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Byzantine Survey Archaeology: Reflections and Approaches

2013 Byzantine Spring Colloquium, March 29-30, Colloquiarchs: Sharon Gerstel, UCLA and John Haldon, Princeton University

This colloquium follows two conversations on Byzantine archaeology on general issues for the discipline in the twenty-first century, which were held in Dumbarton Oaks for North American archaeologists (2010) and representatives of American research centers abroad (2012). This meeting has a sharper focus—on surface survey. Initially seen as a precursor to excavation, the use of survey as an independent tool has expanded significantly and the method has been refined. Investigating settlement patterns, land use, cultural identity, and social hierarchies, survey archaeology—also called landscape archaeology—offers Byzantinists the ability to read history from the land, measuring information gleaned from texts against evidence offered or counter-offered by the material remains, quite often revealing information that is wholly absent from the written record. Survey archaeology provides data both chronologically broad and geographically wide, enabling us to understand small regions and their settlements, but also to compare regions and broad patterns. The use of field survey and the interpretation of its data, however, raise a number of questions for archaeologists of the medieval East. How does Byzantine survey archaeology fit within the broader field of survey archaeology? How do the research strategies of diachronic surveys account for an area that belongs more to the field of historical archaeology than to the field of classical and prehistoric archaeology? How do we evaluate the findings of older surveys that did not incorporate Byzantium fully into their initial research agenda? How reliable is the data collected from survey archaeology? In the absence of standardized methods (and chronological bands), how does one read across survey data? These and other questions were addressed by the speakers, who specialize in methods of archaeological survey, the analysis of data, and the interpretation of results.


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