Vlochos Archaeological Project

Greek-Swedish archaeological fieldwork in the Kardítsa region, Thessaly

Category: Fieldwork

Second season, a short résumé

The second field season of VLAP is over since over a week, but the many administrative issues related to the project makes it still very much alive to us involved in it! Reports to complete, material to process, applications to write.

…but what a season it was. Perfect weather every day except one, giving us in total 14 days of fieldwork with blue skies and temperatures below +37°C.

Not only the weather conditions were favourable. The municipality of Palamas had made us an incredible favour by mowing all the thistles and thorny weeds that normally cover the site. From a prickly hell to a geophysicist’s paradise.

Drone view highlighting the difference between mowed and non-mowed sections of the archaeological site.

Thanks to this, we were able to conduct a magnetometric survey of nearly 90% of the ancient lower settlement; an area corresponding to more than 17 football fields, of which nearly all was completed in just 10 days. Derek Pitman, supervising the magnetometry unit, was extremely pleased to see his heroic one-man efforts of last year dwarfed by the rapid pace of his students.

Hayden and the magnetometer working his way through the fields south of Strongilovouni.

To improve his image, he then took off to do more aerial photography with the project drone. Provided with extra batteries, he managed to take more than 14000 photographs of the hill and the surrounding fields, including some of rather confused looking stray dogs.

Derek trying not to steer his drone into the sheer mountainside.

This year’s students were all exceptionally hard-working, especially considering the long days and the hot weather. Without them, we could never have completed our mission, and we’re certain that they will have a bright future within archaeology.

Johan Klange introducing the archaeology of the hilltop to this year’s newcomers.

Stunning view of Patoma, taken by amateur mountaineer and professional archaeologist Johan Klange from the steep south slopes of Strongilovouni.

Atop the very steep hill of Strongilovouni, work with the recording and documentation of the extensive remains of fortifications and other structures were continued by Johan Klange and his unit. At the very last day in the field, we had completed the digital recording of nearly 100% of the known architectural remains (including 6 km of walls), including the scanty fragments of buildings in the lower settlement. Very satisfactory results, especially considering the hardships of our team members who had to scale the slopes every day to reach the remains on the summit.

Tractor-master Angelos Davadzikos returns to site.

Just as last year, Rich Potter and his Ground Penetrating Radar unit were joined by the master of tractors Angelos Davadzikos. Also benefitting from the mowed terrain, they zig-zaged more swiftly over the ancient remains, often covering in one day more than what was possible during the whole past season.

The GPR unit is ready to go!

Waiting for the sheep to finish grazing.

Field directors Fotini Tsiouka and Robin Rönnlund sometimes felt a bit superfluous, which is a good sign that everything is working just fine. Between the responsibilities of administrating work, they conducted a pedestrian survey of the fields surrounding the archaeological site, trying to identify the maximum extent of the ancient settlement, as well as the chronology of some of the visible pottery found on the ground.

The total material – after being studied and processed – will provide us with a complete overview of the accessible archaeological remains at Vlochos, and this without excavating. We do not rule out that excavation will ever take place again at Strongilovouni, but we think that the work of VLAP shows the great potential in non-invasive methods for large-size sites such at Vlochos.

The full team, including directors, field directors, research members and students plus special guests gathered for lunch with the mayor of Palamas, mr Sakellariou.

As stated above, the municipality of Palamas provided us with much assistance, but also with great hospitality. We all hope that VLAP will lead to future archaeological work in the area of the municipality, to give further light to the truly amazing archaeology of the region.

Thank you,

/The VLAP team

Resumé of the first season

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The NRTK-GPS against the Thessalian plains.

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 team inspects the destruction brought on by the rain.

The team inspects the destruction brought on by the rain.

Aerial view of the destruction.

Aerial view of the destruction.

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.

Drone view of Rich, Ellen, Matilda and Angelos doing geophysics.

Drone view of Rich, Ellen, Matilda and Angelos doing geophysics.

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.

Johan measuring the Classical-Hellenistic fortifications of Strongilovoúni.

Johan measuring the Classical-Hellenistic fortifications of Strongilovoúni.

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 Titaneia festival at Palamás.

The Titaneia festival at Palamás.

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.

Croci among the rubble.

Croci among the rubble.

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.

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Helène Whittaker and Arto Penttinen.

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.

A very happy but exhausted field team at the conclusion of the first season.

A very happy but exhausted field team at the conclusion of the first season.

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.

First day on site

Yesterday in Karditsa, the VLAP team finally assembled in full. Some of the team members had driven all the way from Gothenburg, through Europe, to the plains of Thessaly (as seen on twitter), while the rest had gone via Athens on a slightly shorter trip.

Most of the VLAP team with mrs Dozi.

Most of the VLAP team with mrs Dozi.

Today, we had our first field day, and – as is tradition – everything was a bit chaotic. However, we had some nice visits from the president of the village association of Vlochós, mrs Evangelia Dozi as well as by the mayor of the municipality of Palamás, mr Giorgos Sakellariou and his deputy mayor, mr Iason Tsironis. They were all very excited about the project and promised to help in any way they could – we all feel very happy about their warm welcome!

Rich, mr Giorgos Sakellariou, Fotini, Iason Tsironis and Johan

Rich, Giorgos Sakellariou, Fotini, Iason Tsironis and Johan

We look forward to continue our work in the upcoming weeks if the weather will allow it: tomorrow’s forecast is a bit gloomy. There is much to be done, many things to measure and record. Just to give you a glimpse of the sheer size of the site, here’s a video of the site taken from 450 m. above the ground:

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