Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Ancient Music: A Panoply Interview with Aliki Markantonatou

We're delighted to be talking to Aliki Markantonatou, an artist and music teacher based in Athens, in Greece. Aliki trained at the National Music Academy before specialising in ancient style music. We recently had the pleasure of working with her when she recorded Sappho Fragment 44 for the Our Mythical Childhood project. Aliki talks to us today about the lyre, ancient music, and cross-cultural collaboration...

1) What attracted you to ancient Greek music?
I studied piano and Western music, but I was feeling that I was missing something. Soon, I started listening to our traditional music and ethnic groups from all over the world. It was back in 2004 that I came across the lyre, and started experimenting and, a little later, playing my music on it. The need to use poetry arose and the ancient Greek poets, such as Sappho and Alkman offered me amazing lyrics of beauty. But the turning point was when I met Dr Chrestos Terzes and I realised that, yes, the ancient sound can be approached and reproduced. I was also lucky enough to attend three short seminars with Dr Stefan Hagel, and since then my interest in ancient Greek music became realistic, and not just wishful thinking. My mother is a passionate Classicist and the lullabies and fairy tales she was narrating to us were all fragments from Homer, Aesop, lyrical poetry and so on. I think that this was crucial for me to feel that antiquity is close to my heart.
Above, Aliki and other musicians at a performance of the Orphic Hymn to Hera at the Heraia festival at the Pythagorion, Samos 2016.

2) You create many projects and collaborate with different musicians. Could you tell us how you work together with other musicians and what you do?
I feel very lucky to have met so many amazing musicians and personalities because of the lyre. I participate regularly with the Lyre ‘n’ Rhapsody female ensemble, and I've performed and recorded music with Turkish musicians, Chinese, Swiss and Indian among others. The way I view the lyre is that, besides ancient Greek music, it can exist in harmony with all kinds of traditional instruments and it can be integrated in modern soundscapes. What I usually do is to study the style of the musician I am going to collaborate with and the scales of the tradition that he or she carries. The lyre is very flexible in tuning. Once I tune on the right notes, I am ready to follow and exchange musical phrases with the other artist. My main focus is to create a conversation between the instruments. As for Lyre ‘n’ Rhapsody, that is my main band, all of us create music and we work on Greek traditional songs, ancient poetry set to music and fresh compositions.

3) Your recording of Sappho 44 for Animating the Ancient World within Our Mythical Childhood has been such a great success. How did you work with Professor D'Angour's score to create the sound-scape?
That was really an amazing project, I enjoyed every moment of it! Professor D’Angour did the arrangement for the first verse, and offered me through Skype and emails all the information I needed to proceed and set to music the other three verses. He sent me the text explaining word by word the rhythm that was hidden in the vowels, the notes of the scale I could use, the proper pronunciation and instructions of what I should avoid. In the same time, he was open to my ideas and was very helpful with all the questions that arose. When I finished the first recording I sent to him and I still remember the relief I felt when he answered, yes, everything is in place….Then it was just a matter of making it really a nice piece, and I would like to thank here the amazing sound engineer Nenad Radosevic, who is always next to me with patience and ideas.



4) Could you tell us a bit about the lyre that you play?
The lyre I play is made by the luthier Nicolas Bras, who is famous for his excellent violins, cellos and all kind of repairs on instruments. It is a pretty long one, closer to varvitos (or barbitos) sound than the lyre. It has a large soundbox and 12 strings. For ancient pieces I use only 9 strings. For Greek traditional songs and other kind of music 12 strings are very helpful. I tried many combinations of strings and it took me some years to find the ideal one. I use guitar strings for the high notes and gut for the lower. It is a vintage, for sure, that can be arranged according to the project. I use a cardio mic for concerts and usually I attain wonderful sound. Still, when I can play in a place with natural amplification, such as churches, I prefer no mics.
Above, Aliki Markantonatou with her lyre.

5) With Lyre n' Rhapsody you collaborate with Meet Culture in a cultural exchange between Europe and China. What have you learned from each other?
This cultural exchange has been so deep. I could never guess the depth when it started. We were invited by Miao Bin and Eley Yuan, the founders of Meet Culture, to participate in a crossover album. Their close friend, Jang Jing, a world famous Guchen (Chinese santoor) musician received as a gift our first CD, Awakening of the Muse. She shared with us that she was playing it repeatedly until she made up her mind to visit Athens with Jang Di - an amazing Xiao flutist - and record with us. We were listening to their music for some months to get in tune; and when they arrived, we were ready. The recording happened in 5 days. We recorded 20 tracks, all of them beautiful. We chose the 10 best for the album Aegean. We learned that language is not important, just flow with the sound, trust the moment and play when is needed. We learned that we share the same dreams and can enjoy friendship with a glass of wine having Greek or Chinese food. A strong bond developed and the feeling of family is there when we meet. We joke with each other, share our problems and help and support each other. Meet Culture organised a tour in and around Shanghai for all of us and two performances in Athens. The joy of that trip and the wonderful people we met is beyond words. Elegance, care, passion, generosity, kindness to name a few. And then another surprise occurred! Discussing the poetry of ancient Chinese and ancient Greek poets we found so many things in common, we could not resist. We created a performance in which ancient Chinese and Greek poems interact, one after the other in a dialogue of similar ideas and values. It was not easy to do all this translation, but was worth it, and I can assure that you can find many poems in similar forms between these two nations.
Above, the poster for Meet Culture's celebration of ancient Greek and ancient Chinese music and poetry.

6) Who's your favourite ancient Greek?
What a wonderful opportunity to praise Pericles!!! As an Athenian woman I enjoy Acropolis energy and light! Athens wouldn’t be what it is if the area around Acropolis did not exist. It would be just another town… But, now is an amazing town!!! When I feel tired or sad, I just stroll around Acropolis and feel refreshed and encouraged - thanks to this wonderful soul who managed to challenge the citizens to create this beauty! Thanks to this wonderful soul who offered equality to his spouse Aspasia, and respected democracy, I am enjoying my life in Athens, me, one person out of million people who live here and are showered by the grace of the golden ages. I am always amazed by what Pericles inspired in so many generations!


Many thanks to Aliki for these fascinating insights. Below you'll find some further examples of Aliki's performances and her interview with a Greek lyre-maker working with traditional techniques.


Above, from the 2016 Aegean Music Tour in China.

Above, Meet Culture's Greek and Chinese collaboration on a performance of The Iliad.


Above, a Meet Culture interview in which Aliki Markantonatou talks to lyre-maker Yiannis Stathakos in Xerokampi, near Sparta, about traditional lyre-making techniques.

You'll find more videos of Aliki's performances on her website: https://www.alikimarkantonatou.net/videos
and on Meet Culture's site: https://www.meetculture.com/media

Sunday, 25 April 2021

New Animation Extravaganza!


Hooray for new animations! We are delighted that we have new animations for you – all the videos made for the Our Mythical Childhood project are now online! You can find them on their own page on the Panoply website: http://www.panoply.org.uk/omc.html . There are five new vase animations: Sappho 44, Heracles and the Erymanthian Boar, Dionysus, Libation, and Iris- Rainbow Goddess. There are two mini-documentaries: About Sappho 44 and About Heracles, and a brand new recording of Sappho 44 sung in ancient Greek by Aliki Markantonatou according to the score written by Prof. Armand D'Angour – a version of the tune that the poem would have been sung to in antiquity. You will also fine a wealth of bonus material – information about the vases and the animations, downloadable information and activity sheets, and PowerPoint presentations to help integrate the animations into lessons and lectures. We hope you have fun exploring these resrouces and trying them out.

Above, Panoply's Sonya Nevin concentrating hard during the online launch of the Our Mythical Childhood animations and Panoply's new partnership with the Cambridge Schools Classics Project.

Many thanks to everyone who attended or spoke at the launch event for the videos. In addition to introductions to the videos, we heard from Our Mythical Childhood Principal Investigator Professor Katarzyna Marciniak, from Lisa Hay, Olivia Gillmann and Rob Hancock-Jones on their pioneering teaching with Panoply vase animations, and from Head of CSCP Caroline Bristow about where the OMC animations, videos and other resources can fit into the UK and Irish curriculums. It was great to see lots of positivity and creative teaching practice.

This event also marked the launch of our new partnership with the Cambridge Schools Classics Project - a long-standing organisation at the University of Cambridge committed to supporting classics teaching. In due course, CSCP will be hosting our website - it will remain at the same www.panoply.org.uk address but will get a revamp and some extra materials. More on that as it happens. All the Our Mythical Childhood materials will soon be available on the Our Mythical Childhood website too – where you'll also find links to the other supercool projects under the OMC banner.

As you've reached the Panoply blog, I'm going to take the opportunity to point out some of its highlights. You can explore simply by scrolling through or using the Labels on the right of the page, but to jump straight in, you might fancy:

Ancient pottery meets ancient theatre, an interview with Dr Rosie Wyles

On Greek Myth Comix, by classics teacher and comic-maker L.E. Jenkinson-Brown

Symposiums, an interview with vase king Prof. Sir John Boardman

On Ancient music, an interview with Prof. Conrad Steinmann, who provided music for the OMC animations Dionysus, Libation and Iris.

You'll also find discussions of events, vases, and other art related to classical culture, such as:
Black and White Andromeda - a discussion of the representation of the Princess of Ethiopia, from ancient vases to modern young people's literature.
Happy Birthday Panoply - a potted history of our adventures with vase animations.

The Force Awakens Greek Vase Scenes - a look at Star Wars-Greek Vase fan mash-ups.

A big thank-you to everyone who has contributed to creating the Our Mythical Childhood videos. We hope you have a great time using them.

Thursday, 11 March 2021

New Talks, New Animations, New Books


Good news vase fans! Lots of interesting things coming up. It is finally the time to launch online the new animations that we've been making for the ERC-funded project Our Mythical Childhood... The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children’s and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges. They'll be launched at a free online event on Saturday 24th April. This event will be an interesting and enjoyable affair. Along with the animations there'll be short talks about them, presentations from teachers who have been trialling them in the classroom along with their bonus resources, a performance of ancient music, and a chance to see the short 'About' videos that accompany the animations. Registrations can be made here: https://www.teaching.cambridgescp.com/animating-ancient-world. Pop back here soon (or keep your eye on our FB page) for more info on the schedule.

You might notice that the booking page is a University of Cambridge address – that's because (*drumroll*) the Panoply Vase Animation Project is going into partnership with the university's Cambridge Schools Classics Project (CSCP: https://www.cambridgescp.com/). They've been supporting classics teachers for many years and we're pleased that this partnership will help us to help teachers more than ever. Our website will be migrating to CSCP (still at the same web address tho), so look forward to a new layout and cool new materials. In anticipation, here's the Iris animation, which got a forward release:



There will be an even earlier opportunity to hear Panoply's Dr Sonya Nevin talking about 'Beauty and Heroism' in the animations. Sonya will be giving a talk at 4pm GMT Wednesday 17th March as part of the University of Reading's Heroic Beauty: Beautiful Heroism series. The link to the talk and info about other talks in the series can be found here
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In other good news, Sonya's book, Military Leaders and Sacred Space in Classical Greek Warfare is coming out in paperback after going down well in hardback. It's published by Bloomsbury and available at: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/military-leaders-and-sacred-space-in-classical-greek-warfare-9781350247130/. Take a look! This coincides nicely with Sonya completing her second book - a deep dive into the Battle of Marathon - why it happened, what happened, and how it influenced society in the weeks, years, and then centuries after the battle. More on that as things unfold, and a high-five to everyone at Bloomsbury who have been so supportive during the writing of the book.

Hope to see you at the talk on Wednesday and for good times in April.

Friday, 23 October 2020

Black History Month – Black and White Andromeda

This month I had the opportunity to contribute to an Our Mythical Childhood discussion of black history and classical reception in young people's culture, organised by the University of Roehampton's Professor Susan Deacy. It was an easy choice for me to decide what to focus on – Olympians – a series of graphic novels by New York artist George O'Connor – a series which has been one of the highlights of my work on the Our Mythical Childhood database of antiquity in modern young people's culture. And within OlympiansAndromeda!
Andromeda is a mythical Ethiopian princess, making her one of the explicitly non-Greek named characters of Greek mythology. She's best known for being offered up as a sacrifice to the sea monster, Ketus, and being rescued by Perseus. Andromeda features quite frequently in modern children's literature, but it is noticeable how often she is depicted as being white. In this post we'll look at the dual traditions of black and white Andromeda and at George O'Connor's refreshing depiction of her.
Above, one of many white Andromeda's in modern children's literature - this one from Usborne's Sticker Greek Myths, fair-skinned and red headed.

Above, Tom Kindley's Heroes of the Night Sky is hugely creative although nonetheless Andromeda is depicted as very fair-skinned and blonde.

Depicting Andromeda as a white woman can be seen as a missed opportunity to feature a diversity of skin tones and ethnicities in the representation of ancient Greek culture. Modern illustrators are not alone in doing this however; it's part of a long tradition of white Andromedas, largely begun by ancient Greek vase painters. In this example below, we can see that the vase painter has prioritised the convention of depicting women using white slip, even when applying it to Andromeda, princess of Ethiopia. The ancient Greeks' concept of Ethiopia does not exactly correspond to the modern nation state of that name. They imagined Ethiopians living at the far regions of the earth in both Africa and Asia – where the sun sets and rises. Nonetheless, they did conceive of the Ethiopians as dark skinned (and extremely attractive) - even the name 'Aethiops' implies dark skin.
Above, a 6th century BCE Corinthian depiction of Andromeda (far right) rescued by Perseus (centre), with Andromeda's skin picked out in white slip as it would be for other women in that period. Vase now in the Berlin Altes Museum, F 1652

Ancient Greek vase painters were more than able to depict black Africans when they wanted to. Numerous vases include depictions of black Africans. Sometimes they're shown doing something; sometimes the vase maker focuses on the person's head, drawing out contrasts in appearance. Some of these approach caricature and are not very nice, sometimes they're more respectfully done and rather beautiful.
Above, an Athenian kantharos, c.500BCE, Boston Museum of Fine Arts 98.926. This form of cup with two heads is known as 'janiform', here two women.
Above, an Athenian jug featuring the head of a male African youth, 4th century, Metropolitan Museum
Above, an Athenian pelike featuring a black African youth leading a camel, executed in red figure. Vase in the St Petersburg Hermitage.

Despite this ability to depict black Africans, Andromeda is not the only Ethiopian who Greek artists seem to have avoided depicting with that appearance. Memnon, King of Ethiopia, who fought at Troy is typically depicted as looking like the other lighter-skinned heroes, or his face is avoided altogether. The master painter Exekias depicts him on this vase with his helmet obscuring his face, standing between two African servants.
Above, a black figure amphora by Exekias, helmeted Memnon with black African servants, British Museum 1849,0518.10, © The Trustees of the British Museum

We can also see that even once black figure went out of style, and with it the use of white slip to depict women, Andromeda is not represented as a black woman although she is dressed in Asian trousers:
Above, an Athenian red-figure hydria (shoulder section) c.440BCE, preparations to sacrifice Andromeda, who is sporting Asian clothing. British Museum 1843,1103.24 © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Above, an Athenian red figure pelike by the Niobid Painter, c.440BCE. Andromeda offered for sacrifice, clothed in Asian trousers, accompanied by Africans depicted in black slip with white slip clothing. Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 63.2663.

Vase art and the art of mosaic makers, painters, and writers all influenced how people thought about Andromeda. By the time we reach the 1st century CE, the Roman poet Ovid was referring to Andromeda's white 'marble statue' body (Metamorphoses, 4.676). Heliodorus in the 3rd century CE went even further – the entire plot of his novel hinges on the Ethiopian princess being unexpectedly white. Heliodorus' Aethiopica and Ovid's Met were to have a huge influence on Renaissance painters and their vision of white Andromeda shaped later traditions around the princess. These are the origin of the white Andromedas in modern children's literature.
Above, one of many white Andromeda's, this one by Volpato after an earlier painting by Polidoro Caravaggio (c.1497-c.1543). As is frequently the case in images of this subject, Andromeda's white body is contrasted with the dark background of the rock.
Above, Edward Burne-Jones in the 19th century followed the same tradition, making much of the contrast of light and dark in his Perseus Series. Southampton City Art Gallery.

This is not the only tradition available to follow. Traditions around black Andromeda are however a bit of a mixed bag. In antiquity, we find a writer discussing black Andromeda and that writer is.... Ovid! The writer who contributed to traditions of white Andromeda also wrote about her elsewhere as a beautiful black woman. In Heroines and The Art of Love she is explicitly said to be dark skinned. This was not always taken up in a positive light, however. The Christian Fathers, early writers on Christian theology and philosophy, followed this tradition but used it to establish a connection between Andromeda's dark skin and human sinfulness. Dark Andromeda is human sin; fair Perseus is the symbol of Christ coming to the rescue with salvation. So far, so racist. Some Renaissance artists were also aware of this tradition, yet they didn't adopt its racist implications and instead they depicted a black Andromeda without the symbolic baggage of the Church Fathers. They were, however, inclined to hark back to the early idea of dark skinned Andromeda being Asian rather than African. We can see this not through the Persian clothing that we saw from Greek vase painters (Renaissance artists prefer a nude); we see it in her conspicuously long, straight hair.
Above, A dark skinned Andromeda, contrasted against the pale rocks, by Abraham van Diepenbeek, 1655.

This look at the background provides a context for thinking about the depiction of Andromeda in O'Connor's Olympians. She features most in the second volume, Athena - Grey-Eyed Goddess. When we first see Andromeda, she's chained to the rocks with the monster approaching. She's a beautiful dark skinned black woman, with her curly hair cropped short and a white dress on – the colour Ovid says that she preferred to wear because the colour looks good against her skin. She is frightened then, out of the corner of her well-lashed eye, she spots Perseus flying in to the rescue. The sea monster is turned to stone, and from just behind Andromeda we see Perseus politely introduce himself to her. Then we get the close-up of her endearing radiant smile, accompanied by a flash of gold from her earing. This is a positive depiction of her as a beautiful black African woman. The framing of the myth is also very positive. The narrator notes that while Perseus had a lot of help to carry out the Medusa mission, his decision to help Andromeda was his own choice and it proved his genuine heroism. We get an update that they fell in love, married, and moved to his homeland. She's not an automatic prize; it's a love match.
Above, the first glimpse of Andromeda in George O'Connor's 'Athena', 2010.

Above, scenes of Andromeda's rescue in George O'Connor's 'Athena', 2010.

Andromeda also features in O'Connor's Hera - The Goddess and Her Glory, the third installment of the Olympians series. Hera focuses largely on the Labours of Heracles. In discussing Heracles' origins, the narrator notes that Heracles' mother, Alcmene, was the granddaughter of Perseus and Andromeda, who are depicted at the famous rocky shore. While this is mythologically true, it's a connection within Heracles' background that is very rarely drawn attention to. You could read an awful lot about Heracles without finding reference to the Ethiopian element of his ancestry. This aspect of Heracles' background is also framed very positively in the text. There is explicit reference to Perseus and Andromeda founding many of the great cities of ancient Greece and forming 'the mightiest royal family in antiquity'. The greatest hero owes plenty of his greatness to his fantastic great-grandmother, Andromeda. Nor is Heracles white-washed in the Olympians series; it’s a series that features a wide range of skin tones and Heracles is amongst the darker toned heroes, presumably in reference to his part-Ethiopian heritage.

Above, Heracles' lineage includes his mighty great-grandmother, Andromeda.

This whizz through art history has been a reminder that the ways in which we think about ancient figures are influenced by long and complex historical processes. All artists have agency, however, and choices get made. George O'Connor's Olympians series gives us a positive interpretation of Andromeda which celebrates her legendary beauty, her blackness, and her legacy within Greek mythology. When we think about diversifying the Classics, whether in the classroom or in children's publishing, one simple yet powerful step is to honour the Ethiopians who have always been part of it.


Some references:
Elizabeth McGrath, 'The Black Andromeda', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 55 (1992), pp. 1-18.
George O'Connor, Athena, FirstSecond, 2010.
George O'Connor, Hera, FirstSecond, 2011.

Monday, 20 July 2020

Tracing the Potter's Wheel! A Panoply Interview with Dr Jill Hilditch


In this latest interview we're delighted to be speaking to Dr Jill Hilditch, Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Amsterdam. We're getting super up close with pots! Dr Hilditch is the Principle Investigator on a research project at the Amsterdam Centre for Ancient Studies and Archaeology (ACASA): Tracing the Potter's Wheel. Investigating Technological Trajectories and Cultural Encounters in the Bronze Age Aegean (2500-1200BCE) https://tracingthewheel.eu/. You're in for a fascinating read finding out how archaeologists go about their analysis of the world of pots...

1) How can an archaeologist tell where a pot came from?
Whether it’s your favourite tea mug or a 5000 year old wine goblet in a museum, all ceramic pots are essentially made from clay and water (with a few occasional additives!). These clays are the naturally occurring weathering products of many different types of rocks and sediments, and it's this link to the geological environment that allows us to study where a pot came from. We use microscopic and elemental analysis techniques developed within geology to identify the tiny bits of weathered rock and minerals within the ceramic paste and try to see if these components match the geological environment where the pot was found. By establishing local compatibility with the sediments and rocks at a site, we have a solid basis for making our interpretations on whether that pot was made locally or was imported. Finding out where potential imports come from relies upon finding a suitable match with published ceramic fabrics from other sites. Of course, humans always complicate things and making a clay paste suitable for producing a pot often means altering the geological sediment. This can be done either by adding temper to the clay, or fining the natural clay through crushing, sieving or water settling (levigation). All these human behaviours affect the appearance and contents of a ceramic fabric but, luckily, we’ve also got quite good at identifying these important behaviours in the manufacturing process!

Above, Jill getting stuck into some microscopic analysis.

2) How did people make pots before the invention of the potter's wheel and what is it that the wheel offers that tempted potters to make the switch?
Before the wheel, ceramic pots were built by hand. Perhaps the most ‘low-tech’ method of all is the pinch method, where a potter takes a lump of clay, makes an indentation with their thumb and then uses a pinching motion with their thumb and forefinger to push the clay into the desired form. Several other hand building methods use this pressure principle but achieve it with a range of different tools, such as paddles and anvils, or you can shape or mold the vessels around other pots to create similar shapes or standardise the size of the pots. One of the most common hand building techniques we see in prehistory is coiling, where coils or snakes of clay are rolled out and then stacked on top of each other to build the pot. These coils are then joined together by pinching before being smoothed to create the wall.

Studies by Valentine Roux and colleagues working on the Near East from the 6th and 5th millennia BCE show that the use of a rotating device for potting first appears in combination with coils. This use of rotative kinetic energy (RKE) would have helped with the addition of coils, as well as the thinning and shaping of the walls of the vessel, allowing the potter to be stationary rather than ‘orbiting’ the vessel. This is why we refer to early pots as ‘wheel-fashioned’ because the invention of the potter’s wheel did not go hand-in-hand with the innovation of wheel-throwing: the first use of rotating devices was not to ‘throw’ a pot from a solid lump of clay but to help fashion or finish a coiled rough-out of a vessel. The rough-out was placed onto a wheel head (those that have survived in the archaeological record are made from stone or fired clay) which could rotate in a socket in the ground or a raised pivot. Unfortunately, there is scant material evidence for most of the devices used for potting in the past, probably because many of the components for the wheel device were made of wood and other organic materials that have not survived in the material record.

Above, Dr Caroline Jeffra from Tracing the Potter's Wheel transforming coils into pot (https://tracingthewheel.eu/research/experimental-component/ )

So, we're left with an interesting puzzle – why did potters switch from hand building to wheel-fashioning techniques and how did the innovation of wheel-throwing emerge from these beginnings? A common argument is efficiency: simply put, the potter’s wheel allows potters to produce more vessels in a shorter timeframe than hand building techniques, thereby laying the foundation for increased production levels and labour specialisation. This is perhaps true for wheel-throwing, but the use of a wheel to fashion or finish a coil-built rough-out is remarkably difficult and would have, initially at least, represented a greater investment of time for skill acquisition and tool creation by the potter. There is also an argument that the wheel afforded the production of better-quality vessels too, though anyone who has ever seen the eggshell-thin vessels of Kamares Ware alongside the crudest of wheel-coiled conical cups on Crete may disagree! Our project decided that it was perhaps a good idea to investigate which shapes were made using the wheel, as well as which wheel-based method and by whom (were these locally trained or itinerant potters?), in order to shed new light on this puzzle.

3) Your project is examining the transmission of knowledge of the potter's wheel – how was knowledge of the potter's wheel transmitted?
Our Tracing the Potter’s Wheel (TPW) project focuses on the use of the potter’s wheel within the forming stage of the ceramic production sequence. This sequence, known as the chaîne opératoire, is used by archaeologists to consider the choices (deliberate or unconscious) made by the potter throughout the entire manufacturing process. The chaîne opératoire goes from raw material sourcing and processing to create a suitable paste, through to the forming technique, the surface treatments applied to the formed pot, and the final firing process. The choices made by a potter are a window into their social and cultural context, as the gestures, skills and know-how the potter needs are learned by watching, copying, and participating with their peers in the production process. This group is called a community of practice and they are identified through the similarities in the production sequence, which are materialised in the pots they produce. Archaeologists are becoming increasingly aware that these shared practice-through-knowledge groups can be traced in the material record, opening up new possibilities for tracing technologies such as the potter’s wheel.

Above, a charming example of Minoan pottery.

Some of this know-how is easier to learn than others; for instance, decorative styles can be transferred by simply watching another potter at work, or even recreated from seeing one of their finished pots. For the forming stage this is often a much harder process: not only is the method of making the pot invisible in the finished vessel but so are necessary physical gestures and the tool-kit too. For this reason, the transmission of the potter’s wheel is one of the surest indicators we have for potting specialists interacting with one another for sustained periods of time. This is why it is so crucial to determine if a wheel-made pot was produced locally, or simply imported from another production unit, because we need to establish if a person with that skill-set was working at the site where the vessel was found. If we are ever to explore how the wheel emerged as a technological innovation, and how it spread between these communities of practice through time, then we need a clearer understanding of who was using it, where and in what way.

Above, Minoan pottery with bonus octopus.

In the case of the Bronze Age Aegean, the appearance of the wheel was considered as two potentially independent events, connected to two different horizons of intensifying cultural contact. The earliest identified horizon of wheel use appears during the later Early Bronze (EB) II period (c. 2500-2100BCE), known as the Lefkandi I/Kastri phase, widely thought to indicate increased trade in metals between social groups in the Aegean and (predominantly) western Anatolia, where the potter’s wheel is known to have already been in use. In the later transition, from the Middle Bronze (MB) to the Late Bronze (LB) period (1800-1600BC), the potter’s wheel is considered as a technology of the Minoan culture of Crete, spreading beyond the shores of Crete as part of a package of technologies indicating growing Minoan power and influence, the so-called ‘Minoanization’ of the southern and central Aegean region. Our project has recently reassessed diagnostic traces of wheel use within late MB and early LB Cretan, and non-Cretan but ‘Minoanized’ ceramic assemblages (collections of ceramics found at the same site) – we've shown that the combination wheel-coiling technique continues to dominate the ceramic record. This would indicate that wheel-throwing is necessarily a later technological development than LB I within the Aegean. This transition from wheel-coiling to wheel-throwing remains poorly understood in Aegean archaeology and beyond, yet is critical for investigating how knowledge of the potter’s wheel was transmitted between communities of practice.


Above, Jill introduces the project in a short video.

4) What approaches have you taken to find that out?
The TPW project has brought together an experimental archaeologist (Dr Caroline Jeffra), a digital archaeologist (Loes Opgenhaffen) and me, a ceramic fabric specialist, to investigate the transmission of the potter’s wheel in the Bronze Age Aegean. Caroline has carried out a systematic programme of experiments to explore the macrotrace evidence for wheel-coiling and wheel-throwing in the Bronze Age Aegean. She designed and produced a ceramic type set to improve our ability to differentiate between these two specific wheel use strategies and then applied the results to the study of archaeological ceramics from the Bronze Age Aegean. This enabled her to establish the range of diagnostic traces associated with each specific wheel-forming technique. Using a Dino-Lite digital microscope, I recorded the ceramic fabrics of the wheel-made vessels (identified by Caroline) to determine which vessels were compatible with local production and which were imported to the site under study. Loes has also been busy using a DAVID structured light scanner to make 3D models of the experimental pottery typeset and reproducing some of these vessels in macro form through 3D printing to serve as teaching aids. Loes’s 3D models, alongside Caroline’s macrophotographs of wheel traces and production videos of the experimental pots, as well as my fabric photomicrographs, form the core of our dataset that we want to share with other archaeologists interested in studying the potter’s wheel.

Above, Caroline Jeffra (l) and Loes Opgenhaffen (r) at work on Tracing the Potter's Wheel.

Sharing really is the key word here because we quickly realised that no single research team would be able to generate enough data within the timeframe of a government-funded project to fully understand the trajectory of the wheel in the Bronze Age Aegean. Faced with such a dilemma, we decided to focus our efforts on creating a tool-kit for other archaeologists so that they could generate their own datasets and contribute to a collaborative effort to address this large question of the potter’s wheel. We're going to publish instructions for our methods, and user manuals for the equipment we have used, to ensure compatibility of results generated by different individuals and teams in different places. In this way, we want to start a crowd-sourcing effort to solve the potter’s wheel puzzle.

Above, Minoan pottery from Akrotiri on Santorini once again showing command of shape and a flair for decoration featuring the natural world.

5) Tell us a bit about how your research is being visualised.
One of our main goals is to produce an open-access digital resource that enables other archaeologists to use our visual data, not only for learning how to recognise wheel traces but also guidelines on how to produce their own visual datasets which can then be uploaded and shared. As none of our team are database experts, and our data is so visual in nature (and also large in size!), we are working with a data consultancy team to build our own tailor-made digital data platform. We've already generated massive amounts of photographs of the archaeological pots we're studying, as well as production videos, 3D models, and more photographs of the project’s experimental pots. If we manage to secure the appropriate permits from the Greek Ministry of Culture, we also hope to supplement our platform with 3D models of key archaeological vessels, to highlight the challenges in spotting and interpreting macrotrace and ceramic fabric information, and to create a useful research resource for everyone interested in the potter’s wheel.

For now, we've been posting our annotated 3D models of the experimental pots on SketchFab , as well as discussing many methodological aspects of our techniques on our project website. Last autumn we were invited to take part in the Heraklion Museum’s Daedalus exhibition, which focused on the technologies associated with this mythical craftsperson, including the potter’s wheel. Our team designed a series of installations exploring the visual aspects of our techniques and created a hands-on touch table filled with experimental pots and 3D printed replicas to allow museum visitors to engage with our research. Without a doubt, it was one of the hardest but most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, both as a team member on the TPW project and as an archaeologist – after all, who puts on an interactive exhibition with no archaeological material in possibly the best archaeological museum in Greece?!

Above, Tracing the Potter's Wheel at the Heraklion Museum’s Daedalus exhibition.

6) You've done some fascinating jobs in some interesting places. Could you tell us a bit about that and about what subjects you'd recommend for people interested in getting into archaeology?
I started off with a joint degree in archaeology and geology and soon found that ceramics were the perfect mix of both fields. It also helped that ceramic petrography (laboratory-based microscopic analysis of ceramics) was a valuable skill to have, as I could work in any period and region that had ceramic objects as part of the archaeological record. For my PhD I worked on ceramics from the amazing prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri on Santorini, a site with an unbelievably rich material record preserved by metres of volcanic ash (think Pompeii but 1500 years earlier). I've also been privileged to take part in the excavations and surveys of the island of Keros and the major Early Bronze Age settlement and maritime sanctuary of Dhaskalio-Kavos. Since 2006 I have been trying to work out where all the pottery on that tiny marble islet came from and it remains one of the most important and enigmatic sites in the Aegean. Working at so many projects over the years has given me an enviable perspective on the ceramic fabrics of the Cyclades and my mobility as a researcher (hello Greece, Canada, the Netherlands, the UK and then finally back to the Netherlands again) has meant that I've rarely struggled to find research projects, for which I count myself extremely lucky. I can already hear several colleagues thinking loudly about where the results of some of those projects are, but it will all come out eventually, I hope!

Above, Jill checks ceramic finds at Akrotiri on Santorini in Greece.

For those wishing to enter archaeology today, it is difficult to offer a one-size-fits-all solution. There's no doubt that modern archaeology straddles the sciences and humanities fields, which means from social science, anthropology, classics, linguistics and sociology to materials science, biology, ecology and chemistry, not to mention computing technology and heritage studies – there's a path into archaeology for almost anyone! The best archaeological science is undertaken by those who not only understand the potential and limitations of their techniques, but can also anchor their methodology within archaeological theory, which means studying archaeology at university should be considered as an option by anyone interested in the field. Commercial archaeology is also growing in a number of countries to supplement local and national government sanctioned work. In some cases those companies offer valuable on-the-job training and support those who'd like to supplement their skills with further and higher education archaeology courses. Maybe as a university lecturer I'll always see the value of this environment for awakening curiosity and developing systematic research skills. Did I also mention that most Dutch universities teach in English and are substantially cheaper to attend than some UK universities?

7) What's your favourite ancient Aegean artefact?
Besides pots?! Hmm, this is too difficult to answer definitively so I’ll mention an object category I’m excited about at the moment – textile loomweights made from clay. Some of these objects occasionally look like owls, snakes or smiley faces (especially the discoid ones) but where they really interest me is their composition, of course! Weaving and textile production has long been assumed to be a locally-based domestic industry in prehistory, yet if we study these objects from a ceramic fabric perspective, we can see that they, like pots, have been made in different places, from different clay pastes, and were moving with people across the prehistoric landscape. I had exciting plans to work with a good friend and colleague, Joanne Cutler, on her ideas about textile worker mobility in the Bronze Age Aegean but sadly she passed away a couple of years ago and those plans were postponed. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to picking up this thread again (pun intended) with other colleagues in the future and showing the importance of Jo’s work in this area.

Above, a collection of ceramic loomweights from Late Minoan Crete (c.1600-1200BCE).

Many thanks to Dr Hilditch for sharing these insights into how ceramic analysis is done and how it can illuminate wider social behaviours. It's also been inspiring to see how the Tracing the Potter's Wheel is combining different expertise and creating resources that will enrich the whole archaeological community. Below you'll find some short videos by Tracing the Potter's Wheel featuring pots being made, an introduction to petrographic analysis, and a presentation by Dr Hilditch describing the work of the project in a bit more detail. You might also enjoy visiting the Tracing the Potter's Wheel blog , which features all sorts of interesting discussions, including Why Do Archaeologists Study Pottery?.

Above, throwing a pyxis pot.

Above, Petrographic analysis explained.

Above, a short talk in which Dr Jill Hilditch introduces the exhibition 'Tracing the Conical Cup' at the Netherlands Institute at Athens.

Monday, 4 May 2020

New Animation! Iris - Rainbow Goddess

Animation time vase fans! We're delighted to share the first of five cracking animations made as part of the Our Mythical Childhood project . Below you'll find some info on Iris and on how the animation was made, but first, buckle-up for Iris – Rainbow Goddess!



Iris is a messenger goddess. She carries messages from one god to another, especially messages from Zeus and Hera. She has wings so that she can fly fast and far. When she flies, she leaves rainbows in her wake, streaking across the sky! That's where rainbows come from. Awesome!

The ancient Greeks were always on the look-out for unusual natural phenomena – they could be a sign sent by a god. In sunny Greece, rainbows are even more unusual than they are in rainy northern Europe. Iris was often called 'storm-footed' , because storms came with her as well as rainbows. As rainbows are unusual and linked to the coming of rain and storms, ancient Greeks thought that they could even be a sign of war approaching (e.g.Homer, Iliad, 17.547 ). The poet Hesiod said that Iris was a sister of the terrible Harpies (Theogony, 265)! Still, she had a job to do and you don't hang around when you're carrying a message for Zeus or Hera! In an age when we can send messages near and far so easily, it's good to be reminded how amazing the idea of super-fast messages would be.

Above, the pot that Iris – Rainbow Goddess was made from - a hydria in the National Museum in Warsaw, in Poland (number 142289).

The pot that we made the animation from is an Athenian hydria, or water carrier, from c.450BCE. Iris is shown as if she has just landed, or is just about to take off - her knees are slightly bent, her wings up. In her hand she carries her herald's staff – the sign that she is a messenger. Her wings have been positioned very cleverly so that they fit onto the shoulder of the vase.

Above, Panoply animator Steve gets a good look at Iris at the National Museum in Warsaw.

You may have noticed – the animation also features a first for us – it's a 3D vase! We measured the dimensions of the vase carefully, then re-created it in 3D. Once we had the digital vase, the animation - made from the original vase's decoration the way all our vase animations are made - was added as a layer onto its surface. The cracks that the vase has suffered and had repaired over the years were also added back onto the vase as a layer.

Above, the vase began life as a pillar.

Above, the pillar was manipulated to match the vase dimensions. A room was created to house it.
Above, Iris is invited to the vase! Note the rainbow in her eye to draw out the Iris-eye iris connection that exists in English (and some other languages) - the iris is the coloured part of your eye which controls how much light gets in.

For the soundscape of the animation, we hear rain and the beginning of a storm – perfect conditions for Iris. With it you hear the sound of aulos pipes, played by ancient music specialist, Prof. Conrad Steinmann.

In the future, Iris will have her own page on our website along with the other Our Mythical Childhood animations. We're in the process of making some changes to the website, so for now, if you'd like to download some fun activities to do with Iris, please head on over to her page on the Our Mythical Childhood website: http://omc.obta.al.uw.edu.pl/iris

Create your own Iris with the activity sheets on the Our Mythical Childhood page.