By Kostis Kourelis
Landscapes are unique historical texts on which ecological and human processes directly intersect. What to the romantic eye seems idyllic and “natural” is in fact the product of continuous inhabitation and exploitation at varying scales of intervention. Deciphering Mount Menoikeion’s historical development involves the careful documentation of its signs gathered from direct observation and cartographic analysis. Landscape archaeology utilizes the same stratigraphic principles employed in excavation. Every human intervention overlaps and often erases its predecessor. Cumulative strata have to be revealed sequentially in the reverse order of their creation. Thus, we must record the landscape of the 20th century, before we move to the 19th, 18th, 17th, all the way down to the monastery’s Byzantine foundation. Only through this rigorously controlled fashion, will we be able to avoid the pitfalls of making the kind of subjective evaluations that historians have applied on the holy mountain.
In order to make the interpretation process as objective as possible, we collected empirical data from extensive walking. Our objective for the 2007 summer season was to accumulate three kinds of quantitative data: spaces, lines, and points to which we could securely fix function and chronology. Spaces (defined as polygons) included the cultivated parcels of land immediately surrounding the monastery, neighboring settlements, as well as olive orchards and pasture along its furthest limits. Lines included the complex network of paths linking the monastery to its natural and urban resources. Points included all sites of inhabitation from isolated buildings, mills, bridges, chapels, memorials and caves. Taking G.P.S. (Global Positioning System) coordinates for all features will allow us to map each feature precisely and integrate it with other cartographic features derived from military maps and satellite images.
A team of walkers collected thousands of points and hundreds of digital photos, building the foundational data set for interpretation. In this first exploratory season, we managed to document a very important route connecting Prodromos to the city of Serres, much of it supported by stone terracing. As reading a manuscript palimpsest we were able to isolate and assign chronologies to many layers of aggressive intervention, such as the limits of contemporary canalization and road building, industrial quarrying, electrification in the 1930s, the extents of manufacturing and farming in the late 18th to 19th centuries, as well as the transhumant extents of goat-herding. Controlled as a natural habitat (through EU legislation) today, Prodromos’ landscape is just as much constructed in the 21st century as it has always been. In the early stages of observation and documentation, we have been able to codify the writing on the ground. We have learned how to read the signs of the mountain’s consecutive utopias and dystopias.