Koutroulou Magoula is a tell site on the south-western edge of the Thessalian plain in central Greece, 2.5km south of the modern town of Neo Monastiri in Fthiotida. It is part of a rich archaeological landscape, in which dozens of Neolithic tells feature prominently. Systematic archaeological work on the site, directed by Kyparissi-Apostolika and Hamilakis, started in 2001 and continued until today.
This journey was many firsts for me.
My first archaeological fieldwork, my first trip to Europe, and my first encounter with a flight delayed for more than 5 hours. After a night passed by sleeping on the uncomfortable benches of the airport, I boarded my flight from Beijing to Brussels at 6 am in the morning. Suffered another delayed transfer in Brussels, I finally arrived at Athens on the night of June 3rd. Surprisingly, the Athens airport is much smaller than what I have expected the airport of a developed country’s capital to be. Yet the scale of this airport is favor of a tired traveler like me – my hotel for the night is 5 seconds of walk from the Arrivals.
Growing up reading Greek mythology and after taking courses in art history, the Acropolis of Athens is always on the top of my bucket list. So, the next morning, surprisingly waking up naturally at 7:30 am due to jet lag, I decided to take advantage of the 6-hour gap before the meeting time with the rest of the fieldwork team to make a trip to the Acropolis.
After seeing so many pictures and reading so many articles about the Acropolis, I have to admit that the Acropolis on paper is no way as sublime and magnificent as the Acropolis in front of my bare eyes.
At around 2 pm, I met with the rest of the excavation team. There are, including me, four undergraduates and two graduate students form Brown, six and two from UCL, and three professors. The seventeen of us, along with some equipment and luggage, are carried by two vans heading toward the village that we are staying at, Neo Monastiri. It was located 3.5-hour away by car from the Athens Airport, and is only 10 minutes away from the tell site. After we have arrived at village and settled down into different houses, the excavation will officially begin the next morning at 7:30 am.
Again, thanks to my jet lag, I was able to wake up at around 6:30 in the morning without much difficulty. We arrived at the site an hour later, and found out that, due to the fact that the excavation of the tell site has been paused for a year, most of the trench surfaces were covered by layers of sand, soil, and vegetation. Thus, day one consisted of basically nothing but cleaning. We are lined up from one side of the trench, with trowels and dust pans in hand, and worked systematically toward the other side of the trench. I was on the peripheral of the trench, but I was surprised that I was still able to discover some interesting finds even outside of the trench.
Everything that we did today was completely new to me. I was both exhausted at the end of the day by the labor and excited for the days to come.
After the general cleaning of Day 1, we were split up into four separate groups to work on four different trenches, each trench with a graduate student as a supervisor. One of the trenches has already been excavated, and the remaining three are completely new. I was in one of three new trenches numbered as Ξ15. The first step was to remove the top soil, and this required a lot of physical labor, which reminded me of my good old erging days in high school. Our trench is located at one of the black dots of the image below.
The highlights of today happened at the beginning and then near the end. While I was shoveling dirt into the wheelbarrow, my bucket hat was pooped on by a bird flying by. One of the local workers saw that and raised his thumb to me. I was a bit confused at first, until Vas, one of the three professionals on site, explained to me that in Greece getting pooped on by a bird means good luck.
And indeed my good luck comes near the end of the excavation. After we began to open the third spit, we found traces of red clay lying underneath. The red clay dust represents the molten mud bricks that were used to build Neolithic houses, which is exactly what we expect to find in the trench.
A surprise came even before we reached the site: one of the tires was punctured, so we had to walk to the site. At our trench, we have finally reached the archaeological layer, although traces of agricultural plowing are still visible. The image below is a beautiful view after the storm
We have excavated the first figurines of our trench today! It was a little fat one, kind of like a Sumo wrestler. Due to some restrictions I cannot post the photo of the figurine here, but here is a picture of a collection of them.
Other than the archaeological fieldwork that I will be doing, my goal of this trip was to create a sculpture series based on the Neolithic figurines excavated from the site. They varies in form and shape, and are related to different ideologies. Some of them are gendered, and some were sculpted to represent pregnancy. Many of them are human features combined with animal one, proposing many academic questions but also artistically intriguing.
After a week of digging, I have formed a preliminary idea for the sculpture series. I want to sketch and probably 3D-scan the figurines excavated, and take note of the parts missing from the figurines either because of natural erosion or man-made cuts. I will recreate those parts based on my imagination as well as other figurines, and create 3D-puzzles that, when solved, will become figurines in their full forms without any damage.
@Neo Monastiri, Greece
Image Credit and Reference: http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/projgall/hamilakis333/