- FUN FEATURES
Archaeology is a strange and alluring discipline. It carries with it an air of glamour and excitement, fostered by Hollywood and good books. And there is no denying it- archaeology is wonderfully Romantic. The image of the archaeologist with their sleeves rolled up, wiping sweat from their brow as they examine an ancient artifact- maybe a piece of gold jewelry, or an amphora of timeless curves- with a colleague dressed in exotic costume is an image that has slowly been engrained into our cultural subconscious via entertainment.
And you know what? It’s exactly like that. Sometimes.
Archaeology is not all glory all the time and, quite frankly, considerably more comfortable hats and clothes have been invented since the early 20th century. Fedoras as coming back in style, but that is as much affected as it is effect. To tell the truth, fedoras are terribly susceptible to wind.
No, there are parts to archaeology that the movies don’t usually show. An excavation is an enormous undertaking that must be seriously considered and planned. So, as a matter of necessity, there is a great deal of surveying that must be done, to plan out where to dig. Trees and bushes and tall grass must be cleared to make a space. Decisions- sometimes agonizing- must be made about where to dig, and all of the available information must be paired with the short term goals of the excavation. And, especially in Greece or Egypt, there is the heat, which is relentless.
That isn’t to say that surveying isn’t fun, of course. Currently, I am at a site called Gla, a citadel, or fortress, of staggering size. The site dates from around 1300 BC, belonging to the Mycenaean Period. The term “Mycenaean” refers to a broadly affiliated group of proto city-states which, collectively, can be viewed as the cultural grandparent of the classical Greeks to whom Western Civilization traces its roots.
Most of the citadels contemporaneous with Gla have been excavated and thoroughly studied, though Gla itself has remained largely untouched by archaeologists. In a sense, the same things that may have helped drive off other archeologists are the same things that attracted Dr. Christofilis Maggidis to the site last year; it is enormous, several times larger than the next largest Mycenaean citadel; It is not much mentioned in the historical record; what little has been found there already makes little sense in the context of its contemporaries; it is, in short, a mystery. And nothing get’s under an archaeologists’ skin like a mystery, something that is doubly true for Dr. Maggidis.
So, last year Dr. Maggidis began to survey the citadel of Gla, in preparation for excavations to begin in 2012. I had the fortune to be on the survey team last year, and the further fortune to be invited to join the team this year as well.
Our survey of Gla is an exceptionally fine example of the romance and hardship of archaeological work. It is true that we wake up well before dawn and toil until the sun becomes nigh unbearable. It is true that we spend our days picking sharp thorns from out of our clothes and pushing our way through more brambles , thorns and tall grasses than I care to contemplate. It is true that nearly half of our team has been sunburned to some degree or another, and that recently we endured record heat as we trudged around the citadel.
But. It is also true that we are, in some cases, the people to discover things practically unseen in 3000 years. It is also true that each discovery, be it of a fragment of wall, a sherd of pottery, even a deep hole in the ground can whip us to excitement into a frenzy of imagination that cools to a low hum as the rational, scientific mind takes over and places that discovery into a pool of evidence.
Yesterday, for instance, one of my colleagues and I were charged with investigating the caves that cut into the cliffs on which the massive stone walls of the citadel are mounted. One of these caves, half hidden by a sudden zig-zag in the rock face and half hidden by the vegetation near its entrance, was a deep, deep cleft in the cliff face. The interior has been blackened by thousands of years of fires, so as it goes further back it vanishes into deeper obscurity than it might otherwise. Near the back we found a bit of pottery, large and poorly fired. Near the entrance we found a wall of enormous stones that had kept the soil from filling it in entirely.
What could it be? A dozen possibilities flashed through our heads. We laughed and shouted theories to each other, each more wild than the next. Discovery is intoxicating, and science is sobriety. For in truth, we know nothing yet. Without evidence it is irresponsible to reach conclusions. So, whatever we me think or dream or hope, only good archaeology, soberly and carefully executed will even begin to answer out questions- or satisfy our theories.
Francis Cressotti was born and raised in Cheshire. He attended Dickinson College, where he studied archaeology under Dr. Maggidis and graduated with a degree in that field in 2010. This is his third summer in Greece, where he can often be found climbing mountains. Join him next time to learn more about the survey of Gla.