Friday, January 20, 2017

Introduction to the Mycenaean Atlas Project, Part I


The purpose of this document is to provide accurate latitude/longitude pairs for every identifiable site associated with the Mycenaean people. There are several important reasons for doing this.

1. There is a need. There have been smaller scale projects in the past which have attempted to map portions of the Mycenaean Cultural Area. For example there is the Archaeological Atlas of Mycenae co-authored by Spyros Iakovides and E.B. French. Another computer survey project that I am aware of is that of Vangelis Tsakirakis.[1]  Dr. Tsakirakis is, or was, associated with the Landscape Archaeology Group. Dr. Tsakirakis and his team implemented an ambitious database of historical information about Achaea. Among other sources it relied on the work of T.J. Papadopoulos so that LAG’s intention was, at least in part, to map Mycenaean sites.[2]  Regrettably it appears that their web site is no longer functional and I can learn nothing more about the status of their project.

2. The older gazetteers, upon which generations of Mycenologists have relied, are gradually becoming unusable due to the changes on the ground in continental Greece and other locations around the Mediterranean. These changes affect not only BA sites but ‘modern’ constructions such as churches, roads or even towns which have been supplanted, destroyed, or modified out of recognition.

3. Destruction of Mycenaean and other Bronze Age sites. There are many reasons for this destruction.  Some of it is deliberate as when farmers destroy sites in order to prevent land from being sequestered by the authorities for archaeological research. Sometimes stone structures are destroyed in order to reuse the material in building projects. And much destruction is inadvertent. Mechanized plowing will do an admirable job of destroying sites if allowed to go on long enough.

4. The destruction of the Greek countryside in general through the practice of plowing the hills into terraces for olive culture. Those who have not been to Greece do not often realize the extent of this devastation.

In former times sites were described by Mycenologists and archaeologists in only the most general terms. Exact locations were only disclosed to other professionals on a ‘need to know’ basis. This simple attempt at ‘site security’ was in response to the relatively common looting of tombs by people looking for ‘buried treasures’ (and, to be sure, sometimes finding them.) It is not the purpose of this document to minimize the problem of site looting. The perspective taken here is that this particular problem is the least of a professional Mycenologist’s worries and that the wholesale destruction of the land itself is a far more serious threat. The first step in protecting a resource is to identify its location. As long as the Mycenological community does not know where many of its foundational sites actually lie no steps can be taken to prevent their destruction. It is high time for full disclosure of these exact locations.

This document contains the exact locations for nearly 1600 reported find spots which have Mycenaean connections. These locations were identified from various gazetteers the most important of which was Simpson [1981]. Concordances to the best represented gazetteers will be found at the end of the document. Of course many other sources were consulted besides the gazetteers. Their names will be found in the Bibliography.

Layout of each entry

I will use PK = ‘C100’ as an example of this document’s method.

a. PK. The pk (‘place key’) number is the unique identifier for the specific site. Here pk = ‘C100’. This series starts with C100 and increases by one for every additional site. Other than identifying the site the pk numbers mean nothing and nothing additional can be inferred from them. They do not, for example, ‘cluster’. Close-by sites do not necessarily have similar pk numbers. Nor are they necessarily consecutive.

The ‘C’ in the pk number stands for ‘Catalog’. A more elaborate justification for a new numbering convention for Mycenaean sites along with a description of the ‘place key’ parameter may be found here.

b. TITLE: This is a string value that serves to provide a pronounceable name for the site. They are not necessarily distinct. They ordinarily identify a nearby place along with some identifier that tells what sort of find this is. None of this is guaranteed. It is the PK number that uniquely identifies the site. For C100 the title is ‘Platanos/Svina: Hab’.

c. POSITION: This is the raison d’etre for the document. Positions are described as lat/lon pairs in both decimal degrees and in degree-minute-second notation.

The numbers that are used for this purpose have a precision of one one-millionth of a degree or six decimal places (k•10E-6).

For our present purposes I will say that the theoretical precision of a lat/lon pair expressed as a floating-point number with six decimal places (k•10E-6) is approximately 11.17 cm. (~4.4 inches) in longitude and a bit less in latitude at 37° N latitude (a typical latitude for Greece).

Although Google Earth provides lat/lon pairs with a precision of 11.1 cm, the actual accuracy of these pairs (for reasons which are not Google’s fault) is closer to 5 m.

An example of how these various positions were derived along with a discussion of the concepts of accuracy versus precision in the lat/lon pairs of the Mycenaean Atlas Project are discussed here.

Establishing accurate numbers, as opposed to precise ones, in Google Earth is a much-discussed subject. The interested reader might start here.

d. ACCURACY: The accuracy parameter has nothing to do with Google Earth. It attempts to state the author’s own perceived accuracy in finding the stated site. This accuracy parameter is imagined as the radius of a circle such that, if the investigator were standing exactly at the given position, a circle of that radius would touch or cover part of the site being sought. Here C100 is thought to be accurate to within 20 m. Again, the web site mentioned just above will give a practical example of how my personal accuracy parameter is ordinarily established.

If the site cannot be precisely located then a lat/lon pair is still given and its accuracy parameter is marked ‘N’ or ‘unknown’. Even though a site cannot be located with confidence it may be that others will make the attempt and that the lat/lon pair given here may furnish a starting point. The numbers of sites at various accuracies are in the following table:

                                                          Error (m)
no. of sites

e. TYPE: This is a one-word description of the nature of the site. C100 is identified by Hope-Simpson as a habitation. In 'Messenia I' McDonald and Simpson called out the head of a clay figurine and so this is also typed as ‘Artifact’. It is not the purpose of this document to provide detailed analysis about the nature and significance of the site or its date of use. The sources I have specified under each article will do that in far more detail. I include enough material about the Type of site in order to characterize it in general terms for the reader.

[1] Tsakirakis [2000]
[2] Papadopoulos [1979]

Part II of the Introduction to the Mycenaean Atlas Project may be found here.

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