Category Archives: GREECE

Pottering of potters: archaeologist traces the migration of ancient Greek potters

Pottering of potters: archaeologist traces the migration of ancient Greek potters

Archaeologists have been keen in recent years to apply all kinds of modern methods for monitoring prehistoric migration; they analyze DNA and strontium isotopes in human remains.

“To illuminate the migration of potters in ancient Greece about 3200 years ago by more traditional methods,” says Dr. Bartłomiej Lis, who carries out his research at the British School at Athens as part of a grant obtained thanks to the EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions program.

His analysis shows that around 1200 BC, potters from the island of Aegina (near Athens) left their homes and began to make characteristic vessels in many places scattered along the Gulf of Euboea, north of Aegina.

Aegina seen from the shores of Attica

Dr. Lis drew his conclusion on the basis of meticulous analysis of ceramic vessels in terms of methods of their manufacture, from the moment of obtaining clay and its preparation for firing the vessels.

“Thanks to this, I understood the process of making ceramic vessels in Aegina and I was able to compare these vessels with those found in other Greek regions”, the scientist says.

It turned out that the potters working on the island of Aegina were making their vessels in a very different way from other potters operating at the same time in Greece.

These differences concerned both the method of building the walls of the vessel without using a potter`s wheel, as well as other details of the production process.

In addition, potters from Aegina used to mark their products, which was probably associated with the fact that they shared kilns, but could also be their trademark.

“These observations led to the identification in many places along the Gulf of Euboea, the water corridor leading from Athens and the Saronic Gulf to the north, of the same characteristic vessels, but made of ceramic pastes different from those used in Aegina”, says Dr. Lis.

The analysis of ceramic pastes was deepened by the use of petrography, a technique borrowed from geology, in which the Fitch Laboratory at the British School specializes.

Dr. Lis learned this method under the guidance of the laboratory director, Dr. Evangelii Kiriatzi. Petrography allows to both determine the origin of the vessels and better understand the techniques of their manufacture.

The Polish scientist emphasizes that both aspects were crucial for the success of his project.

Dr. Lis during petrographic analysis

The researcher believes that the potters from Aegina left the island in at least two stages over the course of several decades.

In turn, the large variety of used pottery pastes clearly indicates the acquisition of raw material from various places and thus the production of vessels typical of the island of Aegina in many locations along the Gulf of Euboea.

“The first stage of migration may have resulted from problems with the sale of manufactured vessels. During this period, we observe a collapse of trade in pottery, which probably also affected the potters from Aegina. Seasonal wandering could be a way to take fate into their own hands”, the archaeologist speculates.

Pottering of potters: archaeologist traces the migration of ancient Greek potters
Examples of Aegina-type vessels made outside of Aegina, Pefkakia.

According to the researcher, the second stage was associated with the permanent relocation of potters, supposedly as a result of economic and political changes ca. 1200 BC. At that time, Aegina, as well as its immediate surroundings, were not a safe place to live.

“Many of the previously flourishing settlements were deserted, and people apparently moved to safer areas. In fact, the only trace of these movements are vessels made by potters who were part of these migrations”, Dr. Lis emphasizes.

Microscopic images of ceramic fabrics of the vessel made on Aegina (left) and near Pefkakia (right)

The scientist failed to unambiguously determine the sex of ceramics makers in Aegina.

“However, both the specialization visible in the production of vessels and the fact of their itinerant production, which according to ethnographic sources, women never undertook, suggest that they were men” – the scientist believes.

The Ancient Underwater 5,000- Year-Old Sunken City in Greece is considered to be the Oldest Submerged Lost City in the World.

The Ancient Underwater 5,000- Year-Old Sunken City in Greece is considered to be the Oldest Submerged Lost City in the World.

Pavlopetri is about 5 000 years old and one of the oldest populated city (oldest in Mediterranean sea). It is situated on the southern shore of Laconia, in Peloponnese, Greece.

The name Pavlopetri (“Paul’s and Peter’s”, or “Paul’s stone”) is the modern name for the islet and beach, apparently named for the two Christian saints that are celebrated together; the ancient name or names are unknown.

Discovered in 1967 by Nicholas Flemming and mapped in 1968 by a team of archaeologists from Cambridge, Pavlopetri is located between the Pavlopetri islet across the Elafonisos village and the Pounta coast.

The coast, the archaeological site as well as the islet and the surrounding sea area are within the region of the Elafonisos Municipality, the old “Onou Gnathos” peninsula (according to Pausanias).

It is unique in having an almost complete town plan, including streets, buildings, and tombs.

Originally, the ruins were dated to the Mycenaean period, 1600–1100 BC but later studies showed an older occupation date starting no later than 2800 BC, so it also includes early Bronze Age middle Minoan and transitional material.

It is now believed that the town was submerged around 1000 BC  by the first of three earthquakes that the area suffered. The area never re-emerged, so it was neither built-over nor disrupted by agriculture.

Although eroded over the centuries, the town layout is as it was thousands of years ago. The site is under threat of damage by boats dragging anchors, as well as by tourists and souvenir hunters.

Overview of Pavlopetri.

The fieldwork of 2009 was largely to map the site. It is the first submerged town digitally surveyed in three dimensions.

Sonar mapping techniques developed by military and oil prospecting organizations have aided recent work.

The city has at least 15 buildings submerged in 3 to 4 meters (9.8–13.1 ft) of water. The newest discoveries in 2009 alone cover 9,000 m2 (2.2 acres).

Position of Pavlopetri.
Position of Pavlopetri.

As of October 2009, four more fieldwork sessions are planned, also in collaboration with the Greek government as a joint project. Those sessions will do excavations.

Also working alongside the archaeologists (from the University of Nottingham) are a team from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics, who aim to take underwater archaeology into the 21st century.

They have developed several unique robots to survey the site in various ways.

One of the results of the survey was to establish that the town was the center of the thriving textile industry (from the many loom weights found in the site). Also, many large pitharis pots (from Crete) were excavated, also indicating a major trading port.

The work of the British/Australian archaeological team was assembled in an hour-long BBC documentary video, “City Beneath the Waves: Pavlopetri”, broadcast by BBC Two in 2011.

The city of Pavlopetri is part of the underwater cultural heritage as defined by the UNESCO in the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.

All traces of human existence underwater which are one hundred years old or more are protected by the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.

This convention aims at preventing the destruction or loss of historic and cultural information and looting. It helps states parties to protect their underwater cultural heritage with an international legal framework.

3,300-Year-Old Chamber Tombs Filled With Bones Discovered in Greece

3,300-Year-Old Chamber Tombs Filled With Bones Discovered in Greece

In an interesting burial ground in Greece in the Mycenaean era, two big chamber tombs dating back to around 1300 BC were discovered.

Previously discovered tombs in the area were extensively looted, but these two are completely intact, offering exciting new insights into the culture and period.

In the course of a study supported by the Corinthian Ephorate of Antiquities, the Greek Minister for Culture announced that it had been found under the guidance of Konstantinos Kissa, Assistant Professor of Archeology in Graz Universities in Austria and Trier in Germany.

The tombs are located in the south of Greece, at Aidonia, not far from the modern town of Nemea, in the hilly terrain of the Peloponnese. 

They are also near the historic Nemea site, which is rich in archaeological ruins, including a famous temple of Zeus. Aidonia is also known for its cluster of ancient tombs, but most of them had been raided in the 1970s.

One of the newly discovered tombs with an intact roof and sealed orifice.

Mycenaean Cemetery

According to Kathimerini, the tombs are at the eastern section of the Mycenaean cemetery.

The Mycenaeans were a Late Bronze Age civilization that was very influential on the culture of Classical Greece. This culture was famed for its palaces and its aristocratic warrior-culture. This period is often associated with the Homeric epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey.

The tombs are believed to date ‘’from 1400 to 1200 BC’’, from the Late Mycenaean period according to Greece News. The first tomb found was roofed and contained two burials where the bones of 14 people were unearthed.

These are secondary burials as the ‘’remains had been transferred from other tombs’’ reports Global News.  The second tomb’s roof had collapsed but three burials were found at the site.

A burial found in a chamber at Aidonia. 

3000-Year-Old Grave Goods

Both the chamber tombs had burial goods that are over 3000 years old. Archaeologists found a number of clay utensils, some figurines and smaller objects, including buttons.

In the tomb whose roof had not collapsed, archaeologists found some ‘’pots, false amphoras and narrow-leaved basins’’ reports Kathimerini. gr . These were probably offerings to the dead, a common practice at the time.

The two recently discovered tombs are from the high-point of the Bronze-Age culture when the Mycenaeans were building monumental palaces such as those found at Mycenae.

According to the Pressroom, the finds made in the two tombs are being compared with those found at burial sites of the early Mycenaean period (ca. 1,600 – 1,400 BC), which were excavated in previous years at Adidonia.

The cemetery contains a number of tombs that date from 1700-1100 BC and is not far from a major Mycenaean settlement.

The tombs also contained clay pots and basins.

Grave Robbers

What makes the discovery of the two tombs so remarkable is that they are intact, unlike the other burials in the cemetery. The other Mycenaean tombs had “been extensively looted, probably in 1976-77’’ according to Global News.

These robberies led to a number of digs that were carried out by the Greek Archaeological Service. Archaeologists led by Kalliopi Crystal-Votsi and Constantina Kaza made a number of important discoveries in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In total, some 20 chamber tombs were unearthed. Despite being previously looted, the burials still yielded a ‘’a stunning array of jewelry’’ according to the Pressroom.

Among the other items found were weapons, storage vessels, and even tableware. 

Some of the golden objects that had been previously looted from these tombs were recovered by the Greek government. They came to light after an attempt to auction them in New York in the 1990s.

Newly-discovered chamber tomb with fallen roof and two pits.

The newly discovered tombs can help us to understand the development of the site and the region in the Mycenaean period. The nature of the tombs can be contrasted with earlier examples. More importantly, the burial goods and their design can tell us much about the material culture of civilization.

There are plans to excavate the site further as more burials may come to light. 

Archaeologists Have Finally Found Greece’s Lost City Of Tenea

Archaeologists Have Finally Found Greece’s Lost City Of Tenea

The story goes, that Tenea was founded by the survivors of the Trojan War in the 12th or 13th century BC, Until now, its location (and very existence) was entirely reliant on the words of historical text.

But the Ministry of Culture of the country announced the discovery of jewelry, pottery and even infrastructures by a team of archeologists, seemingly confirming where it was on a site near the village of Chiliomodi in southern Greece.

It’s a city that the ancient Greeks thought was settled by Trojan captives of war after the sack of Troy in the 12th or 13th century BC and up to now showed up only in texts.

Tenea Project Photo by Ministry of Culture and Sports, Greece

Also found were household pottery, a bone gaming die, and 200 coins dating from the 4th century BC and up to later in the Roman era.

Specifically, coins discovered were dated to the era of Roman emperor Septimius Severus, who ruled from 193 to 211.

Past digs have found clues near the city, but the most recent excavation uncovered the “city’s urban fabric,” including floors, walls and door openings, the culture ministry said, according to USA Today.

Satellite map

An unsettling discovery was a pottery jar containing the remains of two human fetuses, within the foundations of a building. Usually in Greek culture, the dead were buried in cemeteries.

Legend says the city thrived until the end of the Roman Empire, at which point it seems to have been damaged in a Gothic invasion. According to the Ministry, the city may have been left deserted in the 6th century CE during the Avar and Slavic raids.

Photo by Ministry of Culture and Sports, Greece

Lead archaeologist Elena Korka told the Associated Press that the discoveries indicated the citizens of Tenea had been “remarkably affluent.”

The city would have been located on a trade route between the cities of Corinth and Argos in the northern Peloponnese.

“(The city) had distinctive pottery shapes with eastern influences, maintained contacts with both east and west… and had its own thinking, which, to the extent that it could, shaped its own policies,” she told the AP.

Pottery found on location.

Throughout history, not much was known about Tenea, apart from ancient references to the reputed link with Troy and to its citizens having formed the bulk of the Greek colonists who founded the city of Syracuse in Sicily.

Korka said more should emerge during the excavations, which will continue over the coming years.

″(The city) had distinctive pottery shapes with eastern influences, maintained contacts with both east and west … and had its own way of thinking, which, to the extent that it could, shaped its own policies,” she said.

According to Reuters, among the findings was a golden coin to pay for the journey to an afterlife and an iron ring with a seal that depicted the Greek god Serapis sitting on a throne, Cerberus, which is a three-headed mythical dog that guards the gates of Ades, beside him.

Trojan War

The Trojan War is believed to have taken place near the end of the Bronze Age, around 1200 B.C. It took place around the time that a civilization called Mycenaean was active in Greece. They built palaces and developed a system of writing.

The earliest accounts of this war come from Homer, who lived around the eighth century B.C., several centuries after the events that took place. They do not appear to have been written down until even later, likely during the sixth century B.C.

The site of Hisarlik, in northwest Turkey, has been identified as Troy. It was inhabited for almost 4,000 years starting around 3000 B.C. After one city was destroyed, a new city would be built on top.

“There is no one single Troy; there are at least 10, lying in layers on top of each other,” writes University of Amsterdam researcher Gert Jan van Wijngaarden in a chapter of the book Troy: City, Homer, and Turkey.

Piece of a skull found in Greece ‘is the oldest human fossil outside Africa’

Piece of a skull found in Greece ‘is the oldest human fossil outside Africa’

It has just been recognized as the oldest human fossil in Europe and the oldest outside of Africa. Around 210,000 years ago, an early person died in Greece — and supplied the earliest proof of human migration from Africa to researchers of the 21st century.

A fresh Theory is being formed that numerous early migrations from Africa helped spread early humans rather than a single event. A significant migration corridor out of Africa could have been Southeast Europe.

In 1978, two skulls were found in a block of breccia, or broken fragments of rock and fossil cemented together, wedged between the walls of the Apidima Cave in southern Greece. The National and Kapodistrian University of Athens was conducting research.

The breccia was dated to between 100,000 and 190,000 years old at the time. “The skulls were not removed from the breccia and remained at the museum,” according to CNN. “Given the fragmentary nature of the skulls, they were difficult to remove and clean, though that eventually happened in the 1990s.”

Scientists say the skull fragment belonged to an early human, found in a cave in southern Greece.

The specimen, dubbed Apidima 1, was situated nose to nose just 12 inches away from a second human-like skull known as Apidima 2.

The two partial skulls were not near anything that offered archaeologists useful clues about their origin: no stone tools, no animal remains, nothing. In time, researchers figured out that Apidima 2, the more complete of the two skulls, belonged to a Neanderthal.

Analysis of Apidima 1, which was in pieces, had to wait until the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Athens invited Katerina Harvati, director of paleoanthropology at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen, to use her expertise in imaging and 3-D virtual reconstruction to bring both of the skulls to life.

Apidima 1 (left) is a modern human; Apidima 2 (right) is a Neanderthal. 

Apidima 1 has features that distinguish it as a modern human. Scientists say its owner lived some 40,000 years before its Neanderthal neighbor, making it the oldest human skull found outside of Africa.

Smithsonian said, “Tellingly, the Apidima 1 fossil lacks a ‘chignon,’ the distinctive bulge at the back of the skull that is characteristic of Neanderthals. The posterior of the skull is also rounded, which ‘is considered to be a uniquely modern human feature that evolved relatively late,’ Harvati says.”

This finding has many ramifications. “This discovery may add a wrinkle to the commonly accepted timeline of modern humans’ dispersal from Africa and arrival in Europe,” said Smithsonian.”

It is widely accepted that our species evolved in Africa—the oldest known Homo sapiens fossils were found in Morocco and date back 315,000 years ago—and first ventured out of the continent between 70,000 and 60,000 years ago. 

All the while, Neanderthals were evolving in Europe. Homo sapiens are thought to have arrived on the scene around 45,000 years ago, interbreeding with Neanderthals and eventually emerging as the dominant species.”

The study about the discovery published in Nature said that although the two skulls were found so close to each other, they were from vastly different time periods.

The rock surrounding Apidima 1 was estimated to be about 210,000 years old, while the rock around Apidima 2 was only 170,000 years old.

The best explanation, said study co-author Rainer Grun, a geochemist at Griffith University in Australia, is that “Apidima 1 must come from quite a different environment originally before it was deposited at the site.”

Some scientists believe that when modern humans expanded out of Africa, their movements into Europe might have been stalled by the Neanderthals. This could explain why Homo sapiens stuck to a more southerly route into Asia, and why they left no European fossils until about 40,000 years ago.

“The idea of Europe as ‘fortress Neanderthal’ has been gaining ground,” said an archaeologist from the University of Bordeaux, but identifying a 210,000-year-old Homo sapiens skull from Europe “really undermines that.”

“It suggests that early Homo sapiens groups got farther than we may have previously thought, occasionally occupying territories that later became that of Neanderthals,” adds Shara Bailey, an anthropologist at NYU. “Findings like this are very important for informing us of the evolution of our species.”