Pottery at Perachora: A Photographer’s Journal

Nathan Stein, ancient history student at Macquarie University, shares a journey of discovery on the Perachora Peninsula Archaeological Project.

It was Spring 2019, and I was buried deep in reading texts and writing assignments, all for the sole reward of pressing submit, and moving onto the next piece of writing. I was coming towards the end of my undergraduate degree and was slowly becoming less and less certain if my passion for history really could translate into a career if all there was to do was just read and write. Archaeology was the one thing I hadn’t tried, and maybe it could be something I enjoy more. I would soon have my answer.

Headed by the fantastic Dr Susan Lupack, the Perachora Peninsula Archaeological Project was in its first year in 2020. The goal was intensive survey over a pretty sizable area. This meant we had to undertake a lot of field survey, collect plenty of pottery, and document the legacy data for the area.

The Fountain House. Photo Credit: Nathan Stein

One of my main roles in the early stages of the project was assisting in the clearing of the area around major structures which had been previously documented by the last major project in the 1960s by R. A. Tomlinson. It was a spectacular experience to see what looked like a big thicket of bush, tall grass, and trees, over several days become a clean and cohesive base of a structure. We cleared three different sites, two of which other team members under Shawn Ross undertook photogrammetry of. We used a number of tools ranging from rakes and clippers, to sickles and brushes, and we had some local assistance with a chainsaw, to clean all the debris and overgrowth from the site. This was a feat in itself, and took us several days to fully complete.

It was a great team effort, and everyone worked positively and diligently to get the job done. Although not without a little fun, with plenty of music and conversation to be had. Which goes to show that archaeology might be hard work sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be boring.

The pottery team hard at work. Photo Credit: Nathan Stein

My other major role was in photography. Photography is incredibly important to archaeological work since sites and artefacts may fade and crumble over time, but photographs give us a lasting record of how these things looked at the time of study. Which may be of great help to publishing results of studies, and for future historians and archaeologists who wish to investigate.

Survey Director Adela Sobotkova leading us in the field. Photo Credit: Nathan Stein

I had two different types of photography to do. Firstly, I was a field photographer. I took part in the surface survey and created visual records of the areas over which we walked and some of the features we found, including a basin I practically fell into. Archaeology can be a very hazardous occupation, or at least according to popular culture.

My second job was documenting the pottery we found and collected on our survey. I helped the team in washing, drying, and analysing the pottery earlier, and the last step was to photograph it before it was put into storage. I was put in charge of this process, and we blitzed through the mass of pottery we collected in a very hectic four days.

We had a very MacGyvered set up, using two layers of baking paper to make a neutral background, held down by rocks, hiding from the direct sunlight, and at one point not even using a tripod. We first took broad assemblage shots of pottery sorted by survey unit, and then re-shot all the interesting diagnostic pieces individually. 

The photography team and our set-up. Photo Credit: Reeham Khandkar

It was a great experience to spend so much time working with and sorting through all these different pieces of pottery. And seeing the results was spectacular. We shot all the images for the project in RAW format, which provided extremely high quality images. This meant that using certain programs, you could zoom in to see individual grains in the pottery. Which meant these records could help future studies by showing not only the shape of the pottery and any paint it has, but indications of the material it was made from.

We also spent our free days touring some spectacular nearby ancient sites, including Mycenae, Tyrins, Corinth, Isthmia, and Nemea. Being able to see these sites was such a fantastic experience both for my own learning, and for contextualising the site we were working on. Mycenae for example provided a great example of what a more structurally complete site contains, which helped visualise what the remaining foundations which made up our site might have resembled. And of course my 2nd place in our race in the Nemean stadium was an experience I will never forget.

My sacrifice at the gates of Mycenae. Photo Credit: Charles Boyd
A photo finish at Nemea. Photo Credit: Petra Heřmánková

The PPAP gave me not just the chance to meet some life-long friends and have plenty of outdoors fun, but an insight into an exciting and rewarding career. So now I have my answer, I definitely enjoyed archaeology.

The north coastline of the peninsula at the furthest reach of our survey area. Photo Credit: Nathan Stein

About Nathan Stein: I am a student at Macquarie University studying a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Ancient History focused on Greece, Rome, and Late Antiquity. I also now have a growing passion for archeology and am looking forward to exploring it more in the future.

Read the other posts in the Perachora Peninsual Archaeological Project series:

Dr Susan Lupack: Perachora Peninsula Archaeological Project

Reeham Khandkar: A Walk Through Time: Surveying Perachora

Samantha Mills: Life on the PPAP

Read more from HDR students at Macquarie University on the Ancient History Department blog:

https://www.mq.edu.au/faculty-of-arts/departments-and-schools/department-of-ancient-history

Contacts

Dr Stavros Paspalas – Acting Director
Australian Archaeological Institute at Athens, Room 480, Madsen Building (F09), University of Sydney NSW 2006 Australia
+61 2 9351 4759 +61 (0)2 9351 7693 arts.aaia@sydney.edu.au