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National Geographic (CRE 7614-04)
Azoria Project 2004

The Azoria Project is a case study of urbanization in the Mediterranean in the first millennium B.C. The method is the excavation of the Early Iron Age and Archaic town of Azoria (ca. 1200-500 B.C.) on the island of Crete in the Greek Aegean. The goal is to examine the changing dynamics of regional exchange, crop and livestock processing, and food storage and consumption practices on this site, and to relate these changes to social processes involved in the formation of small-scale polities in the eastern Mediterranean during the first millennium B.C. In 2003, the project completed the second of five seasons of work. The present proposal seeks support for the third season in 2004. The broad aims of the excavation are to recover evidence for the structure and organization of the Archaic city (700-600 B.C.), studying stratigraphic changes in the formal development of the urban center throughout the Early Iron Age (1200-700 B.C.); to assess changes in the ways in which the landscape was exploited for agricultural and pastoral production; and then finally to use this evidence as a framework for analyzing the changing sociopolitical structure of the urban center.

Problem Orientation and Significance of Proposed Work. Excavation at Azoria addresses two primary problems. One is to explore the nature of Archaic settlement on Crete, by focusing on a significant period of culture change, ca. 600 B.C., for which few sites are known and none extensively explored. While the Early Iron Age (ca. 1200-700) and Orientalizing (ca. 700-600) periods on the island exhibit an unusual density of habitation sites and a dynamic reception and mixing of indigenous, mainland Greek and Near Eastern influences (Sjögren 2001; Nowicki 2000; Hoffman 1997: 255-260; Prent 1996-1997; S. Morris 1992: 151-194; Whitley 1991: 181-198), a puzzling discontinuity is apparent in the sixth century B.C., a period considered by historians to be a critical chronological gap, a veritable “period of silence” or even second “dark age” during which Crete was isolated from the wider Mediterranean world (Coldstream and Huxley 1999; Morris 1998: 65-66; Perlman 1993: 202-203; S. Morris 1992: 169; Coldstream 1991: 298; Stambolides 1990). Even though recent scholarship has postulated historical models for political and demographic changes in Crete ca. 600 B.C., archaeological investigation and a theoretical framework are required to approach the problem of this hiatus in the archaeological record (Erickson 2002: 86; Coldstream and Huxley 1999; Prent 1996-1997; Huxley 1994:128-129; S. Morris 1992: 169-172; I. Morris 1998: 65-66). The Azoria project seeks to reassess this mysterious sixth century B.C. discontinuity by excavating a site that demonstrates urban characteristics, a nucleated structure, continuous occupation from the Early Iron Age into the fifth century B.C., and imports from Attica, the east Aegean. The purpose is to reevaluate the validity of a Cretan economic recession or “dark age” in the sixth and early fifth centuries B.C., considering the seventh century as a formative period leading to a threshold of reorganization, and rebuilding of power relationships on the island around 600 B.C.

The other goal of excavation is to study urbanization by examining changes in the economy and formal structure of the settlement through time, from the twelfth through the sixth centuries B.C., by collecting data that might help to shape conceptual links between subsistence and production behavior, on the one hand, and changing social structure and economic organization, on the other, as the settlement of Azoria becomes the center of an integrated territory, and part of complex exchange systems in the wider Aegean and Mediterranean.

Previous Work and Relevance to Present Plan. The first two seasons of excavation in 2002 and 2003 demonstrated that by 600 B.C., the site of Azoria had become a city. The settlement was substantially rebuilt, the inhabitants apparently disregarding and even destroying earlier Early Iron Age (1200-700 B.C.) buildings in order to establish new foundations. This radical renovation at the end of the seventh century significantly transformed the plan of the site, its architectural form and spatial organization. New buildings suggest an increase in site size and population, and an equally new conceptualization of urban and domestic space. The elements of urban planning are (1) formal repetition of house types; (2) the construction of concentric circuit walls, organizing and restructuring space; (3) foundation deposits indicating systematic rebuilding at the beginning of the sixth century; and (4) a civic complex, consisting of a communal dining hall (andreion)—for the common mess for kinship-based corporate groups—with multiple storerooms and kitchens, suggesting the centralization and control of resources. A burnt destruction level at the end of the sixth century B.C. at Azoria has preserved carbonized plant remains (such as weeds, wheat and barley seeds, olive pits, and grape pips), as well as a variety of animal bones, providing much-needed data for assessing land use and food processing. These data are at the core of our problem orientation, which is to assess the establishment of cities as cultural or economic responses to the opposing tendencies of local agrarian and kinship structures and extra-regional and extra-insular exchange systems.

Plan of Work for 2004. Excavation in 2002-2003 concentrated on the hilltop of the South Acropolis, where we recovered evidence of centralized storage and food processing associated with a cluster of large houses and a large public dining building, linked by a megalithic circuit wall. In 2004, the excavation sample will include the lower slopes of the South Acropolis, outside of the uppermost circuit wall, where trial trenches in 2003 indicated substantial deposition, and in one trench, an Archaic building utilizing Early Iron Age levels for its foundations. Excavation on this lower western terrace of the South Acropolis affords us the opportunity to compare center and periphery within the settlement, examining differences in domestic architecture, the type and volume of food storage, the character and volume of exogenous artifacts (such as fine pottery, metals, and transport amphora), and methods of food production and consumption. The main objective of the 2004 season is to explore differentiation in domestic and civic contexts, comparing the center and outlying slopes, and examining the notion that a spatial hierarchy was established at the end of the seventh century, with the center of the site containing centralized storage of olives, grapes, and wheat, and processing areas (kitchens) for meat (marine animals and mammals) consumed in the syssitia—the common meal of the urban elite within the andreion complex (Aristotle, Pol. 1272a; Athenaeus 4.143; Strabo 10.480). The hypothesis is that the surrounding slopes were used as habitation space, perhaps with houses for the elite located closest to the andreion complex itself. In 2004 we will continue to explore the differentiation of houses around the periphery of the South Acropolis and their relationship to the civic buildings on the hilltop.

Another objective in 2004 is to evaluate varying patterns of diachronic change in the architectural renovation of the hilltop at the end of the seventh century B.C.—differential responses of the habitants to their Early Iron Age past. Are the Early Iron Age buildings on the lower slopes obliterated at the expense of new Archaic structures (as is clearly the case with the large buildings on the hilltop), or is there continuity in the use of earlier buildings and foundations—demonstrating a recognition of links to an earlier community of place, or continuity of occupation through the first half of the first millennium B.C.?

Methods and Methodology. Recent studies of early state-level polities in various contexts, including the Aegean, tend to examine the function of political economies as opposed to the implications of developmental models. Nevertheless, the emphasis of work on urbanization, urban-rural interaction, and agropastoral systems presents useful diachronic contexts and models for studying changes in social organization and power relations in emergent state societies. A focus on agricultural specialization and exchange systems as operable mechanisms of elite appropriation, control, and consumption of agricultural surplus underscores the changing nature of urban-rural relationships and provides a broad methodological framework for Azoria as a case study of urbanization in the Early Iron Age and Archaic Aegean.

The area of exposed and visible contiguous architecture exceeds 8.0 ha. We estimate conservatively a total area of about 15.0 ha. for the site. The target area is the top of the hill, about 6.0 ha., covering both north and south hills (or acropoleis). We have acquired for excavation the hilltop and immediate slopes, and will concentrate samples within areas comprising 2.0-3.0 ha. total. Five excavation seasons are planned—each one consisting of seven weeks of fieldwork and three weeks of study. The primary goal of sampling is to recover contexts that permit the examination of functional differentiation of architectural and habitation space across the site, considering the relationship between public and private space, and habitation, civic, and cultic spheres of activity. Within these units the excavation and sampling method is consistent. 100 percent of all stratified matrices are dry screened using quarter-inch sieves, collecting all artifacts, stone tools, bones, and occasional botanicals. “Intensive sampling loci” are defined as deposits requiring more intensive sampling for flotation. A total of 40 trenches (sampling units) were opened in 2002, exposing a total area of 0.24 ha. We estimate an average annual horizontal exposure of about 0.10-0.20 hectares.

The recovery of carbonized plant remains requires the use of both dry sieving and flotation. Standard five-liter samples are taken from each excavation unit (locus) for flotation, while “intensive-sampling loci” are designated areas of primary or secondary deposition, features, and objects—such as floors, habitation deposits on or above floors, hearths, storage and waste pits, fill, and vessels–requiring larger and variable volumes of matrix. The aim of sampling is to document the total volume of the matrix of these loci, controlling the specific areas and amounts sampled, thereby allowing for quantitative comparison of the density, preservation, and species of plants and animals identified across the site. With each season we diversify the sampling universe by integrating various functional and chronological contexts, while attempting to reduplicate types of context to test results of earlier seasons. The identification of architectural units—houses, civic complexes, and exterior spaces (courtyards, streets, alleys)—determines the sampling universe, although a multi-scalar perspective requires the assessment of functional differences across the site.

The analysis of floral and faunal material under the direction of Snyder and Scarry, will take place in the field laboratory at the Institute for Aegean Prehistory Study Center for East Crete, and in the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Comparative study and the analysis of wood carbon for species identification, will also take place in the Wiener Laboratory of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, which houses a comparative collection of Aegean flora and fauna and an extensive specialized library.