This past summer, Dr. Kristin Harper of the modern and classical languages department had the opportunity to join an archaeological expedition in Greece. Harper was invited by a colleague from her graduate program to join a dig that she works every summer on the island of Naxos. She served the excavation as a trench supervisor from the end of May through early July. This wasn’t the first dig adventure for Harper. She received her doctoral degree in classical studies with ties to archaeology and inscriptions. The focus of her research was Italy, where she’s previously worked on an excavation, but Harper had never been to Greece. Naxos is the largest island in the Cyclades and has mythological connections to Zeus and the story of Dionysus and Ariadne. As an instructor of classical myths, Harper was eager to visit these original mythological settings.
The Naxos project’s focus is the site of a potential religious sanctuary on a mountain peak. Originally, the goal of the excavation was to find evidence from the Paleolithic era (10,000 to 4,500 BCE). However, evidence was found in 2019 that points towards the site being a sanctuary from the Minoan civilization that existed from 3000-1000 BCE. Before this discovery, the island of Naxos was thought to be abandoned during the Neolithic era. The publication of these discoveries is set to release in December of 2021, so many details of the group’s findings are still unreleased.
Harper maintained a full schedule for the duration of her trip. Monday through Friday, the group would wake up at 6:00 a.m. to hike to the top of the mountain. They used trowels in shallow trenches and sifted through the soil looking for evidence of bronze or charcoal. During the dig, Harper was in charge of teaching a small team of students about excavation. After digging, the group would nap before moving onto the paperwork duties of their project. They would also use a testing process called floatation with all their collected samples where dirt is separated by what sinks and what floats. Once the samples dry, they are further sorted through residue analysis. Harper mentioned that the documentation of the day’s findings had to be very meticulous, since “archaeology is a destructive science.”
On free days, Harper spent her time exploring the island, visiting archaeological sites, and looking into personal research. Some of the sites she visited included a temple to Demeter, a temple to Dionysus, and the Panagia Drosiani, the oldest Byzantine church still in use. The whole group visited a quarry where ancient sculptors used to work on Kouroi statues. If any mistakes were made in the statues, the artists abandoned them in the quarry, where they still stand today. Harper also visited Mount Zas, the tallest mountain on the island and the highest point in the Cycladic Islands. A cave at the top of the mountain is regarded as the birthplace of Zeus and a site of early archaeology on the island.
“I feel like I’m a time traveler going back in time and connecting with these people in some way.”—Dr. Kristin Harper
During the trip, Harper and the group built a strong connection with the local community. They lived in the village Tripodes in a house specially designated by the Greek government to host guests for special cultural activities, like archaeology or an artist in residence. The group ate at a local taverna every night and took many trips to see the pharmacist after getting sand in their eyes. Harper mentioned that she doesn’t speak Modern Greek, so she was able to pick up a lot of the language in town.
The excavation team was made up of students from all over, as extensive experience wasn’t required. Harper emphasized that excavation teams are fairly accessible to students. Students start at a field school, most of which require fees. Scholarship opportunities are available through the Archaeological Institute of America or individual field schools. The Naxos project will likely continue next year and Harper wants to send more Missouri State students. For students interested in other excavations, the Missouri State anthropology department offers trips to the Southwest.