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History and the Humanities: Archaeology Research in Greece

By Abby Durick

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Working in a cave site.

Research leads to projects, publications, and graduate school; it is a necessary component in the natural sciences as well as humanities disciplines. In preparation for college, students are taught introductory biology, chemistry, physics, and English. Archaeology is not part of a high school core curriculum. Having had an interest in archaeology, I had read extensively but had a limited understanding of the ways in which I could conduct research as an undergraduate. Within one month of changing my major to classics, I was offered the opportunity to assist my advisor, Dr. Van de Moortel, at her excavation site of Mitrou in central Greece. My freshman year opened the door for research abroad, and without a second thought, I accepted. With a passport, my Osprey backpack, duffel bag, and camera, I set off for Tragana, Greece.

Six days a week, I awoke to the sound of roosters and made the fifteen-minute hike to the archaeological lab known as the Apotheke. Within the first week, I was assigned to work with the lead ceramics specialist, Dr. Salvatore Vitale of the University of Calabria. Prior to working in Mitrou, I was unaware of the significance of pottery analysis and its implications on stratigraphic sequence dating of a site. In prehistoric Aegean archaeology, cultural chronologies allow specialists to identify changing trade connections, social hierarchies, and other important site information based on ceramics studies. It is difficult to describe what it is like to hold thousands of years of history in your hands and carefully piece parts of it back together. For an aspiring archaeologist, it was nothing short of amazing. It is one thing to see ancient artifacts in a museum, but after handling some of these materials myself, I have a new sense of urgency. I want to know more about the local ceramic traditions as well as external presence that may help generate a picture of the various cultures occupying Mitrou during the Bronze Age.


Working in the Apothke lab.

Midway through the summer, I accepted a project from Dr. Vitale working with Aeginetan imported pottery on Mitrou. I would be looking at the potters’ marks—unique to Aeginetan wares—on imports from the island of Aegina in the Middle and Late Helladic periods. My preliminary study of material goods at the lab in Mitrou has led to continued study this fall semester. I have conducted more literary research on the export site of Kolonna on Aegina. In the past month, I have molded my research focus toward understanding Kolonna’s cultural identity in the Aegean during the Middle Bronze Age.  I am pursuing research on trade connections for establishing maritime dominance and arguing that the people of Kolonna were in competitive status with the rising Mycenaean culture on the Mainland during the early Late Helladic periods.

This summer, I will be returning to Mitrou to look at the material on site and at other sites, including Kolonna in the Saronic Gulf and Tsoungiza in the Peloponnese, to continue to understand maritime trade networks and the distribution of Aeginetan wares, and to better understand the significance of potters’ markings as possible symbols of mass production from multiple groups of artisans at the main manufacturing site on Aegina. Literary and material research are critical components of my undergraduate career that will continue over the course of the next two summers, along with language studies and ethnographic studies in Greece.