Goodbye Zagora from Hugh Thomas

Hugh Thomas on site in 2014 wearing his wind protection
Hugh Thomas on site in 2014 wearing his wind protection. © AAIA; photo by Irma Havlicek
by Hugh Thomas
Archaeologist

Ivana Vetta, Kristen Mann and I hold a prestigious record for the Zagora Archaeological Project. Although there are numerous people who have been on the project since the beginning, we happen to be the only three who have been to site every work day since the beginning (minus the odd sick day of course). We are the old folks of Zagora.

This fact only dawned on me a week or two ago when I thought about the site and the fact that, in all likelihood, I will not be back here for several years, if at all. This is primarily for two reasons.

Firstly, several years of study seasons have been planned in order to analyse and publish the data from the first three years of field work. (Study seasons mean research into the finds rather than further excavation.)

Secondly, as I recently finished my PhD, I am attempting to find work at universities around the world and if that happens, it’ll be likely that I will not be able to afford the time off to attend Zagora once excavations recommence, as I hope they will, in a few years.

Ivana Vetta and Kristen Mann aboard a boat
From left: Ivana Vetta and Kristen Mann aboard a boat on one of our rare excursions during the 2012 season. © AAIA; photo by Hugh Thomas

With this in mind, I have found myself thinking more about this season and exactly how I am going to feel on Saturday, 1st November, when I walk off site for the last time. It will not only be the end of a very important part of my archaeological career but it will be like saying goodbye to an old friend. I have come to absolutely love the site and its surroundings. I feel like I know the site like the back of my hand. I still laugh when new team members arrive and state how they would love to go to the beach to the north of the site. Having surveyed there with Stephanie Snedden in 2012, I know the beach is 90% rubbish due to collapse of a nearby rubbish dump.

Rubbish on the beach
Rubbish on the beach. © AAIA; photo by Hugh Thomas

I have been fortunate to have surveyed under the cliffs of Zagora and to have walked its entire shoreline on multiple occasions. In 2012, I walked with Steve Vasilakis around the base of the site looking for landing spots for boats. I remember the day like it was yesterday and it remains one of my favourite memories from this project.

Heavy rain off Zagora
Heavy rain off Zagora. Steve Vasilakis is on the escarpment, dwarfed by nature. © AAIA; photo by Hugh Thomas
Thanasi points out a recent rockfall to Steve that ruined another landing site
From left: Steve Vasilakis and Thanassis Schinas (an Andriot friend to us and the project) aboard Thanassis’ boat looking at Zagora from a mariner’s perspective. © AAIA; photo by Hugh Thomas

I have also have had the pleasure of excavating in a variety of areas around the site and have stumbled across wonderful things. I know that I, along with others, will feel an amazing sense of pride when those results are published for the world to see.

Then there is the walk. Zagora’s walk is famous and has been subject of a number of blog posts in the past. At roughly 2km each way and about 100-110 vertical metres of climbing on the walk back each afternoon, I have grown to love and hate the walk. Looking back on it now, the three of us have been to site on roughly 108 days. A little bit of maths then makes that walk seem even worse…

In total, just walking to site and back each day, Kristen, Ivana and I have covered some 430km. Even more staggering is with the steepness of the walk home, we have managed to climb roughly 10800 metres in total. That’s 2000m more than the height of Mount Everest (8,848 metres)! I know the path so well now that I remember individual stones along it.

Some of the rocks I recognise on the Zagora path
Some of the rocks I recognise on the Zagora path. © AAIA; photo by Hugh Thomas

But the project is not just about the site and the archaeology. I have made amazing friends on the team and many of us have developed close friendships with the locals. Zagora is always exciting as it means I get to rekindle these friendships for six weeks with team members who live interstate, or overseas or on Andros itself. Saying goodbye to the project is also saying goodbye to a number of close friends who I will never forget.

Walking up the steep path from Zagora
Walking up the steep path from Zagora. © AAIA; photo by Hugh Thomas

Since 2012 when just a handful of us came on the first season of Zagora, to now when we number over 45, I have experienced the best and worst of Zagora. With just a few days to go after a long and tiring season, I am unsure how I will feel when I walk out of the gate for the very last time or when I climb heartbreak hill and see the site sitting in the sun. Whether it’s sheer happiness of never having to do that walk again or sadness from all the memories, I have no idea. But what I can say is that I will always be thankful that I came on this amazing project and I will never forget the site, the experience and the amazing people.

Some 2012 Zagora team members outside the dig hut
Some 2012 Zagora team members outside the dig hut. From top, left to right: Andrew Wilson, Meg Miller, Irma Havlicek, Kristen Mann, Steve Vasilakis, Ivana Vetta, Sami Beaumont-Cankaya, Paul Donnelly, Meg Dains, Rudy Alagich, Jane McMahon, Lesley Beaumont, Stephanie Snedden, Taryn Gooley and me (Hugh Thomas) at the bottom. © AAIA; photo by Hugh Thomas

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2 thoughts on “Goodbye Zagora from Hugh Thomas”

    • Thanks a lot, Lynda. And we really do love this place. It will be especially sad leaving this time because we don’t know when or if we’ll be back – well, not all of us anyway. Thanks so much for being enthusiastic about the blog. Cheers, Irma

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