Greek Islands and Venetian Skeletons – Thesis Research in Crete

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With the help of the Principal’s Go Abroad Fund, I was able to attend a field school in Crete for two and a half weeks to undertake research needed for my masters thesis in osteoarchaeology. I was able to study remains that were unearthed back in 2009 located in an isolated mountainous region dubbed the Lasithi Plateau. This area was of particular interest to me not only because it was located on the beautiful island of Crete, but also because no other anthropologist had studied a skeletal population on this island from this specific time period (the Venetian Period 1204-1669AD). I looked at the dentition of this population, along with support from a stable isotope analysis and a comparative analysis, and attempted to determine past diets and lifestyles.

The only worries I had before leaving for Greece were regarding my lack of experience when it came to actually working with human remains. I had worked with skeletons in a classroom and museum setting before, but I had never worked with bones straight from the earth. It was a time consuming and extremely delicate task to clean, organize, and analyze the remains, especially when it came to the teeth, but the experience overall helped me on my way to become the up-and-coming anthropologist that I hope to be.

Eight hours a day six days a week were spent with the remains, determining the minimum number of individuals in each burial, cleaning the bones, organizing them and laying them out in anatomical position, and then attempting to estimate age, sex, stature, and any other pathological conditions present. Evenings were spent out by the beach, eating the local cuisine, and preparing for the next day of sorting and cataloging.

Experiencing Greek culture was another wonderful benefit of the trip, and I truly appreciated the language, music, and food. Since the Greek alphabet is so different than the English alphabet, learning the language was difficult and I left still only knowing the words for yes, no, and good morning. Archaeologically speaking, we took a group trip to Knossos with the help and guidance of our wonderful archaeologist Eleonora Semelidu, and toured the ancient city excavated and restored by Sir Arthur Evans. The restoration was particularly interesting in that Sir Evans attempted to color in and finish entire artworks based on tiny shards of pottery.

The field school was a brief two and half weeks filled to the brim with learning as much as possible about post-excavation write-ups and lab work. I went in to the field school knowing everything textbooks had to say about bones, but came out of the experience not only obtaining hands-on skills, but also appreciating the Greek culture and the archaeologists’ lifestyle. I hope to be able to appreciate both again soon!

Day trip to Knossos

Day trip to Knossos

The Lasithi Plateau excavation site

The Lasithi Plateau excavation site

Looking at non-metric traits in the dentition

Looking at non-metric traits in the dentition

Organizing and cataloging the remains

Organizing and cataloging the remains

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