The Mycenaean Cemetery at Achaia Clauss near Patras: People, material remains and culture in context

Constantinos Paschalidis introduces his new volume with Archaeopress reporting on excavations of a Mycenaean cemetery, located by the historic Achaia Clauss wine factory, near Patras, Greece.

This work comprises the study of the finds from the excavation of the University of Ioannina and the Archaeological Society at Athens in the Mycenaean cemetery, located by the historic Achaia Clauss wine factory, near Patras. The research was carried out between the years 1988-1992 under the direction of Professor T. Papadopoulos (figs 1, 2). The presentation of the topic expands into seven thematic chapters, proceeding from the whole to the parts – and then returning to the whole. Thus, one progresses from the general review of the cemetery space and the sites, to the analytical description of the excavation, to the remarks on the architecture, to the study of the finds, to the analysis of the burial customs and finally to the narration of the overall history of the cemetery according to chronological period and generation of its people. The eighth and last chapter is an addendum including a presentation of the anthropological analysis of the skeletal material.

Fig. 01
Fig. 1. The vineyard of Achaia Clauss wine factory as it looks from the cemetery site.
Fig. 02
Fig. 2. The vineyard of Achaia Clauss and the Koukouras hill with the Mycenaean cemetery at its feet, seen from the wine factory.

More precisely, the study is organized as follows: Chapter 1 includes a complete and brief catalogue of the Mycenaean sites in Achaea. The cemetery site is described separately with special mention of the neighbouring excavations (fig. 3). Furthermore, in this chapter the distribution and character of the sites across the entire territory is examined and presented as a general overview.

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Fig. 3. The Mycenaean settlement on top of the Mygdalia hill, overlooking the Achaia Clauss cemetery at the foot of the Koukouras hill (right), the plain and the gulf of Patras.

In Chapter 2, the description of the tombs is to be found, arranged into three parts for each in turn. The first section focuses on the description of the tomb’s architecture and the clustering and appearance of the finds in it. The second part sums up all the above evidence, following the chronological sequence of the burials. The third part displays, through easy-to-understand tables, the burials along with the gender, the age and the grave-goods of each individual, grouped in chronological order of introduction into the tomb. These tables also record any other non-burial episode that has been attested through the history of the chambers, in chronological order too.

In Chapter 3, the area of Clauss is examined, as well as the layout of the cemetery (figs 4, 5), the architecture of the tombs, the bedrock, the manner of construction and the structural problems related to them.

Chapter 4 contains the analytical catalogue of the finds in each tomb, recorded according to their excavation numbering, accompanied by the corresponding Museum of Patras inventory number. The catalogue contains one or more photos and drawings of each find, its detailed description and bibliographical documentation with parallels selected mainly from published assemblages from the rest of Achaea, Elis and the nearby Ionian islands.

Chapter 5 deals with the analytical presentation of the finds from the cemetery (figs 6a-b), citing typological parallels from the entire Mycenaean world, including comments on their use in the cemetery and in their era, in general. The examination of the finds is arranged according to category: pottery, bronze, bone, stone finds, along with minor objects made of various materials (spindle whorls, seals, beads and a figurine).

In Chapter 6, the burial customs of the cemetery (fig. 7) are discussed as these emerge from the investigation of the archaeological finds and the results of the osteological study by Dr Photini J. P. McGeorge, whose full analysis is not included in the present work and by DrWiesław Więckowski, whose report is presented in Chapter 8.

Fig. 07
Fig. 07. The couple of warrior and his partner from chamber tomb Θ at Clauss. (Drawing by Y. Nakas).

Chapter 7 sums up all of the research data into a brief and concise overview of the burials according to chronological period and generation (phases 1-6 of the LH ΙΙΙC period), with reference to the society that the Clauss people and their contemporaries in the rest of Achaea had brought into being, and with a presentation of the cemetery’s history.

In Chapter 8, Dr Photini J.P. McGeorge presents her detailed study of cremation Θ in tomb N, while Dr Wiesław Więckowski offers the results of his study on the anthropological material from alcove I and tombs K-N.

The richly illustrated documentation of the tombs derives from the archive of the excavation. The photographs of the nearby Mycenaean settlement at Mygdalia Petrotou (fig. 3) come from the archive of its ongoing excavation project and contribute to the understanding of the region’s archaeological landscape. The presentation of the data tables at the end of this book (Appendix) facilitates the comprehension of specific aspects of the cemetery (burial practices according to gender and age, grave-goods according to gender/age/generation, demographic data per generation etc.).

9781784919191
C.Paschalidis et al. The Mycenaean Cemetery at Achaia Clauss near Patras, Archaeopress Archaeology (2018)

The publication of the Mycenaean cemetery at Clauss near Patras, yields information on various aspects of an unknown society situated at the periphery of the Mycenaean world, soon before its gradual end. It presents in a concise way the material culture of the society: the products of the local pottery workshops and their distribution, the metalworking industry of Achaea, the imported bronze objects from the Adriatic coasts, and discuss the role played by the NW Peloponnese in the distribution of these bronze objects throughout the rest of the Postpalatial world.

The detailed presentation of innumerous aspects of the material culture is followed by an analysis of other less tangible aspects of this society such as: the burial customs, the demographics of the cemetery, the palaeopathological findings, signs of social differentiation based on burial practices and offerings, details of family life (fig. 7), habits, and stereotypes, and any other unexpected finds from a society, which despite our ambitious approach remains anonymous, largely unknown, and enigmatic.

The study of the Mycenaean cemetery at Clauss near Patras, offers the chance to enlighten the ‘golden era’ of the NW Peloponnese in the years of the deep crisis that followed the fall of the Mycenaean palaces.

Constantinos Paschalidis
Curator of Antiquities
National Archaeological Museum, Athens

Sincerest thanks to Constantinos for providing this latest entry for the Archaeopress Blog. The Mycenaean Cemetery at Achaia Clauss near Patras is expected to publish late November/early December 2018. Further information on our website here: http://www.archaeopress.com/ArchaeopressShop/Public/displayProductDetail.asp?id={F7224A06-B955-4A45-9279-2A242F2BC99B}

Photographing a Bronze Age Past

Gavin McGuire considers the first phase of a photographic study of an archaeological excavation in Crete, highlighted in his book ‘Minoan Extractions – A Photographic Journey 2009-2016’

With the Sissi Archaeological Project, my seven year photographic study of the Bronze Age Minoan excavations under the auspices of the Belgian School in Athens, Université Catholique de Louvain, I have been offered an extraordinary opportunity to capture moments of human interaction during excavations as they interconnected with an ancient Minoan culture that stretches back millennia (2600-1200 BC). And there is more to come with the new dig campaign under way at a three hectare site which has been described as one of the most important Bronze Age excavations in Crete during the past decade.

Sissi Archaeological project
All Things Must Pass © G. Mcguire & Sissi Archaeological Project

The Minoan Extractions has also been a personal journey with the chance to pay homage to the work of influential photographers – in and out of the archaeological sector, including my mentor, the outstanding photographer – Harry Burton. During the 1920’s his iconic monochrome images of the Tomb of Tutankhamun, as well his work at other sites in Egypt, have fascinated people throughout the world, and yet only in recent years has there been a growing reassessment of his contribution to photography.

Of course photography within archaeology is not new – with its origins arising during the early nineteenth century and especially in 1904 becoming ‘official’ with Egyptologist Flinders Petrie’s manual ‘Methods and Aims in Archaeology’. For nearly 200 years in the Mediterranean and Near East in particular, photographers in conjunction with archaeologists have played a crucial role in pushing back the barriers of the ancient world for both scholars and for a demanding global general audience.

Sissi Archaeological Project
North by North West © G. Mcguire & Sissi Archaeological Project

With the Sissi photographic project, at a unique coastal landscape about four kilometres from Malia palace in Crete, I have continued a proud photographic tradition that is once again facing a new era of major technological change – from digital to virtual, from handheld cameras to drones and to live excavation access. It is also the age of the smartphone – easy for anyone to use, producing high quality images and ultimately engaging a wide general audience.

Needless to say these changes are highlighting the importance of imaging, especially at this time as we are seeing wanton destruction of major archaeological sites in the Middle East and of general neglect and a lack of financing. Discovery may be an over arching goal for archaeologists, but the truth is rescue and preservation dominate excavation campaigns. The past is present but the present is a very fragile one indeed.

Sissi Archaeological Project
The Restorationist © G. Mcguire & Sissi Archaeological Project

The photography at Sissi is simply being at the right place and at the right fleeting moment, making images that highlight motion and emotion from the 80 or so ‘players’ on the archaeological stage for their six week or so excavation during July-August. It is what the renowned French photographer and humanist, Henry Cartier Bresson, referred to as ‘The Decisive Moment’.

There are images of scientists at work – archaeologists, anthropologists, technical specialists, such as surveyors, local workmen digging (many proudly following in the wake of their forefathers) and restorers and conservators dealing with the thousands of finds housed at the apothiki or workshop.

Yet the Sissi Project encompasses not only the excavation period but includes images of the site throughout the year, showing, in part, the impact of the environment. Indeed if there is a favourite ‘out-of-dig-season’ photographic period then it must be autumn and winter, where the dominating Selinari mountain range and often violent seas and dark storms combine to conjure up a dramatic contrast to the Bronze Age remains. This is surely what the Minoans must have witnessed for more than nearly 1300 years.

Sissi Archaeological Project
Minoan Storm © G. Mcguire & Sissi Archaeological Project 

I photograph in both colour and black-and-white but in recent years have preferred the latter, mainly because of what I see as the aesthetic qualities of the genre. It is a realism ensured through the subtle variations of contrast and light without the distraction of colour. In other words it comes down to getting the viewer to look into the image not at it.

The Sissi site is an ideal laboratory to test any camera and its paraphernalia – the near stifling heat, the dust, sea grit and water and general bashing about. In this respect I have stayed faithful to my favoured Olympus E-510 SLR and lately with the mirrorless OM-D E-M5 Mark II. Of the Digital ED lenses I prefer to use the 9-18 ultra-wide and 50mm. The one filter that has become indispensable is the HD digital protector screw-in filter. They are a godsend to protecting lenses from the damaging environment and I have certainly got through a few of those over the years. Post production is kept at a minimum.

I have certainly produced many hundreds of photographs at the site during the last seven years. There is never a daily schedule and time to prepare once there. My photography is on the run or more importantly on the sly – as I prefer subjects not to be aware of my efforts.

Looking back at what I would consider my favourite images I would say they reflect the work of the anthropologists in the cemetery with the excavated skeletal remains, highlighting memory, time and mortality and of their attempts to seek closure for such finds through the processes of DNA and isotopic study.

Sissi Archaeological Project
Death Under the Midday Sun I © G. Mcguire & Sissi Archaeological Project

But I would also confess that the photographs that have proved particularly successful have been nothing more that opportunistic, often arising from one rapid shot, almost from the hip. It happens. Nothing planned but if the brain connects with the eye then you can walk away highly satisfied. Job done – at least for the moment, for as archaeologists well know the excavation is never over until the sound of the last shovel dies away. It is generally accepted that the last 48 hours of a dig is the period in which new and sometimes site changing discoveries are made – and so it has happened at Sissi. It makes this Bronze Age settlement worth photographing. So watch this space.

9781784916367
Minoan Extractions: A Photographic Journey 2009-2016 Sissi Archaeological Project by Gavin McGuire (2017). Paperback ISBN 9781784916367. £25.00. (eBook ISBN 9781784916374, from £16.00 + VAT if applicable)

Gavin’s book will be available in July/August in paperback (£25) and PDF eBook (from £16). A special pre-order price of £20 is available for the paperback edition until 31/07/2017. To pre-order at the special price please e-mail info@archaeopress.com