Travels in the Aegean: The Diros Project 2013

For the past three weeks, I have been working on the Mani peninsula as a member of The Diros Project (for more about this project, click here or here). This was the project’s third field season, and it has been exciting to witness its evolution firsthand. The team has grown from a handful of faculty and two graduate students in the first year to more people than we could fit in the hotel! Specialists visited non-stop to study the pottery, lithics, and human and animal remains from the cave.

View of Diros Bay (the entrance to Alepotrypa Cave is on the right, just above the beach)

View of Diros Bay (the entrance to Alepotrypa Cave is off to the right)

The goal of the project from the outset was to understand the links between Alepotrypa Cave (dating to between 5400-3200 BC) and the landscape surrounding it. We began with intensive survey, an archaeological technique that involves a team of 3-5 people walking in a straight line, spaced about 10 meters apart from each other, who collect all visible ceramics and lithics along their paths. Once the team reaches an obvious field boundary or a particularly treacherous patch of thorns, all the artifacts are gathered together, bagged, and assigned a unit code, called a “tract.” Doing this allows us to map the locations and densities of artifacts on the landscape, and to see how those patterns changed over time.

Altogether, by the end of the 2012 season we had surveyed over 2 square kilometers and identified a number of potentially interesting sites for further exploration. At the same time that yours truly was out in the field, dodging eye-level spiderwebs and crawling through thorns (otherwise known as “macquis”), another team was opening up excavation units just outside the cave entrance, where we had identified a high concentration of Neolithic artifacts.

This year, the two teams hit the ground running. The excavation team reopened their units from last year, expanding them to gain a better idea of how the site was being used through time. The survey team (again, my favorite job in the world!) revisited five of the sites we had identified and conducted intensive collection at each. The exact strategy of our collection varied depending on the topography of the land. For the big Classical/Hellenistic site, we measured out 10 x 10-meter squares and each of us spent 15 minutes collecting all the artifacts we could find. Incidentally, this kind of collection strategy makes for some pretty compelling maps, which show concentrations of artifacts on the surface…

10 x 10 m collection grid at one of the sites in Diros Bay

10 x 10 m collection grid at a Classical/Hellenistic site in Diros Bay, showing the density of ceramics in each square

For the Late Roman site (which is buried under a forest of brush and trees), we used walls and rubble piles to delineate our collection squares. Incidentally, this was probably my favorite site to collect due to the variety of wildlife we encountered – a hawk cawing at us all day long, a turtle who ate our lunch scraps, two gregarious puppies guarding a barn full of goats, and endless numbers of grasshoppers. Considering that I’ve only ever interacted with two or three shepherds over the past three years, it was a pretty social day!

Following the end of survey, I spent most of my days in the lab, helping to process all the artifacts collected from the field. The most exciting part for me was tackling the post-Byzantine artifacts that we collected from our sites, including an 18th-century homestead that was abandoned sometime in the early or mid-20th century. Figuring out the kinds of ceramic distributions around these sites will be a vital part of my own dissertation research… more on that later!

Abandoned homestead in our permit area

Abandoned 18th c. homestead in our permit area

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