New Open Access Book Explores Abandoned Settlements in the Eastern Mediterranean

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Deserted Villages: Perspectives from the Eastern Mediterranean,” published this week from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, brings together nine peer-reviewed studies of abandoned villages from Greece, Turkey and North Dakota authored by leading scholars in their fields. Each study not only documents specific abandoned settlements in detail, but also offers nuanced analysis of these sites and the processes that led to their abandonment and current state. The book is edited by Deborah E. Brown Stewart, head of Penn Museum Library at the University of Pennsylvania and Rebecca M. Seifried, geospatial information librarian at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

 

People usually expect archaeologists to study abandoned sites to understand past societies. In the Eastern Mediterranean, however, the most commonly imagined sites are usually buried beneath meters of earth and require careful excavation to reveal their secrets. The book invites the reader to explore the vegetation overgrowing the hamlet of Pentaskouphi, the abandoned churches of Kythera, the roads and paths of the Western Argolid, and the imposing stone houses of the Mani peninsula. Reflections on sites as diverse as the settlement of Lakka Skoutara in the southeastern Corinthia and the town of Wheelock in Western North Dakota prompt historians and archaeologists to come to terms with abandonment as a process and state. 

Brown Stewart noted that these villages often elicited mixed responses from people who encounter them: “Some people dismiss them as unsightly ruins, others photograph them as romantic, and still others might think about the potential for investing and restoring to create a lovely summer place in the country. Archaeologists instead see opportunities to reveal the stories of people and communities that are too often missing from history and our understanding of the past.”

The countryside of the Eastern Mediterranean is filled with abandoned villages, hamlets, and settlements that are often still standing. The residents of these sites abandoned their homes after World War II for many reasons ranging from the convenience of mechanized agriculture to the appeal of urban life, the dislocations of war, and the changing character of the global economy. Archaeologists have regularly made note of these abandoned settlements, but until now, there wasn't a single volume focused on their archaeology.

Seifried suggests “while we focus on work being done by medieval and early modern archaeologists, the topic as a whole speaks to the kinds of questions that scholars of other time periods and even entirely other fields are asking, and this makes our book a contribution not only to Mediterranean archaeology, but also to a much more wide-ranging body of scholarship. I believe that anyone interested in life in rural villages, about the process of abandonment, or about how reuse and adaptation affect material signatures of the archaeological record will find something of delight in this book.”

Like all books published by The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, “Deserted Villages”is available as both a free download and as a low-cost paperback. William Caraher, director of The Digital Press, remarks: “It's particularly important for books that seek to draw attention to an often overlooked aspect of the Mediterranean landscape to circulate as widely and freely as possible. Open access publication ensures that anyone with even a casual interest in the sites, methods, and problems associated with these kinds of sites can read and engage the work in this book.”