Updates from Thrace

The Molyvoti, Thrace Archaeological Project is a combined excavation/survey conducted jointly between Princeton University and the 19th  Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities of Komotini, Greece. It includes a fieldschool for undergraduates from Princeton as well as the University of Pennsylvania and Demokrates University, and a merry band of Penn archaeologists, including three graduate students from Penn’s AAMW program and Professor Tom Tartaron.  For a brief introduction to the site, you can see blog posts here at Beyond the Gallery Walls from last season by recent Penn alumna Elizabeth Potens. The excavation was also recently reported on by Ο ΚΡΟΝΟΣ, the local newspaper of Komotini.

Thrace, the northeastern area of Greece, is perhaps best known for its mythical king, Orpheus, who tamed wild beasts and even trees with the sound of his lyre. It’s hard not to think of Orpheus with his floral and faunal audience here at the Molyvoti excavation, which is situated at the edge of the Lake Ismarida/Lake Mitrikou National Park, with its constant nocturnal chorus of frogs, owls, and cicadas, and daytime sightings of snakes, hedgehogs, and flamingos. The North Aegean has a more temperate summer climate than the rest of Greece, and the verdant forests rise from the coastal plane into the Rhodope mountains at the Bulgarian border.

Left: Orpherus and his animal audience on a Roman sarcophagus at the Thessaloniki museum, Right: some of our faunal visitors.

The extraordinary biodiversity of Thrace (Left: Orpheus and his animal audience on a Roman sarcophagus at the Thessaloniki museum, Right: some of our faunal visitors).

Out on the Molyvoti Peninsula, I’m supervising the excavation of three 5m x 5m trenches in what was once downtown Stryme, a bustling little port city that connected maritime routes of the Aegean with land routs into inland Thrace. Although excavations in the 1950s and 1990s revealed parts of this 4th-century B.C.E. city, a single house at Stryme has never been fully excavated, and this is one of the primary objectives of our three-year project. In the late 5th and 4th centuries, great advances were made in urban planning (grouped under the rubric of Hippodamian planning ), particularly in the alignment of the street grid and houses to optimize temperature seasonally and mitigate drafts to generally improve public health. I’m very interested to see if the plan of the house we’re excavating uses the same strategies of temperature control in this cooler climate as are found in the 4th-century Greek cities to the south.

Showing one of the day’s most exciting finds from the house to a student during the tour of the trenches. Photo by Alison Weaverdyck

Showing one of the day’s most exciting finds from the house to a student during the tour of the trenches. Photo by Alison Weaverdyck

Houses at Stryme, like most in the ancient Mediterranean, were built of mudbrick with floors of hard packed earth. Stratigraphic excavation of such structures requires very careful attention to changes in soil color and consistency. The skill of discerning one patch of brown dirt from another patch of brown dirt allows us to spot the difference between the collapsed mudbrick walls of a house and its packed-earth floor, let alone the various pits and foundation trenches of its many phases. A glimpse at the mounting pile of excavated dirt shows the surprising number of subtly different shades of brown we find.

Left: some of our back-dirt, each wheelbarrow-full representing an individually excavated soil deposit. Right: the Munsell color chart we use to quantitatively keep track of the color of our dirt.

Left: some of our back-dirt, each wheelbarrow-full representing an individually excavated soil deposit. Right: a page from the Munsell color chart we use to quantitatively keep track of the color of our dirt.

After a 7-hour morning of excavation and an afternoon of processing pottery, we still have time for a little fun. Last Monday, the workmen challenged the excavation staff to a game of three-on-three basketball on the court behind the dighouse (formerly the elementary school of Pagouria). It was Penn’s own Professor Tom Tartaron who scored the game winning point (21 to 16) in a good-humored match at sunset.

Basketball in Pagouria: Tom Tartaron (UPenn), Elias Koytsoykanidis, Periklis Chrysafakoglou (Demokrates University, Komotini), and Simon Oswald (UCLA)

Basketball in Pagouria: Tom Tartaron (UPenn), Elias Koytsoykanidis, Periklis Chrysafakoglou (Demokrates University, Komotini), and Simon Oswald (UCLA)

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