UCB Archeologists Hunt for Hippodrome



UC Berkeley classics professor Kim Shelton and her largely student crew are back from a summer spent excavating, researching, and conserving at Nemea, Greece.

Ever since the Nemea Center for Classical Archaeology was founded within UCB's Classics department six years ago, UCB has maintained the Nemea Archaeological Center on land that in ancient times held a temple to Zeus and a sports stadium — and to which Cal holds scientific rights .

"How thrilling it is to be ‘back from the trenches,'" wrote Shelton, NCCA's director, in her first report after returning from another summer abroad.

"There were several points when we were certain that our planned efforts would be dashed by the global economic crisis and the resulting political and bureaucratic rollercoaster, not to mention striking Greek transportation workers." But thanks to generous donors, avid volunteers, and cutting-edge equipment, "we had a great summer," Shelton wrote.

"Excavation is a costly and time-consuming business. It is a good idea to find out as much as we can about ‘what’s down there’ without digging, so we can learn as much as possible about the site before we decide where to excavate. Subsurface, non- invasive investigation of the natural or man-made layers or features is thus an important weapon in our excavation armory. This summer, we made a geophysical (i.e., sub- surface) survey of much of the archaeological site.

"‘Remote sensing,’ as it is called, uses magnetometry and ground penetrating radar to provide data about what is ‘down there.’ In addition, a process called Electrical Resistivity Tomography is applied which produces a map of the stratigraphy of an area. ...

"As a result of the survey, the area around the temple seems to have a number of features that may be of interest, especially to the south and southwest. East of the temple and the altar, the GPR identified strong reflections in a couple of areas that may be related to architectural remains. Very surprisingly, similar architectural features were identified under the site parking lot from a depth of about 70-80cm and extending to at least 180cm below the surface. The survey also discovered evidence of a possible road leading away from the Sanctuary to the east, but different from the road to the Stadium."

Efforts continued to locate the site of an ancient hippodrome where horse-drawn chariots raced.

Students received summer-session credit for participating in the program, but acceptance is highly competitive. For 2010, NCCA received 52 applications for only ten available spots. Four teams comprising two or three undergrads worked with supervisors — recording the excavation process, labeling and packaging finds, and excavating along local laborers. In the site's museum, the students cleaned, catalogued and further conserved finds.

"As a visiting official from the Ministry of Culture noted this past summer, our Archaeological Park is one of, if not the, best maintained in all of Greece. It is a true jewel. This only happens because of the time and money the Center invests," Shelton asserted. (Go Bears!) "For example, this past summer, in addition to the normal weeding of the site, mowing the lawn and gardening around the museum and stadium, additional maintenance and supply was preformed on site and in the museum. In the archaeological park most of the additional work involved mowing of high-weeded areas and cleaning of drainage systems."

When you're talking about archeology, "in the trenches" isn't just a turn of phrase. Next summer, NCCA plans to open some new ones and to continue examining the ones opened this summer, which yielded Neolithic and Late Bronze Age sherds, among other crucial material.

Good to know someone's still looking after the ancient world.

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