A Corner of the Landscape: The Kefalonia Project 2001-02. A Preliminary Account

Christina Souyoudzoglou-Haywood

University College
Dublin

Introduction: The Livatho Valley

The valley of Livatho in the north west of Kephalonia, the largest of the Ionian Islands (Fig. 1.a below), was the scene of human activity from at least the Late Neolithic period onwards. Middle and particularly Late Bronze Age occupation in the area has been known for a long time, through the excavation of numerous tombs. In Classical antiquity the valley was the territory of the city-state of Krane, mentioned by Thucydides (2.30.2-3; 1.27.2) as one of the cities of the tetrapolis. The imposing walls of its acropolis at the edge of the bay of Argostoli have been the subject of exploration by archaeologists for many years. For more recent times, the Medieval and Venetian castle of Saint George, from which the whole island was administered until the mid 18th century, stands witness to the importance of the valley and the harbour facilities of the deep bay of Argostoli. The valley itself has maintained a distinctly rural character throughout its history. Today, above ground, among the modern fields and villages, the only remains are from the recent past: demolished Venetian watch-towers, disused lime-kilns, abandoned agricultural terraces, ruined rural chapels and houses, victims for the most part of the violent earthquake of 1953. It is clear that our understanding of the prehistoric periods depends entirely on what archaeological exploration can recover and explain, but even the historical periods are badly served, on the whole, by the historical sources. Ancient authors such as Thucydides, Strabo, Polybius and Cassius Dio give us but a brief glimpse of the island's fortunes. With few exceptions no specific reference to the city-state of Krane is made, and there is certainly no direct reference to the lives, as opposed to the actions, of the communities which lived in the valley. The only specific historical references to Krane are of a military nature: Thucydides mentions that it sided with the Athenians in 431BCE, when it defeated the Corinthians and Acarnanian forces which had landed on its territory, in contrast to the city-state of Pale to the north, which aligned itself with the Corinthians to the extent of even copying the Pegasus and koppa on their coins. During the Roman period Krane was presumably subjected to the tough regime which the rest of the island was made to endure. Used for a while as a private estate by Gaius Antonius, uncle of Marcus Antonius, it was given to the Athenians by Hadrian (Strabo, Geography 10.2.13; Cassius Dio, Roman History 69.16.2).

It is not until the periods of the Frankish and Norman occupation in the 13th to the 15th centuries, and thanks to the characteristic feudal land system, perpetuated, with a number of changes, by the Venetians from the 16th to the 18th centuries, that the sources begin to provide us with some useful information about the rural landscape. Archaeological study therefore has a hugely important role to play both for period-specific and for diachronic interpretations of the valley with regard to ancient settlement, land use, economy, resources, communications and the changes in the course of history.

The project and the site

My involvement in the area dates from the 1980s, when I was working on a synthesis of the archaeology of the Ionian Islands (3000-800 BCE) for my PhD thesis (The Ionian Islands in the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age, Liverpool University Press: Liverpool, 1999). At the time I criss-crossed the valley on foot while studying the excavated prehistoric tombs, also casting a critical eye at the rest of the landscape. It was the realization of how inadequate my perambulations had been at the time, particularly when trying to draw conclusions about settlement during the periods under study, which led me back to the area in 2001. In the meantime the foundation of the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies at Athens (IIHSA), the most recent foreign school to be set up in Greece, made it possible for me to return to the island, since it is only through such institutions that permits to carry out fieldwork in Greece can be obtained. It was thanks to the efforts of its Director, Dr. Pat Cronin, that the first fieldwork permit of the IISHA was issued as a collaborative project between the IIHSA and the 6th Eforeia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities based in the Greek Ministry of Culture. The site chosen for our investigations is a low triangular plateau at the locality called Kokolata-Mylones (Fig. 2). It is the first prominence at the southern edge of the Argostoli plain, on the main road, four kilometers SE of the town of Argostoli and 2 kilometers W of the castle of Saint George. There, in the mid 1980s, I had identified some prehistoric, Greek, Roman and Byzantine/Medieval pottery. The site was investigated in 2001, with a short supplementary season in 2002. The fieldwork was conducted by a team of four students from University College Dublin led by me and joined, in the first season, by Mr. Andreas Soteriou and his team on behalf of the 6th Eforeia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. Joe Fenwick of the NUI, Galway carried out the topographical survey using a Total Station. We are extremely grateful to the Institute of Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP) which funded the project, and our warmest thanks also go to Mr Dionysios Basileiades for his permission to carry out investigations on his land.

For the first season an area of 100x70m at the top of the plateau was defined as the project area. It was systematically explored through the collection of surface artefacts from sixteen 10x10m quadrants. Five trial trenches were also excavated, two at the top of the plateau (cuttings 1 and 2) and three at walls 3, 4 and 7 (cuttings 3, 4 and 7 respectively). The foundations of the walls, which were badly preserved, had mostly been constructed in a similar, irregular way, using "orthostats" on either side, and a fill of smaller stones. Other portions of destroyed walls were identified in other parts of, and outside of, the project area, and they appeared to predate the abandoned terrace walls on the site. The agricultural terraces, or pezoules in modern Greek, are a feature of the whole of the Greek countryside, some dating even as far back as the Bronze Age, but on this site it appears that they were built at the time of the Venetians when the plateau, like most of the valley, was given over to the cultivation of the raisin, a product traded intensively by the Venetians particularly from the 16th to the 17th centuries. The pottery was very fragmentary and scoured with plough marks. The diagnostic sherds, both from the survey and the trenches, consisted of amphorae and jars or jugs of "combed ware" and cooking pots of handmade and wheelmade coarse and semi-coarse wares, as well as fragments of tiles, one, from cutting 2, with the beginning of a graffito letter. Most of the diagnostic pottery was provisionally classed as late Byzantine or Medieval, with very little prehistoric coarseware and black glazed pottery (Fig. 3).

During the second season excavation was continued at wall 4, where remains of human arm bones had been found in the previous season. An incomplete fossilized skeleton was revealed beneath the wall. The enlargement of the survey area led to the identification of more remains of wall foundations. Moreover, a series of parts of retaining and terrace walls were recorded on the side of the main road, and in one place they formed a sort of narrow opening like a gate (Fig. 1.b), comparable to an opening between the spurs of walls on the SW side of the plateau. The Venetian activity has, we believe, led to the destruction of the older walls, which we presume to be field boundary walls and provisionally dated to the late Byzantine or Medieval period (11th-14th century). At that time the site was also partly surrounded by walls, possibly for safety reasons, as the period is known to have been plagued by unrest and piracy. A structure connected with agricultural activities may have existed at the NW corner of the plateau, judging from the larger concentration of pottery, stone-piles and part of an olive or wine press in the vicinity of the ruined pre-earthquake property. The project did not identify structures from the prehistoric and Greek periods: the pottery scatters from these periods most likely belong either to "off-site" or to short-term activities on the site, further evidence for which may have been destroyed by subsequent human activity, particularly deep ploughing. On the other hand, our investigations revealed a hitherto little known model of rural land use for the more recent historical periods which may prove to repeat itself in the wider region.

Future prospects

The 2001-02 project has opened up for us a "window" on the landscape of the region and has prompted us to engage with the valley as a whole. We hope that, starting in 2003, we may be able to conduct a four-year long diachronic survey of the whole valley, an area of approximately 30 sq. km stretching from the gulf of Argostoli in the north-west to the Lourdas Bay in the south. Fieldwalking and the study of collected artifacts will be combined with disciplines such as geomorphology, geology and soil studies. We are also planning to avail of the assistance of scientific techniques such as geochemical analysis, and possibly Geographical Information Systems and geophysics. These new methods and techniques have helped archaeology to review its approaches to surveying, and to expand the range of interpretations that can be reached through fieldwalking surveys. Thus our aims will not simply be to identify settlement trajectories and other land use patterns in our project area over a period of some 4,000 years, but also to identify the reasons and motivations behind such patterns and the changes observed over time.

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