Saturday, 8 July 2017

Getting to know Olynthos


Today was my last day on site at the classical Greek city of Olynthos in northern Greece. Although I have never studied Greek archaeology, or indeed anything classical, ancient Greece is something I was always fascinated by as a child. If I'd thought to study archaeology as an undergraduate I can imagine that ancient Greece is something I would have gone for. Regular blog readers know I was a geographer before I was an archaeologist, and that background has situated me more in prehistory, with it's greater emphasis on long term environmental change and human-environment interactions. But yet again I find myself being fascinated by themes and comparisons rather than specific time periods, and also the differences in approaches to archaeology in different areas. Ancient Greece is exciting as there is a wealth of documentary evidence and we know so many of the little details compared to prehistory. But like other historic periods I have worked on (e.g. The Ecology of Crusading), the documentary evidence does not tell us everything. And when it comes to understanding the environment, and the daily lives of ordinary people, there is so much that we can't get at from written sources alone.

Although classical archaeology is still archaeology, it turns out that there are very different traditions compared to other areas of archaeology, particularly with researchers based in north America, where there is a definite division between 'anthropological archaeology' and classical archaeology. It seems so strange to me have these divisions, when we are all interested in understanding societies in the past, and we are all using various combinations of material culture and documentary evidence (albeit with greater emphasis on one or the other depending on the time period). As ever, my approach is to ask what the questions are, and which methods or approaches can best address those questions. I'm happy to say Olynthos director Prof. Lisa Nevett has a similar outlook, and has had a long term interest in the possibilities of microstratigraphic analysis for understanding ancient cities such as Olynthos.


I was invited to join the project because of my work at Catalhoyuk, and my recent World Archaeology paper which discussed the challenges and possibilities for integrated multi-proxy approaches to understanding use of space. For me this is an exciting opportunity to apply the methodological approach I have developed over the past decade to a site that is larger and more complex. Although the site is more recent in terms of age than Catalhoyuk, what are the different taphonomic processes and how does these impact the methods we can use? As well as the broader methodological questions, the more immediate aims are to test several hypotheses suggested during excavation, largely related to the presence of floors. I've collected a series of samples from three different trenches in one large building, and will be looking to see whether we can identify different surfaces in thin section. From there we will devise a more comprehensive sampling strategy integrating spatial geochemistry and phytolith analysis, and target more rooms, and more buildings!

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