A day in the life of the We dig Kythera Project.
Having been on site for four days now, Anna and I already feel proud and protective of our efforts in Trench A. We have adopted a comfortable routine, rising with the sun and leaving for the site at 6.30am every morning. We ascend Paliocastro, pull on gloves and take to our corner in the eastern extension of the trench with pick and shovel in hand. Regularly asking questions and showing our finds to our supervising archaeologist, Geli, we remove bucket loads of earth and gradually dig deeper into the past.
We spend our evenings sorting through our evidence, discussing our ideas and organizing all new information into reports. Over the past 2 days we have made extensive progress, uncovering new evidence, bringing forth the opportunity for new and exciting interpretations.
Progress in Trench A.
The progress we have made today, Wednesday, has completely surpassed our expectations with some incredibly significant finds.
In our trench, Trench A, we can see the fruition of our efforts, finally beginning to really expose the second wall (Wall 2, in the eastern extension of the trench). Though we have only just begun to reveal Wall 2 properly we can, at this point, observe that the stones are roughly cut and seem to be a lot lower at the northern side of the trench. We still have to remove a lot of dirt from this end, which will reveal whether this change in the wall is part of its design or resultant of the way in which it is preserved.
With this new evidence we can begin to piece together the mystery of this structure, and start asking questions of what purpose it may have served. To do this we also have to consider the other wall of the trench (Wall 1), articulated by a fellow student of archaeology, Athena, and the semicircular formation of stones at the southern end of the extension, carried out by her collegues Iasmin and Eleni. Wall 1 could indicate that there is an older wall underneath the one we see on top and, interestingly, the semicircular formation, with traces of mortar on its stones perhaps functioned as a kind of cool, sealed pantry for keeping amphorae. At this point we have no definitive answers, but as we dig further down we will be able to expand on these interpretations.
Archaeology and Methodology.
We also spent a lot of time today measuring and recording the dimensions of the trench and artifacts, practically applying the skills that we have for so long only understood in theory. What I had always imagined to be the more tedious and unappealing aspect of archaeological practice turned out to be in reality an extremely useful way of understanding our progress. Anna and were enthused at the prospect of finally being able to apply a disciplined methodology to our own discoveries.
A Bronze Coin
Our most amazing find today came from Trench B. Ellie dug up a bronze coin on the eastern side of Wall 1. Measuring at 1.9cm in diameter the coin is dated to the 2nd/1st century BCE. On the obverse side it shows the profiles of Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri, and on the reverse is depicts 2 amphorae , each surrounded by serpents, circled together by a laurel wreath. This piece of evidence is extremely exciting because it provides a small step forward in our collective aim of verifying the hypothesis that there was a classical Spartan city at our site, Paliocastro. Although the coin is not classically dated it is Laconian and the Dioscuri depicted on its obverse were known in classical mythology as twin demi-gods of Sparta.
This is interesting in consideration of the other evidence we have of a classical Spartan city at our site. The 11th Century AD church on site, of Agios Kosmas and Agios Damianos is partially constructed of recycled classical material, most notably it uses classical doric columns and capitals. It has been suggested that this could mean the later christian church was built on the foundation of a former doric temple. We have reopened a trench just outside the entrance to the church to see if we can find any foundational material to verify this hypothesis.
There was also part of an inscription found at the base of our site, the dedication of a temple to Castor and Pollux. This interesting artifact, now in the Archaeological Museum in Athens is dated to the classical period and could possibly have originally been situated at our proposed acropolis.
If Thucydides is to be believed there was a Spartan city on Kythera during the Peloponnesian War, with the exciting tale of Nikias and the Athenians outwitting the Laconian inhibitors of Kythera.
Whilst our evidence, particularly this newly found coin is fitting with this account it is far from conclusive. We hope that the new trench in front of the church provides us with new and exciting evidence to verify this theory.
It must be understood that in archaeology these things take time, however this is what fascinates me about archaeology – the gradual development of not just excavation and therevealing of new evidence, but also of new ideas and interpretations.
The First Find
On our second day in Trench A our team member Athena uncovered our most significant find to date. An intact bronze instrument from the North Eastern corner of our trench, with length measuring at 10.9 cm with a diameter of 2 cm. The piece is believed to have been used as a medical instrument, however, further research will be required for confirmation. Although anticipating that we would eventually uncover an artifact of significant historical value we were entirely surprised to have come across an intact artifact of such value so early on into our dig. This proved to be a great motivation for the team who were spurred on to find more.
Let The Dig Begin
Following the seven hour journey from Pireus to Kythira on Friday evening, I was happy to have finally arrived at the port of Thiakofti where I was greeted by the members of the We Dig Kythira team.
We wasted no time in embarking on the clean up of the excavation site that was awaiting at the top of Agios Kosmas. Alexandra and I were assigned to work on Trench A, located at a site suggestive of an entrance to the ancient Acropolis of a Spartan settlement.
We started with the clean up of Trench A, including the removal of the shrubbery and plant growth around the site walls as well as removal of excess dirt to obtain a clear picture of what was left from the excavation conducted last year.
We continued to refine the outline of the walls of Trench A and began the process on day two of the excavation continuing to proceed further excavation to refine the outline of the trench.
To stay or to go
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
“They became part of the micro-cosmos of this magical place, which floats on the border of the Aegean and Ionian Seas.”
I came across the story of Manos Vasilakis and Evdokia Chrysovergi the other night at ‘The Prism GR2010′, an online collective documentation of Greece following the Greek economic crisis of 2010. I was impressed by the story of Manos and Evdokia, as I felt it explored the individual’s journey to find a meaningful life on the island of Kythira while attempting to avoid conformity to a consumerist existence that so often overwhelm the city dweller. You can see their story by going to the below link and choosing the video, ‘From a distance – A love story in Kithira’.
The “urban revolution”, theorised by archaeologist V. G. Childe explains the concept behind the settlement and growth of small societies into larger complex urban societies and the reasons by which that occurs. In brief, the process involved in the increase in settlement size is the direct result of increase in large-scale public works, expansion of trade and manufacture which results in a concentration of wealth and increase in population. In contrast to this social transformation, following a period of economic hardship where there is a fracture in economic growth and progress, there often occurs an exodus of people from large cities, this in turn results in a “new migration”.
Both Manos and Evdokia are part of the “new migration”, they both left Athens for different reasons following the Greek financial crisis. While it may seem that Kythira’s population is decreasing, such experiences are a reminder that younger people are choosing to leave their busy urban lifestyle in the city and instead lead a quieter and more peaceful existence in a smaller community. The story of Manos and Evdokia encourages us to ponder over the quality of life that we have, the life that we yearn for and the possibility of making it happen.
Ταξίδι στα Κύθηρα
Wednesday, June 15th, 2011
My father once told me that he would sing me to sleep as a child with rembetika. Perhaps years of instilling the “Greek blues” into my psyche was the result of my yearning to be part of the Greek experience, to feel connected to the people, culture and history of my ancestors. In less than two weeks, I will have the opportunity to connect with students, volunteers, professors and archaeologists alike who will be participating in an excavation on the island of Kythira.
Participating in this dig and assisting in uncovering the material history of the island is also significant to local and migrant Kytherians, as it testifies to the changes of the island to antiquity as well as attesting to the persevered struggles of the people throughout those changes. Whilst a secluded island, Kythera was not immune to the reality facing a post war world where political instability and collapse of the industrial infrastructure permeated Greece. As a result of the economic demise and oppressive conditions felt by the people during this period, many Greeks, including Kytherians were forced to seek refuge from the political turmoil and oppression elsewhere. These experiences reminded me of the song, ‘Taxithi Sta Kythira’ (‘Voyage to Kythira’), written by Eleni Karraindrou, that remains a somber reflection of the migrants journey in returning to their homeland, only to find a home changed. Here is a link to a version by George Dalaras – a personal favourite.
There are considerable differences to my reasons for migrating as it were. I left Australia not under political duress or to find a freedom from oppressive circumstances but because I wanted to experience and value another culture. Such possibilities were not open to Greek people during this period. Their migrant experiences were one of necessity. I believe the dig in July will without a doubt affect each one of us, not only from a historical perspective but reflecting on the migrant experience from Kythira will provide insight into the resiliency and stoicism of people when faced with the impossible.
Kythera’s Hidden Secrets
Thursday, June 30th, 2011
Over the last few days every person that I meet here seems to have their own advice as to which places are a must-see for a visitor to Kythera. From towns and beaches to castles and churches my list of things to see and do keeps growing!
Whilst driving to a particularly beautiful spot where the gorge of Paleochora meets the sea, my new local friend Jimmy announced that we needed to pull over to the side of the steep road. There, through a small break in the road barrier I was taken to see something that I never would have found on my own, truly a hidden treasure.
Through the tangled shrubs and down the steep sort of path we came to a small, unobtrusive doorway marked with a cross on its top.
As I walked inside I felt an instant change in temperature, and carefully navigated my way down a concrete staircase into the darkness.
I had entered the cave of Agia Sophia, one of a couple of caves on Kythera that are thought to be the place where the body of Agia Sophia was found. Once we shone some light around I was amazed to see the varying colours, stalactites and stalagmites as big as me, and even huge column like shapes formed out of the cave.
After paying our respects to the saint and kissing the icona we walked back into the hot sun and climbed back up to the car, refreshed and energized. What a magical, wondrous place to be so hidden in shrubs off the side of the road from Agia Pelagia.
I have tried to research the cave to find out a little more about it but all I can seem to find out is that it measures 120 squared meters and shares its name with other caves on the island. If this unexpected detour has taught me anything it is to listen to local advice, and keep my eyes open because Kythera’s charms go far beyond its postcard beauty.
Monday, 27th June, 2011
After 2 days of flying, an overnight stay in Athens, and a very bumpy, windy ride to Kythera I have finally arrived!
Excited to be here I wasted no time in getting to know my home for the next month. We dropped off my bags and drove straight up to Agios Georgios Kolokythias, a Byzantine site north of Agia Pelagia.
On top of the hill, overlooking the sea sits a modern church, built amongst the ruins of a medieval citadel. The stark white of the church and grey byzantine foundations contrast the bright sky and deep blue water, more beautiful than the most picturesque of post cards.
Recent studies have identified the remains of a church, 2 cisterns, a secular building, extensive fortification walls and settlement.
I got dropped off up high at the church and spent a couple of hours exploring, gradually making my way back to the beach. It was pretty hot but the wind was refreshing, it was such a peaceful, majestic place to be alone. Climbing over rocks and through the spiky plants I came to 2 realisations.
1.My sandals were pretty inappropriate footwear for a clumsy girl meandering the edge of a sort of cliff.
2.I may have come here for the We Dig Kythera project, but I now have a need to see and know the rest of this beautiful and fascinating island.
As I write this I am sitting on a balcony overlooking Agia Pelagia, enjoying the afternoon sun and having a chat with my new friends. I am in a stunning location with good company, about to start some exciting work – not bad for my first day!
Monday, 13th June, 2011
I’ve pictured this adventure in my mind for years; The sun on my back, hands in the dirt, physically connecting with people of the past. For this 21 year old undergraduate student, fantasy is becoming reality.
From a young age my aspirations of archaeology quite typically arose from the bright and exciting adventures of mythical gods and fictional characters. I’ve long dreamed of Deadulus’ mythical inventions, Indiana Jones’ action packed expeditions and mummies curses from a particularly memorable episode of Tin Tin.
But it wasn’t until I began studying archaeology at The University of Sydney that my real passion was inspired.
I can probably pinpoint the moment when I decided that this would be my life to a particularly special visit to the Nicholson Museum in my second year, an almost spiritual experience. My attention was drawn to a 3.4 tonne granite block that I discovered was a column capital (the decorative feature at the top of a column) from the Temple of Bastet at Bubastis in Egypt.
Now, the amazing thing was that I had studied the writings of Herodotus that semester, the 5th Century BC Greek widely considered the father of history. I found out that Herodotus had visited the temple at Bubastis and wrote about it in his time. Even then it was already around 2000 years old.
Realising this I was, and still am completely amazed by the fact that I have looked upon the same face as the Father of History. We are linked over 2500 years by the fact that we have been driven to discover and learn about the same ancient past, and have both been led to the same granite stone in our pursuit of knowledge.
In this way archaeology and the tangible remains of past peoples come back to life for me. It is the search for a connection to the history that fascinates me and has led me along the path to this project.
Nearing the end of the 3rd and final year of my degree I have been itching to get out of the lecture theatre and into the field. I’ve been searching for the ideal first dig for a good year, looking for not just an interesting prospect of archaeology, but for a team and an atmosphere that I can really get excited about. And finally it is happening!
It really couldn’t get much more exciting. I mean, the location itself is just too good to be true; Kythera looks idyllic. I keep finding myself searching for articles on the web, I can only marvel at the rich archaeological evidence spanning thousands of years on this island.
Beyond the interesting nature of the actual archaeology I am really excited by the people aspect of this project. There is a clear community spirit supporting this team both on the Island and abroad, especially the Kytherian Research Group and Kytherian Association of Australia who have put in so much time and effort. As much as any opportunity to be involved in excavation would be amazing I think it is so much more exciting and ultimately rewarding when surrounded by an enthusiastic team. From the few team members who I have met or spoken to at this point I have gained an idea of the driven and enthusiastic atmosphere I will get to be a part of in less than 2 weeks.
I’m most excited about the prospect of discovery. How awe inspiring that first moment of touching a long lost trace of human life must be! And then to see progress – the gradual process of excavation in each trench as we piece together the evidence of ancient Kythera. I can only imagine how satisfying and fulfilling it will be.
I plan to update this blog regularly with my thoughts and experiences throughout the dig. Hopefully I’ll be able to post photos and report on the gradual findings from each trench.
I don’t know if it has really sunk in that I leave in less than 2 weeks. I can’t quite believe that I’ll be finally using the skills and techniques I have been learning for the past few years, not on the Sydney Uni oval, or in a lab but in Greece on an actual site! I guess dreams really do come true…
Alexandra Boukouvalas is an archaeology student from the University of Sydney. She is participating to gain practical fieldwork experience and also as a way to discover part of her own Hellenic heritage. Alexandra will maintain a regular blog from Kythera in July.