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Southern Euboea Exploration Project, Greece

Michigan involvement: 1996, 2000, 2002, 2005


Donald Keller, The American Center of Oriental Research
Malcolm Wallace, University of Toronto


Early Bronze Age site of Aghios Georgios, today covered by an electrical plant.

The Southern Euboea Exploration Project (SEEP) is a multidisciplinary research project in the region of ancient Karystia on Euboea, the second largest island of Greece. Well known from classical texts, the political region of Karystia controlled a vital link in the system of maritime trade routes and was home to an international sanctuary to Poseidon. Until the 1980s, however, the area was terra incognita archaeologically: only three places had been tested by excavation, and surveys had catalogued fewer than ten sites. Moreover, the archaeological record for the prehistoric occupation of southern Euboea was a virtual blank.

In order to document the archaeological remains from this understudied region in Greece, SEEP conducted a three-year (1984–1987) intensive survey of the Paximadhi peninsula, a largely barren 22-square-kilometer area west of the bay of Karystos. Further work was carried out in the territory east of the bay in 1989, 1990, and 1993. The survey has now located and recorded more than 300 sites (concentrations or scatters of finds) dating from the later part of the Neolithic to Turkish times (ca. 4000 BCE–1820 CE), traced several premodern routes in the rugged interior around the eastern bay, and conducted two salvage excavations of classical sites.

Michigan's efforts concentrated on the approximately 20 prehistoric findspots spanning the end of the Neolithic to the middle of the Early Bronze Age (ca. 4000–2500 BCE). Although the sample of prehistoric sites is small, distinct settlement patterns can be detected. Ridge tops and southern slopes, near springs, appear to have been the preferred locations for settlement during the Final Neolithic, while the Early Helladic inhabitants selected coastal settings. The single Middle Helladic site is set inland on a prominent hilltop. To the extent that sherd and lithic scatters can determine size, it would appear that the prehistoric sites are generally quite small. Close ceramic parallels, particularly with the island of Keos, and the abundance of obsidian from the island of Melos suggest that southern Euboea was part of a larger network of communication and exchange that included at least the Cyclades and Attica. No longer seen as an economic backwater in prehistoric times, southern Euboea must now be viewed as supporting a number of small, early sites that had close contact with contemporary settlements in the Cyclades and the mainland.

Unfortunately, recent modern development has gradually obliterated much of the region's archaeological remains. Large tracts of land, formerly reserved for farming and grazing, are now being rezoned for hotels and summer houses, and the construction of a new sewer plant has buried at least one known prehistoric site under several meters of sand.