1996 Season

Excavation was undertaken during a seven week season, from 15 May-5 July, under the direction of Prof. Joan B. Connelly. The team of twenty comprised eight professionals, five graduate students and six undergraduates and included archaeologists, conservators, paleo-osteologists, architect, draftsman, photographer, registrar and computer programmer. Team members included Americans as well as citizens of France, England, Holland, Belgium and Cyprus.

Following three seasons of excavation (1992-1994) of the Hellenistic complexes at the a western end of the island, this season's work represented the first in a three year campaign to be focused on exploration of the eastern end of Yeronisos. Here, a series of hydraulic complexes including a cistern with large semi-circular collecting basin and a square reservoir were investigated. The goal of this season was to excavate, record, photograph and draw the architectural complexes at this eastern end, in order to understand better how the vital problem of water collection and storage was dealt with by the ancient population of Yeronisos. As the island lacks a fresh water source, the development of technologies to collect water was of paramount importance populations wishing to utilize and develop the space.

The cistern was found to measure 4 m. in depth and roughly 2.65 m. in diameter; it is carved into the bedrock and reinforced with stones set in the wall facing covered over with water-proof cement. A sump was sunk into the floor of the cistern to allow for the settling of silt, a provision to keep the collected water clean. Approximately 80 cm. of fill were removed from the cistern, including quantities of modern bird and rat bones, as well as two goat skulls. These have all been saved, and the earth sieved for additional faunal remains, for systematic study by Dr. Paul Croft, University of Edinburgh's Lemba Archaeological Project. This collection of this material will contribute significantly to the ongoing ecological study of the island.

Also retrieved from the cistern was a Medieval scraffito ware bowl (13th century A.D.) and a late antique amphora, representing the latest use phase of the cistern. The collecting basin that serves the cistern measures approximately 13 m. in diameter and comprises 107 large paving slabs of calcarenite stone, set in a semi-circular concave depression, directing water flow down into the cistern. The entire construction was originally covered with water-proof cement. Pottery unearthed in association with the use phase of the cistern and its basin dates to the 6th century A.D. and later, though it is possible that the construction phase of the complex was much earlier, perhaps during the late Hellenistic period. Cisterns and collecting basins of this type are much more at home in the western desert of Egypt than in the Greek world, and may represent here the introduction of technologies developed for desertsurvival into this Mediterranean island ecomony context.

To the northwest of the cistern a square reservoir, roughly 4 m. to each side, is cut some 4 m. deep into bedrock, reinforced with stones set along the interior face and covered with water-proof cement. Some 25 tons of debris were removed by hand from the interior of the reservoir which was cleared in its southeast quadrant down onto a fine water proof cemented floor. Material on this floor dates the use phase of the reservoir to the 6th century A.D. Some idea of the original roofing of the structure can be ascertained from a number of curved ashlar blocksfrom an arch as well as from quantities of small blocks that seem to have made up a vault. This extraordinary discovery of a large stretches of a collapsed vaulted roof, still held together by its original mortar is highly significant for our understanding of developments in early Chrisian architecture. As the disposition of these blocks within the fallen debris preserves the original lines of the construction, we have the opportunity here to record and lift the material with the intention of future reconstruction of the vaulted roof.

A large polygonal terrace measuring roughly 14 m. X 11.5 m. is built up against and respecting the lines of the reservoir at its northern face. Though the function of this platform is as yet unclear, its construction date in the 6th century A.D. is assured by ceramic finds from the construction level. The foundations of the platform show superb masonry of large and small cut stones, dry laid in beautifully organized sequence. The current working hypothesis is that this platform served as an impluvium for the collection of rain water which would then be directed into the reservoir, much as the semi-circular collecting basin served the cistern to the south.

Investigation of the hydraulic technology of Yeronisos opens a new and highly significant chapter in our exploration of the island. The vaulted roof, collapsed onto the floor of the rectangular reservoir has been left in place until next season for recording and lifting under the supervision of a team of experts in ancient architectural reconstruction and ancient hydraulics.

A Pi-shaped rubble wall, only one course deep, was unearthed stretching from the southeast corner of the raised polygonal platform, towards the cistern, and then turning west towards the reservoir. It terminates at one of two column drums, set on a diagonal axis between the cistern and the reservoir. The wall seems to postdate the platform; the function of the structure it defines remains unclear though it is oriented with respect to both cistern and reservoir and postdates both. At the southwest corner of the raised platform a large unfinished mill stone, carved from the native calcarenite rock, sits on topsoil. Ceramic evidence from this area again dates to the 6th century A.D. Though the function of the stone remains unclear its very presence suggests industrial activity: grain grinding, olive pressing or food preparation of some sort.

Beneath this entire area and resting directly on bedrock was found an ashy level containing Chalcolithic material; it seems to represent dumped debris from a number of hearths. Animal bones, many undecorated and a few decorated Chalcolithic body sherds were unearthed here, along with a spout from a large pitcher, and a serpentine bead. This represents some of the most extraordinary Chalcolithic material found to date on Yeronisos and suggests that by the late Chalcolithic, Yeronisos may have been something more than just a fishing post, perhaps a settlement and very possibly the site of a shrine.

Moving to the very center of the island at the northern edge, work was resumed in the vicinity of the circular enclosure that was discovered in 1994. This enclosure is comprised of a simple two course rubble wall defining a space that is roughly 13 m. in diameter. The function of this structure, which appears to be a retaining wall rather than a load-bearing wall, remains unclear. In 1994 a female burial was found just to the southeast of the enclosure wall at a lower level. We had hoped this season to uncover more burials in this vicinity, but none were found in the 5 X 5 m. trench that stradled the circular wall and extended to the southeast. To the east of this structure, a second and very well built foundation at a much lower level defines a major wall running north-south. Pottery associated with this wall is Hellenistic in date.

The 1996 season expands our understanding of the history of Yeronisos by revealing a new phase in its occupation, that of the early Christian period. Three previous excavation seasons (1992-1994) concentrated on unearthing the late Hellenistic complexes at the western end of the island. Beneath these structures, Chalcolithic material including pottery, flints and stone tools were recovered. The exploration of the 6th century A.D. hydraulic complexes at the eastern end of the island represents a new and exciting chapter in the island's history.

The Yeronisos Island Expedition remains committed to the preservation of the ecological integrity of the site. Therefore, the thirteen trenches opened this season were backfilled to allow regeneration of vegetation, assuring continued nesting sites for the resident bird population. A percentage of earth removed has been saved for water flotation and recovery of ancient floral and faunal material, allowing for the study of the island's ancient ecology as well. The fine cement floor of the reservoir was covered with a geotextile protective surface prior to backfilling; arch and vault blocks have been protected on site with natural covering.

All work has been recorded by ground and aerial photography, as well as by architectural drawings and plans. A major accomplishment of this season is the establishment of the Yeronisos Island Expedition Database which now holds records from four seasons of excavation, including all inventoried and non inventoried finds, features, pottery, stratigraphic units, and the photographic log.
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