After one long flight and a three hour ride from the Thessaloniki airport, I finally made it to the small town of Pagouria, located near the closest city of Komotini, Greece in order to participate in an excavation of the supposed site of ancient Stryme, a port of trade for those crossing the Aegean. The bus ride to our residence was especially beautiful, as we are located near the coast of Northeastern Greece, the Mediterranean on one side and picturesque mountains flanking the other. We’re surrounded by farmland here as well. Pagouria is a pleasant town, with small cafes, charming markets, local churches and schools, and curious and welcoming people. The actual archaeological site, Stryme, at which we work at is about 10 minutes away, a short bus ride.
Earlier, on my first full day here I was sitting in our backyard when an older woman, who lives next door with her husband, calls me over to our fence. She hands me a foil covered plate and says something in Greek, and then for my benefit says in English, “Cake, for you!” She had baked a cake for those of us living in the schoolhouse of Pagouria for the next few weeks, as a welcome to the town. I feel bad that she encountered me, who is one of the few here who doesn’t know at least minimal Greek, not enough even to hold a conversation, so all I could keep telling her was “Ευχαριστώ, Ευχαριστώ (efcharisto), (efcharisto)… thank you, thank you!” Other residents have also stopped by to offer their hospitality, inquiring about our time here and the project.
This woman’s gesture though really says a lot about the people of this town, how welcoming they are, and how they truly want to take part in this effort as a team, as a synergasia, an important theme and goal of this excavation. This week we have and through the whole project we will be working with Greek people in the field and eating lunch with them. We have invited locals to come by and take a look at our finds we are uncovering in nearby Stryme. The Greek people were the ones who prepared our living space in the schoolhouse, furnishing the rooms, painting the walls, installing a washer, and a few women come in to prepare meals for the team. Some Greek workers are also employed through the process and work on site with us. In this way, we also get the opportunity to learn from each other, not only each other’s languages, but how to communicate despite them. With this cooperation, we hope to uncover important aspects of the country’s ancient history and forge future collaborative efforts.
On our first day of digging we had to clear out a lot of backfill, laid in the trenches at the end of excavations in the late 1990s, to uncover plastic covered excavated walls and other features. In other parts we were clearing the hay covered ground to begin new trenches.
I worked on both projects but the latter was very interesting, as the trench we had begun is thought to cover a boulevard or crossroads in front of the town. We cleared most of the weeds and hay and began to cut into the earth, marking the boundaries of the trench and removing some of the topsoil. In addition to digging, any dirt that comes up needs to be sifted with a sieve and dumped away from the sight. In this method we found quite a lot of pottery sherds throughout the first week, plain and with black and red slip, some showing signs of being handles or bases, a decorative antefix, glass fragments, and even a couple of ancient coins!
So far we are off to a great start, with only a few rainy days that deterred our digging, and hopefully the excavation will progress and continue to generate a productive experience for all involved.