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The dig at Sitagroi


Setting up the excavation at Sitagroi
Colin Renfrew Archaeologist
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For me the interest was relating to this chronological question. The calibration of radiocarbon dating was just coming into play. The visit was in 1967 and that was when I first caught sight of the Suess calibration curve in 1967 so the calibration hadn't really been applied yet significantly in European prehistory and so it was still partly a stratigraphic problem and the interesting thing about the site of Sitagroi was a low tell mound, a settlement mound, and it had a lot of material on the surface including graphite painted wares which were typical of the Gumelnita culture which was the same as Karanovo VI, but it also had Aegean early Bronze Age wares, rolled rim bowls and so on which would be related maybe to Troy II and that sort of thing, so there was a chance of sorting out stratigraphically these relationships that had been disputed previously or had come into doubt previously because, as I was saying, the Cycladic relationships and the relationships with Troy, with the Vinca culture and the Gumelnita culture at Karanovo were being called into question. And when Jane and I had gone to Bulgaria in 1966 we tried to sort some of that out so that really there was the question, is Troy, Troy II, for instance, contemporary with Karanovo VI and did the Copper Age of the Balkans learn its metallurgy from the Aegean early Bronze Age or is it possible that those things in the Balkans are really much earlier? Well, this hadn't been clarified yet and even though it was clarified later by calibrating the radiocarbon dates, it was very interesting to try and get it to come through stratigraphically. So that was my objective in choosing a site that had at one time Balkan materials like the graphite painted ware but at the same time Aegean early Bronze Age type materials so that by digging you'd hope really to find out which went with which. Marija's interest was mainly in figurines, terracotta figurines. She had her idea that the Indo-Europeans came in the early Bronze Age, rather dour civilisation with no figurines, but before that was what she called the Civilisation of Old Europe, which she believed to be pre Indo-European and lots of wonderful figurines and so on she hoped would be found. So we had to set that up and the deal really was that I would hope to get the permit through the British School, which is what happened, and then we would jointly try and raise money through the National Science Foundation which, of course, is American but she would be able to apply for that as an American citizen. So we were the joint excavators. She didn't really want to get involved very much in the day to day digging and, indeed, she wasn't on site the whole time at all but she wanted to study the materials and particularly the figurines. So that really worked out very well. We had to buy the land, under Greek law you have to buy the land and give it to the Greek State before you can excavate, but that was a few thousand dollars which the NSF came up with. And so in 1968, that was the year after I'd been to UCLA, we were all set up and we started digging there and we had a very good team.

Baron Renfrew of Kaimsthorn is a British archaeologist known for his work on the dispersal of the Proto-Indo-Europeans and the prehistory of PIE languages. He has been Disney Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge as well as Master of Jesus College and Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Listeners: Paul Bahn

Paul Bahn studied archaeology at Cambridge where he did his doctoral thesis on the prehistory of the French Pyrenees. He is now Britain's foremost specialist on Ice Age art and on Easter Island, and led the team which discovered Britain's first Ice Age cave art at Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire, in 2003. He has authored and edited numerous books, including Journey Through the Ice Age, The Enigmas of Easter Island, Mammoths, The Cambridge Illustrated History of Prehistoric Art, and, with Colin Renfrew, Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice which was published in its 5th edition in 2008.

Duration: 3 minutes, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 14 May 2009