Research Spotlight: John Papadopoulos and Sara Strack at the Agora
Sara Strack and John Papadopoulos at the Stoa studying the pottery of the period ca. 1200-750 B.C. (Photo: C. Mauzy)
Of all the critical periods of habitation and history uncovered in the area of the Classical Athenian Agora, the material from the Early Iron Age remains poorly understood through lack of authoritative publication. Although numerous articles have appeared in Hesperia and elsewhere over the past 75 years, together with at least two Hesperia Supplements on the period (Supplements 2 and 31), the definitive volume on the tombs of the period, spanning the so-called Final Mycenaean or Submycenaean period through the end of the Middle Geometric period (ca. 1200–750 B.C.), as well as a second volume on the non-funerary deposits, have yet to see the light of day in the venerable Athenian Agora series (informally known as the “Blue Books”). We are happy to report that the first of these volumes (John Papadopoulos and the late Evelyn Lord Smithson, eds. with substantial contributions by Maria Liston, Deborah Ruscillo, Sara Strack, and others) on the Early Iron Age tombs, has been largely completed and is being prepared for submission for publication. As for the non-funerary deposits, although selected pieces of potters’ test-pieces, wasters, and related debris were published in Ceramicus Redivivus (Hesperia Supplement 31), we are currently studying the bulk of the material. Over 35 deposits of the period — largely wells and pits dug into bedrock — have yielded a daunting quantity of pottery and other finds, both organic and human-made. Some deposits have yielded a modest quantity of a few hundred pieces, together with more complete period-of-use pots; others have yielded upward of 3,000 fragments and whole vessels. Despite freezing conditions, howling winds, and belligerent pigeons at the Stoa of Attalos this winter, we have been working our way through hundreds of tins, and tens of thousands of sherds to gather a statistical count of all the deposits in question. We are combining that with a final bout of selecting diagnostic, representative, and strange pieces for publication that had been overlooked over the years, in our quest to provide a detailed study of the nature and development of Athenian fine and coarse pottery over a period of some 500 years. The beauty of these deposits is that they provide the single most important body of material of the period that does not derive from tombs. The Early Iron Age of Athens, like most of Greece, is primarily understood through the physical evidence from tombs. For the first time in Athens, each successive phase, beginning with the end of the Mycenaean period and continuing through the Protogeometric and Geometric periods, is now represented by a number of deposits, which together will go a long way in defining the synchronic variation and diachronic development of one of the most important and influential pottery styles of antiquity. These deposits, and the mountains of sherds they contain, will help to rewrite a passage of Greek history often cast as a Dark Age.