Monday, July 7, 2008

Keros to Naxos

Once again we know we have been rather lame bloggers, not entirely with good excuse. Yo joined Mo on the Aegean Island of Koufonisi where the excavation team working on the nearby island of Keros lives. Mo arrived on Koufonisi on April 29th, and the Internet access is intermittent – not to mention that Mo is in desperate need of a new computer, as her current 7 year old model takes about ½ hour to start, and doesn’t find Wi-Fi signals very well (Mac or PC, that is the question!). Yo arrived much later, on June 9th, to join the excavations (it had been 6 months since Yo and Mo had their last adventure together in Jordan so it was a pretty happy reunion). Although Mo has worked with Professor Renfrew on his Keros project since its inception in 2006 (see her blog during the second season, June 2007), this was Yo’s first visit.

Above: The view from the project rooms -- the larger island of Keros is visible, with the smaller island of Dhaskalio just barely visible, to the right.

Of course excavating on small islands in the Aegean, more specifically the Lesser Cyclades where Keros and Koufonisi are located, sounds idyllic. And indeed Yo has rarely missed the opportunity to mock the claimed hardships of excavation on charming Greek islands with beautiful beaches, fresh Mediterranean breezes and Greek food. Sure, there were those images of the crew in winter gear, attesting to the rather chilly days in early May. But by the time Yo arrived, the cold weather had disappeared, reinforcing his entirely biased and unsympathetic perception that Mo and her compatriots were really just spoiled whiners. His first visit to the site changed that idea quickly.

The boat ride out to the sites from Koufonisi where the excavation team lives takes about half an hour and is pleasant enough, as long as its warm and not too windy.

Above: the team with Professor Renfrew heading out in the morning.

Below: Mo and two of her buddies (affectionately, 2/3 of the nits) hoarding the prime seats.

People were generally pretty tired by the time Yo arrived, an understandable fatigue considering most had been working for six weeks straight (perhaps exacerbated by some late night tendencies of some members!). There are two sites under investigation as part of the project: Kavos (on the uninhabited island of Keros) and Dhaskalio (on the right), 180 meters across water from Kavos on an islet (remember the blog about whether they were connected in antiquity or not – well the geologists all agree now that they were probably one land mass during the Early Bronze Age and then rising sea levels and tectonic movement created the divide).

Dhaskalio on the right; to the left is the edge of Keros, the much larger but uninhabited island.

Arriving at the sites, everyone gathers knapsacks, water containers, equipment, coolers with lunch, etc and must get that from the rocking boat on to the jutting rocks.

On Dhaskalio, the excavation area is directly up a steep ascent of loose rock, with all of this gear; Professor Renfrew, who is in his 70s, makes this climb every day; Yo admits that it was gratifying to hear people more than 20 years younger huffing and puffing their way up.

A nice calm day on the boat, with Dhaskalio in the background.

MB and A. surveying on the steep slopes of Dhaskalio.

The lunch spot on the steep slope of Dhaskalio. Those working on other site of Kavos (on the other island of Keros) claimed that they had a much nicer lunch place.

At the summit, excavations have exposed impressive dry masonry walls stretching across the entire site.

The first day Yo was visiting Dhaskalio, that nice Med breeze was whipping off the sea and up the side of the sheer rocks at about 7-8. Sand, dust and rock particles were flying and whipping about like a small xhamsin. Students excavating were wrapped up like Tuareg nomads, only their eyes visible, and those covered by sunglasses. (Apparently suggestions that the dermabrasion should be viewed as a free perk were met with steely stares). But not every day was so harsh, and Yo soon got his opportunity to excavate. At the end of the season manpower was in short supply, and overhearing a need for people to excavate, Yo volunteered and was quickly dropped in an excavation area with the very capable supervisor/graduate student C. Duckworth, who has such a cool name we're temporarily dispensing with that whole blog anonymity thing. Although only able to excavate a few days before the end of the season, Yo exposed one of the coolest finds he has ever personally excavated. Three copper axes placed in a small cache or hoard is a very unusual find for the Early Cycladic period, particularly because these were found in archaeological context rather than as a chance find or by a looter. (As excavation directors can sometimes be sensitive about photos of such artifacts published without approval, we are not including the picture).

Eventually, however, Yo had to return to looking at stone artifacts. Mo, as director of the field school, had her hands full when she was recruited to draw final plans for the site before the backfilling could take place. Days after the excavation was to close down, a few people, including Mo, were continuing to go out to the site to draw sections, plans, photograph and supervise the backfilling.
Almost 2 weeks after the formal excavations officially ended, we finally escaped to the nearby larger, touristic island of Naxos, where we have been now for a week. Our next blogs will be about our adventures on Naxos. The entries will be mostly about food, as Yo is obsessed with food and he has been eating a lot of “white bait” and octopus.

Adventures on Naxos
We left Koufonisi on the Blue Star which goes on to Athens (Pireaus) bright and early – 6:55am. We were traveling with our pal AB who in true Geek tradition had been out dancing all night so she had not even been to bed. We left the dancing party at 2:00am, which is WAAAaaay past Mo’s bedtime, so we arrived on Naxos pretty tired (well Mo was definitely exhausted after 2 months in the field). Naxos is a lazy beach type of place where you can basically “do nothing” for days. The first day we made it to the Apollo Temple on the port of Naxos and then had some yummy Tex-Mex food (a place recommended by our good friends RM and WM). True, it may not have been Austin standard Tex-Mex but it was pretty tasty for a place in the middle of the Cyclades, and Mo was happy that it wasn’t Greek food.

Day two we lazed about, ate some chocolate croissants and then hiked up to the Monastery and small cave chapel in the hills behind the harbor of Naxos.

Theologaki near the Convent of St. John Chrysostomos

Red starfish for the collection box in the Theologaki cave chapel?

We both agreed that most people here do not walk anywhere; most people seem to rent mopeds, ATVs or cars to get around, but we were looking for the Early Bronze Age Cycladic cemetery of Aplomata on the way so we were definitely walking off of the beaten track. Earlier in the day we visited the museum in the Venetian Castro area which is filled with Cycladic material similar to the stuff we were finding at Keros. Some of the material in the museum is from Keros but the signs and labels leave a lot to be desired so we had no clues as to where the artifacts actually came from when there was one sign for an entire case of figurines. That evening we went to see Indiana Jones and the Legend of the Crystal Skulls at the outdoor theatre, definitely the best way to view an Indy movie – outside with a beer – FUN! On Wednesday we felt that we should join the beach world and actually go swimming. Of course we had an adventure as we hiked about 6kms to get to the beach on the other side of the harbor where we “thought” it would be less crowded. Ha ha ha. Everyone has wheels so the beach was packed, but after walking all that way we bit the bullet and rented beach chairs for the day. As you can imagine Mo (who definitely suffers from ants in her pants) was not long for the beach world so one day sufficed.
To see more of the island we decided a car was necessary, so off to Fun Car we went; Mo was having nothing to do with driving an ATV around the island, so we rented a little car and headed to Mount Zas (Zeus). We intended to find the cave where the earliest Neolithic materials from the Cyclades were excavated.
On the way we stopped at a little church (Ayios Nikolaos, above) and visited a reconstructed 6th century BC temple, possibly dedicated to Demeter and later converted into a church. By the time we got to the ravine where the path leads up to Mt. Zas, it was mid-day and the sun was beating down. We hadn’t gone far before we came upon a cave, but deciding that this couldn’t be the cave, continued on up.

Morag heading up the start of the trail, Mt. Zas looming over her. The nice paved trail didn't go far.

The trek was very steep and we saw no one save some goats on the way up, but the trail was relatively well marked and we made the ascent of just over one kilometer (in elevation) in just over an hour. When we got to the top we met some Aussies who we could see arriving just in front of us – it turns out that we came up the hard way! Count on Yo and Mo.

On the summit of Mt. Zas
The top of the peak afforded a view of virtually the entire island, and we could see the islands of Keros and Koufinisi from which we had so recently made our escape.

Our chatty companions left soon after and we enjoyed the silence of the mountain top before heading back down to look at the cave, which turned out to be the Neolithic site. When we finally got back in the car, hungry and with no water left, we soon got lost (how is that possible on such a small island?) and finally happened upon a taverna that provided a delightful surprise of wonderful food on a breezy porch to ourselves overlooking a beautiful little village called Melanes.
Our next day with wheels took us through the center of the island, where we visited an ancient kouros, unfinished in the quarry where the ancient sculptors had abandoned it.

Nearby marble quarries are still in operation; Naxos marble continues to be valuable.

Later we visited Apiranthos, where a small museum included many more Cycladic figurines, marble bowls and other familiar artifacts. Nearby, the emery mines of Naxos have not fared as well as the marble quarries, and are now apparently abandoned. We continued on down to the port where the emery was once loaded and shipped.
Moutsouna: where Mo tired of tentacles and suckers. She'll miss them when she returns to Canada and its all, all the time!

After a yummy lunch where Yo hogged the cheese and Mo finally tired of octopus, we headed down to a remote beach (Psili Ammos). This was truly a beautiful beach, where you can see how few people we had to share it with.
As usual, however, Dr. AntsnPants couldn’t sit still that long and we soon hit the road after a nice swim and brief sunning. Our remaining two days included swims in the bay (no sand stuck in your toes Mo!) and a bike ride way down to another nice beach, populated by too many people edging towards 90 y.o. with no clothes on. Before returning nice margaritas were discovered, and we reined in the urge for a second one, knowing that the return bike ride might not go so well after two margaritas and much sun and surf.
Finally it came time to leave behind Naxos. As this blog is written, Mo is headed on ferry to Crete via Santorini, and Yo took a ferry back to Athens (via way too many other places!) for his flight back to Jerusalem. Yo will probably continue posting when he gets out of the library, but Mo will probably have very little access while on her next archaeological project.


MMK and YMR said...

Clearly Yo does not have enough to do . . . Nice photoshop work.

Sue said...

Mac or PC -- AS IF there's a question!!

Oh yeah, nice pictures too ;-)

MMK and YMR said...

Well, dunno, seems we heard something about a non-functional Mac recently. Wasn't that over at that Life of Wiley Blog where we heard this? Hmmm... I thought that they were infallible?

AMP said...

This is such a cool post. It's great to see where Mo's been holing up the past two summers-- and from the looks of it, she's got nothin' to whine about. :-)

Nice find on the axes, Yo.

Sue said...

Yeah yeah, nice pictures n' all -- you guys look happy, tan, buff, whatever. But let's get back to the important stuff for a minute -- the Mac/PC question.

Maybe, just maybe, there was a defunct computer in someone's possession recently -- but I'm sure it was operator error totally.

So...come join the cult. We'll teach you the handshake and everything. Once you go Mac, you'll never go back (yes, I stole that from Jaime).

Yorke said...

Spoken like a true cultist, "yes Master, it was my fault, I was not following the precepts carefully..."
Of course you can't afford to go back once you go Mac. And I hear getting jumped out of the cult is brutal..

فرانسيس said...

I vote Mac, of course.
Cool pics.