Friday, July 25, 2014

Life in the trenches

Taking elevations, old and new style
The month in Siteia at the Petras excavations ( went fast. Digging from 7 am to 3 pm followed by an hour+ of notebook work helps to create the blur. After a few days the rhythms and demands of an excavation structured one’s life at the site. Looking over the walls that defined the room in a house tomb that I was excavating I could see my colleagues engaged in the same structured activities. The ringing sounds of the trowels, picks and shovels were mixed with urgent calls: “Photo Book! David, do you have it again?”; “Where’s the Catalogue?”; “Eleni, is this a human bone?”; “Rebecca, could you DGPS an ME?”; “Who took the soil bags?”; “Metaxia, come and see this!” and, best of all, “Break time!”

View of the cemetery during photography session
I was back for another tour of duty on my wife’s (Dr. Metaxia Tsipopoulou) excavation of an extensive Minoan Prepalatial and Protopalatial house tomb cemetery at Kefala-Petras associated with the Minoan settlement and palace at Petras, just to the east of Siteia in eastern Crete [see last year’s blog]. The crew was bigger this year augmented by a field school from Brandeis University (USA) lead by Professor Andrew Koh. His assistant, Tanya McCullough, had dug with me in 1993 at my excavation of the Middle Chalcolithic site of Prastio - Ayios Savvas tis Koronis Monasteri in the Paphos District of Cyprus. We, and my son Romanos, were the “Canadian Content” on the project. Besides us Cannucks , we were a truly international undertaking with archaeologists from Greece (of course), the US, the UK, Ireland, Sweden, and Slovenia. With ten local workers the hard work was made easier.

A digger’s bags and supplies
Each new trench and parts of the previously identified house tombs produced interesting and different discoveries. There were crania and long bones everywhere. The narrative sequence of many sections of the cemetery had to be revised as a result. The one that I crafted last year for my Room 4 in House Tomb 3 was radically modified by the digging of the remainder of the room this year. While we strive for the appearance of “certainty” in archaeology, in reality we’re only presenting an interpretation that has a certain level of “probability” of explaining the past behaviors. Even then our narratives are relatively simple and incomplete. So each time we dig a new portion of a site, while the new data can confirm or amplify what we think we know, it can frequently change everything. Archaeological research is not for individuals who want firm, immutable “facts”.

A helicopter carrying sea water
To break the routine we had our annual “aerial” photos using the boom-mounted high resolution camera from the INSTAP East Crete Study Center in Pachia Ammos. One very windy day we watched a helicopter carry large buckets of sea water from the bay to attempt to put out a wildfire in the mountains to the south. Summer Session II of the American School was given a tour of the cemetery as we toiled in the trenches. The Minoan Seminar did an “in situ” visit to the excavation on the 12th with over 125 archaeologists, friends and locals in attendance from all over central and eastern Crete. That evening we watched a spectacular “super full moon” rise over Siteia Bay. The dig’s facebook page kept the project’s fans informed of people and progress of the excavation. The dig party on the final afternoon was enlivened by one of the workers playing his bouzouki and other workers dancing. It was a rewarding field season all in all!

View of the sieves
Now I must finish my notebook and the final report. Then I’m at Halasmenos (Monastiraki-Ierapetras) for a week to study the LM IIIC kiln there. That’s how my June and July 2014 will have been spent away from Athens. Jonathan has been holding down the fort during this period. America awaits him!

Kalo Kalokairi!
David Rupp

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Fred Winter Collection

Ionic capital from the Older Artemision at Ephesos. (Professor Fred Winter, 1988)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Fred Winter Collection

Eroded rock formation with rock-cut tombs at Midas City. (Professor Fred Winter, 1987)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Fred Winter Collection

Rectangular Ionic temple in the Forum Boarium in Rome. (Professor Fred Winter, 1988)

Monday, June 23, 2014

Eleon in eastern Boiotia: the 2014 fieldseason

View of the acropolis
Last Thursday, Jonathan and Gerry Schaus accompanied me to visit the Institute’s excavation project at ancient Eleon in eastern Boiotia. Last year our visit took place early in the field season so that the important discoveries were yet to come to light. This year, not only were we able to see the architectural finds of 2013 but also substantial new discoveries. As usual our expert guides were the project co-directors Brendan Burke (University of Victoria) and Bryan Burns (Wellesley College).

View of the MH cist grave discovered in 2013
The acropolis is hive of activity with the large crew excavating now in three large sectors. The aim this year is to open up the Northwest and the Southeast Sectors in order to gain a better understanding of the layout of the LH IIIC and the earlier LH IIIB structures below them. In the Northwest Sector a large complex of rooms is coming to light. It is still not clear whether there was one building or two separate buildings. The burnt mud bricks from the final fiery destruction in LH IIIC Middle are impressive. The undisturbed MH cist grave was discovered in this sector in 2013 when they dug a sondage to test the depth of the archaeological deposits.

The Southwest Sector has substantial architectural remains from part of a LH IIIB structure. What is mystifying is the fact that the Ottoman period (15-16th century AD) roof tiles and pottery as well as the votive material from the Late Archaic/Classical period have no associated architectural remains to go with them. When one digs down 20-30 cm from the present surface, there is the top of the LH IIIC Middle layers.

View of threshold blocks of the gate to the south
The Southeast Sector is where a major effort is being made to understand the construction sequence of the ramp and the gate discovered in the previous season as well as to determine what was on the inside of the gate. One has the impression that there are large stones everywhere they dig in this area. Are these in situ from the Mycenaean period wall or reused when the ramp and the gate were constructed? The large blocks revealed in 2013 that form the threshold of the wide gate are worthy of a visit to the site. The massive North Tower that was partially uncovered in 2012 formed the southeastern side of the ramp. It now seems to have two phases. The exact configuration and date of the construction of the walls behind the northeastern side of the ramp is a work in progress. The same can be said of the area inside the wall by the gate. Can they see the patterns in the walls that will explain the organization and uses of the spaces here before the season ends in three weeks???

View of the sherd reading area
We were able to visit one of the project’s apothekes below the site in Arma. Here the cleaned sherds are laid out by excavation locus. Joins are sought, the pottery is “read”, vessels are mended and the significant sherds and restored vessels are drawn. Their archaeological illustrator is Tina Ross, one of my former students from Brock University.

Tina Ross at work
The excavation at Eleon is providing us with insights into what a secondary settlement in Boiotia looked like in the Late Bronze Age, both while there was a palace at nearby Thebes and after its destruction. The imitation of Mycenaean cyclopean masonry by the use of Lesbian-style masonry in the construction of the wall and the ramp in the 5th century BC is a fascinating visual referral to the site’s “heroic past”. The probability of cult activity somewhere in this area, as the votive offerings suggest, is an intriguing problem given that so far no architectural remains can be associated with a contemporary shrine or a sanctuary. Was there a cult for a female deity guarding the gate and its bastions?

Ah, archaeological research! There are always more new questions and few clear answers to the old questions when one digs. This discipline is not for someone who seeks fixed, neat answers.

Kalo Kalokairi!
David Rupp