Excavation area 5

by Irma Havlicek
Powerhouse Museum Website Producer

Dr Paul Donnelly, pictured here with Zagora behind
Paul Donnelly, trench supervisor of EA5, pictured here with Zagora behind. Photo by Irma Havlicek; © PHM

Excavation Area 5 (EA5) is at the extreme southern end of the Zagora site. The trench here is being supervised by my Powerhouse colleague, curator and archaeologist, Dr Paul Donnelly. This area, on the far side of the distant modern field wall that is seen as you walk down to the site (see photo, below), has never been excavated before. Because the Zagora Archaeological Project is trying to obtain an overall picture of the site, it is important to sample intensively all areas of the site, including this southern, relatively unknown area of the site.

Zagora (the plateau in the middle of the frame) is much bigger than it looks from the walk down to the site
All the walls you can see in this photo are ‘modern’ field walls. The furthest visible wall up at the left of the site is the one beyond which is the far southern end of Zagora where EA5 is located. Photo by Irma Havlicek; © Powerhouse Museum

Schist does not occur naturally on the surface of the Zagora promontory. The surface bedrock of the promontory is marble. The schist commonly found within the settlement site has been brought in from the surrounding areas to be used as construction material. The buildings excavated in the 1960s and 70s are built of a combination of marble and schist.

The EA5 team enjoys a tea break on marble bedrock at the southern end of Zagora
The EA5 team enjoys a tea break on marble bedrock at the southern end of Zagora. Photo by Irma Havlicek; © PHM

At the south of the site, in and around EA5, almost no schist can be seen indicating that buildings here may have been made largely or almost exclusively from marble. Construction techniques here would have needed to be different from anything yet observed at Zagora. Bedrock marble would need to be cut into to make a foundation for construction – a far more difficult task than shaping schist which can be broken and split into horizontal slabs.

Our dig hut wall, constructed of marble and schist
Here is a detail of the modern wall construction of our dig hut built along traditional lines similar to how walls have been constructed at Zagora for thousands of years. At top left you can see a slab of schist, marked by all the horizontal lines. Schist shears off easily along these horizontal lines, and is shaped very easily by tapping/chipping, for example, with a trowel. The rock to the right of that is marble. In the case of our dig hut, an earth- and pebble-based mortar has been laid between the stones to provide wind- and water-proofing. Photo by Irma Havlicek; © PHM

An ancient building structure was observed at the far south of the site, and is noted in the 1960s/70s plan below, but it was not excavated at that time.

A plan of the site by J. J. Coulton, site architect of the 1960s and 70s Zagora excavations, showing the excavated buildings in areas D, H and J.
A Zagora site plan, showing the excavated buildings in areas D, H and J as well as noting structures, such as the one at EA5, which were not excavated then. © University of Sydney; produced digitally by Matthew McCallum and Andrew Wilson based on the original pen and paper plans of J. J. Coulton, site architect of Zagora in the 1960s and 70s. You can read more about the site grid of Zagora here.
Excavation Area 5 in the distance
Excavation Area 5 in the distance with, from left: Paul Donnelly, Steve Vassilakis and Marco Schugk (Alex Ribeny is partly obscured behind Steve and Paul). You can see the modern (ie, not ancient, and probably built within the last couple of hundred years or so) field wall extending across the frame from left to right, sloping upwards across the frame near the top of the land area of the shot. Photo by Irma Havlicek; © PHM

Excavation Area 5 (as with EA1 and EA4) is not being excavated on a random 5m x 5m square grid. It is being excavated as a discrete structure within a larger 20m x 20m trench area.

Marco Schugk, Alex Ribeny, Tasha Nassenstein and Paul Donnelly working in EA5.
From left: Marco Schugk, Alex Ribeny, Tasha Nassenstein and Paul Donnelly (trench supervisor) working in Excavation Area 5. The grey rocks you can see everywhere are marble. © PHM; photo by Irma Havlicek

EA5 raises many questions. What construction methods were used, and how similar or different were they from those observed elsewhere at Zagora? Were these marble buildings freestanding or were they part of attached multi-room complexes as is the case with the schist architecture elsewhere on the site?

Did they shape the marble blocks used for building and, if so, how? Did they construct buildings in the vicinity of EA5 out of marble only because the marble was abundantly available there? Or did the structures built out of marble near the cliff edge at the far south of the site have different functions from those elsewhere on the site? Certainly, those buildings would have been among the first to see ships or boats approaching the coastline – and would have been among the first buildings here seen from the sea.

Paul Donnelly, Alex Ribeny, Tasha Nassenstein and Marco Schugk working in EA5
From left: Paul Donnelly (trench supervisor), Alex Ribeny, Tasha Nassenstein and Marco Schugk working in Excavation Area 5. There is a clear view between EA5 and the sea. © PHM; photo by Irma Havlicek
Marco Schugk, Natasha Nassenstein, Alex Ribeny and Paul Donnelly (trench supervisor) working in Excavation Area 5
From left: Marco Schugk, Natasha Nassenstein, Alex Ribeny and Paul Donnelly (trench supervisor) working in Excavation Area 5. © PHM; photo by Irma Havlicek
Paul Donnelly writing in his notebook at Excavation Area 5
Paul Donnelly writing in his notebook at Excavation Area 5. © PHM; photo by Irma Havlicek

Thanks

Thanks to Lesley Beaumont and Meg Miller for conversations with them that provided content for this post.

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