Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Fred Winter Collection

Bisceglie, between Barletta and Bari, general and detail interior views of dolmen of Chianca, a prehistoric gallery-tomb most easily reached from the autostrada (Professor Fred Winter, 1982)

Friday, August 25, 2017

Excavating Paleolithic Naxos: The 2017 season of the Stelida Naxos Archaeological Project

Over six weeks spanning late May to early July, the Stélida Naxos Archaeological Project [SNAP] undertook its third excavation season of the early prehistoric stone tool manufacturing site and chert source on the island’s northwest coast. Under the joint directorship of Dr. Tristan Carter (Associate Professor, McMaster University), and Dr. Demetris Athanasoulis (Director, Cycladic Ephorate of Antiquities), the excavation and apotheke-based studies were undertaken by a team of 30+ young scholars, graduate students and undergraduates from Canada, Greece, England, France, Germany, Serbia and the US.

The site, first documented in 1981 during a survey the École Française D’Athènes, had initially represented something of an archaeological anomaly. While the mass of stone tools indicated that Stélida was clearly prehistoric, the material bore no resemblance to lithic tool kits that had hitherto been found in the Cyclades of later Neolithic and Early Bronze Age date. The site was tentatively dated to the Epi-Palaeolthic, but such a claim was highly contentious given that until quite recently the received wisdom was that no-one was meant to be living in the Mediterranean islands prior to the Neolithic and the advent of farming societies. The aim of our excavation has been to locate undisturbed, stratified archaeological deposits whose contents could be scientifically dated to help resolve this debate, and to contribute more generally to the rewriting of early Aegean prehistory in the context of proclaimed Palaeolithic discoveries in other insular locations, not least Crete and the Ionian islands.
This summer’s work involved the re-opening of trenches previously established on the hill’s western slopes, together with initiating a number of new sondages on the eastern flanks of Stélida. The logic as to where we excavated drew jointly upon an understanding of the local landscape, and the results of our 2013-14 survey. Concerning the former issue, two of our team’s geo-archaeologists - Takis Karkanas and Dan Contreras – had suggested areas where we were likely to find deep deposits (much of the hill is bare from downslope erosion), as for example the upper reaches of Plot DG-A, where an exposed lip of bedrock acted as a natural terrace, helping to keep soil in place. Here in 2015 we initiated trenches 1-4, two of which we had continued into this season. Our colleagues’ insight paid off handsomely, with Trench DG-A/01 eventually hitting natural after some 3.6m of stratified deposits, while Trench DG-A/03 remained unfinished by the end of the season at almost 4m deep!

These sondages provide us with a slice through deep-time, the different strata comprising an alternating sequence of landscape stability (palaeosoils) and major erosional events (colluvium). Given that the associated archaeological finds are of Palaeolithic date (see below), then by extent our different deposits likely relate to, and reflect the major climatic fluctuations of the Pleistocene, or ‘Ice Age’. One working hypothesis is that periods of major erosion may coincide with the onset of warmer times (‘interglacials’), the idea being that during the colder periods the vegetation on the hill would have been low, scrubby plants (think Canadian tundra) whose shallow roots would have provided little anchorage for the soil, whereby an onset of warmer climate greater precipitation would have resulted in significant downslope hillwash.

The archaeology of these deep sondages is challenging for a number of reasons. Firstly, given the depth of some trenches we face health and safety issues of hard-hats and shoring, and the use of long ladders to get into them, and ropes and pulleys to hoist the buckets of soil out of them. Secondly, they can be extremely productive, with some colluvial layers producing 20-30 large bags of finds, tens of thousands of artefacts that can overwhelm excavator and lithics’ specialists alike. Thirdly, the base geology of Stélida is highly alkaline which alas means that organics are rarely if ever preserved, which hiders significantly our ability to reconstruct the Palaeolithic environment and/or the subsistence practices of those who visited the site. Finally, and arguably the biggest challenge we face, the vast majority of the artefacts that we recover from the excavations come from secondary contexts, i.e. they have been redeposited from their original place of manufacture/use, usually during these episodes of hillwash erosion. Thus, while it is possible to produce good scientific dates from these deposits using the OSL technique (see below), we are not dating the artefacts themselves, but the date of the soil deposit within which they are found in, a layer that might have been produced much later in the Holocene. As such, we could have a context whose artefacts we believe to be Upper Palaeolithic on the basis of their form and manufacture, but the deposit itself was created only 3000 years ago during a period of erosion; it would be the latter date that our scientific methods would provide us.

There are however a few trenches that are providing us with some genuine in situ deposits that should allow us to date actual periods of activity, rather than generating a series of terminus ante quem determinations (‘these tools are at least date X’). As noted above, many of our sondages were established where we believed there to be deep soil deposits; a second strategy for excavation, was to target specific areas of interest, which include digging in front of a rock shelter, and opening areas where we found concentrations of interesting artefacts in the survey. Trench AK/18 was situated in front of a small rock shelter, the hope being that here we might actually find traces of seasonal habitation, rather than the ‘factory floor’ deposits we usually encounter, replete with the manufacturing debris of millennia. Having dug through over a metre of hillwash deposits we indeed came across evidence for in situ activity in the form of large ashy deposits that represent the remains of numerous fireplaces that would have been used for cooking and warmth by those visiting the chert source to make their tools before returning to their home camps elsewhere on Naxos or beyond. Preliminary studies of soil samples from these features by Charlotte Diffey of Oxford University have produced small quantities of carbonised botanical remains that should allow us to (a) reconstruct the environment of that period, and (b) provide us with samples for radiocarbon dating.

Concerning the finds themselves, 2017 was an important year for us, providing us with some key assemblages, not least a major group of Middle Palaeolithic finds from Trench DG-A/021, typical products of Neanderthal populations of the larger region. Significant quantities of Upper Palaeolithic material were found in every sondage, including what might be some blade cores of possible Aurignacian (early Upper Palaeolithic date), a period that many associate with the first appearance of Homo sapiens in Europe. We also have earlier material – albeit very eroded – that is conceivably early Middle Palaeolithic, if not Lower Palaeolithic, while the latest material continues to be Mesolithic, aside from a handful of post-Bronze Age sherds from close to the rock shelter.

Next year should be quieter, but no less engaging, as we segue from excavation mode to study season. This and last year we benefitted enormously from the input of some important visitors, not least Prof. Catherine Perlès (Paris X), Prof. Alan Simmons (UN Las Vegas), and Prof. Georgia Kourtessi-Philippakis (Athens), while conversations continue with the Municipality and Ephoreia with regard to hosting a small exhibition in Chora on Stélida in the coming years.

Tristan Carter
Associate Professor, McMaster University; co-director, Stélida Naxos Archaeological Project

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Fred Winter Collection

Bisceglie, between Barletta and Bari, general and detail interior views of dolmen of Chianca, a prehistoric gallery-tomb most easily reached from the autostrada (Professor Fred Winter, 1982)

Friday, August 18, 2017

Archaeology and the Real World

Once again, we excavated at the site of ancient Eleon in the village of Arma, in central Greece, from May 28 until July 8, 2017. This project is co-sponsored by the Canadian Institute in Greece and the Ephorate of Antiquities of Boeotia. Our partner is Dr. Alexandra Charami. For six weeks, approximately 30 students and professionals from Canada, the US, Italy, and Greece worked through heavy rains (first three weeks) and extreme heat (last three weeks). The team was an equal mix of first-timers to the project and experienced old-hats. As we have since 2007, we lived in the sea-side community of Dilesi and made the 20 minute commute each morning to the agricultural town of Arma surrounded by rolling fields of grain, olives and vineyards.

Ancient Eleon sits on the elevated plateau to the west of the town of Arma, toward the major city of Thebes. The key to its success in antiquity was probably its location: good water sources nearby and it was on a strategic route that connected Thebes with Chalkis and the Euboean Gulf to the east, and Athens to the south.

We had good success this year, continuing work focused on a complicated burial structure. The remains of several individuals who died in the early Mycenaean period (ca. 1700 BC) were uncovered. Excavating bodies is sensitive work – the remains are extremely important and often very fragile. The work is done by experts who know every part of the human skeleton. They also have great patience and strong knees! Because the work is so slow and difficult it gives us pause to consider how working on an archaeological project is (and is not) like the ‘real world’.

A good attitude goes a long way! All team members live together as guests of our Greek hosts, who are famously hospitable, but we are always reminded during the season that we are not really ‘at home’: Our schedules are locked-in; we share accommodations and meals; we commute together. Finding time alone, away from the project is difficult, even on our one day off each week. So in this sense, excavation work is different from taking a summer course, internships, or most summer jobs: Over the course of six weeks, there is no escape!

There are, however, aspects of an excavation that are very much like the ‘real world’ and it can prepare students for a variety of professions. Our work requires organization, communication, and collaboration.

In terms of organization, as project directors our experience leading teams of fieldworkers in Boeotia, since 2007, has helped greatly. We can predict with some accuracy how students will feel challenged after working extremely hard in the intense heat. We take many precautions, stressing proper rest, copious amounts of water, and healthy and abundant food. We have learned that, like Napoleon’s army, an excavation team travels (digs?) on its stomach. We have participated in and observed projects where food is either terrible or in very short supply. Even if this saves projects money, to us this make little sense because the pay-off from happy, healthy, and strong workers is obvious – their excellent work! This explains why meals occupy a large place in our budget and in our planning.

A good excavation also depends highly on effective communication. With a large team it is vital that people know what they are doing or expected to do throughout the day. Even though we are a large group everyone plays an important role. One of the daily tasks for the directors is to make a plan for the next day, to maximize the effectiveness of our resources (people, time, equipment). We also realize that people want to get experience in a wide range of tasks, and that some jobs can be more interesting than others, and so we make an effort to share experiences. Each day we have a set number of seats in the cars available and so, like the ancient Pnyx, we make sure every seat is full before the day’s work begins. This allows us to keep track of our team as well. Some remain in Dilesi helping with data entry and the processing of finds. Others go to the apothiki in Arma and work with conservation, drawing, and ceramic study. The majority of the team comes to site and are further divided into work groups led by trench supervisors. Often there is just not enough people for all the jobs we have at hand.

Our project is classified as a synergasia which is best translated as ‘collaboration’, between the Canadian Institute in Greece and the Ephorate of Antiquities of Boeotia. Our project depends on the contributions of our Greek partners Drs. Alexandra Charami and Kiki Kalliga and their colleagues, for official permits and documents to collegial discussions about archaeological materials found elsewhere in Boeotia. The official synergasia, however, only begins to explain how our work is collaborative: First, the two co-directors (Burke and Burns) teach in Canada and the US, so our teams our primarily from the University of Victoria and Wellesley College. Often the project is a unique experience for students to work closely with other people who are seemingly similar in some (but not all!) ways and yet they are from different countries. We also rely on collaboration with our Greek friends in Arma, Schimatari, and Dilesi. When we need a specific piece of equipment or a custom-cut piece of lumber, for example, we know whom to ask and our partners are always willing to help. The owners of a local hardware store (Marinos http://marinostools.gr/) even took the entire team out of dinner one evening this year to express their appreciation, not just of our business, but because of friendship and our shared interest in trying to better understand the history of this great country.

For us, collaboration, along with communication and organization, make our excavation what it is. We hope our students learn the importance of these aspects and can apply them to all parts of their lives whether they continue in archaeology or move on to some other professional field.

Brendan Burke
Associate Professor, University of Victoria; co-director, Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Fred Winter Collection

Civitavecchia, Baths of Trajan, views of parts of exterior and interior (Professor Fred Winter, 1982)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Sherds, Stones and Bones: tales of KKAP 2017

The Kastro Kallithea Archaeological Project’s 2017 season focused once more on the study of the artefacts uncovered in the excavation seasons of 2007 to 2013. The team, consisting of staff, TA’s volunteers and students, made excellent progress this year with documenting, drawing pottery, metal and stone finds found in Building 10, a domestic structure dating to the 3rd and 2nd century BCE. Of course, the ceramic finds make up the largest part of the work.; if one wants to do justice to material found in a domestic context, all sherds need to be laid out in relation to the architectural space where they have been found. They need to be quantified and carefully studied to find fits which sheds light on the stratigraphy. This particular kind of work had already been finalized during previous seasons and in the 2017 season the team studied particular material artefact categories. Adam Wiznura was responsible for documenting the transport amphorae, September Gering for the table amphorae, Amber Latimer for the mould made wares, and Colette Kruijshaar and the undersigned made a good start with the numerous pouring vessels found in Building 10. Gino Canlas was able to finalize the final documentation of the 23 pithoi found in Building 10, a heroic task given their quantity and size!

The database in which we document all ‘complete’ vessels of the excavations now contains more than 400 vessels from Building 10 alone, an unprecedentedly high number.
Steven Hijmans and Phoebe Hijmans joined the team to finalize the documentation of the ca. 700 metal finds found in Building 10, work they did together with Xavier Kolodnicky. Laura Surtees worked on the coarse ware finds in preparation for the publication of the urban survey at Kallithea and Tristan Ellenberger finalized the documentation of the more than 100 stone finds.

This year our field school was divided up between a ceramics group and a group of young anthropologists who dedicated their time to the research of Katherine Bishop, a PhD student at the University of Alberta who is studying the faunal remains of both Kallithea and Pharsala. In addition, Katherine works together with Sophia Karapanou and UofA’s MA student Kristen Millions on the study and publication of the ca. 30 Archaic graves found near Pharsala, excavated by Sophia Karapanou in the 1990s. The human remains found in these graves provided an excellent opportunity to dedicate part of the field school to human osteology, which Katherine took to heart.

At the invitation of the Mayor of Pharsala, Aris Karachalios, our group organized a mini exhibition on June 6th (in preparation for the large exhibit, see below) for the citizens of Pharsala and Narthaki. More than 100 people came to admire the display. Drinks and local delicacies were prepared by the women’s society of Narthaki, whom we thank heartily for their contribution.

Last, but not least, the undersigned spent a lot of time on the preparations for an exhibition dedicated to the Kastro Kallithea Archaeological Project in the Diachronic Museum in Larisa, which is scheduled to open in November 2017. We hope to report on this event in the coming academic year!

Margriet Haagsma
Associate Professor, University of Alberta; co-director Kastro Kallithea Archaeological Project

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Fred Winter Collection

Civitavecchia, Baths of Trajan, views of parts of exterior and interior (Professor Fred Winter, 1982)

Friday, August 4, 2017

Argilos 2017

2017 marked the 25th anniversary of our research in Argilos and several events were organized to celebrate this occasion, including a colloquium held at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki which was a great success.

We estimate that close to 250 participants attended the presentations at one time or another. The colloquium included 34 papers on topics related to Greek colonization in the northern Aegean, of which 16 were directly related to the results of our work at Argilos. The Canadian Institute is now one of the leading players in archaeological research in northern Greece, and the Argilos excavations are continually increasing our knowledge of Greek settlements in this vast region. Several political figures were present, as attested by the photo below. In addition to the Canadian Institute, we would like to thank the Canadian Embassy, the Greek Ministry of Culture, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, the Serres Ephoria and the Municipality of Amphipolis, as well as Eldorado Gold, for their support.
The opening night was devoted to a keynote lecture on Argilos, preceded by short speeches from our guests of honor.

The evening ended with a reception in front of the entrance to the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki.
The 25th anniversary of our excavations was also honored at the 19th Amphipolis Festival where the organizers decided to highlight the event. A general public lecture was given on 14 July.

We are also working on the preparation of an exhibition that will bring together the most significant objects brought to light at Argilos. Finally, this anniversary will have echoes as far as Japan, since a series of lectures and seminars will be held there during the month of November.

In the field, 2017 was a study campaign and therefore an opportunity to revisit the material discovered in the various excavation areas of the site. We concentrated on pottery and small objects from some of the large buildings in the South-East sector as well as on the particularly rich and diversified discoveries from our excavations of house “ Q1” in the Koutloudis sector. Students helped to rebuild the vases, which were then passed on to our conservator.

On the excavation, students helped us to draw stratigraphic sections and to clean several rooms of buildings that had been excavated in the early 1990s.

We also took the opportunity to complete the installation of our new premises behind the Amphipolis Museum. The increase in the number of specialists who come to work on our finds, and the somewhat cramped working and storage space in the museum have forced us to look for extra space. Thanks to the purchase of a container for the storage of some of our finds and the donation of a container/office, we now have space, if not for the next 25 years, at least for the next ten!

A final note: last year, I told you about the existence of the Argilos hotel in Asprovalta, this year I discovered the “Argilos” real estate agency. What shall we discover in 2018?

I guess one must learn to live with celebrity!

Jacques Perreault
Professor, Université de Montréal; co-director, Argilos excavations

Tuesday, August 1, 2017