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Crete as melting pot: New opportunities for archaeological research of ancient Gortyn

Joanita Vroom and Mink van IJzendoorn have been awarded a grant of the Chastelain‐Nobach Fund, enabling them to continue their work at Gortyn, Crete. This project offers students opportunities to help uncover the archaeological mysteries of this important Roman and Byzantine city.

Map of Gortyn

Since 2001, the University of Siena and the SAIA (Italian Archaeological School in Athens) have been excavating at the ‘Early Byzantine District’ in Gortyn, the ancient capital of Crete. This area (called ‘Gortina Quartiere Bizantino’ or ‘GQB’) is around 2000m² and located in the Roman and Byzantine urban centre. In 2019, a post-excavation project of Leiden was started, focussing on finds produced by the Italian team. This pilot campaign proved highly successful. Last year’s achievement confirmed the usefulness of international collaboration between the universities of Siena and Leiden. This resulted in a fruitful work sequence in which the complete procedure of an archaeological dig was carried out by separate teams with complementary specialisations working together: from the systematic excavation and artefact recovery (by the Siena team on site) to the conservation, documentation, classification and further processing of the finds (by the Leiden team in the local depot).

The 2019-excavations in the GQB area at Gortyn, Crete (photo: E. Zanini).

The excavation area is special as it is a non-monumental urban space. It yields substantial quantities of material (mostly ceramic finds) of an undisturbed sequence with layers from Antique and the Early Medieval times. The general aim of the project is to study the transformation of this medium-sized provincial city during the Late Roman and the Early Byzantine periods. In addition, the team examines the problem of what happened afterwards, during the Arab conquest and the period of the Islamic Emirate of Crete. An important question is for instance: what can the material tell us about the continuation and/or change of urban life on Crete during these different phases? To answer this, the team investigates the nature of domestic production and levels of (inter)regional connectivity and their diachronic developments.

One ceramic find from the 2019-excavations in the GQB area at Gortyn, Crete (photo: E. Zanini).

With this new funding, the future of the Gortyn Project looks exciting, both regarding the educative and research goals. For the next fieldschool (summer 2021) tuition costs will be reduced, making the internship more accessible and affordable for Leiden archaeology students. We also aim to increase the number of participants as well as workdays. Funding will further impact the quality of research. It permits the team to involve specialists and deploy techniques (e.g. 3D-scanning and –modelling and microscopic fabric analysis) for better documentation and scientific analyses of the gathered data.

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