8/28/2014 Peter Durantine

Mapping Deserted Greek Villages for Cultural and Archeological Posterity

  • Aerial shot from the drone of the village near Lidoriki, Greece, where Franklin & Marshall College researchers used a drone to map ancient sites.  (Photo Courtesy of F&M Professor of Art History Kostis Kourelis) 

Hammer in hand, Hackman Scholar Joel Naiman drove a nail through a white target adorned with twin red triangles, fastening it securely to the terrain.

One of dozens placed around the village, the target would direct a drone, the latest archeological tool that Naiman and a Franklin & Marshall College Assistant Professor of Art History Kostis Kourelis have worked with this summer to capture aerial photos in a survey of Aigition, a 19th-century village in the municipality of Lidoriki, Greece, that was abandoned in the mid-20th century.

"You have to walk the entire area of the village and nail the targets into the ground," Naiman said. "The drone follows the grid as it continually shoots photos."

Kourelis and Naiman plan to assemble the photos into a 3-D map for researchers who can use it to study a broad range of archaeology, from discerning the social and economic forces that led to the village's abandonment to exploring the processes of physical deterioration that ultimately create archaeological ruins. 

  • Franklin & Marshall College Hackman Scholar Joel Naiman working with Associate Professor of Art History Todd Brenningmeyer of Maryville University (right) and Niko-Paris Valdegar, an architect student at the National Technical University of Athens, on the drone they used to capture aerial photos of a village for the purpose of creating a map. (Photo Courtesy of F&M Assistant Professor of Art History Kostis Kourelis)

"To survey the villages is to study and understand the people and their relationship with their environment," said Kourelis, an architectural historian. "Some people call it 'landscape archeology.'"

Together with Naiman, an F&M senior double majoring in classical architecture and ancient history, he spent the summer visiting ancient Greek sites, from the mountains in the central region to the Peloponnese peninsula off the southern coast to the hills of Athens.

They visited four villages that date from the 10th century to the mid-20th century. Long abandoned for social and economic reasons, the villages hold an archeological heritage that is as culturally significant as the well known nearby ancient sites of Delphi, Corinth, or Lykaion, Kourelis said. 

  • Franklin & Marshall College senior Joel Naiman, setting down targets and gathering GPS coordinates for the drone to follow in its aerial mapping. (Photo Courtesy of F&M Assistant Professor of Art History Kostis Kourelis) 

The pair surveyed architecture at three Peloponnese villages, where several American universities have ongoing projects. At Lidoriki in central Greece, Kourelis co-directs a project with Associate Professor of Art History Todd Brenningmeyer of Maryville University in St. Louis and Professor of Architecture Miltos Katsaros of the National Technical University of Athens.

With Brenningmeyer, Katsaros and seven of Katsaros' undergraduate students in architecture, Kourelis and Naiman prepared the aerial photography. Naiman was charged with putting down the targets, using a GPS tracker to mark each one with coordinates for the drone to lock on, drawing elevations, and photographing wall details.

"This is exactly the kind of work I want to do," said Naiman, who plans to attend law school and study cultural heritage protection law. He said his Hackman research supports his post-graduate goals. "I've learned a lot about different methods of surveying and cultural heritage management."

In Lidoriki, the researchers used the drone to map two other locations, the ancient city of Fyskos and the medieval citadel of Kallion.

  • Franklin & Marshall Assistant Professor of Art History Kostis Kourelis. 

Hard economic times in the late 1800s compelled many rural residents in Greece's mountainous Phocis region to immigrate to the United States. Kourelis and Naiman identified where the Greeks went by searching passenger ship manifests posted on the Ellis Island website. Located in Upper New York Bay, Ellis Island was, from 1892 to 1954, a major gateway for immigrants coming to America.

"Everyone had gone west, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin," Kourelis said. "The local Greek economy was primarily husbandry -- goat herders -- so the residents went to a thriving milk- and cheese-producing area that could use their skills and talents. It is no coincidence that the “gyro” was invented in Milwaukee.”

  • A 19th century Greek House in the village of Neda that was eventually demolished after F&M Assistant Professor of Art History Kostis Kourelis took this photo in 2012. 

In Athens, Kourelis and Naiman visited the Agora Excavations, where F&M's Shirley Watkins Steinman Professor of Classics Ann Steiner has been researching ancient democracy under a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship. They examined a block of 19th-century houses that were demolished to make room for the modern excavation. They plan to digitally reconstruct the buildings using old plans and photos.

"Being there and going onsite is very different than looking at photographs back in the states," Kourelis said. "It makes the research much more tangible." 

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