Friday, August 10, 2012

Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project - Excavations at Ancient Eleon 2012

Ancient Eleon
Looking back on our first full season of excavation, we realize how truly collaborative archaeological research is. Without help from friends, old and new, our season would never have been as successful. Our excavation at ancient Eleon began June 4th (the holy day of Ayia Pneuma), so work really began on Tuesday, the 5th. The two trial trenches from 2011 held up very well over the winter, with no collapse or damage. Within a few hours of cleaning, with our eager crew (about 20 new and old EBAPers), we were able to get the whole excavation area ready for the new season.

While we are very fortunate that the site still looked the same, some things have changed since last year: we have a new synergatis (collaborator) with the 9th Ephoreia, Dr. Alexandra Charami. We are also now working with Olga Kyriatzi from the Thebes Museum. Both of them have helped us greatly in 2012 and we sincerely look forward to working with them for many years to come. Our colleague Susan, whom we worked with especially on the regional survey (2007-2009), was not with us this year in the field. She and her family were busy relocating from Singapore back to Canada (Montreal). We very much hope this transition goes well for them. Among our other new collaborators, we have Dr. Evi Margaritis beginning a flotation system to help us better understand ancient diet and the environment; an excellent conservator, Basiliki (Vicky) Karas, from Victoria, who brought her husband and two beautiful children; Tina Ross, a former UVic grad student and now a very experienced archaeological illustrator; and a new architect for the project, Giuliana Bianco, who has extensive experience working on excavations in Greece – having worked for decades at Kommos with Joe and Maria Shaw, and most recently at the site of Mitrou in East Lokris.

The villages of eastern Boeotia where we live and work are all administered by the Demarchos (mayor) based in Schimatari: Vangellis Georgiou and his staff were very welcoming to us and we look forward to working with them in the years to come. We also made several new friends in the village of Arma, adjacent to the site of ancient Eleon: Spyros Davros, the president of the village, and Stavroula Dimitriou, who manages the local agricultural collective were incredibly generous with their time and assisted us particularly in establishing an apotheke for storage and workspace related to the project. It was truly a multi-tiered operation getting it ready for use, requiring the participation of our colleagues in Thebes, the Schimatari Museum, and the Ministry of Culture in Athens; several visits from the approved alarm installer and repeated interaction with OTE (Greek telephone company); plus a real effort from the people of the Arma agricultural collective who cleaned out the storage area and helped us put new iron bars on the windows. We are very pleased to say that the apotheke is fully ready now.

The EBAP team 2012
For the excavation itself, we have structured of our team with two site directors (Bryan Burns and myself) and four site supervisors (Genevieve Hill, Emily Anderson, Trevor Van Damme, and Mina Nikolovieni). Back at the dig house in Dilessi we had Stephie Nikoloudis supervising the study and record keeping of the project. In the trenches with us were about 12 students from our home institutions, the University of Victoria and Wellesley College, plus students from the University of Pennsylvania, Florida State University, and the University of Arizona. The team worked very well together and socialized well too! On our three-day mid-season break, nearly all of them chose to go to Nauplion together for relaxation and touring the sites of the Argolid and Corinthia.

Our excavation this summer concentrated on continuing the trial trenches begun last year. We had two primary areas of research focus: the Late Mycenaean period (ca. 1200-1100 BC) and the period of construction for the large polygonal wall which dominates our site (whenever that is!? 6th, 5th, or 4th century BC). Results were very good for our research program but also for our students’ excavation experience. Six of our students participated in the dig for University of Victoria credit (GRS 495). While we relied on them for their strength and ability to help move earth, they also took full advantage of the opportunity to learn how archaeology is practiced in Greece and to develop skills that will be useful in any future work. Many of them improved their excavation Greek, learning the key words for ‘wheelbarrow’ and ‘trowel’, which can be helpful in all sorts of situations. English phrases, like ‘pyro-technic feature’ may also be useful. They got to experience the thrill of finding things that hadn’t seen the light of day since 1200 BC: painted pottery, figurine fragments, animal bones, and pieces of well-made copper alloy implements. After excavating from 6:30 am to 1:30 pm each day, we would have a lunch break and rest, and then in the afternoons, from 5 until 7 pm, everyone participated in the processing of the day’s finds, beginning with pot washing. Sorting, counting, and recording the sherds was also very important. Some students had a one- or two-day internship with our conservator, learning how to mend pots and clean items of various materials. Other students gained experience in archaeological illustration and photography. All of these activities were tracked and recorded for our excavation database, in Filemaker Pro, which all the students learned how to use.

Excavation in progress 2012
Our last weekend of the excavation was especially memorable, in that we were able to meet other Canadian excavators – in particular, the Kastro Kallithea project out of the University of Alberta. We were happy to have Margriet Haagsma and her team visit the site one hot Saturday afternoon in July. It was even more fun to continue on to Athens with them to the Official Residence of the Canadian Ambassador, who kindly allowed us to have an old fashioned barbecue and pool party while he and his wife were out of town. It could not have come at a more perfect time for our excavation, after a week of temperatures above 40 degrees. We are very grateful to the Ambassador, to the Canadian Embassy, especially Allison Stewart, and to Jonathan Tomlinson for arranging it all.

Overall our season was a great success and we look forward to returning in early June 2013. We are especially looking forward to working in our new apotheke, located literally a stone’s throw from our excavation area in Arma village. We thank everyone who made this season such a great success!

Brendan Burke
Co-Director, EBAP

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