CLASSICAL ARCHAEOLOGY IN CONTEXT: THEORY AND PRACTICE IN EXCAVATION IN THE GREEK WORLD

Ed. by Donald C. Haggis and Carla M. Antonaccio

De Gruyter Berlin/Boston (2015) 426pp £123.99 (ISBN 9781934078464)

Classical (or classical) archaeology resists definition—where are we to place its chronological or its geographical borders? It has moved well away from what Snodgrass dismissed as ‘a self-contained, even hermetically sealed, branch of scholarship’. The editors emphasise its progress but are also keen to point out how the theoretical approaches of recent years have marginalised the direct study of archaeological material. The stress here is on the importance of context and the central role that field work in Greece and beyond must play. Today the old search for architectural ruins and high quality artefacts must be set against investigation that includes plant life, human and animal remains, marine fauna, regional survey, remote sensing, etc. We are also urged to reconsider the traditional narratives and approach the material on a much broader front.

Geographically and chronologically, the net is cast wide: the excavations highlighted centre on various sites on Crete, Rhodes and Poros, Athens and the Peloponnese, northern Greece, Sicily and Lycia. Each is approached in a different way with a variety of emphases, and most chapters show how present excavations contrast with earlier digging. Three countries (Italy, Greece and Turkey) are involved, and this means that the archaeological teams have had to surmount different political and administrative obstacles before local and foreign excavators can even start their investigations.

The variety of methodologies is remarkable. As the editors point out (p. 8), ‘The collection is meant to be eclectic, demonstrating a diversity of field-based problems and perspectives, rather than the efficacy of specific field methods or theory.’ There are three sites in Crete of different periods (Praisos, Azoria and Arkalochori), three in and around Athens (where the emphasis is on mortuary assemblages), an early upland settlement in Lycia, Morgantina in Sicily (Antonaccio names the traditional old dig as ‘an accidental big-dig’ and contrasts it with the more up–to-date work being carried out at present), and three sites in the Peloponnese (Argos, Elis and Megalopolis where the agorai are shown to give the lie to our usual understanding of the appearance of an agora). At the sanctuary of Poseidon at Kalaureia on Poros attention is focussed on the fish bones, sea shells and fishing implements (net weights, bronze rings and lead hooks), and a vivid picture of the basic strategies of living around the sanctuary is recreated. It is a prime example of the value of the modern approach to classical archaeology.

Brian A. Sparkes

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