A conference session on recent archaeological research in Mani was held last week at the 81st annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Orlando, Florida. Organized by Dr. William Parkinson and Chelsea Gardner, the session was called “Long-Term Settlement Dynamics and Land Use on the Mani Peninsula of Southern Greece.”
Several of the papers in the session focused on recent excavations at the Neolithic cave site of Alepotrypa, located near the well-known Glifada Cave just outside Pyrgos Dirou. The excavations (along with a field survey) were part of the Diros Project, an international and multidisciplinary study of the surrounding bay. The rest of the papers (including my own) dealt with the broader context of Mani and how it related to the rest of Greece and the Mediterranean in the Bronze Age, the Classical period, and the later medieval periods.
The following is my own summary of the papers in the session. I’d like to emphasize that the conference was open to the public, and that much of the data has already been released to the public via the archaeological service in Greece and various news agencies (see below for links!). The projects below are all in the process of being published.
William Parkinson, Anastasia Papathanasiou, Michael Galaty, Daniel Pullen and Giorgos Papathanassopoulos—The Diros Project: Multidisciplinary Investigations at Alepotrypa Cave and Ksagounaki Promontory, 2010-2015
Dr. Parkinson (et al.) gave an overview of Alepotrypa Cave, from its discovery and early excavations to the present-day excavations under directors Dr. Papathanassopoulos and Dr. Papathanasiou. The cave is remarkable because it contains preserved layers spanning the entire Neolithic sequence, beginning around 6000 BC. The authors also talked about the more recent excavations outside the cave at the nearby Ksagounaki Promontory, just above where the original entrance to the cave would have been before it collapsed thousands of years ago. From 2012 to 2014, our team excavated several Neolithic burials and part of a Neolithic house, as well as a section of a later Mycenaean ossuary. For more information on these excavations (and a lot of great photos), check out the news reports by Daily Mail and National Geographic.
Panagiotis Karkanas—Microstratigraphic Study of the Neolithic Alepotrypa Cave, Mani, Greece
Dr. Karkanas, well known for his microstratigraphic work all over Greece and beyond, reported the findings from his recent study of the sedimentary deposits within the cave. Aside from helping to date the earliest layers of human activity in the cave, his analyses have also shown that the soil contained burnt dung, hinting at the ritual use of the cave.
Daniel Pullen—Measuring Ceramic Change and Variability at Final Neolithic Diros
Dr. Pullen emphasized that these excavations are a very rare opportunity to refine the ceramic chronology from the Final Neolithic (about 4500 to 3100 BC). In addition, the different contexts of the excavations allow us to compare ceramic assemblages from a cave site with ritual deposits, an open-air cemetery, and an open-air domestic setting. He concluded that continuity in ceramic forms is very difficult to detect, but that this may be the most significant takeaway point: in the Final Neolithic, potters may have experimented with forms and produced more individualized decorations owing to fewer “communal standards of aesthetic production.”
Aikaterini Psoma—Ksagounaki, Diros: An Open Air Site of the Final Neolithic from the Viewpoint of Chipped Stone Tools
Psoma presented the results of her analysis of the lithic material from the two excavation blocks (the cemetery and the house) on Ksagounaki Promontory. Over 90% of the lithic material was made of obsidian (which Danielle Riebe previously sourced to the island of Melos). The high amount of obsidian and its association with domestic tasks suggests that the material did not have a significant or symbolic value to the people living there. The assemblage lacked the first and second stages of the reduction sequence, meaning that the people living in Diros Bay were importing pre-formed cores. They also recycled and retouched their tools frequently, instead of discarding them at the first signs of wear and tear.
Danielle Riebe and Attila Gyucha—A Home Above the Bay: A Neolithic Domestic Structure on the Mani Peninsula
Riebe and Dr. Gyucha gave the first presentation of results from their excavation of a Neolithic house on Ksagounaki Promontory. The site was chosen because an anomaly was identified there during the geophysical survey of the promontory (conducted by the Laboratory of Geophysical – Satellite Remote Sensing and Archaeo-environment at IMS-FORTH). Over the course of two seasons (2012–2013), the team excavated three 2×2 meter units. They uncovered a flat “patio” surface with evidence of lithic tool resharpening, as well as the eastern and southern walls of a building placed directly on bedrock. Within the structure, they found a floor, a pit with animal bones that may be connected with the founding of the structure, and a hearth feature, which produced C-14 radiocarbon dates from the Final Neolithic (around 3700 BC). The authors suggested that the geophysical anomaly may correspond to this hearth. If so, the presence of additional geophysical anomalies suggests that the promontory may have been the location of a small Neolithic village.
Julia Giblin and Anastasia Epitropou —Human Mobility during the Greek Neolithic: A Multi-isotope Analysis of the Burials from Alepotrypa Cave
Dr. Giblin and Epitropou presented the results of their analyses of strontium and oxygen isotopes from animal and human bones recovered from Alepotrypa Cave. Both types of isotopes are incorporated into an animal’s bone matrix from whatever food it consumes. In turn, analyzing the levels of these isotopes in a bone can tell researchers where that animal came from. Strontium reflects where vegetable food was gathered or where animal food grazed, while oxygen reflects where drinking water was acquired. Using published sources of biologically available strontium and oxygen, the authors showed how the majority of people and animals buried in Alepotrypa Cave had local signatures, but some were out of the local range, meaning they likely came from elsewhere in the Aegean. Specifically, the outlying oxygen values hint at small-scale mobility (possibly from inland to upland for pasturing activities) and the outlying strontium values hint at large-scale movement within the Aegean. Additional research is necessary to identify exactly which locations they came from.
William Ridge—Alepotrypa Cave and Regional Networks of Southern Greece
Ridge presented an overview of the exchange networks in the Bronze Age Aegean. Among other techniques, he used social network analysis to illustrate the connections between sites with published data, including Alepotrypa Cave. When considering the similarity of diverse artifact assemblages (including metals, ring idols, and different pottery types), Alepotrypa was a central node, and the overall network was highly influenced by geography. When considering just the similarity in metals, the network formed clusters based on metal type (bronze, gold, and silver), and only a select few sites had metals of multiple types.
Michael Galaty—Collective Memory and the Mycenaeans: The Argolid, Messenia, and the Mani Compared
Dr. Galaty reviewed the concept of “collective memory” and how it relates to mortuary forms and the treatment of bodies after death. In Bronze Age sites like Pylos in Messenia and Mycenae in the Argolid, changing burial practices reflected their appropriation by the state to create a sense of shared cultural identity. Specifically, graves were looted and robbed to remove “inalienable objects” with known pedigrees, then redistributed and reused in newer graves to accentuate and enhance the individual’s prestige in death. In his words, “empty tombs may reflect a fully operation collective memory system,” whereas tombs that have not been emptied reflect the system’s failure. In Mani, meanwhile, burial practices remained relatively unchanged from the Neolithic into the Bronze Age. The ossuary excavated at Ksagounaki Promontory was full of many individuals and prestige goods (i.e. it was a communal secondary burial), reflecting a failure to implement an individualizing mortuary system as elsewhere in Mycenaean Peloponnese. This suggests that Mani operated outside the control of a Mycenaean palace.
Chelsea Gardner—Local Identity in the Mani Peninsula in Classical Antiquity
Jumping ahead in time, Gardner discussed the Classical to Roman periods in Mani. There are no surviving primary texts from local authors from these periods, and there are very few texts written about Mani. Because of this lack of written material, a traditional study of “ethnicity” is impossible; however, there are alternative approaches to studying “identity” that can prove fruitful (see Demetriou 2013, Negotiating Identity in the Ancient Mediterranean). In a place like Mani that was oriented toward the sea, the maritime cultural landscape would have been an important part of everyday life (see Cooney 2004, “Introduction: Seeing Land from the Sea”). This fact is underscored by the identification of a major Classical-Hellenistic site in the coastal valley of Diros Bay, which was located during the survey conducted by the Diros Project between 2012 and 2014. This discovery is remarkable, considering neither Strabo nor Pausanias mentioned any sites on the west coast between Oitylo and Kainepolis (near modern Kyparissos). The results of this project demonstrate the limitations of the historical records when studying remote places like Mani.
Rebecca Seifried—The Post-Medieval Settlements and Road Network of the Mani Peninsula, Greece
I gave a brief overview of my PhD dissertation research on the medieval and post-medieval periods in southern Mani, focusing on the settlements and road network from around A.D. 1000 to 1821. I reviewed several historical records, including a letter from the year 1618 that recorded a number of settlements in Mani, as well as a number of previously untranslated Ottoman tax registers (or defters). When put on a map, several of the lists reflected a geographical journey around the peninsula, and this fact made the lists an invaluable resource for identifying lost or forgotten settlement names. I used GIS software to combine the historical data with archaeological information, showing how spatial analysis and social network analysis can be used to trace the evolution of settlement hierarchy, community organization, and network properties over the entire post-Medieval period.
List of Participants:
- Anastasia Epitropou, Undergraduate Chemistry Major at Quinnipiac University
- Michael Galaty, Professor and Head of the Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures at Mississippi State University
- Chelsea Gardner, PhD Candidate in Classical Archaeology at the University of British Columbia
- Julia Giblin, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Quinnipiac University
- Attila Gyucha, Postdoctoral Scholar at the Institute for European and Mediterranean Archaeology at SUNY Buffalo
- Panagiotis Karkanas, Director of the Malcolm H. Wiener Laboratory for Archaeological Science at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens
- Anastasia Papathanasiou, Archaeologist with the Greek Ministry of Culture, Ephorate for Speleology and Paleoanthropology of Southern Greece
- Giorgos Papathanassopoulos, Archaeologist with the Greek Ministry of Culture, Ephorate for Speleology and Paleoanthropology of Southern Greece
- William Parkinson, Associate Curator of Eurasian Anthropology at The Field Museum
- Aikaterini Psoma, PhD Candidate in Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago
- Daniel Pullen, Professor and Chair of the Department of Classics at Florida State University
- William Ridge, PhD Candidate in Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago
- Danielle Riebe, PhD Candidate in Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago
- Rebecca Seifried, PhD Candidate in Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago