Saturday, April 19, 2008

On the road again

Sometimes it is difficult to keep tack of our collective movements - March and April have been busy times for us. Here is a brief recap of what we have been up to:
SAAs in Vancouver
Part of our "job" is to present the results of our research at academic meetings. It's fun to attend these meetings, you see old friends, visit a new city, hear some good papers and hopefully get feedback on your own work. At the end of March I (Mo) went to Vancouver for the SAA (Society of American Archaeology) meetings. It was the first time I had visited the west coast of Canada and I high hopes for an early spring. Alas the weathr was unseasonably cold - a freak snowstorm, hail, sleet and constant drizzle. Even though the weather was miserable, Dr. J and I went out to the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, which was great.

Vancouver is beautiful and I am sure that it's a great place to live when it isn't unseasonably cold. I was very lucky to see some friends from Cambridge and their new family member - Harry. Thanks very much for making the trek to Vancouver G-Lo, Megs and Harry. The papers I presented went well and I got to hang with some fun friends, so it was fun.

Once again Yo participated in the Dead Sea Marathon. You'll recall that last year he and AMP ran the 10k. This year Yo and my Cambridge pal HS ran the half marathon. Yo survived, but HS won her category - yeah for HS. Unfortunately no photos were taken . . .

I am now back in Greece gearing up for two field schools. On Friday I went my friend TL (a neolithic pottery expert) on a little trip to Mycenae, Naphlion and Franchthi Cave.

Mycenae is a site that I have wanted to visit since my high school classical studies days with Roger McCombe. It did not disappoint. The ancient city of Mycenae was once thought to exist only in ancient Greek legend and the epic poetry of Homer. It wasn't until 1870 that an amateur archaeologist named Heinrich Schliemann (excavator of Troy) found the fabled city. Many people doubted that he would find such a city, but using only landmarks from the text of Homers Iliad, Schliemann uncovered the remains of a once thriving civilization. The city of Mycenae was the center of a large and powerful Mycenaean Greek civilization, which existed from circa 1900 B.C.E. to circa 1125 B.C.E. It is located in the south central part of what is present day Greece. The Mycenaean civilization was at its height between 1400 and 1200 B.C.E. It is believed that the entire civilization consisted of a few loosely joined city-states.
Grave Circle A
The main entrance through the circuit wall was made grand by the best known feature of Mycenae, the Lion Gate, through which passed a stepped ramp leading past grave circle A and up to the palace. The Lion Gate was built in the form of a 'Relieving Triangle' to support the weight of the stones.
Steps leading to the secret entrance to the cistern where water for the city was collected.

The site is well known for a series of tholos tombs

Interior of a tholos tomb

Legend has it that the site was built by Cyclops (those one-eyed giant creatures from Homeric myth) because the building blocks are so large.

It was a beautiful day and the poppies were in bloom. On my way to meet TL (he dropped me off and went to look at some Neolithic pottery) I passed some tourist shops and some "replica workshops", which as you all know I find fascinating.

the way to Franchthi -
When I did my undergraduate degree in Classics I took a class in Prehistoric Greece. We were each assigned a site to present and mine was Franchthi Cave. Franchthi Cave is located in southeastern Argolid, across a small bay from the modern Greek village of Koilada. It is by far the longest recorded continuous occupational sequence from any one site in Greece. It is unique for having unbroken series of deposits spanning the period from ca. 20,000 BCE down to ca. 3000 BCE. Excavation by Karen Vitelli began in 1967 and ended in 1976. The dates for the various phases of occupation in the cave are from radiocarbon analysis of a total of over fifty samples, the largest number of radiocarbon samples from any prehistoric site in Greece.
There are many reasons why Franchthi Cave is an important site; three of them are the length and period of occupation, the quality of preservation of the seed and bone assemblages, and the fact that it was excavated in modern times. Length and period of occupation. The site was occupied, more or less continuously, for about 25,000 years, during which time came the invention of agriculture and pastoralism. What that means is that changes that were wrought by these phenomenal leaps in human understanding can be traced at one place, by examining differences between different layers. One of the most interesting things I saw was the continued use of the cave until today as a sheep pen.
Quality of preservation. In most of the layers excavated at Franchthi cave, remnants of animals and plants in the form of bone, shell, seed, and pollen were preserved. These kinds of artifacts have provided researchers with a wealth of information concerning diet and the course of domestication.
Modern excavation techniques. Franchthi cave was excavated in the late 1960s and early 1970s, by the Universities of Indiana and Pennsylvania and the American School in Classical Studies at Athens. These researchers paid attention to stratigraphic layers, and kept much of the faunal and floral materials that would have been ignored or thrown away in earlier times. (some information courtesy of

Today the publication of the site is (in)famous. Vitelli received funds from the White-Levy publication fund and as per the contract for receiving the $$ Professor Vitelli acknowledged the funding source. On the next page Professor Vitelli suggested that the White-Levys should not collect unprovenienced material - causing many to state that "she bit the hand that fed her". It's an interesting ethical dilemma that I have used in past classes.
I'll be in Greece until the end of July on various projects, but sometimes without internet access. Yo is coming out to Keros at the beginning of June (yeah!!), so perhaps we can post some images of us in the same place.

1 comment:

WDW said...

Just trying to prove that I'm still here! Greece looks wonderful...