ARCH 0420: Archaeologies of the Greek Past

Survey archaeology: the first glimpse into any archaeological site by Emile Bautista

April 4, 2014 · 7 Comments



Today in class, we used survey techniques to inspect approximately half of Brown University’s main green. We split up into about 13 transects and walked in our own paths to see what types of ‘pottery’ and ‘stone tools’ we could discover laying around (in reality, we substituted things we would actually find on the main green for objects typically found at a site).

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This activity was quite the change of pace for our class and differed greatly from any of the group activities or discussion done in class. Spending class time outdoors, as cold as it was, was a refreshing way of simulating some of the things learned this week about the Greek countryside. Much of the countryside has been inspected by archaeologists using techniques similar to the ones we used, but on a much grander scale. Trying to use survey methods ourselves really puts the work done by archaeologists into perspective. The bitter cold combined with the biting wind made being outside insufferable at times. And yet, there are archaeologists who document the countryside, no matter the weather. Additionally, it took us far longer to examine a small portion of the main green than I had ever expected. The prospect of having to do this on a larger scale frightens me and I respect those whose passion is this.

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My ‘finds’ consisted mainly of branches, which served as pottery in our case. I would estimate that about 80% of the things I documented were sticks. This led to another epiphany: survey archaeologists surely find many of the same artifacts and it is their duty to record all instances. The monotony of that concept is not lost upon me. I found myself in a state of excitement when I found things like cigarette butts (aka roof tiles), something that was rare in my transect. Yet, I would expect that something like this is commonplace among many sites and these sorts of feelings are few and far between. I’m sure I speak for the entire class when I say that this activity really put into perspective the field work done by archaeologists around the world.


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7 responses so far ↓

  • Alexandra Evelyn DeFrancesco // May 2, 2014 at 12:11 am |

    I enjoyed surveying, as I felt like an actual archaeologist, even if I was mainly coming up with branches. I do remember being very excited when I found a piece of plastic that I could flag. My experience also gave me some perspective into what archaeologists do every day, although for many more hours and in often brutal weather conditions. That kind of dedication is astounding, although I can only imagine how worth it the experience is when one stumbles upon something incredible.

  • Michael Giannazzo // April 30, 2014 at 6:08 pm |

    I find it really difficult to imagine surveying in truly inhospitable weather conditions. Our experience was okay, but anything under 20 degrees would certainly be enough to make me question my choice of career, especially when surveying for hours at a time. At the same time, I can imagine surveying in nicer conditions might even be enjoyable, and a nice change of pace (as ours was).

  • Angela Cao // April 29, 2014 at 10:06 pm |

    Having experienced the survey in a very similar manner to what you described above, it really puts into perspective just how much hard work goes into surveying the sites that we’ve studied all semester. I recall having trouble with the amount of wind that day and also with walking in a straight line. It must be so many man-hours to cover larger sites in Greece in the middle of the summer when it’s approximately 8000 degrees in the sun, and it takes all your concentration just to keep surveying properly!

  • Ashley Urrutia // April 28, 2014 at 12:19 pm |

    Emile, this was a great summarization of the events that happened that day. Counting all the branches was very tedious and I can’t imagine recording on mountainous and uncleared land. I really enjoyed surveying because it was definitely amazing seeing how some of the information we looked at class was gained this way.

  • Gabrielle Celine Spencer Hick // April 24, 2014 at 1:08 pm |

    I reread this post today, and it brought back fond memories of our class’ foray into the world of survey archaeology. I agree with Emile that, yes, it was quite cold and most of my finds were sticks, however the excursion really brought home to me an understanding of how time-consuming conducting an archaeological survey must be. I can appreciate much better now how diligent and attentive archaeologists have to be – often the smallest finds are the most important, like the size of the fetal bones from the tomb of the Rich Athenian lady. It was a great time!

  • Aubree Colleen Moore // April 20, 2014 at 1:36 am |

    Emile does a nice job of explaining the experience our class had on this day. Participating in this activity was a nice change of pace, and it helped me to gain some serious perspective into the work that survey archaeologists do. It was very cold on the day of this activity, a fact that undoubtedly made the task at hand less pleasant. Having to stop and document every artifact that we found (no matter how common it was) also proved to be a daunting process that was more time consuming than I first expected it to be. Like Emile, I found myself getting excited when I found a “roof tile” or something other than pottery on the ground. The “architectural features” proved to be some of the more exciting finds of the survey, since they were larger and had an elevation that rose from the ground. One interesting aspect of our survey was that it was relatively easy to carry out considering how flat the terrain is on the Main Green. It is rare to have terrain as smooth as this, and I can only imagine the degree of difficulty associated with survey in the mountainous regions of Greece and other areas. Overall I enjoyed this activity, and I have a new found respect for all of the survey archaeologists out there who partake in this activity regularly, no matter what the weather or terrain may be like.

  • Thomas Pettengill // April 5, 2014 at 6:36 pm |


    I must say, I can really relate with everything that you said here. The actual participation in the processes we have discussed in class really allowed me to briefly step into the shoes of an archaeologist. you basically phrased all of my sentiments and learning experiences from this class.

    It’s activities and experiences like this one that really make this class unique. It provides an alternative method to learning and allows me and the rest of the class to loosen up and feel more comfortable when exploring archaeology. I really appreciated the activity, and it was really nice to interact with both peers and faculty in another environment! 10/10, would recommend!


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