The Unwritten Site and The Unplanned Trip – Chris Bloomer

September 19, 2017

For over a month this summer, I lived halfway across the world on a small island in the Aegean Sea. I woke up early and drove to the airport. I’m a Classical History major at the University of Pennsylvania and have always loved the intangible histories of Greece and Rome that make you think like nothing else. At a certain point, however, I wanted something more, something that made ancient history feel more immediate, something I could touch, which led me to archaeology. For my summer fieldwork, I decided to work at the sanctuary of Apollo on Despotiko,  an uninhabited island right off the island of Antiparos. We lived on Antiparos and every morning we would get on a boat to go to the archaeological site, where we would swing our pick-axes and pause to enjoy the beautiful views.

The field school I attended is called Excavating in the Aegean: The Case of Despotiko, Paros, and is offered through College Year in Athens. Under the direction of Yannos Kourayos, my fellow students and I examined the sanctuary of Apollo, one of the most famous sanctuaries in the Aegean. This site has been under excavation since 2001 and the earliest finds date to the 9th century BC. This summer, we worked a few hundred yards from the actual sanctuary in what is thought to have been settlement housing or a storage building for the sanctuary.We found a grave with several skeletons, a Byzantine gold ring, a full unbroken pot, and hundreds of pottery sherds ranging in size, color, and time period (mostly from the Archaic Period, roughly 2,700 years ago).

To me, one of the most interesting things about this dig was that there are no literary sources that mention this site. This site is remote, but still easily visible from the sea, and was located next to one of the most influential islands in the Cyclades — Paros. This made the lack of written sources very peculiar. It also means that the only information we can infer about this site has to come from archaeology, making the work feel more meaningful.

After the digs we got back on the boat, and even though we were exhausted and covered in dirt, we explored as much as we could. I found several caves, even an underwater one, and climbed a few mountains. On the weekends we went to other islands. First off was Naxos, which had amazing windmills, sunsets, and archaeological sites. We also visited Santorini, which was incredibly beautiful — there were windmills, white buildings, red and black beaches, way too many donkeys, clear waters, cliff jumping, snorkeling, sunset pool bars, and the best ice cream ever. Also, the archaeological site of Akrotiri there was beyond belief!

I loved my Greece trip, and I took full advantage of the opportunity. After a week of waking up at 6 am everyday to dig, going on long hikes, and traveling on the weekends to world-renowned places that we had only a day or two to explore, I was exhausted, but I never let it hold me back. Digging for artifacts and structures that have been hidden for thousands of years gave me a limitless thrill. In particular, I was struck by the excitement and awe of discovering the remains of such ancient cultures. One day, we removed several plants and about a foot of dirt to uncover a fully intact Archaic wall dating from circa 2,800 years ago. The wall was not a rare find, but it made me think about how structures can exist, under the ground, that only goats and a few people have walked on for thousands of years. This wall represented a lost part in history that no one ever wrote about, which meant that our uncovering of it was one of the first perspectives into the lives of these ancient people. And as we continued to uncover wall after wall, I was in awe at how much has been undiscovered. This was an eye-opening experience that sparked an intense and expanding interest in archaeology. I will most definitely be revisiting Greece and, on my next dig, will be revisiting another ancient world.

View of our site and Antiparos across the water.
Byzantine grave.
Trenches that contain pots and column bases.
A geometric pot with a netting design along with a full Byzantine pot.
Byzantine gold ring.
Picture of the sanctuary taken from where we worked.
Caving in Antiparos.
The 2,500 year old Portara on the island of Naxos.

All photos by the author.