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A chronology based on radiocarbon dates


The dig at Sitagroi
Colin Renfrew Archaeologist
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One thing we started doing was just a section, a 3 metre square telephone box trench, as they're sometimes called, and we had a very dynamic lady who had worked with us at Saliagos, Cressida Ridley, and she was supervising this trench. The actual digging was mainly done by Greek workmen, very good Greek workmen, and we went right down to the bottom during the season of five or six weeks. We went right down the 11 metres to the bottom of this trench and this gave us a wonderful sequence of materials including a lot of pottery and it was relatively little known at that time up there. So we did counts of the pottery using the sort of system that John Evans had been using at Saliagos and previously in his dig at Knossos, and so we got a really good sequence. We were able to divide the Sitagroi sequence into five or six phases and the stratigraphy was absolutely clear and then we got a very good sequence of radiocarbon dates. We were using sieving and then also water sieving so we got quite a few samples from every layer, and Jane was doing the expertise on the grain and quite often we got quantities of grain particularly from the - from the water sieving, from the flotation, and so we got good grain samples from every layer which Jane was able to do the species identifications and so on. And we sent these off and we decided to use two laboratories, which gives you a better statistical control and so we arranged to send some to the Berlin laboratory and some to the British Museum laboratory and we got a sequence of more than 20 dates which came out satisfyingly in the right order. In other words, the ones from phase one were earlier than the phase two, earlier than phase three, so you felt you were getting a good control there and if one date - one or two dates seemed to be off you could see that those were way off and so that really gave very clear documentation that Sitagroi I and II were sort of middle - Neolithic, Sitagroi III was Copper Age, like the Gumelnita culture of Bulgaria, like rather Karanovo VI with all the graphite painted ware. Then you had Sitagroi IV which was rather like the Baden culture, then Sitagroi V had resemblances with the Aegean early Bronze Age, so that gave us a very clear indication that stratigraphically we'd shown that the Copper Age of the Balkans was much earlier than Troy. And this was confirmed by the radiocarbon dates that were now coming through. Hans Zeus himself, the man with the calibration curve, visited us at Sitagroi so we had great discussions about the right way of calibrating the dates and so we got a good sequence of dates which, when calibrated, really confirmed this principle that the calibration really did show that there was something completely screwy about the chronological system that had previously been applied which, as we were saying, meant that the diffusionist assumption that everything came from the Near East through Troy and so on, was, in that particular case, mistaken. So that was really a very gratifying excavation, produced quite a lot of indications of early metallurgy, quite simple early metallurgy, but at that time it was the earliest metallurgy known in the Aegean and it confirmed the impression, which remains confirmed really, that copper metallurgy in the Balkans began earlier than the Aegean Bronze Age and actually was more dynamic even than such copper metallurgy as later on that turned out to be in the Aegean late Neolithic. So that was really an interesting and rewarding excavation.

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, 59 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2008

Date story went live: 14 May 2009