Friday, August 26, 2022

Field School at Ancient Eleon resumes in 2022

Photo 1. The EBAP 2022 team gathered in our home garden in Dilesi

One of the priorities of the Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project, (EBAP) since our work began in 2007, is to give students, especially ones from Canada, the opportunity to learn about Greece’s past through archaeological fieldwork. Many of our students begin their undergraduate degrees saying they 'love mythology', and that they are fascinated by the ancient world in film, television, and video games. Students come to see that our area of study is multi-disciplinary, the questions we ask are relevant today, and that our methods have wide applicability in the modern world.

One of the best ways to engage students in the ancient world is to offer experiential learning opportunities. Beginning in 2007, the Field-School Program (GRS 495) has been offered through the Department of Greek and Roman Studies at the University of Victoria as a key element of the Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project (EBAP). This is a synergasia (collaboration) project of the Canadian Institute in Greece, co-directed by Brendan Burke and Bryan Burns (Wellesley College) under the directorship of Alexandra Charami (Ephorate of Antiquities of Boeotia). In 2022, we were a team of 25 students and scholars focused on survey and study, based in the town of Arma (photo 1).

Photo 2. Van Damme orients students in the settlement zone of ancient Eleon

The team included our largest group of undergraduates in several years, most enrolled in GRS 495 taught by Dr. Trevor Van Damme, also from the Department of Greek and Roman Studies at the University of Victoria (photo 2)

Photo 3. It’s an early start to the day in Dilesi

As usual, our team assembled in Dilesi, on the Euboean Gulf, at the end of May. (photo 3) After orientation and a group dinner by the sea, we began in earnest on-site Monday morning May 30, 2022. There are many parts to a successful field school but probably the most important factor is communication and organization, so that everyone knows when to show up and what they are expected to do. Our team of student volunteers and graduate student leaders were effective, and everyone got a chance to participate in all the various aspects of the project. As they engage with the scientific questions that inform our research and reflect on their own contributions, students write blog posts on our project website that explain aspects of life on the EBAP team and place the site of Eleon within its wider Boeotian context.

Photo 4. Cleaning a wall already exposed at surface levels

Our project this year had several components – the cataloging, photography, and study of previously excavated finds in our apothiki, cleaning work at the excavation site which had been covered since 2018 in preparation for further documentation by the Digital Eleon team led by Jordan Tynes, geophysical survey on the acropolis and in the lower town, and architectural cleaning and survey around the acropolis (photo 4).

Photo 5. Schoolchildren of Arma gathered below ancient Eleon

Our work in the fields surrounding the established archaeological site was welcomed and assisted by numerous land-owners and the village of Arma. We’re grateful to the support we’ve received from the community over the many years of our work. This year we were delighted to receive an invitation to speak to the village schoolchildren near the site in June (photo 5).

Photo 6. Introduction to Boeotian ceramics in the apothiki
In the apothiki, ceramics and osteological material collected from the survey in 2007-2009 and excavations from 2011-2018 were the primary focus of study (photo 6). Our conservator, Nefeli Theocharous was also based there and taught the students some aspects of archaeological conservation.
Photo 7. Lifting the protective coverings from the excavated areas

At the excavation site, we lifted the protective tarps for the first time in two years, swept and cleaned the surfaces and walls in preparation for the creation of a new, more detailed, 3-D site model (photo 7). Students had the opportunity to wash and record ceramic finds that had eroded from the excavation scarps over the last two years and learn how to identify various categories of ceramic finds. Students learned how important it was to properly record where something is found and how to care for it. Once the site was cleaned with careful sweeping and the removal of weeds, (photo 8) a project of photogrammetry took place so that all the architectural features could be recorded fully for a new, forthcoming digital model. Our technology has improved over the last several years, with better drones, cameras, and software (not to mention our own expertise!).

Photo 8. Eleon’s NW complex, after 10 years of excavation and maintenance

Exploration below the acropolis of ancient Eleon was a return to work begun in our first year of the EBAP survey, in 2007. Back then, open fields and olive orchards were systematically walked, and the material found on the surface was collected. We wanted to return to the area because during the field walking, cut stone blocks, sometimes adjoining one another, forming wall fragments, were recorded. The overgrowth and centuries of agricultural work had obscured what we revealed this year to be a large stretch of fortification wall interspersed with at least four towers (photo 9). By the end of the season, we were able to trace the course of this wall through geophysical prospection and surface survey along the west and south of the ancient acropolis. Our students were excellent workers, clearing the tall grass and accumulated soil fill to record the structures for the first time. In parallel, our team of ceramic experts including Charlie Kocurek, a PhD candidate at the University of Cincinnati, restudied ceramic finds from the lower town defined by this wall in the EBAP survey in preparation for their final publication.

Photo 9. Significant architecture was uncovered beneath the tall grass

In tandem with the architectural survey, our geophysical team, led by Dr. Nicholas Herrmann of Texas State University, conducted GPR (ground penetrating radar) and geomagnetometry survey above the plowed fields and over the course of the fortification walls. This work is non-intrusive and provides a good picture of subsurface remains.

Photo 10. The most impressive section of ancient Eleon’s polygonal walls

Our excavation work on the elevated plateau of Eleon has revealed fascinating evidence for the history of the site from the early through late Mycenaean periods (1700-1100 BCE). The large polygonal wall which has been an iconic feature of the site has been dated by us to the late Archaic period, (photo 10) but it always stood somewhat in isolation since we did not find other stretches of this well-made masonry. Now, with the geophysical survey and the architectural study of the walls down below the acropolis, we suggest that ancient Eleon during the Archaic-Classical periods has an interesting story to tell, one that we hope to continue to reveal next year and beyond.

Brendan Burke, University of Victoria, co-director, EBAP

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