National Geographic Society – NGS
NGS Proposal (7193-02)
The Azoria Project is a case study of urbanization in the Mediterranean in the first millenium B.C., exploring the bilateral effects of intercultural contacts and local land use strategies on the emergence of cities. The method is the excavation of the Early Iron Age and Archaic town of Azoria (ca. 1200-500 B.C.) on the island of Crete in the Greek Aegean. The goal is to examine changing dynamics of extra-island trade, crop and livestock processing, and local subsistence practices on this site, and to relate these changes to social processes involved in the formation of small-scale polities in the eastern Mediterranean during the first millennium B.C.
Two dominant models of urbanization within emerging “city-state” systems are current. One stresses the importance of the organization of staple finance within kinship and ritual frameworks (Schwartz 1994; Stein 1994; Halstead 1988; Halstead and O’Shea 1982); the other stresses wealth finance and production and exchange on various spatial scales (e.g. Wells 1984; Sherratt and Sherratt 1993). Both models tend to emphasize the nature and extent of regional integration—the symbolic or functional connection between center and hinterland—and the complex relationships between local agropastoral production, non-agricultural manufacturing, the organization of labor, and external exchange networks. The proposed dynamic interaction on which these models are based is at the core of theoretical and synthetic studies of the Greek Early Iron Age (Foxhall 1995; Whitley 1991)—and also historical models for the emergence of the classical Greek city—but it has not been examined empirically through systematic archaeological excavation in a specific example of an emerging city in Early Iron Age Greece. The Azoria Project provides such a case study.
The first season of excavation in 2002 demonstrated that by 600 B.C., the site of Azoria had become a city. The settlement was substantially rebuilt, utilizing earlier (1200-700 B.C.) buildings as foundations, as well as significantly transforming the plan of the site, its architectural form and spatial organization. New buildings suggest an increase in site size and population, and an equally new conceptualization of urban and domestic space. The elements of urban planning are (1) formal repetition of house types; (2) the construction of concentric circuit walls, organizing and restructuring space; (3) A foundation deposit indicating systematic rebuilding at the beginning of the sixth century; and (4) a civic complex, consisting of a communal dining hall (andreion)–for the common mess for kinship-based corporate groups– with multiple storerooms and kitchens, suggesting the centralization and control of resources.
A burnt destruction level at the end of the sixth century B.C. at Azoria has preserved carbonized plant remains (such as weeds, seeds, olive pits, and grape pips), as well as a variety of animal bones, providing much-needed data for assessing land use and food processing. These data are at the core of our problem orientation, which is to assess the establishment of cities as cultural or economic responses to the opposing tendencies of local agrarian and kinship structures and extra-regional and extra-insular exchange systems. Agricultural production and animal husbandry formed the basis of the ancient economy, while shaping and maintaining social and political relationships within societies. Food distribution and crop processing, in particular, are as much parts of daily subsistence strategies as functions of the organizational structure of the state. Recent zooarchaeological work (e.g. Crabtree 1990; Deland 1994; Gumerman 1997) has pioneered such approaches, which are now being extended to palaeoethnobotany (Weber 1999). Building on these studies, a working hypothesis for the Azoria project is that there should be perceptible differences in plant assemblages dating before and after urbanization. Centralization and homogenization in certain contexts—a shift from a strong diversity in crop processing patterns to more homogeneous situations—could be connected to the transition from small-scale domestic production to a centralised food distribution system.
The objectives of work in 2003 are to explore the economic and social variability between household assemblages by exposing a larger sample of house types and floral and faunal remains from storage and food processing areas; to dig beneath the sixth century foundation deposits in order to recover stratigraphic changes in the structure of the site and diachronic changes in plant and animal production; and to finish the excavation of the civic complex.
There are two basic questions that we are asking:
(1) Are there changes in the relative quantity, ages, and consumption patterns of cattle, sheep, goat, pig, and wild fauna; and what can these tell us about how the community was using their environment from period to period? Shifts in meat production versus secondary products—such as dairy and wool—could indicate important changes in the economy and social organization of the community involving the manipulation of labor and the allocation of land for certain agricultural activities. As the town of Azoria took shape, was there a change in the volume, type, and context of animal use that might demonstrate changing social roles of consumers and differing patterns of land use?
(2) Are there changes in the kinds of domesticated and wild plants processed and consumed on site, and how do they indicate changes in the scale and condition of different microenvironments exploited and the social context of production? We hypothesize, for example, that a mixed group of cereals, representing crop-husbandry products and by-products in variable proportions, would be related to crop-processing activities (Hillman 1984; Jones 1984; Peña-Chocarro 1999). The quantification of proportions of grains, chaff, and weeds in various assemblages—characterized by chronology, function, and location on the site—should give us a picture of differentiation in patterns of crop processing that we might relate to social or economic structure.
While we expect to find significant differences in assemblages, which could be related to the effects of urbanisation—such as centralisation of crop processing, reflected in a larger proportion of grains in a given context—the variability in the proportion of grains, chaff and weeds may be independent of a chronological tendency toward centralized control of agricultural resources. Heterogeneity in data sets could demonstrate more complex processes of state formation: a new “public” level of economy and society could have functioned side by side with a “private” system of kin-based exploitation of plants, which simply carried on from the Early Iron Age. In this view, state formation, might be seen as the progressive widening of the new communal civic sector at the expense of the old family-based one, which will never have completely disappeared.
Agriculture and animal husbandry can be important expressions of power relations within early state societies, while food mobilization and processing are reflections of political and economic complexity (cf. Halstead 1981; 1988; Gumerman 1997). The analysis of diachronic changes in patterns of crop processing at Azoria should affect our picture of the economics of the settlement on multiple spatial scales, while allowing us to shape a model of urbanization that utilizes archaeological evidence for human agency in sociopolitical change—the control and management of labor and resources. The study of carpological assemblages from the site has several interesting implications. First, the approach emphasizes both “before and after” phases of urbanization as well as more complexly stratified assemblages across the site (such as between houses and the andreion complex), allowing us to introduce and develop theoretical frameworks. The coexistence of different circuits of crop processing could suggest there was no unilinear transition from simple to complex forms of organization, but rather the progressive overlaying of different and intersecting power networks. This interplay of different identities—personal, kin-based, and civic—seems to offer a much more vivid and perhaps explanatory framework for the early Greek states (cf. Small 1995).
Among the artifacts recovered in 2002, imported pottery (from the Cyclades, Athens, and the east Aegean); gold, glass, lead and bronze; and imported (orientalizing) decorative motives on ceramics and metals (from Cyprus, North Syria, and the Levant) suggest continuing connections to the eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean world, and perhaps an interest in exotic motives as a means of articulating elite identity. Such evidence might contradict the commonly-held notion that Crete suffered a depopulation or economic recession ca. 600 B.C. with shifting Phoenician trade routes to the western Mediterranean. A central hypothesis of the Azoria project is that the economic growth apparent in the later part of the Iron Age culminated in urbanization in the sixth century, demonstrating a significant sociopolitical restructuring of the landscape–a quantum leap of formal change in the archaeological record. This accords with one multi-scalar view of the dynamics of city-formation in the Mediterranean (Sherratt and Sherratt 1993) which has argued that towns on the coastal fringe developed, ca. 1000-700 B.C., in response to the revitalization of Mediterranean exchange systems, by North Syrian, Phoenician, and Cypriot traders, causing tensions between the in-land, agriculturally-based communities of the Early Iron Age and the new trading towns on the coast. The results of the Azoria Project form a stratigraphic test case for changes in the economic and social organization of an emerging in-land polity, impacting the current discourse on the process of city formation in the Aegean, but also contributing to the Mediterranean-wide discussion of the validity of developmental models of urbanization.
The study of Greek state formation assumes an 8th century B.C. date for the appearance of cities, a radical transformation of preexisting social hierarchies and political structure, and a shift in the nature of agricultural production (Thomas and Conant 1999; Snodgrass 1987). Changes in exchange systems and a restructuring of pastoral boundaries and herding practices occurred after the collapse of Bronze Age palace states (cf. Foxhall 1995; Morgan 1990). The interpretation of evidence for these changes requires an integrated framework—a dialectic between faunal, botanical, environmental, and other archaeological and historical data. Given the importance of agropastoral systems in the emergent Greek city (cf. Fisher and Van Wees 1998; Chaniotis 1995; Cherry 1988; Whittaker 1988), an excavation approaching the problem of city-state formation in this culture-region should emphasize the study of plant and animal assemblages. The Azoria project is designed to reassess this period of culture change by framing broad questions of land use practice, social structure, and economic organization of the first cities in the Iron Age Mediterranean.