BMCR 2005.05.04

The Sydney Cyprus Survey Project: Social Approaches to Regional Archaeological Survey. Monumenta Archaeologica 21

, , , The Sydney Cyprus survey project : social approaches to regional archaeological survey. Monumenta archaeologica ; v. 21. Los Angeles: Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, University of California, 2003. xxvi, 356 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 29 cm.. ISBN 1931745048. $60.00.

In The Sydney Cyprus Survey Project: Social Approaches to Regional Archaeological Survey, Given and Knapp (hereafter G & K) present the initial findings of the Sydney Cyprus Survey Project (SCSP) — a multidisciplinary archaeological survey of the Mitsero Valley in north-central Cyprus. The project was conducted from 1992 to 1997 in the north-central foothills of the Troodos Mountains. The region under study is noteworthy for its numerous mines, which are covered in great detail in the volume in terms of their history of use, the changes in technologies used to extract the metal, and their relationships to nearby production, agricultural, and habitation areas. The purpose of the publication is to present the underlying theoretical and methodological bases for undertaking the work and to offer what G & K believe to be the more select findings and conclusions, written by a host of contributing specialists. G & K are to be praised for their synthesis of archaeometallurgical, geomorphological, and archaeological data, their use of recent technological advances (such as multispectral satellite imagery, relational databases, and geographic information systems), and their frank discussion of a research strategy that developed along with the progression of the project. In these regards, the publication can be viewed as a model for future publications. The following paragraphs present a summary of the major points of each chapter, followed by a concluding section summarizing the overall strengths and weaknesses of the work at hand.

Chapter 1 presents an introduction to the concept of social archaeology, the stated framework in which the project occurred. Beyond presenting the now near universal claim of landscape archaeologists that human habitation and land use is inseparable from the study of the environment, G & K state their intent in understanding the cultural landscape, that notion of geographical space which inhabitants use to construct socio-economic and political structures, and the means by which people modify the land to reflect their particular society. To attain this knowledge, G & K endeavored to integrate geomorphological, paleobotantical, archaeometallurgical, and archaeological studies to present a holistic picture of the ancient landscape.

A final section in Chapter 1 illustrates a feature of the project: an interest in conducting research in a reflexive and introspective framework. All teams were required to keep notebooks detailing not only the descriptions of fields and features but also the team’s state of mind, internal discussions, and problems that were encountered in the field. While a common practice in other projects, the act of publishing selected accounts brings the human factors of conducting research into the discussion. Most people who conduct archaeological research understand that internal methodological disagreements, issues with data entry, and team fatigue are quite common and can affect the overall results. To publicly admit this is an act of transparency on the part of the G & K that lends weight to their overall conscientious and frank discussion on project methodology and analysis.

In Chapter 2 (Contributions to Regional Survey Archaeology) G & K explain their goals for studying the landscape as a whole, which extends beyond the identification of ceramic scatters and settlement patterning to include the identification and analysis of local resources and the cultural framework by which these resources were used and controlled. In section 2.2, G & K present a clear statement for choosing the region for research: to understand the core ore-producing region of Cyprus from a regional and diachronic perspective, and the interrelationship of industrial, agrarian, and inhabited areas of the region. The succeeding sections in Chapter 2 outline the general data collection protocols of the ceramic, geomorphological, geobotantical, archaeometallurgical, and oral history components of the project. Of particular note is the formulation of the ceramic typological system (termed the “chronotype”), which consists of a number of nested categories based on ceramic form, function, decoration, and date. According to G & K, this system allowed for both the accurate assessment of period and function for every given sherd, and the ability to revise and expand this system as the project progressed. Devising a flexible system for categorization is a key undertaking to any project intent on increasing the knowledge of local ceramic use and enables the data to be used in larger cross-project syntheses. Furthermore, the sections discussing the collection structures for the geomorphological, archaeological, and archaeometallurgical components reflect the overall intent to provide a fully integrated approach to the research. Throughout the project, survey teams had a geomorphologist present, and both archaeological and geomorphological data were collected for each unit surveyed. In the SCSP, environmental and archaeological data were given equal weight in terms of recreating the past landscape, and this reviewer enjoyed seeing such an integrated approach.

Chapter 3 (Methodological and Analytical Procedures) is an exceedingly rich chapter, and includes detailed discussions on dating and fieldwalking methods, procedures used during geomorphological, archaeobotantical, and archaeometallurgical studies, and the methods used during pottery and chipped stone collection and analysis. Throughout the chapter, the authors discuss the use of GIS and satellite imagery in compiling and synthesizing the project data. The fact that the methods for each of these components were clearly outlined is in itself praiseworthy. Of special note are the sections concerning the manipulation of satellite imagery, geomorphological procedures, and survey methodology — all of which are described in exhaustive detail.

Section 3.7 is an extensive discussion regarding the methods of pottery collection and analysis, and its representation in the project GIS. In this section, G & K address one of the long-standing issues in the sub-discipline of landscape archaeology — the fact that the quantity of artifacts observed on the ground is affected by a number of factors, including geomorphology, ground cover, surface confusion, and the state of mind of the observers. In order to accommodate discrepancies between the actual number of artifacts present and the number observed, G & K subjected raw ceramic counts to a number of mathematical transformations in an effort to account for varying field conditions, particularly visible ceramic types, and made reflexive corrections for visibility and ground confusion derived from controlled experimental survey units. The resulting adjustments provided G & K with ceramic densities per survey unit that (according to the authors) more accurately reflect the counts and densities of artifacts.

G & K admit that their methods for adjusting their dataset have yet to be fully scrutinized and evaluated, and this reader would agree that much work has yet to be done in this regard. G & K have contributed to the discussion by clearly delineating many of the problems involved in recovering and interpreting surface data and suggesting several methods to account for these issues. Given the manner in which the data from the SCSP is presented in this work, however, it is not possible for this reviewer to determine the effects of the various mathematical transformations, and it would have been instructive if G & K had included examples of distributions resulting from both raw and transformed data. As it stands, this reader is left wondering whether the extensive transformations employed improved, detracted from, or were inconsequential when compared against the raw collected data.

Chapter 4 presents the results of the survey. A selection of the various POSIs (Places of Special Interest) and SIAs (Special Interest Areas) is presented, chosen because of their “material, spatial, methodological, analytical, or interpretative significance.” Criteria for determining this significance were not stated, but the full corpus is available for download from Archaeological Data Services for those interested. For each POSI or SIA, G & K provide specific spatial location (by UTM, cadastral map, and aerial photograph reference), followed by specific discussions of the physical landscape, historical context, field methodology used, and the survey and collection strategies employed. Each SIA entry is summarized by a brief discussion of the artifacts found and a conclusion of the unit’s significance. The chapter is frequently illustrated with photographs and section drawings of slag heaps and other mining detritus. The descriptions are presented in satisfactory detail, the most important to the reviewer being the discussion of field methods. This illustrates both the weakness and strength of the project overall — areas were surveyed using a variety of methods, yet these methods were identified and the rationale was explained to the reader. The archaeometallurgical data are presented with extreme care, and G & K are to be praised for the detail in this regard.

Chapter 5 (The Material Culture of the SCSP Landscape) begins with a selective catalog of ceramics and chipped stone data, and this section follows the typical pattern seen in other excavation or survey publications. Of curious note to the reviewer were the entries for the chipped stone. While catalog entries for ceramics are somewhat standardized, this is not the case for lithic data, especially in regard to chert material descriptions. A definition of some of the terms would have helped (for example, discussing the difference between a “light brown cryptocrystalline,” and a “coarse whitish tan chert”).

Section 5.4 (Archaeolmetallurgy: Data, Analyses, and Discussion) again returns the focus to one of the main goals of the project: determining the development of the Cypriot copper industry. Of particular note is G & K’s focus on the slags and related materials as artifacts, providing detailed physical descriptions in conjunction with geochemical data. In addition to the detailed physical descriptions, the results of XRF and microscopic analyses are presented, allowing G & K to outline the general process of copper production in this region from the Late Prehistoric phases onwards.

Chapter 6 (Diachronic Landscape History) is a period-by-period discussion of the history of the area, divided into early prehistory, the Bronze Age (or protohistory), Geometric and Classical, Roman, Late Roman/Byzantine, and Medieval and Modern phases. These sections were authored by specialists in each period, and the structure and focus of the discussion varied based on the interests of the authors and the nature of the data available. This reader would have liked to have seen greater uniformity in the structure of each presentation, thereby indicating in a clearer fashion the strengths and weaknesses of the data for each phase. The sections discussing the Geometric to Classical and Medieval to Modern periods were particularly strong. In these sections, the analysis was divided into elements of landscape function (agriculture, industry, settlement patterns, and religious space), and it would have been more consistent and instructive if the other sections had been placed into a similar format. Differences in presentation aside, each of the discussions was well written and made solid contributions towards understanding each particular phase of land use, as well as pointing the reader towards further questions and research that need to be undertaken.

The book concludes with Chapter 7 (Social Landscapes and Regional Archaeological Survey). In this chapter, G & K focus on some of the long-range transformations occurring in the project area. Sections in the chapter focus on geobotany, agricultural practices, the ideational landscape, and settlement patternings. The final conclusions unify the analyses of site function and land use as a means for understanding the social structure of the region. The discussion is organized according to the environmental zones in the project area, which enforces the correlation between the environment and human activities. The model that G & K provide for describing the socio-economic interplay in the project area is a synthesis of environmental, geological, and archaeological data, which provides an excellent example for future projects.

There are few mechanical errors. The placement of the black and white plates and figures immediately behind Chapter 5 and the color plates in the middle of the volume diverged from their usual position in the back of the volume, which may confuse some readers. The Table of Contents has one major error involving the pagination of Chapters 5, 6, and 7. Overall, the layout is clear, the number of typographical errors minor, and the illustrations and images are well presented.

In the conclusion, the authors offer their work as an example of the possible outcomes that can happen when archaeological methods are combined with methods and techniques from the natural sciences and state that the usefulness of their approaches will need to be evaluated by outside experts and readers. From the reviewer’s perspective, the overall results of the SCSP were successful. Although the variations in survey methods throughout the project diminish the ability to perform certain analyses, this is minor in contrast with the strong collaborative and synthetic nature of the overall approach. The authors should be applauded for their highly reflexive, conscientious, and integrated approach to their work.