Abstract: Reality and Romanticism: The Archaeology of a Small Town or ‘Do Archaeologists Really Need to Excavate’”
Lecturer: Ronald Marchese
Plataiai, northwest of Athens, was the scene of one of the most pivotal battles in antiquity. Here, the Greek city-states defeated the remnant of the Persian King Xerxes= army in 479 B.C. Throughout the fifth and fourth centuries the town possessed high strategic value. Plataiai dominated trade routes and general lines of communication between Thebes, Athens, and the Peloponnesus. On at least three occasions the control of the town determined the outcome of major military campaigns that changed the course of Greek history. The ancient town is also associated with all the major events of the Classical Age - the Persian Wars, the Peloponnesian War, the Corinthian War, recurring conflict between Thebes and Athens, and finally wars waged by Philip II and Alexander the Great of Macedon. Once Plataiai became an Athenian dependency in 507 B.C., it was heavily fortified. Plataiai, along with well-defended mountain town of Eleutherae, controlled a vast region south of Mount Kithereron. This provided Athens with a “defense in depth” in order to protect the fertile western portion of the Athenian state near the great sanctuary of Demeter at Eleusis.
After an initial year of survey in 1998, excavations were undertaken between 1999 - 2001. The Plataiai Research Project, however, no longer emphasizes excavation, but rather geo-physical prospection utilizing advanced geo-electric resistivity techniques in order to identify subsurface features at the site. Thus far, a number of structures have been detected from large free standing buildings to areas of dense domestic habitation. Geo-physical survey has confirmed that the town was laid out in a Hippodamian plan of right angle streets and avenues which defined extensive blocks of houses as well as areas of public development. Although traditional methods of survey, especially ceramic survey, provided valuable information about density of human habitation and chronology, it adds little information about the underlying sub-surface features at the site. In this manner geo-physical survey methods have become powerful tools for archaeological site assessment. Unfortunately, geo-electric mapping of a site has been under-utilized in Classical archaeology in Greece. Only three sites, including the Plataiai Research Project, have employed geo-physical survey in Greece since 1996. The continued improvement in geo-electric and geo-magnetic equipment have made large area surveys feasible. The cost-effectiveness of geo-electric survey was proven at Plataiai in October, 2005; making this the ideal method of sampling a site of approximately 260 acres in order to produce a high density of cultural features not visible at ground level due to approximately one meter of overlay. The results of the work have been spectacular with the entire urban grid now defined via geo-physics. Unknown temples, and the third largest market-place known in antiquity have been identified along with houses, interior partition walls, water-lines, public baths and churches including a large cathedral. The site is now considered the best surveyed site of over forty sites surveyed through geo-physics in Greece and Bulgaria if not the entire Mediterranean world.