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!

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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.

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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…

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  • 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

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  • 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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Stephanie Fuehr

Bioarchaeology Graduate Student

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