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Archaeology in Situ: Sites, Archaeology, and Communities in Greece

July 2011 (115.3)

Book Review

Archaeology in Situ: Sites, Archaeology, and Communities in Greece

Edited by Anna Stroulia and Susan Buck Sutton (Greek Studies: Interdisciplinary Approaches). Pp. xviii + 513, figs. 28, table 1, plan 1, maps 3. Lexington Books, Lanham, Md. 2010. $110. ISBN 978-0-7391-3235-7 (cloth).

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This book reflects a welcome trend—the coming together of archaeologists, anthropologists, and local communities. The trend is in part an intellectual convergence—archaeologists (following Ian Hodder) increasingly recognize the need to be reflexive, and anthropologists (following Alfred Gell, Danny Miller, and Chris Tilley) have taken an increasingly close interest in material culture. Both disciplines can gain from this dialogue and from a more constructive engagement with the communities within which they work.

The book is in three parts. Part 1 contains the editorial introduction, which ticks all the postmodern boxes. Part 2 (tales of sites and communities) comprises a number of case studies. Most of these are essentially articles, written from a particular anthropological or archaeological perspective. Papalexandrou argues convincingly that ancient spolia incorporated into later Byzantine and Ottoman-period churches formed part of the Greek memoryscape. Kaplan explores how the gaze of western travelers in the 18th and 19th centuries has affected modern archaeological practice. Sutton looks at why it is the Nemean lion and not the modern excavation of a great sanctuary that determines a local memoryscape. Both Yalouri and Caftanozoglou provide contrasting perspectives on the Athenian Acropolis and on different kinds of local claims (Anafiot vs. “The Archaeology”) on its global fame. Stewart provides a measured account of the question of who owns the Rotunda of Thessaloniki: the state (“The Archaeology”) or the church? Astrinidou stays in Thessaloniki and looks at how local and official attitudes toward its Ottoman monuments have changed in a city that has witnessed not one but two violent upheavals in its local population during the 20th century. Demetriou moves us eastward, to the memoryscapes of Greek (but largely Muslim) Thrace. Deltsou looks at the conflicts over authenticity engendered by designating a particular village (Nikiti in the Chalkidiki) as historic.

What follows are not articles but dialogues. “Between the Village and the Site” records a conversation between Stroulia, Krahtopoulou (a geoarchaeologist), Bessios (an Ephoreia archaeologist), and Miaouras (local antiquarian, museum guard, and hotelier). The subject is how to treat, and how to manage, the antiquities from two sites in the Pieria: classical Pydna and Neolithic Makriyialos. “Mud and Poetry” is less a direct record and more an exchange of reflections between Hourmouziadi (a professional architect) and Touloumis (a self-styled “proletarian dilettante” with an archaeological doctorate) on the Neolithic wet site of Dispilio. Next, Nixon describes the Sphakia Survey's engagement with the communities in Crete through the medium of film. Hasaki's contribution is a straightforward report on an unusually successful resolution of the problems faced by Ephoreia (state) archaeologists in preserving and presenting an ancient kiln that sits beneath a house on Paros. The next contribution records the successive, rueful reflections of Vitelli (project director), Stroulia, and Kamizis (local mayor) on the belated engagement of archaeologists working on the excavation of largely Neolithic levels at Franchthi Cave in the Argolid.

The volume ends with part 3, “Commentaries”—reflections by four senior scholars. Hamilakis reprises the points he made in The Nation and Its Ruins: Antiquity, Archaeology and National Imagination in Greece (Oxford 2007); Fotiadis concentrates on how archaeology is taught in Greek universities; Herzfeld welcomes the new archaeological reflexivity; and finally, Zimmerman draws parallels with various forms of reflexive engagement on the part of anthropological archaeologists in the Americas.

Overall, the book makes one overwhelming positive case. There are clearly mutual (social and intellectual) benefits to be gained from a more reflexive, more engaged archaeological practice, where archaeologists work more closely with local communities. But the book also advances several much more questionable propositions: that where anthropologists have led, archaeologists should follow; that reflexive practice is in large part a result of intellectual postmodern developments; and that current practice within Greek archaeology results from a tension between nationalism and “colonialism.” This creates a familiar cast of heroes and villains: among the heroes: postprocessualism, prehistorians (particularly if they are Greek and left-wing), anthropologists interested in material culture, and local people; among the villains: the Greek archaeological service (“The Archaeology”), the foreign archaeological schools (“colonialist”), traditional classical archaeology, and the Orthodox Church.

There are several drawbacks to such deference toward postcolonialism. First, post­colonial theory is essentially a conversation among Anglophone elites—between the former colonizers and the colonized. Greece was, to be sure, a weak state, dependent on the goodwill of the Great Powers of the day. But Greece was no one's colony, and to draw analogies between modern Greece and the plight of Native Americans or Australians is ridiculous. Second, such a perspective ignores the differences between the several intellectual traditions that have “colonized” the Greek past. Kaplan's assertion that “Archaeology has historically had little interest in modern Greeks beyond their uses as workers for excavations or guides to local antiquities” (91) is only true from a narrowly American perspective. One can work in the excellent facilities provided at Corinth or the Athenian Agora on such things as black-figure pottery, Hellenistic amphora stamps, and Roman coins and take little notice of modern Greece. But the same is not true for other traditions: for example, the work of British scholars such as Wace and Thompson (authors of both Nomads of the Balkans [London 1914] and Prehistoric Thessaly [Cambridge 1912]), Dawkins (excavator of Palaikastro, Artemis Orthia, and acknowledged expert on modern Greek phonology and textiles), or, most spectacularly, Hasluck. Hasluck (as Nixon notes) is the true intellectual ancestor of any kind of reflexive archaeological practice in the eastern Mediterranean. This diversity of intellectual traditions does help to explain one of the other main themes of this volume: the hostility between prehistorians and classical archaeologists. The point is that Greek archaeologists, being dominated (but not colonized) by westerners, had a choice of archaeological paradigms. Classical archaeologists and the Greek state chose a “German” paradigm, focused on objects, art, and architecture; prehistorians chose an Anglophone one, with much closer links to anthropology. Third, this emphasis on postcolonialism obscures the real factors that underpin this rapprochement between archaeologists and locals. One major factor, noted by Kamizis, is local government reorganization, creating municipalities (demoi) out of civil parishes. These are units large enough to have a distinct cultural policy often at odds with that of the state, especially when the demos is run by educated professionals. In recent years, a form of local antiquarianism (involving an interest in folklore, history, and archaeology) has grown up in many parts of Greece. As Vitelli points out, when the initiative came from foreign archaeologists, it stemmed from a vague feeling of ethical responsibility rather than any commitment to a particular theoretical paradigm.

Of course, every hegemonic discourse (reflexive postmodernism) and every major research project (even Çatalhöyük) has its blind spots. This is nonetheless a very interesting and worthwhile collection of papers. Archaeologists contemplating field projects in Greece would benefit immensely from reading this book.

James Whitley
Cardiff School of History, Archaeology and Religion
Cardiff University
Humanities Building, Colum Road
Cardiff CF10 3EU
United Kingdom

Book Review of Archaeology in Situ: Sites, Archaeology, and Communities in Greece, edited by Anna Stroulia and Susan Buck Sutton

Reviewed by James Whitley

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

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1153.Whitley

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