Tuesday 26 January 2021

Greek Series: Despotiko Redux

The restored showcases of the Temenos:
The archaic temple (right) and hestiatorion (left)
a.k.a Cult Building A
Despotiko as at 2020

You may not have remembered, Dear Reader, or perhaps were unaware, that I spent a fortnight toiling like a navvy in the blazing sun a while back, doing my bit with the Lovely L to bring to light some of Greece's history. Despotiko, was our place of toil, and an unremembered Sanctuary to Apollo was the object. Earlier this month, the Greek online newspaper E Kathimerini put out an update on Grecian digs over 2020, so the time was nigh to bring Despotiko back to these pages.

The marble masons labours thus far on Cult Building A
Upon our first arriving to the site on Day 1.

Part of the deal in volunteering on an archaeological dig is that you are merely the willing hand and not the brains of the operation, and thus have no claim to any Intellectual Property arising from such an endeavour, so it's not permitted to put about any photos of the fruits of your labours. That is the privilege of the archaeologists who will later publish findings with the hope the world will be surprised and dazzled.

Seen, ahem, a bit closer to home,
A nugget of Naxian marble discarded by the masons.

Of course things move slowly in academe, but there has been a little put into the public domain that I thought to share with you today. First up, Lovely L revisited the Cyclades with her husband the following year and brought me back a little publication on the site of Despotiko:

Archaeologist Yannos Kourayos' 2018 publication
Following the 20 years of research he's thus put into Despotiko.

Behold, for we are in it!:

Week 1 we dug in Building M
Lovely L is in b&w in the middle of the central photo

Week 2 we dug in Building Z
Lovely L is toward the back in lilac and grey
Your Correspondent is in orange

Room Z again, Lovely L in lilac in bottom photo
Alongside one of the many trusty karotsi we necessarily befriended

And having a rummage on the Hellenic Republic's Ministry of Culture and Sports website I did find an image of something I am pretty sure we did dig from the ground in Building M during our first week, so feel it is probably* okay to show a couple of pics to you of its unearthing:

Ceramic pot almost ready to come out of the ground.

Your Correspondent holding the prize.
No, it wasn't cold, it was just necessary to cover every square inch of
Person against the ferocious sun and sandblasting wind. 

All cleaned up and recorded for study.

We did, naturally, find other Special Finds amongst the hundreds of potsherds and animal bones and whatnots, and if they ever come into the public domain I'll add my behind-the-scenes pics to the world, but I'll just leave you with another souvenir of our time in Greece, my sandals from a cobbler in Paros!

No colourful pedi, I'm afraid, as these are plague-times
And I have no talent for painting my own.

It has been scorching hot of late and I had moment when I was transported back to Greece when I realised I was wearing these sandals, the red skirt bought (from a charity shop - hurrah for St. Vinnies!) to take there with me, and the earrings you don't see, obv., which were another Paros purchase before coming home. So, Despotiko Redux on my person.

* And if it turns out to be not, then this couple of photos will vanish, obv.

And apologies for the shameless self-promotion with all the links in the first paragraph!

Image credits: 1: ekathimerini.com; 2-9, 11: Flying With Hands; 10: Hellenic Republic Ministry of Culture and Sports


  1. Oh, how lucky you are! I always wanted to be an archaeologist, at least until I learned it required lots and lots of study ($$$ that I and my parents didn't have) and not well remunerated. Went into a different field that has mostly collapsed due to "digital disruption" and where pay is in "exposure" rather than $$$.
    But you've given me an idea. With all the old ruins, even dinosaurs, around here, there are surely digs looking for volunteers. A possible exploit for another summer without travel?
    Am eagerly awaiting more Despotiko. Please do tell about the name. Despot?


  2. Surprise over surprise - you do not only write about art - you dig it up! Wow!

    Which makes me think of Agatha Christie: “They brought her (the Venus of Nimrod) in on a piece of sacking, a great mass of mud,” she wrote, when she went to Bagdad in 1928 after a divorce, there falling in love with archeologist Max Mallowan.

    Archeology is so much like detective work, visualised, isn't it?

  3. ToF: No $$ in archaeology, that's for sure, and the university kids toiling alongside us had parents who'd paid big $$ to send them from places like Argentina to toil like serfs in the sun, in order to get credits for their degree. I merely rode on the coat-tails of my best friend who'd studied but never practised archaeology and she negotiated for us grown-ups to pay our own way and do our two weeks, stretching a bit of credibility with my "relevant background". Many dig sites, according to tales told us, are dull and disciplined and act like closed shops but as we immediately discovered, any able-bodied person can do this. Definitely go for it! There are websites advertising digs that take on summer students and just try them all! ... Despotiko took this modern name in the 1750s and is named for its owners who were of a lordly persuasion, so yes despot in the olde sense.

    Britta: As I said to ToF, I was helping to fulfil the lifelong dream of Lovely L to actually Do Something with her degree. We do talk about whether we could physically do this again, now that a couple more years have been added to our creaking joints, but who knows? I've got the trowel now! ... AC certainly saw some incredible discoveries with MM, pitching in with gusto - and famously sacrificing face cream on finds. And yes, it really is detective work!

  4. this is totally - awesome!
    I am mad-jealous of your adventure

  5. I think we all have a craving to dig and find treasure. I would love to go on a dig like yours, where one is quite likely to find 'treasure', but I suspect that most digs are just tiresome, wet, and fruitless; not unlike the 'Time Team' TV show.

  6. Ur-spo: We sometimes need to pinch ourselves that we really did it! But we've the "souvenirs" and pics to prove it so.

    Cro: Oh, true! Like wannabe pilots flying in crazy places to get their hours up, so do wannabe archaeologists put in hard yards all over the world trying to catch the eye of a senior archaeologist and get a paid job, there's a lot of tedium, apparently. One Italian chap told me the worst place to dig was in England, digging in mud for weeks with nothing to show for it. Unlike where we were, where we had to sift through dozens of teeny fragments of marble, clay and bone in every trowel scrape, each needing washing, bagging and later documenting.

  7. How exciting for you both to have been involved in such an interesting archaeological dig, and then to be able to see the fruits of some of your labours as shown in 'Despotiko a journey in time'.
    Ancient archaeological sites have always held a strong fascination for me, I have visited many, but as a tourist and an onlooker.

  8. Rosemary: And I, also, cannot resist to visit sites when on holidays. Especially those belonging to civilisations long gone. So many questions, always!

    DID you bring a soil sample home with you as a remembrance?
    I did that from FIRENZE!!IT resides in an OLD GLOVE BOX!!!!!!!


  10. I am amazed ..... what a wonderful thing to have done. The nearest I get to an archaeological dig is doing a bit of gardening 🤣. .... mind you, I can guarantee that I will find a bit of Victorian pottery, a fragment of a china ornament or part of a clay pipe, every time I garden ..... not quite on your level though 🤣 XXXX

  11. Now and then dropping by via Andrew (Scott), for this and that reason the corners of my mouth start(ed) an expedition to my ear-lobes, so that, after all and despite my taciturnity that some evil contemporaries would call laziness) thought I ought to at least once leave a short com(pli)ment.
    Herewith done.

  12. Contessa: A tent?? No way, unless there was a very soft air mattress within to cradle the aching limbs at day's end. No, dirt, was not one of the souvenirs as too much familiarity with it gave forth determined scrubbing off the person, also at each day's end. I do have the odd stick-and-stone souvenir from past travels, but it's always risky business getting these things into our country ... All well here! xx

    Jackie: Gardening was my only training for this adventure! What I didn't add to Cro's comment was that although digging the formal sites in England are muddy, fruitless affairs, the exception is always to be found in every householder's garden! We do miss out on these gardening thrills in such a new country. xx

    Sean: Hullo! I'm very pleased that a bit of this-and-that did bring you out of the shadows, as it were. Thank you for your com(pli)ment! Like a bad hair day, dead-set laziness, ahem, taciturnity need never be mentioned around these parts.

  13. What a great adventure with pictures to document the experience. Your finds are impressive. Nice sandals too. Sounds like you will consider another dig...

  14. Susan: Thank you. We did get rather a thrill to find very occasional things vaguely recognisable among the majority shrapnel.They were officially called Special Finds! Another dig? I suspect by the time it'll be possible to travel to far-flung lands for such activities, I doubt our ageing bodies would be able to cope anymore.

  15. I have only visited two active archaeological digs, one in Israel and one in Jordan. The treasures are well worth examining, as we can see in your ceramic pots, statues etc. But I don't like dry deserts and dusty coughing conditions, and I do prefer having the treasures cleaned, identified and written up. Thank you, museums :)

  16. Despotiko must have been a handsome place--as of course, what Classical place wasn't? What an adventure to be in on the earlier part of the excavations/restoration. I hope you had ample time to to wander around and explore the site.

  17. Jim: It certainly was an adventure! There wasn't much time to explore, we being constrained by the ferry schedule, nor was there much at this early stage to see, but one day I'd like to go back. It's about to be opened to tourists this year. Who knows what will be unearthed over the coming years?

  18. Who is the Lovely L? And painting your own toenails is no great skill Pip, you just do one great flourishing brush stroke and hey presto you have a beautifully painted toenail.

  19. Rachel: Lovely L is my best and oldest friend, from uni days. And the toenails still need a steady hand to paint them to not look like a five-year old did them! It should have been something to practise during the plague, I know, but maybe I'll put it on the list for this year :)

  20. The picture of the pot in the ground gave me a real thrill, (and I wasn't even the one who found it.) Imagine uncovering something like that after all those centuries! Wow.

  21. Jenny: Oh, yes! A little crowd collected as it got down to the final lifting from the ground, after a positive age of delicate scraping and sweeping! You just never knew if the underside would be intact on any of the finds since the avenging pirates who completely wrecked the site did a magnificent job.


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