Night at the Museum (Well, day actually)

To fulfill my commitment to the University of Cincinnati Linear B project begun last summer, I spent three weeks at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece.  I used AMEC’s portable X-Ray fluorescence (pXRF) spectrometer to determine the chemical make-up of the clays from which the Linear B tablets and sealings were fashioned.  While there, I worked with Dr. Dimitri Nakassis, who is the project director, and Dr. Joann Gulizio, who determined the fabric type of each tablet.

Before I began at the museum, I spent the last week of the excavation season at the Iklaina Archaeological Project (IKAP) near Pylos, in the Peloponnese.  My purpose there was to take pXRF readings on sherds that had previously been analyzed by ICP-MS.  These analyses will be compared in an effort to determine the accuracy of pXRF technology and its feasibility in making quick and accurate non-destructive assays.  Analyzing a sherd is shown below:


While working at the lab, based in Pylos, I also analyzed figurines and building materials discovered at Iklaina.  I toured the Iklaina site (below) while the President of Greece visited.  Dr. Michael Cosmopoulos is the director of the project.


I also had the opportunity to work with Dr. Sharon Stocker at the museum in Hora.  She had lithic samples that she needed to make determinations of as to whether they were chert or obsidian.  This required two days, but with the correct settings and calibration, the analyses were made.

The Palace of Nestor site has been closed for two years while the cover was replaced.  The site was opened just in time for me to tour it before leaving for Athens.  The Archives Complex rooms where most of the tablets were found are shown in the photo:



I was very fortunate to have Dr. Cynthia Shelmerdine as my tour guide.

The National Archaeological Museum in Athens is home to the tablets and sealings that were recovered during the excavations at the Palace site near Pylos.  During the three-week project at the museum, I analyzed over 500 of the remaining tablets that were not analyzed last summer.  In addition, I analyzed another hundred or so with a different calibration that checks heavier elements.  The following photos show samples of the page-shaped and leaf-shaped tablets and the sealings.

We were visited in the museum basement by the Minister of Culture, who was very interested in the scientific methods we were using.  In this photo, Dr. Nakassis is explaining our equipment to a museum official and to the Minister.


As interesting as the work was, not all was work.  I took the opportunity to visit the island of Hydra, below:


Billy Wilemon

Archaeology MA student


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


Pylos Linear B Tablets

Pylos, a small seaside town on the western coast of The Peloponnese in western Greece, is close to the Palace of Nestor. The Mycenaean palace was destroyed by fire in approximately 1200 BCE. This destruction permanently preserved a large number of clay tablets and sealings. The writing on the tablets is Linear B.

There are three primary types of administrative documents found at the palace: the page-shaped tablets, the leaf-shaped tablets, and the sealings. Sealings are the lowest level of recorded administration. The leaf-shaped tablets generally have one line of writing (one entry). The information on the leaf-shaped tablets is combined with information from others of similar content onto page-shaped tablets.



Two rooms at the palace named the Archives Complex contained the majority of the tablets. This is where information of the material wealth of the kingdom was stored. Scribes, or more accurately literate high-level officials, have been labeled by their handwriting.

After taking a Directed Individual Study learning portable X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer (pXRF) operation, it was time to put that knowledge to use. I spent almost three weeks working in the Archaeological Museum in Athens analyzing the tablets and sealings. The chemical analyses generated by the pXRF will be compared in an effort to identify similar groups of tablets and sealings.


There are a number of questions that these analyses may help us answer:

  • Did the sealings travel with material goods, or were they manufactured at the palace as materials arrived?
  • When inscribed sealings are related to tablets, do they use the same or different clays?
  • Does one scribe use more than one clay for sealings and tablets, or are the clays the same?
  • Do the tablet manufacturers use different clays, and can it be determined if these manufacturers are at the palace or located in a remote area?

These questions, and others, can help us understand the controls on material wealth headed to the palace, how the tablet-writers interacted with goods entering the palace, how information made its way to the official record, etc. It is expected that clay sourcing can answer many questions that are as of yet unanswerable.

The other members of the team working on the tablets and sealings were Dr. Kevin Pluta and Dr. Joann Gulizio of the University of Texas, and Dr. James Newhard of the College of Charleston. Each morning we were escorted into the basement work area. A museum security person stayed with us until the end of the workday when we were escorted out to the front door of the museum. A conservator unlocked a steel door into a storeroom, unlocked a cabinet, and brought us trays of tablets or sealings for us to work on. When we were through with each tray, our security person called for the conservator to replace that tray and bring us another. These are very precious artifacts, and we treated them as such.

4From left: Dr. Gulizio, Dr. Pluta, Dr. Newhard, Billy Wilemon

5No visit to Athens would be complete without a photo of the Parthenon!

In addition, I was able to visit The Peloponnese and see the ruins at Mycenae and Tiryns:

6 At the Lion Gate of Mycenae


The Palace of Nestor at Pylos was closed, because a new cover was being built. However, I was able to visit the museum nearby. Mycenaean tholos tombs were accessible only by driving through an olive grove.

On my way to Athens, I was able to spend 10 days in Israel at the Kibbutz Ruhama working with Dr. Jimmy Hardin and his group. This project involved drone photography and surveys looking for Neolithic sites.

8No project is complete without Maroon Friday. L-R: Ryan King, Billy Wilemon, Dr. Jimmy Hardin, Dylan Karges, Lydia Buckner

Billy Wilemon

Archaeology 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


Mississippi State in Mani, Greece

Dr. Michael Galaty, Professor of Anthropology and Head of the Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures at Mississippi State University, has spent the month of July directing the fifth and final season of The Diros Project, a Greek-American collaboration funded by the Institute for Aegean Prehistory, the Archaeological Institute of America, and the Wenner-Gren Foundation. The team is excavating at the prehistoric site of Ksagounaki, near the fabulous Alepotrypa Cave, located at Diros Bay on the Mani Peninsula of southern Greece.

Figure 1

Ksagounaki is a large Final Neolithic village on a promontory above the cave overlooking the sea. The Final Neolithic, or “Copper Age,” is known for wide Mediterranean trade contacts and the introduction of metals and metal working, laying the foundations for the subsequent Bronze Age.

Figure 2

The 2014 excavations have exposed a Neolithic building, with multiple graves and a later Mycenaean component.

Figure 3

Dr. Galaty was joined in Greece for part of the field season by his soon-to-be wife, Sylvia Deskaj, an archaeologist with The Cobb Institute of Archaeology, and his son, Liam Galaty, who enjoyed being in Europe for the World Cup!

Figure 4

The Mani is a remote but very beautiful part of Greece and as the field season winds down, we look forward to analyzing our data and publishing our results.

Figure 5

– Michael Galaty