Friday, March 21, 2014

The Archaeology of Eastern Thessaly revealed; What Price Renewable Energy?

Google Earth image of eastern Thessaly and the area of the rescue excavations
In eastern Thessaly, north of Volos, there was a large, shallow lake called “Karla”. In 1962 this lake was drained for the creation of agricultural land. Along its shores from the Neolithic period onward were a series of small settlements and areas of activities. On Friday, March 28th at 7:30 PM in the Library of the Institute Dr. Sophia Karapanou, archaeologist in the 15th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities (EPKA) of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sport will give a lecture entitled, “Early results from the recent excavations at the shores of the dried Lake Karla, eastern Thessaly.” Dr. Karapanou is well-known to the CIG community as the synergatis with Dr. Margriet Haagsma (University of Alberta) in the excavation of the Hellenistic polis at Kastro Kallithea in southern Thessaly. The Institute’s ties to archaeological research in Thessaly are strong.

Hellenistic country house with rooftile kiln at the Amygdali site
Dr. Karapanou’s lecture will present the results of the rescue excavations conducted recently by the 15th EPKA at four sites located at the shores of the drained Lake Karla. The sites, dated to the Neolithic, Middle Helladic, Late Classical and Hellenistic periods, are located in the route of an under-construction canal built to provide water to fill the dry lake bed with the intention of partially restoring it.

Hellenistic country house at the Tserli site
What was revealed is (a) a portion of a Late Neolithic Settlement encircled by a perimeter wall, (b) a Middle Helladic enclosure wall defining an area perhaps for keeping animals, (c) a late Classical/early Hellenistic kiln for producing rooftiles, and (d) two country houses of the 2nd century B.C. All the above findings supply solid evidence for the character and density of occupation of this border area of the Thessalian plain.

A mold-made relief bowl from the Tserli site
Of particular interest are the mold-made relief bowls found in the country house excavated at the Tserli site, many of them with mythological scenes, imports from various Hellenistic production centers. The Central Archaeological Council has recommended the creation of an archaeological park for the preservation of the rich antiquities uncovered in this area.

What Price Renewable Energy and Development in Greece?
Greece, with its abundant exposure to the sun and its need to develop its economy to help it climb up out of the financial debt pit it dug itself into, certainly is an ideal place for energy production from the sun’s rays. At the same time, however, the General Secretary of Culture of the Ministry of Culture and Sport, Dr. Lina Mendoni, said this week, that the archaeological heritage of Greece is one of the prime attractors for tourists, and that tourism is a significant means for the Greek economy to provide much needed jobs and essential tax revenues. If the latter is true and the former is sought, it would be self-evident that renewable energy production schemes, especially large scale projects, would be situated in places that would not have an adverse effect on the country’s archaeological heritage and the landscapes in which they are located. After all, such traditional landscapes are part of the attraction for tourists visiting the country. While there must be tradeoffs between the two important objectives, and the proper mitigation of archaeological remains that might be threatened by development, any proposal to insert a huge energy project into a known, rich archaeological landscape seems both perverse and counterproductive.

Proposed sun-powered electrical energy plant at Palaikastro
Such a possibility, more likely a reality, is on the planning board for the Palaikastro area of eastern Crete. As a resident of this part of the island and an excavator at sites near the locality I know of its wealth of archaeological remains, mostly unexcavated though well-documented. The hill in the background of the photograph above is Kastri where there is a Late Minoan IIIC settlement. To the left of the hill is the Late Minoan IIIA/B site of Kouremenos. At the upper right corner of the image is the Bronze Age town of Palaikastro, partially excavated by teams from the British School at Athens. Their geophysical work in the plain toward the center of the image has revealed indications of buried features in many locations. Two years ago Prof. Carl Knappett (University of Toronto) began a new phase of geophysical prospecting and excavation at the site under the aegis of the British School at Athens. As this whole broader area was an unexploited traditional coastal landscape, due to the fact that it had protected “Zone A” status for decades from the Central Archaeological Council of the Ministry of Culture and Sport, this is the type of unique Aegean topography that is fast disappearing forever from Greece.

Since there are other places in eastern Crete where the archaeological remains have a much lower density and the landscape is not so significant, such localities should be chosen over an area such as Palaikastro. No doubt the lower costs of constructing such a plant on a flat, coastal plain versus those in an upland valley is the prime factor in such a misguided, counterproductive decision for the granting of a permit by the government. Short-term thinking when dealing with non-renewable archaeological heritage will mean degraded or worse archaeological attractions for tourists in the future. Eleos!!!

David Rupp

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