Faithful readers of the CIG blog might remember previous posts about the 2019 and 2021 seasons from the Bays of East Attica Regional Survey team. Since our little pilot season inaugurated the project four summers ago, we’ve been doing our best to press forward with a systematic investigation of archaeological surface remains around the bay of Porto Rafti in Attica. The project aims to answer three discrete research questions about the history of the bay that we formulated based on previous archaeological fieldwork in the area. These research questions concern aspects of the regional Early Bronze Age maritime economy, post-palatial Mycenaean settlement history, and the organization of Archaic/Classical Attic demes. We’ve also been turning up a lot of exciting material from other periods that haven’t been much discussed in scholarship on the history of Porto Rafti, especially the later phases of the Roman Empire.
Map of the research area
In pursuit of answering our primary research questions, we spent most of the 2019 and 2021 seasons conducting gridded collection on sites in the bay with extraordinarily dense and rich surface assemblages. These sites are located on the islands of Raftis and Praso and the peninsulas of Pounta and Koroni. In 2022, the last of our the three planned field seasons, we hoped to augment the information we obtained from those gridded collections by casting a broader net of survey units around the town of Porto Rafti. Although most of the territory surrounding the bay is covered in modern development, we hoped to drop intensive survey units around the town wherever possible, so we might get a glimpse of the remaining evidence for human activity to the south, west, and north of the bay’s shores. We also needed to finish our survey of the islands in the bay, including the remaining grid squares on Raftis island (about 50% remained unsurveyed after the 2019 season) and the islets of Raftopoula and Koroni. Finally, since the extensive architectural remains on the Koroni peninsula had never been thoroughly mapped and documented using modern methods, we hoped to conduct a systematic study of the many walls and complexes atop the mighty citadel.
The early summer sun rises on the BEARS 2022 season (Photo: Taylor Stark)
One of the fun parts of the 2022 season was that – finally! – we had quite a lot of work that did not involve gridded collection of dense surface scatters, so the team got to experience a range of different field methods. In 2019 and 2021, most team members spent the majority of their time in the field time poring over and collecting material from very dense assemblages in 20×20 meter grid squares, then working together with their team-mates processing collected material – counting and weighing tile, sorting out which of the dozens or hundreds of diagnostic pieces should be selected out for collection, etc.
Mel and Rob with a large bag of well-preserved diagnostic sherds, Raftis style, in a 2022 grid square (Photo: Shannon Dunn)
This sort of work was appropriate to the kinds of deposits we were encountering in the bay, but it is very different from the typical daily routine of a Mediterranean survey, which involves walking larger survey units in regular tracts, moving around the landscape rather broadly, and often spending quite a lot of time finding very little material at all. We were excited to be able to provide a broader range of training in survey methods for our students during the 2022 season, including experience walking 300+ regular intensive survey units. Our typical daily schedule this year spread personnel over three field teams, plus a group working in the museum to process and analyze finds. One of the field teams surveyed intensive units throughout the town of Porto Rafti – targeting fields and open spaces in and amongst the coffee shops and vacation homes.
Surveying a unit in the town of Porto Rafti (Photo: Rob Stephan)
The second team spent their time on the Koroni Acropolis learning how to identify, analyze, map, and photograph architectural remains. Of course, it wouldn’t be the BEARS project without at least some gridded collection on extraordinarily rich sites…and, indeed, the third field team spent most of the season working in grid squares on Raftis and Raftopoula islands, with one day devoted to a brief extensive survey of Koroni islet.
The architecture team at work on Koroni (Photo: Elliott Fuller)
Although our methods were a bit more varied this summer, one aspect of the survey that remained the same as past seasons was that we ended up with a bevy of interesting finds! The survey of the town turned many small sites spread around the basin of Porto Rafti’s bay, including pockets of Late Bronze Age pottery, plenty of fancy Archaic, Classical Hellenistic black glazed material, a few tantalizing pieces of possible Early Iron Age material, and even burnt roof tiles to match the tile ‘wasters’ we documented on Praso in 2021. The architecture team on Koroni made many original observations about possible phasing and reuse of the walls on Koroni, generally thought to be all datable to a single period. Collection on Raftis continued generating large quantities of diagnostic material. The part of the island we surveyed this year produced almost exclusively LH IIIC finds. Since we’d already collected material from about half the island, we weren’t expecting many surprises. However, the team encountered many new types of finds that had not come to light in the 2019 campaign – pictorial Mycenaean sherds, worked pumice tools, a polished serpentenite axe, a rare type of ceramic candle-holder, Minoan-style loomweights – alongside more of the same kinds of artifacts that made the 2019 assemblage so informative and intriguing – loads of figurines, unusual types of cooking pottery, etc.
Survey continues on the steep slopes of Raftis (Photo: Rob Stephan)
Perhaps our most exciting discovery on Raftis was an extraordinary collection of over 200 groundstone objects. The assemblage is highly varied in terms of types and material. We collected many pieces of tripod mortars, a type that is relatively rare in the LH IIIC period, other querns and mortars in various shapes and sizes, and dozens of hand tools for polishing, grinding, and pounding, including some very fancy pestles in lovely pinkish andesite. We also documented raw materials in various stages of production, including a huge piece of raw andesite the size of a Labrador retriever and a tripod mortar preform. Most of these finds were concentrated in the northeastern corner of the island. Our preliminary hypothesis is that there may have been a workshop for the production of groundstone objects in this sector of the island. If we are correct, this would complement the evidence for a pottery workshop that we documented on Praso islet last season in building a robust picture of a productive industrial landscape in Porto Rafti bay datable to the 12th century BCE.
Groundstone all over town on the northeastern slopes of Raftis (Photos: Sarah Murray)
Overall, the season was a lot of work! Fortunately we had our biggest team ever. After operating with teams of about 10–12 participants in 2019 and 2021, this year we expanded to 21 participants, including faculty, grads, and undergrads from Canada, the United States, the UK, Germany, and Greece. The fact that we were able to complete all of the season’s goals in four short weeks is a great testament to the enthusiastic efforts put forth by each and every team member. As you can probably imagine, surveying fields in between concrete holiday homes was not always the most picturesque or glamorous archaeological fieldwork experience (you should see our modern trash counts), and the consistently high winds this year often made our traverses onto and off of Raftis island quite nerve-rattling. But everyone kept a great attitude no matter the task (or risk of falling into the sea with a backpack full of heavy groundstones). We’re really grateful to everyone for bringing along plenty of sticktuitiveness and good will to BEARS 2022. Now that we’re done with most of our fieldwork, the next step is to turn our BEAR snouts from the fieldwork grindstone to the publication mill in 2023 and 2024. Interested friends should keep an eye out for additional updates to come, both here on the CIG blog and on our project website, bearsarchaeologicalproject.org.
Intrepid BEARS team members march onward into the future (Photo: Shannon Dunn)
Sarah Murray, University of Toronto, co-director, BEARS