Amateurs and archaeology. Experimental method or madness?
How do we share it all?
Until recently the archaeological community promoted acquired knowledge through conventional and traditional means of popularization, e.g., university publications, scientific magazines, academic conferences. Over the years the Koryvantes Association has managed through diverse activities and interactive participations to establish innovative ways of communication and new communicational channels enabling maximum effectiveness in transmitting the results of experimental archeology to the general public.
Experimental archaeology, popularization, reenactment, multimedia, hoplites, linothorax, ‘Koryvantes’ Association
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The Association of Historical Studies ‘Koryvantes’ deals with experimental archaeology, historical reconstruction and reenacting. It concentrates on the study of ancient Greek warfare through experimental archaeology techniques, covering a time range from the 15th to the 3rd century BC. Until now we have reconstructed successfully various types of warrior accouterment from the 10th to the 5th century BC.
The Koryvantes Association has been active officially from 2009, as a non–profit, living history association. The association counts more than 25 active members in Greece, amongst them writers, researchers, reenactors and history enthusiasts. During these four years of activity, the Association has managed to be productive on many levels related to historical research issues, e.g. participation in experimental archaeology projects, publications of experimental results, participation in numerous educative public events and international documentaries etc. (Figure 1).
Depictions of Ancient Greek hoplite were used already in the very beginning of the 19th century, in the Romantic Age, when men of letters sought the model of ideal humanity in Ancient Greece and her white marble temples.
Reenacting of Ancient Greek hoplites started in the United Kingdom in the 1980s and 1990s, based on Anglo–Saxon prototypes derived from popular history publications (Connolly 1988, 58). The first of these romantic and superficial approaches had limited effect in terms of real archaeological investigation, but on the other hand prepared the ground for further similar attempts worldwide.
Over the years these initial humble steps inspired more and more people to create numerous reenacting groups all over the world. In Greece, hoplite reenacting appeared in the late 1990s and immediately encountered a variety of problems, namely, as the Koryvantes front–line experience has shown:
a) The conservative social landscape of modern Greece was prejudiced against new and groundbreaking cultural events. There were also stereotypes that have dominated in Greece for decades, that is, use of the soldier image for the purposes of militaristic propaganda by illegal governments of the past. Thus, in the modern Greek mind, the image of an ancient Greek soldier carried suspicious and dangerous connotations;
b) Other stereotypes confronting the association came from historical research, specifically, extensive but inadequate studies by Western scholars in recent decades. Many early works by ‘amateur gentlemen archaeologists’ were later discarded in effect of established scientific archaeological studies. These studies were purely theoretical and despite their extensive and well-structured philological core, they were incapable of incorporating and applying experimental practice. As a result, no solid and generally accepted theory on Ancient Greek warfare exists for lack of reliable data from fieldwork;
c) Another serious difficulty was the gap of more than 2500 years separating the modern from the ancient. The knowledge essential for even a rudimentary reconstruction of the Ancient Greek world is enormous. Long term systematic effort is required to be able to reconstruct an entire social, political and military regime. By contrast, European Medieval reenacting had not faced such fundamental problems even a the early stage, because the medieval tradition has never quite disappeared from European culture and is still present, in one form or another. The ancient tradition, on the other hand, has been lost for the most part. In the end, however, we drew strength and courage from the very fact of the weakness of our case study (due to chronological distance and the lack of actual finds) to continue our efforts.
Experimental archaeology is defined as a process during which, and through the application of appropriate conditions, an attempt is made at a scientifically documented historical reconstruction with the aim of drawing scientific conclusions with regard to issues that cannot be addressed by traditional history or archaeology.
It is a method for testing ideas and exploring the past through experiment (Shimada 2005, 603). So experimental archaeology steps in to fill the gaps, complete the lines and clarify unknowns in historical research, sometimes even pose new questions (Kuijpers 2008, 25). During the past years our club has conducted various experimental archeological projects aiming, on one hand, to reproduce ancient Greek weapons and, on the other, to discover and document specific ways in which they perform under real battle conditions. Asignificant example of an experimental archaeological project carried out by Koryvantes activity, where the result was a milestone in our research, was the reconstruction of the most debated armor of the ancient world, the linothorax.
The linothorax was probably the most popular armor of the 5th century BC and it is for us the most mysterious. It was armor backed on linen cloth, a dominant form in Greece from the 7th to the 3rd century BC. Collaboration with the distinguished scholar and armorer Mr Dimitris Katsikis (www.hellenicarmors.gr) in 2010 has resulted in what is most likely the first historically correct linothorax armor. The main objective was to combine experimental archaeology (traditional construction methods) and scientific documentation in a reconstruction of a workable/reliable linothorax armor capable of successful operation under real battle conditions. The inherent difficulty of this project is that existing archaeological evidence (and there is none other) does not support a secure reconstruction.
Previous attempts to build a version of the linothorax armor were influenced to a large extent by artistic and structural stereotypes which have haunted the image of an ancient Greek soldier in the previous century (Heckel and Jones 2006, 16). Existing misconceptions, in the Association’s view, are due to a lack of extended archeological fieldwork.
In conclusion, it is very difficult to reconstruct the past sitting at a desk, especially when the subject under investigation has to do with warfare (Figure 2).
Well established stereotypes, like the ‘white linothorax’ look, monolithic ‘glue’ structure etc., were based mainly on sophisticated and stylized images of ancient soldiers in pottery decoration (Dunkan 1981, 95) and had to be reconsidered and critically analyzed. Here, the power of experimental archaeology in unquestioned, as it can test all theories by filtering them through reality. Soon our survey revealed that commonly accepted theories (Sekunda 2000, 11) contain may gaps and unexplained elements. Under real battle conditions the said ‘white and glued linothorax’ (Sheppard 2008, 8; cf also http://www.uwgb.edu/aldreteg/ Linothorax.html) was absolutely useless.
Our approach to a secure reconstruction of the linothorax followed strict principles: using only reliable historical sources and archaeological evidence for reconstructing duplicates of arms from the age and their practical application in real-life conditions. Each new reconstruction, whether armor, shield or sword, is tested in an appropriate natural environment and in conditions applicable to the era under examination (e.g. testing the linothorax in temperatures ranging from 35 to 40 centigrade during the Greek summer). It also takes into consideration specific psychological, bodily and cultural factors which were dominant in the era under research, e.g. realistic test conditions which for the linothorax means continuous use for 1–2 hours in combat conditions, despite hardships. Finally, later or modern information is used to complement and bridge historical gaps (comparative survey, anachronism). In the case of the linothorax, there are no historical accounts of how to build a linothorax, but Byzantine authors supply interesting information on similar armor.
The Hoplite needed flexible armor in order to be able to move effectively in the stifling conditions of two colliding phalanxes composed of heavy infantry (othismos). The armor had to allow freedom of movement in all dimensions. At any time the fighter may have had to crouch, run, kick, use weapons in all directions. The armor had to be conventional and construction and repair had to be possible using household tools and materials (Katsikis 2010, 18). The armor also had to function properly with other pieces of equipment (shield, helmet, spear, sword, knives). A finding that we had from our initial experiments is that any protective device must be designed as part of the shield system, which is quite logical as the whole hoplite phalanx battle was based on the use of the shield (Katsikis 2011, 30). Moreover, armor should be made in such a way that it can respond to real battle conditions and for that purpose the selection of a suitable combination of local materials is enormously important from the point of view of their mechanical and structural properties (Katsikis 2011, 30).
Τhe end result of our experiment was quite satisfactory. The armor that was produced satisfied on the whole all of the above technical specifications and informed guesses. In each case satisfactory performance in the battlefield was the ultimate criterion; in other words, the armor passed trial with great success. The following publication of our study in military magazines was a milestone in the investigation of Ancient Greek armor, earning credit from specialists in the field (Figure 3).
Popularization of experimental archaeology
National and public museums have played a central role in providing educational program associated with archaeology or museums. Maybe the first such modern attempt was the ‘Museum College’ established in 1977 by the National Museum of Korea. The aim of this institution was to enable the general public to cultivate a basic knowledge and appropriate understanding of traditional culture and history and provide an opportunity for life-long education (Kwon and Kim 2011, 88). These first attempts were innovative and inspired new ideas for thepopularization of archaeology. Until recently the archaeological community promoted acquired knowledge through conventional and traditional means of popularization, e.g. university publications, scientific magazines, academic conferences.
This ‘closed circuit’ means of popularization discouraged active participation by the general public, resulting in the accumulated knowledge being the well-guarded property of a privileged few. New technologies and industries developed in the past 50 years have given archaeologists a wonderful opportunity to visualize the forgotten past through films, for instance, even if the primary objective of these kind of productions was net profit. Numerous expensive epic film productions have entered the public imagination from the 1960s on, giving the public at large an opportunity to admire reconstructed ‘Hollywood–made’ glory and magnificent past on television and at the cinema. The coming of the digital era in the past decade has added incredible potential to archaeological science in many fields, one of them being a new way of reproducing the past through digital applications for academic purposes and educative ones as well.
Experimental archeology through its capability to move to non–traditional avenues of research may be capable of transmitting acquired knowledge in radical ways. Years of diverse and interactive activities have permitted the Koryvantes Association to establish innovative ways of communication, new communicational channels enabling maximum effectiveness in transmitting the results of experimental archeology to the general public. Koryvantes perceives experimental archaeology as the most efficient form of linking archaeology with specific social activities, providing and retaining at the same time the values of archaeological science. Having managed to create something innovative, something that combines historical anachronism and knowledge of Hephaestus’ workshop, we then faced the need to promote the results of our efforts through various channels, which conventional archaeology had not used before.
The power of the ‘multidimensional’
The relationship between archaeology and the public is usually framed in terms of the opposition between conveying a finding within scholarly circles and communicating with the general public. A consumerist model lies at the heart of most of efforts by archaeologists to communicate with the public. In this model archaeologists sometimes produce a product, sometimes a dumbed–down version of the academic edition and sell it to the general public (Macguire and Reckner 2005, 218). Numerous examples exist of sketches and stereoscopic images (in drawing) from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s giving a simple and uncomplicated product to the public.
This kind of approach is obsolete today. Koryvantes assumed it would go for the multidimensional level and the key issue was how specifically to put flesh and bones on a one dimensional image to create a three-dimensional vivid Ancient Greek warrior, weighed down with kilograms copper/bronze scales and plates. In a way which will make the viewer understand that the warrior standing in front of him is actually the warrior created in his fantasy through the reading of history books. What better way to verify theories and informed guesses?
Nevertheless, even the best possible digital reconstruction of an Ancient Greek warrior cannot be free of mistakes and disputes. Digital technology has its limitations in many sectors of theoretical and applied sciences. Therefore, even modernization of means for transporting academic knowledge to the general public often faces obstacles. For instance, a scientific archaeological project can give the general public a virtual image of what is being described using computer graphics (drawing). This may be an ambitious and well documented effort, but who can guarantee 100 percentages correctness of the end result and furthermore who can predict how it will be accepted by the general public? To what extent the public will accept as real a virtual image of an Ancient Greek warrior from 2500 years ago? Το sum up, what is missing from digital and graphic reconstructions is their experimental verification and that cannot be done in any other way but materially.
A graphic designer under the supervision of an archaeologist will follow instructions and translate them into digital form, but the main issue remains: there is no way for digital models to be tested in real conditions in order to prove their ‘workability’. Furthermore, theory has become practice with three-dimensionality giving viewers a practical way of effectively embracing theory, accept and bringing into closer focus the results of archeological research, which thus stops being so impersonal and remote. Monotonous paragraphs of ancient and modern writings take on life, they can be touched, heard, felt, understood better. In this context, our club has been publishing our own studies and articles on a monthly basis in the Greek specialist press and in our electronic database.
Our photographic archive is also widely used by specialist Greek journals for their Ancient Greek–related historical topics on a monthly basis. Finally, we can say with pride that our work is considered as a form of fine art, finding acceptance even in Greek lifestyle magazines.
‘The power of interactive participation’
Without any doubt experimental archeology has indisputable advantages as an interactive medium between performers and the general public. Living history and a revival of the past in realistic fashion can be achieved by a natural fusion of protagonists and spectators. Modern presentation methods use interactive communication activities to achieve effective understanding of the message by the receiver. There are many examples where viewers can ‘participate’ in the presentation through prototype methods and actions. Our club had the opportunity to implement experimental archeology with interactive applications during the recent Biskupin Archaeological Festival in Poland (17–25 September 2011). The results of experimental archeology, such as a technical movement, a hoplite phalanx drill and phalanx formation, were combined harmoniously and amusingly with the participation of small children during the event.
The end result of the interaction between the receiver and the transmitter, through two–way interactive interaction was surprisingly successful and satisfactory. Generic activation of the human senses (touch, hearing, vision, smell) and the simultaneous participation of a receiving audience during the presentation guarantee acceptance of the results of experimental archeology. In this context, our Association participates regularly in various public activities, such as demonstrations and lectures for children and students, public presentations at cultural events and public lectures about Ancient Greek martial arts. These aspects are easy to find in modern interactive marketing and have been introduced at many archaeological parks (Yorke and Uzi 2004, 10–20) (Figure 4 and 5).
‘The Power of Multimedia Reporting’
Another issue has to do with whether experimental archeology and its results can be made publicly available to people through means of modern channels of communication. The issue has to do with whether an academic textbook will not only be tested in practice through experimental reconstruction, but will also evolve toward some form of technological standardization with a view to becoming more easily accepted by modern consumers. Reality leaves no doubt that the future of experimental archeology is largely technological in nature.
Attempts to revive aspects of ancient Greek warfare, such as traditional archery, have demonstrated the importance of audio-visual material and multimedia tools as a mean of popularization (Bakas, 2010). Our Association has already established collaboration with a professional producer of Electronic Games (Modifications), who has reproduced faithfully the Koryvantes hoplites as videogame-fixed models, imaging not only our weapons and techniques of war, but also conveying the movement of ancient soldiers. At the same time, fully equipped members of our group have participated in a video clip of a Heavy Metal/Epic Music band, thus promoting our efforts mainly to young audiences, a fact which brings younger people closer to archeology and Greek history.
– Collaboration with Sacred Blood music band to produce the video-clip fot the song «Ride through the Achaemenid Empire»
This represents the next dimension of the evolution of experimental archeology fully in line with modern elements of marketing (Stone et al. 2003, 15–36). Local music and electronic game industries have considered it essential to approach us in order to implement authentic reconstructed images of Ancient Greek hoplites in their virtual electronic world which is certainly more familiar to the new generation. As a result, history and archeology acquire their rightful place in the everyday life of an average consumer in the form of entertainment.
‘The Power of alternative action’
Another challenge for our Association was to connect hoplite activities with secondary established, war-oriented arts which existed in Greece in the 5th century BC. In other words, we had to re-establish the forgotten bridge between pure military training and the more civilian martial arts like wrestling. After all, in Ancient Greece athletics in ideology and practice were close connected with heroism and battle. The connection between experimental archaeology and martial arts specialists appeared to us essential. A fusion of sports originating from Classical Greece and experimental archaeology can fill the gaps and give informative answers on issues that have puzzled researchers for years. In the past three years we have cooperated with sportsmen to promote the revival of Pancration, an Ancient Greek martial art. The main question is to what extent a 5th century fighter could apply Pancration techniques in battle and how much the application of such techniques could contribute to winning. Answers to questions of this kind can contribute significantly to extending current knowledge on this aspect of social life in the Greek City states (Figure 6).
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Published by Archaeopress
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Archaeological Heritage: Methods of Education and Popularization
© Archaeopress and the individual authors 2012
ISBN 978 1 4073 1047 3
The editors are grateful for the financial support of Polish Ministry of the Science and Higher Education (799-P-DUN-2011) and Foundation of Friends of the Institute of Archaeology University of Warsaw.
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