University of Nottingham

Landscape capital and fragile communities on Antikythera, Greece

Project outline

Highly complex systems of fields, trackways and terraces are characteristic features of Mediterranean landscapes. Their relationship with the social context in which they emerge however is not clearly understood. Employing archaeological, environmental, geoarchaeological and ethnographic approaches, and focusing on the island of Antikythera, this project investigated the relationship between human decision-making, long-term demographic patterns and the development of such capital investments in the landscape. Specifically, it asked whether the construction of terraces was directly correlated with periods of dramatic population growth, or whether investment into the productivity of the landscape over a longer time period represented a causal factor for demographic growth rather than effect.

Antikythera terraces Photograph of Antikythera terraces 


The project is the first to offer a comprehensive view of long-term capital investment across a complete landscape, using a multidisciplinary perspective and implemented alongside a comprehensive archaeological survey of the same area. Results suggest that terrace construction on Antikythera is indeed a decontralised activity, with decisions rooted deeply within the strategies and predelictions of individual families and communities. The work has also identified a strong correlation between terraces and several environmental variables, including topography, hydrology, soils and geology.

A database of soil samples with infiltration and nutrient data for approximately 100 sites across the island, datasets of georeferenced 1944 aerial photographs, vector points of all visible built structures and buildings on the island, and vector polylines of 12,000 terraces across the entire island are available from the project website:

Some 12,000 terrace walls and field systems across the island have been mapped using contemporary satellite imagery, wartime aerial photos (from The Aerial Reconaissance Archives) and systematic field prospection. A combined set of evidence from stratigraphy, soil micromorphology and optimally-stimulated luminescence dates showed that there are both areas of single phase terracing that relate to late 18th to early 19th century occupation, and several earlier phases of probable Hellenistic, late Roman and Middle Byzantine date, with far more ephemeral suggestions of similar prehistoric strategies. Data on soil nutrients and physical properties have led to the development of erosion models and an agricultural productivity map for the island. Botanical survey resulted in a finer-grained understanding of terrace use and of the succession of vegetation types back into terrace fields. Ethnographical and archival research provided detailed information on agricultural scheduling, land use, land tenure, and a range of related topics.



Ongoing influence

Project members are actively developing a cross-cultural perspective on the topic through collaborations with others working on comparable systems of past landscape capital in eastern Africa, Belize, Peru and Thailand.

A DNA-based study of olive trees (a crop whose initial development and subsequent management makes it a clear example of inter-generational landscape capital) through which to identify the type and likely source of these cultivars in the south-west Aegean (by comparing samples collected as part of the Atikythera with samples to be taken on Crete, Kythera and the Peloponnese) is in progress.

A set of online tutorials in both commercial and Open Source software using data from the project have been developed for use in undergraduate teaching.

Award details

Duration: July 2006 - July 2008 (25 months)

Principal Investigator:
Dr Andrew Bevan

Higher Education Institution:
Institute of Archaeology, University College London

Project partner:
James Conolly, Trent University, Canada

Selected publications

Bevan, A. and Conolly, J. (2011). Terraced fields and Mediterranean landscape structure: an analytical case study from Antikythera, Greece. Ecological Modelling. 222:1303–1314.

Palmer, C., Colledge, S., Bevan, A., and Conolly, J. (2010). Vegetation recolonisation of abandoned agricultural terraces on Antikythera, Greece. Environmental Archaeology. 15(1): 64-80.

Bevan, A., Conolly, J. and Tsaravopoulos, A. (2008). The Fragile Communities of Antikythera. Archaeology International. 10: 32-36  

Related links


Landscape and Environment Programme

School of Geography
University Park
University of Nottingham
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0) 115 84 66071