The Doll Heads of the Eastern Korinthia Survey

I no longer remember who found the first doll head in the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey but the discovery brought the unique artifact type to the attention of all. Now it may be that the doll heads were simply denser in the territory we were surveying that season–the Isthmus east of Hexamilia, after all, has substantial modern dumps–but I suspect it was also a case of that documented phenomenon that surveyors find what they are trained to notice. In any case, the summer of 2001 was the season that walkers increasingly discovered, collected, and conversed about Corinthian doll heads.

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There were two things that especially bewildered surveyors about the doll heads. First, the bodies were nearly always missing. It is true that we did find entire plastic play figures in the field such as this torso (left) of the batman figure discovered in 2000, which followed one field team around in their treks through the landscape. But baby dolls (almost) never came with their bodies–the converse of that pattern that Roman statues are so consistently missing their heads.

Second, the dollheads seemed to come in every imaginable shape and size. There were big-head dolls with red hair, small dolls with petite faces and long foreheads, small-headed dolls with Medusa-like hair expressing surprise, and flat-faced sun-darkened dolls without hair.

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If we had discovered these dolls in 1999, there might have been some attempt to collect, analyze, and chronotype them. That was the first year of the survey, and the project initially intended to record in a somewhat systematic way all the modern objects of the landscape. That was a novel idea, which proved impractical on the first day of survey when surveyors noted that plastic Loutraki water bottles (and other modern trash) was found in every unit of the survey territory. Modern ceramic material, not all material, became the principal signature of the modern period in EKAS. There is no reason, however, in principle, that the doll heads could not have been incorporated into our database of finds using our standard taxonomy for describing and typing artifacts. I’m imagining something like this

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And it certainly would have been interesting to see the distribution of these objects in respect to modern settlement patterns.

By the end of the 2002 season, the doll heads had begun to have strange effects on the field teams. The dolls followed the teams around which means that someone must have collected them. Understand that archaeological survey encourages somewhat different interpersonal interactions than does, say, an excavation trench. Excavation allows for sustained conversation over long periods in a small space. In survey, walkers are spaced 20-40 feet apart and stare at the ground the whole time; conversation is shorter, banter is common. I think it was in this context that the doll heads — ghastly in their disembodied states, scarred by plowing, and corroded by the elements — became part of the running dialogue of the season and entered our discussion about archaeological survey.

Were the doll heads of the Eastern Korinthia “background noise” with an unclear relationship to the modern sites of the region? “Off-site” trash that originated from nearby settlements and was spread on fields through deliberate manuring? Toys dropped by children who accompanied their parents to the field during agricultural season? Or ritually deposited apotropaic objects designed to ward off negative spirits?

The doll heads also became part of an end-of-season plot to sabotage another field team’s near perfect record of collecting the fewest number of rocks (the ceramics teams kept tallies of which field teams mistakenly collected the most number of non-artifacts). At the end of season survey pottery, a presentation revealed how the doll heads carried out the attack and destroyed the good reputation of an archaeological team.

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Thanks to my EKAS colleague Tom Tartaron for jarring this repressed memory by requesting the extraction of these priceless photos from deep within the EKAS digital archives.

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Categories: Archaeological Survey, EKAS (Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey), Periods, Modern

3 Comments

  1. I remember bringing a charred doll head back from the beach and posting it on a stake in the front yard in a Heart of Darkness manner. I think that was OSU Isthmia and predates EKAS. But that wasn’t the first doll head encountered. One year we did find the torso of a doll at the beach. I tied it to a rock and placed it in the waves so that you could just see the foot of the baby bobbing gently . . . .

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