ARCH 0420: Archaeologies of the Greek Past

Entries from April 2014

Feasting at the Palace of Nestor at Pylos by Todd Stewart

April 24, 2014 · 10 Comments

Discussing the  “Animal Sacrifice, Archives, and Feasting at the Palace of Nestor at Pylos”  Article by S.R. Stocker and J.L. Davis

Hey guys! Unfortunately, my plan of intentionally losing all the class competitions to get out of writing this blog have apparently been to no avail. However, this does mean that we all get ONE MORE BLOG to soak up before the semester ends! Gosh I’m going to miss this class.

I’ll be writing about an article by S.R. Stocker and J.L. Davis on animal sacrifices, archives, and feasting at the Palace of Nestor at Pylos. The past few classes we have been covering the diacritical role of feasting in the Mycenaean palatial society, and this article raises some very intriguing points on the subject and can help us better understand the institution of feasting.

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The article deals primarily with the contents of a single room in the palace of Nestor of the Archives complex (known as room 7) of the palace and the implications of these finds. Burned animal bones (primarily mandibles and leg joints of 5-11 cattle, and parts of a single red deer), one ceramic pithos, Linear B tablets, 20-22 miniature kylike cups, a sword and a spearhead make up the contents of the room. The burned animal bones are certainly the remnants of ritual sacrifice that took place in the LHIIIB period, shortly before the final destruction of the palace. The spearhead and sword were most likely used in the ritualistic slaughtering of the animals, and the miniature kylike cups, too small to hold very much liquid, were very likely used to hold a symbolic toast during the ceremony. Particularly interesting is the placement of these bones in this specific room, which served as the office of an archivist of sorts as indicated by the presence of many Linear B tablets. The question then, was what were these remains of ritual animal sacrifice doing in an administrative office?

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            More than 200 Linear B tablets were in the room at the time of the palace’s destruction. Some of these tablets tell us of offerings that will be made to Poseidon by the King of Pylos and its military commander, and others suggest that paired dining was a component of feasting at the palace at Nestor. It was suggested that these tablets represent an “audit of the palace’s equipment for banqueting” and in fact these tablets tallied a total of 22 chairs and 11 tables – a remarkable number in that 22 is the same amount of kylike cups found. Additionally, a frescoe depicting two people dining across from one another at a table was found in the Throne Room of Nestor’s palace. The number of kylike cups very likely corresponds directly to the number of seated guests present at the feasting ceremony. Perhaps these diners were comprised of high-ranking palace officials, or affluent representatives from provinces in the kingdom of Pylos; these diners were certainly representative of the elite of society. The 11 cattle slaughtered for this feast would have been an enormous amount of meat to be consumed, too much for only 22 diners. Therefore, it can be surmised that a hierarchy of feasting existed at Pylos, with seated individual elites dining privately in ceremony and a much larger mass group of lesser-privileged men. The material evidence of Room 7 leads us to believe that the remnants of sacrifice (the sword, spear, animal bones, kylikes cups) were moved to that room to be catalogued, perhaps as proof the sacrifice took place, rather than the actual ceremony having taken place in room 7.

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While reading this article I was enthralled by the idea of the private, seated dining the 22 elite individuals experienced. What were these men gathered here to discuss under such ceremony and pomp? Were these men foreign ambassadors, seeking to strike alliances with Pylos? More ominously, perhaps some of these 22 men had something to do with the destruction of the Palace of Nestor itself. Were subterfuge, treason and treachery afoot during this ceremonious feast? The imagination abounds with scenarios. Maybe I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones. Regardless, the material evidence found at the palace at Nestor helps provide remarkable insight into the nature of feasting and sacrifice in the Mycenaean world. The fact that we can tie depictions of feasting, to archived primary records of the ceremony, to the very material culture that was used during the ceremony is momentous. It is this momentous find, and others like it, that fuels the passions of archaeologists the world over.


Categories: Weekly posts

Survey archaeology: the first glimpse into any archaeological site by Emile Bautista

April 4, 2014 · 7 Comments



Today in class, we used survey techniques to inspect approximately half of Brown University’s main green. We split up into about 13 transects and walked in our own paths to see what types of ‘pottery’ and ‘stone tools’ we could discover laying around (in reality, we substituted things we would actually find on the main green for objects typically found at a site).

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This activity was quite the change of pace for our class and differed greatly from any of the group activities or discussion done in class. Spending class time outdoors, as cold as it was, was a refreshing way of simulating some of the things learned this week about the Greek countryside. Much of the countryside has been inspected by archaeologists using techniques similar to the ones we used, but on a much grander scale. Trying to use survey methods ourselves really puts the work done by archaeologists into perspective. The bitter cold combined with the biting wind made being outside insufferable at times. And yet, there are archaeologists who document the countryside, no matter the weather. Additionally, it took us far longer to examine a small portion of the main green than I had ever expected. The prospect of having to do this on a larger scale frightens me and I respect those whose passion is this.

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My ‘finds’ consisted mainly of branches, which served as pottery in our case. I would estimate that about 80% of the things I documented were sticks. This led to another epiphany: survey archaeologists surely find many of the same artifacts and it is their duty to record all instances. The monotony of that concept is not lost upon me. I found myself in a state of excitement when I found things like cigarette butts (aka roof tiles), something that was rare in my transect. Yet, I would expect that something like this is commonplace among many sites and these sorts of feelings are few and far between. I’m sure I speak for the entire class when I say that this activity really put into perspective the field work done by archaeologists around the world.


Categories: Weekly posts

TimeMapper Projects

April 1, 2014 · Leave a Comment

The goal of this exercise was to think about the interactions between people, places and things across time and space through using the TimeMapper visualization technology on three particular case studies.

Group #1: The Buildings of Delphi

(Logan Bonney, Angela Cao, Mario Gionnazzo, Abigail Moses, Ashley Urrutia)

Please click here to see the TimeMapper Visualization of the Buildings of Delphi

Nestled in a bucolic valley of the Greek countryside, the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi was an important pan-Hellenic site. Before the sanctuary was dedicated to Apollo, it was dedicated to Ge, mother earth. Delphi housed many significant temples, treasuries, and monuments kept by some of the most prominent city states of the Greek world. The site housed the influential oracle Pythia, whose prophetic declarations were sought by influential leaders before they made important decisions like going to war. Delphi was also the site of the Pythian Games, wherein a year-long truce among the cities allowed the Amphictyonic League to focus on preparing for the games.

Due to its status as a hub of Greek religious and political gatherings, Delphi acted as a stage upon which rival powers displayed their might through lavish gifts to Apollo and the construction of grand monuments, temples, and treasuries. These structures, built to advertise the wealth of their donor cities, reflected the competition that existed amongst the cities.  They also represented competitions among the Gods.  The style, position, dedicator, and who it was dedicated to showcased the diachronic changing of power and politics in the Aegean.  For example, in the building of treasuries Greek powers jostled for prime real estate within the sanctuary to win Apollo’s favor and display their power and wealth in the most conspicuous locations. Areas along the sacred way were coveted, and rival polities constructed their treasuries close to one another, begging comparison with their neighbors. The city state of Thebes built its treasury opposite of a group of Spartan statues on the other side of the sanctuary. The Thebans intended for their large, simply crafted treasury to be compared with the lavish spartan statues near the sanctuaries gates. The Siphnian Treasury was built next to the Sikyonian on a natural incline of the terrain so that it looked over its neighbor and could be seen from outside of the sanctuary. Since there was limited space, treasuries were relatively small, causing there to be little differentiation in the size of each structure. Since polities were unable to construct treasuries which were physically bigger than their neighbors they displayed their wealth and power through ornate column groupings and elaborate metopes. In some cases treasuries were intentionally built with austere facades to represent the no-frills piety of their donor state.

The Timemapper software showed how the buildings fit together and allowed a more comprehensive look at the progression of the site from the Geometric through the Hellenistic periods.  We found the most helpful feature was the temporal separation of the buildings, which allowed us to look at phases of the site.  This is contrasted with maps, which don’t have the fluidity necessary to model changing political rivalries.  Utilizing the software, we could see building patterns and trends such as the rise of military dedications in the first half of the fifth century, which we could then tie to the Persian wars and showed the changing nature of Greekness and the tension between polis and larger alliances.


Michael Scott, Delphi and Olympia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Delphi. Coastal Carolina University Ashes2Art, n.d. Web. <>.

Vandenberg, Philipp. Mysteries of the Oracles: The Last Secrets of Antiquity. London: Tauris   Parke Paperbacks, 2007.


Group #2: Doric Temples

(Aubree Moore, Liam Casey, Alexandra DeFrancesco, Sophie Cohen, and Grace Cinderella)

Please click here to see the TimeMapper visualization of Doric Temples

In this project, our group was responsible for mapping the location of Doric temples built by ancient Greek cultures, as well as determining the timeframe in which these temples were built. We discovered that contrary to what is commonly believed, Athens was not the main location in which Doric temples were found. Many of the earliest Doric temples were actually located in regions outside of Athens, with some appearing as far away as Sicily. The Temple of Apollo at Thermon and Temple of Hera at Pasteum demonstrate how some cities outside of Athens served as leading forces of artistic expression and monument building beginning in the Archaic period.

The Archaic Temple of Apollo at Thermon served as a prime example of an Ancient Greek Doric temple. Multicolored ceramic metopes decorated with mythical scenes, such as Perseus grasping the head of Medusa and a hunter thought to represent Heracles, adorned the top of the temple, signifying the universal prevalence of mythological figures in Ancient Greek cult.[1] The metopes at Thermon are the earliest known remnants of this art form, which appeared in many other Doric temples as a component of the frieze — demonstrating the influence that this temple presumably had on other Greek Doric temples across the Eastern Mediterranean.[2] The temple also later served as a location for the assembly of Aetolian League and was therefore an important center of political activity within Thermon, the focal point of political and religious activity within Aetolia.[3] The Temple of Apollo at Thermon indicates the significance of Doric temples located outside of Athens, perhaps even suggesting that this temple, and others of this period, may have influenced the monumental temples of Athens – Athens may not have been the first to represent the designs we have come to know as Doric.

The Temple of Hera at Pestaeum was one of the most interesting temples of the Doric style and the development of that style. The temple contains some characteristics that are not commonly seen in Doric temples such as a different method of spacing the columns on the front and the incorporation of Ionic characteristics. The temple was also one of the first sites to have certain features which later became common to the Doric style: the entasis and the use of interaxial measurement as the basis for the measurement of the whole temple. [4] The Temple of Hera at Pestaeum serves as a powerful example of the artistic development of the Doric style that took place outside of Athens. Many of the features used in the temple were incorporated into later Doric temples and it is clear that many later architects took inspiration directly from the temples design. Much like the Temple of Apollo at Thermon, the Temple of Hera at Pasteum also indicates the significance of the Doric style and monumental architecture outside of Athens and reinforces the notion that Athens was not the original and only developer of the Doric style.

Although our time-mapper project mainly focuses regions other than Athens, it is important to consider Athens in the discussion of Doric temples. Looking at one, if not the most, famous temple the Parthenon in Athens, modern scholars as well as the general public are constantly reminded of this architectural style. That being said, the temples mentioned our time map highlight that these temples, although less known, are equally as important in the discussion of Doric style and should not be overlooked.

[1] James Whitley, The Archaeology of Ancient Greece (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 160; J.H. Croon, “Artemis Thermia and Apollo Thermios (With an Excursus on the Oetean Heracles-Cult),” Mnemosyne 9, no. 3 (1956): 206.

[2] R. M. Cook, “The Archetypal Doric Temple,” The Annual of the British School at Athens 65 (1970): 17-18.

[3] Whitley, 160; Croon, “Artemis Thermia and Apollo Thermios (With an Excursus on the Oetean Heracles-Cult),” 205.

[4] Symeonoglou, Sarantis . “The Doric Temples of Paestum.” Journal of Aesthetic Education. no. 1 (1985): 49-66. (accessed March 31, 2014).


Group #3: Uluburun Shipwreck

(Emile Bautista, Gabrielle Hick, Thomas Pettengill, Todd Stewart, Guo Wang)

Please click here to see the TimeMapper visualization of the Uluburun Shipwreck

The Uluburun Shipwreck was an ancient ship discovered close to the east shore of Uluburun and was, in its time, the deepest shipwreck to be completely excavated by underwater archaeologists. The wreck contained a significant cargo of trading goods, many of which originated from thousands of miles away. The ship was most likely sailing from a Levantine port, carrying Canaanite merchants to a Mycenaean emporium, when it sank off the coast of southern Turkey around 1305 BCE. The bulk of the items found were trade goods purchased or obtained along the Levantine coast, with the rest of the cargo most likely consisting of personal belongings of the crew and passengers. The most significant portion of the cargo was copper ore and ingots from Cyprus. The trade goods varied in both quality and kind, ranging from luxury items like Canaanite gold jewelry to jars of incense. Although the origins of the items found at the Uluburun shipwreck covered a geographical range as far west as Romania and as far east as Afghanistan, the majority of the trade goods were traced back to the Levantine coast, which was controlled by the Egyptian and Hittite Empires during this time. The bulk of the goods on board – the copper ingots and ore – originated from the island of Cyprus, which at this time had a Mycenaean presence but was independent of any large empire. Other commodities included Egyptian ebony, 2,000 pounds of terebinth resin stored in Canaanite jars, and almost 200 coloured disc-shaped glass ingots from the northern Levantine coast.

While it is inferred from the personal possessions found on board that the crew and ship were either from Canaan or Cyprus, certain personal items seem to indicate that two crewmembers were Mycenaean. A number of weights were also discovered in the wreckage, and considering merchants traditionally owned a personal set of weights, it may be argued that the seemingly out of place Mycenaeans were travelling merchants. However, the lack of any Aegean weights further proves that the Mycenaeans on board were not merchants, and therefore were most likely crewmembers. The stone sceptre head found, whose closest parallel was discovered in modern day Bulgaria, helps to connect this ship and its trading endeavors to the lands north of Greece. Additionally, the tin ore found, mined in Afghanistan, indicates trading relationships between the eastern Mediterranean world and Asian tribes almost as far east as the Himalayas. Therefore, the excavated artifacts prove that the Levantine coast and Cyprus would have served as centres of major international trade, connecting not only the two major powers of the Hittite and Egyptian Empire, but also the Mycenaean culture and those tribes as far inland as Afghanistan.

While international trade in the Eastern Mediterranean, to an extent, centred on the Mycenaean culture and the Hittite and Egyptian Empires, this was in the context of a larger web of international trade which, as previously suggested, involved trading powers as far east as Afghanistan and as far west as Romania. While none of these international powers directly controlled Cyprus, the island served as a major source for material resources like copper, and more importantly, was a strategically important centre for trade. It has been postulated that the Uluburun ship had even set sail from Cyprus, which would make sense given the vast amount of copper found on board. By sourcing the origins of all the items found in the Uluburun Shipwreck, a detailed picture of international trade during the Late Bronze Age can be painted. The Uluburun Shipwreck proves a significant archaeological find; the historical information archaeologists may ascertain from the wreckage more precious than any copper ingots.

The TimeMapper program was extremely useful for visualizing the connections between trading powers in the Late Bronze Age. It allowed for the mapping of the shipwreck’s contents, as well as where and when they were from, creating a map that simplifies the trade networks.

Categories: Weekly posts