Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.09.14

Maria Iacovou (ed.), Archaeological Field Survey in Cyprus. Past History, Future Potentials. Proceedings of a Conference held by the Archaeological Research Unit of the University of Cyprus, 1-2 December 2000. BSA Studies, 11.   London:  The British School at Athens, 2004.  Pp. 208.  ISBN 0-904887-46-4.  £49.00.  

Reviewed by J. D. Muhly, University of Pennsylvania (
Word count: 4640 words

Just twenty years ago, in a paper delivered at an (as yet unpublished) conference, held in England in 1986, John Cherry introduced the term 'New Wave' to designate major changes in the way surveys were being carried out in the Aegean world. Gone forever were the old days when survey often amounted to nothing more than a solitary individual walking the countryside looking for sites. And by site, a term now freighted with controversy, was often meant nothing more than a complex of sherds, roof tiles and stumps of walls sticking out of the ground. A location, in other words, that held promise for proper excavation.

All this changed in the 1970s when a whole series of new survey projects took to the field, all representing multi-disciplinary projects run by teams of scholars with different goals in mind. They were not looking for new sites to excavate and often had little or no interest in traditional field archaeology. Such things were passé; they represented the Classical Archaeology of the past, the days when all field activity centered on the most despised of all entities, the "Big Dig". I do not wish to imply that survey archaeology began in the Aegean. In the Old World important survey work had been carried out in southern Mesopotamia, summarized by Robert M. Adams in Heartland of Cities (Chicago 1981) and in western Iran (see T. Cutler Young, Jr., JNES 25 [1966] 228-239), but this survey work was very different from what was to develop in the Aegean. Mesopotamian sites were buried under meters of alluvium and, in Iran, survey consisted of looking for mounds while driving across the plain in a vehicle (T. Cuyler Young, Jr., Iran 13 [1975] 191). More important, Near Eastern survey concentrated almost entirely upon the development of patterns of settlement. It never developed the fiercely contested methodologies that were to become so characteristic of the 'survey revolution' in the Aegean.

As is often the case this 'revolution' (and we will get to the nature of said revolution later on in this review) had very modest beginnings. William A. McDonald had, as a graduate student, been with Carl Blegen during the first season of excavation, in 1939, at what came to be known as the site of Nestor's palace at Pylos. When McDonald rejoined the Pylos excavation team in 1953, following the long hiatus created by the Second World War and then the Greek Civil War, he was a Professor of Classics at the University of Minnesota. Blegen saw what was going to happen to the Greek countryside, as the Marshall Plan put more and more money into the development of Greek agriculture. A record of ancient sites was needed, before they all disappeared with the growing use of deep plowing involving tractors, and new irrigation projects involving the use of heavy machinery. Blegen decided that McDonald was the one to take responsibility for the 'surface exploration' (as it was then called) of the countryside of Messenia.

McDonald began this daunting task pretty much on his own, in 1955 and 1958. In 1959 he was joined by a British scholar, Richard Hope Simpson, who had already done his own surface exploration work in neighboring Laconia (along with Helen Waterhouse). McDonald and Hope Simpson worked together in 1959, 1960 and 1962 (a year in which the present reviewer joined the team for a short, insignificant interval). They published their first joint article on the project in the AJA for 1961 (vol. 65, pp. 221-260); this was followed by two more preliminary reports in the same journal (68 [1964] pp. 229-245; 73 [1969] pp. 123-177). Then, in 1972, the University of Minnesota Press published The Minnesota Messenia Expedition: Reconstructing a Bronze Age Regional Environment, edited by W. A. McDonald and G. R. Rapp, Jr. This volume presented detailed information on 332 Bronze Age sites and 98 post-Bronze Age sites, with fifteen categories of information given for each site, including such things as water supply, percent of land under cultivation and estimated population. Nothing like this had ever been presented before. Thus was born the project known forever after as MME, the father of all future Aegean survey projects. As was inevitable, contentious siblings soon began to make rather disparaging remarks about the quality of what was published in that 1972 volume (and the earlier preliminary reports). Before taking such remarks too seriously I would recommend that all scholars interested in survey work go back and reread (perhaps even read for the first time) the 1972 publication. They will find therein much of great interest.

Largely unnoticed and of little interest to most scholars, a parallel and no less important survey project was underway on the island of Cyprus. This project was to initiate events that were eventually to lead to the holding of a conference on survey archaeology in Cyprus, in December 2000, organized by the Archaeological Research Unit of the University of Cyprus, in Nicosia. The Proceedings of this conference constitute the book under review. But, in the 1950s, no one even dreamed that there would ever be a University of Cyprus. Moreover the island was then in the grip of a struggle between British colonial rule and those who wanted 'union' (enosis) between Greece and Cyprus. Archaeology on the island was in the hands of a colonial Department of Antiquities headed by A.H.S. (Peter) Megaw, one of the great figures in the history of British Archaeology in the 20th century. His death on 28 June 2006, just short of his 96th birthday, has to be seen as marking the end of the heroic period of British archaeology that began with Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos in 1900.

In the early 1950s Hector Catling, then a young student doing his best to develop his career as a Cypriot archaeologist, while supporting his family, conceived the idea of doing an archaeological survey of Cyprus. Peter Megaw supported the project, found some money to finance things and the Catlings moved from Oxford to Nicosia, with a stop in Athens along the way to learn about Roman pottery from the finds at the Athenian Agora. The newly created Archaeological Survey of Cyprus, under the auspices of the Department of Antiquities [Megaw had insisted upon this], had its first season in the field in June of 1955, at exactly the same time as McDonald started his own survey in Messenia. As McDonald was soon joined by Hope Simpson, so was Catling soon joined by Kyriakos Nicolaou. The parallels between the two projects are really uncanny but, to the best of my knowledge, there was no interaction whatsoever. We are not talking about isolation here; more like living in parallel worlds. This is not the place for any sort of historical exposition of either project, and the early history of survey in Cyprus is told very well by Gerald Cadogan and Sophocles Hadjisavvas in their contributions to the volume under review. What is important is to be aware of the lack of communication between the worlds of Greek and Cypriot archaeology, right into the 21st century. When John Cherry, certainly one of the leading figures in Aegean survey studies, came to Cyprus in order to take part in the December 2000 conference he was making his first trip to that island. Scholars did move back and forth between Greece and Cyprus, to be sure. After Cypriot independence in 1960, Peter Megaw became Director of the British School at Athens (1962-1968) and, in 1971, Hector Catling became Director of that School. But, in general, scholars working in Greece paid no attention to the archaeology of Cyprus, and vice-versa.

What is also unusual is that survey work, in both Greece and Cyprus, has always been an activity carried out by foreign archaeologists. The Greek Archaeological Service has, until very recently, never had any interest in survey work. Catling's survey, which only covered about 5% of the island, was, after all, a colonial enterprise. Efforts to continue survey work after 1960 were made, especially by Sophocles Hadjisavvas, but on a small scale and everything virtually closed down with the Turkish invasion of 1974. All of this has now changed with the creation of the University of Cyprus, and this is why the volume under review represents such a landmark publication. One of the more important aspects of the December 2000 conference was the passing of a Resolution calling upon the Government of Cyprus to allocate the resources for the creation of a new Survey Branch of the Department of Antiquities, and for the establishment of a more enlightened attitude toward cultural resource management on the island.

So what is so unusual about survey archaeology, and why has it become such a controversial, even contentious discipline? What is involved in organizing and carrying out a 'New Wave' intensive survey? The most important aspect of such work, in my opinion, is that it must represent a team effort. This is the very essence of a modern 'New Wave' survey project: a team of scholars representing many different disciplines in the Humanities, the Social Sciences and the Natural Sciences. The team works together, in the field and on the publication. This is a basic difference between a modern survey project and MME. McDonald put together a great team of scholars for the 1972 publication, but they all made their contributions after the completion of the survey work itself.

Native Greek and Cypriot archaeologists, on the other hand, are still very uncomfortable with the whole concept of a team effort. Their archaeology is still that of the generations before 1950, involving a director of the project who has sole authority. The director assembles a team of assistants, usually graduate students, who work for and under the supervision of the director. They are often very capable young scholars, but they do what the director tells them to do. There is no unified team effort and, under this system of organization, New Wave Survey is impossible.

Modern survey work places great emphasis upon the intensity of the survey effort, the number of field walkers involved in doing the fieldwork, and the way in which their efforts are organized and recorded. Susan Alcock, inher wonderful book on Graecia Capta (Cambridge 1993) gives a list (p. 35) of 21 published survey projects, giving each project a 'grade' of either A, B or C (she calls these 'categories', but they really involve a rating of the quality of each survey project). That quality is judged mainly on the intensity of the survey effort.

Work at the desired level requires a large team, consisting mainly of students, who do most of the field walking, together with a battalion of technical specialists who are studying the geology and the geomorphology of the survey area, as well as others who are dealing with the ancient and modern fauna and flora. All these individuals must be transported to and from Greece, at the expense of the project. For the duration of the project they live together at the excavation camp, and there they are housed and fed at the expense of the project. Time is limited (and expensive) so all aspects of the survey project are discussed and debated, in the field and at the excavation camp, almost all day and every day. This represents intensity on several different levels.

All this comes together to constitute a very expensive research project. It used to be said that survey was cheaper that traditional field archaeology, or at least more cost effective. That concept ceased to be valid some years ago. Although all modern survey projects pride themselves on the egalitarian nature of their organization, the fact remains that there still has to be someone in charge, a general director whose job it is to raise the money and to keep track of how that money is being spent (in order to present some sort of accounting to the project's financial benefactors, public and private) and to keep track of who is doing what. This requires organizational skills at a very high level.

Such a level of organization is totally foreign to traditional Greek and Cypriot archaeology. There most of the individuals involved in any excavation project are locals who go home at the end of each day's work. There is no excavation camp, no team of specialists taking part in the project while in the field, and no real discussion of finds prior to the beginning of work on final publication (upon the termination of actual fieldwork). The contrast could not be greater. Looked at in this way it is easy to understand why native Greek and Cypriot archaeologists, until recently, have had little or no interest in undertaking the organization of intensive survey projects. They probably saw such projects as not worth the effort involved. It also has to be acknowledged that the members of the Greek Archaeological Service and of the Cypriot Department of Antiquities are government employees and, as such, are so mired down in bureaucracy and endless paperwork that they have little time for anything else. They are also in the vanguard of efforts to save known archaeological sites from would-be 'developers.' If you are fighting to save Knossos and Pylos it is understandable that what was happening to the countryside would come to be considered of secondary importance.

What is more surprising is that most European archaeologists have shared this attitude about the countryside, especially in the Aegean. The survey projects that have been so intensely discussed in the archaeological literature over the past thirty years have been carried out, almost without exception, by British and American scholars. Survey, especially the modern intensive 'New Wave' examples, has been the work of Anglo-American scholars. National departments of antiquities have felt free to leave the recording of the soon-to-be-destroyed local countryside to British or American scholars who, to be sure, always operated under the terms of a permit issued by the appropriate local authorities. The same holds true for Italy. When the devastation of the Italian countryside started to become all too obvious, again in the 1950s, it was the British School at Rome, under its then director John Ward Perkins, that organized the systematic survey of the ancient remains that still survived. Over some twenty years the British School surveyed some 100 sq. km of an area just north of Rome. They recorded some 2000 sites. This story has been told in the wonderful book by T. W. Potter, The Changing Landscape of South Etruria (London 1979). The same thing is now taking place in western Turkey. As modern 'development' is systematically destroying the surviving remains in the area of ancient Lydia it is a young American scholar, Christopher Roosevelt, who has undertaken the task of surveying and recording all surviving ancient remains. Local archaeology in Turkey is simply not organized in a way that would make it possible to carry out such a project. The decisions being made here, in light of the constraints described above, are quite understandable, but they probably grow less understandable with every passing year.

This is the aspect of modern survey history in Greece and Cyprus that is the most enigmatic and certainly the most controversial. Every survey project carried out since the 1950s has had one common theme: 'Survey now before it is too late for, in a few short years, there will be nothing left to survey.' It is indeed difficult to exaggerate the devastation of the ancient countryside wrought by new farming technology and touristic 'development.' John Cherry, in his splendid contribution to the volume under review states (p. 31) that "By some estimates, if current trends continue, as much as 98% of all archaeological sites will be destroyed by the late 21st century"..." Cherry goes so far as to suggest (also p. 31) some sort of triage classification, separating sites that have to be saved from "which parts of the archaeological landscape simply to let go..."

Facing such drastic conditions, and I would be the last one to deny the urgency of the matter, the question remains: why has it been left to foreign archaeologists to record what remains before all is lost? How could it have happened that, following the disaster of 1974, when the entire southern coast of Cyprus was exposed to extreme pressures to allow touristic development of coastline properties, especially in the districts of Limassol and Paphos, the Archaeological Survey branch of the Department of Antiquities was allowed to go out of existence? On the other hand, who could deny that Cyprus faced serious problems of national survival after 1974? The touristic infrastructure on the island had, before 1974, concentrated entirely upon the northern, more scenic coast of the island. All this was now gone, and everything had to be rebuilt on the south coast. Was there any role, in all of this, for archaeological survey? I would not presume to answer that question.

Both Maria Iacovou (pp. 12-13), a professor at the University of Cyprus and editor of the volume under review, and Sophocles Hadjisavvas, a former director of the Department of Antiquities, refer to this problem, as do many of the foreign contributors to the volume. One of the more curious observations comes in the contribution of D. Bolger, C. McCartney and E. Peltenburg, dealing with their survey in western Cyprus., who state (p. 122) that: "It is not inappropriate, however, as members of the European Union, to voice our abiding concern at the virtually unfettered destruction of the heritage of Europe in Cyprus by weak protective legislative measures, developers' cavalier attitude to the regulations that do exist, and the under-resourcing of the Department of Antiquities." Fair enough, but what is meant by "the heritage of Europe in Cyprus"? Would they also speak of "the heritage of Europe in Greece"?

In carrying out this rescue work which, it seems to me, does represent a form of salvage archaeology that, according to Greek law, should only be carried out by members of the Greek Archaeological Service [an interesting aspect of survey work that has received no discussion], everyone ends up by recording sites, however that elusive entity is to be defined. So what about compatibility? Obviously, if there have been a number of survey projects in the same general area, or even in the wider area of "the Aegean," the desire is going to be to compare results. John Cherry (p. 29) gives a rather grim account of just how difficult that is going to be. His figures show that, on the roughly 2 sq. km area of the island of Pseira, survey identified ca. 300 sites whereas in Grevana, an area of ca. 2500 sq. km, the same number of sites was identified. Is this realistic? Ian Todd, in his survey of the Vasilikos Valley in Cyprus covered, over the course of 23 seasons, an area of 151 sq. km in which he identified a total of 135 sites (p. 51). The Sydney Cyprus Survey Project, discussed in the contribution from A. B. Knapp and M. Given, was assigned a survey area of 65 sq. km. In five seasons of intensive survey they covered a total of 6.5 sq. km (p. 80). What were the results? Hard to say for this project, having given up on any possibility of identifying what is a "site," decided upon designations of SIAs (Special Interest Areas: 11 identified in the survey) and POSIs (Places of Special Interest: 142 identified in the survey). How are the results of this survey project to be included in any comparative study of survey in the eastern Mediterranean? Quite frankly I have no idea.

Catling and Nicolaou, in the 1950s, surveyed ca. 5% of the island of Cyprus and identified 1500 sites (Hadjisavvas, p. 38). David Rupp and his colleagues worked in the Paphos area of western Cyprus for a total of 14 years. They surveyed some 245 sq. km and identified a total of 579 sites (p. 68). What are we to make of what seems to be widely disparate data? Is any sort of comparative study even remotely possible? John Cherry could only conclude that things had to improve (p. 29): "If we do not take care of basics such as this, we will end up mired in incompatibilities between data sets which will preclude meaningful comparison." It should be pointed out that Cherry has also discussed this issue in a volume he edited, together, with S. E. Alcock, Side-by-side Survey: Comparative Regional Studies in the Mediterranean World (Oxford 2004).What all this suggests is a discipline that, for all its methodological sophistication, has serious problems in coming to grips with what it has been doing and what it all means. It might also be true that too much has been made of the importance of compatibility.

The only real publication of Catling's 1950s survey work in Cyprus was a 1962 article on "Patterns of settlement in Bronze Age Cyprus," (Opuscula Atheniensia 4 [1962] 129-169). This article soon became a staple item in every study dealing with Bronze Age Cyprus. Catling had made a basic assumption that archaeological sites in Cyprus did not have a long occupation history, with early habitation layers buried deep beneath the ground as was certainly the case in the ancient Near East. This meant, for Catling, "that the results of a field survey can be taken more or less at their face value" (Catling, 1962 article, p.132). J. Webb and D. Frankel, in their contribution to the volume under review, take serious exception to this assumption, based upon their eight years of archaeological investigation in the Marki-Alonia area of central Cyprus where they have carried out both survey and excavation. They have found excavated Bronze Age remains in areas where there was no surface exposure of artifacts (p. 128). They also found, in areas that were first surveyed and then excavated, that "The structure of the surface exposure...differed significantly from that of the excavated area" (p. 131). Stuart Swiny, based upon his own survey and excavation in the Episkopi area (pp. 60-61), came to exactly the opposite conclusion. It is refreshing to deal with an editor like Maria Iacovou, one willing to accept differences of opinion in final publication.

Even more significant, however, is the discovery, by Webb and Frankel, that cultural deposits from early occupation periods in Cyprus, especially those belonging to the so-called Philia Culture, dating to the latter part of the third millennium BC, were not found in surface scatter but only in sub-surface exploration (p. 135). This creates serious problems for Catling's basic assumptions and could mean that we still have much to learn about prehistoric Cyprus. It also raises the problem of visibility, one of the most vexing problems in survey archaeology. Indeed, for Albert Ammerman, in his contribution entitled "Farewell to the Garden of Eden," the problem of visibility is so great that "In a sense, survey archaeology has to start all over again--with a clear focus on visibility--if it to build on a solid foundation" (p. 181). That point of view is not going to win Ammerman many friends and admirers in the survey community.

Survey Archaeology does tend to be a very ideologically driven discipline. One need look only at the title of the fifth volume in the series edited by Barker and Mattingly, "Extracting meaning from ploughsoil assemblages," to realize that this is a discipline where tight editorial control is essential. Survey scholars do, in my opinion, have an unfortunate predilection for going off the deep end. How else can one account for the article by Susan Alcock, John Cherry and Jack Davis, certainly the three foremost exponents of Aegean survey in the latter part of the 20th century, in their contribution to the volume on Classical Greece: ancient histories and modern archaeologies, edited by Ian Morris (Cambridge 1994, 137-170). What should have been a basic statement on Aegean survey was allowed to degenerate into a discussion of manuring and the role of manure in spreading cultural sherds beyond the confines of the site itself. The authors even continued the discussion in the debate with Anthony Snodgrass, the doyen of Aegean survey scholarship, that concludes this volume (pp. 197-200). All of this prompted Sarah Morris, in her review of the Classical Greece volume (Antiquity 69 [1995] pp. 182-185) to point out (p. 185) that "Making a mountain out of a manure hill will leave many readers with a ludicrous view of survey archaeology". Nevertheless, the first paper in the Side-by-side Survey volume, mentioned above, by M. Given, in entitled "Mapping and Manuring." Such interests have extended into the study of ancient Greek households and the use of domestic space, with great emphasis placed upon the koprones (see the volume by B. A. Ault, The Excavations at Ancient Halieis Volume 2: The Houses. The Organization and Use of Domestic Space (Bloomington 2005), and the review of this volume by Justin St. P. Walsh (BMCR 2006.07.54). I found most interesting the comment by Diane Bolger and her colleagues (p. 108) that manuring can be worthwhile only when one is raising cattle. Sheep and goats simply do not produce enough of the vital ingredient; no point in collecting it.

This is what makes the volume under review, edited by Maria Iacovou, such an important publication. Rather than give all her contributors carte blanche, to do "their thing," or else imposing her own ideas as to what survey was all about upon all said contributors, she did the exact opposite. She made a great effort to bring together all the different aspects of recent eastern Mediterranean survey and to persuade every survey director to explain what he/she thought they were doing and why they were doing it, and then to give some indication as to how successful they had been in carrying out the goals of their own survey project. Contrary to what might be a first impression, this program involved very tight editorial control, with a strong editor telling her contributors that they could not do just what they wanted to do. The result is a wonderful volume that covers all aspects of the survey work carried out in Cyprus (and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean) since the 1950s. It is all here, for better or worse. This is what makes this book one of the best publications on survey archaeology in recent decades. Every scholar, with any interest in the survey work carried out in Greece, Crete, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Levant during the past fifty years has to read this volume.


Maria Iacovou, 'Editor's preface'


John F. Cherry, 'Cyprus, the Mediterranean, and survey: current issues and future trends'

Sophocles Hadjisavvas, 'Surveying after Catling: the work of the Department of Antiquities Survey Branch since 1960'

Ian A. Todd, 'Field survey in the Vasilikos valley'

Stuart Swiny, 'The role of intuitive and small scale surveys in landscape archaeology'

David W. Rupp, 'Evolving strategies for investigating an extensive terra incognita in the Paphos District by the Canadian Palaipaphos Survey Project and the Western Cyprus Project'

A. Bernard Knapp and Michael Given, 'Social landscapes and social space: the Sydney Cyprus Survey Project'

Vasiliki Kassianidou, 'Recording Cyprus's mining history through archaeological survey'

Diane Bolger, Carole McCartney and Edgar Peltenburg, 'Regional interaction in the prehistoric west: Lemba Archaeological Project Western Cyprus Survey'

Jennifer Webb and David Frankel, 'Intensive site survey. Implications for estimating settlement size, population and duration in prehistoric Bronze Age Cyprus'

Nolwenn Lécuyer and Demetrios Michaelides, 'Archaeological survey at Potamia -- Ayios Sozomenos'

Ilan Sharon, Yehuda Dagan, and Gilah Tzionit, 'The [awful?] truth about GIS and archaeology'

David J. Mattingly, 'Surveying the desert: from the Libyan valleys to Saharan oases'

Albert J. Ammerman, 'Farewell to the Garden of Eden: survey archaeology after the loss of innocence'

Nikos Efstratiou and Albert J. Ammerman, 'Survey in Aegean Thrace: exploring the landscape'.

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