Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Version at BMCR home site
Jack L. Davis (ed.), Sandy Pylos. An Archaeological History from Nestor to Navarino. Second edition. Princeton, NJ: ASCSA Publications, 2008. Pp. lix, 342; figs. 135. ISBN 978-0-87661-961-2. $24.95 (pb).
Reviewed by Stefanie A. H. Kennell, American School of Classical Studies at Athens

The 1998 edition of Sandy Pylos (hereafter SP) was produced by the University of Texas Press in hardcover and paperback, the first major publication of the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project (PRAP) conducted 1991-1995, which expanded on Heinrich Schliemann's pioneering multidisciplinary approach, commended by Carl Blegen, and the likewise Bronze Age-centered work of the University of Minnesota Messenia Expedition.1 SP was the first collaborative attempt (18 contributors) to show how an archaeological survey project works and what it can tell us about the nature of a particular area through the passage of several millennia, in PRAP's case the larger neighborhood of the Palace of Nestor in Messenia, to the north of modern Pylos. The volume appeared with admirable speed only three years after the final field season and well before the completion of any of the specialist studies. The book was intended for several interest groups: granting agencies, by promptly delivering the preliminary findings of the PRAP intensive survey; non-archaeologists, with a lucid introduction to the history of the discipline and the methods, techniques, and data sets of survey archaeology; and (in the editor's words) "informed travelers in Greece," with an historical guide to the human landscape of (mainly southwestern) Messenia.

SP encompassed a wide range of topics, evidence, and historical points of view, overcoming the potential for unevenness inherent in multi-author productions by virtue of the project's unifying structure and editorial vision. While Bronze Age Pylos of course constituted a principal focus of the survey, contributors addressed subjects as methodologically and chronologically diverse as geomagnetic prospection, sediments and pollen, Linear B documents, settlement patterns dating to the Spartan occupation, Byzantine sgraffito ware, Venetian property inventories, Turkish tax rolls, and modern Messenians' perspectives on their land's history. The several parts played by archaeological science were clearly and genially presented, while the text-oriented sections shed other kinds of light on key aspects and moments of Messenia's history. Reviews were by and large positive, and it sold well enough to go out of print for some years. When negative remarks there were tended toward doubts about the book's organization (the introduction to ceramic typology is in Iron Age to Classical Chapter 6 rather than nearer the start of the book), remarks on the lack of particular maps and plans, concerns about SP's usefulness as a guidebook, and regret that certain points were not addressed in more detail and with greater methodological rigor.2

What, then, does SP's 2008 paperback avatar have to offer? To begin with, it makes the book available again at the same price as the first edition -- an achievement in itself considering the ever-higher cost of most academic books. In addition, the original content has been enriched by a "Preface to the Second Edition" that leaves the pagination of the main text unchanged (the introduction to pottery typology has thus not been moved forward; it is still at 163-166). In this new preface (xix-xxxiii), Jack L. Davis and John Bennet discuss the reception of the first edition, PRAP's presence on the Internet and in print, the rediscovery and re-study of finds from Blegen's excavations at the Palace of Nestor, and developments since 1998 in the field of Messenian archaeology generally. Davis and Bennet's remarks are equipped with a selection of recent bibliography that stands as a progress report on the publication of PRAP's own work, in the form of detailed synthetic reports in Hesperia and a Hesperia Supplement, as well as the state of scholarship on Messenia more generally.

SP's republication invites all its readers to think about current developments in the field. PRAP's webpage is still an important resource, fieldwork in Messenia continues just south of the PRAP survey area (the Iklaina Archaeological Project), and the project figures in ongoing discussions of field survey theory and practice.3 Equally important is that a Greek translation of the first edition of SP now exists and that it has been enthusiastically received, evidence that PRAP's efforts to reach out to and include the local community in its endeavors has borne fruit.4

Ten years on, SP is still a good read, a splendid introduction to the pre-modern southwestern Peloponnese (Lacedaemonian irredentists may disagree) that proves history of several sorts can be written without the aid (or crutch?) of a privileged ancient narrative. The totality of its contributions provide the backstory of what informed travelers (and the rest of us) can actually see, rather than a self-contained technical publication studied by the few or a "just the facts" guidebook undigested by the many.


1.   As SP itself points out (25-39); The Minnesota Messenia Expedition: Reconstructing a Bronze Age Regional Environment, ed. W. A. McDonald, G. R. Rapp, Jr. (Minneapolis, 1972).
2.   P. M. Thomas, BMCR 1999.07.05; J. Whitley, Antiquity 23, no. 280 (1999): 476-477; D.C. Haggis, AJA 103 (1999): 707-709; S. Voutsaki, CR 50 (2000): 360-361.
3.   Iklaina: Iklaina Archaeological Project E.g. J. L. Davis, "Are the Landscapes of Greek Prehistory Hidden? A Comparative Approach," 22-35 in Side-by-Side Survey: comparative regional studies in the Mediterranean World, S. E. Alcock and J. F. Cherry, eds. (Oxford, 2003), responding to J. L. Bintliff, "Beyond the dots on the map: the future of surface artefact survey," 3-20 in The future of surface artefact survey in Europe, J. Bintliff, M. Kuna, N. Venclova, eds. (Sheffield, 2001) and J. L. Bintliff et al., "Classical farms, hidden prehistoric landscapes and Greek rural survey: a response and an update," JMA 15 (2002): 260-266; R. Hope Simpson, "Interdisciplinary survey in Messenia, Southwest Peloponnese, Greece," Geoarchaeology 22 (2007): 111-120. Cf. C. Witmore, "The Notion of fieldwork in contemporary archaeological thinking and "Contemporary survey practice (all websites in this note accessed 14 July 2008).
4.   Πύλος η αμμουδερή (Athens, 2005). The reviewer, who was present at the July 2006 presentation of the book to a standing-room-only crowd in Pylos, can confirm the report in Davis and Bennet's preface (xix-xx).

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