Monday, March 26, 2018

The MH/LH Site 'Ayios Athanasios' (C397) near modern Thouria

A correspondent recently asked me for more detail about C397 which McDonald and Simpson identified as a potential habitation site near a church of Athanasios near Thouria in Messenia.  This gave me a chance to rethink my placement of this site; it's a good example of the hideous mess that a sketchily written description and slip-shod maps can create.  First let's go to the record:

In Messenia III we read this: "A small round knoll with a little barn on its summit rises about 200 m. NE of the chapel of Ayios Athanasios (bearing from the site to the chapel 225 degrees).  The modern village of Thouria (to be distinguished from ancient Thouria #78), on the main highway about 2 km. S of classical Thouria lies some 700 m. to SW of the site (bearing to the village church 257 degrees).
Obsidian chips and a few sherds of coarse "oatmeal" ware occur on the W terraces below the barn.  The total extent of the settlement was probably not more than 100 m. N-S by 60 m."[1]

In McDonald and Rapp [1972] it appears in Register A as site no. 139: "Thouria: Ayios Athanasios, 800 m E; 200 m NE of chapel of Ayios Athanasios.  Low knoll (barn on summit).  HAB. CEM? Frags. of obsidian; ..."[2]  There's a little more in the notice but that gives the gist of it.

This little 'settlement' reappears in Simpson and Dickinson [1979]: "A small settlement (maximum 100 m. N-S by 60 m.), marked only by obsidian and coarse pottery, on a hill c. 200 m. NE of the chapel of Ayios Athanasios and c. 800 m. E of modern Thouria village."[3]

Lots of good consistent information.  What are we looking for?

a. 200 m. NE (45 degrees) from the chapel of Ayios Athanasios.

b. From the village church of Thouria it is on a bearing of 77 degrees.

c. About 700 m. NE of modern Thouria.

Where is 'Ayios Athanasios' and where is the 'village church' of modern Thouria?  If we knew those things then we could find the site.

We should consult a map at this point in order to see where we are.

Modern Thouria and region.  From Topoguide

Here is the modern town of Thouria which is just a few km. NW of Kalamata in Messenia.  North of the town is a church labelled 'Aghios Athansios' (Arrow A).  This is too far north of Thouria to be the Ayios Athansios referred to by Simpson et al.  The church intended by our authors to be understood as Ayios Athanasios is at arrow B and I'm going to show that that must be the case in just a moment.  I should just say here that I have not been able to find the specific name for that church (B) from any of the sources that I have consulted.

Now let's take a look at the town of Thouria itself.  Perhaps we can identify the other 'village church' that Simpson mentions.  In this image from Google Earth I have marked three  prominent churches in modern Thouria.  The one to the left (C) is Hagiou Athanasiou (yes, another) and the one to the right (A) is Hagioi Theodoroi Thourias.  I have not been able to find the name of the large cemetery church at B.

I list the positions of these churches in tabular form:

A. Hagioi Theodoroi Thourias, 37.084460°,  22.051255°
B. Unnamed, 37.085319°, 22.047446°
C. Hagiou Athanasiou, 37.084310°, 22.047087°

Which of these did Simpson refer to when he talked about the bearing from the MH site being 'to the village church 257 degrees'?

In this next picture I've drawn 77° (257 - 180) azimuths from each of the three churches.

Simpson's 'Ayioi Athanasioi' at B

We know that the site is on one of these azimuth lines.  It must also be 200 m. to the NW of a church called 'Ayios Athanasios'.  The only church structure that fits that 200 m. constraint is at B.  Here is what it looks like when we put it all together:

Here I assemble all the constraints.  The church intended by Simpson et al. to be understood as 'Ayios Athanasios' is at B.  The circle is of 200 m. radius and centered on B.  The straight line from B is on an azimuth of 45° (NW).  These three constraints, the straight line constraint from Hagioi Theodoroi at A, the straight line constraint from the church of 'Ayios Athanasios' at B, and the distance constraint (the circle) centered on B, all come together at C where I've placed the site with high confidence.

How do I know that the church at B is what Simpson and others intended to be understood as 'Ayios Athanasios'? 

I don't. 

But it's the only church that fits the constraints.  Informants tell me that there are at least four churches in the Thouria region that are named for the saint.  Whether the church at B really bears that name is uncertain.  It may actually bear that name (or may have in the 1950's - 60's) or Simpson may have been misinformed about it.  If any of my readers know more about this then I would very much like to hear.  In the meantime that's my story for C397 and I'm sticking to it.

C397 is placed at 37.085266° N,  22.055458° E
Church at B, 'Ayioi Athanasioi', is at 37.084185° N, 22.053902° E

I haven't updated my on-line database to reflect this new information since March 21 so the online description of C397 won't agree with this post quite yet.  I won't update the DB for another couple of days.

Simpson and others have thought also to identify a cemetery nearby.  I'll deal with that next time.


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[1] Messenia III, p. 160, no 79B. 'Ayios Athanasios (Thouria)'.

[2] McDonald and Rapp [1972], p. 288. This is Register A, UMME no. 139.

[3] Simpson and Dickinson [1979], 163, no. D 139 'Thouria: Ayios Athanasios'.

McDonald and Rapp [1972]: McDonald, William A. and George R. Rapp, Jr., The Minnesota Messenia Expedition: Reconstructing a Bronze Age Regional Environment, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota.  USA. 1972

Messenia III: McDonald, William A. and Richard Hope Simpson. 1969. 'Further Explorations in Southwestern Peloponnese: 1964-1968'.  American Journal of Archaeology. (73:2), pp. 123-177.

Simpson, Richard Hope and O.T.P.K. Dickinson,  A Gazetteer of Aegean Civilization in the Bronze Age, Vol. I: The Mainland and the Islands, Paul Åströms Förlag, Goteborg. 1979.

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