Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Missing Tholos of Mandhra (C124)

PHILLY:  …for when I was a young lad there was a graveyard 
beyond the house with the remnants of a man who had thighs 
as long as your arm. He was a horrid man, I'm telling you, 
and there was many a fine Sunday I'd put him together for 
fun, and he with shiny bones, you wouldn't meet the like 
of these days in the cities of the world.

Playboy of the Western World
J.M. Synge

One can appreciate Philly’s enthusiasm for osteoarchaeology but not all of us are fortunate enough to have our graves ready to hand.  A case in point is the tholos tomb in the town of Mandhra which, though visible in the 1950’s, has now gone missing.

Mandhra is a semi-isolated village on the very west edge of the Stenyklaros plain; itself an extension to the north of Messenia’s Pamisos valley.

It appears that sometime in the late 1920’s Natan Valman discovered two domed tombs in the vicinity of this town and this was reported in the RE[1].

In the late 1950’s it seems that one of these domed tombs (C124) was located by Simpson and McDonald about 20 m. to the SW of the church of Ayios Yeoryios in Mandhra.  They reported their find in the first of a series of articles on prehistoric sites in Messenia.[2]  This is what they said.

"A collapsed tholos tomb in the hamlet of Mandhra which is ca. 1 km. N-NE of Elektra village.  The whole area was formerly called Gliata.  There are two springs in the larger village.  The tomb is located ca. 20 m. S-W of the church of Ayios Georgios.  The circle of stones is clear, as is also the line of the dromos which faces 85°.  The diameter is ca. 13 m. and the length of the dromos is 11 m.  A large well was built nearby with stones from the tomb, but there was apparently no attempt to penetrate very deeply.
This is probably one of the two "Kuppelgrabe bei Gliata" which Karo (RE Suppl. VI, 607) lists as a notification by letter from Valmin.  Villagers say ancient walls were discovered when digging foundations for a house ca. 20 m. north of the spring called Krounovrisi in Elektra village.  Quite possibly there was a habitation site in this area."

So.  In the late 1950’s the circle of the stone tomb was visible along with its dromos whose orientation was still discoverable.

Just a few years later they revisited the site of Mandhra.  This time their attention was on a putative habitation about 100 m. south of the tholos.  At this time they do not say anything more about the condition of the tholos itself.[3]

As late as the mid-1960’s, then, the tholos was still identifiable along with its dromos.  What remains of it now?  Time to go to the map.  

First up is McDonald and Simpson's own map:

Fig. 1  The map of the upper Pamisos according to Mcdonald and Simpson
This map shows the whole upper Pamisos valley.  I have circled Mandhra and (extra information) I drew arrows to the perennial springs which are otherwise hard to see.  Now let's look at the modern village of Mandhra.  Here is a close-up of the church in question and the supposed location of our domed tomb or tholos.

Fig. 2.  From 2013.  Church of Ayios Yeoryios of Mandhra along with general area of the tholos tomb.

And in this next picture I've tried to reproduce what McDonald and Simpson claim to have seen:

Fig. 3.  An attempt to model what McDonald and Simpson saw.

The yellow circle is of 20 m. radius and is centered on the SW corner of the church at the yellow push pin.  The red circle is 13 m. in diameter; I have shown a dromos of 11 m. in length and oriented at about 85°.  Twenty meters to the SW of this church, and inside my red circle,  you can plainly see a pile of rubble which is obviously the location of our tholos tomb.  

Not so fast, brother.  

First of all this photo was taken in November of 2013.  In a GE photo from 2003, ten years earlier, we can see that there is nothing whatsoever in that corner.

Fig 4. From 2003.  Nothing in the corner 20 m. SW of the church.

 And so that must mean that between the mid-1960's and 2003 whatever was visible to McDonald and Simpson had disappeared.  The picture from 2013 shows a brand new pile of rubble shoved off into that corner.  It is not possible to connect this rubble to any tholos tomb.  In a picture from Google Street View taken in 2011 we can see that very corner occupied by palm fronds from the palm trees which are just to the east and in front of the church.

Fig. 5.  December 2011.  Nothing in the corner but dried-up palm fronds.

In another view also taken at the same time, in 2011, we see a pile of rubble that has been bull-dozed into the N corner of the field.

Fig 6.  The general view of the field in 2011 with mysterious pile of rubble in NW corner.

What does that SE corner of the field (the corner with the palm fronds) look like today?  I was very fortunate to receive this photo, which was taken just a few days ago, from a correspondent in Greece.  According to him there is nothing in that corner except a sandbag.  Here it is:

Fig. 7.  The SE corner of the field with merely a sandbag.  Taken 4/2017.  All rights reserved.

Here's another view, taken at the same time, looking roughly N:

Fig. 8.  Same field looking NNE.
Taken 4/2017.   All rights reserved.

A structure has been added to the W of the church.  In preparing that structure some rubble was bull-dozed into the NW corner of the field.  You can see it in fig. 8.

Let's see if we can come up with a time-line for our tholos:

a. 1959: Tholos and dromos visible in SE corner

b. mid 1960's: Tholos and dromos still visible in SE corner (or, at least, not reported missing.)

c. 2003: Nothing visible in SE corner or anywhere else on the field.

d. 2011: SE corner is swept bare except for some dried palm fronds; a pile of rubble is visible at NW end of the field.

e.  2013: Large pile of stone and rubble visible in the SE corner

f.  2017: SE corner contains a single sandbag; large pile of rubble visible in NW corner of the field near a new structure.

Above, in fig. 3, I tried to model what I thought McDonald and Simpson described.  Perhaps what was originally seen was located somewhere else in that field.  It might have looked more like this:

Fig. 9.  An alternative idea for the former location of C124.

Whatever it looked like it was a major feature and would have dominated that space.  I emphasize that Simpson and McDonald saw both the circle and the dromos clearly enough to measure both.  Too bad it's now lost.  Perhaps fragments from it exist in the new rubble pile at the NW corner of this field which you can see in the background of fig. 8.

Here's a close-up:

Fig. 10.  The 'recent' bulldozed rubble pile at Mandhra.
Taken 4/2017.    All rights reserved.

Status of the Mycenaean Atlas Project

Currently prototyping an alpha online version of the Atlas.  I'm probably about two months away from making it available.

I've recently added twenty-four locations in the area of the Skourta plain (Farinetti [2009]), some eighty points in and around central Athens (Mountjoy, [2005]), and about forty points in Cyprus (van Wijngaarden [2002]).

Anyone who would like to have a copy of the MAP database can send an e-mail to bobconsoli 'at' or leave a comment on any of my posts.  

A large (about 2400 page) .pdf document which describes the entire database is available for the asking.

To run the MAP database requires a SQL server running on your desktop computer.   MySQL is such a server and it is powerful, industry-standard, and free.  

I can and will make .kml or .kmz files, which can be opened directly in Google Earth, available to those who would like them.  
I can also create .csv files for people who would like to import Mycenaean Atlas Project data into Google Earth but would like it in tabular form.
If you like these posts then please follow me on Twitter (Squinchpix) or on Google+   (Robert Consoli)

Facebook?  Sorry.I.just.can't.


[1] Paulys Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, Supplemental Volume VI, col. 607. (I cannot find this online and have not consulted it).

[2] McDonald and Simpson [1961], p. 234.   In Boyd[2001] 212.  Ålin speaks of this tholos as 'collapsed', 'eingestürztes' in Ålin [1962] 79.  

In Zavadil [2012] 493-4.   Dr. Zavadil suggests that the stones may have been reused in a nearby well:

"Eine zerstörte Tholos in der Flur Chasna westlich des Dorfes Mandra wurde erstmals 1961 von W. A. McDonald und R. Hope Simpson erwähnt. 1  Das Grab, dessen Dromos sich nach Osten öffnete, lag etwa 20 m südwestlich der dem Ag. Georgios geweihten Kirche. Die unteren Schichten der Tholos dürften damals noch erhalten gewesen sein; einige Steine ihres Mauerwerks hatte man für die Errichtung einer nahegelegenen Brunneneinfassung verwendet."

"A destroyed Tholos in the Chasna region west of Mandra village was first mentioned in 1961 by W. A. McDonald and R. Hope Simpson.   The tomb, whose dromos opened to the east, lay about 20 m southwest of the church dedicated to Ag. Georgios. The lower courses of the Tholos may have been preserved at that time;  some of the masonry (einige Steine ihres Mauerwerks) had been used for the construction of a nearby well surround (Brunneneinfassung)."

There is definitely a new well in the SW corner of the church forecourt (at 37.310126° N, 21.923186° E), only a few meters away from where the tholos would have been.  

Here is a picture from 2017 (an enlargement of fig. 7) that shows the new well in that corner:

Fig.. 11.  The new well.  I blurred this slightly to smooth out some annoying jpeg artifacts.
The new well is plainly visible.
All rights reserved.

But this well dates from after 2011 because figures 5 and 6 (above) from that period do not show it.  I cannot tell from the 2013 photo (fig. 9) from GE if the well existed at that time or not.  Dr. Zavadil's published dissertation is from 2012 - before the well was constructed.  

Perhaps she means some other well?  Her statement is important because she's suggesting that some of the stone used for this well, or some other, is spolia from that tholos.  But I cannot determine exactly why she thinks this.

[3] McDonald and Simpson [1969], p. 142.


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

[Boyd 2001]: Boyd, Michael J., Middle Helladic And Early Mycenaean Mortuary Practices In The Southern And Western Peloponnese.  np.  2001.

McDonald and Simpson [1961]: McDonald, William A. and Richard Hope Simpson. 1961.  ‘Prehistoric Habitation in Southwestern Peloponnese.’  American Journal of Archaeology. Vol. 65, No. 3 (Jul., 1961), pp. 221-260.  Sometimes referred to as ‘Messenia I’.

McDonald and Simpson [1969]: McDonald, William A. and Richard Hope Simpson. 1969. ‘Further Explorations in Southwestern Peloponnese: 1964-1968’.  American Journal of Archaeology. Vol. 73, No. 2 (Apr., 1969), pp. 123-177.  Sometimes referred to as ‘Messenia III’.

Zavadil [2012]: Zavadil, Michaela. Monumenta: Studien zu mittel- und späthelladischen Gräbern in Messenien.  Wien:Osterreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften Philosophisch-Historische Klasse Denkschriften. 2012.'

No comments:

Post a Comment