News and Notes from the Athenian Agora
The 2009 summer excavation season at the Agora is wrapping up with various pursuits undertaken as described here. In no particular order, herewith, a series of notes from the season. After close to 30 years of hard service the old Agora water sieve (built by members of the Franchthi Cave team) has been retired, and a new one installed with the help of former Wiener Laboratory Research Fellow Evi Margaritis. Besides floating the well material, members of the Agora team will also work with samples taken from Byzantine layers above the Painted Stoa. Photo at right: Agora volunteers Pavla Gkantzios-Drapelova, Michael Washburn, and Kelly Hughes use a water sieve to separate organic material from fill excavated in Well H 13:6. Professor Rhys Townsend is studying the Middle Stoa, the single largest building in the Agora, in preparation for its final publication.  This work follows on that of his previous study of the buildings beneath the Stoa of Attalos, in particular the Square Peristyle Building, which was dismantled early in the 2nd century BC, initiating a reshaping of the city square that came to include the Middle Stoa, South Stoa II, the East Building, and ultimately the Stoa of Attalos itself. Two other members of the Managing Committee, Susan Rotroff and Mark Lawall, are also involved in the final publication of the Middle Stoa.  Professor Rotroff is studying the pottery from the massive construction fill; she is already familiar with the material, having incorporated it in her three definitive volumes on Hellenistic ceramics from the Agora. Professor Lawall is working on the transport amphoras from the fill, continuing the work of the late Virginia Grace, and incorporating these into his study of transport amphoras found in the Agora from the late Archaic through Hellenistic periods. Rhys Townsend, Professor of Art History at Clark University and former Chair of the Managing Committee, taking notes on the Middle Stoa in the Athenian Agora. In the southwest corner of the basement of the Stoa of Attalos are stored over 1,000 skeletons from the Agora excavations. This summer 20 of them have been studied by Maria Liston, University of Waterloo and Susan Kirkpatrick Smith, Kennesaw State University. Two Mycenaean Chamber tombs (J-K 2:2 and K 2:5), excavated in 1998 and 1999, have yielded a total of 10 burials in each.  The bones were commingled and very fragmentary, a result of both the re-use of the tombs and the unfortunate taphonomic effects of fluctuating water table levels near the north bank of the Eridanos River.  Nevertheless, it was possible to identify male and female adults and children, suggesting that these were family tombs. With one exception, the occupants of the tombs were exceptionally healthy (except, of course, for being dead.) The remarkable absence of arthritis, disease or any signs of stress in most skeletons suggests that these tombs were used by higher status individuals, and this is supported by the rich array of pottery and bronze weapons found by the excavators. Possibly only one individual suffered significant trauma, with rib and clavicle fractures. Otherwise, both adults and children appear to have been well buffered from the insults of Bronze Age life in Athens, leading to the somewhat tongue-in-cheek speculation that their lives were largely spent reclining, in the manner of a seated figurine found in tomb K 2:5.  The process of sorting and identifying five large crates of bone fragments was made easier by the collegial collaboration. Smith and Liston first met at the Kavousi excavations in 1990, and both have long been associated with the Wiener laboratory, but have never before worked together on a project. These tombs provided an opportunity to combine their previous research in Greece. Smith, as the first J. Lawrence Angel Fellow in 1992-93, wrote her dissertation on the Mycenaean burials in the Agora before these tombs were excavated. Liston, as the first Wiener Laboratory Professor in 2004-2005, completed the analysis of the early Iron Age burials from the same area north of the Eridanos River. Both have examined aspects of militarism and warfare in the archaeological record, which is relevant to the study of these tombs, with their array of bronze weapons.  Liston and Smith’s interest in the lives and deaths of the Mycenaeans has been shared this summer by many groups passing through the Stoa Basement.  Summer Sessions I and II, and the Agora diggers have all gathered around the bone tables for a quick introduction to skeletal biology and pathology. The opportunity to discuss their work in the Stoa and over ouzo in Loring Hall has been both valuable and fun for the collaborators, and appears to have been well received by all the varied visitors. Maria Liston and Susan Kirkpatrick Smith