Despite extensive early excavations by David Robinson, it is important to do new work at Olynthos for a variety of reasons. Modern scholars would like to address many questions which were not considered important in Robinson’s time, and which cannot be addressed using the information he procured. In recent years the potential of archaeology has greatly expanded, while its methods have become more diverse and rigorous. Robinson’s ‘legacy data’ offer excellent information about the architectural features of houses on the North Hill, but his team recorded almost no information about the stratigraphy of the site. This means that it is impossible to evaluate retrospectively the taphonomy of a room, or to undertake a satisfactory reconstruction of any of the buildings on the South Hill, which had multiple occupation phases.  At the same time, the number of artifacts Robinson’s team recorded from a single house can be as small as ten, and the work of the Olynthos Project has already shown that they tended to save imported fine pottery or metal goods, but to discard plain and coarse pottery, especially if it was locally produced. Finally, the kinds of modern scientific methods available today to evaluate the economy (archaeobotany, zooarchaeology, geochemistry), and to extend our understanding of the use of activity areas (micro-archaeology), were unknown.

A 3D model of the site, created by Andrew Fiasco

A 3D model of the site, created by Andrew Fiasco, University of Michigan

The Olynthos Project uses the full range of these techniques to build on Robinson’s work and to address new questions. We are exploring how Classical Greek cities worked, from the household to the city level. In the course of this research we also aim to test some of Robinson’s assumptions about the history of settlement at the site, using more up-to-date chronologies and dating methods. A variety of modern scientific techniques employed in household archaeology are also providing us with the opportunity to construct a clearer and more detailed picture of activities within a Greek household than ever before. At the same time, we are placing an increased emphasis on understanding how the residents of an individual household interacted more broadly with their neighborhood, district, city and region. The legacy data from the previous projects provide us with background information for this study, which together with the topography, settlement history and level of preservation at Olynthos, means that the site is ideal for such work.

We are addressing these topics at different scales through a range of sub-questions.  At the household level these include: What were the individual spaces in a house used for? How would the arrangement of those spaces have shaped the social interactions taking place in the house? What foods were consumed? Where did they come from? How were they stored and prepared? What kinds of goods may have been produced by the household?

At a neighborhood level we are asking: How similar and different were the organization of the houses, the goods produced, and the objects used in different parts of the city? How did the local facilities available to the residents of different neighborhoods compare? And ultimately, how was material culture used to craft social identities in different households and neighborhoods?

At the same time we are addressing unresolved questions about Olynthos as a city: What were some of the processes involved in its foundation and growth? What civic buildings were present and what can they tell us about the city’s political and religious institutions? What was the relationship between the city’s residential and civic areas and what was the extent of the Lower City? What was the character and length of occupation in the oldest neighborhood, the South Hill? How did a household in this area compare to one of those in one of the newer housing districts on the North Hill or in the Lower City?

The answers to these questions are coming together to provide a new, detailed, picture of households, neighborhoods and the community at Olynthos, which will help us understand how the city functioned as a social and political unit. This in turn will shed light on the origins and development of urban communities in Greece more generally.  Ultimately, the results of the Project will also contribute to cross-cultural inquiries about how and why urban communities formed and developed over time in pre-modern societies.  This promises to be an important contribution because such studies have traditionally excluded Greek examples, partly because of the lack of data recorded in sufficient detail.

The North Hill

The North Hill