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Interview 1:52 - 43:51 Play 1:52 - More
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John M. Camp  






Archaeology student orientation at Ancient Agora of Athens  

Interview 58:35 - 1:13:07 Play 58:35 - More
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John K. Papadopoulos  






Archaeology of whales and sea monsters in ancient Greece  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
7 Jun 2004

  • Greece
  • Athens; Ancient Agora of Athens
  • 37.975   23.7225
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Decoded MS Stereo

Show: Greece - Olympics
Log of DAT #: 6
Engineer: Josh Rogosin
Date: June 14, 2004

Camp = John Camp
JP = John K. Papadopoulos
CJ = Chris Joyce
JG = Jessica Goldstein


0:56 JR ok it is June, 7 at 9:30am¿at orientation. This is MS stereo.

1:31 Ambi, birds chirping loud and clear, people chatter in the background.

1:46 Ambi, bell rings and voice from orientation begins. (off mic)

3:11 Orientation continues, a saw starts up in the background.

3:45 Train goes by.

5:45 Walking begins. Group goes into the

6:27 walking upstairs. Saw is loud and people chatter.

7:01 Chattering becomes louder.

7:50 walking continue. Women chatter and whisper, (out of breath).

8:58 orientation speech continues. Explains to group not to challenge the guards outside of the excavation site.

12:55 walking and chatter continue. Feet shuffle. In tour room?

14:30 orientation continues, instructions about guards, etc.

22:56 orientation continues.

28:55 orientation continues, instruction about housing

30:38 a train goes by. Followed by another train.

31:46 Bell rings along with laughter.

40:20 a student (?) says ¿holy smokes!¿ Tour continues into the storage area (records room).

42:24 CAMP - ¿tomorrow we¿ll start at 7 o¿clock. If as many of you come as early to dig, as come for pizza and beer, then we¿re going to have a very productive season.¿ (laughter)

57:28 JR we¿re going to talk to John and his whalebone. This is MS stereo.

Walking¿and chatter¿

58: 42 JP ok, now there it is. It doesn¿t look like much you see that weird bone? CJ Yeah, let me have a look from this side. From here you can tell, well it could be a stone in the dark.

58:57 JP but you see the cotting. This is what it looks like. (papers rumble) this is the whale in 1934 where it was found, and this is a lot of the pottery that goes with it, and there it is. CJ oh from there you can see it differently, the bone, right.

59:18 JP and it¿s the scapula of an immature fin whale. CJ but until the time you saw it, nobody knew that? JP No and this whale, see all of the material here comes from the same deposit. And it dates it the early, middle geometric period. So, it¿s roughly 900-850 BC. And I was going through all of this material in this deposit and then I came across that, and in the notebook, it was known as the whale with the strange bone artifact. That¿s when I finally saw that, and that¿s, and you can sort of see the scratch marks on it and that¿s when I went (gasp¿) it has to be writing! And this is a period, as you said, it¿s a dark age there¿s no writing. So the (mice?) in the ends, had this early salaprick (sp) script, Linear A and linear B, the micenees (sp) had linear B and the Meanians (sp) had linear A. And linear B is the first Greek we have, but it¿s written in these strange symbols. And then from about 1200-1100 BC down to about 800 there is no writing. We just don¿t have any, and then sometime in the 9th or 8th century BC we get the first writing and this is right at this time, this could be really exciting. So we had it pulled out and of course it wasn¿t writing it was scratch marks, but then I thought to myself, why, why would you have scratch marks on the surface and why do you have cutting there? That goes all the way through it. CJ It¿s a rectangular cutting, so obviously made by humans. JP so it was clearly used for a function. And then we pulled out all the rest of the material in this whale. And one of the things we found were other animal bones. And to make a long story short, they are the kind if animals bones that we connect with animal tanning. So it looks as if it was used as a cutting surface for something like leather. And the beauty of whalebone is that if you cut into it, you don¿t damage your blade. So it was used as a short of cutting table. Now, the interesting thing is, this is what it looks like. CJ the whale? JP the whale itself, it¿s a thin whale that looks like that. This is the scapula, so it¿s a huge bone. It¿s one of the largest bones, this is not a fin whale, this is a bowhead whale, but it shows you where the scapula looks like. And we reconstructed it, so we only have a piece of the whalebone, and so this is what the entire whalebone would have looked like. So then I started reading Moby Dick, you know to try to find out the use of whalebones, and there¿s really interesting things, all sorts of things. In any case, what we¿ve been able to tell because of the use and the wear on this bone, was that it was water worn and it was sun bleached. So it was clearly from a whale that had been beached. The carcus had been stripped of its flesh and the bone had been floating around the beach, the sea, for a while. And we found one, this is a beached whale vertebrate on a island in the Negean (sp) called the Scanewsun (sp), and this is a late 16th century engraving of a beached sperm whale in Holland. CJ now Holland would have been a whale from the Atlantic, but in the Agean (sp), this clearly shows that there are whales in the Mediterranean large whales. JP right, now when I first started working on this project I couldn¿t imagine that there were whales in the Mediterranean. It turns out that there are many. We have blue whales, which are the largest creatures that have ever inhabited the earth. Fin whales, sperm whales. There¿s this wonderful story in the Bisateen (sp) period by this guy called Percopius (sp) of a whale that was terrorizing Constantinople (sp) ancient bizantian (sp) Mondane (sp) istan (sp) bon¿and this whale was actually given a name is was called, Perferious (sp) and Perferious means purple. And because of Percopius¿ description of this whale, that literally terrorized the city for 40 years, we could actually determine that it was a sperm whale. And it used to love chasing dolphins and it just terrorized the coasts of the city, attacking all sorts of ships sailors, fisherman. And it was finally beached, and people came out and sort of hacked it to pieces. But we know from its weight that was recorded by Percopius, that the description, plus its distinctive coloring that it had to be a sperm whale. And it was probably a male rogue sperm whale. And we know this, because it is also male whale sperm, it¿s really male sperm whales, like Moby Dick, that have this temper. In any case, we started collecting, another bone from a whale scapula that was used as a cutting surface, but by Inuit in Canada. And then we started; these are whalebone artifacts from Scotland. But what was interesting was the word for whale, and the earliest word that the Greeks had for whale is Keetos (sp) which is literally means sea monster. So any sea monster was a Keetoss and these large creatures where just referred to as sea monsters. And then it¿s really in the period of the early natural historians like Aristotle and then later Plenny (sp) the Roman writer who started really observing these creatures that they started looking at their characteristics. And so we get the name is Greek, Fallana (sp) which is where Baleen or Balana (sp) comes from which is the word for whale in most of the romance languages.

1:05:48 CJ the Baleen is actually part of the structure, the philology of the whale.

1:05:53 JP well the Baleen is actually, what we refer to now as the Baleen is the now the fury stuff on the toothless whales. Because the suck in this enormous amount of water and then they (psht) and then all the krill gets stuck in there and that¿s why they stink. All the krill gets stuck in there and all the water goes out. And then we start collecting pictures, Iconography of whales in ancient Greek art. We started looking in various cultures, (pages flip) this is a wonderful shipwreck scene that dates to just about the time of this whale. It was made on a geometric cup that was found on the island of Pifacoosky (sp) in Italy. And is shows a capsized ship, we really should be looking at it this way and all these dead sailors, and anything from small spectator fish to large man-eaters. And then interestingly enough, we have this wonderful representation, and this is in the middle of a contour plane in Turkey, miles away from any water source. And we know from the inscription, below this, that it is a burial coffin. That it says Keetos yo nus (sp), which means the Keetos that got Jonah. And so I started looking at the biblical of Iothens (sp) and Jonah¿s whale. And what¿s interesting is that in Hebrew, the word for the whale is actually dug ga dog, and unfortunately all that means is big fish. And in ancient Hebrew there is no distinction between different species of fish. So they just refer to the creature that swallowed Jonah as a big fish. And that¿s a wonderful representation. That¿s a late Roman cycofergus (sp) that was found in the middle of Turkey, I mean as far away as the Black Sea or the Mediterranean as you can. Now here is a representation of Jonah and the whale, from Persia, from Hearat, modern day Afghanistan, that dates to the early 15th century. And you really do see, it looks like a large macaral. They didn¿t see whales, they didn¿t know what they looked like, but what we also have in Greek tradition is these stories of Superman, people like Hercules and Perculess that fight sea monsters, and we have this very clear idea of sea monsters. And we have various ways of representing these sea monsters. One way of representing it is as a large kind of sea snake. Sort of like, dragons. But another way of representing it and perhaps the most interesting is actually this. And it¿s a large fish that basically has a head of a dog. CJ well it does look a bit like a dog. And from what period, this looks a bit old. JP this is a red figure cup, it¿s about from 500 BC and it shows this young man on the snout of what very much looks like a whale. And the question is, now none of these representations look exactly like a whale, but can you imagine in a period before documentaries, before glassy magazine articles, before National Geographic, I mean when we didn¿t know what whales looked like, and you saw a creature breeching, how would you draw it, how would you represent it, what would you call it? And then one of the fabulous things I¿ve found right at the end of this project was how early the guys who started making maps represented whales. And this is a detail of a big sea monster called Styprereepor (cp) and it¿s by the famish cartographer Ameal Ormealeaus (sp), and it was drawn in 1517. I looked at it, and look at these teeth and look at the spout, CJ the spout figure is right, but the teeth are totally wrong. JP, wrong. And you look at it, right; you think that this is a pretty terrible creature. But if you actually read the Latin text, that¿s associated with maps, this is Stiperreedor (sp), the tamest of whales. This is a whale that actually helps fisherman. So here is this creature and here are cartogrhers, of the modern era who essentially don¿t know how to draw whales, because essentially they haven¿t seen them and this is where this other representation that I began with is so important, because (pages flip) this was actually a stranded whale, so Dutch artists could actually go and look at it. And the original is by a famous engraver called Hendrick Galtias, and he did the original sketch and then it was actually copied, by other followers, so we actually have various versions. So this whalebone was actually discovered at this very formative period of Greek history, just when the Greeks are beginning to write, just when they are beginning to get interested in natural history. And once you begin to get into natural history with authors like Aristotle there is so much neat stuff. Aristotle claims to have heard dolphins snore, so there are all of these neat stories. It is a phenomenon that goes back to classical antiquity. And then I started collecting other whalebones from Mediterranean sites, but this is one of the best-preserved pieces we have.

Jessica ¿ could you introduce yourself and how we should identify you¿

Yes, I¿m John Papadopolous, I¿m a professor of classics and archaeology at UCLA, and in the department of classics and the Kautzen (sp) institute of Archaeology.

Chatter between JG, JP and CJ¿wrapping up interview.

1:14:03 AMBI Birds chirping, drills and people walking by.

1:16:05 AMBI and walking

1:16:43 JR this is going to be the 12 o¿clock chimes of the area. AMBI

1:17:37 Chimes begin. Loud. Ambi continues.

1:19:14 CJ and JR chatter, testing the wireless mics.

1;19: DAT is Over.

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