Life and Death in Ancient Southern Phokis, Greece
The Balkan Heritage Foundation and the Department of Archaeology at New Bulgarian University organized the BEMA Online Seminar in Balkan and Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology on Saturday, December 03, 2022. Guest lecturer Dr. Andrew Koh(Associate Research Scholar in NELC and PI of the Yale Peabody Museum Ancient Pharmacology & Medicine Lab), presented on the following topic: “Life and Death in Ancient Southern Phokis, Greece”
In 2018, a team of international scholars inaugurated the Southern Phokis Regional Project to investigate the cultural and natural environment of the Desfina Plain in Central Greece, motivated in part by the ongoing study of mainland interconnections with East Crete and the Levant during the dynamic Late Bronze – Iron Age transition in the eastern Mediterranean (Koh et al. 2020). The latest field season in 2022 built on that initial work and continues to draw upon a transdisciplinary blend of traditional, digital, and archaeometric methods to undertake a comprehensive archaeological, ecological, environmental, and ethnohistorical study of southern Phokis.
The Desfina Peninsula, a land bookended between Achaia and Boiotia as it extends into the Corinthian Gulf, has been characterized in recent history as a peripheral and nondescript pastoral landscape. Yet ongoing field studies suggest a more networked reality throughout time, a landscape that drew inspiration from adjacent regions while utilizing local resources to produce its own fine goods. This self-sufficiency was encouraged by prominent geographic barriers such as the Pleistos River Valley that naturally delineate southern Phokis from the rest of the mainland and encouraged the development of its own maritime connections via the nearby Mycenaean coastal acropolis at Steno with its fine harbors.
The ongoing study of southern Phokis continues to support our contention that the high plain of Desfina was more than a pastoral hinterland supplying surrounding centers with livestock. Kastrouli itself was a major center that transformed the Desfina Plain with ambitious engineering, architectural, and transportation works projects such as large-scale hydrological drains, stone quarries, Cyclopean-built road terraces, and other features reminiscent of major Mycenaean centers such as Orchomenos and Tiryns. Interactions between the Desfina Plain and the sea – evidenced by the exchange of luxury goods such as decorated pottery and seafood – attest to a level of social complexity and interconnectivity underestimated in the past. Despite being both literally and figuratively in the shadows of Mount Parnassos, the Desfina Plain is proving itself to be its own regional entity that not only was the likely home of Homeric Anemoreia with its harbor at Kyparissos (Iliad 2.521) but was also a land compelling enough to carve itself into imaginations across wide swaths of both space and time (e.g. myth of Sybaris).