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Lands of Meaning. A Geographical Information System Study of Space and Social Praxis in Ancient Attika, Greece, from the Mycenaean Age to the birth of Democracy (1200-480 BC)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - LandsOfMeaning (Lands of Meaning. A Geographical Information System Study of Space and Social Praxis in Ancient Attika, Greece, from the Mycenaean Age to the birth of Democracy (1200-480 BC))

Reporting period: 2017-11-01 to 2019-10-31

"“Lands of Meaning. A Geographical Information System Study of Space and Social Praxis in Ancient Attika, Greece, from the Mycenaean Age to the birth of Democracy (1200-480 BC)"", H2020-MSCA-IF-2016, Proposal ID 746874, is a research project, based in the university of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and structured as a 2 year pilot interdisciplinary approach using new digital methodologies and heuristic social theories on space in order to address, handle and divulgate new scientific paradigms in the study of archaeological landscapes. Target of the project is the key region of ancient Attica, Greece, an area of paramount importance for modern societies worldwide. In fact, this is the region where the democratic instance was conceived and established for the first time. This notwithstanding, important questions regarding the archaeology, history and social processes of this area, in the time span under study in LandsOfMeaning, remain still without reliable answers, due to the lack of a holistic and up to date approach addressing the challenges presented in the highly dispersed and unassessed data. Moreover, current archaeological research and management of the culture heritage in Greece suffer by important shortcomings in absence of a state-of-the-art Archaeological Information System, inter- and multi-disciplinary informed. It is sufficient to remind that the last effort to produce archaeological-topographical maps in great scale was that of the German project “Karten von Attika”, delivered in the period between 1895 and 1903.
LandsOfMeaning consists, therefore, of an integrated platform of digital technologies and up to date archaeological and sociological instruments that constitute such an Archaeological Information system. Using (a) CAD software for the vectorisation of all known material correlations from published or otherwise known data, (b) a relational database for the attributes of the later, we then import the two datasets within a (c) geodatabase in GIS. All archaeological features, translated in Topographical Units, the targeted analytical unit to interpret through stratigraphic assessment, are represented in 1:1 scale, which is a huge step away from the current praxis of ‘dots’ on the map that we see in many current similar projects (see the attached figure). The relational database put in place permits the inset of all possible data related to a single TU, mainly in one to all relationship. The objective was from the beginning, in order to rend the idea, a ‘google-maps’ of ancient Attica but with the distinctive differentiation that, in our case, the diachronic and synchronic aspect make the outcome much more sophisticated. In fact, with the insertion of dates and phases, all possible spatial inquiries are possible within GIS, along with the production of the relative maps, plans and histograms. Moreover, with the term spatial we intend the epistemological category of space as intended in social theories, following the innovative spatial turn paradigm as formulated in firm ground by Henri Lefebvre and, later, by important epigones like David Hurvey.
The project is socially important for three main reasons. In the first place, it enhances the potential for innovative approaches by the academic community, not necessarily just in the field of classics (admittedly a rather conservative discipline, late to engage with new technologies). Secondly, through dissemination of its results and an open access policy on the use of its logic, methodologies and raw data, it is highly attractive for policy makers and state/cultural institutions and related personnel. Its adoption by the later, even in part, will enhance the quality of management of the cultural heritage in multifold means and services. Last but not least, it comes as an important answer to the need of knowledge through a friendly and easy way to approach by the general public, especially in the field of cultural identities, while arises general awareness on the importance of cultural, historical memory, sense and respect of places and communities."
The Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne constitutes an excellent working environment for such an ambitious project. The principal investigator, building on his previous realisations in the field of archaeological sciences in the university of Rome ‘La Sapienza’, had the opportunity to enhance his epistemological praxis through the vibrant milieu in sociologically informed archaeology practised in Paris and the absolute priority given there in new digital technologies in a strictly open access policy. During the 2 years duration of the project, more than 600 contexts in Attica have been georeferenced (most of them visited by the PI in mission on the field), concerning the archaeology of the 139 known communities that constitute the region. The most promising districts for the quality of data have been chosen and delivered for the pivotal implementation of the objectives described above, among which ancient Eleusis, Acharnai, Anagyroi, Brauron, and Marathon. The work in progress have been disseminated through open accessibility to the data (available online), participation in international conferences, workshops, scientific disclosure in schools, project specific academic sites etc. Moreover, an international conference on ancient Attica have been organised in Athens (March 2020) with the participation of world-wide famous scholars (25) from 7 European countries, the proceedings of which will be published in a collective volume. An online bibliographical database on Attica ( will be freely accessible after the conference. Three scientific papers are in preparation in order to be submitted in peer-reviewed and open access journals. Moreover, the project has positively received great interest by colleagues both in universities and state institutions. Along the peer-review papers, a series of articles are on preparation regarding the state of cultural heritage in Greece and current legislation and archaeological praxis, to be published online ( and in traditional daily journals (To Vima). Last but not least, many students and PhD candidates in France have worked and enhanced their skills through stages on different chunks in the implementation of the project.
Notwithstanding the ambitiousness of the project, LandsofMeaning proves that a holistic approach in the investigation of archaeological landscapes is not only possible but both necessary and a priority, if the intention is to minimise interpretative biases. Moreover, within the innovative theoretical imperatives of the project we adopted the notion of Topo-poetic Units (from the Greek topos, i.e. “place” and poieticos, literally “the one who makes”, instead of Topographic Units) or as multi-scalar, multifunction variables conveying agency in societal process both in time and space. In other means, we boost forward the conceptual and methodological frame of the archaeological use of GIS beyond current limits and shortcomings because of the current inflation on the use of static dots on a map. The heuristic potential of the approach will definitively open interesting scenarios on the use of digital technologies applied, mainly but not only, in global archaeology and services/applications of cultural and social interest.