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Europe » Greece » Pelopennese » Pylos
June 21st 2011
Published: June 24th 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

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The view out of the balcony of the bus station. Not too shabby, huh? We came down that windy road.
Here begins my first blog post of my travels to Pylos, Greece! I would try to roll out the drum rolls and fanfares, but since I’ve actually been in Greece for almost two weeks now and have been travelling since June 3, this first post is a little too tardy to merit much applause. Either blogging is not for me, or I didn’t have much to write about while in California and have been much too exhausted this past week to do anything other than dig, eat, and sleep (I bet you can guess which option I prefer). I will hopefully be a little more prompt with my posts in the future, but if not, I should be able to manage once-a-week updates with pictures and a few words about my adventures. Truthfully, if I were to write every day, this blog would read something like this: Today, I dug up a lot of dirt, six pieces of pottery, three bone shards, and eleven pieces of tile. I then failed to wash quite all the dirt off, ate a ridiculously huge meal, and went to bed. Ideally, if I hold off and only blog when I have the energy for
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More views from the bus station.
it, there will be a little more substance to it. With that preamble set aside, let’s begin. And just one more warning: this post will be a doozy.
I found myself at Logan Airport with just enough time to spare at around 3:30 PM on Sunday, June 12. I made it through sluggish lines, airport security, and the whole operation without much trouble and was comfortably seated on my Alitalia plane in time for our departure at 5:45. A combination of a partial reread of A Storm of Swords, good music, and slightly fitful napping got me through the flight reasonably entertained, and we arrived at my connection in Rome on schedule and with everything looking fine. It was once we got to the Rome airport, though, that the inevitable hitches began to pop up. I managed to guess at common Romance roots and follow the pictures well enough to find the right combination of public transportation that would get me to the new terminal, but once I arrived at the necessary layer of security and customs, the area for the lines to get to the security was an absolute nightmare. Apparently, Europeans don’t believe in herding people through
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Our lovely closet of a bathroom. Notice the lack of a shower curtain? How about a fixed showerhead? If you could notice a lack of water pressure, I would point that out too.
carefully blocked winding mazes as they wait in line for security—instead, they prefer to stuff everyone in a room and let them fight it out until they somehow reach the security gate through the mob that barely moves at a crawl. Sometimes the American zigzags of partitions can feel overdone, but believe me—I will never fail to appreciate their wonders ever again. I’m a relatively patient person, so I could have tried to wait out the mass of confused Americans and make my way to the front of the line, but I had less than an hour between flights, making time, well, of the essence. I managed to notice when they opened up a new security station and scramble to the front of the line, so I just barely made my connection, but—unbeknownst to me—my baggage did not. After I hopped the three hour flight from Rome to Athens, I was faced with a wonderful surprise when my luggage didn’t pop up on the carousel. Following some lines, communicating that my bag was lost, and some more lines, they eventually made arrangements (in surprisingly good English, actually) to send it to the Pylos bus station when it arrived, and I
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The couch luckily folds out into a futon... my roommate and I aren't quite close enough to be sharing a bed.
made my way, in a kind of numb panic, to the bus without my luggage.
Once I found the Iklaina bus, it was a relatively quiet five hours from Athens to Pylos, down diagonally across the entirety of mainland Greece, through what felt like innumerable (beautiful) ranges of mountains. We made a brief stop at a simple rest station that nevertheless had a spectacular view (see first couple of pictures), and made it down into Messenia and into Pylos full of admiration for our bus driver’s prowess—he can take our huge 56-person bus through winding mountain switchbacks like it’s nothing. By the time we got to Pylos for an 8:00 dinner, I had been up for 28 hours with a three hour nap, and had been travelling for 23. We’re staying at the Hotel Karalis, a lovely smallish hotel (we fill it up) right on the water of the Bay of Navarino. Karalis himself often serves us food. My roommate and I met, bonded, were pretty much instant friends, the whole package, and went and explored the main square, or Plateia (πλατεία), before bed.
On our first official day of the project, Monday, we were allowed to sleep
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The bed, which my roommate very kindly let me take.
in a bit, recover from jet lag (or at least start the process), and then headed over to the Palace of Nestor, in the ancient site of Pylos (which is not the same as the modern town, go figure). According to local legend and general (while slightly skeptical) archaeological opinion, this Mycenaean palace was the seat of old King Nestor, sweet-tongued and a major player in both of Homer’s epics. Without going into too much history/archaeology babble, the written records we have and the archaeology confirms that ancient Pylos was the seat of a major Mycenaean king, who ruled over modern-day Messenia, and Iklaina (the site we’re currently digging) was sort of a satellite capital that falls under Pylos’ jurisdiction. Anyway, this is a castle that I’d learned about in class, and while it might not look like much (other than the bathtub, of course, with its step so the old king can climb in without too much difficulty), this is a structure over 3,000 years old, and I definitely got chills. Many pictures ensued. We then walked over to a tholos (θολος) tomb nearby, a giant mounded structure with a domed roof, and then drove to the nearby town
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The view out the balcony of our hotel room... spectacular or spectacular?
of Chora (χώρα) to view some of the material finds from the Palace of Nestor in their museum. We got back in time for what I now know to be a typical four-course meal for dinner and prepared for Tuesday, our first semi-real day in the field. Just to touch on the food: I haven’t taken pictures yet, though I should, but it is amazing in both quality and quantity. Very few people finish all of their meals, since they are four-course in size, and the cook is kind enough to make me and the three other vegetarians our own main courses. I will be one plumply well-fed archaeologist when I come back.
Well, I intended to catch myself up to speed in this post, but it’s getting late by Iklaina Project standards (we get up at 5:00 AM every day), so I will have to continue with my report and some information about the field later… hopefully tomorrow. We’ll see what it brings.

Update: I, unfortunately, didn’t get this up on Tuesday like I planned. The internet is rather spotty here—we’re on the fourth floor, so we can’t use the hotel’s wireless and have to scrounge
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Looking out the other way, out towards the dock and Pylos proper.
for networks daily—and the photo loader decided to be temperamental. I’ll continue writing, hope that I have more luck later tonight, and hopefully get this material up sometime soon. (Note: it is now Thursday, and I am praying for good internet access. We’ll see how it goes.) Now where was I…
On Tuesday, we were allowed to sleep in a bit—until 6:30!—before heading over to the dig site for a semi-real round of excavation. By semi-real I mean, in as close to layman’s terms as I can come, that we were working on the site with trowels, brooms, screwdrivers (yes, the earth is hard enough to require screw drivers to loosen it in places) and such, but we weren’t in our official trenches yet. We were divided into groups of six, called a trench group, under a trench supervisor—the one who goes to staff meetings, confers with the director Michael Cosmopoulos (or, as we say affectionately, The Cosmo), and makes the decisions about where and how to go about digging in our squares (of ground); mine’s name is Σταβρουλα (roughly pronounced Stavroula)—and once the excavation was in full swing, each trench group had its own portioned piece of earth to dig in and deal with. On that first Tuesday, though, we were still cleaning up last years’ excavation, which had been covered up by tarps and messed up a bit between seasons, and so all the trenches were mixed together and we were all under the general direction of Michael. We only had a half-day of work, but we got plenty dirty, needed plenty of water (have I mentioned that the Greek sun is hot? The Greek sun is hot.), and began bonding over, at least in the section I was working in, the ever-enjoyable 20 questions. After we came back from the site, which is in the little village of Iklaina and about 30 minutes from our hotel in the larger town of Pylos, we gratefully showered and then attended the first of our classes with Professor Cosmopoulos, the first half of a general lecture on the history of Greek archaeology and history from the Neolithic period onwards. After that, we had a typically huge meal and retired for the night to prepare for our first real day of excavation, which was Wednesday.
It would probably clear things up to, in this early post, give a general sense of how our schedule works. Though he was kind enough to partially ease us into it for the first couple days, we now get up at 5:00 and get ready/eat from a breakfast buffet provided by the hotel before the bus leaves for the site at 6:00. We get to Iklaina around 6:30, walk a little ways down a dirt road to get to the site itself, in the middle of vast citrus orchards, and then work in our trenches doing whatever needs doing until lunch at 11:00. For the first few days we ate either food that we bought at the Plateia the night before or something scrounged from the breakfast buffet (they set out cold cuts, bread and fruit as well), though a local farmer started setting up a farm stand especially for us with fresh-squeezed orange juice (the best I’ve ever had), watermelon, sandwiches, and an ever-expanding selection of produce during lunchtime. At 11:30 we’re back to work, and keep working until clean-up at 1:30, when we make our trenches presentable for photo documentation and either walk back to the end of the road for the waiting bus or catch a ride with one of the workmen,
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A closer look at Pylos from the balcony
all Greek locals who do the heavy pickaxe/shovel work for us. Most days, we end up choosing to all bus down to one of the many beaches in the area and swimming for an hour before coming back to the hotel and showering in time for a 5:00 class with one of the trench supervisors or other adults of educational status. We tend to get out of class between 6:30 and 7:30, when dinner starts. Due to all the courses, we’re often not finished with dinner until 8:45, when some people go out to shop for food in the Plateia, some go out drinking, and most head to their rooms before bed.
Now that that’s out of the way, I’ll get back to my more chronological story. On Wednesday, we got up at 6, headed over to the site, finally opened our trench after lunch, and were clearing around the rocks sticking out of the ground to see if they made some sort of feature, like a fallen wall, since they appeared to be in a relatively straight line. As it turned out, since this was on the surface and had been disturbed by generations of farmers and olive
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The view from the boardwalk of the first beach, whose name I've unfortunately forgotten
trees, we weren’t hoping for any Mycenaean wonders, but were still surprised to discover, by the nature of the roof tiles and few pieces of pottery that we found, that this was actually rubble fallen from a building dating to the Byzantine period—thousands of years after all the material at the rest of the site. We’ve opened other squares to see if the Byzantine rubble continues, which it does, and Σταβρουλα thinks that there may have been a few Byzantine buildings that may have stolen stones from the ancient Mycenaean structure already there to build their houses—but I’m getting ahead of myself. After we finished up on Wednesday, the group voted to go to our first beach (see pictures), which had a little boardwalk and some shops above it for us non-swimmers (I fear too much for my skin to swim out in the sun). There was an absolutely spectacular sunset that night, and our first real day of excavation ended a success. This may not be the place for it, but just a caveat about the pictures: for reasons of copyright laws and National Geographic’s partial funding of the trip, we can’t publish any pictures of the site online.
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A closer look at the beach itself, which was of course lovely
I may be able to take some general ones of the surrounding landscape and put them up, but nothing specific of my trench or our findings. But anyhow, back to the story!
Thursday progressed much the same as Wednesday, though at a different beach, and Friday and Saturday followed in a similar fashion. The highlight of Thursday was that my luggage arrived that evening—I had been borrowing clothes and amenities from my roommate and our neighbors for the first three days in the field. Honestly, these past days have been a bit of a blur to me—they’ve been absolutely exhausting—but always extremely enjoyable as we turned up more finds and became closer and closer as trench-mates.
On Sunday, we took our second big trip, this one to the site of Mycenae (!!!) and the beautiful tourist town of Naphplion. After an extra hour of sleep, we slept some more on the 3.5 hour bus ride back through the mountains to get to Mycenae (and, once I woke up, I took a lot of pictures out of a moving vehicle with limited success). Once our tour guide arrived, we paid a couple of Euro to get into the site
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A view down the street of the boardwalk
and began our very hot tour. For those of you who aren't Mycenaean history buffs out there, Mycenae (see the connection?) is the biggest palatial site in all of Greece from the Bronze Age, and mythologically speaking, the home of Agamemnon, who led the Greeks in the Trojan War. Regardless if the myths are true or not, it certainly has a spectacular history and air about it, even with flocks of tourists tramping over its walls. We passed through the famous lion gate, looked at Grave Circle A, then climbed the citadel and came back over the other side to walk down the ancient (and slippery) cistern and finish up at the tholos tomb of Clytemnestra (Agamemnon’s wife) and the museum, where many of the artifacts are housed. One such artifact is the famous Mask of Agamemnon (which is incorrectly named, by the way—it dates long before Agamemnon was said to have lived), found in one of the shaft graves in Grave Circle A. Once we had marveled at all the artifacts that many of us had seen in textbooks, we headed over to the Treasury of Atreus, the largest tholos tomb on the mainland. Unfortunately, by this point my
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Looking across the Bay of Navarino from the first beach over at Pylos
camera had run out of battery, but it’s truly a huge and impressive structure. After we had fulfilled our archaeological quota for the day, we trooped back on the bus for the 30 minute drive to Naphplion (passing by Tiryns, another palatial site with beautiful architecture), the first capital of Greece, which is now a small and lovely town on the water that is teeming with enthusiastic restaurant employees and tourist shops. I don’t have pictures of this either, but it was a nice place to spend a few hours. The rest of day was relatively uneventful; we rode back for three more hours, ate dinner, and headed off to bed as usual.
On Monday, we started our now-permanent 5:00 wake-up time, and very groggily resumed work on the site. I probably shouldn’t write too much about what we’re doing at the site, either, at least not on a public blog, but our trench has huge amounts of fun and I’m accruing the appropriate number of bruises, scrapes, and blisters (and dirt stains) to look the part of the hard-working archaeologist. I use a whole range of tools, from pickaxes to screwdrivers to brushes to trowels, to try to
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From the outdoor seating where we eat our dinners every night
remove various types of dirt and isolate bits of pottery and other finds. Aside from the digging, we also do some weeding, testing soil types, and taking elevations (seeing how deep we’ve dug to try to document our process, with some fancy laser technology).
I think, now that I’ve caught up, I will finally wrap this post up. Putting up the pictures, which I require the internet for, will take ages, and I don’t have much time before dinner (and the internet isn’t working; big surprise), so I predict that this will be going up on Friday. In any case, farewell from oh-so-sunny Greece!




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Beach 2

And again... I'm going to have to look for the names.
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Messenia to Mycenae 1

The first of many landscape pictures I took on the way to Mycenae... out the bus window.


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