Dr. Archie Dunn
Co-directors: Archie Dunn (Birmingham), Kharikleia Koilakou (First Ephoreia of Byzantine Antiquities), Vasileios Aravantinos (Director, Thebes Museum)
After preparatory work in the summers of 2003-4, Dunn and colleagues in November 2004 and July 2005 conducted a split first season of archaeological and environmental fieldwork in Boeotia in and around the major site at ancient and modern Thisve (Ottoman Kakosi).
This collaboration with the Ephoreias of Antiquities aims to integrate the older studies of (1) the ancient urban settlement of Thisve, of (2) the archaeology of the Plain of Thisve, and of (3) settlements situated around and within the natural harbours of Thisve, within a new study of the factors affecting the history of the sequence of towns (i.e. ancient Thisve and its newly identified successor Byzantine Kastorion: Dunn, in press) and their loci of maritime traffic (which are also now identifiable in Byzantine and post-Byzantine sources). Whilst the archaeology of settlements, manmade installations, and objects such as shipwrecks and their contents, are potentially major sources of information, so too is the study of the environment of the plain and the harbours. Therefore a parallel enquiry into purely environmental change within the historical era around the plain and natural harbours of Thisve has been initiated by Dr Chrestos Anagnostou of the Greek Centre for Marine Research, working in collaboration with Dr Margaret Atherden of the University College of York St John.
The aims in 2004-5 were (1) for Mr Alexis Catsambis of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology (University of Texas A & M) to carry out a systematic survey of the seabed of the natural harbours of Thisve-Kastorion (the Bays of Saranti and Domvraina) in collaboration with the Ephoreia of Underwater Antiquities; (2) for the Byzantinists to begin the integration of all the older surveys of Thisve and its surroundings up to and including the sites by its natural harbours into a new topographical data base; (3) for the parallel environmental survey to proceed. Unfortunately the survey of the seabed, although fully funded by the Institute of Nautical Archaeology and the RPM Nautical Foundation, could not proceed because of problems of a practical nature within the Ephoreia of Underwater Antiquities. So sadly there is no progress to report on that front. The topographical survey, conducted by Christopher Mavromatis (Institute of Archaeology, University of Birmingham), Archie Dunn, and the Ephoreias’ representative, concentrated on the identification, description, photography (digital and non-digital), and location by means of hand-held GPS, of all visible archaeological features at the urban site of Thisve-Kastorion, and, by the same means, the integration of all the published archaeological sites situated between the urban site and its natural harbours, with the features of the urban site, into a single data base. This activity was extremely productive, even though detailed EDM survey was frustrated by technical failure. Forty-seven archaeological features or “places of interest”, and, working for the environmentalists, three environmental features, were recorded and situated. Archaeological features were classified provisionally as Monumental Structures, Churches or Chapels, Rock-cut Tombs, Rock-cut Roads, Building Complexes, Defensive Walls, Settlements, or Places of Interest (this last category consisting of concentrations of archaeological material which cannot yet be defined in any of the above ways or which may have been redeposited, e.g. by site clearance).
The urban site of Thisve-Kastorion has yet to be defined precisely on all sides by means of geophysical survey and surface survey. Much of it clearly lies under the modern village of Thisve. But the Ohio State University’s survey of the area between the Lower Acropolis (“Neokastro”) and the natural harbours (1979-1984), published in preliminary form by Professor Timothy Gregory, and the report by Professor Kominis (unillustrated) of a rock-cut necropolis, already provide some indications of the southern limits of the ancient and Byzantine settlement. Using their findings, the German Archaeological Institute’s published sketch plans (1958) of the ancient phases of the defenses of Thisve, and the precipitous topography to the north of the visible features of the site, as provisional indicators of the extent of Thisve-Kastorion, an area was demarcated in agreement with the Ephoreias within which topographical survey of all visible features could be conducted. Within this area 24 archaeological structures, complexes of features, or places of interest, were recorded in the three ways mentioned above. This total included ten churches or sites of churches: 2 Early Byzantine, 2 probably transitional Early Byzantine to Middle Byzantine, one “Place of interest” characterised by dislocated monumental spolia and a metallic shrine of a kind found at the remains of the other churches, an early modern funerary chapel associated with monumental medieval structures and a well, and four Middle Byzantine or chronologically Frankish churches and chapels. All are built largely of spolia from Greco-Roman monumental structures. An eleventh Byzantine church underlay a 19th-c church. Several have dedications recorded by the Austrian Archduke Louis Salvator in the 1870s. One of the transitional churches, “Agios Loukas”, and one of the Byzantino-Frankish churches, would, on the basis of the disposition and dimensions of their stone piers or vaults, have supported central domes. The site of Agios Loukas includes remains of substantial spolia-built ancillary structures and a monumental cistern. “Agios Loukas” in this part of central Greece recalls the memory of C.Greece’s greatest saint, Osios Loukas (who is actually named “Agios Loukas” in his mosaic portrait in the 11th-century Katholikon of his monastery at Steiris in Phokida). Dunn has already demonstrated, historically, that Osios Loukas spent his youth at Thisve (Kastorion) and much of his life as an ascetic by its then-flourishing natural harbours (now also historically identifiable).
The urban site’s other recorded features include Professor Kominis’ necropolis, which consists of several distinct complexes of tombs, and which is clearly ancient Thisve’s southern necropolis of this kind. Other groups of rock-cut tombs are clearly visible to the north of Thisve (not explored by us). Kominis thought that it might be a question of “Palaeochristian” tombs, but there is no proof of this. Their arrangements of cist graves within arcosolia correspond precisely to those of known Roman burial complexes. Since many of the Byzantine and Byzantino-Frankish churches and chapels stood outside the lines of the defensive walls, and because of the application of Roman law regarding sites of burial during Late Antiquity, it will be argued that the Christian cemeteries, especially the Early Christian ones, will have been at the sites of some of these churches and chapels.
The defensive walls of the city, the twin acropoles of Neokastro and Palaiokastro, and a “Frankish” phase of one of the surviving towers, constitute five or parts of five of the inventory of 24 urban monuments or complexes of monuments. Late Roman or Byzantine phases of masonry were recognised on the Upper Acropolis and in the eastern city wall. The so-called Frankish tower on the Lower Acropolis might be Middle Byzantine. There are great architectural and constructional contrasts between the Upper and Lower Acropoles’ defenses, which will reflect their far from parallel histories.
Other noteworthy features are two monumental square cisterns with diagnostically Byzantino-Frankish masonry, one being 2.70 by 2.40m in plan, the other 3.35 by 3.35m in plan, which stand above modern ground level and are decorated with recessed niches.
The topographical survey of the provisionally defined urban area is not quite complete. We know for instance that within this area lie dumps of murex purpurea shells (incl. the superior Hexaplex trunculus L.) that were reported in the mid 19th century and whose survival we reported to the archaeological service in 2003. Other complexes of rock-cut tombs are prominently visible. Not every accessible point around the overlying modern village has yet been traversed on foot. And at many points are clearly modern dumps of redeposited Greco-Roman architectural spolia, only one of which did we record as a topographical feature (being closely associated with an Orthodox metallic shrine). At the same time the archaeological topography of the space between the urban area and the natural harbours also needed to be evaluated if a comprehensive and effective research strategy is to be designed for the Ephoreias’ proposed five-year collaboration with the British School at Athens. In this area we were in practice evaluating the preliminary reports and maps of Gregory’s survey. This had collected material in randomly generated 30-m wide circles on the Lower Acropolis and across the eastern part of our proposed geophysical survey-zone, and, beyond that, in transects which covered 10% of the Plain of Thisve. It had also surveyed a significant Byzantine locus of maritime traffic by the natural harbour, and assigned codes to 10 sites of uncertain character and often of uncertain chronology, nine of which it included on a published map. After Mavromatis had overlayed scanned versions of four relevant sheets of the Greek army’s map at 1:50,000 and Gregory’s distribution map (1992) we re-evaluated that distribution map and supplemented the details contained in the published reports, using GPS, photography, and personal observation. Three sites were not where the map of 1992 appeared to put them, but in the general area of one of them, “E2”, were six complexes of monumental drystone walls, while visible from them were two more such complexes, all situated on the slopes between the Plain of Thisve and the natural harbours.
The parallel environmental survey, which Mavromatis and Dunn assisted, completed a programme of core-extraction, (1) on both sides of an ancient dam which divides the Plain of Thisve, described by Strabo, and reported by several Early Modern travellers and by modern archaeologists, (2) by the apparently Late Roman and medieval dam at the eastern end of the Plain of Thisve, and (3) by Lake Paralimni. Three recent manmade trenches in the Plain of Thisve were located and recorded. They reveal sediments to depths of ca.4m, 6m, and 12m. So far the vertical sections of one of them have been sampled by Dr Chrestos Anagnostou. Samples were taken for palynological analysis and geochemical analysis, using hand-held augers (“Dutch”, “Russian” and “Hiller” types), to assess the value of a more expensive deep-coring programme for the history of vegetation, land-use, and of the impact of the ancient dams and of colluvial erosion upon the configurations of wetland and farmland throughout the historical era. The trenches’ sections reveal intense colluviation, and distinct episodes within the long-term process. Dr Margaret Atherden (palynologist) also began a survey of actual vegetation all around the plain and up to 900 metres, building upon the records made by Dr Oliver Rackham and herself in the 1980s, in case the Thisve Basin’s history of dams and wetlands (of which the distribution of archaeological sites offers indirect evidence) preserves a statistically useful pollen rain. New sites for deep-coring with a Percussion Corer were also identified by her. The environmental aspect of the survey of the natural harbours, to be carried out by Dr Anagnostou, could not proceed since the Underwater Archaeological Ephoria felt, as explained above, unable to collaborate with Mr Catsambis’s two Research Vessels and their crews and the diving team.
The mapping of both surveys (the archaeological and the environmental), that is, of 47 archaeological sites and monuments, 3 deep sections of sedimentological interest, and 4 cores, is being transferred by Christopher Mavromatis, with some assistance from the School of Historical Studies, Birmingham University, from a scanned version of the maps at 1:50,000 to a scanned version of the 1:5000 series of maps. Mavromatis is constructing for the Ephoreias, and all interested parties, an integrated digitised data base which will include maps, photographs, and texts, and which can at a later date include architectural plans of the monuments, historical analyses, and, if the project progresses further, the results of collaborative excavations at points deemed to be most useful for testing our new survey- and text-based hypotheses about the long-term history of Thisve-Kastorion and its agricultural and maritime infrastructure. A detailed article presents the state of these questions for the Late Roman to Frankish periods prior to the commencement of fieldwork. It is to be hoped that this collaboration between the British School at Athens, the Ephoreias, and the Greek Centre for Marine Research, can be deepened and extended in the near future.
FIELDWORK PLANNED FOR 2006