Ghost Cities of Greece

Writer: 
December 8, 2014

In the foothills of eastern Crete, a short trek from the seaside village of Kavousi, there are the outlines of an early Greek city. Among the remnants are traces of a communal dining hall, an olive press facility, storerooms, a hearth temple, and clusters of small houses, all dating to at least the fifth century B.C. For most of the year, the site, called Azoria, sits dormant. But each summer, a diverse team of archaeologists—including a handful of Duke students and faculty members— are working to build a picture of how that ancient society functioned.

The director of the Azoria Project is Donald Haggis, a professor of greek studies and classical archaeology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Although the Azoria site was discovered at the turn of the twentieth century, it was Haggis and a colleague who realized its promise. “For the first time in any place in the greek Aegean, we’re able to see the transition from the early iron Age to the Archaic [periods], and the earliest stages of urbanization,” says Haggis. “it’s a period in which the greek household began to take shape.”

Excavation work at Azoria began in 2002—with two Duke students on hand for the inaugural digging season— and continued until 2006. After six seasons of study and site conservation, work resumed in 2013 and is expected to continue for another three summers. To date, twelve Duke students have participated in the project.

Much of the support for the Azoria Project has come through the Duke-UNC Consortium for Classical and Mediterranean Archaeology. The partnership connects faculty members and graduate students across various disciplines in the materialculture field, including classics, art history, and religion. it also has enabled Duke and UNC to better navigate the current landscape of university-based archaeology, in which excavation permits are limited and grants are becoming exceedingly competitive. “if you combine the teaching and research strengths of both our institutions, we have more weight and more resources than many much bigger state institutions do,” says Carla Antonaccio, chair of Duke’s classical studies department and a field archaeologist who splits time between Azoria and a site she codirects in Sicily.

In 2013, Antonaccio and Haggis introduced the consortium’s latest initiative: the Azoria Field School in Classical Archaeology. Sponsored by Duke’s Global Education Office, the creditbearing practicum provides intensive training in all phases of archaeology. (Students from universities across the globe also contribute to Azoria on a volunteer basis, as they have done for more than a decade.) Participants become trench assistants, learning excavation techniques as they focus on a specific area of the dig. They also assist in the processing, identification, and conservation of what they find, gaining exposure to disciplines like paleobotany and zooarchaeology.

For senior Amanda Fetter, who plans to attend graduate school in classical studies, working at Azoria was an invaluable exercise in how to think about antiquity. “it was really interesting to see how the professors interacted with the materials and what they believed they might be representative of,” she says. “And we were very much included in that thought process.”

  • Tim Lerow is an intern for the magazine. He graduates this spring.