By Maggie Easton

In my final term at the University of Victoria, I had the exciting opportunity to research previously unexamined fragments of painted plaster found during excavation at the site of ancient Eleon as part of GRS 482A. These fragments offer small glimpses of the wall paintings that likely decorated the walls of a predecessor to the Northwest Complex in LH IIIB1 and provide insight into the social status of Mycenaeans living at ancient Eleon in the 14th century BCE. In this post, I will give a brief background on the significance of Mycenaean frescoes and describe the fragments found at Eleon that I worked on throughout the spring semester. When studied with their associated finds, these fragments provide evidence that the local elites of Eleon maintained close ties with Mycenaean Thebes and participated in a shared elite Mycenaean culture of architectural adornment documented across central and southern Greece during LH IIIB.

In the palatial period of Late Bronze Age Greece, frescoes became a staple of the Mycenaean cultural koine. Fresco is a technical term, referring to paint applied al fresco to wet plaster. Although the technique of the fragments found at Eleon is not yet known, the term fresco is used throughout this piece as a non-technical term encompassing all wall paintings.

Figure 1: Procession Fresco from the so-called House of Kadmos at Thebes on display in the Archaeological Museum of Thebes (orientalizing/Flickr), CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The majority of known frescoes come from palatial contexts, where iconographical similarities between centers can be seen in hunting scenes at Mycenae, Tiryns, Orchomenos, and Pylos, and in the religious procession scenes at Knossos, Thebes (Figure 1), Pylos, and Tiryns. Many frescoes have been suggested to be religious in nature, perhaps depicting the actions that were expected of palatial visitors during religious festivals and ceremonies. Other pieces, particularly in the Cyclades, depict ornate natural scenes with a variety of identifiable plants and animals.

A smaller number of non-palatial sites have also produced remnants of frescoes. On the island of Thera, Akrotiri is well-known for its distinctive and extensive fresco program in a variety of structures, some apparently domestic in character. In mainland Greece, frescoes have been found at the non-palatial sites of Iklaina in Messenia and Gla in Boeotia. Though frescoes are canonically a piece of palatial decoration, they are certainly not unprecedented in other contexts. In almost all cases, however, frescoes are associated with the Mycenaean elite – buildings which produce frescoes during excavation are typically wealthy and also produce a number of other prestige goods. The frescoes found at Gla are one of very few exceptions to this, which will be explained below.

At the site of ancient Eleon, two pieces of painted plaster that may be fresco remnants were found in the Northwest Sector (Figure 2). Both fragments are small: one preserves monochrome blue decoration with possible overpainting in black while the other is white and yellow. Based on mendable pottery found in the same stratigraphy, the fragments all appear to date to LH IIIB1. The stratigraphy suggests that they may have been part of a fill consisting of levelled destruction debris.

Figure 2: Details of fresco fragments from Eleon showing preserved colours (Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project).

Although the iconography of the frescoes which these fragments belonged to remains a mystery, it is worth pointing out that monochrome blue is a frequent background colour in Mycenaean frescoes, as seen in the Bull-Leaping Fresco from Knossos. This scene also includes sections of yellow and white separated by a straight line. Besides backgrounds, blue and yellow often appear alongside each other in clothing or wall borders, exemplified by the Procession Fresco from Thebes (Figure 1). It is impossible to guess at iconography of the wall paintings from Eleon, but the colours of these fragments certainly reflect the larger Mycenaean tradition within Boeotia.

The exact mineralogical composition of the plaster material or pigments is unknown. Further investigations might include non-destructive microscopy and reflected light microscopy to better understand the general composition and state of the plaster and pigments as well as their application technique. X-ray diffraction methods could be used for mineralogical identification. These methods have been used on Theban fresco fragments to determine that blue pigment is frequently composed of calcite and cuprorivaite (Egyptian Blue), and yellow pigment of calcite and goethite in combination with either quartz or dolomite. White pigment at Thebes is always composed of calcite, the basic mineral component of lime plaster. Replicating these investigations for the fragments discussed here could be used to compare the composition of wall paintings at Eleon to those elsewhere in the Mycenaean, Minoan, and Cycladic worlds.

Besides the fragments, the LH IIIB1 layer contained much fragmented pottery, blue glass artifacts, and even a stone jewelry mold. This mold shows a close relationship between Thebes and Eleon, which likely produced luxury goods for Theban consumption during LH IIIB. The presence of all of these goods in the NW Sector suggests the presence of palatial agents at Mycenaean Eleon, perhaps overseeing craft production. This aligns with what is known about frescoes as indicators of social standing in Mycenaean Greece and supports the idea that the LH IIIB predecessor to the NW Complex was an elite space decorated with frescoes.

Researching these small fresco fragments has been an exciting and challenging opportunity to engage directly with material culture. I have certainly gained a new appreciation for the creativity and resourcefulness that scholars must employ when considering newly excavated material, especially when, as in the case of these fragments, only a small part of the deposit has been excavated. Working on previously uninvestigated material has been very rewarding though and I hope further work can be done on the frescoes from Eleon in the future to further our understanding of the lives and social roles of the inhabitants of Mycenaean Eleon.


Although the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted travel to Greece for much of the last year and a half, work on the Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project continues unabated and we look forward to sharing updates about the fruits of this labour over the coming months.

On a related note, we happy to announce that an open access, comprehensive report on excavations on the acropolis of Eleon from 2011–2018 was published in the American Journal of Archaeology in 2020. This report serves as an introduction to the site and the archaeological finds made during the inaugural excavation campaigns. We would like to thank all of the students and collaborators who contributed to this research, whether by participating in the field school, conserving and illustrating the finds, or studying material in the apotheke—none of this would be possible without teamwork!

Finally, this blog post serves as the introduction to a series of dispatches, not from the field as is usual for the summer, but rather the classroom. During the spring semester 2021, students in Dr. Trevor Van Damme’s GRS 482A: Material and Literary Cultures of Boeotia seminar had an opportunity, not only to learn about the rich cultural history of the region around ancient Eleon, but to actually study finds from the site for their final research projects. Students were able to draw on primary documentation from the Eleon archives (excavation notebooks, conservation reports, line illustrations, and photography) in order to contextualize their finds and identify useful comparanda from Boeotia and beyond.

The results of this work were exceptional. So exceptional in fact that we wanted to share their findings with our readers over the coming weeks. We very much hope to see all of the contributors in the field at Eleon in the summer of 2022. Until then, please read and enjoy!

Eleon 2020 study season postponed

Our study season planned for 2020 has been postponed, due to the current challenges to international travel and maintaining a safe work environment. We plan to hold a study season in May-June 2021, which will include a field school in archaeological analysis for undergraduate students. Please check back here for applications in Fall 2020, or feel free to send an email to Brendan Burke (bburke@uvic.ca) and/or Bryan Burns (bburns@wellesley.edu).

Please read the posts that follow to learn more about our previous seasons of work at Eleon!

First Visitors of 2019 to Ancient Eleon

IMG_1016We started the first full week of our season with a visit from three Regular Members of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Two PhD candidates, Alice Crowe (University of Cincinnati) and Belisi Gillespie (University of California, Berkeley), along with recent B.A. grad Braden Cordivari (University of Pennsylvania) made the drive up to Arma from Athens. All three students are interested in the Bronze Age, and both Alice and Belisi’s dissertation projects focus on Bronze Age material. Although they had just spent all year traveling around Greece to visit archaeological sites and museums, Alice, Belisi, and Braden wanted to make a special trip to Eleon before leaving the School for their summer fieldwork. The EBAP team was delighted to welcome them to Eleon. I asked them a few questions about their favorite parts of the visit.

Why did you want to visit Eleon?

Alice: For years I have been hearing about EBAP’s amazing finds at AIA presentations and from friends working on the project, and, every time I attended a presentation or heard more about it, it made me want to come check the site out, particularly to see the Blue Stone Structure!

Belisi: I’ve worked at Bronze Age sites in Crete, the Peloponnese, and the Levant. I have never spent much time in Boeotia, however, so I still feel like a big piece of the Bronze Age puzzle is missing from my experience. In a continuing effort to start plugging this hole, one of the sites that I most wanted to visit was ancient Eleon!

Braden: I’ve heard a lot about Eleon through Janelle and wanted to make sure we saw it before the end of the year, since the site was tarped and backfilled during the ASCSA trip to Boeotia and we didn’t visit.

What surprised or impressed you most about Eleon?

Alice: I was really impressed with the finds and architecture, especially the hearths in situ in the IIIC building, the stirrup jars, and the really large Early Mycenaean wall.

Belisi: I was completely blown away by the state of preservation of the site and the quality of the finds when I finally got there. I was most impressed, I think, by the grave enclosure – – both by the style of the graves themselves (and the burial assemblages), but also by the effort to monumentalize the cemetery by enclosing it with a wall and erecting enormous grave stelai that are still in place! To still see traces of the mound that once covered the whole area was really exciting too.

Braden: I was aware of the Early Mycenaean contexts, but hadn’t realized the extent of the LH IIIC occupation material, including the hearths! I was impressed also by the setting of the site – with views down to the Euboean Gulf and the surrounding inland landscape, it was easy to understand its position and regional importance.

What was your favorite artifact that you saw in the apotheke?

Alice: The stirrup jars.

Belisi: The artifact that I’ll remember most was a wheel-made bull figure. I had never seen one up-close-and-personal and had never really appreciated how they’re made before my visit to Eleon. I work a lot on figures and figurines, so it was a very special artifact for me to see.

Braden: I liked seeing the unfired pots from Tomb 10. The choice to deposit them in the tomb is interesting, and I wonder how their forming practices compare to contemporary fired ceramics.

-by Janelle Sadarananda



2019 Study Season

2019 group photo

Group photo 2019. Backrow: Adam DiBattista, Oscar Chisholm, Bryan Burns, Haley Bertram, Jordan Tynes, Giuliana Bianco, Jeremy Beller, Charlie Kocurek, Graham Braun. Front row: Nefeli Theocharous, Arianna Nagel, Lady Wiggles. Janelle Sadarananda, Trevor Van Damme, Vicky Karas, Bartek Lis, Brendan Burke, Jacob Engstrom, Krysten Cruz.

This year, 2019, and next will be devoted to study and publication of our excavations at ancient Eleon. There will be limited opportunities for volunteers and student training. If you are interested in working with us, please contact bburke@uvic.ca.

2018 Season Comes to an End

The Eastern Boeotia Archaeological Project (EBAP) concluded its final excavation season of a 3-year permit extension at the site of ancient Eleon in the village of Arma on July 8, 2018. This project is a synergasia between the CIG and Ephorate of Antiquities of Boeotia, under the direction of Dr. Alexandra Charami (Ephorate of Antiquities of Boeotia) and co-direction of Brendan Burke (University of Victoria) and Bryan Burns (Wellesley College). Dr. Kiriaki Kalliga is also a key partner in our research project. We are very grateful for the research funding we received in 2018 from an Insight Grant from the Social Sciences Humanities Research Council of Canada (#435 2018 0773)), the Institute for Aegean Prehistory, and the University of Victoria and Wellesley College. The Canadian Institute in Greece has facilitated and supported the permit process each year and we are grateful to the scholars, students and volunteers who made our work possible (some of whom are in the photo below).

Group 2018 smaller

Chronological summary: Our work has identified four major periods of occupation at the site of ancient Eleon, located on an elevated plateau overlooking the Theban plain, en route to Chalkis and the Euboean Gulf: First, a prehistoric phase spans the early Mycenaean period (from the end of the Middle Helladic and beginning of the Mycenaean palatial period, ca. 1700-1450 BC). In the second period, toward the end of the Mycenaean age, we have substantial levels dating to the Late Helladic IIIB and IIIC sub phases. The site seems to be abandoned by the Early Iron Age. The third phase is Post-Bronze Age that varies in levels of occupation, but the earliest recovered material is Late Geometric Euboean pottery of the 8th c. BCE. Eleon itself, however, seems not to be reoccupied in any substantial way until the 6th c. BCE. Also dating to the Archaic period is the construction of the large polygonal wall. After another long period of inactivity at the site we reach the fourth and latest archaeological phase in evidence: the Medieval period, from which material survives in surface levels and deeper pits only. These finds date consistently to the 15th and 16th centuries CE, which could indicate a relatively late date for the stone tower whose remains mark the western end of the site, beyond our permitted area of excavation.


Research Goals 2018: The majority of work in 2018 concentrated within and around an enclosure which we call the Blue Stone Structure (BSS), so named because of the polished blue limestone used to cap a large, rectangular perimeter wall (above). This structure was capped with a mound of clay and contained two standing grave stele and marked an early Mycenaean cemetery of some significance dating to the formative period of Mycenaean society, ca. 17th c. BCE.

We will return to ancient Eleon (and to Arma and Dilesi) in 2019 for study and research. Excavations will continue in coming years, but not immediately. Again, we are very grateful for the help and support we have received from our Greek colleagues and hosts.




Location, Location, Location. By Jason Hemmerling

Often the first things I look up when travelling to other places is the local sites and museums: we all love to see some ruins and artifacts. There is a key difference however, between seeing an object in display at a museum and seeing one in context at the site. The same can be said about seeing a site, and seeing a site with artifacts still preserved in it. The latter in both scenarios offers us a unique chance to visualize the context and usage of an object when it was lost to time. Seeing an object in its true context gives us the ability to see what life would be like thousands of years ago; it connects a modern individual to the life of another, that is completely removed from our day to day experience. This is a large part of the reason context is fascinating, but it is also useful, often more-so than the find itself. Below is one of our excavation tags.

JH tag  JH sherd

What do you record for context? We record the type of finds firstly, the most common being animal bones and pottery. These two finds are not usually given points (a precise location taken through the total station), but the lot and locus are definitely recorded. The locus and lot tell us: A) what feature or area the object was removed from, and B) what pass or day the object was removed during. The date, and trench supervisor are also recorded along with the quadrant and grid square that the finds were taken from. Every find gets an EBAP tag number which is recorded as well for reference. When we find an object that is of a higher rarity, such as an unusual lithic, worked bone, tools, etc, we take points on the object using surveying equipment to record the height that the object was found at, and its location as well. This helps us better understand the utility of a given space on a more precise scale than just recording a lot and locus. Some objects are left in situ (in context) if removal does not seem plausible. This is often the case with pottery and bone where only half of it is exposed and the rest is buried or not loose. In this case the object is left in the ground until the next pass and is then removed and tagged with the latter pass. Vulnerable objects, such as metals, human bones, glass or crystal are removed the day of their discovery,  the context recorded with corresponding points if possible, and then preserved in acid free tissue. This processes maintains the preservation of the find, as leaving the object in situ would be more harmful than disturbing a lower layer slightly. Most finds that are of a higher rarity will also get a photo taken with its orientation that will also be recorded with the context.

JH pot

Object in situ with north arrow for orientation.

How do you record context?  The context of objects is mainly the responsibility of a trench supervisor, who makes sure we have accurate tags and buckets for separate locus and lots, and finds. They also make sure that any soil that is needed for dry sifting has a tag, in addition to any bones or sherds, and any artifacts. They are also the ones who record the points we take with the total station in both their field notes and a total station booklet. Another important tool for recording context is the total station. This tells us elevation and location. We use this for opening and closing points on new layers, as well as marking off distinguishable features and finds. We also utilize our architect’s drawing abilities to get gain a reliable image of the stratigraphic layers and the general outline of any architecture, as well as photographs. This is complete with elevations, that are recorded through the dumpy level which gives us the context of walls that we have removed, or any potentially important slab or stone. Any stratigraphic layers are lotted with their finds recorded separately from the previous for dating. We divide the site into quadrants, NW NE SW SE, as well as dividing the quadrants into trenches, these then get divided further into loci and lots, all of which help us to tag and keep track of all of the material covered.

JH joe

Using the camera to record the top layer of a new trench, and drawing/measuring the architecture.


The Journey of a Pottery Sherd By Graham Braun

The journey of a pottery sherd from the ground into its final place, whether as a single sherd or reunited with the rest of its vessel is a long and emotional one, so it would only be fair to let the sherd write the story:

“Hello, my name is Minyas, and I am a sherd of Minyan ware from the site of Ancient Eleon! I have been asked to tell the story of my discovery to give people a good sense of how pottery is processed and examined systematically at EBAP. My journey began when I was discovered by an excavator, who are usually a bit newer to archaeology, possibly an undergraduate student studying Classics or Anthropology. Luckily, Eleon’s directors and staff train their students well, so they know how to safely extract artefacts like me out of the ground. I was found when an excavator swung their pick into the ground, far into the earth they aimed to excavate, and then took a sizeable chunk off the surface. This way the chunk, like the one I was embedded in, could be safely broken up and any artefacts inside were preserved and not broken. Other sherds I have known have been extracted after they’ve been seen by diggers and carefully brushed. After brushing, they can be excavated within their context and picked around, being lifted out of the earth and preserved as well. Following my discovery, I was put into the correct bag by the trench supervisor, which was nice because it was with the other sherds from my context, whom I have been around for roughly 3500 years. I am happy that I was able to be taken out of the ground without any modern damage! The next step was for me to be brought to the sherd yard.”

“Once I made my way into the sherd yard, I was under the eye of the yard supervisor. They told the excavators, who had rested after an early morning and good day of work on site, to start washing sherds. I was then dunked in a basin of water and brushed to get all the dirt off of me. Since I am made of a durable clay, I welcomed the bath, but I am sure others, like bone or metal wouldn’t react well to the harsh bristles. After I was scrubbed, I was set down with the rest of my locus and lot for drying, with diggers making sure our tags were close by so we’d stay together all the way to the apothiki and it was always known where in Eleon we came from. After a whole day of drying in the sun, I was ready to go back into a bag, since moisture or condensation would have broken my fabric down. Once bagged back up with the other sherds, I was taken to be sorted. Sorting is done to make the pottery expert’s job a little quicker, as the sherds are separated into pieces that could easily make joins, like painted pieces and diagnostic features like rims, bases, or handles. Sorters sort the sherds into painted and unpainted fine pottery, as well as coarse ware, divided into sherds used for cooking and those for storage. After being counted, the sherds are weighed to give the apothiki a good idea of how many are in each bag. Being a piece of Minyan ware, I was put into the unpainted category, however since I am a fragment of a rim, I was separated because it would be easy to join me with the rest of my pot. So I was put with the rest of the unpainted features, although I still got to stay with the rest of my context as a whole. Then it was off to the apothiki to see if I could be of value to the pottery experts!

The apothiki is close to the final stage of my discovery and analysis. Once there, my bag is poured and spread out into our categories. As Minyan ware is quite important to Eleon, myself and the rest of my fellow Minyan sherds are also grouped together. This allows the archaeologists specializing in pottery to see if there are any surprising or interesting sherds in the group, as well as to see if they can match sherds and try to recreate the vessel they were originally with. In my case, I got the privilege to be selected as one of these sherds because it seemed like I matched with a group of sherds from another bag. To make sure my context wasn’t lost, I was numbered so when looked at, I could be associated back to my original bag. After enough sherds from my original vessel were collected, I was handed to a conservator, who gave be an acid bath to get any cemented dirt off. After drying, they used special glue to reunite me with my original pot and the sherds that made it up! I was finally with my family, and not only did I look amazing because of the care that went into each phase of my excavation and preservation, but I also told the archaeologists who found me lots of information, like the age of the trench I was found in, as Minyan ware was used in a specific period known as the Late Helladic I Period. I also told them which contexts were associated, as parts of my pot were found in different sets of locus and lot. I was very glad to see the rest of my pot and help give information about the time and age in which I was made to the modern world!

Archaeological carpentry?? by Chris Byron


Chris Byron

I am a carpenter. I am not an archaeologist. I knew nothing about archaeology when I arrived, but somehow my skills were useful on this dig in a few different situations. First off, the sunshades, which are metal pipes held together by elbow joints, nuts, and bolts with a tarp in the middle to provide shade, are very good at falling apart by dropping out of the elbow joints so I constantly had to fix them. However a brilliant plan was hatched (ed. note, a plan hatched by Chris) to stop them from falling apart. I took the sunshades apart and then drilled holes (for the bolts to go through) in them so that the elbow joints could properly hold the pipes stopping them from just falling out of the elbow joints.

sunshades and Arma

Now this was brilliant until the wind showed up. The wind decided that the sunshade would look better closer to the cars so the sunshade was taken by the wind and flew about 50 feet before crashing to earth and getting completely destroyed (ed note – only once). I’m talking pieces of metal at 90 degrees when the should be straight (ed note – okay, it was dramatic). Had I left the sunshades as they were it probably would have just fallen apart in the wind but hey, they worked well before that.


Now the (second) big problem was this wooden closet made of particle board. For those of you who don’t know, particle board is the worst quality of wood you can buy so the fact this has survived 4 seasons is a miracle. But this door and the wind wasn’t going to make life easy for me. It had ripped of its hinges no less than 5 times over this trip. I have fixed this door so many times that we had to take it to a wood shop and get new holes put in it cause the board was ripping. I’m talking I had to chisel a new hole in the door cause only one hinge ripped out. This door is Frankenstein at this point. But the point is I fixed and mildly improved certain things on this dig that I was only able to do because of my training as a carpenter. All in all being a carpenter on a dig was awesome because I was able to use my experience in a way that helped people on this dig while still learning how to archaeology.