During our first week of field school, we took a field trip up to Kastro Kallithea to see the site for ourselves. For most of us, the biggest challenges were the scorching sun and the vicious pounari thorns that cover the hilltop, but for some of us, the difficulties were a little longer lasting. On the way down from site, Alisha tripped, fell, and sprained her ankle. We made sure the damage wasn’t too serious (and the doctors let her keep the X-rays!), but the past few weeks have involved copious amounts of ibuprofen and icepacks. Walking up the hill to the Kastro Kallithea site certainly proved to be a challenge for many of us, so it’s hard to imagine doing it every day like the original occupants would have had to do.
Being anthropology students, we began thinking about how the walk up the hill might have impacted the lives of people and animals living on site. Although the people of Kastro Kallithea were probably used to going up and down the hill, it would still put a lot of strain on the body, especially if they had their animals grazing at the base of the hill – they would have had to climb up and down to move them. If there was any trade done in the area, which is highly plausible, they would be going up and down the hill frequently and most likely with fairly heavy loads. Studying bones can tell us a lot about the lifestyle that the inhabitants of Kastro Kallithea would have led; we can see what they ate, where they spent most of their lives, and even what sorts of activities they did on a daily basis. Climbing up the hill once gave us an insider view of what the inhabitants of Kastro Kallithea probably did every day.
Leaving the confines of our homes seemed at first to be a somewhat intimidating experience since some of us had never been away from home for more than a day or two on our own. Our trip consisted of visiting and residing in Athens for a couple of days to get acclimatized to the European life and eventually we would set out for a duration of three weeks to live and work at the Kastro Kallithea Archaeological Project in the village of Narthaki in Thessaly as part of the archaeological field school. This small rural village seemed at first very unusual for us to live in since many of us had no previous experience with the local language and we obviously stood out from the rest of the surrounding population. The looks that were given to us by the locals in the village were at first somewhat concerning since it was a small game of “spot the tourist” but after a short consultation with the many teacher’s assistants and Dr. Margriet Haagsma herself, we were given some knowledge on the language as well as the proper cultural etiquette.
The villagers asserted a lot of importance on the level of politeness one should give the children the adults and the elderly. Unlike our North American ways of living, individuals within the village kept it very polite, said hello to each other and began small talk conversations, something we were clearly not used to. Some of us caught on very quickly while others took some more time to get used to but in the end, we were able to represent Canada as a country of quick adaptation and as respectful of other countries as much as possible since we were in effect the guests residing there.
Another important thing that was noteworthy was the level of traditional customs that the villagers asserted. By North American standards of freedom to do what one wishes to do with their body, it took some adjustment to successfully abide by those rules. Men were not necessarily allowed to show their boxer linings while women needed to cover up a little more. The elderly generation of the village constantly put their best shirts and suits on to impress the younger generation as well as give an example. While we were split into gender groups where the women would live in the gymnasium and the men in the soccer shed, it was not considered appropriate to enter either or if you were of the opposite sex. You could only remain in the vicinity and stay around for a couple of minutes without causing too much disturbance.
In fact, the experience proved gratifying to the most of us since it gave us an understanding that Narthaki relied on a sense of tradition in order to properly function and help each individual out rather than rely on individualistic North American customs. Each villager knew they could count on each other at any time for help if need be. Hopefully this experience gave each and every participant in the field school the ability to interact with their surroundings rather than keep the interaction to the minimum because it sure helped us three to understand the importance of a community!
With eight of the field school students moving on to the field school in Oppido Lucano, Italy, tomorrow, it was the right day to make the 2016 group picture. It was a privilege to work with so many excellent, dedicated and talented young people. Thank you all, Kallithea 2016 field school students! You were a great group!
May 22, 2016…
Sunday, the day of rest and recovery, especially for the Narthaki people and their landscape. Just 24 hours prior this village was exposed to an incredible display of Mother Nature’s power as torrential downpour flooded fields and made currented rivers out of side streets. As we drove past evidence of the devastation today, it reminded me of how dependent communities like this are on the natural landscape and how quickly each aspect of the space can change. One of my favourite aspects of this place is how vivid the landscape is, and how incredibly grounded within Thessalian livelihood each aspect has become.
Driving throughout Thessaly I was initially struck by the glowing golden fields of wheat, straw, and barley, in their varying stages of growth and development. The barley grown near Narthaki is specifically used to make Amstel, a delicious beer that is proudly sold throughout the village at the Tavernas and Ouzerie. Such a product can socially connect members of the public and serve as a source of revenue for local farmers. Wheat and straw, alternatively, are often used as a fodder for animals. Domesticates are very important for everyday life. Walking past each family homestead one can find a cluster of hens kept for a daily supply of eggs, and a sheep or goat that are kept for milk. Walking through elevated parts of the community yields homesteads that have larger storage vessels for a larger supply of milk and cheese processing. During siesta the walk through this portion of the community will also expose you to the sound of bells and blehying, as shepherds move with their large herds of sheep and goats in pastured areas among the hills.
It is difficult for me to describe the mountains across Thessaly, glowing green under the Greek sun or shrouded in blue with passing clouds. Having grown up in a landscape among the relatively flat region of the Great Lakes in Ontario, I find myself at peace around the vast array of mountainous terrain and almost awe-struck by its serenity and genuine grandeur. I feel that I can never quite get the right picture to display how awesome they feel to me. Such a terrain is also essential for large herds of sheep and goats as they provide accessible terrain for grazing for the animals which would otherwise be unsuitable for agriculture or habitation. As we sort through the archaeological materials found nearby I also catch myself thinking about how such a terrain would have impacted ancient peoples, their livestock, and how this likely interplayed with economy in antiquity. How would this landscape have been impacted by its people hundreds and thousands of years ago?
Humans often believe that we domesticated and developed our landscapes to suit our needs, but the terrain, climate, and natural spaces also impact how we live within our respective spaces. Nestled below the mountains, amongst small family vegetable gardens, larger barley fields and accessible by curved streets lies Narthaki: a beautiful place within the Thessaly landscape that I am beginning to consider home.