- Environmental Recording
- Environmental Recording
- Sound Effects
- Sound Effects
- Sound Effects
Quiet Agora ambi
Archaeology of the Athenian Agora
Archaeology of the Athenian Agora
Archaeological excavation sounds
Conservation of Athenian Agora excavation materials
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
8 Jun 2004
- Athens; Syntagma Square
- 37.975556 23.734722
- :50 - 8:25
- Athens; Ancient Agora of Athens
- 37.975 23.7225
- 8:26 - 1:16:13
- Athens; Ancient Agora; Stoa of Attalos
- 37.975 23.724167
- 1:16:14 - 2:01:57
Decoded MS Stereo
DAT # 9
MZ = Maria Zachariou
ML = Michael Laughy
AN = Amandina Anastassiades
WP = Wendy Porter
CJ = Chris Joyce
JG = Jessica Goldstein
JR = Josh Rogosin
It's June 8th. This is MS Stereo and this is just outside the hotel in uh¿Sintagma square Athens. It is about 8:45 in the morning. It's a pretty trafficky area. Chris almost got hit by a car right here so I'm going to record this specific traffic.
Ambi: Athens street traffic.
JR talks to guy on the street who is asking what he's doing.
Ambi: More Athens street traffic.
Ambi: Loud honk, beginning to start hearing police communication.
Athens street ambi ends.
JR: Ok. This is MS Stereo. We are arriving at the agora, at the site that the students will be working at. I'm just going to record us going into the site.
Ambi: sounds of birds chirping, people talking and classical music playing, light footsteps.
JR: I'm going to try and get some ambi here as soon as Jess and Chris walk away. MS Stereo.
Ambi: birds chirping, music playing in the background.
Ambi: Train passes by
JR: OK we're going to get a rundown of what's going on now. This is MS Stereo.
Ambi: Sweeping sounds
CJ: Maria tell me about the technique that you're using here. This sophisticated technique.
MZ: Well right now we're sweeping and then afterwards we're taking layer by layer. Basically we're not digging but we're scratching so that we do not ruin, destroy the stremotography. The layers.
CJ: So you start sweeping with the broom small broom and then what do you follow that with.
M: Well our supervisors will tell us where to go and what exactly. Basically we are at the peak. We are scratching the surface until we find anything that we keep.
CJ: Is this the first year you've done this?
MZ: that's the second year.
CJ: Why did you come back?
MZ: Cause I'm studying classical archaeology at the University of Virginia; I'm very interested in that. It's my future. It's my career.
CJ: Are you going to stay with Greece?
MZ: I don't know. Right now I study in the states but maybe later I'll come back to Greece, yes.
CJ: Whoops, sorry. I dropped a rock in there.
MZ: That's ok. It's fine.
CJ: I hope I haven't messed up your dig.
MZ: No, not yet.
CJ: Are you from Greece originally?
MZ: I am from Greece, yes.
CJ: Tell me about um, so far we've just talked to Americans so it's hard to tell how Greek people feel about doing archaeological work in Greece.
MZ: Well. I feel very proud being back to Greece and I'm very happy that I dig with my fellow American students. And to be honest with you, the first time I look at the Acropolis here, the Parthenon and I remember I think of a Greek song that says here is Ariga that pride of god. That's really nice. It's worthwhile to be here definitely. The experience is fabulous too.
CJ: You have friends who live here in Athens.
MZ: I have a couple of relatives. I have friends too. Yes. Yes.
CJ: What do they say about working, or being an archaeologist.
MZ: They all think I'm just crazy you know. Instead of being at the beach and enjoying sitting in the sun, I'm here. But you know. It's my choice so anyway I like it.
CJ: I'm curious about how people also, this is not really to do with archaeology but how people feel about the Olympics coming. Whether the changes, they're proud of this or if it's just a pain.
MZ: Right now, you know, everybody suffers because people are trying to make every possible effort to make things work well and you see what I'm saying. I mean on the streets things are not as easy as they used to be especially for the Greeks because they have the whatever they call the Olympic circle in the streets so for some cars are not allowed to drive in certain areas but everybody is looking forward to participating in this big celebration and you know. It's a big joy, yeah finally we all like it
CJ: Do you hope to be? I mean I wonder if it's frustrating working on a site like this knowing that you might not see the results for 25 or 30 years. Do you hope to be around when this site is completely uncovered?
MZ: If I will be here. I hope yes. Because I'm still young. It's not frustrating because Parthenon is only one and we are not expecting to find another one but whatever we find every single season is very important to us. It doesn't need to be gold or even if we find a couple of coins or pots or and we would eat, even if there are sherds and we reconstruct and that's very important for our profession.
CJ: Is there a particular specialty in archaeology that you'd like to concentrate on?
MZ: Yes. I'm concentrating on archaic, late archaic, early classical vase painting.
CJ: So, you won't have to spend all your time digging in trenches.
MZ: Oh I thought you asked me about my studies.
CJ: No your specialty. Why do you have to dig in trenches? Your specialty is in vases and vase painting.
MZ: Yes. Well actually we don't have any specialty here. It's like everybody's doing the same job. Now, if I find any sherd like with an inscription or anything. That will be really exciting for me. But, we don't have specialties right here. We have our supervisors and our assistant supervisors and that's all. We all do the same work. And we'll alternate.
CJ: What's the hardest part?
MZ: After 1 everyday.
CJ: I beg your pardon.
MZ: I said after 1 o'clock everyday. That's the hardest part. I mean because we are tired and so until we finish, it's really. By one we are already tired. We are really exhausted.
CJ: I can see why especially the knees.
MZ: yeah exactly, and the shoulders and the back. I mean our backs hurt a lot.
CJ: Could you tell me what your name is and where you're a student?
MZ: My name is Maria Zahareah and I'm a student at the university of Virginia.
CJ: In Charlottesville?
MZ: Yes, indeed I love it.
CJ: Did you grow up in the states or in Greece?
MZ: No, I grew up in Greece. It's been like 4 years since I am in the United States yes.
CJ: Are you from Athens?
MZ: I am from Kalimos. No I'm not from Athens. I'm from an island.
CJ: Oh. Hard to leave?
MZ: No. No actually. I'd love to go back and after we finish I'll go back to Kalimos and see my family and my friends there. Yeah. It's a lovely place. It's a nice quiet island. Very Greek indeed.
CJ: Well thanks for talking with me.
MZ: You're very welcome. Thanks for asking.
CJ: When we get this on the radio, well, you'll be here when it's on the radio.
MZ: My folks live in Richmond.
CJ: We'll let you know. Can you give us email that we can reach us at?
MZ: Well my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
CJ: We're just going to record some sound of you doing what you're doing.
Ambi: sweeping sounds, sound of gravel on metal pan.
Ambi: MZ grunts and coughs.
Ambi: Guys talking in the background while Maria sweeps.
CJ: Let's talk to Mike so we can find out what's going on. It looks busy.
Mike: it kind of is.
JR: I'm not in a good place
Mike: We have stuff everywhere. You know what you'd really like.
Mike: I bet I could tell
CJ: Yeah but you're going to make everybody else really annoyed
Mike: Aw well. They still have to sleep.
Ambi: sounds like opening a gate.
CJ: That's all right
Mike: Do you know how this opens?
?: I have no idea. Isn't there a crank in there?
Mike: Is that how this one? I've never had this one before.
CJ: No it doesn't look like a crank. It could be some kind of release.
Mike: There's something holding it up.
Mike: And this is the whole reason you keep coming to the agora. Cause one year you get an umbrella.
CJ: How many years do you have to work here before you get an umbrella?
Mike: It kinda depends. I'm 8. She's 6, Anne is. Lori's like 9 or 10 years.
CJ: So you're a supervisor.
Mike: Yeah exactly, one of the four.
CJ: And how do you get to be a supervisor?
Mike: The way this operation works here in general is that usually after you've come for several years you can become and assistant so I have two assistants right now, Michael and Anika, and then after that if a spot opens, like one of us doesn't come back who's a supervisor, then sometimes you can move in. It's all up to John really.
CJ: Say your name and if you're a student and¿
ML: My name's Michael Laffee, and I'm a Ph.D student at UC Berkeley.
CJ: Ok. So the weather's not that different than what you're used to.
ML: Yeah, not so bad yeah exactly. It's kinda similar.
CJ: And you've been here how long?
ML: This is my 8th summer here.
CJ: And you're getting your PhD in Archaeology.
ML: Yeah archaeology and latigraphy. So lot's of inscriptions and things as well.
CJ: So, what we've got here is, several periods that are being honored at the same time. So explain to me how this trench system works.
ML: Well, basically what we're doing is um. You're kind of looking at two areas right now right? You haven't been down here at all to take a look at these. Or just briefly.
CJ: We came down for, we were walking around with the orientation when John was here yesterday.
ML: Yeah I was up in the stoa trying to look busy basically.
CJ: Yeah. Who knows? You look like you're working really hard.
ML: Yeah, exactly. All according to plan right?
CJ: So yeah, I mean, he was talking about. Our listeners don't know anything about archaeological techniques so I'm interested in what you think is here, or what you know is here, what different periods and how you go at finding it.
ML: And so what we did is¿this is actually a good area to discuss that because you see these buildings right here and I'm standing in an area, which extends, I don't know how many meters this would be but our two trenches here are underneath two buildings, which are side by side.
CJ: Not quite underneath but next to.
ML: Yeah. This is what I'm saying. Those two buildings got torn down and then we immediately started from their basements and started working their way down. And so then what you're usually doing is um you remove to the degree possible you're trying to get all the same time period gone from your trench. So we're looking at two different trenches here so she'll be working in that one and I'm from this road that is going north south right here over. And so then the idea is that you have layers which are modern and so you try to take those out and then you try to take the period that comes next which is the Turkish period or the Ottoman period and then after that would come the Byzantine and so then you try to take these things out by time period but the trick that happens is that you can't always tell the date when you're just looking at dirt. So for example right here on the road where they're sweeping we're looking at Roman periods is up where those higher parts of the road level are, where those pits are, a lot of that was actually later in the Byzantine period where they're digging down into those things in order to maybe rob out some walls, something like that. Which means that, it sounds really easy to just say, you know we'll take off the modern and we'll take off the Byzantine but there's all sorts of surprises and¿
CJ: It's intermingled.
ML: Yeah, a lot of times it can be especially on something like a road right? Cause just like today you can have potholes, which are filled in. You can see some pipes, um. Perhaps right underneath this gentleman here and right past him. I mean sometimes you dig into the road because you have to fix a water pipe, for example. And when it comes to archaeology. Sometimes you don't know until you start digging that you actually have different time periods that are roughly the same level, and then you have ton figure out which ones to take out first. Which means when I'm walking down having excavated this road for several years, when I'm walking down the streets of Athens, I really just want to tell them, could you just straighten this out, put a coin down every once in awhile, because this is going to be hard later on when I'm digging this. I mean, that pothole is horrendous. But they don't do us favors like that for some reason.
CJ: Well, you could drop a coin.
ML: I thought about it. We could just do some renegade archaeology where I can just prepare everything. Right.
CJ: For the next thousand years.
ML: Yeah. Exactly.
CJ: So, and tell me about the buildings that you think are here. Over there. It doesn't have to be just your trench. This whole site, what do you call it and what's in it.
ML: Well. It's all within the agora proper. The Athenian agora. Although the tourist agora is through that entrance over there. And what we're looking at is basically we just call this the area, which is near the story Pokilay. I'm sure there may be a fancier name but the dirt, as we archaeologists would say. That building right there. Yeah exactly, the painted stoa. Um¿so all this area is fairly new. When I first started in 97 we were still digging some in the agora, which is open to the public. So¿
CJ: But you've got, you think there's the painted stoa is there. How can you tell it's there. What's the evidence?
ML: The evidence is the foundation, which we can see. You can tell that it's a stoa from that. But also, the beautiful thing about classical archaeology is all these ancient testimonials we have, all these ancient authors who are saying, you know I'm now walking through the Athenian agora and on my left I see this building and then they'll describe that building. On my right I see this building. I mean sometimes it can get tricky because they'll say, "and above me a little bit." Ok sometimes there's a discussion to what they mean by that but we do have some really really good testimony from ancient authors which say roughly an area such as this for the Athenian agora, roughly where the buildings are located. And so if you could take a building and this could kind of be a stoa and when I was reading this author he said he saw a stoa generally in this area and then you put those things together and that really helps out that way, unlike other archaeological excavations where you really don't have that as much.
CJ: And across from the stoa, what's there? There's a temple or something?
ML: Right behind you?
CJ: John was pointing out something, I thought. I think he called it the temple of Athena?
ML: I don't know that much about that. I know there's a Roman bath just past that wall there. But past that I don't know, because it was excavated well before my time.
CJ: You've got classical Greek period. You've got Roman. You've got Byzantine and even modern all sort of in one spot and some of intermingled.
ML: A good example is this. Like I said, those pits were dug by the Byzantines, what have for road there should be Roman, but down here, this you see is the remains of a Turkish bathhouse, a pit, and underneath that pit we dug and you see we're not that far down, maybe a meter in a half and that's Hellenistic period already and so the time periods just, we went right through them. And a lot of that might be because people who came later would have dug all of that out to put in their own things. So it's tricky like where that lady is standing there sweeping, she's standing in 9th/10th century AD, Byzantine, and yet just on the other side of that wall¿
CJ: What two meters away¿
ML: It's all Roman, I mean, it's right next to it and as for the wall, I mean those are foundations of a building, which we haven't been able to identify yet. So there's lots of good examples of that. Um, you can actually see the foundations of that building where you can just dig right through them, and just start filling in their own stuff. So the tricky part about being in an area that's never been deserted just about. I mean there's only a little while where this particular area didn't have too much activity going on.
CJ: I think people tend to think of archaeology as one nice flat level, it's one period and then you go through that and you get down to the next one and kinda like looking for fossils and undisturbed in the middle of Africa somewhere.
CJ: But as you say, people have built on it. Pillaged it to use for building materials and mixed it all together, it's kind of like a big garbage pit.
ML: Very much so. No, very much so, but it's a beautiful garbage pit. Because this is exactly what you're going after. These are the things that are left because they didn't care about so much. Right? A good example is when you look in these walls, sometimes you'll see pieces of sculpture or pieces of pot that at the time didn't seem very significant so why not put that into a wall. But when we tear down or dismantle a wall, that's when we say to yourself, my god that's a great piece, we love that right? But in some was it is just kind of stuff that they got rid of right, when they were doing that.
CJ: A lot of the people here are students. They're almost all students. A lot of them have little of any experience working in the dig, particularly a complicated dig like this. So what are the most important things? Or not?
ML: Well. Well never wiggle. Sometimes they find those artifacts and they try to wiggle those out of the ground, right? So it's funny. What you have to do is¿
CJ: Well why not wiggle?
ML: Because you lose your context. The biggest biggest part of what you're doing in archaeology is that you're trying to dig certain layers, which are the same always. Even if you got the dates. Even if you should have dug a certain layer two meters away first, chronologically speaking but you didn't know. As long as you dig properly and you get all of the same layer out which has the same kind of soil color, so this is basically what I would say right? When you're excavating, you are excavating anything that is the same color, consistency and contents. Right? And as long as you stick to that and you take really really good measurements then somebody can always come back after us and determine what happened in that area. Right? So what we have to do is train them to be very very careful. To sweep a lot. To identify what's valuable to get us to come over there basically, um if there's any kind of questions like that. But basically what we're doing is we're just teaching them how to excavate very very carefully and recognize when things are starting to change in the soil. I mean basically what we're doing we're just¿it's funny here's a thing about archaeologists. When people here that you're a field archaeologist, they think of you a lot of times as one of those people who writes all the books and describes everything that's happening. But we're actually doing is we're gathering facts. For a lot of armchair archaeologists later. For someone like John Camp who will write this stuff up. But for those of us, a lot of us who are in the field, especially as students. What we're trying to do is get the facts, make sure everything has been recorded properly. I mean that's something that is kind of missed for a lot of first year students. You know is that they kind of think we're going to fly in on a lasso and find amazing things immediately. But really, we're just recorders is what we're doing.
CJ: It sounds as if.
ML: So it's interesting. It's interesting you know that it's a little bit different in the field than what people say.
It sounds as if you're digging and you come across an artifact. In a sense that moment right there is a photograph, and once you take it out, it's basically destroyed.
ML: Archaeology is destruction.
CJ: Say that again.
ML: Archaeology is destruction. I mean we're getting rid of. I mean, once I take that wall out it's game over right? I mean that wall is gone. Which means that our job has to be to absolutely document that thing to the best of our ability. Right? I mean measure everywhere that we can to allow that person to the best of their ability reconstruct what that thing looked like and what its context was.
JC: So I see you have a surveying machine over there.
ML: A very very nice one. It's a fancy one.
CJ: And you don't use¿you don't snap lines anymore and create grids with lines and¿
ML: No. That's run off laser.
CJ: So what you do is you locate every part of the dig and every artifact according to a lay out that's done with lasers.
ML: Oh yeah, oh yeah. That things amazing. That things got GPS already in it. And so what is it is that thing will actually tell me where I'm located on the site map automatically. Right? And so we have certain grids, which we use separately from say the coordinates on mother earth ok. So you can locate it on a sitemap. That thing actually tells me where I am automatically with the laser. And then it goes into a palm pilot and the palm pilot will do an infrared into my palm pilot. Cause I'm doing everything on computer here. I mean I have a back up paper but everything is being run of this palm pilot. So what I can do is, if we're taking measurements of any of these things cause they're being beamed. I can put this right next to that palm pilot and it will beam it right into my palm pilot. It's absolutely amazing. I mean absolutely amazing.
CJ: And what resolution do you get. For example if that guy there whose sweeping finds a coin. California basketball. If he finds a coin, do you then map it by using that laser device?
ML: I know exactly where it is based on that device. It's incredible. It's absolutely incredible and the person responsible is that gentleman Bruce. Um. The guy is amazing and what he can actually do is plot all those point onto a computer and then I can actually look at a layer. Say I wanted to dig a certain part of that road, roughly triangular say. I would take my points, it tells me exactly where I am and he could put that on computer and so then you have another layer here. Another layer here. I can actually take that thing on the computer and you can flip that any way you want.
CJ: And of course it gives you the location of every artifact in 3 dimensions.
ML: It can yeah certainly. Certainly.
CJ: So not only where it is across x or y but also the z-axis.
ML: Yeah, basically. I mean, meters above sea level is what we do.
CJ: I guess you don't have one level because you are working at different levels.
ML: We go according to sea, to the sea level.
CJ: You go according to the sea.
ML: So for example. I just took the elevation of a coin, which we found and the coin was found on the surface and right here on my palm pilot and I had this laser beamed in from that. That tells me that I'm 53.293 meters above sea level and it automatically told me that this was my grid reference based on the overall site map done by the site architect. And all this stuff just immediately came into my palm pilot. And then what I can do is um you know take all of this stuff and you see all the digital images that I'm taking I'm going to have records on my palm pilot. Any finds, for example, that's what this thing is. Right? This will give me my number in a notebook if you want to look it up on paper. The date, what's it's made of, where I found it. I mean, all of these things are automatically placed into here.
ML: And then for your actual descriptions. Say I wanted to say what it is that I'm excavating. I'm digging this really hard packed road surface, this is the kind of things it was made of. All of that would have been written here into the laptop and then um we make backup copies here and somebody else will always write it down here ('oh shit' in the background) so we'll actually have that. All right.
(can't tell who's speaking)
ML: that's nasty
There's a dead bird over there too.
CJ: Well how long has it been dead? It's not just skeleton.
ML: It wasn't there in August of 2003. That's all we can say.
CJ: That's all right that's the reality of archaeology.
ML: That's great
CJ: Yeah, I suppose you come up across a lot of things that you're not really looking for.
ML: Yeah, dead animals. Buildings¿all kinds of things.
CJ: Do you have any questions?
JG: Can you show Chris that coin that was just found this morning?
ML: Um, it's right here actually.
CJ: I hope you haven't lost it.
ML: Not yet anyway.
CJ: The day ain't over.
ML: Once we see all that information I was telling you about, that all just goes right on to here as well.
CJ: Here we go.
ML: And so that will be sent to conservation and they'll clean it up and let us know if there's anything on it that we can use such as a date or something like that.
CJ: At this point, it's covered in dirt and you're not going to brush that dirt off.
ML: No, no, no, no. That's up to the conservators. Because coins are extremely valuable. There one of the few things that if we can actually get one which can be cleaned actually says here I am. Here's the date. I mean, there's some controversy sometimes about dates of coins but in general it's pretty good. So we like coins a lot. A real lot.
CJ: So this is about the size of a nickel and underneath you can see a bit underneath the dirt it's green and that would be from oxidation.
ML: Yeah exactly of the bronze. Yeah.
JG: Chris you need to talk into the mic.
JR: No, no, no. You can't use your voice unless I give you a mic.
ML: So very often ummm most of the coins the bronze ones will show up like that. A lot of dirt, a lot of corrosion, so a lot of times the only thing you can tell is it's shape. And you're like oh it's a coin and you can just send it in to conservation and see what happens. Then it's just luck of the draw really whether you're going to get that much out of it or not.
CJ: Was that success for the day?
ML: Not bad.
CJ: Can I just push that back in there?
ML: Yeah, it's not bad.
CJ: And you keep it in this with the what is the blue material?
ML: Yeah, That's something that the conservators gave us so what this is doing is keeping both the pH and the moisture levels at a certain consistency because that way because¿we just had this talk yesterday because as soon as materials come out of the ground, that's when they're the most fragile. That's when you've suddenly changed everything about it's environment and so by having these boxes and keeping those crystals and things like that the conservators so just making sure that these artifacts are in as good a shape as possible before they actually get there. Cause you know, it gets pretty hot out here and you put something like glass if you put that in one of these boxes, I mean suddenly you can even see the condensation just sort of forming from certain objects so it's really good if at all possible to have this kind of climate control, I guess. As a way. But in general I just do what the conservators say.
CJ: Well thanks very much.
ML: No problem.
CJ: Could you just one more time say your name and what you do.
ML: My name is Michael Laffee. I'm a supervisor here at the agora, the Athenian agora and I'm a PhD student at the University of California Berkeley
Talk about recording ambi.
Ambi: background ambi for interview, MS. Sweeping sounds. Too much talking to be usable.
JR: MS ambi
Ambi of sweeping sounds to be used for the background for the interview. People won't be quiet!
Jess trying to get people to quiet down.
JR: Ok this is going to be MS pick ambi.
Ambi: pick scraping noises.
JR: What was that?
JR talks to worker about a small piece of bone.
Ambi: pick scraping noises.
JR startles worker. Funny exchange.
Ambi: more sweeping
JR talking to JG.
Ambi: train passes.
Ambi: Car in the background.
Ambi: Car horn honks.
Ambi: people talking in background, sweeping sounds prominent
JR: I'm going to be getting MS ambience of Chris and Jess walking up the stairs.
Ambi: walking up stairs, motorcycle in the background.
JR: Can one of you do it once more because there was a motorcycle going by?
Ambi: walking up stairs.
JR: Oh there's the train.
JG: can you hear me approaching?
JR: Not really but on the stairs it's cool. We can use that to get into the trench.
JG: Right but can you just record a little bit of my feet and then come back.
Waiting till the traffic dies down.
Ambi: unusual sawing sound.
Ambi: Jess walking on stairs.
Ambi: walking on stairs
Ambi: People speaking Greek.
Ambi: Train passes.
Ambi: crow/seagull call?
Ambi: Car starts
JR: I'm going to get the 11 o'clock bells in MS Stereo.
JR: June 8th, 10:58 am, ms stereo.
Ambi: café sounds
Ambi: 11 o'clock bell starts ringing. distorted.
JR: This is MS Stereo, we're going to be recording the 12 o'clock bells at a proper recording level that's not totally distorted.
Ambi: 12 o'clock bells rings as train goes by.
CJ: We are going up the stairs of the stoa of ?
Ambi: walking up stairs.
Ambi: extremely quiet with birds chirping
Preparing levels for next interview.
CJ: Tell us who you are and what you do and then maybe where we are.
AN: My name is Ammadina Nast? And I'm the acting head conservator for the agora excavation in Athens. We work for the American school of classical studies.
CJ: And this is the conservation lab you call it?
AN: This is the conservation lab yes which is in the stoa of Attilus.
CJ: I can see that you've got a lot of different things going on at once, maybe we start with where these objects, what class of objects and where they come from.
AN: At the moment the excavations are focusing on Byzantine and late Roman periods and so most of the objects that you'll see in the lab today come from those areas.
CJ: Out of the agora?
AN: Out of the agora. All of the material comes out of the agora.
CJ: And in the time you've been here you've worked on all periods. Greek. Roman.
AN: Yes, we spend a lot of time retreating objects that have been sitting in storage. Researchers come in with particular requests and we have to tend to those so someone may want to look at all the pyre material from the Mycenaean period and we're responsible for getting that ready for them
CJ: So I mean, I've seen the storeroom and it's huge. There's several of them. Is it the case that things are found like pottery and they're not conserved right away. They just go into storage until somebody is interested.
AN: Yeah, there's two, inside the stoa we house two classes of artifacts. There's all of the material that is catalogued and it's a smaller portion of the entire material. We have about 160,000 pieces that are catalogued I think. About 60,000 of those are ceramic and about 80,000 coins. We have a mass of other uncatalogued material that stored in the basement in things that we call tins.
AN: Tins, yeah. Or baskets, yeah.
CJ: Maybe you can tell us what you're working on and describe it since we don't have images to show people.
AN: This is um a ceramic pot, a drinking vessel actually that came out of a Roman well last summer. It's called gouge wear because of these deep gouges that you can see that run in a vertical manner and sometimes you have a horizontal crossing as well. It's also, it's not all of the pot was there so its being reconstructed and there are missing pieces and if you look right here you can see that we've constructed a fill made out of plaster and painted a fill to match the surrounding area, the surrounding ceramic.
CJ: Maybe we could go over some of the things that you mentioned yesterday. When you get students who come in and do most of this work and they're the ones who are most likely to find something in the soil, they'd be the first person to find it. What do you tell them to do and especially what do you tell them not to do.
AN: When objects are buried under the ground a microenvironment is created. Usually assists the degradation or the preservation of an artifact. The temperature of the soil, the ph, the presence of salts, the water content. So what was the question I forget¿
CJ: What do you have to worry about what do you tell them? If I say I'm digging out there and I find, wow I find a nice pottery shard. Can I pick it up and brush the dirt off or lick it to clean it off so I can see what it is.
AN: The objects are very fragile in the earth and as soon as you uncover them you're exposing them to a new microclimate that they're not used to. So you have to be very careful with handling, with lifting. It's a really good idea to keep dirt that's associated with the object on the object, to not brush the object off, to not try and rub it to see what it is.
CJ: What happens if you do?
AN: Well, there's a lot of objects have things like pigments that are very fragile that won't remain if you rub them. A lot of the organic binders hold the inorganic components like the pigments onto the ceramic have long vanished so pigments may be mixed with dirt very loosely and not well bound. Also materials like lead are toxic and so you want to be careful of not handling those with your bare hands.
CJ: And when you pick something up finally and you brush the dirt off you don't jimmy it out with the end of a trowel.
AN: No you should go very carefully with your trowel and your pick.
CJ: I mean have you ever had somebody come in with something like "Wow look what I found." And your heart sank.
AN: Yeah, it happens quite often in the field not just here but on all excavations. One of the problems of course is that you're digging and you can't see what's underneath the earth and you might be in a little bit of a groove, you're going along and all of a sudden you come across a terra cotta figurine and your pick can go through it or your trowel can go through it. It's also hot out there and people get tired.
CJ: And they're thinking, those conservators there are sitting in an air conditioned room while we're out here bustin' our butts and then they've got the nerve to complain that we put a little pinhole in their precious terra cotta figure.
AN: Well, we work pretty hard too. I think.
CJ: Speaking of terra cotta figures, you know I can see, this is tough. And you're breathing in a lot of fumes. That's what these are for right?
AN: Yes, we use a lot, well not a lot but we use some organic solvents that are volatile, a little bit smelly and have different levels of toxicity as well so we have the fume extractors, these elephants trunks that you can pull right onto your bench and pull from down over your object as you're working.
CJ: I'm sorry I forgot your name.
CJ: Let's just talk to Vicky for a second cause Vicky's working. Don't knock over the figurine.
CJ: Can you tell us your name?
VC: My name is Vicky Carras.
CJ: And you're a¿
VC: I'm a graduate student at Queen's University, and I'm a summer intern here in the conservation lab.
CJ: You're working on what looks to me a shard from a piece of pottery.
VC: Yeah this is what Ammandino was talking about earlier. One of the researchers had pulled this and it was an older piece and they want to study it for some reason. Maybe to get a good profile to catalog it or categorize it, but it's been broken, maybe in storage, so I'm just going to clean it up, and try to find the joins and if I can join it so they can study it better.
CJ: I'm interested in technique. Can anybody that's good with crossword puzzles or other models do this or what are some of the tools of the trade, the techniques.
VC: Good hand skills are really important. I don't know about crossword puzzles but um, putting together puzzles, if you're really good at finding joins that's always helpful. I'm not a very good puzzle person but uh, I manage ok finding joins on pottery.
CJ: Like any other sort of broke, if I were repairing something that I broke at home I mean you just pick up the piece see if it fits, put some glue on it and slap it together.
VC: Yeah, I mean essentially you find where it fits and then you have to prepare the edge so people don't usually do that at home. So we use a little bit of primer. Carry some of the adhesive, a really low concentration into the fabric so that um, you can then put on a higher concentration and you just get a better join, a more secure join.
CJ: And use acetone to clean it?
VC: Yeah I'm using acetone for this, you can use other things depending on what adhesive.
CJ: The tools of your trade are there. Can you tell me what they are?
VC: Kabob sticks
CJ: Kabob sticks!
VC: These are little pointed shish-ka-bob sticks. Pointed sticks are really useful. Cotton swabs, latex gloves, paintbrushes, tweezers. Lot of little picky tools, scalpels.
CJ: Ok, and a good collection of cds. I bet that helps a lot. I want to talk to Ammandina about this cool pot, because it's got all those crystals coming off of it.
CJ: So that looks like to be¿it's not a pot is it? What would you describe it as?
AN: A jug. It's ceramic, yes.
CJ: And it's terracotta.
AN: It's ceramic yes.
CJ: From what period.
AN: I think it is Byzantine.
CJ: And it has all these little crystals all outside of it. It looks like it's got dandruff.
AN: Very spiky dandruff.
CJ: Yeah, well, so what is that?
AN: Well, those are salts, salts that have crystallized out. Salts can originate in ceramics from a number of sources. Number one they can come from the ground from the burial environment, especially with sites that are close to the sea. They can come from past conservation treatments. A lot of the times ceramics that were covered with encrustations were treated with acids that then can cause problems in combination with old wooden storage units. And it's possible also that the salts could originate from the contents of the vessel so if the vessel carried some sort of brine for pickling or salting of food stuffs like olives. That could be a source of salts as well.
CJ: Does it harm the terra cotta?
AN: It does. They're incredibly destructive. When these salts¿there's actually two kinds of salts. Those that are insoluble and those that you generally find on the outside of an object and they're not as bad. They're disfiguring, so they'll cover up details but they don't harm the object any other way unless you try to remove them. They can be quite tricky. The second kind of salts are soluble salts and they're rather dangerous. When they're in solution, they're fine because they're able to pass through the ceramic or the other porous material but once the atmosphere becomes a little dry, they crystallize and you can imagine the force that they can create just by looking at this piece.
CJ: So it will pop open or pop apart.
AN: It can pop open and these pieces here are the remains of pots that have been destroyed by the movement and crystallization of salt and this piece here which is just flakes of ceramic, I don't know what it originally was, possible white (?) but it's just gone and lost forever.
CJ: It's just powder.
AN: It's just powder.
CJ: And these pieces here, are they all pieces that have been popped apart by that?
AN: Yes they're all in various degrees of degradation, so this one you can see it's flaking, a lot of the decoration is missing. It has a very powdery sort of whitish surface. These are lune ? whites and again these are just other pieces that have fallen apart completely.
CJ: Now, tell me a bit about the painting. These are black figures on a terra cotta background. Do you pay much attention to or ever recreate the paintings that are on these.
AN: No. In the past there was a focus on doing decoration to look like the original but particularly because we're a research facility, we only do in painting of fills when we make a structural fill. So we won't even fill areas, lets say to make the pot complete. It's only if it needs it for structural reasons for handling and for study. So what we may do, is we may do some local consolidation on some paint that's flaking but we would never in paint an area, let's say a missing area like this directly on the ceramic.
CJ: What's the difference between doing this for a museum where the finished product goes into a diorama or on a shelf somewhere and doing it for a research operation like this.
AN: I think the main difference is the focus on the aesthetic of the object and a lot of the time, even though museums are a little bit more conservative than they used to be in the past, curators are more interested on how the object is going to look on display and as part of an exhibition. Here we're really concerned with the access of the object to the researchers and also in museums you don't have people touching the objects, hopefully the public comes in and they're behind glass and they're just for viewing whereas here researchers are interested in looking at the fabric, the decoration, other aspects of the technology and the manufacturing and we just prepare the objects so that they can study them. So it's another reason not to fill areas that don't need it because a lot of the time archaeologists like to look at the ceramic fabric along the break edge to be able to do classifications and gain other information.
CJ: Is this more interesting that doing it for a museum.
AN: For me it is, other people like the movement of the exhibition, sort of the energy and the drive. They find that exciting and it's just slightly different work.
CJ: Could we look at this figurine? That's really magnificent.
CJ: What are these?
AN: They are data loggers they record relative humidity and temperature.
CJ: So, you gotta figure in¿hold on, you wanna go that way?
Talking about the fridge noise
CJ: Tell me what we've got here. It looks pretty impressive.
AN: Yeah, this is uh, this is a Hellenistic figurine that came up at, sorry a Roman figurine that came up during last season, 2003. And it's terra cotta, it's mold made and it's a Selena's who's a friend of Dionysus. And um, it's in two pieces these two halves join but only at two small points. And this is a good example of a small accident that happened in the field. One of the excavator's picks did hit a little arm unfortunately.
CJ: Could you start that sentence again¿one of the excavators?
AN: One of the excavators picks hit the edge of the arm again by accident and of course they were working very carefully but this type of thing does happen sometimes. The visibility is a bit difficult.
CJ: So they come to you with this in their hand saying "please fix"
AN: Hmmhmm. They do. As you can see it was in a number of pieces originally and I've reconstructed it. It's taken me many weeks to do the surface cleaning and it's mostly because the pigments are very loosely bound to the ceramic and you can see they're very mixed with the soil and so it's been difficult to remove the soil without removing the pigment, but we have blue on the side of the drapery here. We have a little bit of pink up near the headdress. We have yellow down the shoulder¿
CJ: Hold on a second.
CJ: You've got yellow down the shoulder
AN: Yellow down the shoulder. We have white a white background covering most of the body which possibly another paint color had been applied on top of and there's black along the edges of the dog to emphasize the contours in the legs.
CJ: I don't understand how these are made. This is a hollow figurine.
AN: It's a hollow figurine.
CJ: And it has fabulous detail with the beard, almost individual hairs that stand out and the frowning brow with the wrinkles in the forehead. It's extremely detailed.
AN: Yeah, this was made actually in a two piece mold so what would have happened would the figuring would have initially been fashioned out of a clay or for making other molds, you can carve something out of stone or out of wood. And then you would take clay on top of it and make a mold, bake that and so you would have a negative impression and take fresh clay and press it into the mold and if you look on the inside you could see the finger marks of the worker where the clay has been impressed into the mold and then the two halves would have been taken out, they would have been put together and the seams along the sides would have been smooth and a hole was cut in the back. These are called vent holes and the bottom is left open as well so the figurine won't explode in the kiln when it's fired.
CJ: So eventually are you going to have enough pieces to put it back together completely?
AN: These are all the pieces that exist. These are all losses. Because they were never found, they were never recovered. And you can tell they're all old losses because there's dirt in the break edges. And you can identify a new loss because it's clean.
CJ: And how old was it?
AN: Um, late Roman.
CJ: That would be AD 400?
AN: Exactly. 4 or 500.
CJ: And it came from where the royal stoa, the painted stoa, the new site.
AN: Yes, close to the painted stoa, exactly.
CJ: That's the one that has Roman, Green, Byzantine, modern, everything in it.
AN: It's a mix.
CJ: And this object there, what is that?
AN: This is a 5th century drinking vessel that came out of a well that was excavated.
CJ: Fifth century B.C.?
AN: Fifth century B.C.
AN: Yeah, so this is classical, and it was excavated in 1995 and it's sort of interesting because it was excavated along with a number of other drinking vessels that were probably part of one household, which isn't always common often in wells. You get a mixture of vessels. Vessels break when they're lowered into the well to get water. And also they're often used as dumping grounds, as garbage cans. But it looks like an entire household was dumped and it coincides with the sack of Athens by the Persians.
CJ: That's an interesting technique to keep a narrow based vessel up, you put sandbags around it.
AN: We put sandbags around it exactly. We do¿this is an earthquake zone as well so we try and keep in mind the safety of the artifacts at all time so we've just put the sandbags around the base to support it.
CJ: I should have figured that out when my kids were small because I could have saved a lot of stuff.
AN: There's also a lot of traffic in here too. People coming in and out so we like to try and make sure everything is away from the edges of the table.
CJ: What do you think are the most important skills for somebody to do this?
AN: Patience, probably as Vicky said, good hand skills. You do have to have a bit of a mind for chemistry and also for fine arts as well, a mixture and enjoy it. You have to enjoy it.
CJ: And you do.
AN: I do. I do. It's pretty slow, painstaking work.
CJ: But you enjoy that.
AN: Very much.
CJ: And did it ever bother you that you're sitting on top of storerooms with enough stuff to take a conservator 500 years to finish?
AN: Sometimes what we try but we try and keep it all in perspective.
CJ: What perspective?
AN: Just you can only do what you can do during the day and that's it. You try and make your contribution.
CJ: I guess to a certain extent you're working for people who haven't been born yet.
AN: Yes. Future generations.
AN: So, yeah I mean one of the things that I'm mostly concerned with here is the long term storage of the artifacts after they've been excavated. I think even more than the reconstruction. I think if you're going to excavate then we have a responsibility to care for them in the long term.
CJ: So, when you're done with an object like this drinking vessel or this figurine or I guess even as you're working on it, you have pottery experts and archaeologists who specialize in pottery and nothing else who come in and look at it and scratch their heads and figure out some sort of conclusion about them.
AN: Yes. Yes.
JG: How did you wind up doing this? I mean why here?
AN: I started in classical studies and archaeology actually in Canada. And when I was finishing my undergraduate, I realized that I didn't really want to become an archaeologist and specialize in one excavation for my entire life in one certain time period because I was interested in a lot of things. I was really interested in the materials as well and so I decided to try conservation because I still loved archaeology and wanted to keep in contact with it and as it turns out I enjoy conservation much more than I ever did archaeology so it worked out.
JG: Is there some kind of thrill here working with all these people. I mean, every summer, you're here all year round right so you see a whole new group of people coming in.
AN: It is a unique site because we are, we're sort of in between a field lab and a museum and it's a little bit rare a situation. Most field labs only operate during excavation periods so if you're given 6-8 weeks that's the only time you're allowed to be in the field to do conservation but because we have a different agreement here we're able to work on the material here all year long. Yeah. It definitely has it's benefits.
CJ: What do you think is the most interesting object that you're in here working on right now?
AN: The most interesting object¿um¿should I talk about Julie's piece or should I talk about that piece.
AN: This juglet is another 5th century juglet that was excavated in 1954.
CJ: Juglet? How do you spell that?
AN: A jug. A jug. My little jug but it's a jug.
AN: This jug was excavated in 1954. It's a 5th century and it has um. It's quite a famous scene. It's known as the bread runners and it was brought to my attention that one of the students was going through the tins downstairs in the storage room, that's the uncataloged material and found some other pieces associated with it that he was interested in doing some analysis on and we went to look at this jug because it was associated with that and we found it in pieces in a box. And so I went back to do some research on it to figure out what the past conservation treatments were and we only started keeping records of conservation in the 1970s here. Previous to that the work was just done and it was never written down or recorded. So it seems that shellac was used initially to reconstruct this. And it was broken at some point after that, reconstructed again and then broken again and there is one record in 1999 of it being reconstructed and fills being made and it seems that it ended up in a box once again and there was no record of the break. But the conservation in 1999 was done in the summer and of course in September we had the large earthquake that coincided with the earthquake that was in Turkey and so I presume it was not done at that point.
CJ: So you're rebuilding it?
AN: We're rebuilding it.
CJ: And it has a drawing on it or a painting that looks like a couple of feet.
AN: It does. There's actually two men, if you look closely it's in two pieces. There's two men and they're carrying a loaf of bread on a stick.
CJ: And this is fourth century BC?
CJ: And how long do you think it will take you to put that together again?
AN: It will take quite awhile because it was also. It went through a major consolidation and the consolidation is built up on the surface it's a little bit shiny so I'm going to have to go and remove that. Remove all the old adhesives and there's a mix of those shellac and modern and also all of the old fills and if you look closely you can see that the person who restored this painted over the original ceramic and end portions and so that will have to be removed as well.
CJ: Do the students who are excavating; do they get pretty excited when they find something like this?
AN: They do. They do. Definitely. If there's an important find they'll come straight up to the lab with it.
CJ: And they stay with it? I suppose it's not reconstructed right there.
AN: No, no it takes awhile. We have to, we have to photograph everything that comes through here and do written documentation as well, then start the treatment and make a storage amount. So it takes quite awhile depending on the object.
CJ: Great. Thanks a lot.
JR: I'd like to know, um, can you explain the uh, different techniques you use to date this stuff. That's what my number one question. What is this?
AN: That's not really my area. That's really up to the trench supervisors and the director of the excavation and also the specialists who are around and one of the ways to date piece of pottery, let's say to look at adjacent material like coins, find like coins if they have a date . There are also well-established chronologies in pottery so if you have an entire assemblage plus walls that date from the same period plus a coin then you can call that actually a closed context that you have a confirmation of a period. If you find a single sherd, you can't really say much about that. It has to have a context, it has to have a material around it. Something that's related to it or something that confirms its age. So you find, often what happens too is that with the natural turn over of the soil there's a lot of movement from human activity from animal activity from insects so it's quite common to find, say, a Byzantine sherd in a Roman context. In that sense we would say that the concept is disturbed and it's debatable how the sherd may have arrived. It could have been from the movement of animals. It could have been when someone was digging a new foundation for a house they turned over the soil. So there are pottery chronologies that have been well established and so you. And so we used the cabinets that are out in the hallway they're all organized chronologically so you can take your pieces of pottery and match it to a vessel in there.
CJ: By the way it's sherd and not shard then right?
AN: Ahh¿in conservation. It's a good question. I don't know what Vicky would say but in conservation I use sherd for ceramic and I use shard with an A for glass. So you say shard of glass and sherd of ceramic. I don't know what Vicky¿Is that what you do?
CJ: I'm sorry. I don't know your name?
AN: This is Wendy Porter.
CJ: Hi Wendy.
AN: And you're doing the same sort of thing that Vicky's doing.
WP: I'm not a conservator. I'm more of a conservation technician and I've been mainly working on the storage. The after treatment, after cleaning, after repair. The rehousing of every object.
CJ: You were working on something that looked like silver but it isn't.
AN: It's lead. These are lead tablets.
CJ: Hold on a second. We'll come over and talk to you.
WP: Again, this is things that objects that have been in storage for quite a long time. Many of these tablets were excavated in 1933 and what they are either lead curse tablets in which you had a curse inscribed, you rolled it up, you stuck a nail through it and threw it into a well and cursed a person. They found these in a well there were something like 34-35 tablets which would have been all rolled up. They've unrolled them. We've had a specialist who was reading them who was trying to decipher and read whatever letters he could. And then they were put away for a long period of time and I've now found them and I'm rehousing them in ethophone mounts a metal storage room that has humidity control.
CJ: Just give us your name.
JR asks Ammadina to repeat introduction
AN: My name is Ammadina Nastasiardes and I'm the acting head conservator for the agora excavation for the American school of classical studies in Athens, Greece.
JR: It seems like there's a lot of stuff. And I know this has been going on since 1931. Like in a given season. How many artifacts would be found, if you were to estimate.
AN: I don't know numbers. Sorry. I should. I could look it up. It varies from year to year.
WT: In the beginning they found a lot more because they were working from January through December and they had 104 workmen just excavating daily buckets and buckets. Now they only work from 6-8 weeks and they only have 30 students so it's a lot less. In the first years, I can tell you in the first two years, the first year they found 14,000 coins and now we find a 100 coins, a 150 coins a year.
CJ: The first years being in the 30s.
WT: In the 30s yeah.
CJ: It's not a matter of running out of stuff. It's running out of people.
WT: Hmmhmm. It's all still there.
JR: This is MS ambience of the conservatory lab. Conservation lab rather, right?
Ambi: quite sounds of the lab. Some shuffling.
JR: Hey Wendy can I ask you to turn on the thing when you have a moment. No rush.
Ambi: Wendy turns on machine.
Ambi: Turns on machine again (at JR's request)
END OF DAT