Monday, June 23, 2014

Eleon in eastern Boiotia: the 2014 fieldseason

View of the acropolis
Last Thursday, Jonathan and Gerry Schaus accompanied me to visit the Institute’s excavation project at ancient Eleon in eastern Boiotia. Last year our visit took place early in the field season so that the important discoveries were yet to come to light. This year, not only were we able to see the architectural finds of 2013 but also substantial new discoveries. As usual our expert guides were the project co-directors Brendan Burke (University of Victoria) and Bryan Burns (Wellesley College).

View of the MH cist grave discovered in 2013
The acropolis is hive of activity with the large crew excavating now in three large sectors. The aim this year is to open up the Northwest and the Southeast Sectors in order to gain a better understanding of the layout of the LH IIIC and the earlier LH IIIB structures below them. In the Northwest Sector a large complex of rooms is coming to light. It is still not clear whether there was one building or two separate buildings. The burnt mud bricks from the final fiery destruction in LH IIIC Middle are impressive. The undisturbed MH cist grave was discovered in this sector in 2013 when they dug a sondage to test the depth of the archaeological deposits.

The Southwest Sector has substantial architectural remains from part of a LH IIIB structure. What is mystifying is the fact that the Ottoman period (15-16th century AD) roof tiles and pottery as well as the votive material from the Late Archaic/Classical period have no associated architectural remains to go with them. When one digs down 20-30 cm from the present surface, there is the top of the LH IIIC Middle layers.

View of threshold blocks of the gate to the south
The Southeast Sector is where a major effort is being made to understand the construction sequence of the ramp and the gate discovered in the previous season as well as to determine what was on the inside of the gate. One has the impression that there are large stones everywhere they dig in this area. Are these in situ from the Mycenaean period wall or reused when the ramp and the gate were constructed? The large blocks revealed in 2013 that form the threshold of the wide gate are worthy of a visit to the site. The massive North Tower that was partially uncovered in 2012 formed the southeastern side of the ramp. It now seems to have two phases. The exact configuration and date of the construction of the walls behind the northeastern side of the ramp is a work in progress. The same can be said of the area inside the wall by the gate. Can they see the patterns in the walls that will explain the organization and uses of the spaces here before the season ends in three weeks???

View of the sherd reading area
We were able to visit one of the project’s apothekes below the site in Arma. Here the cleaned sherds are laid out by excavation locus. Joins are sought, the pottery is “read”, vessels are mended and the significant sherds and restored vessels are drawn. Their archaeological illustrator is Tina Ross, one of my former students from Brock University.

Tina Ross at work
The excavation at Eleon is providing us with insights into what a secondary settlement in Boiotia looked like in the Late Bronze Age, both while there was a palace at nearby Thebes and after its destruction. The imitation of Mycenaean cyclopean masonry by the use of Lesbian-style masonry in the construction of the wall and the ramp in the 5th century BC is a fascinating visual referral to the site’s “heroic past”. The probability of cult activity somewhere in this area, as the votive offerings suggest, is an intriguing problem given that so far no architectural remains can be associated with a contemporary shrine or a sanctuary. Was there a cult for a female deity guarding the gate and its bastions?

Ah, archaeological research! There are always more new questions and few clear answers to the old questions when one digs. This discipline is not for someone who seeks fixed, neat answers.

Kalo Kalokairi!
David Rupp

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