Sarah Murray reports on work in Attica, Greece during summer 2020

Sarah Murray on The Bays of East Attica Regional Survey (BEARS), summer 2020.

Like most everything associated with archaeological research, our carefully laid plans for a 2020 field season of the Bays of East Attica Regional Survey derailed spectacularly sometime around late March of 2020. In Toronto, the spring that followed was cold and grim in pretty much every imaginable way. However, by early July, virus cases had waned to vanishingly small numbers in many parts of Europe, and Canada had gotten the pandemic situation sufficiently under control that Canadian residents were among the few non-EU passport-holders allowed to enter the coveted Schengen zone. Although most folks ended up not being able to travel to Greece at all, or in time, we did manage to get three BEARS team members on the ground to catch up with some cataloguing and study of our finds from 2019 in August 2020 (no Goldilocks, unfortunately).

Skeleton season BEAR #1 was me. I flew to Athens on July 11. Coming on the heels of 4 months of barely leaving my apartment, the trip felt majorly miraculous. After some hiking in the mountains and a bit of time working in Athens, I settled into Porto Rafti to work on cataloging finds from our 2019 field season. In addition to a whole series of forms containing information about survey units, the project database integrates two finds catalogues: one for inventoried finds and one for bulk finds. The idea is that every single object collected in the survey is represented/accounted for in the bulk finds catalogue and given a bulk finds number, while only select objects (say, sherds that are very well-preserved, very datable, etc.) are pulled out, given an inventory number, and described or analyzed in more detail.

Our finds experts are the ones who will ultimately go carefully through the pottery from each unit and make the decisions about which finds should be inventoried, since they are the ones who are trained to know which sherds might be especially informative or important. Cataloguing bulk pottery is not quite as sensitive a task. The idea is to produce a comprehensive log of finds from a unit, so that someone can look at the form for any individual survey unit and get an immediate sense of its finds: how many krater rims or kylix stems, what distribution of sherds from different periods, fine wares vs. coarse wares, etc.

In practice bulk cataloguing involves trying to impose some kind of informational order on the chaos of a bag of unsorted sherds: sorting coarse and fine wares, separating out different kinds of feature sherds (bases, handles, rims, etc.) or sherds that all come from the same vessel shape, that kind of thing. Then each sherd or group of sherds is given a lot number and entered into the bulk catalogue, along with basic information: shape, fabric description, etc. Since our small 2019 lab team was overwhelmed just keeping up with basic processing of all of the finds we brought in from the field, no bulk cataloguing was done in 2019. In a way, then, it was really helpful to have 2020 “off” from fieldwork so that there was time to catch up.

During the first week of August Skeleton Crew BEAR #2, Bartek Lis, arrived in Brauron after driving/ferrying down from Poland. Bartek knows more about pottery, especially LH IIIC pottery in our region, than pretty much anyone. He’s also been restudying the pottery from the neighboring Perati cemetery, so he is definitely the Mycenaean ceramicist that we need to have studying our Late Bronze Age material. He found some amazing and surprising stuff; we have lots of really interesting new insights and questions about the Raftis assemblage just from his short visit this summer, and there are still many units he did not have time to get through

Finally, I was joined for the last two weeks of August by BEARS Skeleton Crew member #3, Melanie Godsey. Melanie is a PhD candidate at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill who is studying our Classical and Hellenistic pottery, especially the Koroni finds, amidst a multi-year stretch of living and working in Athens at the American School of Classical Studies. She worked on Koroni for her MA thesis and study of the pottery from old excavations on the site will form part of her PhD thesis.

By the end of the season, our tiny team of three accomplished quite a lot – after one more week of photography and data entry in early September I’d completed the bulk pottery catalogue, which now includes every single sherd collected in 2019, and Melanie and Bartek had inventoried over 400 objects from our sites of Raftis and Koroni.

Another great development this summer was that we began seeding closer relationships with some other colleagues and projects working nearby in Attica, especially the Belgian/Greek project currently underway at Thorikos. Nikos Papadimitriou hosted Melanie, roving tile consultant Phil Sapirstein, and me for an incredible tour of the site, and also showed us some of the cool finds they’ve been pulling out from Stais’ leftovers the Lavrio museum. We all learned a lot. The following week I recruited our friend and boat captain Vasilis Miliotis to take some of us on a sail from Porto Rafti to Lavrio and back so that we could get a sense of the maritime route between the two sites. Of course, there was some afternoon boat swimming as well. This is an excellent method of forming collegial relationships. I recommend it to everyone!