Frederick A. Cooper, University of Minnesota
The architecture of the Bronze Age Palace near Pylos and its ancillary buildings were not documented by actual state plans and elevations during major excavations under Carl Blegen in the years 1952 to 1963, as seen in this well-known published plan.
After a thirty-year hiatus, archaeological research by the University of Minnesota team recommenced in 1990 with a detailed architectural study of the physical remains at the site, beginning with an actual state plan of the Palace, seen here.
We last reported on our progress at the Archaeological Meetings in December 1993; this report covers the seasons 1994 and 1995. Major financial support for this enterprise was generously provided by the Institute for Aegean Prehistory.
The 1994 and 1995 seasons were devoted to clearing and re-examination of the areas marked out in red and blue on this schematic plan and comprising 1) the aqueduct 2) the akropolis behind the Main Building, known as the Palace Northwest Area and 3) the back portion of the Southwestern Building.
Besides the Main Building and the areas just mentioned, we have completed investigations of those buildings and walls found at the northeast and northwest areas of the akropolis, as seen in this overall progress plan of the actual remains.
Blegen's published plan of the aqueduct consists of no more than dashed lines to show the approximate location. In 1994 we were able to clean the coping stones of the entire length but only managed a few spot excavations to the bottom of the channel, as in this stretch. The aqueduct meanders across the length of the akropolis, starting at Court 42 in the Main Building, seen in the distance and running to the Northeast Gate behind the photographer.
As Blegen determined, the bottom of the channel presently rises in both directions to a maximum height, marked in orange on the Minnesota State Plan. Elevations and a closer study of construction details show that determining the flow of water is far from a simple matter.
For instance, Blegen did not realize that the low point of the aqueduct occurs at a pair of larnaki, inserted a third of the way along the course, seen here.
Blegen carried out excavation of the Northwest Area in 1958, 1959 and 1962, seen here at lower left. The published, as well as the working, plan of the Northwest Area is rendered as a schema of walls, not at all hinting at the valuable architectural stratigraphy contained in the Northwest Area.
Except for Circular Structure 87, few, if any, of the approximately forty walls in this area were co-joined by the original excavators to form a coherent structure. Indeed, the maze of walls presents a bewildering crazy quilt even to the most tutored of observers. The plans and elevations of the 94-95 seasons go some way in making sense of inter-relationships and a relative chronology.
A majority of the walls in the Northwest Area functioned as retaining walls; only in the far western corner of the Northwest Area where there is to be found a room of a pre-palatial building.
In terms of ceramic evidence, Blegen's publication provides but the following outline: seven strata of pottery could be distinguished in a scarp located at the far west corner of the Northwest Area, seen upper right. However, none of this sequence could be associated with either specific walls or with building periods. Instead the pottery was organized into five general assemblages. The deepest levels produced Middle Helladic wares and "some abundance" of Late Helladic I; that is, the transition from Middle Helladic to Late Helladic I. It is therefore appropriate to introduce a few of our observations about the architectural stratification. To begin, the existence of a massive wall at the depths of a trench in the Northwest Area was never noted by Blegen. It is highlighted in orange on this plan and section and labeled by a small letter b to distinguish it from the superimposed Wall capital letter B. It is, however, of considerable importance. Wall b is the lowest wall in the Northwest Area, and by far the heftiest, nearly one and a half meters wide. Significant are the facts that in terms of width, elevation, style of construction and orientation, Wall b must be a continuation of the Middle Helladic wall found underneath the Vestibule 104 of the Wine Magazine, also marked here in yellow at the upper right. The plan marks the possible connection between the two exposed portions of Middle Helladic wall.
Of comparable depth and also underlying later walls of pre-palatial date, is Drain c. Like Wall b, it runs in an approximate east-west direction. Subsequent to the Middle Helladic Walls and Drain c there is a history of extensive earthworks in the Northwest Area for the purpose of raising and leveling and extending outwards this part of the akropolis.
I do not detail Phase II and also simply point out the set of constructions belonging to Phase III, namely Walls H and L, Wall W and Walls yl, Wall AB and Drain d, marked here in rose.
A major construction period is Phase IV dominated by Wall B, which displaces, adapts, or cuts through previous constructions in PNW Area.
Important to the architectural stratigraphy is the fact that Drains a and b emerge from the Main Building, passing underneath the exterior walls of Rooms 22 and 27 respectively, at the bottom of the slide. Drains a and b connect to a building period underneath the Main Building which Blegen dates possibly as early as Late Helladic I, but in any case, no later than Late Helladic IIIA.
An even earlier date for Wall B is shown by the fact that a pair of covered water channels, cut through a pre-existing Wall B as seen here with at Drain b. The base to Wall B follows the terrain, both the natural and that shaped by previous earthworks. Its northwest face was meant to be seen. Note also the re-used ashlars and these are built into this wall that pre-dates the Main Building by 5 building phases. The design and construction of these two water channels (Drains a and b) indicate serious water-management engineering for the akropolis in conjunction with an ever-outward extension of the akropolis.
In Phase VII Wall E displaces Wall B and slices through Drain a. But more important there are the adjoining Walls T and U, highlighted in purple which form a room to a building with a north-south orientation. Wall T of this building extends into the scarp at the northwest while the northerly extension of Wall U has been cut by the later construction of Wall S.
Of the same elevation and orientation and probably contemporary are the sets of walls which have become exposed through erosion at the very northwest edge of the akropolis. They are obviously earlier than the Southwestern Building, a portion of which appears on this plan.
In a subsequent period, the walls to building T/U and the retaining walls at the east are covered by a paving, shown in yellow on this plan. It consists of a packing of large angular stones, in places still covered by a layer of plaster. Portions are to be seen in the area of the Circular Building which, in turn, overlies this pavement.
This plan highlights the two major constructions of Greek Phase A- Circular Building and the partial foundations of a megaron. This shot shows the Circular building in the foreground and the long flank wall of the megaron with the architect to one side. The rear wall returns just behind the Circular Building.
In the Post-Bronze Age period there accumulates a 10 to 20 centimenter layer of soil which, as seen in this plan and cross section, divides the uppermost constructions, in blue and green, from those of the Bronze Age, in yellow and fuschia. Construction above such a deposition occurred elsewhere on the site and separates the end of the Palace period (Late Helladic IIIB) from the beginning of the Dark Ages. The ceramic evidence for this has been presented elsewhere in papers by Chock Griebel and Mike Nelson and an article by Mervyn Popham; who each targeted the Circular Building in particular.
Essentially two periods, Phases A and B, can be discerned as lying above the post-palatial deposit. The second Greek period (B) consists of a shallow wall that laps over top of the mid-section of the megaron of the preceding period. A fragment of Lakonian pan tile remains embedded in its mud and stone construction.
For Phase A, four extant walls form a long, narrow and multi-chambered building. Double curtain constructions, heights of two courses (ca. 0.15 m.), common widths of 0.80 m., and bonded joints all characterize the basic features of its walls.
This megaron-like structure, outlined in blue, has some of its pavement still preserved, highlighted in yellow. Thus, two buildings are involved in Greek Building Period A: the obvious Circular Structure 87, but also the discernible plan of a megaron 4.6 m. wide by cat 13.5 m. long, the length being determined by the monostyle column base at the front.
We have recovered a fragment of molded terracotta which appears to be a piece of a Lakonian akroterion disc of the 7th or 6th century B.C. The same source yielded quantities of Lakonian roof tile fragments, perhaps belonging to the same roof. In other words, the plans, building stones, and architectural decoration at the site point towards the possible existence of a temple, accompanied perhaps by a circular altar.
The above-mentioned finds come out of the Blegen Dump.
In the 1994 season we discovered that Blegen used the three-meter deep cavities within the grillage of walls at the Northwest Area as a place to dump washed but discarded pottery from his many years of excavation.
In 1994, 365 olive sacks were removed,and in 1995 another 50 sacks, totaling about 20 tons of pottery, roof tiles, stone tools, painted fresco fragments, etc. While this material lacks all context, it does provide an index and a range of typical artifacts and their relative quantities. The material also gives an idea of the chronological span of activity on the akropolis.
This past season, Jan Verstraete and Joanna Murphy, graduate students at the University of Cincinnati, specializing in Mycenaean pottery, along with Professor Emmett Bennett. undertook the challenge of going through the approximately 2,250,000 artifacts. Among the classes of objects which we recovered from this dump there is innumerable pieces of fresco, here is one of the better pieces; a head of a terracotta figurine; hundreds of lithics and two Linear B tablets. Professor Emmett Bennett kindly provides a preliminary transcription; he will co-author the publication with Professors Cynthia Shelmerdine and Jon Bennett.
The Chasm -
The exterior walls of Rooms 7 and 8 (the Archive) of the Palace had been totally robbed away when encountered by Blegen in 1939 and 1952-1954.
In 1958 Blegen rebuilt these walls according to a theoretical scheme based, in part, on his identification of an adjacent raised dies as a sentry stand and on the assumption that the cavity followed the exterior perimeter of the original palace walls at the southeast and southwest.
The "robber's" trench underneath the northeast wall, Blegen named "The Chasm" because of its great depth and as a way to characterize the location of a number of Linear B tablets (along with a coin of Venetian date). Published and unpublished photographs reveal little about the nature of "The Chasm." Prior to the anastelosis of the wall, George Papathanasopoulos made a plan of the area, seen here, but this was never published; yet, there are elements that appear on his plan which do not show up in the Blegen photographs.
"The Chasm" is a major feature at the site and it is therefore quite a surprise to find that what is here is quite different from what had been expected from a reading of the excavation notebooks and published reports. Instead of a robber's trench this must have been some sort of post-palatial construction.
First of all, this cavity goes much deeper (ca. 1.0 m.) than would be necessary to strip the pre-existing wall along with its footer. As this slide illustrates, the footer, highlighted in orange, consists of an aggregate which also spreads in a ten centimeter layer to either side of the walls and serves as a base for the floors. In other words, the cavity of "The Chasm" penetrates far below the footers for the Main Building walls.
"The Chasm" has an uneven perimeter and a breadth which varies between 0. 95 centimeters to 2.4 m. The cut starts at the northwest where an elbow returns to pass through an entrance cut through the original fabric of the flank wall of Room 9. This passageway, marked in green, was later blocked. At the outside corner of Archive Room 8 at Pantry 9, "The Chasm" turns a corner above a set of crude steps about 1 meter in height. The floor of "The Chasm" slopes downwards from northwest to southeast and consists of a mixture of large, rounded boulders and flat field stones (brought to the akropolis from elsewhere) and fragments of re-used ashlar blocks.
None of the flooring to "The Chasm" extends beyond the confines of the cut. Instead, a vertical wall, outlined in red, has been built into a recess cut flush with the extant half of a threshold between Rooms 7 and 8 and, as seen in section, extends cat 0.10 m. above the level of the floors and the missing half of the threshold block. This is still further evidence that "The Chasm" is a post-palatial construction.
As you have seen, the wide swath of "The Chasm," obliterates direct evidence for the position of the Archive entranceway. However, a surviving stone, in situ, and underlying the plaster floor of Room 2 may have been a footer for a threshold block to a doorway. If so, this entranceway opened alongside the bench in Room 8 and not into Room 7 as Blegen would have it.
There was other profit from a re-excavation of "The Chasm." As noted above, the scarps of the trench reveal additional sections of walls and floors beyond the one, labeled here as Wall A, observed by Blegen, Cross Wall B in blue and not noticed by Blegen, runs approximately parallel to Wall A and 1.2 m. behind it, and there is also Floor b colored red of small stone chips and pebbles to be associated with Walls A and B.
Floor c, a thin plaster stratum, colored purple in this and the scarp opposite, represents a subsequent building phase. Nonetheless, it is still earlier in date than the Main Building.
The following recapitulation is a tentative reconstruction of the building phases.
In scarps underlying the floor of the palace, there are to be seen floors and walls to at least two predecessors. "The Chasm,' then is not a robber's trench, as envisioned by Blegen; rather, it is a stone-lined pit with areas of built walls and dates to a period subsequent to the Bronze Age occupation of the Palace. This late phase, in turn, has two discernible phases: the second or later being the blocking up of the improvised doorway, cut through the wall of Room 9 for the construction of the Chasm.
© 1995 Frederick A. Cooper