Back in the heat of Athens and preparing for Kea

authored by Frank Lynam at 27/06/2012 16:43:17

I’m now back in Athens and it’s fair to say that the weather has really begun to heat up in the last few days. Last night was like trying to sleep in an oven. My Cretan accommodation had the luxury of air-conditioning and that has conditioned (excuse the pun) my body for sleep within a certain comfortable range of temperatures. The Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies at Athens has many charms and benefits but unfortunately air-con is not one of them. Still, I suppose that it is better to prepare for what might be the reality in the next few weeks than to go on living in denial.

There is thankfully a breeze, though, but there’s something slightly oppressive about being away from the sea. It denies you the possibility of the full body rebirth that sea swimming brings. OK, I’ll admit that Athens isn’t exactly a million miles away from the coast but the logistics of conducting a beach expedition from a base in the city are slightly more strenuous than those involved when living in East Crete, and habit and expectation are difficult structures to break down in a man.

I’m currently waiting for the Kea Project team to return from their trip to the Peloponnese tomorrow when I will join up with them to take the ferry to the island from the port of Lavrio. Lavrio, I’m told is about a 2 hour trip down the road at the south-easternmost point of Attica. The port is not too far away from Cape Sounion, which boasts a beautiful temple of Poseidon. This is the spot at which Aegeus, the father of Theseus, jumped to his death in the sea when Theseus raised the white and not the black sails when he returned safely after his adventures with Minos and the Minotaur on Crete.

Aegeus waiting

I’ve spent the day buying provisions (runners, natural mosquito repellants and bite treatments; there are loads of them around this year) that I’m assuming a place like Kea will not provide. I’m also reading up on said backwater. And indeed, having flicked through a number of books and articles on the subject, it seems that Kea is a relatively diminutive place (analogous to Inis Mhór off the West coast of Ireland for those that are familiar with those parts) that has seen a generally continuous spread and magnitude of occupation from the Early Bronze Age period onwards. There is evidence of occupation before the third millennium BCE, at sites such as Kephala, but the full extent of Neolithic occupation on the island is far from clear.

Previously, I had only heard about Kea as the host of the Minoan-tinged Bronze Age site of Ayia Irini. Back in the processualist days of archaeological conceptualization, scholars talked of this site as being a Minoan ‘colony’ but now that we all have our postmodernist hats firmly in place such a homogenous and essentialist claim is difficult to defend.

I’ve just read that Kea also hosted 4 separate poleis during the Classical and Roman periods after which it became a single administrative unit with its capital at the central highpoint of Ioulida during the Byzantine to Ottoman periods of control. As such the island is typical of Greece: a palimpsest of past cultural activity.

The Kea Project is a survey project. So that means that we won’t be doing any archaeological excavation as such. Survey involves the non-intrusive study of an area that may be extremely large or somewhat less so depending on your research question, mode of investigation and your resources, both human and financial. The Kea Project looks to re-examine the survey area that was first investigated by Davis and Cherry during the 1970s. The research question is one of a methodological slant; does survey provide results that can be viewed objectively going forward?

So all in all, the next two months promise to be packed full of new experiences and I hope to be somewhat more regular about their reporting than I have been about my adventures down south on Crete this year. Reports on Crete and retrospectives on the progress of the Priniatikos Pyrgos Project should emerge in the next few days. So watch this space.

Now I’m off for a run with my new shoes in the Athenian heat. This is either a stroke of genius that will see me best the tyrannical challenge of the Athenian summer or a terrible mistake. We shall see.