The Norwegian Archaeological Survey in the Karystia (NASK): Preliminary Results of the First Field Season (2012)
By Zarko Tankosic and Renate Storli
The Norwegian Archaeological Survey in the Karystia (NASK) is a four-year-long project of systematic archaeological surface investigations in the Katsaronio Plain, which is located in the vicinity of the town of Karystos in southern Euboea, Greece. The project is organized and co-sponsored by the Norwegian Institute at Athens and Indiana University at Bloomington.
The first season of the project lasted for five weeks, in June and July 2012. The field team consisted of 21 student or professional volunteers from nine different countries, all students and scholars of archaeology, classics, and history with varying previous field experience. We present here the very preliminary results of our first year of fieldwork.
The area of study is the Katsaronio Plain, approximately 5 km Northeast of the modern town of Karystos. The target area covers approximately 15 square kilometers. Southern Euboea, also known as the Karystia, is an important part of the Aegean (Fig. 1). It has a liminal position straddling the mainland, the rest of Euboea, which is usually lumped together with the mainland—at least in political and economic terms—and the insular world of the Cycladic islands. As such, it is an area where cultural influences mixed for millennia, producing a mix of cultural traits reflected in the material culture. We like to think of the Karystia as a quasi-island in its own right, being separated from the rest of Euboea to the north by high mountains and surrounded on three sides by the Aegean Sea.
Fig. 1. Topographical map showing total area (green) and area surveyed during the 2012 field season (red)
Several factors influenced the choice of the Katsaronio Plain as the survey target area:
1) As the largest agriculturally suitable and the best watered part of the Karystia, the Katsaronio plain provides an excellent resource for people inhabiting the area in the past; the subsistence and economic base of the people, until very recent times, has always been centered on agriculture;
2) Following from the first reason, such resource would have been the center of much economic activity and, by extension, a very suitable place for past habitation despite its relative distance from the sea; therefore, we expected to find evidence that would belong to at least some of the Aegean prehistoric and historic archaeological phases attested in the Karystia;
3) The area around Karystos has been subject of much archaeological survey over the last forty years. Notwithstanding notable early efforts of Theocharis, Popham, Sackett and colleagues, and Adamantios Sampson, most of the survey work in the area has ben done through the efforts of the Southern Euboea Exploration Project, or SEEP for short, which is a research institution operating under the Aegis of the Canadian institute in Greece since 1984. The SEEP survey coverage, although extensive, excludes the Katsaronio. In fact, unlike most of southern Euboea, the Katsaronio Plain is almost completely archaeologically unknown. This is probably due to low intensity development in this area connected to its distance from the sea. Hence, one of our goals was to fill-in the gap in our knowledge of this important part of the Aegean and compare the Katsaronio evidence with other survey data from elsewhere in the Karystia.
Following from this, the principal goals of the project are:
- To examine the diachronic use of the Katsaronio Plain and compare the changing patterns in habitation, as well as the use and construction of space and the cultural landscape among different areas in the Karystia.
- To locate the evidence for the earliest human habitation in this part of the Aegean, likely dated to the Late Neolithic phase. Recent work in the nearby Ayia Triada Cave uncovered, besides very nice Early Bronze Age burials, evidence for the earliest known human presence in southern Euboea. Based on radiocarbon dating and stylistic features of the material this evidence was dated to the Late Neolithic, specifically, to the phase related to the so-called Cycladic Saliagos group. Since Ayia Triada, which is not suitable for habitation, thus far remains the only location in the Karystia where similarly dated material has been found, we hope to find evidence in the Katsaronio for settlements dated to this phase, often one of the periods related to the first permanent colonization of the Cycladic Islands.
- Finally, we wanted to combine research with educational activities by providing field experience for students of archaeology.
The survey is organized as an intensive diachronic pedestrian surface survey. To facilitate accuracy and consistency in the field coverage, the entire survey area was divided into an arbitrary grid made up of 100×100 m squares, which serve as our primary recording units (Fig. 2). The grid squares are subdivided into 10×100 m transects, each surveyed by a single team member. In this way a high degree of accuracy is achieved and it is virtually impossible to miss any surface concentrations of archaeological material and/or features, except in cases where they are concealed by impenetrable vegetation. Each transect was recorded on a prepared survey form. The information collected in the form refers to ground coverage/visibility, presence of any ancient and modern features, presence of ancient artifacts, type of archaeological material and their quantity, and preliminary dating of the material in the field. Additionally, we recorded information on whether the material was collected or left in the field, the presence of water sources, and the number of the photograph, if taken in the field. Most importantly, the location of all findspots, as well as individual finds of diagnostic pottery and any type of lithic artifacts were recorded using a hand-held GPS device. We’ve defined “findspot” as any significant concentration of archaeological material on the surface that can mark the presence of habitation or activity area. We arbitrarily decided to consider a findspot a concentration of more than 5 pieces of lithics or 10 pieces of pottery within the 20×20 m area, or any presence of ancient features such as walls, metallurgical remains, tombs, and quarries. Data thus recorded were digitalized immediately to allow us to analyze them in the future using specialized analytical software such as GIS. Material found in the field was collected from both the findspots and the individual find locations. Lithic artifacts as well as all kinds of evidence from designated findspots were collected in their entirety. In the case of individual isolated finds of pottery, only diagnostic fragments were kept, while the rest was examined, counted, and left in situ.
Fig. 2 Survey area showing grid made up of 100×100 m squares
Our aim for the 2012 season was to cover the area of the Katsaronio south of the main road connecting the towns of Karystos and Styra. (Add illustration) The green line marks the boundaries of the total survey area and the red line marks the approximate survey coverage of the 2012 field season. The survey began at the eastern edge of the designated area and proceeded towards the west, by following arbitrary North-South transects. We only summarily examined the areas of relatively recent heavy disturbance, chiefly located along the main road and consisting of building construction; however, they did not take up a significant part of the area that was our target in 2012. Over 5 weeks of fieldwork with between 12-14 people in the field each day, we surveyed the area of 473 hectares or 4.7 km2.
In the process, we located and recorded 22 findspots and a very large number of off-site finds, most of which we also collected and stored. The archaeological material dates the findspots to various phases of the Aegean past—from the Final Neolithic to the Byzantine times. Before the end of the field season we achieved a preliminary processing of most of the collected finds. The finds were washed, counted, sorted according to their potential value for extracting evidence for the past use of the Katsaronio Plain, and entered into the relevant digital databases. A very large portion of the diagnostic pottery sherds was also in preparation for future publication efforts.
Of the 22 findspots recorded in 2012, we consider these to be the most important ones:
- Findspots 12-S-05, 12-S-06, 12-S-10, 12-S-11, 12-S-12 consist of regular rectangular structures made of flattish slabs of schist, most of them not more than 1×1 m in extent. In some cases it is clearly visible that the “box” thus formed, was lidded using similar schist slabs. Often, there is a circular enclosure made of irregular rocks in the vicinity of the stone-built boxes. These structures resemble the so-called cist graves, common in the Aegean during the latest Neolithic and the Early and Middle Bronze phases, e.g., at Kephala on Kea and at Manika in central Euboea, to mention the geographically closest examples. Unfortunately, we found no archaeological evidence or human remains associated with these structures, which currently precludes both their positive identification as cist graves and their dating. Nevertheless, there is a pattern in their occurrence—they are all found on top and along the ridge that marks the southern end of the Katsaronio Plain and are also found in the vicinity of two large Final Neolithic findspots.
- 12-S-09 is a prehistoric findspot, characterized by a large number of obsidian and ceramic finds. Preliminary examination suggests that in chronological terms this findspot belongs to the Final Neolithic phase.
- 12-S-13 is a Classical or Hellenistic pottery scatter associated with a slight elevation in the terrain and a large concentration of rocks, which are, likely, the remains of a destroyed building. The findspot possibly represents a destroyed farmhouse.
- 12-S-16 is a schist quarry of indeterminable date. In appearance it resembles Roman quarries of the “Karystian marble” found on the southern slopes of Mount Ochi, but it is possible, if not probable, that the quarry was used for a prolonged period of time.
- 12-S-18 is most likely an iron ore smelting site. It is characterized by a large amount of slag as well as burnt clay with slag attached to it. Very little datable material was found associated with the slag. It consists chiefly of pottery that resembles Roman sherds found in the area; however, no datable diagnostic fragments were recovered.
- 12-S-21 and 12-S-22 are likely parts of one prehistoric findspot. The material recovered from the surface consists of a large number of pottery sherds and obsidian fragments. No architectural features were apparent on the surface, but a cut for a construction of a modern building unearthed some rubble that could represent the remains of walls. A small fragment of copper slag was also found associated with the findspot. The ceramics and lithics, such as this intact tanged obsidian arrowhead, indicate a Final Neolithic date for the material from the findspot.
In conclusion, in the course of the first season, the team covered approximately one third of the designated survey area of the project and we encountered a rich cultural landscape with evidence for habitation and use of the area that spans several millennia of Greek prehistory and historic periods. The team located and recorded 22 findspots and collected a very large number of finds from either the findspots or as isolated finds from the survey transects. In total, they collected 3070 fragments of pottery and 2181 fragments of obsidian, which are now stored in the Karystos Museum where they await, together with other collected survey data, further processing and analysis by assigned specialists, which is likely to begin towards the end of the field part of the project.
The 2012 season was the first season of Norwegian Institute’s engagement in research on the island of Euboea. Nevertheless, the Institute has approached this very seriously and with the intention of leaving its mark. This in mind, in collaboration with the local ephorates (11th EPKA and 23rd Byzantine), the Institute is organizing a conference on the general archaeology of Euboea in the summer of 2013, the proceedings of which will be published also by the Norwegian Institute.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank the Norwegian Institute for its financial and permit support and to the Edward A. Schrader Endowment for Classical Archaeology at Indiana University whose grant funds the better part of our project. We would also like to thank the 11th Ephorate for Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities at Chlakida and especially its director, Mrs. Kalamara for granting us the permit to conduct our research. We also thank Dr. Donald Keller and other members of SEEP for providing us with the field house, equipment, and, most importantly, valuable advice. We also thank the members of our wonderful international team, who have invested a lot of time, energy and bucket-loads of sweat into the project.