Aug 16

World's Oldest Submerged Town Dates Back 5,000 Years

ScienceDaily (Oct. 16, 2009) — Archaeologists surveying the world’s oldest submerged town have found ceramics dating back to the Final Neolithic. Their discovery suggests that Pavlopetri, off the southern Laconia coast of Greece, was occupied some 5,000 years ago — at least 1,200 years earlier than originally thought.


Divers Measuring the Site
 

These remarkable findings have been made public by the Greek government after the start of a five year collaborative project involving the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and The University of Nottingham.

As a Mycenaean town the site offers potential new insights into the workings of Mycenaean society. Pavlopetri has added importance as it was a maritime settlement from which the inhabitants coordinated local and long distance trade.

The Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project aims to establish exactly when the site was occupied, what it was used for and through a systematic study of the geomorphology of the area, how the town became submerged.

This summer the team carried out a detailed digital underwater survey and study of the structural remains, which until this year were thought to belong to the Mycenaean period — around 1600 to 1000 BC. The survey surpassed all their expectations. Their investigations revealed another 150 square metres of new buildings as well as ceramics that suggest the site was occupied throughout the Bronze Age — from at least 2800 BC to 1100 BC.

The work is being carried out by a multidisciplinary team led by Mr Elias Spondylis, Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture in Greece and Dr Jon Henderson, an underwater archaeologist from the Department of Archaeology at The University of Nottingham.

Dr Jon Henderson said: “This site is unique in that we have almost the complete town plan, the main streets and domestic buildings, courtyards, rock-cut tombs and what appear to be religious buildings, clearly visible on the seabed. Equally as a harbour settlement, the study of the archaeological material we have recovered will be extremely important in terms of revealing how maritime trade was conducted and managed in the Bronze Age.”

Possibly one of the most important discoveries has been the identification of what could be a megaron — a large rectangular great hall — from the Early Bronze Age period. They have also found over 150 metres of new buildings including what could be the first example of a pillar crypt ever discovered on the Greek mainland. Two new stone built cist graves were also discovered alongside what appears to be a Middle Bronze Age pithos burial.

Mr Spondylis said: “It is a rare find and it is significant because as a submerged site it was never re-occupied and therefore represents a frozen moment of the past.”

A View Of The Site
 


The Archaeological Co-ordinator Dr Chrysanthi Gallou a postdoctoral research fellow at The University of Nottingham is an expert in Aegean Prehistory and the archaeology of Laconia.

Dr Gallou said: “The new ceramic finds form a complete and exceptional corpus of pottery covering all sub-phases from the Final Neolithic period (mid 4th millennium BC) to the end of the Late Bronze Age (1100 BC). In addition, the interest from the local community in Laconia has been fantastic. The investigation at Pavlopetri offers a great opportunity for them to be actively involved in the preservation and management of the site, and subsequently for the cultural and touristic development of the wider region.”

The team was joined by Dr Nicholas Flemming, a marine geo-archaeologist from the Institute of Oceanography at the University of Southampton, who discovered the site in 1967 and returned the following year with a team from Cambridge University to carry out the first ever survey of the submerged town. Using just snorkels and tape measures they produced a detail plan of the prehistoric town which consisted of at least 15 separate buildings, courtyards, streets, two chamber tombs and at least 37 cist graves. Despite the potential international importance of Pavlopetri no further work was carried out at the site until this year.

This year, through a British School of Archaeology in Athens permit, The Pavlopetri Underwater Archaeology Project began its five year study of the site with the aim of defining the history and development of Pavlopetri.

Four more fieldwork seasons are planned before their research is published in full in 2014.

To see the expedition for yourself, watch the video podcast on YouTube — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kepaQu4uerg

And on the University's Podcast website — http://communications.nottingham.ac.uk/podcasts.html.


Adapted from materials provided by University of Nottingham.

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New Discoveries At The Ash Altar Of Zeus Offer Insights Into Origins Of Ancient Greece's Most Powerful God

ScienceDaily (Jan. 28, 2008) — The Greek traveler, Pausanias, living in the second century, CE, would probably recognize the spectacular site of the Sanctuary of Zeus at Mt. Lykaion, and particularly the altar of Zeus. At 4,500 feet above sea level, atop the altar provides a breathtaking, panoramic vista of Arcadia.

“On the highest point of the mountain is a mound of earth, forming an altar of Zeus Lykaios, and from it most of the Peloponnesos can be seen,” wrote Pausanias, in his famous, well-respected multi-volume Description of Greece. “Before the altar on the east stand two pillars, on which there were of old gilded eagles. On this altar they sacrifice in secret to Lykaion Zeus. I was reluctant to pry into the details of the sacrifice; let them be as they are and were from the beginning.”


Top: Altar of Zeus at Mt. Lykaion. Left to right: Dan Diffendale, University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Arthur Rhon, Wichita State University, and Arvey Basa, University of Arizona. Bottom Left: Crystal lentoid seal of a bull, Late Minoan I or II, ca. 1400 B.C. Diameter 3 cm. Bottom Right: Reverse of Arcadian League silver stater, Zeus Lykaios seated on a throne with an eagle in his left hand. 5th century B.C. Diameter 2 cm. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Museum)

What would surprise Pausanias—as it is surprising archaeologists—is how early that “beginning” actually may be. New pottery evidence from excavations by the Greek-American, interdisciplinary team of the Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project indicates that the ash altar—a cone of earth located atop the southern peak of Mt Lykaion where dedications were made in antiquity— was in use as early as 5,000 years ago—at least 1,000 years before the early Greeks began to worship the god Zeus.

In addition, a rock crystal seal, bearing an image of a bull, of probable Late Minoan times (1500-1400 BCE) and also found on the altar, suggests an intriguing early connection between the Minoan isle of Crete and Arcadia, and bears witness to another chapter in what now appears to be an especially long history of activity atop the mountain.

“Mt. Lykaion, Arcadia is known from ancient literature as one of the mythological birthplaces of Zeus, the other being on Crete,” noted Dr.Romano. David Gilman Romano is Senior Research Scientist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and a co-director of the Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project.“

The fact that the ash altar to Zeus includes early material dating back to 3000 BCE suggests that the tradition of devotion to some divinity on that spot is very ancient. The altar is long standing and may in fact pre-date the introduction of Zeus in the Greek world. We don’t yet know how the altar was first used, and whether it was used in connection with natural phenomena such as wind, rain, light or earthquakes, possibly to worship some kind of divinity male or female or a personification representing forces of nature.” Below the altar in a mountain meadow is an ancient hippodrome, a stadium and buildings related to the ancient athletic festival that rivaled the neighboring sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia.

Although the Sanctuary of Zeus at Mt. Lykaion, just 22 miles from the extensively-studied Sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia, has been well known since antiquity, no excavations had taken place there in a century. The Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project, begun in 2004 with the first seasons of excavation work in 2006 and 2007, is a collaborative project of the Greek Archaeological Service, 39th Ephoreia in Tripolis, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the University of Arizona.

David Gilman Romano of the University of Pennsylvania Museum co-directs the project with Michaelis Petropoulos of the Greek Archaeological Service in Tripolis, and Mary Voyatzis of the University of Arizona.

High in the Arcadian mountains, the sanctuary at Mt. Lykaion was well known in antiquity as one of the most famous Zeus shrines in ancient Greece, as well as a site of early athletics in honor of the Greek’s greatest god. The site, which features an ancient hippodrome, a stadium and buildings related to the ancient athletic festival that rivaled the neighboring sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia, is known to have served as an important Pan Arcadian as well as Pan Hellenic Sanctuary that attracted pilgrims, athletes and dignitaries from all over the Greek world from the Archaic period to the Hellenistic period, ca. 700-200 BCE.

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