The Thesprotia Expedition
THE THESPROTIA EXPEDITION
A Regional, Interdisciplinary Survey Project
in Northwestern Greece
Methods and relation to similar projects
Landscape archaeology conducted in the form of intensive field surveys has developed into one of the most important research methods for regional history in the Mediterranean. Among the reasons for its popularity is the fact that landscape archaeology enables us to assess extended developments – the Braudelian longues durées. From the very beginning, intensive field surveys have been carried out in collaboration with natural sciences (geo-archaeology, palynology, etc.) and anthropology (e.g. phenomenology) in order to create a picture of the relationship between human beings and the environment. Historical sources and methods, too, have always played an important role in such projects.
Intensive field surveys generally have a diachronic approach, although some of the earlier projects did not include the periods later than the Byzantine. Recent projects, however, include the history of the study areas until the advent of the modern era. Thereby, the use of Venetian and Ottoman sources has developed into an important facet of the projects, which at the same time have, in a sense, been transformed into regional history projects aiming at writing an ideal histoire totale on the basis of an increasingly sophisticated interdisciplinary approach. This is also the case with the Thesprotia Expedition, where the intensive field survey constitutes only a part of the total project.
The Thesprotia Expedition uses an intensive field survey methodology developed mainly by previous survey teams working in Boeotia, on Keos, at Nikopolis, at Pylos, in Arcadia, and on Kythera. Thus, we employ site-scale surface survey at the majority of the sites investigated, which means that they have been divided into 10x10 m or 20x20 m grid squares and subsequently sampled in 5 m2 circles or by total vacuuming. As a result of these detailed documentation techniques, which are more time-consuming, much smaller areas can be covered intensively. It therefore becomes very important that the areas chosen for intensive surface survey constitute a representative sample of the different topoi in the region investigated.
Furthermore, it is very important to combine survey findings with the results of archaeological excavations carried out in the region under study. In this connection, we are collaborating with the local Greek archaeological authorities to create a digital map and catalogue of all known sites in the valley of the Kokytos. We also put efforts on digging trial trenches of our own as well as applying geophysical methods in some areas of special interest in order to collect more information about subsurface strata.
Geo-archaeology has become an important part of intensive surface surveys because it enables us to reconstruct how an environment has changed diachronically. Concurrently with the archaeological research of the Thesprotia Expedition, geological prospecting is therefore being carried out. Using a hand auger, it is possible to drill down to a depth of 6 m through the alluvial layers covering the valley floor. In addition, all natural scarps in river beds, ravines, and the like are being surveyed for signs of buried cultural layers. Moreover, soil samples are taken from all potential sites. Finally, we have been coring in the region’s seasonal lakes with the aim of collecting information concerning climate reconstruction, geomorphology and vegetation history, as well as taking samples for reconstructing the palaeoenvironment of Palaeolithic terra rossa deposits.
The Thesprotia Expedition aims at collecting all available information for the area until the nineteenth century, including ancient inscriptions as well as historical sources for the Medieval and Early Modern periods. Above all, this entails collecting previously unknown archival sources in Venice, on Kerkyra, and in Istanbul. This as well as all other parts of the project is always carried out with the possible benefits of interdisciplinarity in mind. The interdisciplinary approach creates synergy effects and will enable us to answer questions that otherwise would have remained at least partly unresolved.