Nemea Valley Archaeological Project
Cooperative Research at Barnavos, Ancient Nemea

Brief Report of Activities Conducted
June 30-July 25, 2003

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The goal of research in 2003 was to test for evidence of chamber tombs on both sides of the ravine at Barnavos. Work was divided between these two sides. On the west side, where a robbed chamber tomb was excavated in 2002 and where the property in which it is located had been purchased, three long trenches (EUs 25, 26, 27 on the accompanying map, Fig.1) were excavated. On the east side the entire field east of the agricultural road was tested using ground penetrating radar (GPR) and through two test trenches (Figs. 1-2, EU 29). All tests were negative for evidence of any archaeological remains.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

Fig. 3

The tests in EUs 25-27 were made using a JPL backhoe (Fig. 3). Each cut was carefully inspected and photographed. We cut through the topsoil and into the underlying sterile marl base to be certain that we had inspected below any area of possible human disturbance. No artifacts were found in any of the three trenches. After this work, each trench was backfilled.

In the east field, we secured permission from the landowners, Vassilis and Athanasios Skazas, to test. This permission was restricted to the fallow fields on the west slope that lie below an olive grove (Fig. 2). In the field we established a grid of 10 x 10 m. that ran perpendicular to the slope. This grid was used for the test lines for the GPR. Prof. Donald Barber of the Department of Archaeology, Bryn Mawr College, conducted the GPR work. Dr. Barber ran several tests where the underlying rock strata were evident, in order to establish a baseline for interpreting the data.

Figs. 4a, 4b

A total of 15 transects were taken with the GPR (Figs. 2, 4a). Most of them confirmed the profile of the underlying soil and bedrock. Several, however, showed anomalies that possibly corresponded to sub-surface depressions or adjustments to the form of the bedrock (Fig. 4b). These occurred in an area in the center of the field that was visibly lower, and we hypothesized that this depression might be that of a collapsed chamber tomb. After the GPR work was complete, we established a N-S grid and cut two trenches (EU 29, Figs. 1 and 5a-b) to test where we thought there might be an entrance (dromos) and the collapsed chamber (thalamos). These trenches were dug to the hard paleosol or caliche that caps the marl in the area. No artifacts were found and no trace of any disturbance of the marl and caliche other than the marks of a deep plow (Figs. 5a-b).

We conclude that there is little probability of there being any other tombs in the immediate vicinity of the robbed tomb in EU 21. The only area we considered likely, but were unable to test, was the east-facing slope on the eastern side of the ravine. This slope faces the settlement on Tsoungiza. There is no a priori reason to believe that tombs were located here, but some anomalies on the ground surface attracted our interest. Unfortunately, the conditions of the written permission of the landowners prevented us from sinking trenches in this area.

Fig. 5a

Fig. 5b

The single chamber tomb of LH IIIA2 date at Barnavos seems to be the only evidence of Mycenaean activity in this area. Why there is only one tomb is not clear and seems to contradict the impression that chamber tombs are found together as cemeteries. We propose two explanations. First, it may be that the ground surface and underlying bedrock were judged unsuitable for chamber tombs after the creation of this initial one. Alternatively, the tomb at Barnavos represents a single family that chose this area for burial, and subsequently no other members of this family or lineage (if they existed) chose to bury here. We find the first explanation less convincing, because it seems to us that residents of the area would have had sufficient understanding of the soils in the region to locate chamber tombs in places that were suitable to them. We prefer the latter explanation, since we do not accept the generalization that all Mycenaean cemeteries consisted of multiple chamber tombs. We think it likely that small settlements, such as at Tsoungiza, had multiple places for different residential or family groups to bury, and we conclude that while some of them may have had numerous tombs, others may have held few, even singletons, such as at Barnavos. We hope to explore these interpretations by a thorough review of the literature on the location of Mycenaean chamber tombs and by future excavation of the chamber tomb cemetery at Ayia Sotira, directly north of Barnavos.

Ancient Nemea
James C. Wright, Bryn Mawr College
Evangelia Pappi, 4th Ephoreia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities
July 24, 2003


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