Always look at the ground you walk over: That’s what I habitually do, a natural condition resulting from doing archaeological survey for several years in the 1980s. Survey archaeology does not often involve excavation. It’s all about surface reconnaissance: walking over the landscape, ideally over freshly plowed, cultivated fieds, but often just over raw untouched lands, and recovering artifacts and other residue of past human activity that are visible on the surface. Cultivation and other activities churn up lots of archaeological material, which can sit exposed to the elements for years until a pair of observant eyes takes notice. Fragmented ceramic pieces (“pot sherds”) are sometimes the most obvious and easy things to notice and recover. But you also look for lithic (stone) materials, which could be: 1) Chipped stone objects (or fragments) from blades, flakes, cores or even percussion debris. In Cyprus this is frequently made from chert (often mistakenly called “flint”), but can also be from other stones as well. 2) So-called “ground stone” objects like axes, stone bowls or stone bowl fragments, pestles, mortars and grinding stones (“querns”). 3) If your lucky you will occasionally come across pieces made from a blue-green stone called “picrolite” and if you’re really lucky you’ll find a complete cruciform figurine! Picrolite objects are almost always associated with prehistoric sites (Neolithic or Chalcolithic). 4) Architectural fragments like stone blocks, cobbles, etc. In addition you also come across materials made from bone, glass, plaster and carbonised organics.
During the early-mid 1980s I used to do this walking-while-looking-at-the-ground every summer to find and map archaeological sites as part of the Canadian Palaipaphos Archaeological Survey Project. The project surveyed parts of the four major river valleys in western Cyprus. I was a member of a team of archaeological students that surveyed various landscapes within the catchment areas of western Cyprus’ four major river valleys: Khapotami, Dhiarizos, Xeros Potamos and Ezousas. Sometimes the landscapes were easy, like flat plains with plowed fieds, but on other occasions we were severely challenged by steep slopes, thick thorny vegetation and deep ravines or wadis. But probably the most difficult aspect of all was keeping your concentration going as you navigated across whatever landscape was there and looking at the ground with analytical eyes all the time. This was especially tough given hot, energy-draining conditions. But when you do it long enough and get used to it, the result is that for the rest of your life when you walk across landscapes you look for artifacts by instinct.
Fast-Forward to 2019
For years I’ve been walking up steep hills and sea cliffs, just for the sheer thrill and also as a work-out exercise to stay in shape. There are areas east of Paphos that provide perfect opportunities. I have been frequently taking the same or very similar routes up steep sea-facing chalk cliffs for about five or six years now. Sometimes I walk for one hour, sometimes for up to two-three hours. I just keep going up and up until I reach the top. Then I crest the summit and keep on going, across ridgetops, down slopes and uphill again to scale another cliff. It’s hot, it’s sweaty, it’s fantastic! To me, far more interesting than running around a track or riding a cycle.
During these walks: Do I look at the ground habitually? Yeah, sure. But I don’t always process accurately what comes into my line of sight. It’s been maybe three or four years that I’ve noticed a stone quern (grinding stone) sitting innocently by itself in an isolated location. I always would look at it and use it as a guide to tell me I was on the right track and was so far along the walking route, etc. I must have walked by the quern 20 or 25 times and never gave it much of a thought. Until last year, that is. Suddenly I said to myself: Hang on! What’s a quern doing up here in the middle of nowhere? I started to put my archaeological survey hat back on and then gave the area a thorough analytical walk-over. I began to look at the surface adjacent to the quern and then, a few metres away, I suddenly saw it: a circular line of stones sticking out of the surface soil. And then I looked again more carefully. What? Was that the arc of a second structure just next to the first one? It couldn’t be…or could it?
Further scrutiny and continued walking-looking-at-ground turned up additional artifacts: some pot sherds, a few very battered and worn stone axe fragments, a well preserved diabase axe or chisel, several small pieces of high quality chert debitage and a strange fragmented circular stone with part of a circular depression in its centre. After washing the pottery, it was clear that at least four pot sherds were decorated with red slip, and one of these appeared to bear the very distinctive linear decoration of “Combed Ware,” which is one of the most diagnostic characteristics of the Ceramic Neolithic Period in Cyprus.