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‘Around the hut’: an archaeological ethnography around the experimental construction of a shepherd’s hut in Konitsa, north-west Greece


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This article reflects on the experimental building of a Vlach hut that took place in the 14th Summer School of the Balkan Border Crossings Network. The approach took the form of an archaeological ethnography and addressed a variety of subjects from ethnographic and experimental fieldworkto videography and critical heritage, all emerging from the same point: thebuilding of a shepherd’s roundhut in the plain of Konitsa. From interdisciplinary methodological encounters to reflections on pastoral identities, legislation and its effects on this built pastoral heritage, as well as fieldwork reflections, while experiencing and experimenting, this article reveals potential avenues for interdisciplinary engagement in contexts such as Summer Schools.
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Post-Medieval Archaeology
ISSN: (Print) (Online) Journal homepage:
‘Around the hut’: an archaeological ethnography
around the experimental construction of a
shepherd’s hut in Konitsa, north-west Greece
Faidon Moudopoulos-Athanasiou, Traianos Bokas, Antonija Mikulić,
Petya Dimitrova, Kristiyan Karaivanov, Anica Tubanović, İrem Sayılgan,
Konstantina Papadopoulou & Ana Banu
To cite this article: Faidon Moudopoulos-Athanasiou, Traianos Bokas, Antonija Mikulić, Petya
Dimitrova, Kristiyan Karaivanov, Anica Tubanović, İrem Sayılgan, Konstantina Papadopoulou
& Ana Banu (2022): ‘Around the hut’: an archaeological ethnography around the experimental
construction of a shepherd’s hut in Konitsa, north-west Greece, Post-Medieval Archaeology, DOI:
To link to this article:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa
UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis
Published online: 15 Sep 2022.
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Around the hut: an archaeological ethnography
around the experimental construction of a
shepherds hut in Konitsa, north-west Greece
SUMMARY: This article reflects on the experimental building of a Vlach hut that took place
in the 14th Summer School of the Balkan Border Crossings Network. The approach took the
form of an archaeological ethnography and addressed a variety of subjects from ethnographic
and experimental fieldworkto videography and critical heritage, all emerging from the same
point: thebuilding of a shepherds roundhut in the plain of Konitsa. From interdisciplinary meth-
odological encounters to reflections on pastoral identities, legislation and its effects on this built
pastoral heritage, as well as fieldwork reflections, while experiencing and experimenting, this
article reveals potential avenues for interdisciplinary engagement in contexts such as
Summer Schools.
The Border Crossings Konitsa Summer School in
Anthropology, Ethnography and Comparative
Folklore of the Balkans (hereafter KSS) is an annual
intensive international field-school operating in
Konitsa, north-west Greece. Living up to its title, it
has succeeded in bringing together academics from
across the wider Balkans. Research conducted at the
KSS is addressing regional issues of the south-west
Balkans, dealing with border identities and liminal-
and has succeeded in maintaining folklore studies
in the forefront of the Greek academic discourse.
KSS accepts participants across the social sciences
and the humanities, while students from all levels of
higher education are welcome (see for example the
diverse backgrounds of the present authors). In the
course of the summer school, students follow lectures
on the theory and practice of ethnographic fieldwork
and conduct small-scale research, subsequently pre-
sented at an informal conference on the final day of
the program.
This article presents the results of our short-term
experimental fieldwork that took place at the 14th
KSS (21 July - 3 August 2019). Our team generated
a project around the building of a wooden shepherds
round-hut, while also investigating the heritage and
identities surrounding such structures in the south-
west Balkans. The experimental building of this
structure occurred in the context of an academic
environment and safe space, and our team focused
not just on the construction of the hut, but also on the
educational and experiential value of this process as a
learning outcome. Our interest also included ethno-
graphic investigations around such structures. The
process was completed with the assistance of an elder
Albanian-Vlach mason and his two Albanian
#2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
DOI 10.1080/00794236.2022.2120708
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives
License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in
any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
Post-Medieval Archaeology (2022), 119
assistants living in Konitsa, who were invited and
compensated by the KSS for their contribution.
Miho, the 80-year-old elder mason had dwelled
the former transhumant pastoral communities which
utilised such constructions. Hence, our three assis-
tants also became our interlocutors.
The aforementioned parameters created different
dynamics affecting our positionality in the field. We
must recognise the hierarchical agreement between
the institution (KSS) and the three masons, as a
superstructural layer that defined our practice.
However, this agreement in itself was more than a
mercantile transaction to secure the performanceof
the three masons. Prof. Vassilis Nitsiakos, who
invited the builders, is native to the region of Konitsa
and of Vlach origin. He knew the masons beforehand
and their agreement in assisting our team in the pro-
ject came in good faith. The masons were aware of
our experimental/experiential work and the subse-
quent videography embedded in the project. Our
team, consisting of nine students from BA to PhD
levels speaking five different languages and coming
from many different fields of research, played no part
in this formaldeal and that likely contributed to
less hierarchical and singular relationships with the
masons, as will be shown below. Consequently, even
from the specific details for the arrangements of this
project, we realise this endeavour goes beyond the
context of a positivist experiment, as working with
people from the local communities, with subaltern,
transborder, identities, involves an effort to root the
past in the present, following Nilsens observations
from doing experimental archaeology in a north
Norwegian, multi-ethnic context.
The three groups of people engaged with our pro-
ject reveal three different layers of knowledge,
around which this article is organised. Miho repre-
sents (within this experimental fieldwork and our the-
orisation of it) a premoderncontext of
transhumance in which such huts were used as flimsy
dwellings in the summer and winter camps of pastor-
alists. This mode of life faded gradually after the
imposed nation-state borders in the south-west
and internal arrangements within the
The second layer is that of our
modernpractice: constructing, recording, and inter-
preting a wooden round-hut, in the plain of the town
of Konitsa, that is otherwise used solely for cultiva-
tion, within the context of sedentary, modern devel-
The third layer emerges from our academic
positionality within the context of the fieldwork exer-
cise. Our project was situated at a threshold where
ethnography, experimental archaeology, vernacular
architecture, and visual anthropology join and com-
municate with each other. The international character
of our team and our various academic backgrounds
urged the team to examine our fieldwork through a
variety of angles, not necessarily overlappingbut
emerging from the same point: the in situ building of
a shepherds hut and the reflections upon our practice
and its educational value. Visual anthropology focus-
sing on the senses emerged as a tool to rethink our
university (taught) background in an environment of
tacit learning and knowledge articulation,
thus stag-
ing a self-reflexive aspect and adding a third layer to
our interpretation: the meta-narrativecontemplation
of a shepherds hut.
The three lenses of analysis (premodern, mod-
ern, and meta-narrative) emerge as an epistemo-
logical experiment within the safe space of an
academic summer school. To address all of them in
relation to our work, we have divided this article
into subsequent sections. The first outlines the
methodology of our archaeological ethnography,
but we do not avoid stressing the potential limita-
tions of our short-ranged, but intensive fieldwork
conditions, which emerge as fundamental aspects of
focused ethnography.
The second part provides a
background on the history of the main ethnic
groups that used to construct round huts in the
region, followed by the documentation of the build-
ing process, including sketches and audio-visuals as
demonstrative material. The third part consists of a
self-reflexive archaeological ethnography based on
our fieldwork observations while reflecting upon
our positionality. We question whether the building
of such traditional pastoral structures, vital aspects
of the regional heritage, is facilitated by current for-
est legislation, and we address such issues the way
we encountered them during fieldwork.
Furthermore, we reflect on the sensorial aspects of
our practice.
The final part presents a comparative case. It
draws upon our ethnographic-oriented visit to
Gyftokampos (Zagori), an open-air site of memory
and meeting point of the Zagori Sarakatsans, an eth-
nic group of pastoralists,
the Sarakatsaniki Stani
(Sarakatsan Pen). We analyse the origins and the spa-
tial dimensions of the Stani together with its contem-
porary uses, drawing comparisons with our initial
hut-building fieldwork. This comparison offers
insights into different temporalities and provides a
fertile ground to elaborate on the differences between
Noras(1989) conceptualisations of milieu and lieu
de memoire.
The structure of this article highlights
the nature of this experimental, but also educational
and experiential project.
We believe that using the hut as an analytical cat-
egory while changing focal points from the structure
to its surroundings, might provide insights into some
questions addressed by multiple disciplines: when
and how is the tacit knowledge associated with these
structures lost, or becomes institutionalised, and
therefore altered, divided between representation and
practice? We reflect upon the potential avenues of
engagement and interpretation that such an educa-
tional project entail.
All projects conducted in the KSS are products of
short-term field visits and intensive data processing.
These two aspects define the method of focused eth-
nography, a method complementary to conventional
In the case of our project, the experi-
mental building of a wooden shepherds round-hut,
theory and practice were intertwined. In that sense,
the large number of participants and their different
backgrounds became advantages as we were able to
divide into sub-teams and focus on different parame-
ters within the project, and we managed to collect a
large amount of data. Intensive collection of audiovi-
sual technologies is at the core of the methodological
considerations of focused ethnography,
and mater-
ial of the sort complemented our practice.
The main differences between conventional and
focused ethnography, besides time limitations, are
those apropos the positionality in the field. While in
conventional ethnography, aspects of participant roles
are highlighted, in focused ethnography the
researcher obtains a role of quasi-field-observer.
Furthermore, focused ethnography requires deep
background knowledge, to compensate for the lack of
insiders knowledge, which is built through long
data-collection processes. We were aware of these
limitations and we took precautions to address them.
During the four days of the hut-building process, we
held daily meetings to reflect upon our positionality
in the field. Although our need to finish the construc-
tion on time meant that the two experienced elder
masons would have to work at a faster pace, reducing
thus our involvement with the construction, we
rejected the notion of the 19th-century anthropo-
logical gaze, and found ways to be involved in the
process, as demonstrated below. Likewise, although
we conducted background research on the Vlachs
and Sarakatsani, we strived to communicate with the
masons. Despite the language barriers, we conducted
a semi-structured interview in Vlach, with Miho the
During the building of the hut, we explored and
recorded the sensorial aspects of our practiceacous-
tic environment, smells, temperature. The tools used
by the builders were not just tools we looked at and
created images of. We used them and connected to
their rhythm as they advanced the building of the hut.
The soundscapes they created is now a collective
memory the group can access
sounds of nature:
birds during July in Konitsa, dogs guarding an agri-
culturally productive landscape, wind, leaves crack-
ling under footsteps and human-generated sounds:
cars passing by, axes cutting the wood.
Sound is always present, and our ears are
always switched on. We share an acoustic
environment with anyone who occupies the
same indoor or outdoor space that we do.
In addition to sound, we had the smellscape of
freshly cut fern, a couple of days later dried out, the
dust, the stuffy hot air. The smell of chemicals in
the anti-mosquito sprays were constant reminders of
the caveat of anachronism that our contemporary
approach to a premodern technology might
bring forward.
The visual aids attached to this article
that communication with the masons, leading eventu-
ally to active participation in the hut-building process
was achieved gradually. Quite a few video segments,
especially at the beginning, show participants in the
shade, while masons engage with the construction.
However, as the hours passed by, participants joined
in gradually, revealing that collaborations of this sort
require time to break the barriers between gazing and
acting. These methodological considerations place
our project within the context of archaeological eth-
nography, because of its focus on ethnographic field-
work and ethnohistory as tools to reflect on broader
issues than the case-specific ethnoarchaeology of the
We intended to investigate the changing identi-
ties surrounding the huts in different temporalities.
Instead of an ethnoarchaeological approach that
would strictly document the tangible structures to
understand the past, we were conscious that our inter-
locutors, and their trajectories in space through mod-
ernity, are not relics of a distant past, but agents of
the present. Consequently, our archaeological ethnog-
raphy emerges from the present and requires aware-
ness of our positionality within the field, to explore
different temporalities and modes of otherness
avoid flat ethnoarchaeological observations, critically
evaluated by Halstead,
while researching the
Pindos mountains.
Our team consisted of nine people with different
cultural backgrounds and academic formations
expanding beyond Ingoldsfour As(architecture,
archaeology, anthropology, art),
also including
three masons, as mentioned above. Since archaeo-
logical ethnography is a trans-disciplinary and trans-
cultural space for engagement, dialogue, and
critique, cantered upon the material traces of various
times and involving researchers as well as various
other participants,
our endeavour could be
described as a test of whether such an enquiry could
work in a compressed and experimental timescale,
defined by the needs of focused ethnography.
Although we participated in a singular experimen-
tal event, our perception of identity differed, as well
as our positionalities, having many different national-
ities and backgrounds, striving to communicate with
each other, as well as the masons. In the field, one
could hear Greek, Albanian, Vlach, English,
Bulgarian, Romanian, and Croatian. At first, the lan-
guage barriers seemed to reinforce the formal narra-
tives and boundaries–‘usversus the other’–but as
the process unfolded, the engagement and the non-
verbal communication alleviated the tension
produced by the language barrier. The fading of lan-
guage, as the dominant modern means of transferring
knowledge, alerted our other senses, bringing the
team closer to a non-institutionalised learning envir-
onment focussing on practical and embodied know-
ledge, key aspects of experimental archaeology.
This way we established a relationship with the
masons that allowed an insightful engagement with
participatory observation, thus facilitating the transfer
of tacit knowledge.
As previously stated, our group was interested in
the end-product as well as the process. This approach
questions the idea of a clear boundary between
experimental archaeology as research (scientific
empiricism) and education (experiential).
In other
words, the construction of a shepherd's hut in such a
modern and decontextualised locus does not take
away the validity of the experiment. Several people
from our nine-member team noted that the builders
invited everyone to engage in the process by pointing
towards toolsthey shared with us simple tasks like
holding the wood, cutting, hammering, and smiled in
approval when we managed to it correctly. And it is
through non-verbal communication such as smiles
and ostension, the way the body manifests intention,
that we communicate and engage with our environ-
ment as well as other people, ultimately working
towards transcending borders. Nevertheless, we must
acknowledge a hierarchical relationship concerning
the learning process, as Miho and Pandeli were
invited by the KSS to join our effort and take the
lead on the construction (see above). Hence, we do
recognise that in the premodern context of learning it
is likely that instead of smiles, learners would have
encountered different techniques in very different
kinship-based modes of action.
Still, these differen-
ces are subject to different temporalities and forms
of dwelling.
We tend to classify pastoralism according to different
mobility patterns, varying from nomadism to differ-
ent forms of transhumance and sedentary agropastor-
These management systems readjust
according to various parameters, such as the shattered
resources and available ecological zones.
Consequently, seasonal mobility between comple-
mentary pastures characterises both and different
classifications emerge from the varying ranges of
mobility, according to distance or the number of peo-
Regarding the Pindos mountain range in
Epirus, the various forms of nomadic and transhu-
mant pastoralism are more frequently discussed,
although household herding is another regional
Transhumance operates between fixed summer
and winter settlements, while nomadic pastoralism
requires greater residential flexibility.
the different practices are divided with regards to the
presence or absence of the element of agriculture
and the extent that these groups are interconnected
with the market. Nomadic pastoralism is almost
exclusively associated with livestock-breeders who
depend on the system of exchange of goods.
Seasonal relocation, depending on the availability of
resources define their mobility patterns, and the ways
they participate in the markets depends on various
socio-economic parameters.
Contrastingly, transhu-
mant groups mediate between two or more fixed
locations facilitating small-scale agriculture.
Vlach communities in Pindos were examples of such
social organisation.
The Vlachs and the Sarakatsani are two distinct
ethnic groups associated predominantly with pastor-
alism. Their lifestyles are very much alike and often
get confused even though they differ in cultural and
linguistic terms.
Therefore, these examples seem to
show that the pastoralist culture and the montane
landscape exert a greater influence on human behav-
iour than ethnic origin: the same wooden round-hut,
the case study of this article, was historically used in
Epirus by both ethnic groups result of adaptations
into similar highland and lowland landscapes (see
Figure 1).
Although the Vlach communities in Epirus had
also, to different extents, an agricultural compo-
the aspect of transhumant pastoralism
attracted the most attention and has defined their
identity. The different scales of pastoral mobility,
thus, emerge as a phenomenon that followed Vlachs
throughout their history and heavily influenced their
They were organised in special extended-
family cooperatives which were led by the richest
member and were the representative in the relations
with the Ottoman authorities and the local commu-
nity members.
Sarakatsani were groups of nomadic
pastoralists that kept the mobile way of life until the
middle of the 20th century. With time, the term vlach
started being descriptive for livestock breeding
groups and a name given to a professional category.
As a result, ethnic groups were subject to further cat-
egorisations based on their locality (e.g., Sarakatsani
of Zagori).
Gradually, the term vlach emerged as a
generic, and occasionally derogatory, signifier for
pastoral groups regardless of cultural differentiations
in the microscale. This led to some confusion regard-
ing identities. For example, the present-day Vlach-
speaking sedentary inhabitants of Eastern Zagori call
the Sarakatsani nomadic herders that used to rent
their summer pastures seasonally Vlach,while
holding for themselves the ethnolocal identification
of the Zagorisian. This is a regional manifestation of
a wider phenomenon.
The 20th century saw the drastic decline of trans-
humant pastoralism. The creation of the Balkan
nation-states in the 19th century and the solid borders
of the 20th century, brought limitations to the former
mobility patterns.
The reliance of nation-states
upon taxes, which are more easily collected from
sedentary populations, and the need to minimise the
power of the large agricultural estates and the strong
tselingata (informal cooperative associations with
strong internal hierarchies) pushed the mobile groups
to adapt to more sedentary patterns towards agricul-
ture and urban life.
In the present, the shepherds
hut rests as an identity marker for the descendants of
such mobile communities, that do not survive in
Greece of the 21st century.
The above-stated background helps us contextualise
our research. The head-mason, Miho, was an 80-year-
old Vlach Albanian builder. Born in P
(S. Albania), very close to Konitsa on the Albanian
side of the border, he had first-hand knowledge of the
taskscapes associated with such huts. In his early life,
he was part of a transhumant community and wooden
huts, such as the one we constructed in KSS, were built
both in their summer and winter camps. He was invited
from Albania to guideus through the process, as on the
Greek side of the region no one knew how to construct
such a structure. Miho built his first hut when he was
12 years old and recollected the learning process as
being communal and articulated through practice.
During the preparation process, we gathered the
materials needed to build the hut, as instructed by
Miho. First, we drove to the forest and collected 125
upright trunks of Fr
axo (Fraxinus ornus), a tree that,
according to our interlocutors, was optimal for such
constructions due to its bendable nature (Figure 2).
Under the shade of the forest, we cleared the
branches and carried them to the field. Next, we
drove to an open field and gathered 40 bouquets of
fern, a vascular plant that can obtain waterproof qual-
ities when gathered in dense layers to cover the struc-
ture (Figure 3). We cut the fern with scythes and tied
the plants tightly in bundles to carry them to the field.
Then we followed the orders of Miho and purchased
the utensils that formed our modern toolkit: 1 iron
ladder, 2 axes, 1 saw, 2 pliers, 1 tape measure, 1
adze, 1 scythe, 1 hammer, 1 crowbar, rope, 2kg of
iron nails and 2kg of steel wire.
After assembling the toolkit, the hut was con-
structed in one day, working from early in the morn-
ing until the evening, with only a small lunch break.
Miho made a hole in the ground with a metal crow-
bar, which signified the centre of the hut, placed a
wooden pole in the hole and tied it with rope. On the
other end of the 1.5 m rope, he placed a large nail
and defined the perimeter of the hut (7 m
FIG. 1.
Women often appear on the sidelines of discussions regarding mobile pastoral groups. These two pictures suggest
otherwise. Left: two Sarakatsani women construct a hut on the winter pastures in Thessaly (#Werner Bischof, 1946).
Right: Vlach women from Syrrako in their winter camp near Preveza (#Spyros Meletzis, 1937). The original caption
suggests that the women were Sarakatsan (Sarakatsan-Frauen bei Preveza, Epirus). However, a recent publication
shed light to the Vlach identities of these women (Ziogas 2006), highlighting the evasive identities in visual
FIG. 2.
Collecting Fr
axo. Photo by Traianos Bokas
FIG. 3.
Collecting Fern. Photo by Traianos Bokas
4). After the establishment of this fundamental axis,
our team gradually blended with the masons and
joined the process. With the guidance of Miho, we
placed 22 Fr
axo rods around the perimeter, leaving a
space for the door. The next stage was to add hori-
zontal layers of Fr
axo rods, which we nailed to the
vertical ones, wiring them simultaneously to enhance
the stability. Moving towards the top, we tightened
the perimeter to bend the structure and create a
dome. Simultaneously, Miho created a crown,a
round wooden, crown-like, ring, with thinner Fr
rods attached, which he placed at the top of the struc-
ture: this crown was wired to the upper ends of the
horizontal Fr
axo branches, securing them and stabil-
ising the dome. By the end of this step, our structure
took the shape of a grid. Afterwards, we covered the
gaps with fern bundles producing a waterproof cover
which we secured with branches tied around the hut.
When this process was over, we entered the hut to
check if light penetrated the structure and blocked the
attested holes with more fern (Figs 5-7). Miho placed
a cross on top of the crownfor good luck and pro-
tection against evil spirits.
It is interesting to compare our observations with
a cultural testimony from the Greek side of the bor-
der, written in 1972, but reflecting a practice that
ended in the 1960s:
Around a tall wooden branch, they outlined a
threshing floor[i.e. perimeter, see above]
using rope and a nail. In the periphery of this
threshing floor, they placed the rods [λo
() which they tried to bend in a way to make
FIG. 4.
The first steps of the construction. Drawings by Traianos Bokas
them fit inside a crown that was held from the
central wooden branch. Having made this
wooden grid, women working both from the
inside and outside filled the gaps () with fern
and fir needles.
The hut-building process and its comparison to
the culturally significant testimony of Yiannis
Lymberopoulos highlighted that many things dis-
tanced our practice from the premodern, pastoral,
and mobile, context of such structures. Besides the
apparent structural differentiations, our ethnographic
interest turned to the premodern toolkit: we were
eager to know what sort of apparatuses Miho used, in
the context of his early life, within a community that
did not possess enough nails, abundant steel wire and
other such materials. Therefore, during the building
process, we were alert to engage in conversations
that could help articulate such differences. As Miho
did not talk Greek or English (only Albanian and
Vlach, and a few Greek words), the choice to conduct
the discussions in situ was both driven by practical
and methodological issues. On a practical note, it
would be easier for Miho to demonstrate premodern
alternatives. But more importantly, the whole concept
of transmission of knowledge relied upon tacit know-
ledge, practice, and experience.
In that sense, the
language barrier offered an advantage, as it necessar-
ily moved the team beyond taught education, as for-
malised within the modern framework of
institutionalised learning. When we asked Miho how
they tied the branches in the old days, without wire
and nails, rather than explaining, he walked to a
nearby Lipanthi
a(Tilia alba) and cut a branch. He
removed the fresh bark, twisted it, and used it to tie
the trunks of Fr
axo together. He argued that using
this bark, one would not need rama(i.e. steel wire
in Greek) and made a pun that we would need no
Rama nor Berisha, expressing his views on the cur-
rent and former Albanian Prime Ministers. With a
mixture of gestures and few Greek words, he made it
clear that this knot would hold up to six months. This
amount of time was the maximum needed, as huts
were in operation only for half a year in the context
of transhumant/nomadic pastoral mobility cycles.
Now that this practice has faded, no-one in the region
of Konitsa builds this type of structure any longer-
that is why Mihos commute from the Albanian side
of the border was necessary.
The above-stated juxtapositions between our practice
and the premodern context of these structures led us
to realise that the modern industrial tools we used to
speed up and facilitate the process were radically dif-
ferent from their premodern counterparts emerging
from the woodlands within a framework of dwell-
This shift toward ready-made products, made
us rethink our practice within the framework of mod-
ern forest legislation. In present-day Greece, the pro-
tection of the forests is an obligation of the State and
FIG. 5.
Further steps of the construction. Drawings by Traianos Bokas
the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate
Change. According to the legislation, it is illegal to
cut down trees and shrubs without permission,
authorisation, or demarcation of the limits of the
When foresters discover illegal activities, they
confiscate the tools and the wood that has already
been cut, auctioning the products to the high-
est bidder.
FIG. 6.
Through the process. Photo by Ana Banu
FIG. 7.
Adding the layers of fern. Photo by Traianos Bokas
The construction of the hut required Fr
branches and fern, materials collected from the forest.
Of these materials, Fr
axo is a rare and protected spe-
cies, while its cutting is prohibited in the region
(interview with Anonymised Forester).
Because of
its plastic abilities, people tend to cut it while young,
destabilising its reproduction. However, plasticity is
the very quality it made it preferable for hut-building
throughout history. This antithesis highlighted one of
the paradoxes of modernity: following the letter of
the law, the huta predominant signifier of cultural
heritage practices and tacit knowledge endemic to the
regiondoes not have a place in 21st century Konitsa,
since the raw materials for its construction are under
strict legal protection. This reality is in opposition to
the cultural value of these hutsand the heritage of
transhumant pastoralists they evokethat is a vital
component of the regional tradition. Such disassoci-
ation between premodern cultural values and mod-
ernity is many times related to law and
modernisation-related practices and the shift from
communal to state management of resources.
Archaeological ethnography covers also a politically
loaded space, calling for interventions centred on
materiality and temporality.
In this context, the
observation on forest legislation, as well as the differ-
ences in the toolkits presented above, act as signifiers
of change changing the hut-building process macro-
scopically, but also the affecting the practice of indi-
viduals, such as Miho. We believe that our practice
touches upon the theory of archaeological ethnog-
raphy, as we revealed that the context of these struc-
tures is affected by sociohistorical factors and
legislative parameters. Below we present a manifest-
ation of how the materiality of such huts is influ-
enced by sociopolitical factors, and how the
construction process acted as a facilitator for the
emergence of such discussions.
A central aspect of our fieldwork was the lengthy
semi-structured discussion between our colleague
Costas Hagitegas and Miho, which took place in the
Vlach (i.e. Aromanian) language. The rest of the
team members withdrew from the interview scene to
respect the privacy of a discussion taking place in the
shared subaltern language of the two individuals dis-
cussing the fate of the transborder Vlach transhumant
and transborder communities of Epirus. When bor-
ders between Greece and Albania closed in 1940,
many Greek Vlachs who were spending winter on
the lowland pastures of Korc¸
e in S. Albania were
stuck on the Albanian side of the border. One such
person was Thodorakis Gkertsos, from the village
Kefalovryso on the Greek side of Pogoni. During
Hoxha's communist regime, he was held in prison for
many years. His story was known to our discussant
Costas, due to narratives of Vlach kinship relation-
ships. Coincidentally, our interlocutor was held pris-
oner of the regime for some time together with
Thodorakis, a reminder that Pogoni was divided in
two by the arbitrary border demarcation.
Hoxhas regime expropriated large transhumant
flocks and imprisoned many Vlach members of such
transhumant communities. On the larger scale, it trans-
formed the Albanian mobile societies into more sed-
entary lifestyles, a trend followed in Greece through
different pathways of modernisation.
As mentioned
earlier, Miho placed a wooden cross on the top of our
hut in Konitsa, for protection against evil spirits.
When we asked why he placed the cross, he added
that he always puts a cross on top because he is
Christian, hence the cross is a visual manifestation of
his identity. Emerging from a fugitive background, as
Hoxhas regime banned all religions while living now
in a predominantly Muslim country, the cross and
Orthodoxy are the symbolic remnants of a premodern
mobile way of life in the 21st century: I am Vlach
Albanian and I am not Muslim, I am Orthodox,he
stated. His practice could be perceived as an act of
counter-memory in the case of Albania. However, in
the Greek context, such actions are self-explanatory
and have different connotations: a cross hanging
within the region of Konitsa, a sea of Orthodoxy with
extreme-right political irredentist aspirations for the
incorporation of S. Albania into the Greek Nation-
That is a pristine example of how the histor-
ical conditions of the second half of the 20th century
altered and fragmented pastoral and ethnic identities,
in a previously mobile and fluid landscape.
Despite living a sedentary life nowadays, Miho
still builds huts for his animals. His assistants in
building the KSS hut were two Albanian masons
Pandeli and his son Niko, living permanently in
Konitsa, Greece. They knew each other from
Albania, but Pandeli and his family emigrated per-
manently to Greece after 1991. Pandeli had never
built such a hut before. Another asset of the hut pro-
ject: the hut became a multi-referent, due to the many
identities that surrounded it: a point de d
epart for all
the considerations presented above, a melting pot to
test different methodologies and learn through prac-
tice around the hut.
Whereas with note-taking, observers may keep their
distance, with sensorial recording, one must do the
dance between getting closer and staying away.
Writing the article, the interaction with the audio and
video ethnographic notes made the recounting more
vivid. However, these recordings are not simply a
more textured and reliable way of taking notes. We
would like to suggest that videography, as well as
photography, are material and mnemonic traces of
the things, events, instances, and sensorial occasions
experienced. They are traces, not in the sense of an
imprint but in the sense of a material remnant, of a
Adding this layer of video, we sought to give
a sense of being present, a posteriori.
That is why we included video-ethnography in
our project, aiming, at first, to achieve a slightly
more engaging re-telling of the process, assisting also
in post-fieldwork research. Reviewing the move-
ments and listening to the sounds a second time,
played a vital role in accessing the past and analysing
the events using a more reliable form of remembering
than our memories. Being present at the site scene
with our mechanical eyes, as a filmmaker and theor-
etician Dziga Vertov called the camera back in the
1920s, we began capturing an extra, and separate,
layer of memory, while focusing on other aspects of
acting during fieldwork. The agency invested in cap-
turing the building process with all our senses acti-
vated a sort of meta-awareness of the situation. The
main camera was situated on a tripod, and continuous
awareness of its location was needed, so as not to
block its vision, as participants moved around the hut
site. We used a secondary, compact, camera to cap-
ture details of the process, beyond the authoritative
gaze of the main camera. Our limited timeframe and
resources did not allow for a wider variety of lenses,
which would have been ideal for optimal filming. We
also used a microphone to record spontaneous sounds
occurring within our site, a difficult task, as we had
to move closer to the action, and have the micro-
phone up close.
From an ethnographic perspective, angles must
relate to the person filming at a particular point in
time, or else the production of the ethnographic film
becomes altered and fictionalised. Hence, we kept ask-
ing ourselves about the rightdistance. Do we join in
and influence the builders rhythm, do we get closer
to capture our images? Do we show the camera? Is it
peculiar to just sit back and observe the locals work-
the anthropological gaze of the 19th century?
Although we do not claim to have discovered the right
formula, we rejected the idea of a cinematographic
privileged camera, as outlined below.
(Figure 8)
In the two video cuts we attach to this article,
KSS Hut The Process
and KSS Hut The
the acoustic environment is also made of
many different layers of sound. The ones that
demanded our attention were the human-produced
sounds, sources of sound-induced by human activ-
ities are classified as anthrophonic.
We hear the
languages being spoken even though a thorough
understanding of what is being said does not happen.
We hear human-generated amplified sounds in the
form of singing and, of course, we hear the tools at
FIG. 8.
The stable camera, which was constantly recording the process, taken from the inside of the hut. This viewpoint par-
tially challenges the notion of privileged (immovable) camera, as documentation occurred from multiple, different
angles. Photo by Ana Banu
work, the wind passing through vegetation, dogs
barking in the distance. It is interesting to remark that
in an urban setting the sounds of tools would merely
be a background intrusive noise, whereas in our scen-
ario these sounds are acceptable and sought after.
Aside from the technicalities of the process, we are
offered a sort of philosophical gaze into a time cap-
sule. If sounds play an emotional role, the moving
images, give a sense of the mise en sc
ene of the
building process. The size of the operation, the num-
ber of people involved, the movement of bodies in
space. Most of all, they offer clear information about
the status of the building processfrom a blueprint, a
skeleton in the beginning,
to a fully cloaked struc-
ture ready to offer shelter from the sun.
In observing the sensorially-generated body mem-
oriesfrom the movement around the construction
site, to the rhythms of the tools, the language interac-
tions with its monosyllabic flowour actions became
part of a meta-narrative, adding a third layer to the
discussion of the premodern and modern context of
the shepherds hut. If the national borders bred rigid-
ity and brought oblivion to a handful of premodern
pastoral subaltern communities, then performing
counter-memory breeds fluidity and lucidity.
Moreover, visual anthropology highlights the
importance of moving inside the research environ-
Our recordings illustrate that as researchers,
we stood static at the beginning of the process. Only
gradually we moved and engaged, shifting our posi-
tionality from a timid participatory observation to a
more confident engagement: these steps are neces-
sary to move beyond taught learning environments,
into a context where knowledge is articulated through
practice. And as indicated also in the video-timeline,
this process of engagement requires time.
As a comparison to what we have been observing
while building our hut, we visited the open-air instal-
lation of Sarakatsaniki Stani (the pen of the
Sarakatsani, hereafter Stani), at Gyftokampos in the
neighbouring region of Zagori. The site acts as an
open-air museum revealing aspects of the traditional
pastoral life of the Sarakatsani nomads. It contains
several wooden round-huts, pens and other livestock
FIG. 9.
A view of the Sarakatsaniki Stani. Photo by Faidon Moudopoulos-Athanasiou
structures that portray the traditional way of life of
the Sarakatsani.
Coincidentally, we visited the site upon prepara-
tions for the annual meeting of the Sarakatsani. We
met with one of the few people who constructed the
site back in 1994. He guided us through the structures
and offered us a timeline of the Stani and the con-
cepts behind its creation. We discussed further issues,
such as the ownership of the area, the importance of
the museumfor him and the significance of the
meeting point. Some reflections are presented in the
following paragraphs.
This installation, together with the rest of the
structures (a basic caf
e/visitor space, barbeque facili-
ties and a large gathering point) were built simultan-
eously and funded by the Brotherhood of the
Sarakatsani(hereafter Brotherhood), a cultural asso-
ciation celebrating the common roots of the
Sarakatsans throughout Epirustherefore consolidat-
ing a regional pastoral identity, that has become sed-
entary at large. In that sense, the renegotiation of the
Sarakatsan identity, in an urbanised world is not an
exception to the norm.
The Stani is divided by a small torrent in two parts.
The one side belonged to the community of Skamneli,
a neighbouring village of Vlach heritage, while the
other was public forest land. According to one of our
interlocutors in the site, the Brotherhood managed to
secure this land through intensive negotiations with
Skamneli, the Municipality and the relevant state
authorities. Gyftokampos today belongs to the
Brotherhood and houses representations of all the fun-
damental structures evoking the Sarakatsan identity.
To illustrate the life of the Sarakatsani, the installa-
tion displays several huts, pens, and other structures,
arranged spatially in a dysfunctional array that pro-
motes observation rather than camp functionality and
historical accuracy (Figure 9). They do not serve the
initial purpose of seasonal flimsy settlements but are
designed as museum exhibits, inserting the concept of
monumentality, a lieu de memoire,
transforming the
mobile and to a large extent temporally perishable
material culture of the Sarakatsani into an authorita-
tive discourse, embedded in the national narrative.
Such approaches address the monumental, national,
and in this context, Sarakatsani are descendants
of the ancient Dorians, one of the purestGreeks.
This material transformation of a culture relying
on perishable materials to a site of memory required
more enduring materials than the historical construc-
tions, but also than our modern toolkit,usedinthe
KKS experiment. For example, the huts at the Stani
are covered with reeds instead of fern or other local
materials, even though reeds were abundant, and
therefore used, in the lowland winter quarters. They
also opted for metal frames rather than wooden
branches, while securing the interior of the dome
with wired mesh to keep the thatching intact. For the
additional stability and longevity of the construction,
the floors were constructed with concrete (Figure
10). Their interior is decorated with everyday objects
such as pottery, wooden furniture, and machines for
producing food, static reminders of the items
Sarakatsani carried from their winter to the summer
pastures. Monumentality in this context is achieved
by switching the fundamental concept of the func-
tionality of the huts. It is no longer a valuable tool
for survival, but a demonstrative apparatus to mani-
fest the identity of the Sarakatsans in a sedentary,
and therefore non-perishable, world.
The large gathering point includes a central fire-
place, surrounded by a horseshoe-shaped corridor
with many large wooden tables placed next to each
other (Figure 11). It is dedicated to the official, yearly
commemorated, feasting-oriented gatherings, during
the first weekend of August. The wood for the tables
and the rest of the construction was donated by the
timber-cutting association of Vovousa, a Vlach-speak-
ing village of Zagori with great tradition in forestry-
related activities. According to our interlocutor, the
Stani attracted far more interest in the 1990s, when
the area was built, and individual Sarakatsans invested
in the area through donations and voluntary work.
Nowadays, they meet only at the annual gathering in
August, while the space is open for tourists throughout
the year. As a gathering point, it is used to perform
the collective identity of the Sarakatsans, through
FIG. 10.
A glimpse into the structures of the Stani: cement floor,
iron mesh and metal frames, followed by the necessary
sign of the authoritative museum: Do Not Touch.
Photo by Faidon Moudopoulos-Athanasiou
music, dancing, and communal eating. Each year the
Brotherhood invites notable people and members of
the local administrative units to attend, giving thus a
formal character to the weekend.
As a result, Stani in Gyftokampos has produced
new meanings and new identities. As Appadurai has
locality-producing activities are not only
context-driven but also context-generative. We exam-
ined the establishment of Stani as both. According to
our Sarakatsan interlocutor, and builder of the huts,
the area was used until 1985 as the summer habita-
tion of a group of Sarakatsan mobile pastoralists.
This primary status evokes the premodern practice of
nomadic pastoralism. In this context, the Sarakatsani
do not own the land and they pay rent to use the sum-
mer pastures of the villages of Zagori.
The huts and
other structures are built of perishable materials, with
the assistance of the whole kin, while the knowledge
is transmitted transgenerationally. The seasonal habi-
tation degrades during winter and is constructed
again the next season.
It could be argued that the present status of the
Stani operates in contrast to all the values that perme-
ated the Sarakatsani socioeconomic models in the his-
torical longue dur
ee. To perform the contemporary
Sarakatsani identity, the Brotherhood owns the land, a
fact that was never the case in the pre- and early-
nation-state historical context. Furthermore, to mani-
fest the identity, through the tangible symbol of the
hut, they have opted for permanent materials, contrast-
ing again sharply with the perishability of the former
Sarakatsani built environment, as analysed above.
Finally, the annual gathering and the related festivities
have a very different structure than the dominant and
competitive kinship networks of the former tselingato.
The Brotherhood is a society embracing all
Sarakatsans without social differentiation.
Premodern practices such as the building of our
shepherd's hut in Konitsa no longer serve their initial
functional purposes, in an urbanised and sedentised
world. However, contemporary experimental, or
other, recreations under the framework of an archaeo-
logical ethnography facilitates a dialogue with those
traditions, the people who practised them, and their
reflection in the present, while allowing for the
exploration of other-than-institutionalised forms of
learning and knowing.
In this project, four generations of people (18 to
80 years old) reenacted the building of an object that
used to be at the centre of the transhumant mode of
FIG. 11.
The performance stage in Gyftokampos. Photo by Petya Dimitrova
life, in a modern field in the plain of Konitsa
designed to adapt into intensive fruit cultivation.
Without the ethnographic setting within the KSS
framework, which allowed us to recreate materialities
belonging to mobile and to an extent premodern con-
text and without 80-year-old Albanian-Vlach, Miho,
the experienced hut builder who had emersed in the
cultural milieu of this way of life, our hut would have
been standing as a floating signifier of sorts, in the
middle of the (intensively cultivated) Konitsa plain.
This testimony, if nothing else, explains the existence
of a shepherds hut in the middle of a sea of present-
day agriculturalists.
However, the multi-temporal considerations, the
blend of different backgrounds engaged in fieldwork,
and the visit to the Stani allow for broader remarks.
While for Miho the process implied the performance
of his identity, for one of our team members it trig-
gered childhood memories from similar structures in
the Croatian countryside.
Hence, our practice
emerged as an environment where collective and per-
sonal identities, as well as notions of alterity, fused,
providing different pathways of interpretation within
a multicultural, trans-Balkan and decolonial context.
Miho, an individual belonging to the subaltern
group of the Orthodox Albanian-Vlachs, commuted
daily to Konitsa, on the Greek side of the border, to
assist us in the building of our hut. The set of sym-
bols he attached to the hut, like the wooden cross on
top of the structure, were articulated in his practice as
performances of counter-memory, manifestations of a
subaltern identity in the predominantly Muslim, for-
merly atheist, Albania. In the locality of Konitsa,
these manifestations blend with the dominant,
Orthodox Greek discourse.
However, within our site, these observations rest at
the level of the individual, and the ability of our team
to reflect upon the issue of identities in multi-temporal
and trans-local contexts. On the contrary, the relevant
symbols in the Stani represent the transformation of a
former subaltern local identity,
to a dominant lieu de
memoire with regards to the national narrative. In that
sense, these two representations of a shepherdshut,
although distant from the authenticsetting, contrast.
The main differences lie in the production of know-
ledge and the purpose of the construction. We oper-
ated in an environment of archaeological ethnography,
in the context of an academic summer school, while
we aimed to participate in the articulation of know-
ledge within the field. In that sense, our hut became
the tangible marker, around which we sought to
understand the liquid nature of identities in different
temporal and local dimensions. The Stani, on the other
hand, as hinted by the concept of its creation and the
materials used, aspired to freeze the Sarakatsani pas-
toral identity for the future. However, both representa-
tions, despite the differences, point to one end, which
is always present.
This contribution was destined for the 5th Annual
of the Border Crossings Network. However, the
COVID-19 pandemic and the precarity of 2020
resulted in its cancellation. We thank the organisers
of that volume for their initial encouragement. The
project was planned by Prof. Vassilis Nitsiakos in
the context of the 14th KSS. The summer school
also covered the necessary expenses, namely the
compensation of the masons and the purchase of
the necessary tools. We are grateful for their sup-
port. We also thank Dr Paris Potiropoulos for his
assistance during our fieldwork in Sarakatsaniki
Stani, and Assoc. Prof. Vassilis Dalkavoukis for his
insightful comments on an earlier draft. The com-
ments of the two reviewers made a great contribu-
tion in improving the final version of the text. We
express our gratitude. The first author wants to
stress that while processing the final version of this
article, the University of Sheffield Executive Board
decided to shut down the Department of
Archaeology, leaving its researchers, including him-
self, in a very insecure and perilous state distanced
from the values of Higher Education and
University Ethical standards.
i.e. Dalkavoukis 2019; Manos 2016: 5-6;
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Ethnographie arch
eologique relative
a la con-
struction exp
erimentale dune hutte de berger
Konitsa (nord-ouest de la Gr
RESUME: Cet article traite de la construction exp
mentale dune hutte Vlach lors de la 14
eseau Frontalier des Balkans (the Balkan
Border Crossings Network). Lapproche a pris la
forme dune ethnographie arch
eologique et adresse
une s
erie de sujets allant du chantier ethnographique
et exp
a des vid
eos et au patrimoine critique,
emanant dun m^
eme point : la construction dune
hutte ronde de berger dans la plaine de Konitsa. De
rencontres m
ethodologiques interdisciplinaires
a des
eflexions sur le chantier via lexp
erimentation, ainsi
a des r
eflexions sur les identit
es pastorales, sur la
egislation et sur ses effets sur le patrimoine pastoral
ati, cet article r
ele le champ des possibles dun
engagement interdisciplinaire dans des contextes tels
que les Ecoles d
,,Rund um die H
utte: Eine ethno-arch
sche Untersuchung
uber den experimentellen
Bau einer Sch
utte in Konitsa (NW-
ZUSAMMENFASSUNG: Dieser Artikel behandelt
den experimentellen Bau einer Vlach-H
Rahmen der 14. Sommerschule des Balkan Border
Crossings Network stattfand. Es handelt sich dabei um
einen ethno-arch
aologischen Feldversuch, bei dem eine
Vielzahl von Themen genauer untersucht wurde. Im
Fokus standen dabei ethnographische und experimen-
telle Feldforschungen, Videographie und der kritische
Umgang mit Kulturerbe. Im Artikel werden außerdem
are, methodische Untersuchungen bis
uber Ideen
uber pastorale Identit
aten, Gesetze und ihre
Auswirkungen auf gebautes, pastorales Kulturerbe bin
hin zu Feldforschungsreflexionen dargestellt.
ogliche Aktivit
aten f
ur inter-
ares Engagement in Kontexten wie Summer
Schools aufgezeigt.
RIASSUNTO. Intorno alla capanna: etnografia
archeologica sulla costruzione sperimentale di
una capanna da pastori a Konitsa (Grecia
Questo articolo pone una riflessione sulla costruzione
sperimentale di una capanna valacca avvenuta
durante la XIV Summer School Balkan Border
Crossings Network.Lapproccio
e stato di etnografia
archeologica e ha abbracciato una variet
a di temi, dal
lavoro sul campo di tipo etnografico e sperimentale,
alla documentazione video e al patrimonio cosiddetto
critico, il tutto a partire dallo stesso elemento: la cost-
ruzione di una capanna rotonda da pastori nella piana
di Konitsa. Questo articolo rivela le vaste potenzialit
di impegno interdisciplinare in seno alle Summer
Schools, a partire da un approccio metodologico
interdisciplinare, fino alle considerazioni sulle iden-
a del mondo pastorale, sulla legislazione e i suoi
effetti su questa eredit
a costruttiva, unitamente alla
riflessione inerente il lavoro sul campo mentre veniva
portata avanti la sperimentazione.
'Alrededor de la caba~
na': una etnograf
ogica en torno a la construcci
on experi-
mental de una caba~
na de pastor en Konitsa (NO
de Grecia)
RESUMEN: Este art
ıculo reflexiona sobre la con-
on experimental de una caba~
na eregida
durante la 14
Escuela de Verano de la Balkan
Border Crossings Network. Se adopt
o un estudio
desde la etnograf
ıa arqueol
ogica y hubo varios
temas a considerar, desde el trabajo de campo
afico y experimental hasta la videograf
el patrimonio en peligro, todos ellos centrados en
la construcci
on de una caba~
na redonda de pastores
en la llanura de Konitsa. Este art
ıculo revela las
posibles v
ıas disponibles para el estudio interdisci-
plinario en reuniones tales como las Escuelas de
Verano, entre las que hay que destacar los
encuentros metodol
ogicos interdisciplinarios, la
on sobre identidades pastorales, la legis-
on y sus efectos en este patrimonio pastoral
construido, as
ıcomo las reflexiones sobre el tra-
bajo de campo.
Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield
Architecture Engineer, University of Thessaly
Department of Art History, Anthropology & Ethnology, University of Zadar
Department of Ethnology, Sofia University
Department of Sociology, Middle East Technical University
Department of Balkan, Slavic & Oriental Studies, University of Macedonia
Department of Balkan, Slavic & Oriental Studies, University of Macedonia
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Full-text available
The present article exposes a conflict regarding the management of natural and cultural values through time, using the example of woodland management in Zagori (NW Greece) from the late 19th century to the present day (2018). The central question is how a cultural landscape now interpreted as significant enough for potential World Heritage nomination (2014 tentative list), was managed through time by the Greek State in a top down approach that led to a polarization between natural and cultural values. First, issues of commune woodland management and emic perceptions of values will be addressed, followed by an outline of state economic factors that shaped the national policies that replaced them. The local communities’ reactions during this transformation will be addressed. Finally, it is suggested that such case studies are valuable educational material for heritage professionals, since they offer insights into the processes of site valorization, revealing historical factors, economic stakes, and legislative biases, while also touching upon stakeholder issues.
Full-text available
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Maps and borders notwithstanding, some places are best described as "gaps"--places with repeatedly contested boundaries that are wedged in between other places that have clear boundaries. This book explores an iconic example of this in the contemporary Western imagination: the Balkans. Drawing on richly detailed ethnographic research around the Greek-Albanian border, Sarah Green focuses her groundbreaking analysis on the ambiguities of never quite resolving where or what places are. One consequence for some Greek peoples in this border area is a seeming lack of distinction--but in a distinctly "Balkan" way. In gaps (which are never empty), marginality is, in contrast with conventional understandings, not a matter of difference and separation--it is a lack thereof. Notes from the Balkans represents the first ethnographic approach to exploring "the Balkans" as an ideological concept. Green argues that, rather than representing a tension between "West" and "East," the Balkans makes such oppositions ambiguous. This kind of marginality means that such places and peoples can hardly engage with "multiculturalism." Moreover, the region's ambiguity threatens clear, modernist distinctions. The violence so closely associated with the region can therefore be seen as part of continual attempts to resolve the ambiguities by imposing fixed separations. And every time this fails, the region is once again defined as a place that will continually proliferate such dangerous ambiguity, and could spread it somewhere else.