Monday, June 30, 2014

Entering our second month of digging, time is flying by. We have quite a few goals that we are aiming to achieve before digging stops July 12. With good weather and hard work, we should be able to accomplish them. Last week had some terrible, windy HOT days, 40+. This week seems better.
On Saturday we had a trench tour from Aiden Chimney, a visit from Oxford Professor Irene Lemos, Director of excavations at Lefkandi, and we had a late evening session to finish some important excavations. We also had a chance for a nice Arma sunset.
I'll post some photos now and hope to continue more with the blog during the week.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Who wore it best?

Digging is like Dancing

As you may have guessed, "Greek & Roman Studies Course Union" is not my real name. My name's Elliott and I'm a 4th year Greek and Roman Studies major at Uvic. In my time there I've gotten involved with a few clubs, one of which is the aforementioned course union. Mostly we organize social events for the department, such as receptions for visiting guest lecturers like our prestigious yearly Lansdowne lecturers, who stay for a few days and hold several interesting talks and workshops. This past year it was Dr. David Kennedy, from the University of Western Australia, who is an expert and pioneer in aerial archaeology. This method of surveying sites from above gives the archaeologist a unique view of the site and its relation to the landscape. This is something we're familiar with at our own site of ancient Eleon and we use an RC plane to take photo and video from the air. This allows us to see the whole trench and the relation of features to each other. So now that I've done my plug for the GRSCU, let me tell you about the other club I'm involved in, the Uvic Ballroom Dance Club. This September will be my 2nd year with the club and in that time I've learned a lot about "dance etiquette." These are general rules to follow so that you and your partner both have a safe and enjoyable dance. Since I've been on this dig I've been struck by how these rules can equally be applied to your partner in the trench, your pickaxe. Thus I'd like to share some tips on dancing that I've picked up, whether it's with a person or a pick.
1. Cleanliness: It's next to godliness. This may seem like an odd one to bring up, since it gets pretty sweaty and dirty in the trenches. Trust me though, 3 hours of dancing in a crowded hall with minimal ventilation (re: an open door) gets very sweaty. Still, hygiene is important. Apply deodorant liberally, try to shower at least semi-regularly and those around you will appreciate it, especially on those crowded rides home from site.
2. Correct frame. Don't break your back. Frame is everything in partner dancing. In ballroom this generally means shoulders back and down, chin up, comfortable but sturdy. However frame also relates to how you hold your partner as you move through the dance, so as a lead you can communicate your movements and your follow can anticipate them. Frame is equally important in the trench. Keep a firm grip on the pick and keep your hands away from the head when swinging it in a wide arc. The momentum from the picks weight will do the work for you. Just so in dance using your partner's momentum to propel yourself is key. Physics is a beautiful thing.
3. Moving around the floor. No collisions. This is the golden rule in ballroom dancing. Most standard dances (foxtrot, tango, waltz) move in a line counterclockwise around the floor. This is to keep everything going smoothly and make sure no one crashes in to each other. In the trenches moving in a line is also important. Picking in a line helps you establish a clear idea of where your level is at in relation to the rest of the soil you are removing and creates tidy artificial lines that will make your area look clean and professional.
4. The most important rule of all: remember to smile and have fun! This sounds cliche, but a negative attitude will bring down your partner and those around you. Plus unless you're taking a 10m pass, you don't want to pick angry.
The list goes on, but these are the really important ones. I've loved to apply my dancing knowledge to my first archaeological dig and I hope to take all I learn here and use it throughout my life.

P.S. You should check these out:
Greek & Roman Studies Course Union:
Uvic Ballroom Dance Club:

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Pottery Processing

We pack up the site for the day around 1:00, but the day's work is not over yet; after a delicious lunch at Stavroula's, the 25-ish minute car trip back to Dilesi, and a break during siesta, the hottest period of the day, the whole group goes to work again at 5:00 pm for pottery washing. The only exceptions are on Saturdays, when we skip pottery washing and start the weekend early (saving the unwashed pottery and bones for an extra big work load on Monday) and on this past Thursday the 19th, when we started right when we got back and worked through siesta. That experience made me truly appreciate the mid-day break, as it was much, much sunnier and hotter in the courtyard where we work at 2:30 than it is at 5:00.

There are other things going on besides pottery washing too. There are also bones that need to be washed, which we all do, and a small group of students with lots of knowledge of osteology go through already-washed bones and process them in mysterious ways. Lately many students have also been helping the supervisors to process the pottery, including myself. Last week, Sara Daruvala and I worked together as a team to process pottery sherds from Morgan's trench. 

This means grabbing a bag of some of the already-washed pottery from one or two days earlier and laying it all out in a pile on a table in the courtyard. Together Sara and I go through it and sort it into various categories: fine-ware, medium-ware or coarse-ware; painted or unpainted; and what part of the vessel it is from, such as a body sherd or a handle or part of a base. This part of the process usually takes quite a while, depending on the size of the bag we selected, and afterwards we count the different categories, weigh them, and record all the numbers on special sheets made for this purpose. 

The teamwork is especially helpful to have, because it's not always easy to tell what category something should go into. Though Sara and I work twice as fast going through a bag by sorting together, the real triumph of our team is being able to ask questions of each other. "Medium or fine-ware?"; "is that paint?"; "does this look like a handle to you?";  "isn't this a rock?" The first two questions are the most common, and usually if we can't make a decision alone, we can at least make one together.

The part I find most difficult is definitely deciding what category of coarse, medium, or fine something should be in when it's somewhat in between two categories. In that case, we have to look extra closely at inclusions, the larger chunks of things that are part of the sherd's fabric. If there are more than just a small amount, it's medium, and if there are a lot it goes in coarse. But it's often difficult to see the fabric and inclusions very well, because the only place to get a good look is the edges of the sherd, and those are just a tiny slice sometimes; plus often they're still a bit dirty--it's very hard to get pottery perfectly clean. Then the dirt will look like inclusions, because dirt is lumpy, but it's usually actually just dirt.

It's really great getting to look at all the pottery when it's clean and dry and getting to examine it so closely in order to sort it. I often notice things I normally might not have, and in general it's an opportunity to examine great amounts of very old  and sometimes very beautiful pottery  as closely as I would ever like to. And last week, there was added enjoyment through the fact that on site I had also been working in Morgan's trench. I got to examine and process lots of pottery that I myself had dug up. It has also provided an opportunity to be able to observe a change in the trench in a way that isn't quite possible on site, when the pottery is still covered in dirt and when I am only one of many people adding to the pottery buckets; when processing, you get to see everything that's there, after it's been cleaned, and after processing for Morgan for a week, I feel like I was definitely able to observe a change in the types of pottery sherds Sara and I were processing as Morgan's trench progressed to deeper levels.

It has been wonderful working with Sara and helping Morgan. I love how much I've been able to learn and experience from this job, and from the entire trip so far. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Group photo Monday. Midpoint of the season, reaching maximum numbers = 51 people all together. We welcome back Matt Pihokker and Mina Nikolovieni, and, new to our team, Vassiliki Nikolovieni. Sadly we say good-bye to Dr. Ben Marsh and his son Duncan. Both have contributed a great deal to our project. 
The day started well with wall clearing and then good earth removal. We took a small time out to make a photo of our Wellesley College contingent, led by Professor Burns.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Truth about the Raiders of the Lost Ark

May 2014
When I first visited Eleon on May 16th 2014, on the Uvic 'May trip' (GRS 395 Classical Studies Abroad), where students are given the opportunity to spend four amazing weeks visiting many different ancient sites and museums, it looked from a distances like any other small cairn in Greece. It was a beautiful little hill covered in tall grass, big purple thistles the kind you would find in highlands of Scotland and two old trees that provided the only shade at the site. At the top of the hill there were four large square trenches and the exposed ancient ramped entrance to the site running down to the edge of the polygonal wall and these were mostly covered by tarps and over grown with grass from the past year. 
We are now in our third week of excavations at Eleon and the grass covering the site has been removed with a combination of hoeing and weed whacking. The transformation of the hill into a working archaeological site has been astonishing. In three short weeks the site no longer looks over grown, but is clean and trim and trenches and surrounding areas are clear and there is a path leading up to the site and all the viciously sneaky thistles have been removed. I would never thought to have referred to a thistle as sneaky before this trip, but no matter how hard you try to remove all the thistles while avoiding their thorns there is always one that gets through your gloves and you have to spend the next ten minutes looking for it. Rather than four trenches there are now nine new ones, giving us a total of thirteen trenches that are slowly revealing more and more about the people who once occupied the site of ancient Eleon.
        Days at Eleon start with watching the sunrise every morning over the island of Euboea causing the sky and sea to turn beautiful rays of pink and gold as a new day of excavation begins. I do not think I will ever have enough photos of the sunrise here in Dilesi. Then it is a half hour ride to the dig site and if you are lucky enough to be in the right car you get to go the back way to the site which is a lovely dirt road through fields of wheat, orchards of olives and past the military air base whose fighter jets fly formations over us while we dig. At the site we collect our tools, shovels, hand picks, buckets, trowels and brushes. We then divide up into our trench teams which are rotated every week to give us the opportunity to work with many different people who are on the project and to get the chance to work in different trenches. This way we are able to gain experience with many different types of surfaces, finds and perfect our skills at how to properly excavate and preserve them. I had the great pleasure this week of being able to watch a piece of metal be excavated from our trench by our trench leader very carefully  and slowly with small metal tools that remind you of what you might see at the dentist, some wooden scrapping tools and a fine brush. Most of the day though is spent working hard to remove the hard packed soil with large and small picks keeping a careful eye out for things like pottery, bone or terracotta which are the most common to find. The dirt we shovel into buckets that are wheelbarrowed up 'wheel barrow mountain' that is a giant mound of earth removed from previous years of the excavation. Every day we find many different pieces of pottery and roof tile both from Mycenaean times to the late medieval period. They are then taken back with us, washed and cataloged. At one pm our digging ends due to the heat of midday and we go for an amazingly delicious lunch at the house of a woman named Stavroula, who cooks the most wonderful lunches. The afternoons are filled with washing, sorting the finds of that day and learning how to identify and preserve them. The evenings are watching the sun set as we eat dinner at the sea side tavernas.
It has been a long time since I have thought archaeologists were all handsome men in leather jackets and hats who battled against the evil plots of the Nazis and the old Soviet Russian state to control the world using ancient magical relics. It has been a real pleasure to be given the privilege to work a long side professional archaeologists and to see how a real site is excavated and to be a part of that. Although sometimes when you are picking through dirt that just will not move I cannot say that I would not turn down a secret entrance that is only revealed at high noon by the staff of Ra. It would certainly make digging much easier.

Friday, June 20, 2014


We are on our mid-season break now - 2 and a half days off, for rest, travel, laundry and other work obligations. Our project is a full six weeks and now we've reached the midpoint. Yesterday on-site I tried to make the comparison to some epic film, and how this was like intermission - where we don't know how the story will end, but the truth is, we'll never fully know everything. The story will continue for a long time. Research like ours will be a series of constant questions and theory-testing. With the limited time remaining we have to set specific questions that can be answered and go about achieving those goals. It's easy to get distracted because there are so many interesting, puzzling problems with lots of potentially spectacular answers. 
Yesterday the Director and Assistant Director of the Canadian Institute in Greece (David Rupp and Jonathan Tomlinson) and the chairman of the Board of directors (Gerry Schaus) visited us. Bryan and I were happy to give them a detailed tour of the site and our apothiki. They were able to meet our team and see work in progress. 
The majority of the students this weekend are heading to the beautiful Greek city of Nauplion, about 3 hours away from Dilesi. This old Venetian/Greek city is the perfect hub for exploring the important archaeological sites in the area - like Mycenae, Tiryns, Lerna, Argos and the Argive Heraion. Of course it doesn't hurt that the city is incredibly beautiful with great restaurants and a nice beach. I visit this site every year with the UVic in Greece course I teach, so many of those students this year have decided to save some money and stay back at Dilesi. Others are sailing off to the Greek island of Skyros, famous for the miniature ponies and for being the location where the movie Mama Mia was filmed. I'm spending the weekend in Athens doing errands, research, and laundry. 
Next week we are excited to welcome a few new excavators and staff members to the project and to continue to build on the work we've begun so energetically in the first half of the project. We also have some birthdays to celebrate. Below I post several random photos from yesterday:
Bryan, Sr. and Jr. (aka Max)

Nicole, Arianna, and Tom with Arma, ca 6:45 am

Team 4 - Chandra, Sam, Elliott, Aiden and Jake. Sunrise.

the Wall

CIG Visit: Jonathan Tomlinson, Gerry Schaus, David Rupp, Bryan Burns, Brendan Burke

CIG Visit: apothiki team. Gerry Schaus, Bartek Lis, Trevor Van Damm, David Rupp, Jonathan Tomlinson

Tina Ross, our extremely talented illustrator in her office

streets of Arma

some good excavatin' Aiden
This is why we need a drone - coming soon!?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A Beginner's Misconceptions of Archaeology

The first couple weeks of this archaeological dig have been incredibly eye opening. The differences between how I thought a dig was run and the reality of it are quite different. I'm also finding that what my parents thought I would be doing and what I am actually doing are also vastly different. To clear all this up I thought it would be helpful to post a few common misconceptions of an archaeology dig from someone who is completely new to the experience.
To start, my parents were very supportive of me going on this adventure but their idea of ​​what I would be doing was a little skewed. From conversations with my mother, the word "hole" came up a lot when referring to the dig. I imagine that they were envisioning me belaying down a long shaft with a head lamp, uncovering Fraggle Rock in the depths of Boeotia, not seeing the sun for hours at a time. Fortunately (or unfortunately on those really hot days) we are in the sun the entire day and we have no trenches that would require a hard hat for fear of falling debris. The typical trench is a 5 'by 5' square that we take off roughly 10cm (or less after we get past the top soil) at a time, exposing the layers of soil one at a time. This allows us to document the stratigraphy (varying layers) of the soil and document its history.
I had seen pictures of the EBAP project from years past so I knew that I would not be running around in underground tunnels, Indiana Jones style, but there were some surprises in store for me as well. While we are working in the 21st Century, methods of dirt removal are very similar to hundreds (or even thousands) of years ago. I have become very close friends with the pick axe and wheel barrow. Typically a trench team will remove a layer of soil by putting two pick axers in front, who loose the soil, and then shovelers will come in behind to remove the loosed soil. If your team is lucky, you also have a designated wheel barrower who will remove the the collected soil to the waste pile. The process repeats until you've completed a pass of the entire trench and the team will "clean" the newly exposed surface with trowels, brushes, and dust pans. The trowel, a very simple tool, is actually an archaeologists best friend and is incredibly handy for levelling surfaces, cleaning crevices, and making straight lines.
As you can see, the bulk of the labour intensive work is done without the aid of technology. We do have several important pieces of high-tech equipment, such as the total station, which we use to record the changing levels of the trenches as we dig lower and lower. Cameras are of course also used to document progress in each trench. There is always talk of inventing some new technology that would help us greatly in the process of soil removal, such as a "dirt vacuum" that would separate dirt from pottery pieces while also getting rid of unwanted loosed dirt. Any entrepreneurs reading this should take note; it's a million dollar idea.
There are many other aspects of an archaeology dig that differ from what one would expect but to list them all would ruin the surprise for any potential diggers. It's only been two and a half weeks but I can assure anyone who is considering on going on an archaeology dig that it will be one of the best experiences of their life. I expected coming into this that I would have a great time and I'm happy to say that the dig has completely followed through on that; no misconceptions there.  

Monday, June 16, 2014

Afternoons in Dilesi

This week we started our new work schedule. Because of the greater morning light and hotter afternoon temperatures, we now leave for the site at 6 am from Dilesi. The drive is about 25 minutes so work is underway by 6:30. No one really complained about this change. We work until first break at 9:30 (eggs, fresh bread, good cheese, and cherries), then work until 11:30, when we have 'nut break', and then until 1/1:15.  Lunch follows in Arma - which is always delicious at Stavroula's. Then home for a break/siesta/swim, like much of Greece, especially in the summer.
What do we do in the afternoons? Mostly, wash pottery!
Today, however, before pot washing, Vicky Karas gave a short lecture on conservation which was very informative. Many students are very interested in this aspect of archaeology, where expert conservators try to stop the degradation of our archaeological finds after they are removed from the ground. Vicky has contributed a lot to our project by helping diggers and supervisors work on conservation from the minute an object is excavated, to its study, and then its eventual storage.
Our students work at a kind of conservation by washing all the pottery and bones that come in each day. With a large team like we have there is the potential for chaos but for the most part things go very well. The supervisors work on their notebooks and process their pottery finds - weighing, counting, sorting. Students help with this too.We work from 5-7 usually, and then have a short break for drinks, showers, email before dinner at 8.  Above are some photos of today's afternoon work session. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

End of week two

Week two ended with our team reaching nearly its full complement. We concluded the work week with trench tours delivered by many of our students and site supervisors and a great discussion of the large polygonal wall construction. Periodically we ask students, supervisors, and researchers to give short presentations on their work, describing what has been happening in their trenches and the various problems (and solutions)they have been facing. Alyssa Allen, Steven Mooney, Lorna McVey, Kyle Mahoney, Tom Brown, Arianna Nagle, Cody Anderson, and Professor Ben Marsh all gave very informative talks on their work. 
The week concluded with a great party in honor of four students who graduated from UVic this semester. Because of UVic's schedule and our project's, the students were not able to attend the formal graduation ceremony in Victoria. Hosted by Haley Bertram, Ally Walsh, and Janelle Sadarananda, the sea-side view apartment party was a great event. People brought snacks, pizza, and drinks.The graduates are Sara (Sara) Daruvala, Sam Bartlett, Robyn Cunningham-Dunlop, and Honor Neve. We are very grateful that they chose to participate in the excavation and hope that they remember this graduation event for a long time. I know it probably wasn't the kind of experience the students or their parents might have imagined when they started university, but I hope it foretells a life of continuous experiential learning opportunities - the mark of a very good university education.  
Sunday afternoon has been spent resting and recovering. A rather strong rain storm in the afternoon was a bit daunting, but the forecast for the week is for a sunny, and very hot week three.