Ancient Greece

AROURA Project – archaeological reconnaissance in Greece

Molly Greenhouse, Teaching Assistant, ARCH 397, UMBC

The AROURA project (Archaeological Reconnaissance of Uninvestigated Remains of Agriculture) is an archaeological survey of the plain around the 13th century BCE fortress of Glas, Boiotia, in central mainland Greece. It aims to detail the Mycenaean hydraulic, drainage, and land-improvement works around the fortress, and to search for traces of the expected extensive agricultural system they served. AROURA is an official collaboration between the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), and the 9th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities (IX EPCA) of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, based in Thebes, Dr. Michael Lane (UMBC) and Dr. Alexandra Charami (IX EPCA) co-directors.

The survey and surface collection phases of the project began in October of 2010, and have since been completed. The entire project area was divided into grid squares at the outset to allow investigators to conduct geophysical survey easily and systematically across large portions of the plain, using techniques like magnetometry to detect underground “anomalies” that might be traces of previous land use. In certain grid squares, both in the plain and at the nearby settlement site of Aghia Marina Pyrghos, finds were collected from the surface of the ground too. Our goal this season is to organize, catalog, and analyze the many finds, mainly pottery, collected during previous years.


All of the finds are stored at the Archaeological Museum of Thebes, so during the week, we travel there from our home in the village of Kokkino to work on the collection. Currently, we are working on the pottery from surface collection at Aghia Marina Pyrghos. After labeling each piece and ensuring that it is properly catalogued, we start to focus on more in-depth analysis of the pottery. In the lab, we carefully examine the artifacts and record basic information about the size and shape of the pieces, as well as other more detailed information. We have been closely examining the pottery for mineral inclusions in its fabric (the constituents of the clay from which it is made). Examining hundreds of individual pieces of pottery with a magnifying glass to spot inclusions can be tedious work. However, by collecting this kind of information, we hope to be able to draw conclusions about the periods represented by the pottery and other artifacts at the settlement and where the pottery originated, as well as to hypothesize about how it made its way to the settlement.




Working at the museum in Thebes has been wonderful so far, and it definitely has had its perks. For example, this week, after Prof. Vassileios L. Aravantinos, the former Superintendent of the IX EPCA, dropped in for a surprise visit, we were invited to tour some of the ongoing excavations of the Mycenaean palace beneath downtown Thebes. We are excited to see what results the rest of this season will produce and how the project will expand and develop in future seasons!

Archaeology is Adventure – Even When You End up in the Office

People like to think about the life of archaeologists as a very adventurous endeavour. They are right, except that in my experience is has mainly to do with extreme logistics, rather than dark dungeons and holy relics.

Two weeks ago, I had started thinking about what to write in my Day of Archaeology post. I was already in Gortyna, Crete, to study ceramic finds for my PhD. I spent my days in a sunny and dusty storage building, classifying and drawing late Roman and early Byzantine potsherds. Something very normal. No adventure involved, but still I was in Crete, one of the most amazing places I have ever been. Every day looked the same, with the exception of Sunday (afternoon). Occasional excitement for a few cooking pots, a painted jug. “Fun” counting and weighing sherds one by one, trying to develop new ways to assess depositional history. Not so different from what they told us last year from Knossos, just one hour of driving from Gortyna.

4th to 5th century cooking pots – The Day of Archaeology I had imagined before THE call

Then, on Tuesday 19th June 2012, ten days ago, I got a phone call. THE phone call. The phone call that turns my life upside down. And my 29th June 2012, Day of Archaeology, became totally different from what I had imagined.

I was being hired as museum assistant at the Ministry of Culture in Italy. A permanent position. Il posto fisso, as we say in Italy. If you think of Italian bureaucracy as a slow and inefficient monster, you have to adjust your views, drastically. I was asked to be in Rome in a few days to sign the contract. I had to leave Crete in less than 24 hours. Pack half of my stuff, and leave the other half there, together with my car and tons of potsherds waiting to be studied. Poor Alessandro, who was with me in Gortyna, moved to Athens instead of spending two weeks alone in the Mesara. I am lucky, and I have some good friends in Rome. I spent 5 days in Rome waiting to sign the contract. I went to two international conferences, visited the Soprintendenza office where ArcheoFOSS took place only two weeks ago, attended the Baptism of a friends’ baby and met many friends. That’s the adventurous everyday life of an archaeologist in Rome.

On Monday 25th June, I signed the contract it the magnificent Ministry headquarters palace. And I took a train from Rome to Genoa on the same day. On Tuesday, I did my first working day, at the office of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Liguria, waiting to move to my destination: the archaeological site of Albintimilium, close to France. The place where Nino Lamboglia started his pioneering study of (Late) Roman pottery more than 60 years ago.

Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici della Liguria, Palazzo Reale, Genova

And so comes my Day of Archaeology. At the office, making phone calls to organise my stay in the Riviera di Ponente, speaking with new colleagues, taking instructions on the tasks I will be doing next week, joining the trade union and above all trying to get an idea of what is happening to my life on the day of my 29th birthday.

In my 10 years doing archaeology, I’ve seen that you never know what is going to happen and you have to be always prepared to change strategy to follow your path. It is true, archaeology is adventure, and you cannot turn it off.