Field Survey

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!

George Geddes (RCAHMS) – East Renfrewshire

East Renfrewshire ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

East Renfrewshire ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

George Geddes taking notes. Copyright RCAHMS (DP148563)

George Geddes taking notes. Copyright RCAHMS (DP148563)

Duncarnock was the first hill fort survey that I took part in with the Commission. The fort is by far the largest in East Renfrewshire, and it was a refreshing introduction to the way that the staff at RCAHMS go about tackling these complex sites. Perhaps 2000 years old, the fort must have been an important place in the local neighbourhood, commanding extensive views of the surrounding area and modern Barrhead. It is likely to have contained a group of roundhouses where people lived and worked, and there may have been the workshops of metal workers and craftsmen in leather, wood and pottery.

It was surveyed by a husband and wife team Dick and Meghan Feachem, during their work for RCAHMS in the 1950s. A more recent re-survey by RCAHMS has teased out a lot more detail and clarified the condition of the fort’s wall, which has been thoroughly robbed, the stone being use in the dykes and houses in the area.

Aerial view centred on the remains of Duncarnock fort, taken from the NW. Copyright RCAHMS (DP04015)

Aerial view centred on the remains of Duncarnock fort, taken from the NW. Copyright RCAHMS (DP04015)

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.


Brian Wilkinson Britain From Above Activity Officer RCAHMS

Sandwick, known locally as the Easting, is an east-facing bay with a gently shelving, broad sandy beach on the Isle of Unst, Shetland. Sloping up from the bay is a hillside where you can see the substantial remains of Sandwick township, comprising the unroofed and collapsing walls of dwellings, barns, byres, and enclosures that housed and sustained a community of farmers and fishermen in the historic past.

I first visited Easting in 2009 with the Scotland’s Rural Past project to undertake field survey training with Unst Archaeology group, and begin a school project with Uyeasound primary school. Our initial recce visit revealed an amazingly rich archaeological landscape, with the footings of older, perhaps Norse buildings underlying several of the farmsteads.

Elsewhere there were signs of prehistoric occupation, including a reconstructed Iron Age building, the original eroding into the sea and excavated by the local community together with the SCAPE trust, and the low sub-rectangular turf and boulder bank of a previously unrecorded Neolithic dwelling. Clearly this fertile landscape had been valued as a place able to support a farming community over several thousand years.

A surprising piece of evidence for an historic farming economy could be seen in the remains of a Norse farmstead eroding out of the sand dunes down on the beach. Excavated in the late 1970’s and occupied during the 13th – 14th centuries it shows the same basic layout as the historic farmsteads further up the hill; with a dwelling at one end of the building, and a byre at the other.

This building leaves no doubt as to which end was which. The entrance into the north end is cow-shaped! The walls at the foot of the door are narrow and the doorway gradually widens as it goes up, just as the width of a cow increases with its height from hooves to belly. This discovery finally solved the puzzling problem of the dimensions of excavated Norse byre entrances being too narrow for cattle to pass through.

It can sometimes be difficult to look at an archaeological site and imagine what it was and how people used it. This doorway’s profile helped me make a mental picture of the Norse farmers of Sandwick and their cattle of long ago (as illustrated by my colleague Danny’s useful impression).