Street
Charleston, South Carolina 29424

Book Review of At Empires Edge: Project Paphlagonia. Regional Survey in North-Central Turkey, edited by Roger Matthews and Claudia Glatz

Reviewed by James Newhard

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 115, No. 3 (July 2011)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1153.Newhard

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.