Directors’ overview of the 2012-2014 Zagora Archaeological Project

Interviewing the ZAP directors in the Zagora dig hut
Interviewing the ZAP directors in the Zagora dig hut, from left: Lesley Beaumont, Meg Miller, Stavros Paspalas and Irma Havlicek. © AAIA and Bob Miller; photo by Bob Miller
by Irma Havlicek
Web content producer

In the final week of excavations in the last week of October 2014, I spoke to the three directors of the Zagora Archaeological Project (ZAP), Professor Meg Miller, Associate Professor Lesley Beaumont and Dr Stavros Paspalas, to gain an overview of their plans and aspirations for the outcomes of the project.

I talked to them in the dig hut on site at Zagora, with the usual comings and goings of daily archaeological work: archaeologists coming to get equipment from the hut, and to ask for directorial guidance when a tactical decision was required about how to proceed with excavation.

As always, the directors were generous in offering insights and sharing their perspectives of the project for this blog. Their respect and affection for each other is palpable, and although they treat the work with the utmost seriousness, commitment and professionalism, their camaraderie also results in plenty of laughter.

Interviewing the ZAP directors in the Zagora dig hut,
Another shot of us in the dig hut. From left: Irma Havlicek, Lesley Beaumont, Meg Miller and Stavros Paspalas. © AAIA and Bob Miller; photo by Bob Miller

What follows is based on what they told me that day in the dig hut.

Building on past achievements

Associate Professor Lesley Beaumont, Professor Meg Miller and Dr Stavros Paspalas at Zagora
The three Zagora Archaeological Project directors at Zagora, from left: Associate Professor Lesley Beaumont, Professor Meg Miller and Dr Stavros Paspalas. © AAIA; photo by Irma Havlicek
The directors had sought the Australian Research Council (ARC) grant to fund the return to Zagora because of its great importance as a Geometric-period settlement that had not been subsequently built over. Zagora provides an ideal opportunity to get an insight into the social and economic structures of the 9th and 8th centuries BCE.

The previous excavators here, in the 1960s and 70s, when the project was headed by Professor Alexander Cambitoglou from the University of Sydney, were real pioneers in three important aspects:
– establishing best practice methods in planning holistic study of a settlement site, including laying out the base plan and devising strategies for appropriate methods of archaeological investigation
– developing an understanding of architectural construction with schist and local marble, and
– coming to grips with and organising the pottery chronology of this period as it pertained to Zagora.

Meg Miller, Jim Coulton, Ivana Vetta and Lesley Beaumont discussing the Zagora trench of which Ivana is supervisor
From left, Meg Miller, Jim Coulton, Ivana Vetta and Lesley Beaumont discussing one of the Zagora trenches. Jim Coulton was the archaeological architect at Zagora in the 1960s and 70s. He returned to see the continuing work last year and this year. Meg and Lesley are two of the three ZAP directors; Ivana is one of the ZAP trench supervisors. © AAIA; photo by Irma Havlicek
Meg Miller, Jim Coulton and Lesley Beaumont at Zagora
From left, Meg Miller, Jim Coulton and Lesley Beaumont at Zagora. © AAIA; photo by Irma Havlicek

The current project is building on their achievements, using technologies available to us now which were not available 40 years ago.

Techniques and specialists employed in the 2012-2014 ZAP seasons

Meg Miller taking a photograph at Zagora
Meg Miller taking a photograph at Zagora. © AAIA; photo by Irma Havlicek
The ARC grant enabled three fieldwork seasons, one each year in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The directors carefully selected specialists and tailored the work program each year, to ensure that decisions about where to excavate would be as fully informed as possible, and that optimal understanding could be gleaned from the excavations, specialist analysis and research.

The following techniques and internationally renowned specialists were employed in the ZAP 2012-2014 seasons:

2012: intensive survey and reconnaissance across the whole site and limited transect survey outside the settlement boundaries

2012: four techniques of geophysical analysis under the direction of Dr Apostolos Sarris, from the Institute for Mediterranean Studies, Foundation of Research and Technology, Hellas, Rethymnon to determine where built structures were likely to exist below the soil surface

2012: archaeometry surface luminescence dating of built structures by Dr Ioannis Liritzis from the University of the Aegean, Dept of Mediterranean Studies

2012: examination by Steve Vasilakis of Zagora from a mariner’s perspective

2012 and 2014: geological survey by Dr Yannis Bassiakos, National Centre for Scientific Research ‘Demokritos’

2012-2014: total station survey under the direction of Richard Anderson and Andrew Wilson

Jim Coulton and Lesley Beaumont discussing features of Zagora
From left, Jim Coulton and Lesley Beaumont discussing features of Zagora. © AAIA; photo by Irma Havlicek
2012-2014: each year, soil debris from the trench excavations was dry sieved

2012-2014: cleaning, sorting, documenting and conserving artefacts recovered from excavations

2013: aerial (kite) photography by Dr Hugh Thomas, University of Sydney and Adam Carr

2013: satellite remote sensing by Dr Adela Sobotkova, University of NSW, and Petra Janouchova, Charles University, Prague

2013 and 2014: photogrammetry (3D visualisation) of the site from above and laterally by Dr Matthew McCallum, University of Oslo, and Dr Hugh Thomas, the University of Sydney

2013 and 2014: flotation of soil debris undertaken by Roza Maria Beshara, Unversity of Athens, under the direction of archaeobotanist, Dr Evi Margaritis, University of Cambridge, to find small, light material such as marine debris (fish bones, shell), botanical samples (seeds) and charcoal, providing further indications about life during the period of the Zagora settlement

2013 and 2014: conservation of artefacts, both ceramic and metal, by archaeological conservator, Dr Wendy Reade, the University of Sydney

2013 and 2014: archaeological illustration of key ceramic finds and architecture by artist, Anne Hooton

2014: archaeological architectural conservation under the direction of Dr Stefie Chlouveraki, Institute for Aegean Prehistory, East Crete

Lesley Beaumont and Meg Miller discussing progress at Zagora
From left, Lesley Beaumont and Meg Miller discussing progress at Zagora. © AAIA; photo by Irma Havlicek
2014: aerial (quadcopter) photography by Dr Hugh Thomas from the University of Sydney

2014: residue analysis by Dr Maria Roumpou, from Harokopio University, Athens, to determine what kinds of goods were stored and transported in different kinds of vessels. This is expected to provide evidence of trade patterns and economic structures.

2014: the study of marine faunal remains by archaeozoologist, Dr Tatiana Theodoropoulou, from the Wiener Laboratory, ASCSA

2014: research by Dr Joanne Cutler (an ERC-funded ProCoon project) into the textile tools (loom weights and spindle whorls) found at Zagora

2014: study of faunal remains (animal bones) by Dr Melanie Fillios which will provide evidence not only of food sources and diet but of possible secondary industrial or economic processes such as production of animal glue or tanning.

A clearer understanding of Zagora through architecture and site layout

The evidence from the the geophysical and surface surveys, aerial photography and satellite imaging combined with the excavations are providing a clearer picture of the wider layout and organisation of the settlement.

The current excavations have confirmed the findings of the 1960s and 70s: that the settlement was densely populated. If anything, it appears the buildings were even more extensively spread across the site than previously thought. They also have led to a better understanding of the various ways in which the units within the built environment were configured and used by Zagora’s inhabitants.

Paul Donnelly, Jim Coulton and Meg Miller, with Julia McLachlan seated, considering the trench of which Paul is supervisor
From left, Paul Donnelly, Jim Coulton and Meg Miller, with Julia McLachlan seated, considering the trench of which Paul is supervisor. © AAIA; photo by Irma Havlicek

Seeking an understanding of the open public spaces

Meg Miller and Lesley Beaumont at Zagora
From left, Meg Miller and Lesley Beaumont (wearing the 2013 ZAP T-shirt) at Zagora. © AAIA; photo by Irma Havlicek
This year, a particular aim was to elicit information about some of the more public spaces of the site about which almost nothing was known previously. So trenches were sunk across the site in specific locations to begin to understand something about the use of common space and potential access routes through the settlement.

The excavated building remains show how the inhabitants of Zagora used and compensated for the irregular natural topography of the site and there may also be more evidence of the industrial and economic structures of the settlement.

A clearer understanding of Zagora through ceramic finds

1) A more precise, tighter chronology

The recent ceramic finds from the trenches within the fortification wall’s gate (Trenches 3, 8 and 9) are similar to material found in 1974 at a section of the fortification wall and noted in a preliminary report published in ‘Praktika’ 1974.

However, preliminary work from the recent ceramic and other finds in the excavation area nearest the fortification wall is suggesting a clearer, tighter and more precise understanding of the occupation of the site from about 825 to 750 BCE – or prior to about the last 50 years of its occupation. And the time frame is likely to become even tighter when it has been possible to review and consider where in the strata the artefacts have come from.

The previous archaeological campaigns of the 1960s and 70s focused on the last phase of occupation, towards 700 BCE. Through the recent work of the project, a better view of an earlier period of the Zagora settlement is emerging.

2) What transport amphorae reveal

The project has excavated and been processing a larger number of transport amphorae which appear to be late Geometric in date. These relatively unprepossessing vessels have the potential to tell us a great deal about the movement of raw materials and people in the period and what larger networks the inhabitants of Zagora had access to. The conventional belief was that such amphorae became common around the 7th century BCE but recent findings (now corroborated at Zagora) indicate it may have been two or three generations before that.

Transport amphorae are extremely important because their fabrics – the clays from which they are made – and a series’ particular form are, in many cases, recognisable as having been produced in different locations, different production centres. It is reasonable to assume that they were filled with goods at the points where the clay was produced. So if we have Corinthian transport amphorae at the site, it strongly indicates that goods reached Zagora from Corinth over in the Peloponnesos. Though it must always be kept in mind that transport amphorae (the 10-gallon drums of their day) could also be re-used after their first journey, and this observation poses one of the many complicating factors that must be taken into consideration when interpreting archaeological material. There are also indications of goods in transport amphorae having come from islands of the eastern Aegean.

These finds may necessitate a re-evaluation of the chronology of these artefacts and the goods that were transported in them as well as our understanding of large-scale distance trade at that time. This appears to suggest a quicker pace in the 8th century of contacts between various places which is prompting a re-evaluation of social developments and urbanisation at the time.

3) The pithoi designs

Through the examination of the designs on recently excavated pithoi, Zagora is contributing to a deeper understanding of the iconography, or pictorial representations, of the period. Iconography is one of the main avenues through which modern researchers can gain some understanding of ideologies of the 8th century.

The figural scene on the large pithos, shown below in the photograph and drawing, is a clear development from the purely geometric patterned motifs. It evidences a re-emergence of quite sophisticated figural art in the 8th century BCE – which is earlier than previously supposed for this kind of design.

The scene has led the Zagora researchers to reappraise the relationship between those pithoi and the fine painted wares because of its primary figural motif – a swordsman vigorously fighting a lion and about to be taken out by another behind him – was within the pottery corpus, hitherto only known on fine pottery: jugs, drinking cups and wine mixing bowls. A major goal of the researchers is to understand what this imagery would have meant to the people who commissioned it and who placed expensive items (as this large pithos was) with such scenes in their home.

Ceramic sherds with applied relief showing a man attacking a lion, with another lion approaching him from behind
Ceramic sherds with applied relief showing a man attacking a lion, with another lion approaching him from behind
Illustration by Anne Hooton of applied relief on ceramic sherds
Illustration by Anne Hooton of applied relief on ceramic sherds

Industrial and economic processes

Meg Miller and Hannah Gwyther discussing one of the trenches at Zagora
From left, Meg Miller and Hannah Gwyther discussing one of the trenches at Zagora. © AAIA; photo by Irma Havlicek
Much of the specialist analysis, listed above, will lead to insight into the industrial and economic processes during the period of the Zagora settlement. Analysis of slag, which is metallurgical waste, will tell us what kind of metalworking the Zagora residents were engaging in, what level their technological knowledge and processes had reached, and whether metalworking was widely spread across the site or confined to specialised workshops.

Obsidian, a dark volcanic glass that can be chipped and shaped to be used as a cutting tool, was thought to have been principally a Stone Age tool, no longer used during the Iron Age. However findings of worked obsidian at Zagora in the 1960s and 70s contributed to a revision of this view. (Ref: ‘Flaked-stone artifacts in Greece during the historical period’ by Dr Curtis N. Runnels, in ‘Journal of field archaeology’, vol. 9, no. 3. (autumn, 1982)) Evidence from ZAP 2012-2014 will contribute to the understanding of tools made and used in the early Iron Age.

The analysis of organic residues on vessels used by the Zagorans is designed to shed light on what they were producing or trading, and storing in large quantities.

Archaeological architectural conservation

Last year a comprehensive plan was developed and preliminary work undertaken by archaeological architectural conservator, Dr Stefie Chlouveraki, from the Institute for Aegean Prehistory, East Crete. This year, substantial conservation work was done around and on the remains of the temple area and also in and around the building remains at Area J, excavated in the 1960s and 70s. Weeds were removed and the areas treated to discourage their return because plant roots can bury down between built structures and dislodge them. Stefie’s team developed techniques to prevent damage by rain, built walls around settlement structures to further protect them. A more comprehensive post about this work will be published on this blog.

Stefie Chlouveraki and Meg Miller discussing the conservation of the remains of the temple at Zagora
From left, Stefie Chlouveraki and Meg Miller discussing the conservation of the remains of the temple at Zagora, inside which they are standing. © AAIA; photo by Irma Havlicek
Lesley Beaumont, Jim Coulton and Meg Miller considering the poles which will become fenceposts to protect the temple remains at Zagora
From left, Lesley Beaumont, Jim Coulton and Meg Miller considering the poles which will become fenceposts to protect the temple remains at Zagora. © AAIA; photo by Irma Havlicek

Research and publication

The Zagora Archaeological Project is now at the research and publication phase. Several of the ZAP specialists, such as Beatrice McLoughlin, coarse ware specialist and finds manager, Wendy Reade, conservator, Melanie Fillios, faunal remains analyst, Annie Hooton, archaeological illustrator/artist and Bob Miller, archaeological photographer, as well as the three ZAP directors, Meg Miller, Lesley Beaumont and Stavros Paspalas, who is the fine ware expert as well as a ZAP director, remained in Chora to work in the Archaeological Museum of Andros beyond the excavation season. This part of the work is called the study season.

Bob Miller and Stavros Paspalas carry a purpose-built camera light table into the Museum
In the foreground, from left, Bob Miller and Stavros Paspalas are carrying a purpose-built camera light table into the Archaeological Museum of Andros for the photography Bob will do there for the project. The others in the shot are, from left, Beatrice McLoughlin, Alba Mazza, Susan Wrigley and (with her back to camera at right) Wendy Reade. © AAIA; photo by Irma Havlicek

It is only once the field work is over that the archaeologists can really start fitting the pieces of the jig saw puzzle together to see how the picture emerges.

Stavros cleaning an artefact with a wet toothbrush
Stavros Paspalas using water and a soft toothbrush to clean an artefact at the Archaeological Museum of Andros. © PHM; Photo by Irma Havlicek

There have been two major publications about the Zagora archaeological campaigns of the 1960s and 70s: ‘Zagora 1’ and ‘Zagora 2’. Stavros Paspalas and Beatrice McLoughlin, our fine ware and coarse ware experts, respectively, are now completing, along with their collaborators, the final volume of the series, ‘Zagora 3’ – making their comprehensive and detailed knowledge of considerable benefit to ZAP.

In parallel with the work on the major publication on the Zagora Archaeological Project, several other academic/scientific publications will need to be written by the project directors, including reports for the Archaeological Society at Athens’ journals, ‘Praktika’, and ‘Ergon’ on the 2014 season and reports for the leading Australian Old World archaeological journal, ‘Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology’.

There will be some breathing space as what is being learned about the Zagora settlement is consolidated, written up and, finally, published.

A great deal has been learned about the Zagora settlement during the field and study seasons of 2012, 2013 and 2014. But there are so many more questions now to be answered…. Now that we’re over the exhaustion, it is exhilarating to think of perhaps going back there one day and resuming the excavations.

Dr Stavros Paspalas, Associate Professor Lesley Beaumont and Professor Meg Miller at Zagora
The three Zagora Archaeological Project directors at Zagora, from left: Dr Stavros Paspalas, Associate Professor Lesley Beaumont and Professor Meg Miller. © AAIA; photo by Irma Havlicek

I wish to express my thanks to the ZAP directors, Meg Miller, Lesley Beaumont and Stavros Paspalas, who were not only generous with information during the interview, but since then have each made valuable suggestions for the post.

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