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The Australian Paliohora Kythera Archaeological Survey (APKAS)

APKAS. 1999 Field Report.

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The Australian Paliochora Kythera
Archaeological Survey (APKAS)

The 1999 Season

With a permit from the Greek Ministry of Culture the Australian Paliochora-Kythera Archaeological Survey conducted a preliminary research programme in 1999 in the wider Paliochora area of northern Kythera. Fieldwork was undertaken under the supervision of the Second Ephoreia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities.

Kythera, of course, lies off the coast of the Peloponnesos in the direction of Crete. It is today, as it was in antiquity, on the major east-west trade route and this has always drawn it, oftentimes violently, into the light of history. Kythera has played an important role as a stepping-stone between Crete and the mainland, and archaeologists have recently become especially interested in the island because of the discovery of a Minoan sanctuary on the island. It has fulfilled a similar destiny in other periods, and one of our overarching interests is to document the way in which prevailing political and economic changes have, over time, influenced the island.

The primary aim of the Australian survey is to investigate the settlement history of the area around Paliochora, the Byzantine “capital” of Kythera destroyed by a pirate attack in 1537. The survey is, however, diachronic and it seeks to gather information about this area in all periods from the Minoan to the present day. The project is based on a “landscape approach” to the past, something that has become very common in Greek archaeology in the past 20 years that seeks, among other things, to relate human history to the geography, resources, and environment of the area. Many foreign schools in Greece—most notably the British, American, Dutch, and Scandinavian Schools—have carried out investigations of this kind and it is appropriate that Australia—with its own strong tradition of landscape archaeology—should undertake such a project in Greece.

A modern archaeological survey is by definition interdisciplinary and our team included specialists in mapping, historical archaeology (from Australia and Greece), geology, classical archaeology, and Byzantine archaeology. A major concern was to develop techniques to position the archaeological evidence firmly in place, and for this we used sophisticated GPS equipment from the Archaeological Computing Laboratory of the University of Sydney.

The field season took place between April and September and the team was made up of 15 individuals, mostly from Australia, but including members from the US, UK and Canada. The 1999 season was in large measure preliminary and it included preparatory work for the mapping of the area; testing various survey techniques, and a preliminary examination of the topography, the vegetation, and the geology of the area.

The most important technique of archaeological survey, however, is fieldwalking (or pedestrian survey), where team members systematically cross over the surface of the ground, recording the archaeological material that they encounter. Fieldwork identified significant concentration of cultural material at a number of places. These “sites” included an important and otherwise unattested Minoan site, two major medieval military sites, an early modern settlement to the west of Aroniadika, and apparently Roman-period agricultural works. Particular care has been taken to record all of the many churches in the survey region, to examine their archaeological components, and to compare them with the information from the 18th-century Venetian censuses of the island. The survey work includes a major initiative to gather information from local inhabitants and to involve them directly in the investigation of the survey area.

The 1999 season laid a firm foundation for continued work of the Australian survey. We have already submitted a proposal for work in 2000 and we are confident that this will lead to further exciting discoveries and better understanding of this poorly known crossroads of the Greek world.

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