Friday, August 17, 2012

Pithoi and other Stories: excavating the store rooms of Building 10. A report on the Kastro Kallithea Archaeological Project's 2012 season

Fig. 1. Breakfast on the Acropolis of Kastro Kallithea at 6am with full moon
The Kastro Kallithea Archaeological Project is a synergasia between the Hellenic Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Culture and Sports and the Canadian Institute in Greece. The former is represented by Sophia Karapanou of the 15th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities at Larissa, and the latter by Margriet Haagsma of the University of Alberta.

On May 28th 2012 at 5.45 am our Canadian Kallithea team of staff, students and volunteers began what would become our daily trek for the upcoming six weeks: a 618 meter high climb to the acropolis of the ancient town situated on the hill above the village of Kallithea in Thessaly. After eating our fresh pastries and enjoying the stunning sunrise above the Pelion, we walked across the agora towards the eastern part of the site. Here, at the corner of avenue B and Street 3, is Building 10; a large Late Hellenistic mansion dating to the late 3rd-2nd Centuries BCE, measuring 20 by 15 meters, which our team has been excavating for the last three seasons. (See fig. 2.)

Fig. 2: Plan of Building 10
This large house has a number of unusual features; its construction, layout and decoration are clearly different from the more traditional architectural styles in Greek domestic architecture. The atrium (Unit E) for instance, displays a distinct Roman influence and the wall paintings and domestic items must have articulated the wealth of this household. Houses of the late Hellenistic period with Roman influences have been found in various other areas such Delos and Northwestern Greece, but thus far not in inland Thessaly and never one dating to a period this early. This makes Building 10 unique. Its study will make significant contributions to our knowledge of urban life in this important period of transition.

This year’s original plan was to finalize our work by excavating the remaining areas and documenting and removing all baulks. We decided to start right away with the unopened areas, which we labelled units I, J, K and L, while we continued with units G, H and room 4. Since we were in a hurry, we chose to excavate in extra large spits and remove as much of the rubble as possible while not compromising our documentation. The first challenge consisted of removing all large building blocks that were lodged into the topsoil of the new units. The site is remote and the team could not hire machinery to do the work, so it all needed to be done by hand! The problem was largely solved by combining our men and women power with tarp and straps that could withstand pressures of 500 kg.
Fig. 3 Pithoi nos. 1, 2, 5 and 10 in Unit L
Under the rubble, the team encountered dense layers of rooftiles, some of which bore stamps of various makers, two of them known, the other one new. In between and under the rooftiles, in units K and L, the team initially found two pithoi, apparently in situ. In the course of the successive two weeks, when the team reached the floor level, that number had increased to no less than ten! (See figs. 3 and 4.) In addition, we found a large number of other smaller storage vessels in this area. The number of pithoi and the accompanying storage capacity is unprecedented for a house of this period. Five of these vessels are very large, measuring more than 1 meter in diameter. They were dug into the beaten clay floor to a depth of at least 1 m. The smaller ones are dug in or were standing at floor level and one of the containers (pithos 4) had toppled over, spilling its burnt contents over the floor. A sample has been taken and will be analyzed, as we hope to find out what kinds of food the inhabitants of this house kept in storage. Pithoi were expensive vessels in antiquity and their sheer number is another indication that the households originally inhabiting Building 10 must have had abundant access to food resources, either directly, via exchange, or both.

Fig. 4. Units K and L as seen from the northwest with pithoi 1-3 and 4-10
Units G and H were finished this year and it became clear that both rooms originally had plastered walls. Unit G even yielded ample evidence for elaborate wall decorations: plaster mouldings and imitation marble slabs were found which had fallen onto the floor. Given its location, size and its monumental threshold we hypothesize that Unit G may have originally been an andron, the role of which was modified during a second phase habitation later in the 2nd century BCE. A spectacular terracotta figurine was found here as well, consisting of a standing female with an unusual headdress (see fig. 5). The other areas in Building 10 yielded a variety of finds including a large number of bronze items including two archaic fibulae as well as a large number of mould made bowls testifying to the activities and opulent life style of the households inhabiting this building.

Fig. 5. Head of the terracotta figurine found in Unit G
The overwhelming number of vessels discovered in the storage area made it impossible for us to finalize our work this year. We hope, however, to reach our goal in the upcoming season; the full excavation and documentation of this fascinating domestic setting.

Sophia Karapanou will continue her excavation in the stoa of the ancient town in September 2012. She and Margriet Haagsma gave a presentation on the project for 250 enthusiastic Pharsalians on July 4th in the Cultural Centre at Pharsala. Mayor Aris Karaxalias was a wonderful host and provided the team with dinner, music and dance afterwards. We are deeply indebted to the municipality as well as FC Narthaki’s Elias Papadopoulos who provided the team with housing and other facilities. We thank them, as well as numerous others warmly for the continuous support our cooperative project has received over the years.

Margriet J. Haagsma and Sophia Karapanou

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