The first season of VLAP is over. Half of the team has finished their three day drive back through Europe, the other half has either continued with other fieldwork or has by long returned home by airplane.
The first week of fieldwork was a bit chaotic. This was mainly brought on by the heavy rains that struck Greece on Wednesday 7th and onwards. The rain over Karditsa was very heavy, with a thunderstorm taking out electricity in many parts of town. As we returned to site on the very damp morning of Thursday 8th, we found that a large piece of the hill-slope had been flushed away by the strong torrent of rain water coming down the hill.
The risk of thunder, rain and further collapse made that we cancelled work on top of Strongilovoúni for a few days, instead concentrating on the archaeological remains in the lower parts of the settlement. The otherwise rock-hard surface of the ground had now turned into mud (the poor maids at the hotel!), but the team struggled on. The geophysical survey went on, Rich leading the ground-penetrating radar team with the tractor-god Angelos Davadzikos behind the wheel.
The weather on Friday 9th was far better, if not very humid, and we could finally begin with proper work on the hilltop fortifications. Our original hypothesis that the fortifications on Strongilovoúni are entirely late Archaic to Hellenistic (ca. 500-200 BCE) had to be discarded as we found clear indications of extensive Late Roman-Early Byzantine repairs. We were therefore glad that we could be joined by byzantinologist Tenia Anastasiadou who confirmed our observations.
Even if we had to continue working over the weekend, we had time to come to Palamás to participate in the annual Titaneia festival. After some problems in finding the main square – half the team almost participated in a wedding by mistake! – we enjoyed a number of exhibition dances of the Karagounides (the local Greek ethnic group) and some Pontic invited guests. Right on stage was a large painting of the local landscape, with the towering dome of Strongilovoúni at the centre. This, of course, pleased us quite a bit. Afterwards, we enjoyed a nice dinner with the mayor mr Sakellariou and the village president mrs. Dozi at a local restaurant amid the celebrations. The mutton chops that we had were, I assure you, fantastic.
The second and last week was far more productive, as the weather allowed us to work continuously for five days. Extensive magnetometry was conducted by Derek, who managed to cover large sections of the lower settlement at the location of Pátoma. His preliminary results show that there are indeed remains of an urban environment at Pátoma, with streets and houses as well as a lower fortification wall. Most exciting to Derek, being a metallurgist, were of course the pieces of iron slag that he observed among the weeds and thistles.
The rain and the following sun made that the seemingly barren mountain slopes started to blossom. For a Swede, it is amazing to see wild croci flowers among the rubble of the mountain sides as we are accustomed to see them in flower beds only.
On Wednesday 14th, we had a visit by the director of the Swedish Institute at Athens, Arto Penttinen. After a meeting at the ephorate offices with the directors Maria Vaïopoulou and Helène Whittaker as well as the field directors Fotini Tsiouka and Robin Rönnlund and byzantinologist Tenia Anastasiadou, he was shown around the site. VLAP is the first Swedish archaeological enterprise in Thessaly, and we were very happy to have him for some hours at Strongilovoúni.
Friday 16th was the last day on site, and the Swedish part of the team left Karditsa the following day. We brought approximately 80 gigabytes of photographs, measurements and other data to be processed in the upcoming months. We hope to be able to present results to you as soon as they get presentable.
The members of VLAP would like to thank the inhabitants of Vlochós, Palamás and Kardítsa for their great hospitality and kindness. We feel that we have stumbled on a hidden gem of archaeology in Greece, and long to continue fieldwork in August-September next year.
Special thanks to the mayor of Palamás, mr Sakellariou, for his hospitality and invitation to the Titaneia, to the president of the village kinótita of Vlochós mrs. Dozi for her kindness and enthusiasm, and to Angelos Davadzikos for his tractor skills and general awesomeness.