Those of you who follow my Twitter feed know that our article on the fortifications around Lychnari harbor in the Southeastern Corinthia was given "conditional acceptance" by Hesperia this past week. The descriptive elements -- that is the publication of the archaeology -- was fine, but our interpretation appears to have been somewhat lacking. The main objections from the substantial peer reviews focused on our identification of these rural structures as fortifications constructed either by the "central government" at Corinth (such as this existed in the Late Classical and Hellenistic period) or, at very least, by the local residents of the coastal valley to the south of the main Isthmian plain. One reviewer thought that our site was more likely to be a farmstead or even rural storage. The other thought that we needed to make our argument more convincingly irrespective of our interpretation of these sites.
From the start our goal in publishing the results of our work around Lychnari bay was to make the material public and make it available for future scholars to draw upon in their analyses. We argue that this alone makes these sites worthy of publication because so few examples of rural fortifications, or installations of any kind, have been published from the Corinthia. So, with that being our goal, how do we approach a problem with the interpretation of our site (and recognizing that we could never separate interpretation fully from description)? We bandied about three potential solutions:
First, we could simply observe that the debate around the function of rural installations is long-standing and probably intractable and allow for our sites to be read either as fortifications or as sites of rural habitation or both (imagining that a "fortification" in the countryside would be able to sustain at least a small detachment of guards for seasonal guard duty). Opening the door to both interpretations would shed light back on the material evidence itself and (perhaps ironically) the difficulty of interpreting rural sites without continued efforts to document and publish existing, known, rural installation in a systematic and thorough way.
Second, we could fortify our analysis (get it, fortify) our current analysis with an expanded treatment of our discussion of topography, history, and architecture present at our trio of sites. Bringing more comparanda to bear is always difficult in instances when the basic function for almost all rural sites is in dispute. That is to say, for every example of a rural site that fits our argument for fortification, it is possible to suggest that these comparanda are not necessarily fortifications, but other kids of rural installations. On the other hand, we have some additional evidence and arguments that can expand our arguments for the topography of the region. In particular, we can show that there is evidence for the fortification of the route from Franglimano to the far southern Corinthia during antiquity and the post-antique period. This suggests that access to the Saronic ports of the eastern Corinthia was regarded as significant route to more settled areas. While it will not be possible to argue for the amount of traffic through the network of valleys in the Eastern Corinthia, we can at least propose that some of these routes warranted an investment in fortification historically to support our interpretation of the potential state sponsored fortifications around Lychnari bay more successfully. This would include more careful discussions of the several episodes of military activity in the area: the Athenian raid of Solygeia during the Peloponnesian War(4.42-44) and the Athenian landing at Spireion (Korphos?) at 8.11-12. We can also make more of the description in Xenophon, Hell. 7.4.4 of Athenians being stationed at "guard stations" throughout the Corinthia in the 360s.
Finally, we could back off our interpretation in general. The problems associated with interpreting rural installations are well-known. The issues surrounding these types of sites are unlikely to be resolved successfully without systematic excavation of a considerable percentage rural sites (and perhaps not even then). The link between difficult interpretation and archaeological publication is one that I had not considered in the past. If the problem with an article rests in its interpretation, rather than with the documentation of the site, and the problem is significant enough to prevent the description of the site from publication, then what are the implications for other kinds of problematic evidence seeing the light day in print. It would seem that this kind of problem would increase the potential for stable, digital publication of archaeological data to make an important contribution to the dissemination of archaeological knowledge that resists easy interpretation.
Hopefully we'll get a chance to return to work on our Corinthia article after our field season with the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project. I have about 10 days in Greece in late June and hope to be able to tie up some interpretive loose ends now. And, special thanks to the anonymous reviewers for Hesperia who have helped us focus very clearly on the shortcomings of our work and challenged us both in the specific context of our research and the more general context of Greek archaeology!