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The Australian Paliohora Kythera Archaeological Survey (APKAS)

APKAS. 2002 Field Report.

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The Australian Paliochora Kythera
Archaeological Survey (APKAS)


2002 Field Season

General and Background:

The Australian Paliochora-Kythera Archaeological Survey completed its fourth season of archaeological exploration and analysis on the island of Kythera in July-August 2002 (Figure 1). APKAS is a project of the Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens and the University of Sydney, and the director of the project was Dr. Ian Johnson from 1999 to 2001 and Dr. Stavros Paspalas from 2001 onward. Funding has been provided by the Nicholas Anthony Aroney Foundation of Sydney, Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies (Harvard University), the Archaeological Computing Laboratory of the University of Sydney, and several generous donors.

The goal of the project is to investigate the history and archaeology of the northern part of Kythera (essentially between Androniadika and Potamos), from the earliest period of habitation until the present, and the relationship between human settlement and landuse and the natural environment of the island.

Kythera is a medium-sized island, located mid-way between the southern tip of the Peloponnesos and Crete, directly astride the main sea lanes that connect the eastern and the western Mediterranean. Large enough to support a significant population under favorable conditions, Kythera’s history has always been dominated by outside political and economic factors and it has frequently been a prize fiercely contested by the various powers that sought to dominate the area. As a result, Kythera has been controlled (in turn) by the Minoans, the Spartans, Athenians, Ptolemies, Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Russians, and French; for the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century it was a British protectorate, and in the twentieth century its fortune has been closely tied to Australia, where thousands of Kytherians settled and made new homes. There are today very close connections between the roughly 3,000 inhabitants of the island and the estimated 50,000 Kytherians in Sydney alone!

APKAS began with a central research question—focusing primarily on the medieval history of Kythera—but this has since expanded to include all periods of the island’s history. The project’s main tool is archaeological survey, the systematic examination of the surface of the ground for artifacts and features left by people of the past, but we also make use of other methods for gathering information, including remote sensing (e.g., aerial and satellite imaging), geomorphological study, interviews with local inhabitants, and utilization of the rich archival evidence from Kythera.

The original primary research question involved an investigation of the hinterland of the medieval “capital” of Kythera, Agios Demetrios (its Byzantine name), known today as Paliochora. This site is dramatically located at the head of a great gorge, approachable on only one side and protected on the other three sides by nearly sheer cliffs. The inhabitants of Paliochora had a reputation for wealth and they adorned their city with no fewer than 28 churches (72 churches if one is to believe local oral tradition!). The strength of the setting and the power of the double fortifications, however, were not enough to save the city and in August of 1537 Agios Demetrios was taken by the notorious Ottoman admiral Hayer ad-din Barbarossa. Few of the inhabitants of the city survived and most of those who did were taken as prisoners to the slave markets of the Ottoman Empire – and Paliochora was never rebuilt and its site is viewed as cursed and haunted right up to the present. Certainly, Paliochora’s defensible location was one of its prime characteristics, and the original research question of APKAS was to investigate whether the medieval city should be seen as a simple defensive “holding place,” or whether it can be better understood in the context of exploitation of the broader region of which it is a part.

Work began in 1999 in an original area of some 32 sq. km. in the northern part of the island, since expanded to approximately 65 sq km. The survey area is dominated by a large central plateau that runs, more or less north-south, from the modern commercial center of Potamos in the north to the large village of Aroniadika in the south. The plateau is scored by deep ravines that run, more or less eastward and westward, to the sea, with prominent ridges that lie between the ravines, providing arable land that extends outward from the central plateau toward the sea on the east and the west. There is, however, essentially no coastal plain, and the amount of arable land diminishes rapidly toward the sea on both sides.

Archaeological interest in Kythera has increased in recent years, in part because of the discovery, in the early 1990s, of a Minoan peak sanctuary at Agios Georgios tou Vounou in the south, and the subsequent inauguration of the Kythera Island Project, a large-scale archaeological survey sponsored by the British School of Archaeology at Athens, under the direction of Dr. Cyprian Broodbank of the University of London. APKAS has good ongoing relations with the British survey, and even more with the officials of Archaeological Service on the island, especially Aris Tsaravopoulos of the Second Eforeia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. In addition, the project has very good relations with the people of Kythera—both on the island and in Australia—and we seek every means to make the results of our project available to a broader public. APKAS to date has been a relatively small project, with a small field team, largely as a result of its rather small base of funding. In this regard one may compare APKAS, with a field team of ten or fewer members per year, with the British survey, which annually boasts a team of fifty members, including specialists throughout the world. Clearly, one of our goals over the next few years is to increase the base of funding for the project, in part because it has the potential to contribute significant information about the background of the Australian Kytherian community, which has played and continues to play an important role in the country. APKAS is currently the only active Australian archaeological project in Greece and it needs to have a greater public presence.

Fieldwork has been carried out each year by teams made up of students and professionals from several countries, including Australia, Greece, the US, Canada, and Scotland, with a majority of students from the University of Sydney.

Given the relatively limited resources available for APKAS—as well as the thick and spiney vegetation and the precipitous cliffs--a decision was made at an early time to sample the various parts of the survey area in order to get an overall picture of the evidence for settlement across time in an economic and efficient manner. Survey archaeology—we should remember—is not designed to find every sherd or even every classical temple, but to reveal evidence of broad patterns about how people lived on the land across great sweeps of time: we are not primarily “looking for sites” to excavate, but rather to gather evidence that will allow us to make observations on economic, social, and other conditions in a very wide area—comparable, perhaps, to a study of how various parts of Sydney – and the people who lived in them – have changed dramatically over the past 200 years.

Survey was conducted at different times of year in subsequent seasons:

a. April-May in 1999,

b. September-October in 2000,

c. August in 2001, and

d. July in 2002

Goals and Methods:

The methods of APKAS are, naturally, determined by our broader research goals. Since we seek to learn broadly about how people lived in Kythera from one age to another over the past 5,000 years, our research program has to be determined by that goal: we are not concerned to “find rich and wonderful sites,” (although we often do!!!), but rather to gather information that will allow us to write new chapters on the history of the northern part of the island: we are, in fact, attempting to write the local histories of various areas, in prehistory, in the classical period, and in later ages as well. This means that we don’t try to pick up every piece of pottery that we see—to do so would not only destroy the cultural heritage of the place, but also force the team to deal with hundreds of thousands of sherds, something beyond our ability to do. So—we sample the landscape, bringing back for analysis only those thing we think are essential (better to leave most things where they are!). All the material we have collected, however, is stored (under proper control) in the museum in Chora, the capital of the island. We always have full access to the material in the “apotheke” of the museum, but such archaeological material belongs—by right and by law—to the Greek state and it must remain on Kythera.

One of our goals is to involve Kytherians in this project, both those on the island and those in Australia. One means of doing this is to discuss our work informally and formally with Kytherians, especially the older inhabitants of the island, who are a precious resource of conditions and ways of life that are fast disappearing from living memory. We are concerned to preserve the knowledge of these traditions by writing them down and making them available to the public. Thus, on the one hand, we involve Kytherians as local informants, and on the other we seek to preserve and “give back” this information to the Kytherian community. Since the project, so far, has been primarily engaged in information-gathering, it has been premature to do much in the way of organized presentations, but this is something we will do much more of in the months and years to come. To date, we have not done as much as we could with the Kytherian community in Australia, in part because this has been premature, but also because the facilities for doing so are not easy to access. Again, we hope to do more of this in the months and years to come.

General Conclusions to Date:

The results of survey to date suggest a number of interesting conclusions. In the first place, buildings and material of medieval date—contemporary with the use-phase of Paliochora—is confirmed at many places in the survey area, most prominently around the churches of Agios Demetrios (to the southwest of Paliochora), Agios Onoufrios and Agia Aikaterine (Figure 2) on the main ridge west of Paliochora, in the vicinity of Potamos, northeast of Kastrisianika, and near Aroniadika. The glazed base in Figure 3 and the body sherd in Figure 4 from Agios Minas, near Aroniadika, are to be dated to the 15th or 16th century, while the sgraffito rim in Figure 5, from Agios Onoufrios, can be assigned to the 14th century.

The quantity of this medieval material was never great, but its presence is unmistakable and it confirms our hypothesis that there was significant activity throughout the survey area during the period that Paliochora was inhabited. This conclusion is further supported by the churches in the survey area that can be dated to the Byzantine period, either on the basis of their architecture or their interior decoration (frescoes). Indeed, the churches of the survey area (over 80 discovered to date) form a subject of special interest unto themselves and detailed study is currently underway on their history and the information they can provide about the history of northern Kythera over the past 1500 years.

Needless to say, significant material from the Roman period has also been found in the survey area. The sherd in Figure 6, from A. Ioannes Pentayious north of Potamos, can be assigned to the Roman period; this African Red Slip rim can be dated to the 6th century, contemporary with a mosaic floor in the church earlier found by the Archaeological Service. At Toufexina, in the western part of the survey area, we also found evidence of Roman activity, but also considerable material from the Classical period—such as a fragment of Black Glaze (Figure 7). Classical material, in fact, is widespread in the survey area, with significant concentrations in the central plateau and the area of Vythoulas in the northeast, which must have been a settlement of considerable importance in the classical period (see the pyramidal loom weights in Figure 8).

The 2002 Field Season:

Intensive survey in 2002 concentrated especially in a sandy, badly eroded area (known locally as Ammoutses), in the southeast part of the survey area (Figures 9-10). There, despite the fact that we identified four churches, we found virtually no evidence of medieval--or even classical—habitation, but rather overwhelming quantities of pottery from the prehistoric period. Most of this, of course, is not the beautiful fineware of the Minoan and Mycenaen periods that we find commonly in museums, but rather the coarse- and cooking wares that were produced mainly locally and are attested in the British excavations at the site of Kastri in the south from the 1960s. Most notably we found substantial quantities of material from the Early Helladic period, most notably EH II (dated 2650-2150 B.C. on the mainland, Figures 11-12). But we also encountered even larger quantities of Minoan pre-palatial pottery (down to 2000 B.C.) and even more pieces of pottery from the Neo-Palatial period (MM III-LM I, ca. 1750-1490 B.C. Figures 13-14).

Other intensive survey was carried out in the area of Agios Athanasios, north of Kastrisianika (where a brief excavation was conducted in cooperation with the Archaeological Survey in 2001; see Figure 10). Interestingly enough, prehistoric pottery was found also in this area (Figure 15), along with a well-preserved sgraffito bowl base (Figure 16), which is to be dated to the 13th or 14th century.

Further intensive survey was conducted in the area east of Potamos in the vicinities of the churches of Agios Georgios Koufonianika and Agios Nikitas (Figure 17). This work also produced prehistoric pottery and some material from the classical age and connected up nicely with the survey at Vythoulas carried out in 2000.

Besides intensive survey, our work this season involved the study of individual sites and monuments, as well as features such the pre-modern road system in the northern part of the island. One of these special investigations involved the medieval settlement at Agios Georgios Kolokythias in the far northeast corner of the survey area, on the coast north of Agia Pelagia (Figures 18-20). We had carried out intensive survey at this site in 2001 and recorded the remains of a second church—beside the one currently standing—as well as two large cisterns, an apparently secular building, and the substantial remains of a fortification circuit. Ceramic remains allow us to propose a date of the 11th or 12th century for the complex—earlier in fact than Paliochora—and the site thus seemed to be an especially important one. We received permission this year to carry out a detailed program of investigation at Agios Georgios, including the construction of a full plan. The latter could be done only after considerable work of cutting the dense growth around the walls, but this was accomplished by members of our team with speed and good humor! (Figure 21)

Measurement for the plan was carried out by Andrew Wilson, using high-precision GPS equipment from the ACL of the University of Sydney (Figures 22-23). Although the plan still requires some fine-tuning and attention to detail, it shows considerable details about the fortification, the churches, and the settlement that apparently existed both inside and outside the fortification walls (Figure 24). In addition, this means of recording allows the construction of 3-dimensional views of the site that can be turned and manipulated in order to study the fortress in its natural setting and to see it from different perspectives.

The work at Agios Georgios is a good example of the kind of study we will focus on in the coming seasons. After four years of intensive survey, we feel we have the basic information needed to discuss the basic settlement history of northern Kythera, and in the next few years we will devote ourselves especially to detailed study of the artifacts and features, as well as to publication.

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