June 2011


In ancient times, prospective members of the mystery cult of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods would sail to the island, putting in to the harbor at Paleopolis, the ancient city. They would proceed up the hill through the city, then go through the city walls and into the Sanctuary for initiation rites, starting from the Propylon of Ptolemy II. One of my tasks here this season was to help to “plot” the walls of the ancient city, so that our geographic / cartographic expert, Michael Page, could feed the data into the geographic information system that “we” are developing for the site.

Originally I had planned to hike the wall with my niece, but her ankle was twisted. With Bonna’s leg broken, and the memory of my broken foot of 2 years past still fresh in my mind, I decided that perhaps hiking the wall was not such a great idea for me. However, some of the NYU students were interested and willing to climb the wall and collect points into my handy dandy GPS device. Here are some pictures of their adventure yesterday.

on the way up against the wall

Above are two of the team as they start the ascent.

It's a long way up there

It’s a long way up there.

Taking a point

Here are two of the students taking a point reading.

They made it!

Their perseverance paid off and they made it!

It's a long way down.

It’s a long way down – yikes!

They made it back, with no serious injury although with varying percentages of skin removed from their legs. Neverthless, I want to publicly thank Amy, Arielle, and Emily for their willingness to take on this important task, and the good cheer with which they returned!

Lisa and I are on the mainland. We left Samothraki on the 4 pm ferry today, and drove due east to the coastal town of Kavala. Tomorrow we will stop in Vergina, the site of the tombs of Macedonian royalty, on our way south to the Peloponnese, where we hope to visit Epidaurus and Mycenae on Thursday. I hope to have a picture or two for you tomorrow.

Now it’s time to say goodbye to Samothraki…

I am writing about 9:30 am and our ferry is at 4 this afternoon. We would stay for one more day, but there is no ferry on Wednesday’s before the summer season gets underway on Friday, July 1.

Since last night was our last evening, we went out for dinner, returning to the “bean restaurant”. I realized that sometime between my first visit to the restaurant in 2008 and now, the parachute that had created a sheltered space had been replaced by an open-sided roof structure. I was not able to get a great picture, but here it is.

outdoor dining at the bean restaurant

Of course the roof is barely visible for all of the vegetation.

I will update sometime soon – I have to run and finish some analyses now! Ciao…

We live pretty close to nature here, and so there are, of course, bugs. Spiders, grasshoppers, and flies, primarily, but this year the bug is the moth. There are an incredible number of moths flitting about in broad daylight. Everyone is remarking on it, that they (who have been coming here for years) have never seen anything like it.

I can’t capture the effect fully (actually, I can’t capture it at all) with still photography, so here is a video:

Saturday night we go out to dinner, so this Saturday I was allowed to choose, given that Lisa and I are leaving this week. I would have chosen Sotiros, but it does not open until July 1, so we went to καρυδιας (which translates to walnuts), also familiarly known as “The Bean Restaurant”. Although I was disappointed that they did not have gigantes, they did have another bean dish that was simply delicious.

Sunday is our free day. The NYU team and Steve Koob, the visiting conservator, went to Fonias to hike to the waterfall. Since Lisa had twisted her ankle before the trip and it was sore, we felt it best that she not make that hike. However, we did drive down along the northern coast of the island, and stopped at the trailhead. We walked just a little way up the trail (increments of meters). It had rained Saturday night, and the first obstacle on the path is a teeny tiny waterfall:

Teeny tiny waterfall

In this view we are looking straight through at the path, which continues to the left of the tree in the background. Here is a long shot:

on the trail to the Fonias waterfalls

We turned around and went back to the car, continuing on our journey along the northern coast road, which ends at Kipos (i=ee) Beach. Since the tourist season does not start here until July 1, there is hardly anyone in town, and almost no one was at the beach.

You can see Turkey from the beach:

view of Imbros from Kipos Beach

In the far distance is the island of Imbros, which is part of Turkey. I like the view of the end of the road:

land's end at Kipos Beach

Well, folks, there are still a lot of data here yearning to be analyzed, so I had best attend to that. More tomorrow!

Yesterday I wrote about taking a tour of the site with Mr. McCreadie, and that I felt good that I was retaining much from year to year. But this year I heard something new in the tour, and that was that the marble used for the building called the Dedication of Phillip III and Alexander IV was from two different sources. Specifically the marble for the facade is Pentelic, meaning that it was quarried from Mt. Pentelicus, near Athens, and the marble for the other 3 sides is Thasian, meaning it was quarried on Thasos, an island very close to Samothrace in the northern Aegean. In the back of my mind I have been puzzling about this building for weeks, since Bonna is not content with the estimated foot unit that I have derived. So when it hit me that two different marbles were used, I started to think that the estimate is bad because there are two different foot units being used by two different sets of masons quarrying marble at two different geographic sites.

So then, how could you construct a building with two different foot units? I would argue that width (the depth of the block) would not matter. If the corner blocks were custom-fit on the facade, if the last course of blocks on the facade were custom fit, then it might work. BUT I am not very intuitive when it comes to geometry, so maybe this conjecture is all wet. What do you think?

In the meantime I wanted to talk about our kitchen situation, which I have described previously (see the end of the post). We work with extreme conditions in our kitchen. We have a range with solid state cooking elements, and there are no markings on the control knobs to clue us to the strength of the heat. The oven has one wire rack, and the barely legible temperatures are, of course, in Centigrade, always necessitating quick mental arithmetic to translate 350 or 400 into the proper temperature. In addition we have dull knives, no serving platters nor bowls, pots and pans with bottoms that are so warped that only one point on the bottom makes contact with the burner.

Add to that the fact that we eating slower foods here. By that I mean that if you go to town to buy fish at 1 in the afternoon, you are likely to find one of the fish stores closed and the other one with only sardines left, as we found out yesterday. The only fruits and vegetables are seasonal, although they are brought over by ferry from the mainland. It’s a good thing that I really like fresh tomatoes, since that is a staple of the diet here. Last night I ended up making keftedes, Greek meatballs, in which the only sure measurement was that I had 1 kilo of ground beef and one onion chopped. Lisa made tzatzkiki with local sheep yogurt, 8% for tzatzkiki, as well as a garbanzo bean salad and patates. We had hoped to grill fish, a plan that we had to abort because we did our shopping after lunch.

To leave you with a visual, here is a picture of the stove:

Kitchen at Hotel Xenia, Paleopolis, Samothraki

The blue bag hanging to the left of the stove contains our bread and cereals. It is hanging since ants are less likely to get into it that way. The collection of pans for using in the oven is to the right of the stove, stacked atop a non-working propane grill. We do have a nice big freezer chest, which you can see just through the door.

We have been joking that the Food Network should shoot a series called “Extreme Cooking” – put chefs into kitchens like this and see how they fare, what they can create.

I won’t have internet access tomorrow, but I’ll be back on Monday, so stay tuned!

Each year when a new group of students comes to the site, they receive a guided tour of the Sanctuary. For years, Jim McCreadie, who  had been site director since 1962 until recently, gave the tour. However, Bonna gave my tour the first year I was here, as she did in subsequent years up until this year. Unfortunately, she is suffering from a broken leg (another story) and has not yet been able to walk out into the site. So this year she called Mr. McCreadie back into service.

He starts the tour by leading everyone back to the southern corner of the Eastern Hill, in the block field for the Propylon of Ptolemy II, which was the building through which initiates entered the Sanctuary. Below are a couple of shots taken in the “school room”:

Sanctuary tour "school room"

Jim McCreadie

He gave a great tour. I am glad to say that I didn’t learn much that was new, which means that this stuff is sinking into my brain, finally! I was able to ask some good questions. Moreover, when Lisa and I went into the site yesterday to shoot some gigapans, I was able to point out some things that he had omitted (inner apsoidal wall of Hieron, Sacred Rock, rock in shape of the island that is set in the stone wall of one of the dining rooms).

I mentioned above that Bonna had broken her leg. She was descending from the Acropolis at Lindos on Rhodes last week, turned to say something to her friend, and fell. The rocks at these sites can be very slippery, and I have been watching myself to be sure that I remain intact, treating steps and rocky terrain very carefully. She went over to Alexandroupolis yesterday to see a doctor who will be replacing the half cast that she has been wearing, and she will return this afternoon.

Last night we went into Kamariotissa for pizza. Here is the pizzaria.

Samothraki Pizzaria

We sat across the street, enjoying a particularly beautiful sunset. In the background of this photo you can see Mt. Assos, the holiest mountain in modern Greece.

View of Mt. Assos from Samothraki at Sunset

And in this photo you can see the outline of the Greek island Thasos to the left of the setting sun.

View of Thassos from Samothraki at Sunset

More tomorrow!

Before Lisa and I arrived on Samothraki, we visited several other archaeological sites. Although I have been to Greece 3 times before this, I had not been to any place other than Athens, Alexandroupolis, and Samothraki. So having a car and being able to drive and see other sites was a real treat.

On our first day in Greece we drove to the charming town of Arahova (all a’s are short, the accent is on the second syllable). Arahova sits on the side of Mt. Parnassus. I don’t have a good picture of the town – the views from it were good, but the views of it not so much.

The next day we continued around the side of Mt. Parnassus to Delfi, site of the Sanctuary of Apollo, where the ancients would come to seek the wisdom of the Oracle. Mt. Parnassus is place where the Greek gods partied, and Delfi was considered to be the “navel of the earth”. Here is a picture looking up into the Sanctuary of Apollo:

Looking up into the Sanctuary of Apollo

and here is a picture of Mt. Parnassus:

Mt. Parnassus

This sanctuary was the home of the cult of Apollo, who was the god of  prophecy. When a supplicant asked something of the oracle, he entered the temple. The Oracle was in there, sniffing fumes that came up through a fissure in the earth. She (the Oracle) supposedly got high on these fumes, she would be presented a question, she would respond in gibberish, and a priest would translate her response. Here is a view of the temple:

The Temple in the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delfi

Another interesting feature of the site is the Omphalos:

The Omphalos at Delfi

According to ancient myth, Cronus (then king of the gods) was swallowing his children as his wife Rhea gave birth, since he had learned that his son would grow to overthrow him, as he had overthrown his own father. When her 6th child, Zeus, was born, Rhea handed to Cronus a stone (the Omphalos), all in swaddling clothes, instead of the baby, and Cronus swallowed the stone without looking.

We left Arahova the next day, and drove south toward Eleusis, the site of yet another mystery cult and the Sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone, Demeter being the goddess of agriculture and Persephone her daughter. Persephone was abducted Hades, the king of the underworld. There is an elaborate myth about this abduction and the cycle of  her descent and subsequent return.  The cave (below), called the Plutonion, was thought to be the entrance to the underworld.

Plutonion at Eleusis

From Eleusis we drove to Thessaloniki for our overnight stay. Thessaloniki is a coastal city, and it seems to be predominated by students.

The next day we went to Pella, which was the capital of Macedonia and birthplace of Alexander the Great.  It is also where King Phillip II, Alexander’s father, was murdered.

There is a wonderful new museum associated with the site:

Archaeological Museum of Pella

The site itself is vast, and this picture only gives you a small view of it:

Pella

It is a fascinating site, and I could have stayed for hours. Instead we stayed for about an hour, then drove to Alexandroupolis. On this leg of the trip we managed not to get lost!

More tomorrow.

Kali mera, y’all!

I left Atlanta on Thursday of last week and flew to Athens. The flight was uneventful, and I met up with my niece, Lisa, in baggage claim. We got our rental car and took off to see parts of Greece before proceeding to Samothrace.

I will update you later on some of the sites that we have seen, but for now I wanted to just give you an idea of Hall E, which is the workroom in the Archaeological Museum of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. Last year I took gigapans of the workroom from 3 different perspectives:

This is the view as you enter the space. My work space is on the table on the left hand side, right at the entry. I use the white chair.

This is the view of the space behind my work space (it is obscure from view on both the north-south axial views).

Finally, this is the view of the hall from the back, looking toward the entrance.

I invite you to look around in these panoramas – that increases my explore scores, which is useful to me.

I will have more pictures and panoramas tomorrow, but for the moment I have to go. We are going to have a tour of the sanctuary (the we being Lisa, the new group of NYU students, an Emory alum and his companion, and I), led by Jim Mc Creadie, since our fearless, intrepid leader, Bonna, managed to break her leg last week.

More soon!

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