Our first few days of digging held a surprise for us: miserable weather. Those of us in the field had to contend with low temperatures, high winds, driving rain, and even occasional hail. Who thought we’d need to pack raincoats and polarfleeces for a summer in Greece? But there was probably a reason that Zeus the storm-god wasn’t known for his constancy.
At the Ash Altar, where the wind can be fierce even on the sunniest of days, blowing ash and icy fingers made screening the soil difficult; gusts also posed a challenge for the survey team. In the Lower Sanctuary, where the trenches are deeper, the rain made for messy digging. We came through the first few days smiling, though, and the rain and cold soon gave way to the dry heat of a typical Greek summer.
By Sunday, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for our first weekend excursion, a 2-hour hike from our site to the Temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassae, visible from the top of the Ash Altar. When we arrived, project co-director Mary Voyatzis treated us to an overview of the site’s important features.
As Mary explained, the structure visible today, which is remarkably well preserved, dates from about 450 BC and was designed by Ictinus, one of the architects of the Parthenon. The temple stands out architecturally for many reasons, including its north-south orientation (most Greek temples run east to west) and the presence of all three major orders of column, Doric, Ionic, and even one Corinthian capital, the earliest known in Greece. The friezes from the temple, which depict the two famous battles of Greeks with Amazons and Lapiths with Centaurs, are now in the British Museum.
From Bassae, we continued by van to the seaside resort of Kalo Nero, where we enjoyed a Greek lunch of saganaki, calamari, and other traditional mezze (small plates). We ended our outing with a dip in the Ionian Sea.
Our workdays are long—we typically have breakfast at 6:15, leave for the site at 6:45, and return for lunch at 1:30, then work in the lab or return to the field in the afternoon—but we do manage to squeeze in some extra-archaeological activity. A running group, the Striders, is organized by co-director David Romano, who regularly competes in both the Penn Relays and in the Modern Lykaian Games, held in our site’s hippodrome. Three times a week, we meet for runs, often demanding given the high altitude and steep hills, but the views across Arcadia from the north face of Mt. Lykaion make the effort worthwhile.
In the evenings, Nicky Pasterfield has been offering a series of Modern Greek lessons, equipping us with the phrases we need to greet the residents of our village courteously and to get along during our shopping and dining excursions to Megalopolis. On some evenings, we even find time to unwind on the village plateia with a drink and a backgammon board.