Deserted Villages: Perspectives from the Eastern Mediterranean

Deserted Mediterranean Villages

I just got my hands on this sweet little book Deserted Villages: Perspectives from the Eastern Mediterranean. Published by the Digital Press at the University of North Dakota and edited by Rebecca Seifried and Deborah Brown Stewart, it features a series of case studies about the nature of abandonment in modern and premodern times.

For a little context about the volume, you can read Bill Caraher’s blog or check out the publisher’s landing page which describes the project as follows:

Deserted Villages: Perspectives from the Eastern Mediterranean is a collection of case studies examining the abandonment of rural settlements over the past millennium and a half, focusing on modern-day Greece with contributions from Turkey and the United States. Unlike other parts of the world, where deserted villages have benefited from decades of meticulous archaeological research, in the eastern Mediterranean better-known ancient sites have often overshadowed the nearby remains of more recently abandoned settlements. Yet as the papers in this volume show, the tide is finally turning toward a more engaged, multidisciplinary, and anthropologically informed archaeology of medieval and post-medieval rural landscapes.

Better yet, just go to the publisher’s page and download a free copy of the book (the work is also available as a paperback for $20). It has loads of pictures so you can appreciate the content just by browsing the images.

The studies in this work generally are revised essays of a couple of sessions at the 2016 meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, but I’ll say that my chapter (with Bill Caraher) on the village of Lakka Skoutara near the settlement of Sophiko was twenty years in the making. We first began a study of the settlement back in 2001 as part of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey, a project that was keenly interested in documenting both the dynamic processes that have transformed the landscape over time and the modern settlements of Greece. Summer after summer, Bill Caraher, Timothy Gregory, Lita Tzortzopoulou-Gregory and I (and others) visited the valley to study the small-scale and large-scale traces of habitation and abandonment in the region. Bill and I wrote copious notes about each of the dozen houses in the settlement while Lita interviewed inhabitants who came out from time to time. We noted changes over time some slow and barely perceptible, others quite dramatic (like houses losing their tiles or buildings disappearing). Bill has written about the village plenty of times at his blog, and we posted two separate pieces about the settlement at this site back in 2012 (!) and 2016. Needless to say, it’s great to see this finally in print as it marks a long study.

The whole collection is worth thinking through because the essays provide yet another counterpoint to the old view that Mediterranean villages (whether present or past) were essentially static and remote spaces. In the studies of Susan Sutton, Hamish Forbes, and many others over the last few decades, villages are now more typically seen as dynamic, negotiated, even “liquid” settlements that change in responds to their broader interconnected worlds. Check out, for example, the recent collection of essays on ancient to modern villages in the Journal of Modern Greek Studies. As the editors of Deserted Villages note in their summary of the essays of the volume, village abandonment too was a contingent and messy process linked to broader patterns of mobility, memory, tourism, and economy.

Besides the article on Lakka Skoutara, folks with a specific interest in Corinthian studies may want to check out the interesting essay about the hamlet of Penteskouphi by Isabel Sanders, Miyon Yoo, and Guy Sanders. For those who knew ancient Corinth, this is a settlement about 4 km southwest of the village of Ancient Corinth. That essay, which is designed to showcase the hamlet as “an exemplary educational tool for archaeologists” to gain a deeper “understanding of archaeological sites and their formation processes,” offers a long-term study of how small rural settlements visible in the landscape in one moment can dissolve over time into the earth, clay, and stone from which they came.

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