August 31st, 2014

Like a fish out of water

(guest post by Megan Collier)

Most people see a distinct division between maritime archaeology and terrestrial archaeology. Underwater, scuba divers float gracefully over piles of amphora in loose sand; while land archaeologists wearing hiking boots and cargo pants brush dirt off pots in deep (and perfectly square) units. In the Burgaz harbors, there is no such line. Just like the harbors themselves, the archaeologists working here have to navigate the intersection between land and sea. Our trenches look much like those on any land site, except that they are filled with water and we usually wear wetsuits while excavating. While it can be nice and cool—especially in the summer heat—the environment presents certain logistical problems that don’t come up on land. The soil we are digging gets stirred up in the water, reducing visibility in the squares; the depth of our trenches changes with the tide; and we move dirt using water dredges rather than buckets and wheelbarrows.


In a harbor context, it’s not just the digging methods that blur the line between underwater and terrestrial archaeology. As a result of sedimentation and changing sea levels we find some submerged features that surely once stood on dry land; some marine structures may now lie under a crop of tomatoes.  So how does an underwater archaeologist deal with these structures? The answer is simple: much like a terrestrial archaeologist would. We measure and record features at Burgaz just as we would any other site. It is not so much the “how” that separates underwater archaeology from terrestrial archaeology, but the “what”. After all, we are not interested in this site because it is underwater; we are interested in what this site can tell us about the people who lived, worked, and sailed here—no matter how we obtain the data.

August 29th, 2014

Harbor 1: Trench L-M and the case of the Hellenistic shipwreck

(guest post by Lana Radloff)

A late find of wooden planks in L1.

A late find of wooden planks in L1.

In true archaeology fashion, one of our most interesting and surprising discoveries of the 2014 field season was found on one of the last days of excavation. To our good fortune, the sea preserved some wooden timbers in excellent condition within a dense deposit of clay about 1.75m below the water’s surface in Harbor 1. With square iron nails still intact in two of the planks and a double scarf (tapered edge for joining), our initial impression is that they may represent remains of a lost or abandoned vessel. Associated finds near the planks – including river rocks (for ballast?) and a pierced fragment of lead sheeting to protect the hull exterior – strengthen this hypothesis. Diagnostic ceramics in this stratigraphic layer assign the remains to the Hellenistic period. Comprised largely of cooking and tableware, the most notable objects include a small intact black gloss bowl, kalathos (weaving or fruit basket), lagynos (one-handled jug), intact pot lid, and black gloss plate.

While our ‘ship’ may not have come in quite yet, further excavation next summer will determine whether we have indeed found an ancient wreck and what more the sea remembers from Hellenistic and earlier levels in the harbour.

Lana works underwater in L1.

Lana works underwater in L1.

August 24th, 2014

The value of every sherd and no sherds

(guest post by James Gross)

At 19 I am the youngest member of the harbor team at Burgaz this season (and perhaps ever). I arrived in July with little experience of real archeological fieldwork but a lot of energy and excitement. I can proudly say now as we near the end of the project that I have learned a lot, more than I could have hoped. In L2 I became familiar with using water pumps and dredges and in L1 I helped with the difficult task of digging by hand in shallow water. While excavating I learned a number of archeological skills related to identifying stratigraphy, finds, and architecture. Beyond fieldwork, I also began the process of learning to understand and interpret finds.

James uses the water dredge to excavate in Trench 2

James uses the water dredge to excavate in Trench 2

Through one of my daily tasks–pottery recording and quantification–and through conversations with the team, I learned to appreciate the many tiny and seemingly insignificant sherds around L1. By counting and weighing every sherd for quantification, I realized that sherds could be used for far more than determining the date, typology or origin of diagnostic finds. While one tiny sherd may say little, when it is coupled with all the others from a stratigraphic layer, trench, harbor, or even site, that larger grouping can provide important insight into how and for what purpose an area was used.

With its layers that were often completely devoid of finds, L2 stood in stark contrast to the thousand of sherds and the discovered in L1. When I was digging in L2 for the first few weeks I was initially disappointed at how little we were finding. At that moment I learned the value that nothing can have. From those layers with no finds we could pinpoint exactly what layers represented the site’s occupation; we could then speculate why and how the harbor was constructed and what purpose it served.


Bring on the sherds: registration, recording, quantification.

Now, nearing the end of August and the end of my time at Burgaz, I am happy to be the youngest member of the team. I have had an experience few can claim, and I am confident I have made a good beginning towards learning to be a true archeologist.

August 23rd, 2014

Learning curves

(guest post by Emily Schaljo)

As I write my final blog post, only one day remains before my return to Canada. The 2014 season at Burgaz has come to a close, the clean-up process is underway, and my suitcase will double as my closet for only a couple more days. When I first decided to join the Burgaz team, I was excited about all of the things I could learn about archaeology, and the experience I could gain in my desired field of work. As an undergraduate entering my fourth and final year at Brock, the chance to gain work experience related to my future career path is high on my priority list.

While working on the Burgaz project I gained many new skills and learned about archaeological practices in and out of the field, but what I had not anticipated was how much I would learn about myself. When I was first preparing for the excavations at Burgaz, I joined an open water diving course at my local dive shop. I had always found diving interesting, but thought it was out of my reach and something that I would never try. As it turns out, I enjoy the sport a lot and am looking forward to improving my diving skills this fall.

Emily prepares for a check out dive in L2

Emily prepares for a check out dive in L2

Near the end of our work in L1, trenches A and B were deep enough for excavation by scuba. With zero visibility, a pick in one hand and the working end of a dredge in the other, I had fun experimenting with the most convenient ways to handle the equipment and get the work done. I have learned that I truly enjoy problem solving, multi-tasking, and being challenged.

I have also learned more about my particular archaeological interests. Tasked with registration of the L1 finds, I gained hands-on experience with ceramics. I enjoyed working with the ceramic material, but was especially excited about finding teeth and bones. The quantification process intrigued me for its potential to shed light on how particular areas of the site were used in different ways at different times. I hope to have future opportunities to study excavation results in the field and the lab.

Emily works the sieve in L1 T5, sorting ceramics, wood, and bone.

Emily works the sieve in L1 T5, sorting ceramics, wood, and bone.

I have had an amazing experience at Burgaz – I met wonderful people, made connections and friends, and I learned about my field of study and myself. I look forward to taking everything that I have learned here back home, continuing my studies, and progressing to whatever the future holds for me.

August 19th, 2014

One sherd, two sherd, red sherd, black sherd

(guest post by Peter Mizanski)

With Emily and Nick, Peter sorts the pottery from one lot.

With Emily and Nick, Peter sorts the pottery from one lot.

One of my daily activities at Burgaz has been the examination and sorting of the sherds recovered from the harbours. I was introduced to the five functional groups of ceramics: amphora, fine ware, cooking ware, common ware, and bricks/tiles/pithos. Swiftly, I was pushed into the deep end and began to sort some of the huge numbers of sherds that were recovered, the majority of which came from my own units in L1.T5.A-B. Although the task first seemed headache-inducing in its enormity, I quickly began to grow fond of the first hand and intimate experience with the sherds we were finding from the trenches. It took a few tries before I became better acquainted with the task, and I was still making a few mis-categorizations. But with the help of Liz and Justin’s 15-month-old son Max, I was taught a valuable lesson in the distinction between dark amphora fabrics and cooking ware!

Justin gives Max his first lesson in sorting ceramics.

Justin gives Max his first lesson in sorting ceramics.


August 17th, 2014

Food for thought

(guest post by Emily Schaljo)

Working in the field for long hours often causes one’s mind to wander from the work at hand to future goals, and of course, to what might be for lunch. Sometimes it’s hard to separate how I feel in a moment of labour – tired and sore – from what the work means on a larger scale.

Discussions on site in L1.

Discussions on site in L1.

The discussions that I have had with my team in Harbour 1 (L1), as well as with the whole project team, have helped me to explore my own thoughts and questions about what we are finding. Over the past week I have taken part in various discussions about what we’ve discovered in our trenches, one inside the seawall, the other inside the harbour. Inside the seawall we recently revealed a layer composed of concreted rock that is difficult to dig through. This layer contains many ceramics, including larger sherds and diagnostic finds. The area may have been resurfaced multiple times, creating a thick, compacted layer of rocks and ceramics. How often did this resurfacing happen? What purpose did the area inside the seawall serve? What can we tell from the ceramics jumbled together with the stones? And—as I wonder while considering my own lunch—was this area used by passing sailors to stop for a meal?

I am also curious about the differences between the artefacts we’ve found in the different areas of our trench: one behind the seawall, the other inside L1. We’ve seen the pebble layer only inside the seawall; inside L1 the soil is filled with vegetation, shells, and organics, along with some pottery and worked stones. How did the two sides of the trench relate to one another in the harbor setting?

Group discussions are great motivators for the work that we do; they provide a chance for us to hear everyone’s opinions about what has been found, and expose us to various points of view. Questions about what the harbor may have looked like when it was in use, what the areas we are excavating could have been used for, and how the areas on either side of the seawall worked together all drive our daily work. The entire Burgaz team has similar discussions on Saturday nights, when we sit as a group and chat about the week’s activities. These talks are enjoyable: they allow everyone to learn about what is going on in the different harbours, the ceramics, and the GIS. While I still occasionally think about the lunch menu when my stomach grumbles in the field, my mind can also ponder the meaning of the work we are doing, and this allows me to enjoy the whole experience even more.

Team discussion on a Saturday evening.

Team discussion on a Saturday evening.

August 15th, 2014

Harbors and ancient shopping spaces

(guest post by Molly McMeekin)

I was recently asked how our work here at Burgaz connects to my research. This question made me realize that my interest in Greek coastal cities is not just connected to Burgaz, but in fact where it all began. During the three seasons I have spent at Burgaz, my fascination with how goods moved between and within Greek cities has grown and developed, helping me to establish my current research questions for my thesis.

An inspirational view of L1.

An inspirational view of L1.

My research primarily focuses on the topography of shopping in the Athenian Agora. I am interested in understanding the use of space in antiquity and how individuals manipulated the space and structures around them to facilitate commerce and shopping. Trying to understand how the coastal areas at Burgaz were used–whether for military, economic or commercial purposes–has helped me to realize my interest in how societies engineered and interacted with the open space and built structures surrounding them.

For me, the excavations at Burgaz also raise interesting questions related to the larger-scale experience of space throughout the ancient world. What factors contribute to individuals abandoning a seemingly established space such as Burgaz? Did the space and/or location no longer provide the specific needs of that particular society? How did Burgaz use its space most efficiently, and how do ancient coastal cities allocate space for these needs? The excavations at Burgaz have helped me to solidify my interests in the use of space and topography in the ancient world. And while my current research focuses on Athens, I hope it will allow me to better understand what we see happening at Burgaz.

August 13th, 2014

Excavation life

(Guest post by Margaret Tomaszczuk)

While working at Burgaz this summer, I have become as fascinated by the social dynamics of excavation as I am by the archaeology. The manner in which diverse groups come together for the same common purpose intrigues me.

Experiencing my first excavations this summer at Burgaz and Catalhöyük, I have found that there is much to be learned from living full time with a group of archaeologists. We work, eat, sleep, and socialize together the whole day long. As one might imagine, we come to know one another quite closely in this environment. At times this existence is enriching; at others it can be trying.

Margaret and Tyler experience the camaraderie of work in L2

Margaret and Tyler experience the camaraderie of work in L2

Every day I learn something new from my team members. I have learned what stratigraphic changes look like underwater, how to change the oil in a water dredge, and how to draw pottery for publication. I have learned that the French do not put jam on croissants, that Toronto is a “hipster” city, and how to properly prepare a glass of Turkish raki. I have learned to share space and to live with less than I am normally accustomed to have.

Sometimes, I feel as though the outside world has fallen away, that all that now exists is the pansiyon in which we sleep, the dig house where we eat, and, of course, the site itself. I am consumed by the fluid routine in which we all now operate.

August 12th, 2014

Managing maps from the ground up

(guest post by Nick Riddick)

My primary role with the Burgaz Harbors Project this year has been the maintenance of the excavation’s Geographic Information System – GIS. This means that I can work anywhere that has access to a computer and electricity, which usually translates to the pansiyon rather than the sand and shallows. The first few weeks of the season I watched the other excavation members break into teams and go off to their various job sites (or to party… who knows!?). At the beginning of August, however, I was temporarily asked to work with the Harbor 2 (L2) team. This experience was both fun – though not a party – and thought-provoking, as it provided me with a great opportunity to explore the harbor in person from a ground level rather than through GIS, and to understand more fully and appreciate the work of the other team members.

Some days left me with time to look more closely at the harbors and surrounding waters. I was able to explore the walls and tower features, many of which are visible from the surface. Further, I could ground-truth features—particularly in Harbor 3 (L3)—that I noticed in satellite imagery, but had trouble picturing in the water. As a geographer by training, this firsthand experience with archaeological map-making helped me to realize how interdisciplinary the modern field of classical archaeology has become, and also how different the processes are to achieve the goals of archaeologists and geographers.


Nick heads out into the field to log features in the map, this time serving at the prism end for Molly’s total station work.

Nick heads out into the field to log features in the map, this time serving at the prism end for Molly’s total station work.


August 10th, 2014

Elemental analysis of ceramics at Burgaz

(guest post by Megan Daniels, Kilian Mallon, and Matthieu Abgrall)

As a supplement to our visual analysis of the pottery, a second step is to run the sherds through the portable x-ray fluorescence analyzer, nicknamed the “ray-gun”, the tricorder, or just plain old XRF. We clip off a small section of the sherd, trying to make the surface of the sample as flat as possible. We place the sample directly on the tracer, and after clicking a billion buttons to calibrate it, the analyzer emits x-rays at the sherd for two minutes. Unfortunately it does not make any zapping sounds, so we have to remember to stay clear of the beam (generally it’s under the cover anyway) and to be wary when the big red light is flashing.


The XRF gives us an elemental breakdown of the sherd. Most pottery is made of the same stuff, so most of the readings look quite similar. We work off the assumption that each ancient pottery workshop got their clay locally. Thus, because rocks and clays differ slightly from place to place, and different human traditions also make pottery in slightly different ways and use pottery for different purposes, each workshop or region or time period should have a pottery fingerprint. We are looking for the tiny variation that can tell us the fingerprints for the pottery produced around Burgaz. Of course, a lot comes down to interpretation. The XRF is a tool that is only as useful as the archaeologist who uses it. We have spent a lot of time working out what data we need, and what it means.

We get levels of different elements in the pottery sherds we analyze. Through the Artax software and Excel, we are able to build a database with all the elemental breakdowns of the pottery. When possible, we also tie this data to a time period and a specific place of find or production, i.e a context or a workshop. When all the data is gathered, we can run several statistical analyses, such as simple correspondence analyses (CA) or more elaborate multicorrespondence analyses (MCA). The objective is to tell how close two pottery sherds are, when analyzed either according to the totality of their elemental profile, or solely on a part of their composition, such as iron, calcium and strontium. We run analyses of the levels of elements but also compare pottery sherds to find out what element is present or not. Our results take the form of bar charts and scatter graphs on which several fabrics will group together around one or two elements: what it will tell us is that those fabrics, because of their relative proximity, most likely are made out of the same clay source. When we add up the time and location data, we hope to link specific elemental compositions of pottery to specific workshops or time periods. Meanwhile we reserve additional visual and petrographic analyses to determine further the firing processes and the various “recipes” of potters. We pool all our resources together to get answers.

Through these efforts, we hope to tie Burgaz into its surrounding socio-economic environment and to understand better the changing uses of landscape and how this relates to Burgaz’s position at various periods in history, from a regional maritime center in the Classical and Hellenistic periods to (perhaps?) a more localized production site in the later Hellenistic and Roman periods.