Saturday, January 7, 2017

Tholos in a Landscape. Gritsa Hill (C1280)


The Mycenaean complex of the Gritsa Hill habitation in what is now Phthiotis has been known since the early 1950s.  It is a little hill of about 54 m. rising directly above the Bay of Pteleon.  I show it in Illustration 1.  This bay faces the southern tip of Magnesia to its east; the northern tip of Euboea is just to its south.    By my measure the surface is about 7 hectares (Simpson gives the size as about 5.4 ha.); there is a spring at its NE base, it dominates the beautiful and protected bay of Pteleon and, on both north and south, there are large cultivable plains. In short, an ideal location for a town.  Sometime during the Iron Age it became the site of Pteleon but even before that, during the prehistoric period, it was already a Mycenaean habitation.  According to Simpson:

"Mycenaean and earlier sherds were found on most of the top surface of the hill, ..."[1]

And there are what look like simple Mycenaean tholos tombs directly to the west at the very foot of the hill.  In the next illustration I show the hill as it appears from the south-west.

Illus. 1.  Gritsa Hill from the south-west.   Habitation was on the top.  Interment area
was at the west (left).  Modern road at left runs behind the hill.

My concern today is the tholos and other tombs to the foot of Gritsa hill to the west.  Pelon says this:

"Situation: Five tholos tombs have been explored in the area of the acropolis of Gritsa which is the site (qui porte les restes) of the ancient Pteleon.  Four of them are grouped at the foot of the acropolis, towards the north-west, not far from a 'magoula' which contains the ruins of a Middle Helladic habitation."[2]

So.  Four tholos tombs at the north-west foot of Gritsa Hill with a fifth to be named later.  First let's look at the site as I've reconstructed it from Pelon.

Illus. 2  The Interment area of Pteleon.  It is at the foot of the habitation hill on the west.

In this illustration I have recreated the interment area of ancient Pteleon as best I could.  I followed Pelon's description:

"... tholos B is 20 m. to the east of this 'magoula', in the area of the Middle Helladic tombs, tholoi C and D are some 60 and 90 m. towards the north-west and, finally, tholos A is some 50 meters to the south-west of tholos C."[3]

Pelon uses the term 'magoula' for the Gritsa Hill.  A magoula is a habitation mound, mostly or entirely formed from habitation layers over many generations.  Magoulas are numerous in Thessaly; usually they are originally Neolithic.  But Gritsa Hill is not a magoula; just a naturally occurring hill.

I have located the several tholoi in illustration two based on what can be seen in the aerial photograph as well as Pelon's directions.  They are:

Name           Key no.        Latitude         Longitude          Error Term in m.     Date (from Pelon, 251)
Tholos A     C1689          39.023105 N, 22.947358 E              20                    LHIIIA2 - LHIIIC1
Tholos B     C1304          39.023257 N, 22.948664 E              10                    LHIIIC1
Tholos C     C1687          39.023423 N, 22.947771 E              10                    LHIIIB - LHIIIC
Tholos D     C1688          39.023507 N, 22.947621 E              15                    LHIIIC

There's a fifth tholos which Pelon calls 'Tholos E'.

There's just one problem.  I can't locate it.

Pelon describes tholos E like this:

"The fifth tomb which, according to Hope Simpson, may be considered as constituting part of the same group, is built on the summit of a little hill to the north of the neighboring village of Ayios Theodoros, at a place called Metaphio."[4]

Let's back out a little and look at the whole area:

Illus. 3.  Gritsa Hill from the south.  Pteleon Bay (E) to the right.
 Just south of Gritsa Hill is a junction.  The main road continues on to the little town of Ayios Theodoros.  The branch road, coming to the center bottom of Illustration 3, goes on to the town of Achilleo which sits on the edge of Pteleon Bay.  At that junction are two signs.  Sign A, labelled 'Mycenaean Tholos Tombs' points back to the interment area of Gritsa Hill which I was just discussing.  The other sign, Sign B, is labelled 'Mycenaean Tholos Tomb' (notice: singlar) and points south down the main road towards Ayios Theodoros.

I show Sign B (39.016862° N, 22.944132° E) in the next illustration:

Illus. 4.  Facing S to Ayios Theodoros (3.6 km. distant).  The sign is 'Sign B' from illus. 3.
It reads: "Mycenaean Tholos Tomb".
Here we're looking down the road to the south from the junction in Illus. 3.  From here it is 3.6 km. to the church outside Ayios Theodoros.  The sign is pointing south; it says 'Mycenaean Tholos Tomb'.   This is definitely the Tholos E mentioned by Pelon simply because there are no other candidates.  By a fortunate coincidence Google Street View is available for this whole stretch.  I have been down the entire length yard by yard and there are no other visible signs.   So where is 'Tholos E'?

I'll let Simpson tell it:

"A small tholos tomb was excavated here, about 2 km. northeast of Ayios Theodoros, to north of the road, and overlooking Gritsa and the bay of Pteleon.  It contained Mycenaean pottery ..."[5]

So, we're looking for:

a. a small tholos tomb,
b. 2 km. northeast of Ayios Theodoros
c. North of the road
d. Overlooking the hill of Gritsa
e. Overlooking bay of Pteleon
f. On the summit of a little hill
g. Place called 'Metaphio'.  (... au lieu-dit Métaphio.)

Now, insofar as point g is concerned there is no trace of such a place.  The name appears in the iDAI gazetteer but without a location.  The compiler of that DB did not take the trouble to find out. From Topoguide I learn that the neighboring ridge to the north-west is called 'Ornio'.  The ridges towards the north-east of Ayios Theodoros (and half-way to Achillio) are called 'Dhrosia'.  But Topoguide gives no name for the little ridge which I have chosen (see below) so that Topoguide is not inconsistent with the possibility that that ridge is called 'Metaphio'.

Illus. 5.  Positions of the ridges Ornio and Dhrosia to north of Ayios Theodoros.
From Topoguide.

As for criterion b we're in the usual position of not knowing whether the distance is measured from the center or the closest edge of the town or, even, if the compiler intended the distance to be straight-line.  I drew a 2 km. line along the main road from the northern edge of Ayios Theodoros.  It looks like this:

Illus. 6.  Two km. line from Ayios Theodoros back towards the junction

As we'll see, this line ends far beyond the spot which I have chosen as the most likely.  We have to proceed inductively.  A small tholos excavated some fifty or sixty years ago is not now going to be visible.

I have, however, a secret weapon in the attempt to find tholos E.  I have a map (from Pelon) of the actual tholos along with the ground surrounding it.  Here it is:

Illus. 7.  Map of tholos E from Pelon[6]

Obviously I've made some changes to this map.  I rotated it so that north is at the top of the page which makes it easier to compare to other map products such as Wikimapia, Google Earth, and Topoguide.  I've added some notes in red.  The tholos is in the center and there's an opening on the west which confirms that we have the map oriented in the right way.  The north branch of the compass arrow is labeled (I believe) 'B' for 'βόρειος' or 'north'.  It actually shows the tholos in a little valley; the ground rises to the upper left and right; that is, to the northwest and the northeast.  I interpret this as rising ground because, if not, then what's depicted here is a ridge with the sides scooped away (like facing quarries) and that's just not the way the hills in this area are formed.  I make the assumption that the strong road drawn at the bottom is the main road from Ayios Theodoros to the junction.  Now all we have to do is find a patch of ground that resembles what we see in the map.  The map shows that the ground rises on both sides of the tholos so that it sits in a little valley.  If points d. and e. are true then the hill of Gritsa and the Bay of Pteleon must be visible to the north.  If the map is correct then f. is false because it is not shown sitting on the summit of a little hill.  The map does, however, lend support for c. because it shows the tholos on the north side of a road.

On this entire road the only location I see that fits these criteria is at

Illus. 8.  Proposed location for Tholos E with reference to map in Illlustration 6.
There are many things to be said for this location.  First the proposed location sits at the bottom of a small valley between rising ground to the E and W.  The road segment looks more like the sketch map than any other part of this road.  There's even a small field trail on the left (W) side approximately as shown on the map.

Illus. 9.  Proposed location of Tholos E with view to north.
In Illustration 9 I show what this would look like from above the ridges.  The position of Tholos E is marked and I've placed the letter 'o' in the closest position which would allow a view of Pteleon Bay and Gritsa Hill (which are also labelled).  From the position I've given to Tholos E to the letter 'o' is a little over 100 m. in a straight line.

As I said, this location satisfies most of the criteria along with the map.  I give the tentative information for tholos E as:

Name           Key no.        Latitude           Longitude          Error Term in m.     Date (from Pelon, 251)
Tholos E      C1689        39.006459° N   22.932909° E               50                         LHIIIA2

Objections could be raised for this proposed placement of mine.  For example the road as shown in the sketch map in Illustration 7 is oriented NE-SW (It is shown oriented, perhaps, 60°).  In reality the segment of road I've chosen is oriented slightly NW-SE (about 101.8°).   These little sketch maps may not always be the most accurate guides.  In my previous post on the little stone circle at Manesi there was another, more serious, example of such a rotational inaccuracy.

That's my best shot.  I could easily be wrong about this so if you know better where this little tholos is then please write to me.  I'm bobconsoli 'at'

You can also just leave a comment at the bottom of this post and I hope you will.

And, by the way, thank-you to all of my faithful readers in 2016.  I wish all of you a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

If you like this post please follow me on Twitter.  I'm squinchpix.
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[1] Simpson [1981], 'H 11 Pteleon: Gritsa', 164.

[2] My translation.  Pelon [1976] '41. Pteleon', p. 248.

[3] Pelon [1976] '41. Pteleon', p. 248.

[4] Idem.

[5] Simpson [1981], 'H 12 Pteleon: Ayios Theodoros', 164.  See also Ålin [1962] 146, 'Ajioi Theodoroi'.  "A town in the neighborhood of Pteleon.  On a little hill just north of the road, two km. before the town, Verdelis excavated a tholos tomb which had no relieving triangle.  It contained six burials and ceramics from the LHIIIA."  My translation.

[6] Pelon [1976], llus. CXXIII.   Reproduced by him from Verdelis [1952].  PAE, 1952, pl. 2, facing p. 192.  PAE is the Praktika tis en Athenais Archaiologikis Etaireias (Πρακτικα της εν Αθηναις Αρχαιολογικη Εταιρειας) which is now online.   Verdelis is the original excavator.  I have since found this diagram in Verdelis' article which is online here.  The diagram in the original article is rather more readable.


Ålin [1962]:  Ålin, Per.  Das Ende der Mykenischen Fundstätten auf dem Griechischen Festland.
Carl Bloms Boktryckeri A.-B., Lund, 1962.

Pelon [1976]: Pelon, Olivier.  Tholoi, tumuli et cercles funéraires; Recherches sur les monuments funéraires de plan circulaire dan l'Égée de l'Âge du Bronze (IIIe at IIe millénaires av. J.-C).  Bibliothèques de l'École française d'Athènes et de Rome - Série Athènes, 229. 1976.  Online here.

Simpson [1981]:  Simpson, Richard Hope. Mycenaean Greece. Park Ridge, New Jersey:Noyes Press, 1981.

Verdelis [1951]:  Verdelis, N. M.,  "3. Mycenaean tholos tomb by Agios Theodoros", Praktika tis en Athenais Archaiologikis Etaireias, pp. 150-154. 1951.  Online here.

Verdelis [1952]:  Verdelis, N. M., "7. Excavations in Thessaly", 1952. Praktika tis en Athenais Archaiologikis Etaireias, pp. 164 ff.,  Online here.

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