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Wall plaster in Hellenistic Thessaly, by Shaun MacKinnon


Hi Everybody!
My name is Shaun and I am a first year Masters student in Classical Archaeology here at the UofA. This is my first year on the Kastro Kallithea project and also my first time in Greece and, since I don’t come from a Classics background, I thought I would talk about some of the things you can do on this project that don’t automatically come to mind when you think ‘Classics’. I came from an anthropological archaeology background and did my undergraduate thesis on plaster samples from a site in northern Israel, so I am going to talk about a short study I conducted on the plaster excavated from the site.
The first thing to note regarding the plaster from Kallithea is that it comes in two very different forms. Rough material from the interior of walls and some floors, and finely painted decorative plaster from two rooms in particular. The rough material has a pinkish hue and doesn’t really tell us a lot about the residents of Building 10 or Kastro Kallithea; however, the painted material can actually tell us a great deal. What and how people choose to decorate their homes, especially if it starkly contrasts with other parts of the home, can be incredibly informative.

Shaun working in the apothiki

Shaun working in the apothiki

The painted plaster was largely restricted to two rooms in Building 10 known as Units H and G and it comes in several different colours, including yellow, grey (both dark and light), red, and white. The yellow and white plaster has an additional treatment on it known as burnishing, which gave it a very glossy finish in antiquity that has only been partially preserved. The painted plaster from these rooms, especially the dark grey material, was also moulded in a very specific way in order to emulate stonework. The high relief of the dark grey imitation stone mixed with the glossiness from the yellow and white plaster would have been quite striking and made for an impressive looking room, especially in contrast to the very subdued colours and simple decoration of the rest of the house.

Plaster samples from Building 10

Plaster samples from Building 10

The uniqueness of the decoration of Units G and H lead us to question the purpose of the room. Ancient sources tell us that this was likely a room for banqueting (symposia), which is called an andron; however, as the word implies, andrones were exclusively the domain of men and we don’t have evidence for such a definitive claim in Building 10. What we can say is that Units G and H were elaborately decorated in firm contrast with the rest of the house – and the entrance to these rooms was located very near the main entrance to the house. This may very well indicate that the intense colours and decoration in Units G and H played a part in separating the more public areas of Building 10 from the more private, which is incredibly interesting and worthy of considerably more study.



I hope you have enjoyed my short introduction to one of the more unorthodox studies being conducted here at Kastro Kallithea and in the History and Classics department of the University of Alberta. If you have an idea for a similar study, or would like to propose something entirely new and different, I highly suggest you contact the department and sign up for next year. This is an excellent project and there is so much more to study.

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