Friday, September 7, 2012

Site Tours in Crete and 3D Laser Scanning of Sites

My sojourn in eastern Crete this summer provided me with many opportunities to expand my archaeological horizons. Many, of course, were √° la minoenne, given the location. Detailed excavation tours by the individual directors brought me up-to-date on four important sites.

Prof. Jeff Soles at the Mochlos exacation
Mochlos excavations
Professor Jeff Soles (University of North Carolina – Greensboro) gave my wife and I an extensive tour of his recent discoveries on the island of Mochlos (, just off the north coast of Crete at the eastern end of the Gulf of Mirabello. Affiliated with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, this project has just completed its final field season after almost 25 years of research. Recent work has focused on defining the extent and nature of the Late Minoan IB settlement and its network of paved walkways. As the settlement’s history was long, beginning in the Early Minoan period, its stratigraphy is complicated. This season’s work, midway up the slope, uncovered the walls of many houses of the Archaic and Hellenistic periods built on top of the ruins for the Late Minoan IIIB and Late Minoan IB periods. Although Soles’ crew did not find more fragments of an unusual elaborately-carved ivory pyxis in the so-called “House of the Lady” as they had hoped, they did reveal what appears to have been a “window of appearances” facing a small square in front of the structure.

Newly excavated Neopalatial house at Gournia
Gournia excavations
At nearby Gournia a very large team is continuing the excavation of the extensive settlement and small palace started by Harriet Boyd over a century ago. My former student from Brock University, Matt Buell, the Field Director, showed us around the new trenches. Prof. Vance Watrous (SUNY at Buffalo) heads this project, which is also affiliated with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. A Practicum from Brock University and a field school from Wilfrid Laurier University were among the many educational programs at the site this year. On the northern edge of the Neopalatial settlement, which overlooks the Gulf of Mirabello, they were excavating more houses and paved pathways. Under the palace a series of trenches revealed evidence of a large Prepalatial period complex of rooms with open areas paved with sea pebbles. The discovery of a fragment of a Linear A document and clay bulla fragment add weight to the arguments concerning the settlement’s role as a regional administrative center in the Neopalatial period.

Prof. Yiannis Papadatos with visitors from the INSTAP East Crete Study Center at the Gaidourofas excavation
Gaidourofas excavations
A site that has was in the Greek newspapers and online sources last month was Gaidourofas located high above the upland village of Anatoli to the northwest of Ierapetra (where much of your vegetables probably come from). This new excavation is under the direction of Prof. Yiannis Papadatos (University of Athens). Sir Arthur Evans and John Pendlebury both made note of the substantial walls that are preserved to over 2 m above ground level. Situated among the pine trees at ca 900 m, overlooking the Libyan Sea, it is an unusual location for a complex of rooms with such substantial architecture dated to the Neopalatial period. It may have served as a regional collection and storage point for the exploitation of the uplands and mountains by goat herders and wild plant material gathers, since one of the rooms has the remains of many pithoi. The hypothetical but probable Minoan central place in the Ierapetra region may well have been to the south of this site where the hills meet the coastal plain above Gra Lygia.

Prof. Jan Driessen with members of the Minoan Seminar at the Sissi excavation
Sissi excavations
Finally, we joined the well-attended Minoan Seminar’s ( in situ visit to the Belgium School at Athens’ Sarpedon Archaeological Project at Sissi ( that are directed by Prof. Jan Driessen (Universit√© catholique de Louvain). The settlement, on a low hill next to the north coast, is very close to the Minoan palace and settlement at Malia. Despite extensive erosion, interventions during WW II and modern activities, there is ample evidence for occupation stretching from the beginning of the Bronze Age to its very end. Across the site there is evidence for different phases of the settlement and a Prepalatial house tomb cemetery. A new discovery is what appears to be a “court-centered building” with numerous architectural features usually associated with the major Minoan palaces, such as ashlar masonry, a large stone kernos and storage facilities. The presence of such a structure within the “shadow” of the palace at Malia increases the need to re-think how we define a Minoan palace and the roles it may have played in society.

So the next time you are in eastern Crete these sites are definitely worth visiting.

Dr. Michaelis Xinogalos operating the FARO Focus 3D laser scanner at Khalasmenos
3D Laser Scanning
Just before our return to Athens, Dr. Michalis Xinogalos of Astrolabe Engineering came to the INSTAP East Crete Study Center in Pachia Ammos to give an informal workshop on 3D laser scanning for the detailed measurement and documentation of archaeological sites and buildings. He demonstrated the light weight FARO Focus 3D laser scanning device using the Late Minoan IIIC Shrine of the Goddess of the Upraised Arms at my wife’s site of Khalasmenos as his test case. From 13 locations around and within the remains, the device created within an hour a point cloud of the exterior and the interior surfaces of the structure. Back at the INSTAP Center, while his laptop was processing the data collected, he showed us how such devices have been used on the facades and interiors of standing buildings, excavation contexts, burial assemblages, statues, building complexes such as the entrance to the Akropolis in Athens, artifacts and ceramic vessels. The results with the colorized external surfaces were simply amazing! The high resolution of the point clouds and the software allows one to measure points with high accuracy as well as to cut any part of the image for cross-sections. Using other datasets it can create insightful constructions of structures with complex developmental histories. Although a 3D laser scanning device is still too expensive for the budgets of most archaeological projects it certainly represents a means to accurately and quickly document archaeological contexts, to analyze effectively the data in a multitude of ways, and to display the results from a variety of perspectives. Further, these datasets can be analyzed and manipulated concurrently by a group of researchers across cyberspace. This is certainly not simply another trendy toy for the gadget-addicted archaeologist, but a new tool in our data acquisition kit.

Now back to work and the fall/winter program of the Institute!

David Rupp

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