What’s a nice biostatistician like you, Vicki, doing on a remote Greek island anyway? Well, this came about because my friend and colleague Bonna approached me about a statistical question regarding the architecture of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. Since the Sanctuary was the home of a secret cult, and the pain of revealing the secrets was death, we know very little about it. So how can we use the physical evidence to learn more about the Sanctuary, the cult, as well as classical and Hellenistic Greece? In general, Bonna wants to know if there are architectural characteristics about the buildings here that we can ascertain from the measurements of the remaining blocks from which we can make inferences. The particular questions are can we infer the quantum measurement (ie the unit of measurement of distance, such as our modern foot or meter) used in design and construction of these buildings and can we differentiate quanta between buildings (for instance the Hieron and the Dedication of Phillip II and Alexander IV) and/or between building styles (for instance, Ionic vs Doric). From this we might be able to learn more about the architect.

Although both the Romans and the Egyptians had fairly standardized units of measurement, the Greeks did not. More commonly they would have some indicator in the market square for each village that would provide a standard for a foot length, such as seen below:

Relief from Ashmolean museum, Oxford

Relief from Ashmolean museum, Oxford

This is a relief that was found in west Asia minor (modern Turkey) or one of the off-shore islands (modern Greece) in the 1600’s, and now is housed in the Ashmolean Museum at the University of Oxford. Note the foot.

There is a lot of debate about the units used in Greek architecture. Although it is true that Vitruvius wrote about the proportions used, the architects still had to decide that a building had to be so many quanta long by so many quanta wide by so many quanta high.

About 100 years ago, Richard von Mises, a Polish scientist, developed a mathematical probability distribution function for circular data. This was used for determining that the nuclei of atoms were composed of integer numbers of protons and neutrons, determing an atomic weight (hence the term quanta). The von Mises distribution was later used by David Kendall to examine the question of the megalithic yard (another quantum measurement problem) as determined from the diameters of ancients stone circles in Great Britain. I have adapted this method now in order to generalize it to address the question of measurements of blocks from the buildings in the Sanctuary. My student, Margueritte, did some of the preliminary work on this method over the last year, using it for her MS thesis. During my time here I have taken her computer program and adapted it to confirm that we get the same estimates as Kendall for analyzing the British stone circle data. I am happy to report that, indeed, we do agree.

For my work here I am packing two computers (hence the large and heavy backpack). Here I am at work, smiling because the computer program is working:

The two-fisted computer user

The two-fisted computer user

In order to address Bonna’s question directly, however, I need data. Hence I am here mainly to ensure that I get that data. Specifically I need the length (side to side), height (to to bottom), and width (front to back) measurements of each and every block that can be determined. One thing that had surprised me when Margueritte analyzed the data that we had from last summer is that there were very few blocks from the Hieron relative to what I expected – only 40 blocks, and the Hieron is one big building. So last week we were able to start to send some of the students out into the site to measure more blocks. Maggie, who had measured blocks last summer, trained both Abi and Susan, an art history doctoral student from Emory, on the finer points of block measurement. Here is Abi taking a rest (note, it was really hot yesterday, and we had very little breeze)

Abi, taking a rest from block measuring

Abi, taking a rest from block measuring

and here is Susan:

Susan taking block measurements

Susan taking block measurements

Other than that, I have been working on some of the gigapans in order to improve the documentation of the state of the site. Also, the data can be used to address hypotheses about the occurrence of events in space. Alas, those hypotheses will have to wait until I can address the quantum hypotheses.

Well, the beginning of the time for best photography is rapidly approaching, so I am off to lather up with sunscreen, gather up my materials and go off to gigapan.

More later…

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