Frederick A. Cooper, University of Minnesota
The architecture of the Bronze Age Palace near Pylos and its buildings was not documented by actual state plans and elevations during major excavations under Carl Blegen in the years 1952 to 1963. After a thirty-year hiatus, archaeological research by a University of Minnesota team recommenced in l990 with a detailed architectural study of the physical remains at the site being a primary aim of the project.
Funds for the initial seasons of this enterprise were generously provided by the Institute for Aegean Prehistory. We reported on the first season of 1990 at the Archaeological Meetings in December 1991. This report covers the seasons 1991, 1992 and 1993.
In our first season we achieved a detailed state plan of the Palace. In 1991 we undertook a multiple- season project to clear previously-excavated areas of backfill in order to create a comprehensive site plan of the many sets of walls and of the profusion of archaeological features that occupy the entire akropolis.
We began setting a 5 x 5-meter grid, oriented N-S/E-W and based on the Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) geodetic coordinate system. Using scientific excavation techniques, the protective cover is first removed according to trench and down to the level reached by the original excavators. An elevated tramway relieves foot traffic in the carrying of earth to sifters where it is carefully sifted and examined. All finds are bagged and labelled. Pre-printed locus sheets are completed by supervisors and the data is regularly entered onto a database using the convenience of HP 48S hand- held computers. We integrated this with a computer technology based on Bar Code. These procedures ensure, among other things, the entry of error-free inventory numbers and the systematic recording of top and bottom elevations of soil color and matrix and other standard excavation data.
At first, our intention was to concentrate on walls alone, leaving floors and ancillary spaces to the record provided by Blegen's published account; thus, only the walls of the Northeastern Building were exposed and drawn in 1991 - highlighted in green. However, we began to encounter architectural features which either had been omitted or which were far more complicated than anticipated; therefore, in 1992, as we moved towards the wine magazine, we greatly expanded our program to include the investigation of floors and corridors; in other words, most areas of the original excavations.
In 1993, we pursued our work around the wine magazine but also returned to the southeast and the strip alongside the flank of the Palace. We reached across the acropolis to expose the kiln and a short stretch of the aquaduct. Throughout we detected a clear sequence of walls and floors from pre-palatial through post-palatial times in which Blegen appears to have had little interest. Already our work has made it possible to advance a new and mutli-period relative chronology. By all means it is tentative, but I expect it will be further clarified as we progress in the coming seasons.
A water system, fully exposed by Blegen in 1962, laces the top of the akropolis, lined in green on this Blegen plan. The conduit begins at the propylon and, as I shall illustrate shortly, the type of construction varies from place to place as the line subsequently is altered. The aquaduct deserves further study, not only because of its importance to the knowledge of Mycenaean hydraulic engineering but also because it provides fundimental evidence for the establishment of a relative chronology. In the crowded area 101, it is abvious that the channel cut throuh earlier walls and then was rerouted several times in order to accomodate subsequent construction.
Phase One: Middle Helladic
Probable Middle Helladic presence on the acropolis consists of two substantial archaeological features shown in yellow: 1) a massive wall at the rim of the acropolis found beneath the vestibule of the Wine Magazine and, 2) a stone-lined shaft grave. Neither feature received a plan or section.
The evidence for Phase Two, shown pink, consists principally of separate areas of plastered floors, presumably interiors. In area 103, adjacent to the Wine Magazine, the plaster floor retains traces of painted strips and geometric patterns in blue and white. The orientation of this design runs parallel to a pair of column bases set 3.5 meters apart and aligned east-west. This orientation runs at a 45 degree angle to the overall axes of the Palace and Wine Magazine.
Blegen recognized the western column base but not the eastern one, which is still one-half preserved and forms an obvious respond to the western base. The aforementioned stucco floor abuts both column bases but it is important to note that walls of a later period cut into this floor. The pair of columns and related floor appear to be the remians of large pillared portico, with a minimum north-south width of 7 meters.
Also belonging to Phase Two are the remains of flooring at 92, in the area surrounding the decorated altar. Two phases of plaster floors exist here, marked in pink, the top layer being laid down in Phase Seven, as I shall explain shortly. Phase Two flooring underlies the enclosing wall to areas 42 and 47 with patches at both its southeast and northwest extremities.
At the north, alongside the Wine Magazine, walls zig-zag at right angles to each other to form a megaron-like plan and they cut into the decorated plaster floor of Phase Two. This building follows a disticntly different orientation and axis from that of the previous phase. The walls along the northwest flank of this building were cut away by the foundation trench for the Wine Magazine, which I assign to Phase Six.
Of the same relative chronology are the vestiges of a building that lie to the south in area 101. Not much can be made of the walls, other than the important fact that the aquaduct, labeled channel A and assigned to Phase Four, cuts through one wall of this house. Thorughout this portion, it consists typically of a deep, narrow channel sliced into the stereo of the acropolis.
Next in time, or Phase Five, in purple, come room 102 and the more extensive house of which room 102 was a part. Associated by orientation and stratigraphic level are other remains in area 101 that, like room 102, were cut off by the courtyard enclosing wall to room 47. In addition, the skewed northwest wall to room 97 of the Northeast Building also may have been built during Phase Five. At that time, the water course was diverted by the addition of a dog's leg to the line. The new Branch B was installed to run parallel and adjacent to the newly placed walls. Branch B is distinguished by the adoption of terracotta pipe.
Some twenty meters to the north at the north of area 103 and near the Wine Magazine, houses, only partially excavated by Blegen, run at oblique angles to the earlier zig-zag megaron of Phase Three and thus may represent a construction relatively contemporary with those in area 101. A packed layer made of broken painted plaster fragments runs up against the walls of the zig-zag megaron and the Oblique Houses. The nature of this "layer" is currently unclear, but it seems to consist of old wall fresco fragments pounded hard to make a mettaling for a floor. Wherever it may have been originally, the frescoed wall, from which the fragments must have come, logically dates before Phase Five, that is the phase of the partially excavated houses which it abuts.
Construction of the NE wing of the Palace occurs next or in Phase Six of the sequence of building events in this quadrant of the acropolis. The Wine Magazine is approxiamte in time to the LH IIIB date customarily assigned to the Palace.
Sometime after the completion of the NE wing of the Palace, a one-meter thick rubble wall created a pair of courtyards, areas 42 and 47 for Phase Seven. Deserving notice is the fact that the southwest wall, 0.65 meters thick of the earlier Room 102, Phase Five (purple), was incoroporated into this broader enclosing wall. In order to accomodate the differences in width, a short segment of rubble wall was inserted alongside the pre-existing end wall in Room 102. Blegen identified this room as cistern because of the presence of a plastered floor. What he does not seem to have noticed is the fact that the plastered floor passes underneath this added segment of rubble wall.
As a coherent part of the construction program of Phase Seven, the water channel was rediverted once again, Branch C angles towards the northwest corner of that skewed wall to Room 97. Here it takes a turn at a crudely-constructed settleing basin. The branch then takes a straight line down the inclined slope, running parallel to and 3 meters away from the courtyard wall of room 47. Branch C also has a different form of construction: a series of stone blocks cut to bracket-shapes and capped by field stones.
The three-meter wide corridor received an impressive plastered pavement, smooth, polished and glistening white. The flooring not only laps the bottom edge of the courtyard wall to rooms 42 and 47 but also overlaps the bracket-shaped drain opposite.
The base of the rubble wall that forms the southwest flank of the Northeastern building repsects the aquaduct but at the same time its bottom edge rests on the inside top edge of the bracket-shaped stone sections of water channel. The Northeastern Building, therefore, represents Phase Eight.
At last year's AIA Meetings in New Orleans, Charles Griebel and Mike Nelson reported on the "Post-Mycenaean Occupation at the Palace of Nestor", that is, the Ninth and last pahse of building activity on the acropolis. Quite briefly, areas containing Dark Age material are marked in red on this plan, and this plan highlights the humbly built stretches of walls off the Northeast flank of the Palace.
As remarked earlier, great care is taken in the sifting of all removed soil, an unexpectedly time- consuming process which, however, results in the recovery of numerous fragments of fresco, non- Palace period pottery (including Middle Helladic and Geometric wares). There follows examples of miscellaneous finds including this fragment of a terracotta figurine and a bronze pin head. Four certain and several other possible fragments of Linear B tablets have been recovered.
The 1991 discoveries were mentioned in previous AIA reports; this set was recovered last summer. Our Linear B tablets are under study for publication by Cynthia Shelmerdine and Jon Bennet.
Approximately 1200 painted fresco fragments were recovered in the 1992 season from the returned backfill above the floor mettalling described under Pahse Five at the north end of Area 103. Although the fragments are small and non-figural, they are somewhat unusual for the site in that no one display any evidence of burning. In fact, several look as though they were highly polished, to the extent that they continue to retain a bright glossy sheen. Many pieces are painted a solid color - red and ochre being the predominant colors - or striped. A number of them display spirals and arcs and there are some floral designs.
Last season we recovered this handfull of fragments belonging to the famous Lion/Griffen scene from Hall 46, seen here in a reconstruction. It is not possible to make any definitive statements regarding our fresco fragments at this time but Elizabeth Swain continues further study in the coming seasons. We also expect to conduct scientific analysis for plaster and pigment composition and for signs of polishing. Conservation of the fresco fragments and other finds commences under the oversight of Stella Bouzakis, conservator of the Corinth Excavations.
Our research goes beyond the fringes of the acropolis and currently embraces the entire Epano Anglianos ridge. We continue to work on a detailed topographic survey begun in 1992. To streamline the recording process over such a large survey area, we have adopted the most advanced technologies in electronic surveying and mapping. Intergal to this procedure is the Global Positioning System, or GPS. The waypoints are downloaded into a computer CAD program and are joined to produce raods; others are interpolated to generate contours and topographic features.
Satellite Remote Sensing
Biophysical resources are vey pertainent to the reconstruction of the anceint economy of the Palace and we have taken a novel approach to this research interest. To this end, we have adopted the advanced technology of remote sensing using Landsat digital spectral data. So far we have successively discovered a new source for obsidian as well as uncharted citadels, tombs and quarries. I illustrate with the latter example: the determination of the source of limestone used in the Palace construction. In 1991 we pin-pointed a half dozen working limestone quarries in the West Peloponnesos. In the remote sensing laboratory at Minnesota a computer-generated classification produced a specific spectral signature characteristic of limestone quarries. Quarry--like pixels are shwon in electric pink against a neutral background of this satellite scene extending from the Palace at the south to Gargoliani at the north. Extracted UTM locations were loaded into the GPS rover which then guided us to eleven hypothetical sites and ground inspection revealed that five locations were indeed ancient quarries.
In 1992 and 1993 Josh Distler, a MARWP participant, conducted a geological provenance study of limestone samples taken from ashalr blocks used in Palace construction and from the newly-located ancient as wel as other local and modern quarries. Distler ran lithic, major elemental and stable isotope analyses and determined the the source of the Palace limestone comes from a specific quarry near the town of Gargoliani.
© 1993 Frederick A. Cooper