Reflections on the 2016 Summer Season

Please skip down to the last section for those mainly interested in events and photos from the summer!


Most archaeologists I know experience bipolar professional lives. For 9 months of the year, we teach in classrooms, attend administrative meetings, and do all the things expected of university professors – from consoling downtrodden freshmen during office hours to regaling trustees at sumptuous dinners. As packed as these 9 months are, they are when we catch our breath and recharge for the breathless 3 summer months when we wake up at 4:30am and return to base looking like we just rolled down the side of a mountain (if we’re lucky).

University vs. Dig Life

The difficulty is not the dichotomy between these two lifestyles – we obviously love what we do – but the sometimes rough transition that happens twice a year. Still, there are unique opportunities here. After almost two decades of fieldwork, I especially appreciate students who observe certain peculiarities as we settle in and ask insightful questions at the onset of each transition, which I no longer discern. Here are some of the best ones from this month.

2016 Brandeis MA Students in Ancient Greek and Roman Studies


This is quite simple – any job you can get. I’ve had regular team members who do everything from middle school teaching to shovel bumming during the year. As jarringly different as the two “seasons” of the year might be, I feel fortunate to interact with many of the same people throughout the year and intersperse my summer research into my year round activities. Yet I don’t subscribe to the notion that a university post should be the ultimate goal for every archaeologist, though it (still) suits the profession quite well for various reasons. We need archaeologists teaching in primary school and leading small local museums. Working in a university is not for everyone despite intense pressures and normalized expectations that it should be.


No, not that type of love contrary to the (usually) incorrect assumption by some that dig life=wanton debauchery. As I just explained to a student who observed how close our returning team members are, the summer months are like dog years. The experience is the closest most of us will get to something resembling military life. You spend almost every waking moment with your teammates. You laugh, rejoice, and cry together at each discovery and setback. You quickly discover the obvious warts but also the distinct charm of each teammate as if he or she were a family member. There’s very little room for shame when privacy is costly and sharing is a necessity for survival. One of the surprisingly common questions I’ve overheard that would not be considered normal back home is, “May I borrow your toothbrush? I can’t seem to find mine.” You learn much more about the habits and foibles of teammates than you often wish, but you wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m still the best of friends with teammates I haven’t seen in over a decade besides the requisite holiday cards and the occasional video chat.


I will stick to Mediterranean archaeology since it’s what I know best. Choosing the best program is a distinctly personal exercise. I’ve sent students with at least a secondary interest in archaeology to PhD programs in Classics, Ancient History, Anthropology, Archaeology, History, Near Eastern Studies, Maritime Studies, etc. Each program’s archaeological strengths are specific based on current faculty members and the legacy of past ones, who have invariably left an indelible mark on the program. Here at Brandeis, despite Cyrus H. Gordon‘s four decade absence, you can still find traces of his legacy that inform and support my research to this day. While I discourage students from choosing a program based on a specific faculty member, I encourage them to understand the historical ethos of each university. It’s the best indicator of how a student might fit in a program long term despite evolving research interests and faculty departures.

So for me, I chose Penn over Harvard (Emily Vermeule was a huge influence – if she could reach the upper echelon of Aegean Bronze Age archaeology, why couldn’t an Asian guy?) largely due to Penn’s history of incubating scientific pursuits in archaeology (e.g. the programs that became the Cornell Dendrochronology Lab, BU Center for Remote Sensing, Texas A&M Institute of Nautical Archaeology, and, much more humbly, my own Brandeis ARCHEM Lab). I also liked the fact that I could easily move between graduate groups and courses. I benefited immensely from interacting with classicists, anthropologists, art historians, scientists, ancient Near East scholars, etc.

Ultimately, classical studies has been the place for me despite my sometimes less than obvious fit at first glance. Ever since I first discovered my sister’s copy of the Iliad in middle school and read it cover to cover in one sitting, I was hooked. Four years of high school Latin followed by a stint juggling Biophysics with Classics as an undergrad led me to Penn. I believe working in Greece is about the entire experience, which for me is most enjoyable through the lens of classical studies. I will conclude by looping around to a day this summer that brings this perspective into focus.


amnisos-hill-northThe low hill at the ancient site of Amnisos looking north towards Dia and Thera beyond

After a workday in mid-June, one of the conservators at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum wanted to take us to a suitable clearing where locals recreationally fly drones. We had just discovered that one of our new teammates, Ian Roy, was a drone aficionado. A bit to our surprise (but not really since it’s Greece) the clearing ended up being near an archaeological site – Amnisos. We had the best drone instruction one could ever desire from Ian, and it ended in spectacular fashion with Ian’s racer drone  when his signal cut out (Ian’s video here).

Drone Lessons from Ian Roy

Classicists will remember Amnisos as the place Odysseus landed on Crete. So we were basically flying drones around a legendary locale in Homeric literature as one would do at a park back at home (and crash land in the case of Ian’s racer drone). You can read all about the locale and its significance in Professor Gregory Nagy’s posting at CHS.  I was fortunate enough to provide an archaeologist’s interloping perspective and discuss Amnisos briefly myself. And here we were “accidentally” frolicking in the shadow of Homer.

Amnisos Hill looking west

There is in fact much more history here than one can initially imagine. As I tell my students, archaeologists need to see 4th dimensionally. We know that the Minoans prized double harbors, and this was likely the situation at Amnisos until sedimentation from the rivers flanking the low hill slowly altered the geomorphology of the area. In the photo above, you can see where the Karteros River empties out near the airport runway today, which is exactly where J.D.S. Pendlebury would lead bathing excursions from Knossos and march into the sea wearing his yellow linen embroidered with double axes; Vronwy Hankey reminisced about this indelible image in 1997. In the distance, one can also make out Mount Juktas and Mount Ida with its Idaean Cave.

Harbor Works at Amnisos

Below that photo looking west, on the western slopes of the low hill, Dr. Athanasia Kanta is conducting incredibly important research into the port history of the site, which was considered overblown in the accounts of classical authors until this impressive discovery (monumental architecture befitting the harbor of Knossos seems to have been hidden below a later Temple of Zeus).

On the eastern slopes, we, of course, have the famous Villa of the Lilies excavated by Dr. Spyridon Marinatos. While qualitatively impressive, the villa gave some scholars doubts about Amnisos’ reputed role as the harbor of Knossos, greatest of the Minoan urban centers.

Trekking up the Low Hill

Those of us who are classically inclined on the Mouliana Project team got a kick out of one related everyday event. While we worked at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, we stayed in a house several miles inland from Amnisos. If you were to follow the low hill on its east side from the Villa of the Lilies just past the national highway, you immediately come upon a blue sign, which we saw at the conclusion of each workday, pointing cars off the road to our house and directing them to the Cave of Eileithuia, also discussed at length by Professor Nagy. Just another day on the job for those of us fortunate enough to work in Greece.

View Towards Eileithuia Cave

In lieu of mazas memagmenas meliti, we offer Loukoumades drenched in Cretan honey

Closing the Books on the 2016 Field Season

6TLR P3483
Preliminary drawing of Mouliana stirrup jar

With preliminary drawings finished on our ceramic objects in the Siteia Museum (beautifully done by Tina Ross and Ally Walsh as seen above), we can mark the end of our 2016 field season. As most of you know, field seasons are usually just the beginning of year-round research for archaeology. There is data to process before we let students on our campuses join the slow, steady march towards publication. For us, the next milestone will be the 2017 AIA/SCS Annual Meeting in Toronto, where we hope to present our research in both paper and poster sessions.

MP at ZouMinoan Zou with Prinias and Praisos in the background, land of the Eteo-Cretans

In the meantime, we are fortunate to have our research integrated into programs at Brandeis, Rhodes, and other institutions with student participation serving as vital components throughout these research nodes. Training in the field and at home has been a mandate of our project from the beginning, which we feel has been neglected of late as older projects focus on finishing long-awaited publications before the retirement of critical staff members. As a younger project without this immediate worry, we can afford to integrate our students patiently, which helps to ensure steady progress towards publication and the tangible recognition of their involvement through papers, posters, theses, dissertations, etc.

MP at Zakros
Palace at Zakros, Minoan gateway to the east

In future seasons, we hope to expand this mentality of archaeological “apprenticing” to more facets of our team as established scholars take students under their wings during a period of anticipated expansion into disciplines such as paleoethnobotany, zooarchaeology, human osteology, and geomorphology. This will complement ongoing research in traditional fields such as ceramic, topographic, and architectural studies along with cutting-edge scientific approaches already established in 3D imaging, GIS, and chemical analyses among others.

Thank you again for your support. We hope to see you in Toronto or perhaps even on Crete one day! In the meantime, we will keep you posted on what is happening stateside with periodic updates here in cyberspace.

Best wishes,
Andrew and Miriam, co-directors


MP Sunrise at Tripitos
Sunrise over Trypitos, possibly ancient Polichna (harbor of Praisos)

7th Inning Stretch and Collaboration

Rhodes at SM.jpg
MP team studying ceramics at SM

Now that we have found 46/50 Mouliana objects and rigorously documented them using the latest digital and scientific techniques, we have arrived at a good juncture to reflect on our successful season as we enter the final portion of our summer on Crete.

I was recently asked by a non-archaeologist colleague for one word that best exemplifies what we do and the first one that came to mind was collaboration. We could not have accomplished what we have this summer without the patience, support, and good humor of many individuals both within our home institutions and outside of them.

Even before our arrival on Crete, our team members received training and support from many sectors at Brandeis University and Rhodes College. First and foremost, our home departments (Classical Studies, Art & Art History) and chairs (Ann Olga Koloski-Ostrow, Erin Harmon) were critical for our success. As we photographed and analyzed objects, we only needed to look down at our instruments and tools to see our institutions inscribed on them. We’ve collaborated with the best experts possible like our colleagues Ian Roy (Brandeis Library and Technology Services) and B. Lee Drake (University of New Mexico and Bruker). We cannot begin to express our gratitude to all those who have made these archaeological “luxuries’ possible.

Finally, we need to acknowledge all our friends and colleagues in Greece. In addition to those from AMH mentioned in an earlier post and the 24th Ephorate, we continued to receive precious time from generous individuals such as Tom Brogan (INSTAP) and Dora Medouri (Siteia Archaeological Museum). Though collaborations can be time-consuming to forge and maintain, they are the foundations on which all successful archaeological projects are built.

MP ORA at SMMP LiDAR at SM cropped

Successful First Half of Season

DSC_0617View of Mouliana Sellades (“saddle”) from a nearby hill

Thanks to the efforts of our dedicated team and especially the unfailing energy of Dr. Georgia Flouda, we have documented all known Mouliana Sellades objects at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion including bronzes, gold, iron, ceramics, faience, and a larnax. No small feat when you consider the 113 years since excavation with two world wars on or around the island. The museum itself was bombed in WW II! We now turn to the future with a handful of ceramics remaining in the Sitia Archaeological Museum.

DSC_0768Team preparing for documentation

With your support, our hope in the future is to complete our study of the wonderful LM IIIC warrior graves at Mouliana Sellades with the documentation of the tombs themselves, if we are fortunate enough to gain permission from the Ministry of Culture and the KD ephorate. We particularly wish Alison Crandall (PhD student, UCLA Archaeology), Sarah Schofield-Mansur (PhD student, Brandeis Anthropology), and Anna Krohn (MA student, Brandeis Ancient Greek and Roman Studies) safe travels at this point as they return to the States. Kalo taxidi!

DSC_0800Team taking a weekend trip to the Minoan “temple” at Anemospilia

Amazing First Week at AMH


We had an amazing first week at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion thanks to Dr. Georgia Flouda (Co-Director of the Mouliana Project, Curator of AMH), Dr. Stella Mandalaki (Director of AMH), and the rest of the incredible staff at AMH. It included five long and intense workdays where we worked through every available minute with only short breaks.

While we are unable to share most details due to publication and permit restrictions, I can answer the most common question of whether we saw anything good with the immortal words of Howard Carter, “Yes, wonderful things.” I can share below a collage of Mouliana material from 1904. It includes the bronze sword with intact grip and pommel we have lovingly dubbed “Excalibur” and could not fathom sat inches before us on a study table (full disclosure: misty eyes were present). A museum cabinet with a gold mask, gold rings, and jewelry is photo restricted so please visit the museum in person for these items or wait for our upcoming publications!

We extend our many thanks to our families and supporters who have made this project and dream week possible.

Dr. Andrew Koh, co-director

Artifacts from Mouliana Warrior Graves, 12th century BCE. After Xanthoudidis 1904

Heraklion Archaeological Museum

Get a peek at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, the first location where the Mouliana Project will work this summer.

The Heraklion Archaeological Museum is a museum located in Heraklion on Crete. It is one of the greatest museums in Greece and the best in the world for Minoan art, as it contains the most notable and complete collection of artifacts of the Minoan civilization of Crete. 

Museum TV description of video

Siteia, home of the great-hearted Eteo-Cretans

|172 Κρήτη τις γαῖ’ ἔστι μέσῳ ἐνὶ οἴνοπι πόντῳ, |173 καλὴ καὶ πίειρα, περίρρυτος· ἐν δ’ ἄνθρωποι |174 πολλοὶ ἀπειρέσιοι, καὶ ἐννήκοντα πόληες· |175 ἄλλη δ’ ἄλλων γλῶσσα μεμιγμένη· ἐν μὲν Ἀχαιοί, |176 ἐν δ’ Ἐτεόκρητες μεγαλήτορες, ἐν δὲ Κύδωνες |177 Δωριέες τε τριχάϊκες δῖοί τε Πελασγοί· |178 τῇσι δ’ ἐνὶ Κνωσός, μεγάλη πόλις, ἔνθα τε Μίνως |179ἐννέωρος βασίλευε Διὸς μεγάλου ὀαριστής, |180 πατρὸς ἐμοῖο πατήρ, μεγαθύμου Δευκαλίωνος. |181 Δευκαλίων δ’ ἐμὲ τίκτε καὶ Ἰδομενῆα ἄνακτα· |182 ἀλλ’ ὁ μὲν ἐν νήεσσι κορωνίσιν Ἴλιον εἴσω |183 ᾤχεθ’ ἅμ’ Ἀτρεΐδῃσιν· ἐμοὶ δ’ ὄνομα κλυτὸν Αἴθων, |184 ὁπλότερος γενεῇ· ὁ δ’ ἅμα πρότερος καὶ ἀρείων.

|172 There’s a land called Crete, in the middle of the sea that looks like wine. |173 It’s beautiful and fertile, surrounded by the waves, and the people who live there |174 are so many that you can’t count them. They have 90 cities. |175 Different people speak different languages, all mixed together. |176 There are Eteo-Cretans, those great-hearted ones. And Cydonians. |177 There are Dorians, with their three divisions, and luminous Pelasgians. |178In this land [plural]2 is Knossos, a great city. There it was that Minos, |179 who was renewed every nine years [enneōros], ruled as king. He was the companion [oaristēs] of Zeus the mighty. |180 And he was the father of my father, Deukalion, the one with the big heart. |181Deukalion was my father, and the father also of Idomeneus the king. |182 That man [= Idomeneus], in curved ships, went off to Ilion [= Troy], |183 yes, he went there together with the sons of Atreus [= Agamemnon and Menelaos]. As for my name, which is famous, it is Aithōn. |184 I’m the younger one by birth. As for the other one [= Idomeneus], he was born before me and is superior to me.

Odyssey 19.172–184 (translation by Gregory Nagy, Classical Inquiries 2015.09.17)