Samantha Mills, PhD student at Macquarie University, takes us behind the scenes on an archaeological field survey.
When you sign up to be involved in an overseas archaeological project for the first time, you are not quite sure what to expect when you get to your destination. When you hear about some other archaeological projects, sometimes you hear about horror stories, and sometimes you hear about other fun and exciting projects. My experience on the Perachora Peninsula Archaeological Project (PPAP) is definitely an example of the second category.
As a newly initiated postgraduate lacking any real archaeological experience outside of the introductory classes everyone takes in their undergrad, I was excited (and a bit nervous) at the beginning of the PPAP. But I knew that this archaeological project was going to help me develop some extremely useful skills I will need in my future career, and perhaps help me think about different avenues for my own research.
The aim of the PPAP’s first archaeological season was to conduct an intensive surface survey around the Heraion and its immediate surroundings to study and document habitation, funerary and waterworks structures. The purpose of this is to create a more detailed picture of the site’s historical development, and share this with students, academics, and the public.
Aside from learning about the Heraion’s historical context – its first cult building is dated to the eighth century BC, but habitation in the area may date back to the Bronze Age – we also learned about the styles of pottery and artefacts that we would come across during the survey. Dr. Lupack organised for us to meet several local members of the ephorate who are collaborating on the project, the security guards who take care of the Heraion, and the researchers working at the archaeological site of ancient Corinth, where an extensive collection of ceramics from all periods of the site are stored.
Meeting all of these people was truly heart-warming, because we could see how excited they were to see us, as foreign students, taking such an interest in the beautiful Perachora Peninsula. As a student who had never had much of an opportunity to study ceramics – nor had I thought it could be so interesting – working on the PPAP was especially rewarding.
We were introduced to ceramic studies early into the project, so that the surface survey would be easier for students without much experience (or knowledge). We learned to identify diagnostic fragments in the field with ease after a few days of practice, and we found it especially exciting to find lithics in the field. Although we had a lot of technical things to learn, such as the process of surface survey (many of us had only read about this in textbooks), documentation of the team’s progress in the field, and data entry at the end of ‘in the field’ work, we also conducted more physically laborious work, which involved a great deal of clearing heavy brush, a task that was made more fun with ‘The Wiggles’ sing-a-longs.
Because one of the aims of the PPAP was to verify the legacy data of the upper plain and use photogrammetry to document certain structures, such as Building A1 and the Fountain House, clearing needed to be thorough. This meant that there were several days where all the students were divided up into survey and clearing teams. While the survey team(s) went to their survey area for the day, the clearing team(s) would work on their assigned structures. Armed with our heavy garden clippers, we worked tirelessly to clear away the bushes and vines, whose thorns could be particularly nasty! It was a great feeling when our Greek colleagues working at the Heraion and even a couple of very enthusiastic locals pitched in and worked with us – their chainsaws certainly helped to get rid of the larger bushes and small trees! Eventually we got the site clean enough so that our photogrammetry team could then clearly document the structures for future study. Our efforts were rewarded with stray cats who would come to greet and join us for lunch while we admired our work in the warm, afternoon sun.
If I had to summarise my experience on the PPAP in one word, it would be ‘inspirational.’ The reason for this is because I have had my first taste of archaeological fieldwork, and I am certain that the PPAP was the best possible way for me to be introduced to archaeological fieldwork.
I was able to learn so much about fieldwork, data entry (which still terrifies me, but I am getting much better!), photogrammetry, documentation of ceramic finds, as well as the benefits of having a wonderful group of team leaders who took so much time to help me to learn as much as I could.
In regards to my research interests, studying a site like the Heraion helps you to think about how important these early contacts in the Geometric and Archaic periods were in the development of the Greek poleis, and how early forms of Helladic society and religion impacted later Greek ideology. In a broader sense, my experience of the PPAP demonstrated the importance of accurate and detailed documentation, and I believe it has also helped me, as an early career researcher, to develop my own critical thinking skills. I believe that the PPAP will also have this effect on the undergraduate students who participated on this project. We all learned how important communication and teamwork is, and this is something we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.
We will also all have the fond memory of singing classic ‘Wiggles’ songs together in the field, and the image of dancing together with Susan and the local people of Perachora on one of our final nights on the project.
About Samantha Mills: I am a PhD student at Macquarie Univeristy, under the supervision of Dr. Susan Lupack. My research interests pertain to Late Bronze Age society and political structures, specifically the relationship between the Mycenaean wanaktes and their polities. I am researching how these polities and their wanaktes interacted, and whether there was indeed one ‘Great King’ ruling the Mycenaean mainland from Mycenae, as has been debated for some time. I am also researching Mycenaean interaction with the Hittites between 1400-1200 BC in relation to the ‘Great King’ theory. Follow Samantha Mills on Twitter
[About Samantha’s profile picture: This picture was taken by my friend, Alison Carfi, who was also on the project. This photo was taken on one of our days off. Dr Susan Lupack had organised a tour of Mycenae and Tiryns, so this photo is a picture of me, very excited and happy to see the stone altar in the Upper Citadel of Tiryns, which has a special place in my heart. I spent a lot of time researching this site for my master’s thesis.]
Read the other posts in the Perachora Peninsual Archaeological Project series:
Read more from HDR students at Macquarie University on the Ancient History Department blog: