by Alyssa Allen
Arguably the most striking feature of Eleon is the massive polygonal wall that stretches along the southern and eastern limits of the site. I have had occasion to become intimately acquainted with this wall, having spent two weeks digging a very deep trench alongside it in an attempt to both come up with a precise date for its construction and to find the bottom of it. While the date and full extent is still under study, we also managed to come up with some clues as to its purpose and origin over the course of the season.
The wall at Eleon is unusual, but not entirely unique; there is a similar wall of large polygonal stones at Delphi, near the stoa of the Athenians. The design, though striking to look at, is not particularly useful in terms of defense, which has led some to believe that its purpose was more for decoration than practical fortification; the first priority of its builders was to impress, rather than protect. The stones are limestone quarried from a nearby cliff side, within sight of the wall.
The wall consists of large section of enormous flat, worked stones of varying straight-sided shapes, underneath which are a series of courses of large rectangular stones, which we discovered this season to be at least five courses deep in one area. At least some of these courses would likely have been underground at the time the wall was in use, as evidenced by the fact that only the topmost two layers are worked as carefully as the polygonal stones to give them a straight, flat appearance. Beneath these, the stones are worked only around their edges so that they can fit together with the other stones, but the center is left unworked and bulging out, a technique known as anathyrosis. This indicates that perhaps these lower layers of stone were meant to remain underground and not be seen.
The dating of the wall was our main goal in excavating our experimental trench. Our work suggests that the wall likely dates to the Archaic/Classical period, but that the foundation trench which was dug to build it was then filled up with earth from the older levels of the site, full of Mycenaean pottery.
Another odd and interesting feature of the wall that we discovered while digging is that some of the lower courses of stone appeared to have been more carefully worked than the ones directly above them, with more attention put towards giving them a straight and even appearance. How much further down the wall goes, and what further digging may reveal about its date and purpose, will have to wait until the next excavation season, so stay tuned for future updates over the next few years!