A Game of EBAP: A Song of Dirt and Rocks

It’s hard to believe that my 6 weeks in Greece have already gone by. This summer I worked with the Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project (EBAP) excavating at Ancient Eleon. The project is a Synergasia between the Ephorate of Antiquities of Boeotia and the Canadian Institute in Greece. The site directors are Drs. Brendan Burke (U. of Victoria) and Bryan Burns (Wellesley U.).

Occupation at Eleon begins in the Late Neolithic period and we are excavating the Bronze Age secondary palatial settlement. Eleon is a secondary center to Thebes. There are several exciting large architectural elements at the site: a large polygonal wall, a ramp, and a watch tower potentially from the Ottoman period.

This season’s focus was on a large rectangular building called the Blue Stone Structure, aptly named because the main building material is a type of blue stone. I spent most of the season working in trenches in this structure.  The goal was to find the entire outline of the building; and we were successful in finding another corner of it!


Braden, being “The Mountain”, using a big pick in the trench

We worked Monday-Saturday, and our workday started at 6am and ended at 1pm (except for the last week, when a select few worked from 6am until 6 or 7:30pm). Then from 5-7pm we had pottery washing. In the 6 weeks we opened at least 15 trenches and moved a lot of dirt and rocks. The site has changed drastically since the first week and we were really lucky to have access to a drone every day. We used the drone at the end of the work day and it allowed us to document the work that has been done during the day and see changes between it and the previous day. It is an incredible resource.


My role at Eleon included two things, assisting one of the returning trench supervisors and being the on-site osteologist.  This second role resulted in “Steph, is this human?” occurring several times a day, with the answer being “no, it’s sheep/goat.” Eventually though, I was able to answer that question with “yes.” We had one single burial and then at the end of our 5th week we found a large tomb that dates to the Late Bronze Age. Inside, we found commingled remains. Commingled remains require a different excavation method; because the bones are all put in an area together, with no detail to individuals, you cannot expose the outline of a skeleton like when there is a single articulated individual. In this situation we exposed the top layer of the commingled remains, set up a N-S grid line, and mapped in the placement of long bones and other complete bones. These mapped bones also were individually wrapped and given a bone ID. This attention to detail allows for some semblance of the tomb to be recreated later, and it also helps a lot for when lab analysis is done. Because we were working 13+ hour days, we couldn’t do any lab analysis this summer, but that just means there is plenty to do next summer!

Before I left for Greece I thought I was going to have to miss the last half of this season of Game of Thrones and was ready to hear spoilers, but luckily there were others here that watch the show.  So, once a week we crowded into someone’s room and watched the latest episode.IMG_3455

Several things about this excavation season were Game of Thrones related.  We weren’t able to make our own “House banner” but since we have our own Wall on site, a few of us made our own Night’s Watch Oath….

  • The sun rises at 6am, the day shall not end until 1pm. I shall take no artifacts against the country’s will. I shall always wear my hat and drink my water. I shall live and die at my trench. I am the watchers of the cyclopean wall. I am the trowel that uncovers the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to archaeology, for this dig and all digs to come.

One Saturday Brendan and Bryan weren’t able to be on site, which meant we couldn’t do any excavating.  We took this opportunity to visit the newly re-opened Thebes museum.  Personally, the most exciting thing in the museum was a jewelry mold that was found at Eleon a few years ago.  It was the first time I’ve seen an artifact in a museum from a site I work at.

Some last minute tips to excavation:

  • If you bring your own trowel always make sure your initials are clearly visible on the handle, otherwise someone might just put their own initials on it…


  • If you find a small animal printed dustpan in the site equipment, ignore the haters and use it, they are actually quite useful when working in small spaces

IMG_3810 (2)

  • Don’t be offended when you get called someone else’s name, it happens, even if the person calling you the wrong name is your graduate advisor of 3 years (I’m looking at you NPH)

And for all my new amazing Canadian friends and colleagues, it was a pretty good summer, eh?

Stephanie Fuehr

Bioarchaeology MA student


A Series of Archaeological Events: Greece

From Cyprus, Nick and I traveled to Greece for a few days. Since we were only there for four days, this blog will be divided by day.

July 8 – Day 1: We began by visiting our friends Tina Ross and Bartek Lis at the site of ancient Eleon in central Greece. What started as a visit to see friends quickly became a great opportunity to analyze some of the skeletons that had been found during excavation. What was originally thought to be one individual was determined to be three, based on the age of the individuals and the number of specific bones from the same side (i.e. 3 left humeri = at least three people). After determining the number of individuals, Nick and I catalogued all the remains so it is available for future study. To learn more about Eleon click here.

July 9 – Day 2: We spent the morning at the Eleon apotheke, finishing up the catalogue we had started the previous day. We also got to visit the site, which had changed quite a bit since I had last visited in 2013. In the early afternoon we drove up to Volos, one of our main reasons for coming to Greece this year. After a long car ride, with many toll stops and hardly anyone else on the national highway (a side effect of the economic crisis), we arrived in the city. Nick and I met with Dr. Anthi Batziou-Efstathiou and Eleni Chrysopoulou of the Greek Ephorate of Antiquities of Magnesia in order to collect samples from a skeleton we had analyzed the past two years. The plan is to send these samples off for isotopic analysis in an attempt to learn more about the Bronze Age in Thessaly. And very exciting news: after two years of failing to make it there when it was open, we were finally able to visit the Volos archaeological museum! The museum did not disappoint either, it was really interesting to see the archaeology and artifacts from the region displayed together.

11749675_10155846705400253_821470029_n Volos (photo by Tina Ross)

11798364_10155846705485253_583108048_n Volos Archaeological Museum (photo by Tina Ross)

July 10 – Day 3: Originally the plan was to go straight to Mitrou from Volos, but we went back to Eleon instead to look at more of the skeletal remains. We did the same as before and determined the number of individuals and provided an age range. This time we gathered all the dentition and measured them.


After a fantastic lentil soup lunch we drove up to Tragana, the village near Mitrou. Our other reason for coming to Greece this summer was to check some datum positions on the island.

July 11 – Day 4: Our goal at Mitrou this year was to reshoot the datum points and realign the site’s grid map. We spent the morning walking around the island trying to find datum points and successfully found two of them in the overgrown grass.

IMG_1057 Searching for the datum points

IMG_1058 View from the North side of the island

After that we were in the apotheke; Nick having meetings with people and me working on my thesis. In the afternoon we went out with Sarah Murray who used a Leica dGPS unit to reshoot the datum points. Each point took 30 minutes.


We ended our work day by cliff jumping off the island and then having a great dinner at the Butcher’s. I ended my last night in Greece saying goodbye to my favorite Tragana dog, Pumba.


Stephanie Fuehr

Bioarchaeology Graduate Student


An Internship in Microbiology for Use in Bioarchaeology

This fall, at Mississippi State University, I will start the second year of my Master’s program in Applied Anthropology with a focus in bioarchaeology, and the first year of my Doctoral program in Biological Sciences. My research will involve the analysis and reconstruction of the oral microbiome from ancient dental calculus, from several different samples. These samples will be analyzed in order to examine the health of individuals in the past, as well as to determine the changes in microbial composition that occurred over time. This summer, I interned with Dr. Heather Jordan in her microbiology laboratory in the Department of Biological Sciences at Mississippi State University. One of the focuses of Dr. Jordan’s research is microbial ecology, and her work involves genomics, transcriptomics, and next-generation sequencing to examine how microbial communities function, affect fitness, and impact host health. Additionally, Dr. Jordan works with Mycobacterium ulcerans, as well as examining postmortem changes in microbial community structure.

During this internship I was trained in different methodologies, and worked on focusing and refining the research goals for my thesis. The methods that I learned, and subsequently practiced, will be employed during the data collection and analysis stage of my thesis work. The first techniques that I worked on were the extraction and isolation of DNA from soil and microbial samples, as well as using DNA cleanup kits to further concentrate the DNA and remove chemical compounds. These processes are performed to destroy the bacterial cells, remove all organic and chemical contaminants, and concentrate the DNA so that it can be used in downstream applications such as quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), 16S metagenomic sequencing, or whole genome sequencing. In addition to soil samples, I also worked with several dental calculus samples from early 20th century burials. The DNA was extracted from these samples, and a portion was sent for metagenomic sequencing, while another portion was used to determine if specific pathogenic bacteria such as Treponema denticola, Porphyromonas gingivalis, and Streptococcus pneumonia were present. This was performed using PCR, in conjunction with specific bacterial primers, and running the results on a gel electrophoresis machine. Based on the results from the gel, we were able to determine if the bacteria we were looking for were present.

Gel Electrophoresis-1 Gel Electrophoresis

My time spent in Dr. Jordan’s lab has been incredibly beneficial to not only my immediate research goals, but my eventual career as a scientist and researcher. These research methods and techniques will be crucial to my thesis, and will allow me to cross departmental lines to conduct research into an area of which we know very little. I am very grateful to receive this training, and look forward to implementing it in future research endeavors.

Jonathan R. Belanich

Bioarchaeology Graduate Student


Anatomical Collections at the National Museum of Health and Medicine

I am about to begin the second year of my master’s degree at Mississippi State University in their Applied Anthropology program with a focus in bioarchaeology. My thesis research will involve histological analysis of remains from an early 20th century asylum cemetery in Jackson, Mississippi in order to observe changes in bone structure associated with malnutrition. For eight weeks this summer, I am interning with the anatomical collections at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, working with histology slides and associated records from the Ellis R. Kerley collection. Kerley was a physical anthropologist at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) during the late 1950s and 1960s who, while at the institute, conducted multiple studies into the microscopic changes that occur in bone as a result of age and nutritional status. It was during his tenure at the AFIP that Kerley published his 1965 study in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology titled “The Microscopic Determination of Age in Human Bone”. This study forms the foundation for current histological aging studies on human remains both in forensic and archaeological contexts. In addition to materials from his aging study on human bone, the Kerley collection houses records and slides from similar studies on bone age and malnutrition in non-human primates.

Under the supervision of Dr. Franklin Damann, the anatomical collections curator, and Brian Spatola, the anatomical collections manager, I am helping to compile, inventory, and organize the materials in the Kerley collection. At the same time, I am helping to compose the museum’s finding aid for future researchers. I will also be helping set up the museum’s histology equipment in their laboratory space. Because my research will rely heavily on histology, I am able to analyze femur and rib thin sections under an imaging microscope, becoming familiar with different methods for histological age estimation. This experience is allowing me to develop my own thesis methods. Outside of my set tasks with the Kerley Collection, I have been given the opportunity to practice taking cranial measurements on multiple skulls in the anatomical collection at the museum, which is a skill set that will benefit me during my graduate career.

My time at the museum is beneficial for enhancing my studies in bioarchaeology and paleopathology as well as for developing my thesis research methods. The opportunity to work with the collections also exposes me to another aspect of anthropology that I am becoming interested in: museum studies. Overall, I am greatly benefitting from my experiences here at the museum while completing tasks that in turn benefit the anatomical collections and the museum.

Michelle Davenport

Bioarchaeology Graduate Student


A Series of Archaeological Events: Cyprus

On June 20th I flew into the city of Larnaka and then made the trip up to Nicosia. I came to Cyprus to assist Dr. Nick Herrmann analyzing commingled skeletal remains from a series of Hellenistic to Roman period (300 BC to AD 300) tombs located in the city of Nicosia. The tombs from the Ayioi Omoloyites neighborhood were discovered in 2006 during the construction of the Aigaia School of Art and Design. A salvage excavation took place to recover the remains and artifacts. The school incorporated the remaining portion of the tomb into their building and can still be accessed. The tomb contained five sarcophagi as well as 16 loculi (or thekes).


On a day off we visited the art school to see the tomb and take new photographs of the only remaining tomb (Tomb 49). Nick is in the process of creating a 3D model of the tomb, which will show the locations of all the loculi and sarcophagi. The pictures he takes are used to create the 3D reconstruction.


AgOmo_T49_Crew Nick, Kelly Kamnikar, and I standing next to the original entrance to the tomb

We are conducting our analyses in the House of the Dragoman. The house, known as the Hadjigeorgakis Kornessios, is an Ottoman period mansion which has been transformed into the Cyprus Ethnological Museum. To learn more about the Dragoman and his house click here.


The remains from Tombs 47, 48 and 49 are commingled and fragmented. Having remains from three tombs will allow for analytical comparisons. The first step of analysis is simply sorting the bones in each box by element so a minimum number of individuals (MNI) can be determined. In total, there are 67 boxes and the goal for this summer was to sort and re-box all of the remains. This has successfully been done. We finished off the summer by coding as many of the remains as possible. Coding involves siding the bones and determining which portion of the bone is present. This data is then entered into the Ayioi Omoloyites Osteological Project database. I worked on coding the remains from Tomb 48.


On July 2 I had the pleasure to teach osteology to an adult Cypriot archaeology volunteer from Limassol. I was so impressed with him. He didn’t know much about specific bones, but by the end of the day he was able to pick up the majority of bones and identify them fairly confidently. He had so much enthusiasm and interest in what we are doing and never stopped asking questions about what one can learn from the skeleton. He has come back to help every day since and has helped us greatly.

On Sunday and Monday we took a trip to Paphos, a city on the west coast of Cyprus. On our way there we visited Dr. Andrew McCarthy, the director of the Cyprus-American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI), at the archaeological site of Prasteio Mesorotsos in the foothills of the Troodos Mountains. This multicomponent site is incredible and is being excavated on the side of a rock outcrop. Getting to the site involved an incredibly fun Land Rover ride. One of the intriguing aspects of this site is a Neolithic stone-lined oven they found during excavations and recreated experimentally at a nearby restaurant. After leaving Prasteio Mesorotsos, we drove to Nea Paphos, a World Heritage site. This summer is the 50th year of excavations at Nea Paphos (this is the Polish academy anniversary). The site spans from the Hellenistic to Roman and Early Christian then to the Frankish and Ottoman periods.

IMG_0901 Kelly and I in the House of Aion at Nea Paphos


After being exhausted from those two site tours we decided to go to the rest of the sites the next day. First on the list for Monday was The Tomb of the Kings, a Hellenistic and Roman cemetery that contains monumental rock cut chamber tombs. The tombs are associated with Nea Paphos and are considered to be the necropolis for the city, not just kings. This was by far my favorite site visit; however, the next site on our list, Kourion, was a close second. I don’t usually work in Cyprus so I don’t have an immense knowledge of the archaeology done on the island, but I did know about Kourion. This site dates to multiple periods and contains structures such as a Theatre, Agora, a Hellenistic public structure, an Early Christian Basilica, House of the Gladiators, and House of Achilles. While these are all interesting buildings, what was most interesting to me was the Earthquake House. This was a private residence that was destroyed by an earthquake in ancient times, which provides insight into the everyday life of the city. Our last stop of the day was the Neolithic village of Choirokoitia. The majority of this site is stone and earthen circular houses that exist on a hillside. This two day weekend trip allowed me to learn a lot about the archaeology and history of Cyprus and to see a lot of cool things!

IMG_0932 One of the many tombs at The Tomb of the Kings

IMG_0962 Kourion

IMG_0970 Mosaic from House of the Gladiator at Kourion

Tuesday was my last day here in Cyprus before I headed off to Greece. I spent my last day coding tomb 48 and trying to get as much of the analysis done as I could so there was less for Nick to do after I left.

Stephanie Fuehr

Bioarchaeology Graduate Student


There and Back Again: A Mitrou Tale

This summer is my second year at Mitrou and it is great to be back in Greece and Tragana! Mitrou is a prehistoric site located in central Greece, near the archaeological sites of Proskynas, Gla, Orchomenos, and Kalapodi. This is the site’s sixth study season and a lot of research is going on including pottery catalogues, ground stone tool analysis, and starch grain analysis.

MAP04aerial Aerial view of Mitrou

Dr. Nick Herrmann and I have spent the last month finishing up the skeletal analysis for Mitrou. For the two weeks before Nick arrived I analyzed human and animal bone that was found during survey throughout the years of excavations. I have now moved on to compiling data for the mortuary volume and using arcGIS to make maps for one of our illustrators. It was a little rough using the program the first few days, but I think I’ve got the hang of it now.

Last summer Nick and I went to the Pefkakia site in Volos to examine a skeleton from a cist they had found. We visited again this summer so we could see their excavation and learn more about the burial. While in the area, we tried to visit a few other archaeological sites. We were successful in seeing the theatre of Ancient Demetrias, but as per tradition we were not able to see the Volos Museum because it was already closed!

DSCN1067 Nick and I locked out of Dimini in 2013

Tragana, the village where we stay while working at Mitrou, is located between the sea and the mountains, so it is very easy for us to go hiking. Normally we only go hiking on the weekend (so we are guaranteed to find our way back down before dark) but a few of us decided to risk spending the night on the mountain and went hiking one day after lunch…..

10173608_10152117525698477_3892767952728647276_n View of Tragana & Mitrou

However our planned hike to the top of the ridge was cut short by a friend’s ongoing battle with shingles. Instead of hiking any further, we decided to play baseball with a stick and rock, and while this was probably not the safest decision we could have made, it was a lot of fun. 10410789_571872899590223_4113586563543898641_n


But after a hard week’s work it’s always nice to enjoy a meal at the local butchers…

107_6154 Nick and I with the always good fried zucchini

…and to enjoy the sunset in Tragana at the end of each day.


Stephanie Fuehr

Bioarchaeology MA Student