The archaeology of the past century has seen a deepening
appreciation of the fact that excavation, even as it adds to our
knowledge of the past, destroys that past beyond recall. Unlike the
results of a scientific experiment, the results of excavation are
unrepeatable; no one will be able to dig the same trench again to see
if a previous excavator’s conclusions are valid. So, excavators need
to keep track of every step; a crucial part of this is the field
notebook, of course, with its exhaustive record of the digging
process, photographs, plans, and drawings. But even this may not
always be enough. The Mt. Lykaion project recognizes that, since this
record-keeping is just as important as the digging itself, it makes
sense for people trained specifically in documenting the actual state
of structures to be on site along with the excavators. That’s why we
have a team of architects.
This week, Ximena Valle, Assistant Field Director of Architecture,
delivered a wonderful lecture on to start off our evening lecture
series in which she explained to the rest of us how exactly the
architects do what they do. This week’s post will highlight the
architecture team and relate some of her insights.
Everyone on the project can see that the architects are never idle. They draw in the mornings, and in the afternoons, when most of us are working inside, in our lab, the architects usually head back to the hot field for another drawing session in the afternoon.
Then, when they aren’t in the field, they’re performing some complicated-looking operations on the computer. Ximena, who’s been with the project since 2006, explained to us what exactly they’re doing.
In the field, the architects have been drawing every visible structure at the site one block at a time. Each block is drawn twice, in plan and in elevation, at a 1:10 ratio, which can capture every detail of the blocks’ edges as well as cracks and limestone veins on the surface of the stone.
The drawings not only capture detail too minute for photographs, they also correct for the distortion of perspective inherent to photographs. Over the course of the past five field seasons, the architects have already completed the xenon, steps, and fountain house, as well as other blocks of architectural significance, such as the column bases in the temenos, and even “rubble blocks” that were once clearly part of a structure but have since fallen out of place. Now, they’re drawing the stoa and the bath house complex at the far end of the hippodrome. The architects also called in to help the excavators when blocks, column drums, and other architectural features are exposed in the trenches.
In the lab, the architects gather together all the drawings they’ve produced—each done by a different hand, but each lining up exactly with the others—scan the drawings, and digitally stitch them together with Adobe Photoshop into a plan and elevation drawing of an entire structure. After some adjustments using Illustrator, points on the drawing are correlated with the topographical survey team’s geo-referenced points on AutoCAD. The result is a topographical map of the entire site which contains detail as minute as a fissure in a block.
The architects are also beginning to brainstorm possible reconstructions of the fountain house in Mt. Lykaion’s Lower Sanctuary.
Everyone had fun participating in their field research for this project: last Saturday, we visited the nearby city of Phigalea, which contains the remains of a fountain house of a comparable age to the one at Mt. Lykaion. At the neighboring site of Lykosoura, too, much of a large fountain house remains intact; visiting this site also gave the architects ideas. We’re all excited to see what the architects will come up with and impressed by the team’s tireless dedication.