2. Project Background

Figure 2
Figure 2: Map of the villages and neighbourhoods
(mehalla) of Shala (Galaty/IKONOS).

This article presents results of the Shala Valley Project (SVP). The SVP is focused on the Shala River valley of the Dukagjin region of northern Albania and seeks to explore the issue of isolation, among others, by studying the area on a regional basis, using a variety of archaeological, historical, and ethnographic techniques. This article presents work done between 2005 and 2008, with an emphasis on the results of the 2005 field season in the village of Theth (Fig. 2 and panorama).

We completed four summer field seasons, 2005-2008. In 2005 we surveyed the village of Theth in upper (northern) Shala. At that time 338 fields and 460 structures were mapped and fully documented. (N.B. readers are invited to query our data through the GIS and by searching the project databases. We would be most interested to hear from readers about interesting data patterns relating to their reading of this article.) In addition, 26 heads of household participated in detailed interviews. (Almost all of these are available in full as audio files with English transcriptions. The authors would be interested to receive comments on the content of these interviews, in particular from Albanian speakers [contact the authors]). In 2006 and 2007 we surveyed lower (southern) Shala. In these years 661 fields and 120 houses were mapped and fully documented and 10 heads of household participated in detailed interviews. Also in 2007, an extensive archaeological survey team worked south of Shala in the regions of Shosh and Kir, identifying and documenting 11 new archaeological sites. SVP historians have conducted research in archives in Tirana and Shkodra (Albania), Venice, the Vatican, Vienna, Istanbul, London, and Washington DC (Table 2). (We refer to many of these archival documents, but do not fully analyze them in this article. Interested readers are directed to the forthcoming final report and publication of the SVP.)

Figure 3 Figure 4 Figure 5 Figure 6
Figure 3: Photo of SVP Site 001, from south (Galaty).
Figure 4: Aerial view of SVP Site 006 (Galaty/IKONOS).
Figure 5: Map of SVP Site 006 (Fisher and Galaty).
Figure 6: Photo of SVP Site 006, from below, looking south to north. Site 006 is on the narrow promontory at the centre of the photo. The old trail north into Theth runs up the right-hand gorge (Eek).

In the course of intensive field survey we identified ten archaeological sites (see sites map and Table 3), of which five were test excavated (see excavation databases). The earliest site in the valley (SVP Site 001) dates to the Middle Palaeolithic, probably from the Oxygen Isotope Stage (OIS) 5 interglacial period c. 135-115 kya (Galaty 2006) (Fig. 3). The next period of occupation is represented by a terraced, fortified Iron Age site in the modern neighbourhood of Theth Grunas (SVP Site 006), located at the far southern tip of Theth (Figs. 4, 5 and 6). In 2006, 2007, and 2008 we conducted excavations at Grunas. Results demonstrate that the site was occupied c. 800-500 BC. The next evidence for substantial occupation of Shala dates to the Late Medieval period (13th-15th centuries AD). Late Medieval pottery collected in the course of survey was scattered in fields surrounding Shala's Catholic churches, most of which were destroyed during Communism, and at the site of Dakaj, an Ottoman-era fort strategically located at the centre of the lower valley (Figs. 7 and 8). Oral histories and family genealogies collected by SVP ethnographers suggest that the ancestors of the valley's modern inhabitants arrived in the 15th century, fleeing forced conversion by the Ottomans (audio clip #1). They probably infiltrated a sparsely settled, or empty, landscape, spreading north towards Theth, sometimes occupying residential terraces vacated in the Iron Age, such as at Grunas. It was during the following centuries that Shala's 'tribal' socio-political system developed.

Figure 7 Figure 8
Figure 7: Map of SVP Site 007 (Galaty).
Figure 8: Photo of SVP Site 007 (Galaty).

One feature of the Shala Valley Project that deserves special comment in the context of this article is the degree to which electronic technologies have impacted our data-gathering activities [View Comments]. The (ethno-)historical team used hand-held computers to enter details of the structures they surveyed; the ethnographic team recorded interviews on digital recorders; the intensive and extensive survey teams took GPS points to record each tract and site; the photographers took thousands of digital images; and a Total Station was used at Site 006 to create geospatial models. At the end of each day, data would be entered into the project computers and progress mapped in a GIS system incorporating, in year three, an IKONOS satellite map layer. Maintaining a large suite of complex electronic equipment in a remote area such as Shala, where electricity from the hydroelectric plants often had to be supplemented by portable generators and torrential rains flooded our computer spaces, was often stressful. However, the ability to review and share data quickly, and to adapt strategy based on the discoveries of the previous day, was a substantial advantage to the project team.

As all archaeological projects are now discovering, many gigabytes of data can be amassed in a single season. This poses a substantial curation problem, especially because most archaeologists lack access to the stable repositories familiar in the hard sciences. Archaeological databases, moreover, often include complex files developed with proprietary software, and the information is often hedged round with additional non-technical issues, such as concerns about confidentiality and intellectual property.

In this context, the opportunity to deposit the data referenced in this article in the Archaeology Data Service's repository, with financial assistance from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation under the LEAP II program, has come at a very opportune time. The additional advantages of being able to link the published on-line article to the data and to present more graphical and multimedia materials will hopefully become apparent in the following discussion.

Archived Comments

The use of electronic data capture devices in the field is a notable trend in archaeological fieldwork. What types of devices are other archaeologist readers using in their fieldwork? How do they improve the research experience? What data curation issues are you facing? What is your data curation strategy? Charles Watkinson


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Last updated: Thu Feb 25 2010