Zagora: The Foundations of Greek Community Life

Join us on Thursday 14 October at 6:30pm for a free lecture on the latest from the Zagora Archaeological Project.

Register online here.

About this event

The Early Iron Age settlement at Zagora (Andros, Greece) continues to yield new data and fresh insights into the nature of Aegean island life in the eighth century BCE. This presentation is the second in this series, following the April showcase of recent investigations at the site.

Thanks to new data from the latest field campaigns and ground-breaking reappraisals of previously excavated material (1967-1974), current Early Career scholars are offering deeper understanding of Cycladic community life and work at this remarkable site. Their work is presented here.

The Zagora evidence offers a rare glimpse into the daily lives of this community: the spaces its inhabitants lived in, how they fed and nourished themselves, and how they manufactured the tools and products they used and traded within an increasingly connected world. This research delves into these household spaces to create a picture of community life and the complex domestic landscape where cooking, craft production such as metalworking, animal husbandry and agriculture were interwoven into the fabric of daily life.

About the speakers

Rudy Alagich is a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney utilising biomolecular methods to provide new insights into ancient Greek agriculture and society.

Dr Kristen Mann is a specialist in early Cycladic settlement archaeology and household space, and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens and Director of the Digital Horizons Project.

Beatrice McLoughlin is the Finds and Database Manager for the Zagora excavations; her research is centred on defining the local ceramic traditions at the site, from the perspective of potters and users of the coarse wares.

Dr Ivana Vetta recently completed a PhD at the University of Sydney in archaeometallurgy and the Greek Early Iron Age and is an Associate Director at Archaeological Management and Consulting Group.

The Zagora Archaeological Project: New Discoveries

Join us on Thursday 15 April at 6:30pm for a free lecture
on the latest from the Zagora Archaeological Project.

The lecture is being held at the Chau Chak Wing Museum.

Register to attend in person here or join us online here.

About this Event

The Early Iron Age settlement of Zagora on the Greek
island of Andros never ceases to surprise. This presentation is the first of
two in which Zagora excavators will present their current findings and insights
on this fascinating period which served as the foundation and threshold of the
better known Greek Archaic and Classical periods.

Zagora reached its peak in the ninth and eighth centuries
BC, a period of critical importance in the development of the Aegean. Unlike
most other contemporary settlements, Zagora is exceptionally well preserved
since its inhabitants left c. 700 BC and the site remained largely unoccupied
thereafter. It is therefore a site that has great potential to inform us on how
lives were led at the dawn of the Greek historical period.

Building on the earlier Australian excavations of the
1960s and ‘70s, the research of the current team that recommenced work at the
site in 2012 has opened new vistas onto the settlement’s organisation, the
craft and production activities which occupied its inhabitants, their
agricultural and animal husbandry practices, and their far-ranging maritime
networks. The result is a multi-faceted appreciation of a living community.

Presented in conjunction with the Australian
Archaeological Institute at Athens (AAIA) and the Department of Archaeology.
This event will be held in-person at the Nelson Meers Foundation Auditorium,
Chau Chak Wing Museum.

Speakers include

Dr Lesley Beaumont, Associate Professor of Classical
Archaeology at the University of Sydney and Co-director of the Zagora
Archaeological Project

Dr Paul Donnelly, Deputy Director of the Chau Chak Wing
Museum and Co-director of the Zagora Archaeological Project

Dr Stavros Paspalas, Director of the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens, and Co-director of the Zagora Archaeological Project

Dr Hugh Thomas, Senior Research Fellow of Classics and Ancient History at the University of WA and Director Aerial Archaeology in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Projects

What is Archaeological Flotation?

Zagora is an exceptionally well-preserved Early Iron Age settlement and as such it provides rich archaeobotanical evidence for the foodstuffs regularly consumed by its inhabitants in the ninth and eighth centuries BC. Flotation is one of the archaeobotanical sampling techniques used on site to investigate ancient plant remains. Flotation captures small finds including grains and seeds that would normally be missed during archaeological excavation.

How are Samples Collected?

Firstly, 10L soil samples are taken from an archaeological deposit. A flotation log is completed and the sample is then placed in the flotation tank. The tank contains fine mesh and is filled with water to dissolve the soil in the sample. This can take anywhere between five minutes and 30 minutes, depending on the sample’s clay content.

Once the soil is dissolved, water is pumped into the base of the tank. Organic remains float to the top and over the lip of the tank where they are collected in a chiffon bag. These materials are called the light fraction and includes plant remains (both ancient and modern), and fragments of bone and shell. The materials that don’t float are called heavy fraction and are captured inside the tank, in the mesh. Heavy fraction can include gravel, small pottery sherds and larger bones. Both the light fraction and the heavy fraction samples are then dried for processing.

Flotation Samples being collected during the 2019 Zagora season. (Source: Jodi Cameron)

How are Samples Processed?

The heavy fraction is sorted and catalogued on site. Human made or manipulated remains, including pottery, worked stone, larger pieces of bone and shell, and occasionally charcoal, are collected and recorded.

Light fraction samples are dried and sent to the lab for processing. An archaeobotanist will then sieve the samples through three geological sieves separating out the different sized grains and seeds. The samples are further sorted between modern and ancient, and general plant species. More detailed analysis is then undertaken as required by the project and the sample.

The time required to process light fraction samples is dependent on the density of the sample. Samples which have no plant remains may take minutes to process, whereas samples full of plant remains may take up to two hours to sort. Unfortunately, due to preservation levels it is common to have samples with no plant remains.

Flotation samples drying in the sun before being processed: heavy fraction samples are drying on the ground while light fraction samples are drying in muslin bags pegged to a drying line. (Source: Jodi Cameron)

What Affects Botanical Preservation?

There are numerous factors that will influence the preservation of botanical remains at a site. Seeds and grains, like other organic materials do not preserve well in most conditions. Charring, and therefore conditions that lead to charring, are very important in botanical preservation. Charring events are often accidental or forms of discard, where materials are thrown on or near a fire or when a building/storage facility catches on fire. The charring process chemically transforms plant remains (primarily seeds) and allows them to survive within the archaeological matrix for thousands of years. The ideal charring temperature to maximise preservation is 200-300oC. If the temperatures are lower, diagnostic information can be lost through degradation. If the temperature is higher, the seeds and grains maybe reduced to ash and all information lost.

Other challenges to preservation include taphonomic (after burial) processes including ploughing, high water tables and constant wetting and drying of soils. In these situations the decomposition rate of seeds and grains is increased and the amount of information that can be gathered from the sample is reduced.

What can you find through Flotation Sampling?

It is important to remember that due to issues with preservation, the archaeobotanical remains that are collected on a site only make up a tiny sample of the potential agricultural system and culinary practises of the culture being studied. The type of plant remains recovered are also biased towards species that respond best to charring events. Ephemeral foods like fruits, tubers and vegetables do not preserve well. Leafy vegetables are never represented in the archaeological record but were certainly used by ancient cultures. Cereals and pulses are best preserved through charring and are therefore commonly found in flotation samples.

Flotation samples were collected at Zagora during the 2019 season, as also during the 2013 and 2014 excavation seasons. We hope analysis of these samples will be able to identify the seed and grain varieties consumed at the settlement in the Early Iron Age.

ZAP 2019 Team Member – Dr Charlotte Diffey

Charlotte Diffey has recently completed a Doctor of Philosophy at Oxford University on the nature of Bronze Age agriculture in large cities. She studied how ancient cities were provisioned in a sustainable way which allowed growth. The two primary sites Charlotte studied were Hattusa, the Hittite capital in central Anatolia, and Tell Brak in northern Syria. Hattusa is a Late Bronze Age site and while Tell Brak was occupied over multiple periods, Charlotte’s work focused on the Early Dynastic 3b period.

Charlotte wet-sieving soil samples at Zagora in order to extract the archaeobotanical remains. (Source: Jodi Cameron, 2019)

The sites are extremely different; they were occupied by different societies in different periods. However, Charlotte found similarities between both sites’ agricultural practices, which the cities’ inhabitants tailored very specifically to match their surrounding environment.

Hattusa contains the largest archaeobotanical find in the world. A 119-metre-long underground storage silo, roughly 30 to 40 metres wide, was discovered at the site. It was half burnt down during the Hittite period. When full it is estimated to have contained approximately 7 million kilograms of grain which could potentially feed approximately 30,000 people for a year.

Archaeological work at Tell Brak uncovered a large administrative building potentially used for the mass production of bread for workers. Again, this was full when destroyed and contained a large amount of grain in various stages of processing.

Charlotte concluded that both of these sites were engaged in large-scale, extensive arable agriculture, but while Hittite farmers chose to grow cereals under a range of conditions (variable amounts of water and manure, etc.), farmers at Tell Brak chose to match certain species of cereals with more favourable growing conditions, whilst using more resistant species for the cultivation of more marginal arable areas. Both cities were therefore able to overcome their challenging environmental and social differences.

Charlotte has previously worked as an archaeobotanist on Çatalhöyük in Turkey, at Knossos, Naxos and Keros in Greece, and at Bestansur in Iraq. At Zagora she was responsible for wet-sieving samples of soil excavated in this year’s trenches in order to extract the archaeobotanical remains, which will then be studied and analysed in order to provide information about the diet and agricultural practices of the settlement’s inhabitants.

Not all sherds are broken evenly

What happens to the finds we uncover while digging at Zagora? I spoke to two of the co-directors, Dr Stavros Paspalas and Professor Margaret Miller, to discuss the process.

At the end of each day in the field, all excavated artefacts are taken to the Archaeological Museum of Andros. This is part of the permit conditions from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture. All artefact cleaning and analysis is undertaken at the museum.

All artefacts are initially sorted on the basis of the context in which they were excavated and the material type. They are then cleaned, also based on material type. Bone and metal are often brushed clean rather than washed, to prevent further decomposition.

Pottery, which is the main artefact type excavated at Zagora, is soaked overnight to assist with cleaning, then washed and dried. The pottery is then ready to be sorted by fabric and function for analysis. Information regarding the dating of the pottery can be gathered at this stage and is then passed on to the excavators, who gain an idea regarding the dates of the features they are revealing. The team on site and the team in the museum regularly update each other and discuss the site and artefacts. This helps with site interpretation and further excavation decisions.

Artefacts during processing. (Source: Jodi Cameron, 2019)

All pottery fragments, or sherds, are recorded and weighed. They are added to the site database and provide information on the various types of pottery used in each area of the site. If possible, sherds are pieced back together and processed as an individual find. These pieces, along with other diagnostic pieces, are photographed and drawn. Diagnostic pieces generally include rims, handles and bases as well as pieces that bear painted, relief or incised decoration. They provide information on the shape of the vessel and thus the use to which it was put and the tasks that may have been undertaken in the area of the site in which they were excavated.

The fabric of sherds and any decoration they may bear also provides information on the use of the vessel from which they derive. Coarse ware sherds are generally used for storage and food preparation, whereas fine ware sherds are commonly used for eating, drinking and pouring. Fine ware vessels are often decorated; the more detailed the decoration the easier they are to identify and date. Keep in mind, though, that certain categories of coarse ware vessels also bear intricate decoration. Zagora has to date yielded some particularly interesting ornamentation on the large storage jars known as pithoi, seemingly only on the side that faced the room in which they stood.

Site photographer Nikos Vasilikoudis in the museum. (Source: Jodi Cameron, 2019)

All artefacts are cleaned and logged and preliminary documentation is completed before the end of the field season. They are then stored in the museum, where they are readily accessible for specialist analysis in the future. Copies of all excavation records are passed onto the Hellenic Ministry of Culture as part of the permit conditions.

Often humble, but sometimes spectacular, sherds provide insights into the lives, beliefs, myths, and connections of the population who lived at Zagora nearly 3000 years ago. Many examples from earlier seasons can be seen in the extensive Zagora section of the Andros Museum in Chora.

What’s beyond the fortification wall?

We have been working hard on investigating and exploring what lies within the fortification wall. But what is on the other side?

Archaeological survey

Archaeological survey is one of many ways to assess an area without digging or even disturbing the ground surface.

It involves teams of archaeologists walking at a set distance from their colleagues in transects or predetermined paths across the landscape. For this project they will collect all surface finds they come across (typically pottery fragments but occasionally other objects as well) and record all immovable objects.

Archaeological survey is non-invasive, which means it doesn’t damage or destroy any sites in the area. It still requires specific permission, however – in Zagora’s case, this is in the form of a permit from the local Ephorate, which administers every form of archaeological research.

Landscape surrounding Zagora. (Source: Jodi Cameron, 2019)

Pinpointing sea routes

One of the aims of the 2019 archaeological survey is to try to locate access routes to the sea that would have been used by the Zagorans. Access to the sea would have been essential to the settlement, and it overlooked strategically important sea lanes. Yet we don’t know much about how Zagora relates to the sea and to the wider Aegean.

Another aim is to try to identify any areas where the Zagorans may have undertaken specific activities.

Exploring beyond the wall

In previous years the team surveyed specific sections of the landscape surrounding Zagora. Team members found some Early Iron Age artefacts along with other more recent artefacts.

This season we are working in areas newly added to the permit – areas that have never been surveyed before – in the hope of finding evidence of how the settlement’s inhabitants used the areas outside of the fortification wall.

It will be very exciting if we can link the settlement to the surrounding landscape and understand how it may have been utilised.

Areas previously surveyed by the 2012–2017 Zagora seasons. (Source: Zagora Archaeological Project)

Uncovering industry and economy in the ancient Aegean: Conversations with Lesley and Paul – Part Two

This post – the final instalment in a two-part series which draws on a conversation I had with two of the project’s co-directors, Associate Professor Lesley Beaumont and Dr Paul Donnelly – looks at their hopes for the 2019 excavation program. Read part one here.

The current archaeological program extends beyond the sanctuary and domestic units to investigate the economy of Zagora more closely. How did the people live? How did they survive at Zagora? What was the structure behind the agricultural economy, the manufacturing economy and animal husbandry practices? With what other communities were the Zagorans in contact? With whom did they exchange goods?

Survey and excavations of the recent decade

To start to answer these questions, in 2012 the team undertook geophysical analysis. Through Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), resistivity and magnetometry surveys, they were able to get a better sense of what lay below the surface. These surface survey techniques enabled the team to identify areas high in surface finds.

Excavations since then have focused on communal areas such as the entrance area to Zagora, just within the fortification wall’s gate, and on areas with high numbers of artefacts – in particular, sherds (pottery fragments) and metal slag (which provides evidence of industrial work).

The 2013 and 2014 dig seasons focused on the results of the 2012 reconnaissance. Eleven test trenches were excavated across the site. Further surveys were undertaken across the surrounding landscape to try and pinpoint any other areas with concentrations of Early Iron Age artefacts.

Test trench 11 quickly proved to be particularly interesting. The team found evidence of a wide road surface which led towards what appears to be an industrial feature. This is significant as few access routes have been identified anywhere else within the Zagora settlement, and the possible industrial feature has the potential to answer some of our questions on the economy and manufacturing production.

Unfortunately, the 2014 field season ended before excavations could be completed. Test Trench 11 was backfilled and patiently waited for the 2019 season.

Test Trench 11 after the removal of the backfill. Geotextile was laid down to protect the archaeology from the backfill. (Image: Jodi Cameron, 2019)

However, Zagora wasn’t totally abandoned by ZAP between 2014 and 2019. A small field season, led by Dr Hugh Thomas, was undertaken in 2017 focusing on infrared imaging across the site and some of the surrounding landscapes in order to detect subsurface remains.

Aims of the current season

The 2019 season has been informed by the results of all the 1967–1974 excavations and the 2012–2017 excavation, survey, geophysical and infrared imaging work.

Importantly, in 2014 and 2015, the exposed architectural remains of the site underwent state-of-the-art conservation thanks to site conservation specialist Dr Stephania Chlouveraki (you can read more about her work here. ZAP’s commitment to the preservation and presentation of Zagora is deeply felt and this aspect of the project is very much at the forefront of the co-directors’ objectives.

The directors have approached the 2019 season strategically. Our focus for this season is on continuing the excavation of Trench 11 and ground-truthing the results of the 2017 infrared imaging and 2012 magnetometer survey.

Anomalies were identified in both the infrared imaging project and the magnetometer survey. Trenches have now been opened in both the areas where these irregularities were identified, and their secrets will soon be revealed! It’s early days yet, but we hope find remains that will further inform us on the ‘industrial’ activities which may have taken place in this part of the settlement.

Some of the team working on a new trench. This trench was positioned over a magnetic anomaly identified in the 2012 geophysical analysis. (Image: Jodi Cameron, 2019)

Keep up to date with the site on our Instagram: @zagora_archaeological_project

Helicopters, modern museums and Iron Age houses: Conversations with Lesley and Paul – Part One

Fieldwork is well underway at Zagora, on the Aegean island of Andros, for the 2019 season. I managed to sneak some time with Associate Professor Lesley Beaumont and Dr Paul Donnelly, two of the project’s four co-directors, to learn more about the project so far.

In this post – the first of a two-part series – they recount some behind-the-scenes challenges and findings from the early Zagora excavations.

Logistical challenges of the early excavations

Lesley has been working on Zagora since 2010, with fieldwork starting in 2012. In 2010, Lesley, along with Professor Meg Miller and Dr Stavros Paspalas, ran a workshop in Athens for key participants of the project. The attendees included the directors and some of the field specialists as well as Dr Jill Carington-Smith, who was a member of the first Australian team that excavated at Zagora, under the directorship of Professor Alexander Cambitoglou, in the 1960s and 1970s. Zagora was always going to be a difficult site to access, so the workshop was to include a site visit to discuss the plans for the excavation and project.

The first curve ball appeared when the site visit had to be delayed due to a 24-hour ferry strike. Which turned into a 48-hour strike, then a 72-hour strike and soon looked like it was never going to end! After a mad scramble to charter a private boat (all quotes were coming in over budget) the situation was looking hopeless, until one lovely boat operator directed Lesley to a helicopter company. Helicopters, as it turns out, are cheaper than private boats!

What could have been a disaster for the project actually became a great asset as the first aerial photographs of the renewed Zagora project were taken during that helicopter ride. This was the first of many reminders that Zagora is a very isolated site.

Amid all of this excitement, the co-directors, representing the AAIA and the University of Sydney’s Department of Archaeology, were also applying to the Australian Research Council (ARC) for grants to facilitate the project. To strengthen the ARC grant application the co-directors collaborated with the Powerhouse Museum through the advocacy of Paul Donnelly, a curator at that institution and archaeology graduate, as the museum had access to a wider audience and could provide updates on the project through a tailored website and blogs.

Paul joined Team ZAP as part of this collaboration and now works at Sydney University Museums where he continues to reach wide audiences, particularly through his work involving the university’s soon-to-be-opened Chau Chak Wing Museum. Paul hopes in the future to mount an exhibition on Zagora in the Chau Chak Wing Museum.

Findings of the 1967–1974 seasons

While Zagora is now an isolated and hard-to-reach site, it was originally an accessible settlement with access to the sea. The site is a prime example of an Early Iron Age settlement, with hugely significant archaeology, in a stunning location. Zagora is unique as we have access to the whole site as it was left in approximately 700 BCE.

The remains of the sanctuary, which was excavated in the 1967–1974 seasons. (Image: Jodi Cameron, 2019)

The excavations between 1967–1974 uncovered less than 10% of the site and, as is common in archaeology, they raised more questions than answers.

Those excavations focused on religious and domestic areas within the settlement. The sanctuary and houses were therefore the focus of attention, though important work was also conducted on the settlement’s fortification wall.

Houses excavated in the 1967–1974 seasons. (Image: Jodi Cameron, 2019)

In the next post, Paul, Lesley and I talk further about what they hope to achieve during the current archaeological program. Stay tuned! In the meantime, follow us on Instagram: @zagora_archaeological_project

Zagora – The Story So Far

As we prepare for the 2019 season at Zagora, here is a quick summary of what we know so far about the site’s rich past, what we don’t know, and where we are up to.

Zagora was a settlement of about 6.7 hectares in area, situated on the western coast of Andros, the northernmost of the Cycladic islands. It is an Early Iron Age site, dating from the 9th to 8th centuries BC, and has been preserved largely undisturbed since the inhabitants left in about 700 BC. We still don’t fully understand why they abandoned Zagora, though climate change is implicated as a major factor, but much of their domestic lives remain in remarkable condition for archaeologists to excavate millennia later.

The site of Zagora with the Aegean Sea and the island of Gyaros beyond. © Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens

Between 1967 and 1974 a team from Sydney University, under the auspices of the Athens Archaeological Society and led by Professor Alexander Cambitoglou, undertook the first major excavations at the site. These excavations uncovered 55 stone-built rooms which represent 25 houses, a fortification wall and a sacred area with evidence of continued visitation after the abandonment of the settlement.

From 2012 to 2014 Sydney University, along with the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens and the Powerhouse Museum, returned to Zagora with the aid of an Australian Research Council grant.

The team conducted excavations and an archaeological survey, bringing new techniques to the examination of the site including geophysical analyses, surface thermal luminescence dating, aerial photography, photogrammetry, satellite remote sensing, residue analysis and faunal analysis. Using these techniques and a range of evidence, the team was able to date the remains more precisely and learn more about what the Iron Age settlement of Zagora was like – from the ruins lying under the surface to animal remains to pollen residue. All helped build a more accurate, vivid picture of the site.

Some of the published material from the excavations to date is available to download here. More details on the site and previous archaeological works can be found here

The 2014 site plan showing the areas that were excavated at Zagora in 2014. The Zagora site survey data by R. C. Anderson, J. J. Coulton, M. McCallum, and A. Wilson. This 2014 plan by A. Wilson. © Zagora Archaeological Project

The 2019 season is a collaborative project of the University of Sydney, the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens, Sydney University Museums and GML Heritage. The aims of this season are to conduct archaeological excavations and a surface survey as well as explore subsurface remains with thermal/infrared imaging.  A particular focus of the team’s attention in 2019 will be an area in which evidence for workshop – or even ‘industrial’ – activities were revealed in the latter stages of the 2014 excavation season. This was a find of major importance for Aegean, and wider, archaeology. The upcoming season promises to reveal new and important information which will help us understand the economy of the site and its place in the wider eastern Mediterranean.

An aerial quadcopter shot of Zagora from the northwest, showing the stepped sides of the slope caused by erosion. © Hugh Thomas

The Zagora Archaeological Project is back for 2019

The University of Sydney’s Department of Archaeology and the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens in collaboration with Sydney University Museums and GML Heritage are returning to the important archaeological site of Zagora on the island of Andros in 2019.

The 2019 field season is due to start in July and will last for three weeks. The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has granted the permit for the 2019 Zagora fieldwork and preparations are underway.

During the three weeks we will further explore the site through archaeological excavation, archaeological surface survey, and thermal/infrared imaging to detect subsurface remains.

We have an amazingly talented team joining us this year. I will introduce them all throughout the course of the dig but here is a sneak peek!

The Co-Directors:

  • Associate Professor Dr Lesley Beaumont;
  • Dr Paul Donnelly;
  • Professor Margaret Miller; and
  • Dr Stavros Paspalas.

The Field Team:

  • Giorgos Agavanakis;
  • Rudy Alagich;
  • Lea Alexopoulos;
  • Sami Beaumont-Cankaya;
  • Jodi Cameron;
  • Dr Charlotte Diffey;
  • Annette Dukes;
  • Dr Myrsini Gouma;
  • Dr Nicola Harrington;
  • Anne Hooton;
  • Elaine Lin;
  • Dr Kristen Mann;
  • Beatrice McLoughlin;
  • Dr Hugh Thomas;
  • Nikos Vasilikoudis;
  • Ivana Vetta;
  • Emma Williams; and
  • Andrew Wilson.

I will be providing regular updates on the project. Get involved, ask questions and follow us here and on Instagram: @zagora_archaeological_project