The Geoarchaeology of Classical Greek Housing
As part of my doctoral research at Newcastle University, I spent a month in early 2020 at the Fitch lab analysing archaeological sediments from Olynthos in Northern Greece. Being part of the ‘Olynthos Project’, co-directed by Prof Lisa Nevett (University of Michigan), Dr Zosia Archibald (University of Liverpool) and Dr Elisavet Tsigarida (Director of the Ephorate of Antiquities of Pella), my study uses a geoarchaeological approach to understand domestic organization and use of space at the Classical site of Olynthos. Olynthos is well-known for its outstandingly preserved urban and domestic architecture that is often seen as the archetype for Classical domestic houses.
The interdisciplinary project combines data from different scales by integrating field observations with those obtained from the microscale. The project more widely aims to contribute to the better integration of geoarchaeology into classical archaeology where such approaches are not commonly used.
During my time at the Fitch lab, I conducted geochemical analyses of sediment samples from an Olynthian house using the facilities at the WD-XRF (wavelength dispersive x-ray florescence) unit of the laboratory. The analysis was primarily aimed at identifying characteristic signals in the elemental composition of archaeological deposits that may be linked to human activities. The analysis was particularly targeted at identifying ancient floor surfaces and occupation deposits that are most likely to retain traces of past human activity. The project further addresses the question of how elemental composition changes spatially within the house. Elemental data are combined with microscopic observations from micromorphological thin sections that provide complementary evidence for the use of space at Olynthos.
Based on observations made in the field and under the microscope, the samples represent different types of sediment including occupation and fill deposits and suspected floor surfaces. This is also reflected in the elemental composition with marked differences between archaeological deposits and natural control samples. The variations may be the result of anthropogenic activity potentially related to construction or maintenance activities but require further analyses.
Being one of the first case studies in Classical Greece where domestic space is investigated through an interdisciplinary geoarchaeological approach, Olynthos has great potential to contribute to the wider field of Greek domestic architecture. By integrating traditional approaches (architecture, artefacts, texts) with geoarchaeological evidence (micromorphology, geochemistry), new insights into the domestic life in Classical Greece can be made.
Mara L. Schumacher
PhD student at Newcastle University