I’m currently in Greece on an excavation. I can’t tell you exactly where – we have to keep the location secret to protect the site and to abide by the reporting restrictions imposed by the Greek authorities – but I can tell you it’s currently going very well. I am the finds specialist, which means I work in the local museum processing and registering all the finds from the excavation.
This involves washing ceramic sherds, entering details and measurements of every object into a database, taking photographs of every find, drawing all the diagnostic pottery (rims, handles, bases and decorated pieces), and making sure all the finds are safely stored away for study by specialists next year. Luckily I have other members of the dig team to assist me!
We have some free time in the afternoons, which I also fill with archaeology. I’m a member of the Well Built Mycenae team and my job is to publish an important part of the Cult Centre at Mycenae. This area was excavated in the 1960s but the site turned out to be so complicated that publication took much longer than expected. However, I’m now at the stage that involves editing images for which I need to use my more powerful desktop computer. Obviously I wasn’t able to take that with me into the field(!) so I can’t do any work on that project at the moment. Instead I’ve been using the afternoons to produce an article based on my PhD research, which investigated how metal vessels fitted into the social and political system of Late Bronze Age Greece. It may seem strange at first to think of the use of metal pots as an important way of expressing social status and significance. Yet even today, expensive metal vases are often awarded as a prize; just think of the trophy handed out to the winners of the English FA Cup! Publishing articles is a vital part of archaeology as it allows research to be shared amongst the archaeological community and makes it available to future generations. It’s also one of the best ways to gain recognition in your field, which is essential when you are a post-doctoral researcher like me. The archaeological job market out there is highly competitive at the moment, so I’m hoping that the work I do now will eventually be enough for me to land a long-term university position.
With one year of survey, three years of excavation, and one study season completed in the past few years, this summer has seen the final year of study for the Palace and Landscape at Palaikastro (PALAP) team. From excavation to conservation, we have been hard at work reconstructing the history of our site here on the island of Crete.
Over three millennia ago, Palaikastro was a thriving Minoan settlement situated on the east coast of the island. The town was rediscovered by archaeologists more than a century ago, but new campaigns have continued to reveal more of this fascinating site, and the five year PALAP excavation project has uncovered several multi-occupation buildings.
For the past two seasons, our study has focused on reconstructing the history of the site through the excavated material.
In the lab, this has included the careful washing and conserving of objects, the photographing and drawing of selected material, and the organization and cataloguing of all conserved artifacts.
Digital tools such as GIS, combined with the study of conserved artifacts and notes from the field, enable us to better understand these objects and contextualize their histories within Minoan life.
Combining artifact analysis with excavation records, digital data allows us to reconstruct a comprehensive picture of ancient life at Palaikastro.
Whether we’re digging in the field, finding pottery joins in the lab, or writing final reports, archaeology is both challenging and immensely rewarding. But no matter what, we always find time for some fun!
Human occupation and coastlines have a long, but not very well-understood history. Global sea level has fallen and subsequently risen by over 120m during the last glacial cycle (~132,000 years), driven by fluctuations of the masses of ice sheets. These changing coastal landscapes have produced, or take away, opportunities for humans to exploit the resources they offer. In early prehistory, the use of coastal resources has been argued to have facilitated the dispersal of hominins out of Africa and across the globe and/or aided the development of fully modern human brains and behaviours, as well as providing resources to support specialised, marine-focussed ways of life in later prehistory. Coastal archaeology is therefore at the forefront of some of archaeology’s ‘Big Questions’. Yet it’s not just about understanding the past – studies of past sea level change, and the location and survey of ‘benchmarks’ left by these sea levels, helps us to better predict how, in a world of rising seas, the hundreds of millions of people who live along coastlines will be impacted in the coming decades.
The Greek Islands. Someone has to work there… Photo: R. Inglis.
My month has been decidedly more coastal than usual in theme, and not just because I’m pining after my recent holiday in Western Australia. Working backwards from today, this week I have been analysing sediments from excavations at a Neanderthal cave site on one of the Ionian Islands, Greece. During periods of low sea level, the area around the island would have been very different, with lagoons and wetlands and all the marine resources they would have contained in the area now covered by sea. Investigations on land and underwater are being carried out in order to understand more about how the landscape changed over time, and how this affected the humans and Neanderthals who left archaeology within it.
After a week making thin sections of some of the sediments (#TBT my 2016 DoA post on how and why to make thin sections), I’ve been running particle size analysis on the sediments from the cave in order to learn more about how these sediments got to where they did, and how these site formation processes impacted the archaeology within them. Of course, things are never straightforward, and getting the stony clay samples sieved and prepared for analysis was about as pleasant as excavating through them had been, involving wet sieving, muck, and ovens – I may even have to change tack and restart the whole thing. So to be honest, I’m not in the mood to talk more about them just yet…thank goodness it’s Friday!
Sediments on their way to becoming the worst brownies ever baked – in the oven overnight at 110ºC. Photo: R. Inglis.
The Mastersizer in motion! The particle size distribution curve, showing the number of particles in each size class can be see on the graph on the screen. Photo: R. Inglis.
Also in the batch were more straightforward sandy samples (though obviously not THAT straightforward, this is applied science…) from southwest Saudi Arabia, the study area for my current project, SURFACE. With these sediments, taken from a fossil beach and dune complex that formed during a period of higher sea level (Dhahaban Quarry – learn more here), I was using Particle Size Analysis (PSA) to distinguish between shallow marine sediments and the windblown dune sediments – the transition from one to the other would mark the highest point of past sea level, thus providing a sea level ‘benchmark’. It worked after a fashion – the aeolian sediments appear to be ‘well-sorted’ e.g. all one size class, what you’d expect from a dune, and the muddy lagoonal sediments were, well, a muddy mix of all particle sizes. Still more work to be done, but it’s encouraging!
Shallow marine sediments at Dhahaban Quarry, now approximately 5m above sea level. The holes are for samples taken for optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating. Photo: R. Inglis.
Away from the lab, and the muck, and the clay (which actually maybe predominantly fine silt – who knew!), coasts still dominate my to-do list. I’m wrestling with reviewer revisions on a book chapter presenting the field survey of the coral and marine terraces that are along the coastline of the volcanic Harrat Al Birk, SW Saudi Arabia, including the Dhahaban Quarry site, which we undertook in December 2014. Through this detailed survey of the marine terraces, and future dating of the corals that are found within them, we will learn more about the position of the past coastline that created them. This has geological implications for understanding the opening of the Red Sea Rift, (which is pushing its western and eastern coastlines up and out), helps us to place the archaeology we find on land in its relationship to the sea and potential use of coastal resources, and is another data point to underpin future sea level predictions.
The final piece of coastal news this week is the publication, after a looong process, of a paper by the MEDFLOOD community, which takes a long-term view of sea level change and human occupation and use of coastal regions in the Mediterranean (the last 132,000 years). It’s chock-full of methodological data on measuring sea level, evidence for the use of coastal resources by Neanderthals and humans up to the historic period, and areas in which new research, both underwater and on land, needs to be undertaken. A superb effort to bring together this diverse group of researchers with different approaches.
MEDFLOOD meetings are always held in challenging locations, such as the Northern Adriatic, close to Venice. Photo: R. Inglis.
So there you have it. From very challenging lab work to writing to that sweet feeling of seeing a paper finally published, almost the full cycle of coastal research. I’ll wind up this post by wishing you a happy Day of Archaeology 2017, and leave you with this thought from Coastal Archaeologist extraordinaire Prof. Geoff Bailey (tweeted to the world by MEDFLOOD’s Dr Alessio Rovere):
Geoff Bailey: if there will be archeologists 10ka from now, they will look at our submerged cities & wonder why we had no interest in sl change
What a cool event and initiative this is – it’s always fascinating to engage with the field of archaeology and see what kinds of great research is being done all around the globe. That being said, we should introduce ourselves.
Our 2016 Team
We’re the Stélida Naxos Archaeological Project (aka SNAP), a team digging away on the beautiful island of Naxos, Greece. Not the worst place to dig in the world, that’s for sure… We dig on a hill called Stélida on the West side of the island:
And although we’ve just very recently finished our 5th working season (our 3rd excavation season after 2 years of surveying), we definitely didn’t want to miss out on Day of Archaeology 2017!
Our 2017 Team
So, what are we about?
SNAP is a geo-archaeological excavation of a chert source (chert is a type of rock). We say geo-archaeological because we borrow methods from the Earth Sciences (like geology) in order to help solve archaeological problems.
This site is associated with early prehistoric stone tool workshops—places where what we call lithics were created. So it’s quite different from the traditional archaeology we see in this area of Greece, which usually include things like figurines and ceramics. Stélida was first used as far back as 260,000 years ago, with some of its early visitors likely including Neanderthals. Awesome, right?
But wait for it: what’s more awesome is that, if we’re right about Neanderthals having been on this island more than 200,000 years ago, it means that it very much predates the popular idea that the region was only colonized by early farmers arriving about 9,000 years ago.
This is an exciting time to be working on the earliest history of human activity in the Aegean. We hope to conduct a detailed survey and excavation of Stélida because it has the potential to teach us a lot about the earlier prehistoric Cyclades, specifically how early humans and Neanderthals moved around this region.
A Day On the Dig
Digging on a beautiful Greek island is nothing short of fantastic.
The sights and sounds from the moment you wake up are vibrant and lively. We also owe it to the wonderful village of Vivlos for giving us a place to call home when we’re not digging up on Stélida. Instead of writing about it here, we’ve got a cool video on what an average day on the dig looks like, starting from the 5am wake-ups:
And then the rest of it captured in this cool Instagram story:
Ask Us Anything
In an effort to make our work more dialogical, we decided to open up the floor for questions from our followers and viewers from all over the world.
This season, we answered all of the brilliant questions on an average day on the site:
SNAP is directed by Dr. Tristan Carter of McMaster University. (Some call him Stringy.)
And since Dr. Carter’s a fantastic lecturer, we couldn’t hesitate to get him his own vlogging show, Carter’s Corner, where he answers viewer questions from various locations. For the first series of 5 videos, we have him sitting in Trench 28 up on the hill of Stélida.
In keeping with the spirit of our “Ask Us Anything”, we continue to take questions from our followers from all over the world and Dr. Carter responds directly to them in a lighthearted vlog-style series. Here is our official release of our first 5 episodes—we hope you enjoy!
If you’re more of a reader, we also wrote weekly blog posts this season for our 6 weeks on Naxos, here on Medium, documenting our week-to-week lives on the dig:
The next couple of years for SNAP looks exciting, but without all of the dirt and thorny bushes.
Specifically, next summer, we’ll be having a study season, which means that we won’t be doing any digging, but instead really getting down and looking at everything we’ve found over the past 4–5 years and all the data we’ve collected.
Over the next two years we’re also looking forward to more public engagement and local cultural heritage activities, such as creating a teaching pack for local elementary schools as well as an eventual public exhibition at the Naxos Museum(which is currently being renovated). Super exciting!
Keep in Touch
If you’ve liked our work and want to stay in touch, we’d absolutely love that too.
Located at the southern end of the last glacial advance, the Finger Lakes region is composed of a diverse landscape carved by consecutive advancements and recessions of glacial ice believed to have been from 2.4 – 3.2 Kilometers thick. Leaving behind large landscapes difficult to navigate by today’s standards, the predominantly north – south orientation of hills and valleys, with several large navigable lakes at the north end of the Susquehanna River system, lend themselves to the theory that humans made their way here from the Chesapeake Bay Area, which the Smithsonian Institute has collected data on over the past several years, indicating that humans may have used the waterway after crossing the Atlantic, as posited in recent years by Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian – even pre-Holocene – and thus challenging the Bering Strait theory that early migrations only crossed into the Americas from Asia.
Recent discoveries of Mastodon remains near the base of the Hudson River system (Bowser Road Mastodon Site, Kingstown area; https://gsa.confex.com/gsa/2016NE/webprogram/Paper272006.html), also support the possibility that people arrived from either northward or eastward journeys as far back as 11k BCE. With known Mastodon remains found at Letchworth to the west of the Finger Lakes, and Clovis technology, found by William Ritchie at the Southeast end of Canandaigua Lake (considered to be some 13 kyo), it begs the question of earliest sustainable hunter-gathering in the region.
With the likelihood of sufficient numbers of large prey, the reality is also that earliest habitants, without large and accessible deposits of flint or obsidian material, used alternative stone technology for toolmaking.
Early site indications:
Uncovered, at the Northwest end of Keuka Lake (and fully south of the entirety of Canandaigua Lake) between Ritchie’s find at the southeast end of Canandaigua Lake (due-west some 40 Kilometers) and the Lamoka site (southeast some 40 Kilometers), through non-archeological excavations (intended to address wastewater management and initiate a new water line past a shallow well) at the base of a hill on a kame terrace, near what once would have been at the shore of Keuka Lake, samples were obtained amidst 1-2 meters of topsoil and clay-based soil above the region’s shale, with at least one storage pit beginning 1 m below the surface; a diverse range of ironstone, quartzite, and other assorted matter, with strata including layers of human activity, especially surrounding the well, with many pointed stones and flakes. Other deposits found at the northern end of the plot (near the wastewater management project) indicate stone worked with a Debitage Blank System of knapping typical of MSA shaping, or more specifically, for several ironstone points, an Acheulean-Levallois prepared core technique similar to that used in the Levant, the region surrounding the Eastern Mediterranean.
Initiate first digital images with Localized GPS, and establish a grid for continued and specified exploration of exposed wastewater management ground at north end of the plot. With the weather finally indicating several days without rain in the forecast, today looks to be an excellent opportunity to begin looking again more closely at the site.
Artifacts if any found today
Images from previously uncovered samples:
My third time joining the multi-vocal and colorful “Day of Archaeology”! Happy to be here!
My 28th of July is actually dedicated to my personal (opposite to a success) story named: “writing my PhD thesis”. A lot of you might feel sympathetic to my personal nightmare, because you have been there…You start eager to conquer knowledge and end up certain you know less than you thought you knew as an undergraduate student and your confidence in your adequacy as a researcher lost for good!
I am a PhD candidate at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, under the supervision of prof. Kostas Kotsakis. My thesis is about a group of bronze jewellery from an Early Iron Age Cemetery at Stavroupoli near Thessaloniki, Greece. Apart from the obvious archaeological work done for these artifacts (indexing, analyzing, sketching, photographing, interpreting) I wanted also to understand and highlight some technological features. For that, I turned to analytical techniques such as metallography and scanning electron microscopy. What I wanted to share with you is my experience working the thin section of one of this group of artifacts.
Photo 1: A thin section of a bronze fibula from Stavroupoli, in plain polarized light
The nature of the analytical work requires of you to be well equipped with patience, knowledge, meticulous observations and careful identifications. What you see in the photo is the thin section of a small bronze spectacle fibula and you can see the worked deformed grains showing bent twins and strain lines as a result of heavy hot and afterwards cold working. The microscope can work as a “camera obscura”. Beneath the surface of this thin section I can see the love of someone crafting a beautiful item and also the love of another one carrying it for a lifetime and beyond.
Photo 2: a sketch of the fibula from my inventory
What I want to underline is that I use analytical techniques, baring the merits of physical sciences for objectivity, regularity and general rules in order to understand or even better to empathize with the person who manufactured the object I am researching or/and also the ones who had been using it. We use specific methods forged within our disciplines, methods to alienate ourselves from the material we are researching and to become neutral observers, only to understand that at the end of the day we have to produce a narrative; we have to reinvent the stories behind the artifacts, so as to get to know the people behind them.
Apart from a professional career in archaeology which begins at university, archaeologists should have multiple skills, specialties and field of expertise, expanding their training and making their resume distinguished from others. (more…)
After three years of excavation, the Palace and Landscape at Palaikastro (PALAP) Project on the Greek island of Crete is now in the middle of an important study season. So while the PALAP team wasn’t out in the trenches for this year’s Day of Archaeology, we were doing something just as important: analyzing, interpreting, and making sense of three years’ worth of archaeological material brought in from the field. From pottery analysis to bioarchaeological study, preserving finds with conservation to cataloguing objects, each and every step of the process is vital in gaining a full understanding of the four-thousand year old site of Palaikastro, and its Minoan inhabitants.
Last year, the Palaikastro team celebrated Day of Archaeology by sharing why we “archaeology.” This year we thought we would look a little more specifically at how some of us archaeology; we want to give a full picture of what a study season means for each of us and the many forms that the study of prehistory can take. There is so much that we can learn from a wide variety of sources. “My prehistory looks like…” is our way of showcasing these sources and sharing some of our study season experiences. Each PALAP team member is interested in a specific aspect of the archaeological process, and each aspect assists in assembling a comprehensive picture of the Minoan past. Check out how PALAP explores these ancient remains, and join us in celebrating prehistoric archaeology!
Patricia Tabascio and Angela Baer help to strew and study thousands of pottery sherds, looking for joins, and recording the details of each deposit.
By analyzing the stratigraphy of Palaikastro through the pottery, Paula Gheorghiade makes sense of the complex layers and multiple time periods of the site.
Efi Anaplioti, Sevastos Giannikidis, Vasiliki Anevlavi and Jack Fuller ensure that archaeological material is preserved for the future by conserving hundreds of artifacts and ceramic vessels.
Once the objects have been studied and conserved, Christos Tsoumplekas meticulously draws them to scale so that a visual record is also maintained.
Rachel Dewan helps to research and catalogue many of the objects that will be included in the final publication of the site.
In order to understand the spatial features of the site and its wider context, Christine Spencer uses GIS to map the architecture and finds.
Dr. Alexandra Livarda directs PALAP’s environmental studies, investigating Palaikastro’s archaeobotanical remains.
Rena Veropoulidou studies thousands of shells found during excavation in order to learn more about Palaikastro’s environment and the diets of its ancient inhabitants.
Rachel Kulick’s geomorphological analysis investigates Palaikastro’s landscape through the science of soil analysis.
And these are only some of the members of the PALAP team! It takes countless hours of work by dozens of dedicated people to make sense of it all, but when the puzzle pieces fit together (or the pottery sherds!), that’s when the real archaeological magic happens…
Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and our blog, and tell us what your prehistory looks like!
The American School of Classical Studies at Athens has been continuously excavating the Ancient Athenian Agora since 1931.
The Agora of Athens was the center of the ancient city: a large, open square where the citizens could assemble for a wide variety of purposes. On any given day the space might be used as a market, or for an election, a dramatic performance, a religious procession, military drill, or athletic competition. Here administrative, political, judicial, commercial, social, cultural, and religious activities all found a place together in the heart of Athens, and the square was surrounded by the public buildings necessary to run the Athenian government.
These buildings, along with monuments and small objects, illustrate the important role it played in all aspects of public life. The council chamber, magistrates’ offices, mint, and archives have all been uncovered, while the lawcourts are represented by the recovery of bronze ballots and a water-clock used to time speeches. The use of the area as a marketplace is indicated by the numerous shops where potters, cobblers, bronzeworkers, and sculptors made and sold their wares.
In 1931 excavations looked like this:
Today in 2016, a few meters away, excavations look like this:
Mt. Lykaion has long been known as the the birthplace of Zeus. Today it is the site of a collaborative excavation between the the Arcadian Ephoreia of Antiquities, and the University of Arizona under the auspices of American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). We interviewed one of the directors of the project, Dr. David Gilman Romano, about his hopes for the excavations. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Romano: “We’re excavating the Sanctuary of Zeus at Mt. Lykaion in the Arcadian Mountains. It’s composed of an upper area, which is the altar and the temenos at the southern peak of the mountain, and the lower area which is the athletic complex: hippodrome, stadium, baths, stoa, administrative buildings, seats, and several fountain houses. Mt. Lykaion was known as the birthplace of Zeus in ancient literature; Callimachus and Pausanias give us that information.”
On the left of the sanctuary of the Mistress is Mount Lycaeus. Some Arcadians call it Olympus, and others Sacred Peak. On it, they say, Zeus was reared –Pausanias 8.38.2 English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A.
“This is our second five-year period of excavations. We know a lot more than we did ten years ago when we started excavating.”
“We’re interested in learning more about a number of different things we discovered. For instance we have discovered pottery going back to the Neolithic Period in the area of the altar. We’d like to know more about that. It’s very early material. Who was coming here in the Neolithic period? What were they doing? Did they use the mountaintop as an altar or for a different purpose”
There is on Mount Lycaeus a sanctuary of Pan, and a grove of trees around it, with a race-course in front of which is a running-track. Of old they used to hold here the Lycaean games. Here there are also bases of statues, with now no statues on them. On one of the bases an elegiac inscription declares that the statue was a portrait of Astyanax, and that Astyanax was of the race of Arceas. –Pausanias 8.38.5 English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A.
“Another question [we have] has to do with the cult of Zeus. How old is the cult of Zeus? We have burnt animal femurs from sacrifices that we have Carbon-14 dated to the sixteenth century BC, as well as continuity of cult through to the Hellenistic period. The cult was very likely alive and well in the sixteenth century. So we have wondered— does it go back further than that?”
“We’d like to know more about the Mycenaean shrine that we found on the altar. We found huge quantitites of Mycenaean pottery and we’d like to know more about the Mycenean cult.”
On the highest point of the mountain is a mound of earth, forming an altar of Zeus Lycaeus, and from it most of the Peloponnesus can be seen. Before the altar on the east stand two pillars, on which there were of old gilded eagles. On this altar they sacrifice in secret to Lycaean Zeus. I was reluctant to pry into the details of the sacrifice; let them be as they are and were from the beginning. – Pausanias 8.38.7 English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A.
“And another question has to do with when the athletic games were associated with the cult on Mt. Lykaion, because this had to be very old. We have more or less continuous activity in the area of the altar from the fifth millennium BC, and we’d like to know how and when athletics became a part of the religious cult.”