Tuesday, August 24, 2021
Friday, August 20, 2021
In the past, the relationship between classical archaeology and the physical sciences, two very broad fields, was distant and somewhat contentious (see this article from 1981 summarizing the state of the debate at that time: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1356543).
Today, all archaeologists working in Greece, to one degree or another, recognize the value of scientific methods, theories, and technologies for an evidence-based and accurate reconstruction of the past. Field archaeologists working collaboratively with and actively as scientists have transformed our understanding of the ancient world. At ancient Eleon in central Greece, the synergasia between the Ephorate of Antiquities of Boeotia and the Canadian Institute in Greece, represented by the University of Victoria and Wellesley College, has embraced scientific approaches since we began our work in 2007 (https://ebapexcavations.org/). Scientific methods became especially important when excavations began in 2011. We collected material for scientific analysis to better establish chronology, to understand past diet, to learn what technologies were being employed for the production of pottery, to map what resources were being exploited in the environment, and most recently, to understand the health of individuals uncovered in our burial complex, the Blue Stone Structure. We have facilitated the work of research specialists with projects focused on starch grains from ground stone tools, residue analysis and neutron activation analysis on pottery, scanning electron microscopy of ancient textiles, and ancient DNA studies on our human bones. In 2021, we were able to conduct a very successful program of geophysical survey using techniques of gradiometric magnetometry and electro-resistivity to provide a picture of where we might direct future investigations at ancient Eleon, and to better understand architecture that has already been revealed.
In addition to these projects, we were able to collaborate with three emerging scholars as they use scientific approaches to Eleon material to understand the past: Janelle Sadarananda, PhD candidate, Graduate Group in Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, University of Pennsylvania; Amanda Gaggioli, PhD candidate, Stanford Archaeology Center, Classics; and Marion Sirito-Olivier, PhD candidate at the Université Paul Valéry Montpellier III and member of the l’École française d’Athènes (EFA). We’re excited to share a little about the work of these colleagues, and look forward to their continued work at Eleon!
Janelle Sadarananda taking clay samples
Janelle Sadarananda has been a member of the Eleon team since 2013, working as an excavator, collections manager, and problem-solver. She is now focused on the crafts and landscape of Eleon during the Archaic and Classical periods for her PhD dissertation on ceramic production and resource exploitation. Her petrographic analysis of the many Boeotian Kylix Ware vessels found in votive assemblages at Eleon has identified multiple fabric groups that suggest numerous places of production for a ceramic style that is largely consistent across the region. This season, Janelle was able to collect geological samples to assess clay sources representative of the immediate environs of ancient Eleon, and across a broader swath of eastern Boeotia. Her further analysis of ancient petrofabrics and the distinctive geological profile of Boeotian clays will reframe our definition of “local” ceramics, and inform our conception of economic and cultural networks within central Greece.
Amanda Gaggioli working on micromorphological samples
Amanda Gaggioli has begun a study of soil micromorphology at Eleon aimed at a better understanding of funerary behavior and the construction of Eleon’s Blue Stone Structure. Bringing expertise of geoarchaeology and site formation, developed in part through her dissertation documenting earthquakes in the archaeological record, Amanda is now processing soil samples taken during earlier fieldwork seasons by our conservators and indefatigable site architect, Giluliana Bianco. Once thin sections have been prepared, Amanda’s analysis will help us understand the sequence of depositions within Tomb 5 and help to distinguish phases of construction of the clay tumulus that eventually covered the BSS. An initial round of FTIR (fourier transform infrared) spectroscopy has demonstrated that mudbricks incorporated into the tumulus fill were unburnt, despite visual characteristics that led to this characterization in the field. Comparison with additional samples will determine if there is variation in the source of tumulus clay and its treatment.
Marion Sirito-Olivier analyzing animal remains
Marion Sirito-Olivier studies breeding strategies and meat supply in central Greece during the Bronze Age. For her dissertation at Montpellier, she is conducting comparative analysis of zooarchaeological material from Eleon,Kirrha and Tria Alonia (Phokis), to assess differences in the management of animals resources, to compare economic and cultural practices of central Greece to those of other regions. Within her analysis of Eleon’s copious archaeozoological remains, she is prioritizing specific analysis on sheep, goat, and cattle. Her study of mesowear and microwear patterns on their teeth tells us about the management practices for this domestic livestock by observation of their alimentation. Future analyses of stable carbon and nitrogen isotopes will provide further information on animal feeding strategies, and how they may have changed over time.
EBAP/Eleon study season and geophysical team
These are only a few of the very interesting and important research projects being conducted at ancient Eleon. In future posts, we hope to discuss the work of colleagues working on obsidian and chert stone tools (Scott Evans), terracotta figurines (Haley Bertram), ceramics (Drs. Trevor Van Damme and Bartek Lis), and our multiple team members studying the human remains from the burials at Eleon (Professor Nicholas Herrmann, Krysten Cruz, and Adrienne Stainton). After a hiatus in work during 2020, like most field projects in Greece and across the world, it was great to have a small team back for our 2021 season (photo 4), With little advance notice, these experts rearranged schedules, navigated travel challenges, and followed new protocols to resume the study of material from ancient Eleon safely. We appreciate the continued collaboration with colleagues at the Archaeological Museum of Thebes (https://www.mthv.gr/en/) and decade-long connection with neighbors and supporters in the communities of Arma and Dilesi.
Bryan Burns and Brendan Burke
Wellesley College & University of Victoria; co-directors of Eleon Excavations
Tuesday, August 17, 2021
Tuesday, August 10, 2021
Friday, August 6, 2021
The Fires of Industry in Porto Rafti Bay: Some Surprising Finds by the 2021 BEARS Project on Praso Islet
A panoramic view of the Bay of Porto Rafti from the southwest (S. Murray)
Long ago, in the distant, hazy era known as pre-COVID times, a small team of Canadian and international researchers gathered to conduct a short pilot season of archaeological survey around the bay of Porto Rafti in eastern Attica. Despite the unpromising archaeological demeanor of the town, an aggressively overbuilt coastal resort, the work of the team back in June 2019 documented a surprisingly large amount of well-preserved and informative material. Four weeks of gridded collection on the Koroni and Pounta peninsulas and the islet of Raftis yielded many fascinating finds that you would never expect to encounter on the surface anywhere, let alone in a place where Athenians gather in the thousands to swim and drink iced coffees every summer weekend. The team reached several new conclusions about the history of human occupation in the bay based on finds from 2019 – a full report was published in the journal Mouseion this winter.
After that successful pilot season, the team was very excited to get back into the field in May/June 2020: much work remained to be done, including finishing the surveys of Raftis islet and Koroni peninsula, but also expanding the scope of the survey to investigate the broader hinterland surrounding the town, the many scattered undeveloped plots of land inside the town, and of course the remains lurking on the other islets in the bay: Raftopoula, Koroni, and Praso.
Of course, 2020 did not pan out as the BEARS team had hoped, but that’s life for you! Finally, after a winter spent in eager anticipation of returning to the field we were back in Porto Rafti to continue the research of the project on May 31, 2021. There was a thick, palpable sense of euphoria coursing through the atmosphere as the boat set out from the port for everyone’s first day of archaeological fieldwork in almost two years!
Happy survey team members processing finds after completing a unit on Praso during the first week of BEARS 2021 (S. Murray)
Since the pandemic continued to impact travel for many project members, the 2021 team was very small, only 6–10 people on any given day, and the season’s goals were modest: to finish the survey of the outer slopes of the Koroni peninsula that we started in 2019, and to survey Praso islet. These priorities were chosen for a variety of reasons. First, both areas are uninhabited, and for safety purposes it seemed best to avoid contact with the community as much as possible. Second, both seemed like relatively bite-sized archaeological tasks that could be completed in the time available, even with our little mini-team. Third, we wanted to strategically limit our collection of artifacts in 2021, since we still have a huge backlog of analysis to deal with after the artifact-bonanza of 2019. We did not think that either of this year’s survey targets would yield too much material. The Koroni slopes are full of well-preserved features that needed documenting, but we expected the lion’s share of artifacts we might encounter there to duplicate the many Hellenistic sherds collected in our grids from 2019, so that they could be simply noted and left in the field. As for Praso, extant literature mentions only Late Roman/Byzantine material in one corner of the islet, so we did not anticipate that gridded collection there would produce a sizable collection of finds. Finally, the sites were well-suited to the personnel present – folks with research interests in the Archaic/Classical to Roman periods that seemed the most likely dates of material we’d encounter on Koroni and Praso.
A glimpse into the life of a survey archaeologist braving the wilds of the outer slopes of Koroni peninsula (D. Buckingham)
Well, so much for our carefully laid plans! One of the fun things about the archaeological record is that it’s often full of surprises, and Praso islet certainly had some surprises in store for the BEARS team. Praso has not attracted much attention from archaeologists and scholars in the past. Except for two sentences in Cornelius Vermuele’s Hesperia article on the Raftis statue from 1962, it seems to be nearly totally absent from published research. The islet has had other names through the years – a local friend tells me they called it Gaidouronisi (donkey island) when he was a kid, and it appears as Karavonisi in some old maps, e.g., the Karten von Attika – so it could be that we’re missing something. But I sort of doubt it. Somehow little Praso, despite being very near to shore and quite easy to get to (even I swam there, and I am terrible swimmer!), has mostly been overshadowed by its bigger, flashier neighbor, Raftis.
Praso, a saucy seagull, and Raftis in Porto Rafti bay on a beautiful June morning (D. Buckingham)
In any case, we were certainly not prepared for the immense density of surface artifacts we encountered on Praso. The 20x20 meter grid squares in the southern part of the islet each contained upwards of 10,000 individual surface artifacts: we tried to count them all in a few ‘total collection’ squares, but it often seemed as if the ground would produce more sherds and tiles as soon as you were sure you had vaccumed the unit clean. We could collect for hours, with 6 people, and still the finds just kept coming!
Tile piles for miles in a survey unit on Praso (D. Buckingham)
Nor were we expecting to find such an expansive diachronic range of finds. Most of the sites the team has studied in the bay of Porto Rafti have tended to show a distinct pattern of intense use during only 1 or 2 periods, but the finds on Praso included material from Final Neolithic to Ottoman, with almost everything in between. As with the other sites in Porto Rafti bay, the finds from the surface are very well preserved and include many unusual artifacts in addition to very, very abundant amounts of pottery, tile and lithics: loomweights, figurines, lamps, glass, iron, bronze, and lead, and many groundstone tools including a piece of a big basalt tripod mortar, something very special the likes of which none of us had ever previously seen on a surface survey in Greece.
The team is only beginning to grapple with interpreting the vast quantities of material collected on Praso. The first question on everyone’s mind concerns why this little islet, of all the places around the big beautiful bay, would have been so attractive for humans through the ages. One thing we can already say from our preliminary analysis is that one of the appealing aspects of the location must have been related to the practice of various pyrotechnological industries. An exciting category of evidence we documented on Praso is industrial waste resulting from fiery production processes, both ceramic and metallurgical.
We can’t say too much about the metallurgical material without further analysis, but our pottery and tile specialists have already come to a few preliminary conclusions about the tile and pottery wasters. It looks like a prominent regional type of LH IIIC fabric called White Ware – found up and down the Euboean gulf corridor at sites like Lefkandi and Kynos – was produced on Praso: amongst my absolute favorite finds of the project thus far are dozens of wonderfully warped and melty, almost bright green, wasters in White Ware fabric, their surfaces badly vitrified from overfiring in the kiln. We even found what we think is probably a piece of the kiln itself. There are wasters from the Classical/Hellenistic and Late Roman periods, too, but these historical artifacts are bubbly, black, vitrified, and otherwise highly gnarly tile wasters, another thing nobody on the team, including our much-traveled tile specialist, had ever seen in the archaeological record prior to 2021. In fact, I suspect maybe this is the first time a tile factory has been discovered in an archaeological survey in Greece.
Waste, glorious waste! (S. Murray)
There are many questions about life on ancient Praso that are yet to be illuminated by further study and research, but it’s already certain that the fires of industry burned brightly on this unassuming little island in Porto Rafti bay during many periods of antiquity.
All in all, it was a wonderful season of work! After the pandemic, the team was just happy to be together in Greece…even if we hadn’t found anything much at all, the treasure of the experience, of seeing old friends and coming together to work towards a shared goal, outside, in three dimensions, was delectable enough to satisfy everyone completely. But as usual, the archaeology of Porto Rafti completely exceeded all our expectations. Who knows what 2022 has in store for us…! For now, we certainly have a lot of fuel for the 2021 season report.
The BEARS 2021 team, along with mascots Nick R. (back left) and Clio E.-R. (front) full of giddy joie-de-vivre after a month of wonderful work at the season’s final get together (D. Buckingham)
BEARS end-of-season theme art (S. Murray and J. Frankl)
Assistant Professor, University of Toronto; Co-Director, BEARS Project