Friday, June 3, 2011

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Visit to Athens and Household Archaeology

This past weekend Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a whirlwind two-day visit to Greece. As part of the visit he brought along with him a group of prominent Greek-Canadians. One of their activities was a luncheon on Saturday with a group of Greeks with close ties to and associations with Canada. I had the honor to attend this gathering organized by the Canadian Embassy. This gave me the opportunity to inform them of the work of the Institute in Greece and of our supporters in Canada. Among the attendees I met the Honorary Consul of Canada in Thessaloniki, Mr. Pantelis Petmezas. We discussed the possibility of having the annual Open Meeting of the Institute be repeated there next May. If you think this is a good initiative please let me know, as well as what you think would be a suitable venue for it. A sponsor for the event would also be most welcome!

Book of the Blog
A central emphasis of the study of Greek architecture has been on public and religious buildings. Their contexts and placement within the urban environment, the overall design and layout of the city and the ubiquitous encircling defensive walls are other themes examined in the last decades. The Greek urban structure par excellence, the domestic house or oikos, has received much less attention, mainly because so few of them have been excavated until recently. This paucity of examples has led researchers to attempt to classify them superficially and to conceptualize them generally within the framework of the extant literary and documentary sources relating to the domestic economy and social relations.

Over twenty years ago, Michael Jameson (University of Pennsylvania/Stanford University) called for the systematic and careful excavation of more houses throughout the ancient Greek world in order to amass comparable rich data sets to facilitate the reconstruction of the material culture of the Greek oikos and to determine its roles in the domestic economy of the polis. A number of younger researchers (Nicholas Cahill, Lisa Nevett, Bradley Ault and Manuel Fiedler) took up his challenge and the Greek version of “household archaeology” evolved. The growing interest in gender relations also spurred on this development as the oikos was the nexus of male/female interactions, roles and relationships in the ancient polis.

Margriet J. Haagsma (University of Alberta) has just published her contribution to broadening our knowledge of household archaeology in early Hellenistic Thessay. Her doctoral dissertation, Domestic Economy and Social Organization in New Halos (Riksuniversiteit Groningen, 2011) examines the sealed contents of six houses in New Halos, an orthogonally planned city that was founded ca 302 BC, probably by Demetrius Poliorcetes, and destroyed by an earthquake in 265 BC. The excavation was carried out under the aegis of the Netherlands Institute at Athens in the late 1970s through early 1990s.

Although her prime interest is the analysis (Chapter 5) and the interpretation of the contents of the houses and their spatial patterning (Chapters 6-7) she carefully sets the stage in the first chapter by reviewing the intellectual background, ancient and modern, as well as the scholarly foundation for such a study. The excavation of the houses is discussed (Chapter 2) along with the architectural remains (Chapter 3). The various depositional and post-depositional processes that affected the site are treated in Chapter 4. A CD-ROM contains the four Appendices.

The limited, if not impoverished, material culture remains found suggest to Haasgma that the location of the city, which apparently was chosen for strategic reasons, provided its inhabitants with an inadequate hinterland to support a stable, self-sufficient “consumer city” based on mixed farming. The ample faunal evidence for pastoralism and the numerous loomweights for weaving could not maintain an urbanized society. This probably was the principal reason that the city was not reoccupied after 265 BC. The lack of investment in the facilities of the houses and in the city’s public buildings is in striking contrast to that seen in contemporary cities.

This generous gift by one of our Board Members is another addition to the Library’s growing holdings in Household Archaeology. Professor Haagsma is continuing her meticulous study of Hellenistic houses and their contents in Thessaly in her excavation of Building 10 at Kastro Kallithea.

David Rupp

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