Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Friday, August 25, 2017
Excavating Paleolithic Naxos: The 2017 season of the Stelida Naxos Archaeological Project
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.
Associate Professor, McMaster University; co-director, Stélida Naxos Archaeological Project
Tuesday, August 22, 2017
The Fred Winter Collection
Friday, August 18, 2017
Archaeology and the Real World
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.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.
Associate Professor, University of Victoria; co-director, Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project
Tuesday, August 15, 2017
The Fred Winter Collection
Friday, August 11, 2017
Sherds, Stones and Bones: tales of KKAP 2017
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!
Associate Professor, University of Alberta; co-director Kastro Kallithea Archaeological Project
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
The Fred Winter Collection
Friday, August 4, 2017
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.
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!
Professor, Université de Montréal; co-director, Argilos excavations