Animated Archaeology

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.

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season

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.

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season Palaikastro 2017 Study Season Palaikastro 2017 Study Season

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.

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season  Palaikastro 2017 Study Season 

Combining artifact analysis with excavation records, digital data allows us to reconstruct a comprehensive picture of ancient life at Palaikastro.

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season  Palaikastro 2017 Study Season  Palaikastro 2017 Study Season

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!

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season

Palaikastro 2017 Study Season

The Heat is on! Drones and Thermal Cameras in Archaeology

Lunch views at Zagora

Lunch views at Zagora, Greece

My name is Hugh Thomas and I am an Australian archaeologist who specialises in remote sensing and digital methods in archaeology. Simply put, I specialise in different photography techniques, both terrestrial and aerial, to both record and discover new archaeological remains.

This post will be about a project I directed during May and June of this year called the Zagora Infrared Photogrammetry Project (ZIPP). This project, which was funded by an Australian Government Endeavour Research Fellowship, was conducted under the auspices of the University of Sydney and the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens.

The ZIPP Team

My project used drones to create large, 3D models using both regular light and infrared cameras(more commonly known as thermal cameras). The idea behind using thermal cameras is that as the temperature starts to drop, like at dusk, the ground will begin to cool. Any archaeological remains that exist under the surface may radiate heat, or absorb heat from the nearby ground, which will cause the dirt around it to cool at a different rate than the wider area. The hope is that your thermal camera will pick that difference in temperature.

Thermal image. A small rectangular feature, probably the foundations of a small building.

We also use regular photographs to create 3D models of the areas so we can see if any thermal irregularities we have found can be explained by something sitting on the surface ie. grass or rocks.


Click this link to interact with a 3D model of Zagora.

This thermal imagery technique has been around since the 1970’s but it is rarely used, because until recently, people had to use aerial photography platforms like helium balloons and the cameras were not particularly great. But with the popularity of drones and the reduction in cost of thermal cameras, this type of remote sensing should become more popular.

So I proposed a project called the Zagora Infrared Photogrammetry Project where I, along with some volunteers, would spend 6 weeks performing this work at an Early Iron Age site called Zagora. I have a long history with Zagora. I was a trench supervisor for excavations there in 2012-2014 and was their digital specialist. Zagora has a really interesting history. We don’t know when it started, maybe 900 BC or perhaps earlier, in a period of Greece just after the big Bronze Age civilisations had disappeared. The site, which sits on a promontory on the west coast of the island of Andros, seems to have survived until about 700 BC, when is was abandoned. Thankfully for us, the site was never resettled, apart from a small temple that seems to have been maintained. This has meant that the town naturally collapsed, and was never damaged by later buildings. This is rare for sites of this period, so we are incredibly lucky.

Thermal image of the Archaic temple

So what does a day look like on ZIPP. Unlike most archaeological work which starts early in the morning, we often only left for site at 3-4pm. As Zagora is so remote, it would take us around 30 minutes to walk to the site from where we leave the car. In order to prepare an area for aerial survey, we would lay a series of cardboard crosses around the area under investigation. These were then shot in with a very accurate, RTK based GPS system, that has an accuracy of around 2cm.

Emma Williams records a ground control point with a RTK GPS system

The crosses act as ground control points and allow us to geolocate the area we are photographing. We then fly the area with a regular photographic drone. This is designed to create a 3d model of the area to act as a control to any thermal images we take.

Orthophotograph (an output of 3D modelling) created with drone images.

We generally would do this for two or three areas in each session. Then we would have to sit and watch the sun set, which is a pretty nice way to work.

Once the sun had set, and the ground began to cool, we would place on head torches and begin to photograph the site with the infrared camera. This is incredibly daunting, especially as you are flying in the darkness with equipment that is worth thousands of dollars. Each area would be flown once, normally for a period of around 15 minutes. Then we would pack up and walk the 30 minutes back up to the car. Towards the end of the season, we wouldn’t be back to the car until 10:30 at night. As it was so late, any night we did thermal work, we would run down to a local taverna for a quick meal. It is an incredibly exhausting form of work and it is not pleasant walking up mountain tracks in the pitch darkness.

Walking home in the dark

The next morning, we would all slowly wake up and after caffeine, we would begin to process the work from the night before. This involves analysing hundreds of photographs, making 3D models and trying to identify thermal anomalies. ZIPP was a fantastic success. We found over 60 different thermal signatures, from drains running through roads to massive housing complexes. In some areas we could see the internal and external faces of walls.

This image shows a room, the walls are showing up as warm(white) lines. You should hopefully be able to see a colder(black) square area in the center, which is the internal part of the room.

Ultimately, every feature discovered will be placed into a report for the excavators of Zagora and the Greek archaeological ministry. The directors  will analyse the results and we will determine which features should be the focus of excavations in the future.

Hopefully this highlights a different form of archaeological investigation and emphasises how useful non-destructive techniques can be.

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!


The copper hoard from the XIII century was discovered as a whole X.9.5.1, in a pit from Block: XXI, in the course of archeological excavations at the Skopje Fortress in 2009. It contained 50 copper coins, including 5 items of Bulgarian imitations (no. 1-5) and items presenting rulers, namely 2 items presenting Ivan Asen II (no. 6-7), 2 items presenting Theodore Comnenus-Ducas (no. 8-9), 2 items presenting  John Comnenus-Ducas (no. 10-11), 9 items presenting John III Ducas-Vatatzes with (no. 12-20), 4 items presenting Theodor II Ducas-Lascaris (no. 21-24), as well as the most numerous, 24 Latin imitations (no. 25-47). (more…)

Writing about the “cooks”

My name is Sandra and I am an archaeologist currently dedicated to my Phd Thesis. Today, July 26th, I’m writing. My office is in Barcelona, very close to the beach. In hot and humid days such as today, you can even smell the salty see in every corridor of the building. My aim for today is to write a big chunk of the chapter I’m working on these days, which is the spatial analysis of a site called “Artisans’ Quarters” in Mochlos, Crete (Bronze Age). And trying to scape the temptation to jump into the sea!

By “spatial analysis” I mean something pretty simple: in a given settlement, I identify where people performed specific activities and then I see if people did mingle a lot or, on the contrary, their everyday lifes developed in segregated spaces. I am specially interested in the cooks, those people who had to cook everyday to ensure the survival of the group. So I’ve basically spent the last years trying to find kitchens, hearths, cooking pots, querns, faunal remains… to have a glimpse of their lifes. But, for my Phd thesis, I work with published materials, which means that my quest is basically in the libraries and work is done in front of a computer.

This year is being specially hard because I must finish my thesis and cannot dedicate time to the fun part of the work: “the field”. Normally, every summer I participate in different excavation projects in Crete, where the office dissapears and you get “to touch soil”. Now I miss it. I miss my friends, I miss the landscape, I miss the work, and I miss Greece. Hopefully, next summer I will be able to resume my duties there, until then… writing, writing, writing.

My archaeological day

My archaeological day

Digital loom weights at Priniatikos Pyrgos

Priniatikos Pyrgos

Priniatikos Pyrgos from the hills

Today is the last day of the season at Priniatikos Pyrgos, an archaeological project, which has been running in East Crete since 2005. Currently, it is operated under the auspices of the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies at Athens but it began as an American/Greek project. Excavation at the Bronze Age to modern coastal promontory site ceased in 2010 and since 2011 the project members have returned to study the vast quantities of material and site recordings that were gathered during the 6 years of excavation.


A Lego Colosseum and Other Stories

I am a Classical Archaeologist at the University of Sydney in Australia, and work as the Manager of Education and Public Programs at the Nicholson Museum, Australia’s largest collection of Old World archaeological material.  So my ‘Day of Archaeology 2012’ is spent like most others – trying to balance between museum education and archaeological research on the project I am working: excavations of a Hellenistic-Roman period theatre site in Paphos in Cyprus.


A day off – Faunal Team Catalhoyuk 2012

Friday is our day of rest, so we are at the pool! This week the excavations at the famous Neolithic settlement opened for the season. We are a joint team from Cardiff University UK, Stony Brook, US and Poznan, Poland looking at the faunal remains to understand the human:animal relationship at the site. This week we began the season by examining the bones from building 80 (late in the site but still about 7-8000 years ago). So far we have recorded domestic sheep and dogs, wild aurochs, boar, deer and horses as well as tortoise, stork and jackal. We have a worked aurochs scapula, maybe used as a shovel, a possible bone ‘flute’ and bone gouges.

Excavation is focusing on removing backfill from the previous years ready to start excavation in ernest next week. The focus this year is on a number of houses, some of which have already produced cattle horncore installations, wall paintings and human burials beneath the floors.

Hand prints from Building 77. Two of a long series of handprints. Photo by Ashley Lingle, Catalhoyuk Research Project


The team is building with 60ish of us so far, and increasing to about 150 by the end of next week.  There are labs for human and animal bones, pots, stones, plants, conservation and finds as well as two separate excavation areas.  It is hard to keep track of everyone, so we have posted our photos and names on our lab door so folk can ID us. The excavation is truly international with folk from Sweden, Poland, US, Canada, Turkey, Greece and of course Wales.

Our first day off is being spent at the lovely Dedeman Hotel by the pool using their internet (thanks!). There is extremely restricted internet access at the site.  A highlight this week was the Tarkan concert – a Turkish singing sensation who performed to about 20k people in a mall carpark.

We are looking forward to the rest of the seasons excavations – and working with all the different specialists on-site.   Rather than material being analysed months, or years after it is dug up, in different labs around the world we are all here together.    Roll on the excavations – well, after just one more dip in the pool…..