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Set in Stone - A retrospective impact assessment of human and environmental resource usage in Late Bronze Age Mycenaean Monumental Architecture, Greece

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - SETinSTONE (Set in Stone - A retrospective impact assessment of human and environmental resource usage in Late Bronze Age Mycenaean Monumental Architecture, Greece)

Reporting period: 2020-03-01 to 2021-08-31

The SETinSTONE project (Fig 1) investigates human and natural resources which interacted in the Mycenaean Greek core regions. There, elites mobilized these resources to implement their monumental building programmes. It seeks to reveal how and why these constructions were accomplished, and what impact such large-scale prolonged building programmes had on the population over time. The Mycenaean polities were part of the Mediterranean system in which multiple regional units interacted and partially depended on each other. The hypothesis that massive building programmes were detrimental to Late Bronze Age (LBA) Mycenaean societies deserves thus to be revaluated even though it is likely that each region suffered case-specific internal features of this global prehistoric crises. Because of the complex role that such building programmes may have played in societies that were mainly agrarian, SETinSTONE investigates combined factors of these prehistoric crises phenomena, and the specific role of prolonged building as one of these factors.
Since phenomena of large-scale and global crises (climate, war, resource depletion, famine, disasters, breakdown of trade networks), with all their implications surround us now, this is a very timely period to investigate potential factors contributing to a major past crisis. Lessons and ideas from past contexts may emerge which may help us to deal with our own situation and we may, at least, contemplate our current observations as possible models to past contexts.

The following questions are addressed:
1) What were the minimum levels of human, material and environmental resources input in the prolonged Mycenaean building programmes (Fig 2)? Did these building programmes deplete these available resources in the regions under study, and if so, to which degree?
2) Which subsistence activities did people undertake in the centuries leading up to the Mycenaean collapse c. 1200 BC and which resources did they have at their disposal (Fig 3)?
3) If the ‘misuse of huge workforces' contributed to the Mycenaean ‘collapse’, how does this local Mycenaean phenomenon relate to societal ‘collapse’ seen in other regions of Greece and the East Mediterranean which also suffered major setbacks even though they did not undertake major building programmes?
In answering these questions, the SETinSTONE team (Fig 4) captures practical building processes and inherent social practices via an interdisciplinary methodology consisting of econometric, statistic, anthropological and theoretical approaches. This combination (Fig 5), involving both intensive fieldwork through 3D architectural documentation (Figs 6-8) and an in-depth critical literature study of many data sets, is novel in its scope because it joins wide ranges of scattered data available on many aspects of human ecology and past economies of the regions involved. Multi-layered data sets illuminate thus the many interconnected networks of human and resource interactions that impacted on people’s day-to-day activities, first, but also on the economic, cultural and socio-political situations over time.
So far, the SETinSTONE team investigated the chaînes opératoires of specific monumental building aspects in the Argolid, Attica and Achaia, and studied people’s regional daily subsistence activities and settlement patterns over time (Fig 9). Through studying the social role of space, people’s mobility trajectories in these landscapes between the places involved in the chaînes opératoires of building are investigated (Fig 10-11). The team meets regularly through workshops and seminars, informal discussions, and during joint fieldwork in order to share knowledge on methodological advances and individually captured aspects of the project. This has resulted in several team collaborations beyond the original planning, almost full data collection by each sub-project, and the revision and refinement of several field techniques employed. This has resulted too in an invited joint paper with all members, next to other publications and presentations.
The team collected currently the largest database on highly accurate 3D documented architectural remains for prehistoric Greece; a wide data set combining published survey data, settlement patterns and landuse requirements, mortuary and dietary data, environmental data including botanical and current landuse data, and geological maps; and Mycenaean infrastructural data (Fig 12). Beyond the contributions to the field itself, the project also tests methodological models to studying crises phenomena. These models will be appealing beyond the pure regional Bronze Age context since crises phenomena and the ways through which people react to and learn to cope with these are totally universal phenomena. This project thus contributes in demonstrating the deep historical insights that archaeological research achieves in studying and understanding very human issues such as crises, and it illustrates the contemporary relevance of archaeological studies today and for the future.
Since this project investigates complex technological and social patterns produced and lived by its own people, only an interdisciplinary approach allows insights into people’s involvement in so many different interactions with each other and their surroundings. Each approach reflects the in-depth study of one of those daily life-composing (inter)activities while fewer methodological approaches equals the denial of past people’s dynamic walks of life. It would also impede our own holistic understanding of this past human arena with its already limited material remains.
Resulting from this premise, the outcomes of project’s phase one already indicate a remaining impact both for future research and societal relevance. The architectural methods employed in a time of constant and fast technological changes have been refined in the field while the 3D documentation was carried out. This saved time, it allowed for more material culture to be recorded and compared, and at no loss of any accuracy. These methods are thus also applicable, at low-cost, and easy-to-learn (for students and professionals), in any context with current or past architectural features. Additionally, all sparse and incomplete data concerning the surrounding LBA landscape and its people in the Argive Plain are being mapped with GIS tools. Similar data has also been geo-referenced and mapped for the region’s LBA infrastructure, indicating that several spheres of life (building, transport, agriculture and mortuary expressions), were clearly interlinked physically in the landscape even though these links are not always easily discernable (now and in the past). All mapped data sets are based on published data, and low-tech aids were very valuable in the geo-referencing while walking and experiencing the landscape. These published features have never been accurately georeferenced with current technologies and can, in part or as a whole, be used for future intensive field research and interpretive studies in the area. The physical and social impact of the monumental building programmes on the local socioeconomic and political structures in the LBA Mycenaean world will be investigated in phase two. These local phenomena will be embedded in the much wider debate on societal ‘collapse’ indicative of the final phases of the East Mediterranean LBA in order to understand which role it played on this much larger but networked scale.
Aerial view of Tiryns citadel & tholos (blue) and quarries (red) (Google, modified by A. Brysbaert)
Spatial distribution of archaeobotanical, zooarchaeological, and mortuary data (R. Timonen, ESRI)
Geomorphological map of the Argive Plain locating all assembled Mycenaean sites (V. Klinkenberg)
Map of Greece with core region of project (inset) (Anavasis & H. Birk,modified by A. Brysbaert)
Mountainous landscape behind the Argive Plain with R. Timonen (V. Klinkenberg)
Visibility Graph Analysis of the Upper Citadel of Tiryns (H. Stöger)
Entrance way to Menidhi tholos tomb, Attica (D. Turner)
Isometric view of the SW corner of the Mycenaean Wall, Athenian Acropolis (E. Sioumpara)
D. Turner measuring 3D locations and stone shapes of the Menidhi tholos tomb (Y. Boswinkel)
Multiscalar methodology in relation to the project's objectives (A. Brysbaert)
Network diagram of SETinSTONE team members (A. Brysbaert)
Photogrammetric model of the East Extension of Mycenae's fortification wall (Y. Boswinkel)