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Science in the Midst of Archaeology, by Matthew Gabert


As a Chemistry Major from the Faculty of Science, I had very little idea of what to expect when I signed up for Classics 475/6 and headed for Narthaki in Greece. The only reason I had even heard of the dig was that I happened to be in Dr. Haagsma’s Classics 354 class last semester, and she was promoting it. As a result, the only things I really anticipated were some great scenery and looking at some artefacts from Building 10 in Kastro Kallithea. And while we have visited some amazing sites, what we have been working on in the pot shed in Narthaki has exceeded expectations, as well.


Matt at the site of Soros in Volos

I had come here expecting to spend all of my time looking at various pot sherds and cataloguing them (which is still a major part), but I had not expected to being doing separations with water on samples of soil taken from the site during the previous excavation seasons. The process is known as Water Separation, or Flotation. Basically the sample is weighed before being submerged in water on a sheet of mesh. The water flows out a spout, along with any pieces of the sample that float in the water, into another piece of 1mm mesh; the pieces that float off are known as ‘flot’. The finer specks of dirt and sands settle to the bottom of the first bucket, while the larger granules of sand and rocks, or pottery, stay in the mesh above; these bits are known as the ‘residue’. The sample is agitated to ensure that all of the flot is free to flow out and be caught in the second sheet of mesh; depending on the sample the agitation stage may take a short period of time or a longer one.


Agitating the sample in the flotation setup


The flot is then collected, weighed and analyzed to see what materials are inside; the most common materials are small shells, pieces of charcoal and other organic materials. The residue is also weighed and looked through, to look for any interesting pieces.


Collecting the flot


The purpose behind flotation is to find out what had been stored in pithos (storage vessels) and what is just generally in the soil inside Building 10, in an attempt to determine more about the habitants. Any information on what was kept inside the pithos could lead to a better understanding on what sort of life the people of Kastro Kallithea did for a living¾if there is more grains, it is possible that they did agriculture, for example. This more analytical approach definitely speaks to the Chemist in me, and made me feel more at home here. This is but one of the things that makes field school at Kastro Kallithea so worth it; the people here¾including my fellow students, those running the course and excavation, and the villagers from Narthaki¾are amazing. Given the opportunity, I will definitely come back here again, either for credit after my undergraduate degree, or as a volunteer.

-Matt Gabert



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