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6 Conclusions

The greatest challenge we set ourselves in this article was to interpret survey data in terms of human practices in the past, rather than archaeological practices in the present. When we started writing our interpretative commentaries, it quickly became apparent that verbing the landscape is not an easy task.

Part of the problem, of course, consists of the severe limitations of surface survey data. A whole barrage of sampling strategies, post-depositional processes and coarse pottery chronologies come between us and past human practices. We cannot and should not hide these from the reader, and they continually threaten to turn the interpretative commentary into a methodological treatise.

There is still hope, however, partly because of the sheer banality and repetition of survey data. A handful of sherds in a field will tell us nothing about past social relations. The patterning of thousands of sherds, however, can be the consequence of centuries of mundane human activity. These activities might be banal, but taken en masse they are an expression of people's structuring of their lives and landscapes. One of our clearest examples is the haloes of pottery round Roman farmsteads such as that round Vrysi tou Hadjichristophi. This is a distillation of a couple of hundred years of cultivating, fetching water, communicating and living. The same can be seen on a larger scale round the medieval and Ottoman villages of Phlasou and Katydhata.

Similarly, the grinding stones and gaming board at Bronze Age Petrera express no mere mechanical action but a landscape of shared sounds, skills, interactions and daily habits. Each one of the hundreds of thousands of slag cakes at Skouriotissa and Mavrovouni represents the intense heat, labour and teamwork of stoking and tending a furnace and performing a single smelt. Our maps and commentaries are full of potential examples of such routine practices. Discussing them in such terms gives a more interesting analysis than a series of site descriptions. We also hope that by so doing we are achieving a more nuanced interpretation of past lives, in spite of the many limitations of archaeological data.

There is another barrier which has challenged us during the writing of this article. The fullest data set and most perceptive interpretations are useless if they cannot be presented and communicated to the reader. Thanks to Internet Archaeology and the Archaeology Data Service team, we have been able to exploit a much wider range of possibilities than is available to authors of paper articles. These include an ArcIMS-delivered interactive map, a partially non-linear text, and a searchable database underlying the article.

The interactive map in particular has given us many great opportunities. The reader is able to see the maps and images alongside the text without extortionate publication costs. Through non-linear text the reader is allowed to explore the text and examine different relationships wherever and however they like. Readers can view the information on their own and arrive at their own interpretations, or even download our data and create new relationships and associations.

But does this all come at a cost? The GIS functions as a lens through which we examine the data. Some of the data that cannot be mapped, such as oral history or field diaries, are precisely what can be the most important to post-processual archaeology. Other data end up playing second fiddle to distribution maps, just because maps are easier for us to interpret, display and construct arguments around. We need to be cautious that technologies such as this do not become an even greater barrier between the archaeologist and the archaeology (Huggett 2004). We would genuinely appreciate comments or suggestions by email on any of these issues. By definition, after all, communications go in both directions... We have tried to demonstrate a way of interpreting survey data, and to give you the opportunity of trying it for yourself. TAESP has overlaid yet another network of activities and readings on the complex web of ancient and modern practices that constitutes our survey area. Now it is up to you to continue the process.


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Last updated: Thur July 5 2007