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The Australian Paliohora Kythera Archaeological Survey (APKAS)

APKAS 2003. Field Report.

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From: The Australian Archaeological Institute of Athens. Bulletin.
Volume 1, 2003. pp. 16-20.

The Australian Paliochora Kythera
Archaeological Survey (APKAS)
The 2003 Season

by Timothy Gregory and Stavros Paspalas

July of 2003 saw the fifth field season of the survey project. The team comprised, as it has in past years, archaeologists and students from Australia (University of Sydney, La Trobe University, University of Queensland, Macquarie University) and the United States (Ohio State University), as well as a graduate of the University of Tasmania now studying at Cambridge. The goal of the project is to construct a history of the land use of the north-central section of the island through time. While the project was designed around certain questions that had specific relevance to the major mediaeval settlement of Paliochora (Aghios Demetrios), which is encircled by the survey area, the interests of the team members range from the earliest period for which there is evidence of human activity in the region right up to the present.

As in past years the greater part of the team’s time was dedicated to field walking, that is the careful examination of substantial tracts of the landscape, during which human-made features are documented, as are the cultural remains that lie on the surface of the ground. Most of the latter material is pottery, but stone tools, glass fragments and metal artefacts have also been noted. The recorded pottery is of critical importance since it - despite its fragmentary and degraded state - supplies the primary evidence for dating. Although most of the encountered cultural material is left in situ, a representative sample of all the noted objects is collected for further analysis (Fig. 1). The study of this material will contribute to a more ñuanced understanding of the human activity in the areas surveyed.

Ammoustes was the first area surveyed by the team in 2003, completing a phase of the project begun in 2002. Ammoutses lies on the southern border of the APKAS concession (Fig. 2). The work conducted last year clearly showed that the area, characterized by extensive, rather flat, spaces suitable for cultivation, interspersed with low rises and a few gulleys, was a focus of human activity during various phases of the Bronze Age (Fig. 3). This picture was further substantiated by the work carried out in July 2003; in particular, the pottery collected shows a heavy concentration of Early Helladic and Minoan-type ceramics.

The main phase of the Early Helladic (EH) period documented on Kythera is EH II, which is dated ca. 2750-2300 BC. It is to this phase that most of our earliest pottery dates, and so it ties in with the finds excavated by the British in the 1960’s at the coastal site of Kastri. On the mainland across the straits this is a period characterized by an increase in the number of settlements, and the material collected by our team may testify to the same phenomenon on Kythera. This suggestion may be strengthened by the observation that the documented pottery of this period is of mainland types.

The EH material is succeeded by finds which point to a geographical re-orientation in the pottery used in the immediately following periods, as it is now largely based on Cretan prototypes. The first of these (found in greater numbers in 2002) are classed as Middle Minoan (ca. 2400-1600 BC). It is, though, in the following period, expressed in conventional archaeological terms as Middle Minoan Ill-Late Minoan I (or the Neo-Palatial period), that there is an explosion in the amount of pottery noted. Indeed, this category of ceramics accounts for the bulk of the identified finds made at Ammoutses. It was during this period, Ca. 1700-1450 BC, that the Minoan settlement at Kastri was most fully developed, as was the Minoan peak sanctuary at the summit of Aghios Georgios tou Vounou, a landmark clearly visible from our study area. Thereafter our finds at Ammoutses drop off markedly for the later phases of the Bronze Age; the Early Iron Age (ca. 1050-700 BC) is not represented at all, but from the Archaic to Hellenistic periods we do have evidence of human activities in the area, which continue into the Roman period. Mediaeval activity too can be documented, as can Early Modern to Modern.

The other major area of fieldwork in 2003 was the region of Phoinikies in the far west of the island (Fig. 4). While local lore makes mention of the discovery of numerous antiquities in this region, the obvious agricultural potential of the area and its possible exploitation in past times made it of prime interest to the team. Intensive field-walking documented the extensive spread of Bronze Age material here, similar to that found at Ammoutses. Once again, the prehistoric period which is best documented among the noted finds is the Neo­Palatial. This finding significantly increases the area of the island which saw human activity at an early phase. The finds of 2003 in the region of Phoinikies clearly indicate the extensive scope of the Minoan impact on Kythera. These, however, are by no means restricted to the Bronze Age; material of Roman and Early Modern to Modern date was also documented and collected.

The other focus of the work carried out in 2003 was the height of Aghios Demetrios (Aroniadika). Survey work had been carried out here in 1999, and it had been noted that the pottery collected was practically all dated to the sixteenth century AD, the century which saw the destruction of Paliochora (the main population centre of the region) by the admiral of the Ottoman fleet, Barbarossa. Interestingly, the site is also characterized by what appears to be a rather rudimentary, though not insubstantial, fortification system. Given the date of the accompanying pottery and the known historical event of Paliochora’s destruction (AD 1537) it is tempting to suggest that Aghios Demetrios was an initial place of refuge for the inhabitants of the northern part of the island who survived the sack of Paliochora. It was necessary, as a first step for the elucidation of the exact nature of this site, to prepare a plan of the remains of Aghios Demetrios, and this was accomplished in 2003.

Further work was carried out during this season on the pre~20th century road network of the northern part of the island. The most noteworthy discovery was made northeast of Potamos, where a stone built road was located. It runs along the flat land north of this major centre towards the coast, and then descends, in a series of switchbacks in the direction of Aghia Pelagia. While the date of this feature is still to be determined, there is no doubt that it was a major undertaking and an important thoroughfare in pre-modern times.

Alongside the work outlined above, Dr Dale Dominey-Howes from Macquarie University, Sydney, conducted geological research that will lead to a better appreciation of the changes sustained through time by the landscapes examined during the survey. This will allow the members of the team to gain a better understanding of the processes that led to the deposition of the material they found and are studying, as well as highlighting any topographical alterations that may have occurred since the time humans first occupied the island.

Richard MacNeill of the Heritage Services Branch, Aboriginal Affairs Victoria, worked with the team this season on the databases and the GIS analysis and display capacities. He was able to provide “real-time” reports as fieldwork went on and invaluable help in the mapping of Aghios Demetrios (Aroniadika) and the pre-modern road project. He also made a first attempt at a theoretical prediction of the most likely transport routes for various periods and has been busy, after the end of the season, working on the analysis and presentation of the team’s data.

In addition, progress was made in the recording of the m’odern cemeteries within the survey area, a project undertaken by Lita Diacopoulos of La Trobe University. During the 2003 season the last four of the cemeteries identified so far were fully recorded, and all data entered into the database. The total number of graves in the database now exceeds 500. The cemeteries and graves have all been planned and photographed, and now exist in digital form within the GIS.

As mentioned above, 2003 was the last of the field seasons of this phase of the APKAS project. What is necessary to be done now is the completion of the study of the collected material, and its preparation for publication, which involves drawing and photography. It is hoped that this work will be completed over the next few years. By the careful study, identification and quantification of the over 7,000 artefacts described, and by relating them to the specific areas in which they were found, it will be possible to venture a diachronic history of northern Kythera, which will account for the developments within the area th~ is being studied as well as for the area’s links with the wider world.

The APKAS project was made possible thanks to the granted by the Greek Ministry of Culture. The participants of APKAS would like to thank the Director of the 26th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, Dr Georgios Steinhauer and Mr Aris Tsaravopoulos, the archaeologist-representative of that Ephorate on Kythera. Their thanks are also due to the Director of the 1st Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities, Dr Eleni Gkini-Tsophopoulou, and to Ms Marina Papademetriou, the archaeologist who is responsible for the Byzantine antiquities on the island. The team members of the project are especially indebted to the Nicholas Anthony Aroney Trust for its generous and continuing support.

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