Friday, August 31, 2018

Sheep, Pigs, and Isotopes - a field season of observation and analysis at Kallithea

Καλό καλοκαίρι from two University of Alberta guest bloggers studying in Thessaly!
We are Katherine Bishop (PhD Candidate; Left) and Magie Aiken (MA Student; right), and we are currently working on related research as part of the Kastro Kallithea Archaeological Project. The greater project is a synergasia of the Canadian Institute in Greece and the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sport represented by the University of Alberta and the Ephorate of Antiquities in Larissa. The project is supported by the Municipality of Pharsala. This summer, we are two zooarchaeologists on a mission: gather information from the animal bone artefacts previously excavated at the Kastro, collect and export samples back to Edmonton for biochemical analysis, and make observations from what we see around us. This is Katherine’s third season as a volunteer with the Project, and Magie’s second (first as a student, and now as a volunteer). Magie is in Thessaly as a recipient of the Frederick and Joan Winter Student Travel Bursary, awarded through the Canadian Institute in Greece.

Why Animal Bone?

Animal bones recovered from archaeological sites are traditional sources for showing which animals were regionally available in antiquity, what may have been eaten by the humans who lived at each site, and in the case of Kastro Kallithea, what animals may have been involved in a by-product based economy. The faunal materials for the domestic structure of Building 10 were previously analyzed by Professor Michael MacKinnon and we have been working with his data since 2016. Our newly renovated workspace, ‘Αποθήκη Β’, is the perfect setup to analyze fragments of bone from different contexts at Kastro Kallithea. Katherine is also analyzing materials from contexts at two Classical and Hellenistic dwellings at the nearby site of Farsala. Thanks to an abundance of modern materials around Narthaki, and previous student interests, we have a small “reference collection” to aid in the analysis of heavily fragmented remains.

For her doctoral research Katherine is interested in the high prevalence of sheep and goat materials at Kastro Kallithea, which account for over two-thirds of all recovered remains. The relative assortment of all elements recovered from young and old animals suggests that Kallithea was occupied year-round. Despite this, Katherine is attempting to show that shepherds and their flocks seasonally grazed throughout the Óthrys Mountains and plains around Thessaly. For her thesis Magie is analyzing the second-most abundant species: pig. Pigs are one of the only domesticated species kept solely for their meat resources. Because their meat was a common source for sacrifice, Magie is interested in analyzing whether ancient pigs were fed unique foods, managed differently than other domesticated animals, or if they were herded like the sheep and goat flocks around Thessaly. To investigate these questions we have had to look at non-traditional means.

Biochemical Analysis and the Human-Animal Relationship

We use stable isotope analyses of animal bones and teeth to biochemically record what animals were eating during ancient times. Our methods are based on the notion “you are what you eat.” The food you eat and the water you drink have biochemical markers unique to the type of foods consumed and the location or season it grew in. As your bones and teeth grow and develop they incorporate these specific markers and store them like a fingerprint. A sheep that grazes on grass on Mount Óthrys will have different stable isotope values (isotopic fingerprint) than a pig that eats corn grown in Farsala. Magie is analyzing pig remains to record patterns and differences in diet at different contexts at Kastro Kallithea. These data will serve as the basis for her to analyze how pigs were managed during the Hellenistic period. Alternatively, Katherine is analyzing sheep and goat teeth at Kastro Kallithea and Farsala. Teeth grow in successive intervals, which can be microsampled and analyzed to indicate diet and location at specific points throughout the year. With these data Katherine is establishing whether sheep and goats were mobile throughout the year, and if their movement was seasonal. In 2016 Katherine collected all of the teeth necessary to conduct her analyses. This season Magie collected all of the pig bones that she needed to complete her analyses. Thanks to the support of the Ephorate and the CIG we were able to transport all materials back to the lab space in Edmonton.

Modern Observations

There are a lot of benefits of working in Thessaly while collecting our samples and surveying the recorded materials:

  1. We can observe the full collection of animal bones, artefacts, and other collected materials;
  2. We can visit the site in person and get a better sense of the landscape, spatial network, and context;
  3. We can discuss the context with the original excavators; and,
  4. We can observe modern domestic animals in the habitat we are analyzing

Although our work does not include ethnographies in the traditional sense, we have learned a lot about animal management in Thessaly from the modern practices around Narthaki. As an example, large flocks often require at least one shepherd, dogs to help protect the sheep around the road, and the Narthakion mountain range for sufficient grazing space. Smaller flocks only require one shepherd, and that shepherd does not always have to be walking them! Two years ago we recorded a shepherd in his car, ‘herding’ the flock using different honks.
This year we were fortunate enough to witness a shepherd in his tractor, managing his flock using whistles as he sat in the driver’s seat. Despite the modernization of shepherding, it highlights the variation of shepherding styles in our small village of Narthaki, which makes us aware that animal management, and the human-animal relationships of the past, are not always uniform or straightforward.

We thank the people of Narthaki for their continued support, interest in our project, and for welcoming us to our “summer home” year after year. Ευχαριστώ πολύ!
Katherine Bishop and Magie Aiken
University of Alberta

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Friday, August 24, 2018

Argilos 2018

La campagne de fouille 2018 a pris fin à la mi-juillet. Cette année, c’est près de 70 personnes qui ont pris part aux recherches sur le terrain et à l’étude du mobilier archéologique dans nos locaux au musée d’Amphipolis. Plus de 50 étudiants provenant de diverses universités à travers le monde, des ouvriers ainsi que le personnel technique de la mission gréco-canadienne ont poursuivi le dégagement des bâtiments situés en contrebas de la colline d’Argilos. C’est ici que nous fouillons depuis 2012 un grand complexe commercial constitué de 12 échoppes, ainsi que trois bâtiments voisins.

Les nombreuses pièces fouillées ont une fois de plus livré un mobilier très riche qui nous informe sur les produits vendus dans ces boutiques et la fonction des bâtiments annexes. Nous avons également pu préciser la chronologie du complexe commercial et ses différentes phases d’occupation. Nous avons maintenant la certitude que le noyau original remonte au milieu du VIème siècle av. n.è, ce qui fait de ce complexe un des plus anciens de Grèce.

Le programme de formation mis en place à Argilos pour les étudiants implique, en plus d’une introduction aux méthodes et à la pratique de la fouille archéologique, des visites de sites et de musées du nord de la Grèce. Cette année, aux visites habituelles de Pella, Vergina, Philippes, Stagira et Thessalonique, nous avons ajouté deux sites exceptionnels : celui d’Abdère avec son musée et la forteresse médiévale de Rendina, peu connue du public. Les étudiants ont aussi profité d’un séjour de trois jours sur la belle île de Thasos, dont ils ont pu survoler l’archéologie et l’histoire ainsi que pratiquer leurs talents chez le potier local.

Enfin, Argilos demeure toujours populaire auprès de la population locale et cette année nous avons accueilli tous les enfants de l’école primaire de Nea Kerdylia. Voilà qui suscitera, espérons-le, de nouvelles vocations chez ces jeunes, enthousiastes et intéressés par le passé de leur région.

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Friday, August 17, 2018

Digging Deeper: The 2018 season of the Stelida Naxos Archaeological Project

The summer of 2018 saw the Stelida Naxos Archaeological Project [SNAP] begin to segue from excavation to study mode, with a far smaller number of active trenches, and a greater emphasis placed on documentation, sampling and analyses of the finds. This was the fourth season of our digging at this important early prehistoric stone tool manufacturing site and chert source on the island’s northwest coast, the project co-directed by Dr. Tristan Carter (Associate Professor, McMaster University), and Dr. Demetris Athanasoulis (Director, Cycladic Ephorate of Antiquities). The team was also slightly smaller than before, never exceeding 33 at any one time, a mix of long-term senior members, graduate students, visiting specialists and a swathe of bright-eyed and bushy tailed undergraduates. Indeed, we pride ourselves on making space for students and junior scholars, including 16 from Canadian academic institutions, plus a handful from Athens University (Figure 1: The 2018 SNAP team, including 16 Canadian students from McMaster, Toronto, Western and Winnipeg universities (Anjelica Bellavia / SNAP 2018)). As before, our team remains steadfastly international, with scholars, students and professional archaeologists alike from not only Canada and Greece, but also Cyprus, France, Serbia, Turkey, the UK and US.

The early part of the season saw a lot of on-site activity above and beyond work in the trenches, particularly with regard to mapping and geological studies. The past couple of seasons have seen us putting a lot of effort into producing a detailed topographic map of the site, working with a Naxian specialist in drone photography who took overlapping images that covered the extent of the hill, and our original (2013-14) survey area. Using photogrammetry it has then been possible to generate a composite image of the entire site which this season we then geo-referenced using differential GPS technology (thanks to Doug Faulmann of INSTAP-EC, and Dr. Joe Boyce of McMaster University) that will ultimately allow MA student Yorgan Pitt to produce a digital elevation model of 8cm resolution! This map will allow us to not only locate our excavation trenches with greater accuracy, but also – more importantly – enable us to consider how the hill’s micro-topography has shaped the archaeological record. We have long appreciated that Stelida is a dynamic landscape that underwent significant changes throughout the ≥250,000 years that the site was used, much of which likely related to the major climatic fluctuations of the last Ice Age and subsequent warmer periods which would have impacted levels of precipitation, types of vegetation and soil stability, winds and downslope erosion. Almost everything we have excavated over the past four years we appreciate to be in secondary context, hillwash deposits that likely mark periods of climate change. Thus when we excavate an artefact-rich stratum we are not investigating the in situ remains of prehistoric tool-makers, but the displaced residue of these ancient stone workers. Our digital elevation model will help us understand where these artefacts would have originated based on local slope angle, erosional gullies, vegetation and the like. A wonderful side-benefit of this drone activity is that we now have some terrific aerial photographs (Figure 2: Aerial photograph of the upper western flanks of Stelida (plots AK and DG-A) taken by a drone (Doug Faulmann / INSTAP-EC, 2017)), and video footage (
We also undertook a more geologically-focused mapping project to detail Stelida’ chert outcrops. While only last year we published a paper on the hill’s geology and the raw material’s character (Skarpelis et al. JASR 12, 819-833), we soon thereafter believed that a more nuanced intra-source analysis was required, as it had become increasingly apparent to team member Dr. Dora Moutsiou (Figure 3: Dr. Tim Kinnaird (University of St. Andrews) and Dr. Dora Moutsiou (University of Cyprus) discuss raw material types in the field (Anjelica Bellavia / SNAP 2018)) that our stone tools were made from raw materials of varying colours, textures and knapping quality. Dora’s research focuses on human behaviour through time which at Stelida we can best think about through a combination of asking (a) what tools did they make, (b) how did they make them, and (c) which specific raw materials did they choose? Her preliminary studies have suggested that there were differences in raw material selection through time, with a more glossy white chert preferentially selected during the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic (Homo sapiens), while Middle and Lower Palaeolithic (Neanderthals and earlier humans) tools seem to be made mainly using a coarser grey-brown chert. Our aim this year, working with geologists Anna Klein (MSc candidate) and Dr. Tim Kinnaird from the University of St. Andrews, was to see if these raw materials occurred in discrete parts of the site.
The excavations themselves were limited primarily to a few already established trenches that we were keen to complete so that we could publish full stratigraphic sequences, and formally backfill them (the sondages being temporarily filled with sandbags and wooden pallets during the off-season). Of greatest importance were trenches DG-A/003 and DG-A/021 on the upper western flanks, together with SH/024 and SH/026 on the north-eastern slopes (Figure 4: Plan of Stelida’s upper slopes, including active trenches in 2018 (Yorgan Pitt)). These excavation units were seen as particularly important because of their depth of deposits, and the nature of the lithic assemblages contained within them. Both DG-A/021 and SH/024 were successfully completed this year; in excess of 3m deep, they produced significant quantities of lithics produced by the distinctive Levallois technology, a tool-making tradition that we associate with Neanderthal populations of the Middle Palaeolithic. In contrast, DG-A/003 and SH/026 continue to fight another day. The former was just over 4m deep after two weeks when we decided to halt proceedings for reasons of health and safety; the rest of the season was spent expanding the area of the sondage whereby in 2019 we can more safely continue digging deeper. SH/026 was over 3.5m deep by the end of the season, and similarly need to be finished in 2019, providing us with a quite different sequence of depositional history and artefacts to those witnessed on the west of Stelida.
Lithics, lithics and even more lithics…one of the long-term problems we have faced digging at Stelida is the fact that the archaeological record is overwhelmingly biased towards lithics, primarily stone tools and their associated manufacturing debris, plus the occasional emery, quartzite and granite hammerstone. Given that this is a Palaeolithic quarry and workshop this is perhaps unsurprising, however the problem for us is that the soil’s alkalinity means that organics rarely if ever survive, making environmental and climatic reconstructions extremely difficult. The one area with good preservation – detailed in last year’s blog – is Trench AK/18, where we found the remains of numerous superimposed fireplaces in front of a small rock-shelter. These deposits have produced a quantity of carbonised plant remains which are being studied by our archaeobotanist Charlotte Diffey (DPhil candidate, University of Oxford) who established and has supervised our wet sieving system for the past three years (Figure 5: Charlotte Diffey (right), DPhil candidate at the University of Oxford’s School of Archaeology) water sieving one of the soil samples we systematically collect from each archaeological context in an attempt to retrieve prehistoric plant remains). These precious plant remains will hopefully tell us not just about the fuel used in the fires, and the plants being eaten by early Homo sapiens, but also something about the landscape and climate at that time, as we know that many forms of vegetation can only grow in certain environments (upland .v. coastal / cold .v. warm etc.). Further energies were invested into the study of the Stelida plant materials this summer through the work of Dr. Georgia Tsartsidou (Ephoreia of Speleology and Palaeanthropology) an expert in phytolith analyses, i.e. the microscopic structures of silica left behind after a plant has decayed. We were delighted to have Dr. Tsartsidou join the Stelida team this year, with her time on site spent sampling a number of important contexts, not only the hearths of AK/18, but also deposits from our important DG-A/001 and DG-A/003 stratigraphic sequences.
Further work on the environment of Palaeolithic Stelida has been conducted by Justin Holcomb (PhD candidate, Boston University) and Dr. Panagiotis Karkanas (Director of the American School’s Weiner Laboratory) whose micromorphological analyses documented tiny pieces of bone from the AK/018 hearth deposits (Figure 6: Justin Holcomb, PhD candidate at Boston University and Weiner Laboratory for Archaeological Science Predoctoral Fellows, undertakes micromorphological analyses of slides made from samples taken from the stratigraphic sections of the Stelida sondages). Alas this faunal material is simply too small and fragmentary for us to know which animals (or humans) they came from. This is where another scientific technique comes to bear. In 2018 we were joined by Tyler Murchie, a McMaster PhD candidate whose speciality is the new field of extracting ancient DNA not from bones, but from soil (Figure 7: Tyler Murchie, PhD candidate at McMaster’s Department of Anthropology, samples the Upper Palaeolithic hearths in trench AK/018 for ancient DNA analysis (Anjelica Bellavia / SNAP 2018). The premise is that genetic traces of plants and animals can be preserved in a site’s soils (everything else having long rotted away), a new form of aDNA analysis that has shown spectacularly successful results in certain Eurasian Palaeolithic cave sites, detailing not only the prehistoric animals whose remains were once deposited in these sites, but also the early humans (including Neanderthals and Denisovans) who once occupied them (Slon et al. Science 356, 605-608, 2017). That said, these sites seem to have been particularly well suited for the preservation of aDNA; indeed many of them also preserved the physical remains of animals and humans, whereas another study with a poor faunal record produced precious little aDNA, and none that could be related to a particular species (Slon et al. Quaternary International 398, 210218, 2016). Our collaboration with Tyler and his well-known supervisor Prof. Hendrik Poinar ( is thus something of an experiment – and a rather expensive one at that – with no guarantee of success, but to us represents one of the best shots we have of breathing a bit more life into the archaeology of Stelida.
Last and not least, we continued our public outreach work (see Carter JEMAHS 5, 311-333, 2017), sharing the aims, methods and results of our work with various audiences via an array of outlets. Arguably the greatest success came through our exhibition (Neanderthals on Naxos!) that we hosted in Chora from April through until early July, a project that was first suggested by the Mayor of Naxos Mr. Manolis Margaritis in 2015. The opening night involved a major public lecture with not insignificant press coverage, while in the summer weeks we were able to provide tours of the exhibit to students from a number of local schools (Figure 8: Dr. Vagia Mastrogiannopoulou (Project Manager) giving a tour of our exhibition to local schoolchildren at the Cultural Centre in Chora, Naxos (Anjelica Bellavia / SNAP 2018)), while our ethnographers interviewed some of the visitors to gain critical feedback on our work. While the exhibition has now closed, we have used the opportunity to completely revamp and relaunch our website based on this project, whereby all our public outreach is now fully bilingual (, enjoy!
Tristan Carter
Associate Professor, McMaster University; co-director, Stélida Naxos Archaeological Project

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Fred Winter Collection

Brescia/Brixia, general view and details of the front of the Capitolium overlooking the forum (Professor Fred Winter, 1983)

Friday, August 10, 2018

The University of Alberta Study Tour in Greece, 2018

Dinner at Zorbas, 9 pm, Saturday, in the Plaka in Athens. There can’t be a better way to start a course than this. While the students sit down, the waiters greet my wife (and colleague) Margriet Haagsma like the old friend she is. We used to come ahere regularly in the 1990s, when we lived in Athens, and every year since 2004 Margriet has introduced her students here to Greek food at its best, before driving up to Thessaly with them for her annual archaeological field school at Kastro Kallithea, near Pharsalos.

This year is a bit different, however. The work this season at Kallithea did not lend itself for a well-rounded field school - they will resume next year – and Margriet decided to offer a Study tour of Greece instead. After all, we have a long-running tradition to uphold at the UofA of running at least one on-site course in Greece and one in Italy every year. So there we were: sixteen students, three TA’s (one for each van we rented) and Margriet and myself as instructors, enjoying a late-night meal in one of the nicest parts of Athens.

Nine pm may sound late for dinner, but it is much preferable to six or even seven pm, when the heat of the day still lingers. That is why we also made an early start each day. The very next morning, Sunday 8 AM, the two groups of students and TA’s arrived at the Acropolis – two groups, because the one was housed in the CIG, while the other stayed in the Finnish Institute. One of the advantages of having an institute like the CIG in Athens is that they provide affordable, safe accommodation. At present, the CIG can only house 10 people, but hopefully the new building will increase that number, once it is renovated. The CIG also assisted us with information, permits, free entry passes and the like, a great help in organizing this study tour.

The itinerary took us to Athens, Aegina, Attica, the Peloponnese and North-central Greece, and had too many highlights to mention them all. That first Sunday was typical of the wat we planned our days. We spent the whole morning on the Acropolis, then had a siesta from 2-5 pm, followed by a visit to the Acropolis Museum. A last-minute adjustment had us return to the Acropolis Tuesday afternoon, when we had a special permit to go inside the Parthenon (thank you, CIG!) – certainly one of those highlights.

After spending five days with Athens as our base, we moved to Nafplion (four days), visiting Mycenae, Epidaurus, Isthmia, Corinth, and other sites. All these places are so evocative, and raise so many issues to discuss. Nonetheless for many students a guided tour of the active excavations at the site of Corinth’s Lechaion harbor was one of the high points of this part of the trip.

After Nafplion we drove from hotel to hotel, spending nights in Sparta, Pylos, Olympia, Preveza, Ioannina, Litochoro, and, finally, two nights in Delphi. The students were fantastic, giving excellent presentations at their assigned sites, and absorbing the immense amount of information and impressions with great energy and enthusiasm. As we read their final essays, it is clear that from a didactic perspective this study trip achieved all that we had hoped for. The students were able to gain an understanding of such abstract and complex concepts as social memory, constructed identities, the role and nature of myth, and the like that well exceeds what we can normally accomplish in the classroom at home. Time and again we could show how such processes were formed and shaped by the sites we visited, and indeed how they formed and shaped the sites themselves. Spending so much time together exploring each new site and museum allowed conversations to carry on over days, giving them a depth they simply to not gain in a regular classroom setting. This was an exciting and stimulating course for all involved, and the Canadian Institute in Greece contributed significantly to its success.

Steven Hijmans
Director of Classics, University of Alberta

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Fred Winter Collection

Istanbul, telephoto view of the Mosque of Mehmet Fatih (Professor Fred Winter, 1978)

Friday, August 3, 2018

A summer in Athens

As a third year IBA student, the chance to do an international internship was such an incredible opportunity! That it was in Athens, Greece, only made it appeal to me more as I have a certain attachment to Athens. In 2016, I spent a month doing research as a part of an ethnographic field school through York University and College Year in Athens. I spent my time researching anarchism, solidarity and the spatial politics of resistance. It was not my first time in Athens however, as I had traveled here as a child and Greece as a whole left quite an impression on me.

Now, as my internship at the Canadian Institute in Greece is coming to an end, I reflect on my time here and all that I’ve learned. In these three months I’ve grown acclimated to living in Athens, and feel at home in this city halfway around the world from Toronto. I’m learned some valuable skills both inside and outside of the office, and even my tasks as an intern have been positive learning experiences.

Aside from my assigned tasks of correcting the online Bulletins and filling and scanning the Institute’s documents, I spend a lot of time in Athens exploring and learning. Over these last three months I have been pursuing a research project on women’s resistance and solidarity here in Athens. I attended B-Fest, Aphrodite party, and the Anti-Racist festival, all of which were full of delicious food, great music and interesting lectures. I met up with Tomov, a feminist collective that has asked me to give a speech at their annual event on women’s resistance. I worked with the Melissa Network, a support network for refugee and migrant women. I wandered around Athens almost every day, and have grown to love the chaotic streets of this city. I’ve had some pretty interesting experiences as well ; one day at Sounion were we barred from entering the temple as the President of India was visiting, so we watched his delegation and security from a little ways away.
It has been two years in July that I came to Athens for my ethnographic field school, and in these three months working at the CIG, I have completed my final manuscript of that research for publication in Contingent Horizons. It seems that it has all come full circle, and I often feel nostalgic these days when I pass by places I used to frequent with my friends and colleagues.

Most of all, it’s the people I have met and the time we have shared together that is the most rewarding aspect of my experience. I have become friends with archeologists and academics, refugees and anarchists, feminists and local Greek DJ’s. When I leave I will surely miss our weekly dart nights at the Red Lion, the many interesting lectures and receptions, and wandering around in search of dinner and wine with the many incredible people I have met. Now that my time at the CIG has almost come to an end, I can reflect on the past, and look forward to the future. This internship has helped me to make a definitive decision on my choice to apply to graduate school. It has taught me how to be dynamic in a (relatively) new environment. Finally, it has allowed me to fall in love with Athens and Greece through being a part of a great community.

Katie Squires
York University intern, summer 2018