Summary of Research at the Palace of Nestor Between September 2006 and October 2007

Jack L. Davis

Sharon R. Stocker

Ministry of Culture

"Archaeological Reports"

"Chronique de Fouilles"

Study of finds from Blegen's excavations at the Palace of Nestor advanced again in 2007.

All post-Bronze Age pottery from the Palace of Nestor has been reviewed for the first time by Davis and Kathleen Lynch. The ceramic evidence from the area of the Palace of Nestor paints a bleak picture. Activity continued only in certain restricted areas. There is no evidence of continuity in the socio-political institutions of the Bronze Age palace in the Dark Ages. Towards the end of the Iron Age, activity nearly ceased. The small amount of Archaic and later pottery present has no connection whatsoever with ritual or even informal veneration. There is no reason to consider the palace ruins to be a sacred site.

Joanne Murphy and her colleagues examined grave goods from Pylos in the National Museum. Various finds from tombs had been transported there in the 1950s, including the skeletons from Tholos III (Kato Englianos). In the Hora Museum, among other tasks, Murphy re-studied with Lynch the post-Bronze Age pottery from the Kokkevis tholos. The tomb dates to Early - Middle Protogeometric with the majority of pottery dating to Middle Protogeometric. Lynne Schepartz and Sari Miller-Antonio this year worked entirely in the National Museum in Athens and analyzed fully the human remains from Tholos III.

Shannon Lafayette determined that a considerable quantity of the floor plaster retained by Blegen and Rawson had fallen from an upper storey of the palace. X-ray diffraction was employed at IGME to determine the composition of the samples of the plaster.

Hariclia Brecoulaki and her colleagues, who have been reexamining wall-paintings from the Palace, for the first time fully documented the nautilus frieze from Hall 64, mentioned by Lang but not illustrated. New joins were made to the “Two Men at Table” fragment from the Throne Room, and many to the the procession scene illustrated in Lang’s Plate Q. The Ship Fresco from Hall 64 has been more accurately reconstructed, but the iconography of a large group of joining fragments with purple decoration from the same room continues to be a mystery. Eleni Kottoula completed her experiments concerning the effects of burning on modern samples of pigments used in the wall-paintings at Pylos.

Davis, Stocker, and Gerald Cadogan identified various Cretan and Minoan ceramics from MH levels, some at least as early in date as the Old Palace period.

THE PYLOS REGIONAL ARCHAEOLOGICAL REPORT. 17TH Season Preliminary Report to the 38TH Ephoreia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, Kalamata, on the Results of Museum Study, September 2006-October 2007.

Summary of Research


Several aspects of research are now nearing completion or have been finished. This September Paul Halstead and Valasia Isaakidou completed their study of animal bones from the Palace of Nestor (results of their study in 2007 will be included in next year’s report to the Ephoreia). They will in the future require only to spend minimal time in the Hora Museum, but will need to examine some newly re-discovered materials in the National Museum at Athens (about which, see below). Lynne Schepartz and Sari Miller-Antonio worked on human remains in the National Museum this year and did not go to Hora. They too have nearly completed their study. Once again considerable progress was made in the study of the frescoes from the Palace, particularly in the assembly of the new Ship Fresco from Hall 64 in the Southwestern Building. Shannon Lafayette has begun a study of floor plaster, her goal being to shed light on the use of upper floors. Lynch and Davis completed their study of post-Bronze Age pottery. Finally, in collaboration with Gerald Cadogan, Stocker and Davis identified additional Middle Minoan imports in Middle Helladic levels, some of these as early as EMIII/MM I in date.

Several new publications have appeared or are in proof:



                                  Οδηγός στο Ανάκτορον του Νέστορος, Μυκηναικοί οικισμοί στη Περίχωρα του, και το Μουσέιο της Χώρας (Athens: Papadimas Press). Davis with C.W. Shelmerdine.


                                   Introduction to the 2nd Edition of Sandy Pylos: An Archaeological History from Nestor to Navarino (Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens). Davis with John Bennet.



                                   An Archer from the Palace of Nestor in Pylos: A New Wall-Painting Fragment in the Chora Museum, Hesperia (in press). Hariclia Brecoulaki with Caroline Zaitoun, Andreas Karydas, Stocker, and Davis.


                                   Pylos Regional Archaeological Project: Archaeology, History and Ethnography of the Medieval and Modern Periods, in New Approaches to Medieval and Post Medieval Greece, British Archaeological Reports International Series, ed. J. L. Bintliff (in press). Davis with John Bennet.


A Conspectus of the Dark Age and Other Post-Bronze Age Ceramics

Kathleen Lynch

In brief visits to the Museum of Hora in 2006 and 2007 all post-Bronze Age pottery from the Palace of Nestor was reviewed for the first time. There follows a general characterization of the chronological and formal range of the ceramics. As already noted, we are confident that excavators retained at least representative diagnostic fragments, and in some trenches all fragments, recognizing them as post-palatial and of potential significance for documenting the later history of the site. It is likely, however, that post-Bronze Age undecorated fine wares and coarse wares were culled, as they are nearly absent among the sherds that now remain. True “minimum number of vessels” counts are thus difficult to determine; all non-joining diagnostic fragments are here considered to represent separate vases.

Relative Chronology of the Post-Bronze Age Pottery


Of the 126 diagnostic fragments examined, 86 dated to the Iron Age, or Coulson’s “Dark Age” (DA), generally, 11 to Geometric (plus two dated sometime in Geometric to Archaic periods), 15 to the Archaic period, four sometime in Archaic and Classical periods, three sometime in the Classical to Hellenistic periods, one certainly Hellenistic, and one each Roman and Early Modern; two diagnostic fragments could not be dated. Add to these the six DA vessels discussed in Blegen and Rawson (1966: 64, 185, fig. 347). In sum, the overall picture reveals severely diminished activity during the immediate post-Bronze Age period; activity which lessens by the early Archaic period. The scale of decline after the Bronze Age is illustrated well by comparing the 131 mainly fragmentary examples of post-Bronze Age pottery with the 2146 whole pots Blegen counted in a single pantry, Room 21, of the Mycenaean Palace of Nestor.

Only one area preserves pottery of the Classical to Hellenistic periods, Court 58, and only five pieces at that. If there were an Iron Age or Archaic temple on the site of the Palace of Nestor, one would expect much larger concentrations of pottery from these post-Bronze Age periods.

Although the majority of post-Bronze Age pottery dates to the Dark Age periods as described by Coulson for Nichoria (Coulson 1983; 1986), we do not expect the development of DA ceramic styles at Pylos to be identical with those at Nichoria, nor do we assume Coulson’s absolute dates should be applied here; however, the sequence described by Coulson provides a framework for discussing the Pylos finds.

The most common DA shape from Pylos is a drinking vessel. Most base fragments are flat, with a slightly concave underside, and bevel to the body, a form associated with cups rather than skyphoi (Coulson 1983: 79 (DA II), 80; see, for example, Blegen and Rawson 1966: 185, no. 615, 616, fig. 347); therefore, we can assume that many of the numerous everted rims also represent cups. Other rims are straight. Bodies are low and squat. Decoration consists of brown to black slip applied and preserved unevenly, often better preserved on the exterior; the underside is usually reserved except for some run-over from the body slip. That Pylos features more cups than skyphoi for the DA contrasts with the situation at Nichoria, where the skyphos predominates (Coulson 1983: 79).

A few conical bases must, however, be from skyphoi like the well-preserved example from Court 42 (Blegen and Rawson 1966: 347, no. 617, fig. 347). No other horizontal skyphos handles are preserved, but some of the everted rims could belong to skyphoi.

The DA cups at Pylos seem characteristic of Coulson’s DA II and DA III periods. Although Coulson could recognize a suite of characteristics that distinguished DA II from DA III at Nichoria,[1] at Pylos only rims and bases are closely datable. Small fragments can be no more closely than to the DA. DA III cups and skyphoi have thinner walls and sharper, more articulated rims and bases. These forms of rims and bases continue from DA II, but are more refined in DA III than their heavier predecessors. There does not seem to be a significant difference in the distribution of DA II and DA III pottery within the ruins of the palace, suggesting that activities during those two periods (975-850 B.C. and 800-750 B.C., respectively) were focussed in the same locations.[2]

It is difficult to differentiate amphorai from oinochoai on the basis of rim, handle, and body sherd fragments; however, rare closed forms are clearly distinguishable from the numerous small, open forms. Of the 86 DA fragments, only five are closed vessels. In contrast, 14 of the 28 Geometric and Archaic fragments are from closed vessels, a far great proportion than for the DA. Nor were the DA closed vessels found in contexts with the most DA drinking vessels, except for Court 42. There is evidence for only one krater: a pedestal foot of DA III in Court 42 (Blegen and Rawson 1966: 185, no. 618, fig. 347; Coulson 1986: 67-68, no. 363, fig. 20, pl. 15).[3] Therefore, it is not possible to define a “drinking set” for the post-Bronze Age palace occupants. The ceramic evidence does not attest to the use of communal drinking for social definition, a practice documented elsewhere in Iron Age Greece.[4]

After the Dark Age

The ceramic remains do not reflect continuous presence at Pylos from the late Iron Age through the Archaic and Classical periods. Instead, the dramatic drop-off in the Geometric and Archaic period suggests an even less frequent use of the ruins, perhaps by occasional, even seasonal, occupants, rather than full-time squatters. Closed forms are more common in these periods than in the Dark Ages. There are far fewer drinking vessels. Nothing in the forms themselves or their decoration (mainly black-glazed) suggests that they represent anything but ordinary, domestic fine ware. The scant quantity as well as the average to poor quality of the pottery speaks against any ritual activity at the site. Ceramics are inexpensive offerings, and thus they abound in Archaic sanctuaries (e.g., Pemberton 1989 [Demeter and Kore Sanctuary at Corinth]). Nothing points to the establishment of a hero cult in the ruins of the palace.

The area of Court 58, outside the palace proper, preserved the highest concentration of Archaic to Hellenistic pottery, and the earliest fragment was Geometric (there was no DA). Elsewhere possible Classical sherds appear alongside those of the DA. Such a distribution again points to only small-scale activity at the palace in the Classical period. The few Hellenistic fragments in this area also suggest only temporary or opportunistic use of the space. Shapes are those of standard Hellenistic finewares, and nothing indicative of a “votive” use. However, the fabric of several of the fragments from Court 58 appears to be tinged gray from burning; only one of the other post-Bronze Age fragments from the palace appeared discolored from fire. This burning may be result of specific activities that occurred in the area of this former court.

Finally, there is only one fragment that might be Roman, a coarse ware fragment of a possible cooking jar (from Court 42), and one fragment of Early Modern, green-glazed pottery also came from Court 58.

The ceramic evidence from the area of the Palace of Nestor in the post-Bronze Age period paints a bleak picture. Activity continued only in certain restricted areas. These few pockets are likely to have been sheltered corners with standing architecture for protection and used only informally (McDonald and Coulson 1983: 322 for this phase of occupation at Nichoria). “Occupants” did not have ceramic sets, but made do with multi-functional cups. There is no evidence of continuity in the socio-political institutions of the Bronze Age palace in the immediate post-Bronze Age period. Towards the end of the Iron Age, activity nearly ceased. The small amount of Archaic and later pottery present has no connection whatsoever with ritual or even informal veneration (see Morgan and Whitelaw 1991, who review evidence for Iron Age cults in the Argolid, many in association with Mycenaean remains). The ceramic remains preserve no trace of votive activity: no miniatures, special use vessels, or dedications exist among the scant fragments. No votive figurines or miniature sculptures are preserved in post-Bronze Age contexts either. Instead, the post-Bronze Age pottery comprises a subset of an ordinary “domestic assemblage” — a “subset” because only the fineware components seem to have been recognized and retained by the excavators. If we had the full picture, it would likely resemble the range of fineware and coarseware pottery found at contemporary Nichoria (Coulson 1983). Even when “domestic” objects are dedicated in sanctuaries, their status as votives can be recognized by the density of offerings (Pemberton 1989), since sanctuary personnel tidied up pottery dedications from time to time and buried them in refuse deposits. There is no trace of similar behavior at the Palace of Nestor, and thus no reason to consider the palace ruins to be a sacred site.

Middle Minoan Pottery

Gerald Cadogan, Sharon Stocker, and Jack Davis

In the course of examining ceramics from Middle Helladic levels in previous seasons Stocker and Davis had come to suspect that there existed a considerable number of previously unidentified Cretan imports. This summer Gerald Cadogan joined us and examined ceramics from soundings made into strata earlier than the levels of the Mycenaean palace. Certain sherds might be as early as MM IA or MM IB. One example is almost certainly EM III. Others fall into MM III and LM IA. More detailed study is required.

Reexamination of Finds and Stratigraphy from Tombs

Joanne Murphy

Joanne Murphy spent a total of 8 weeks studying the finds from the Pylos tombs in 2007. This year’s work completed most of the documentation of the objects from both the Chora Museum and the National Museum in Athens. Along with her team, she completed the catalogue of the artifacts in the Chora Museum including the Post Bronze Age material. Adding to the work of last summer in the national Museum, they completed documenting 95 % of artifacts stored there. This year total of 154 pots and 58 small finds were drawn, and 98 % of the objects in the National Museum were photographed.

Murphy would like to acknowledge the assistance of INSTAP, the University of Akron, Xeni Arapogianni, Lena Papazoglou, Eleni Konstandinidi, Kostas Paschalides, and the guards of the National and Chora Museums.

Since the Pylian artifacts are part of one of the main Mycenaean displays in the museum and are extremely difficult to remove from the display case, it is impossible to document and study them during the summer when there are too many tourists. Murphy, therefore, conducted a short season in March to study and document these objects. The initial aim of the project was to draw, study, and photograph the material from Tomb III only. Once Murphy arrived at the National Museum it became very clear that due to the extreme difficulty of removing these objects from the case and from the backing board the whole procedure was exceptionally demanding of the National Museum staff. She therefore decided that it would be well-advised to document all the objects on the board that was taken out from the case. These included objects from both Tholos III and Tholos IV.

The procedure was demanding of the National Museum staff for a variety of reasons. The display case can only be opened on Monday mornings. This is one of the busiest times for the museum staff as many scholars wish to remove objects for study and any work that the museum needs to do in the galleries needs to take place at this time also. Two conservators were required to open the case and remove the display board and two of the archaeologists from the prehistoric section had to supervise the opening and moving of the board to ensure that nothing dropped off. The board is of a triangular shape that displays well but is not suited to traveling through the museum. Many of the items are tacked on and can shift in moving or even if the table that they are resting on shakes. It must be stressed with great gratitude that the National Museum staff were wonderfully gracious and helpful during this move. The were very accommodating of our needs and allowed us to keep the board out for the duration of our stay in Athens; usually the objects need to be replaced in the case before 1 P.M. on Monday and cannot be removed again until the following Monday.

From March 17- 26th 2007 Murphy and Linda Whitman, a University of Akron colleague, catalogued 98% of the artifacts from Tomb III and IV that are on display in the National Museum. Annie Hooton drew 45 small finds and 16 pots. Linda Whitman drew 13 small finds. The small finds included beads, glass objects, and ivory pieces. The designs on the small finds, beads being the main exception, were very complicated and very time consuming to draw. Craig Mauzy photographed 95 % of the small finds and of the pottery. In August, Tina Ross drew 6 pots. Two pots and three seal stones remain to be drawn, photographed, and catalogued.

While Murphy was in the National Museum several boxes of Pylian material were discovered in the storerooms. Under the direction of Lena Papazoglou, Sofia Voutsaki and Sevi Triantaphyllou, who were studying the material from boxes marked Prosymna, found several boxes of bones and small finds that were from Blegen’s excavation at Pylos. Most of the material was from the tombs but some were from the Palace. Kostas Paschalides separated the Pylian material from the Prosymna material. Murphy went through Pylian material in August and found a large amount of small finds and empty small find boxes from the tombs. Many of the empty boxes had records on the back of them that might provide data to help reconstruct the stratigraphy of the tombs. Lynne Schepartz and Sari Miller-Antonio, who studied the bones from these boxes in late August, discovered even more small finds. These small finds and the data on the boxes will be studied by Murphy next year.

While in Athens Murphy also examined the Pylos archives in the American School of Classical Studies and found several hundred excavation and artifact photographs. Many of these photos are now redundant as they are of the artifacts and can be replaced with the new and better-lit photographs taken by Mauzy. However many of the photographs were of the excavation and could be very helpful in understanding the excavation of the tombs and the contextual relationship between objects and bodies in the tombs. These photographs will be scanned and studied next year.

During the summer (28 May – 12 July) Murphy was joined in the Chora Museum by two students from the university of Akron, Mary Kennep and Sharon Pelkey, and two artists, Tina Ross and Dorottya Kekkegyi. At the end of the study in Chora Murphy and Ross went to Athens for four days to work at the National Museum.

At the Chora Museum, the artists drew a total of 132 whole pots and edited 17 sherd drawings from previous years. Murphy and the students completed the study of the small finds, took study photos of the small finds and sherds from the Kokkevis tholos, filled in remaining blanks in the data-base, checked the data-base against the original catalog notes, and input the catalog into the electronic data-base. Brekoulaki identified the substance that has been referred to as blue paste as Egyptian Blue. This substance is most commonly used for beads in the tombs. With the help of Brekoulaki we also tried, to no avail, to identify the material of some of the eroded metals and some glass/faience beads. Next season, using XRF we hope to get a secure identification on the metals and faience.

During the season, Jeremy Rutter visited for two days and edited sherd drawings and re-examined some of the pottery. Kathleen Lynch also came for two days and analyzed and catalogued the Post Bronze Age pottery from the Kokevis tholos. She also checked the pottery drawing of the whole pots and sherds. In the sherd bags there were the remains of several skyphoi, oinochoes, and cups along with some Bronze Age sherds. Lynch did not think that there was any pre or post-Protogeometric burial activity in the tomb. Lynch’s study concluded, on the basis of the pottery in the tomb, that the tomb dated to Early - Middle Protogeometric with the majority of pottery dating to Middle Protogeometric. While she conceded that the remains in the tomb could be from one deposition, she suggested that it was more likely to be indicative of two deposits. On the basis of one neck amphora and one belly amphora, she tentatively suggested that the tomb contained one female burial and one later MPG male burial. This conclusion may be supported by the skeletal studies. Schepartz in her study of the skeletal material from the tomb concluded that there were definitely two bodies in the tomb and possibly a third. One of the bodies was female, but the other body was too poorly preserved to sex. One of the pots (CM 1662) that was inventoried during the excavation and was published in PoN III could not be located in either the Chora Museum or in the National Museum.

The work done on the tombs this year has brought the study very close to completion and has expanded our understanding of the Post Bronze Age use of the tombs. Only 30 pots, three seal stones, and the non-ceramic artifacts remain to be drawn. Next year, we will complete the drawings at the Chora and National Museums, complete the documentation at the National Museum of the “known” objects and the newly re-discovered ones, carry out XRF tests on the non-ceramic materials, and scan the photographs from the American School Archives. Seeing as next year will be the last year of the study, and the bags that the sherds were put in three years ago are already beginning to wear, we will re-bag the sherds in high-quality bags and re-write the tags on Tyvek. I estimate that we will spend four weeks in the Chora Museum and two weeks in Athens working at the National Museum and at the American School. At present we are aiming to work from the start of June to the middle of July.

Skeletal Biology

Lynne Schepartz and Sari Miller-Antonio

Schepartz and Miller-Antonio worked this year entirely in the National Museum in Athens. Various finds from tombs excavated by Blegen’s team had been transported there, including the skeletal material from Tholos III (Kato Englianos). Blegen himself was not able to locate these finds when he and Rawson prepared their publication of the Palace of Nestor. By happy coincidence these finds were re-discovered in the spring of 2007 and made available to Schepartz and Miller-Antonio through the kindnesses of Lena Papazoglou and Kostas Paschalides (see above). Virtually all of the skeletal material found by the Cincinnati expedition now seems to be preserved either in Hora or in the National Museum, and our study of it is complete.

There follows a list of human remains now in the National Museum that was examined by us:

Box #

EPB p.#






Central cist

Carved ivory, human bones




Right cist

Human & fauna




Central cist






Bull figurine, Human, fauna




Bones a

Middle cist inside doorway

Ivory, human




Bones e (outer ??)

Ivory, human




Right cist bones

Ivory, human




Right cist

Ivory, human




Left center .3 above floor

Ivory, ceramics, Egyptian blue, human




Legbone in rt. of doorway





Bones- left of center





Bones lower left





Bones f

Ceramic? Human




Skull F





May 9

Ceramics, fauna




May 6

Human, fauna




May 8 against wall to right just inside?





Outer right cist

Carved ivory as in #85; Human, most of a kid or lamb




Left quarter bones





Center? bones






Ivory, fauna, small finds





Ceramics, fauna




Lower right bones

Human, Ivory, clay ball




Skull I





Skull J

Human, fauna




Bones from central area

Human, fauna




Skull G





Skull E





Bones c





Skull K










Skull B





Bones D

Ceramic, human




Inner left quarter (inner part)

Ivory, human, fauna




Rt. Middle doorway





Inner right quarter

Ceramics, fauna




Outer right

Ivory, ceramics, human, fauna





Ivory, human, fauna


76 & 80


Bones next to cistern





Outer left corner- bones on floor





Right cist

Ivory, Egyptian blue lump, silver, human
































Schepartz and Murphy will deliver a paper summarizing the combined results of their research at the annual meetings of the Society for American Archaeology in Spring 2008. The abstract follows:

Looting and Mortuary Behavior at Pylos: Bioarchaeology of Mycenaean Tombs at the Palace of Nestor

Lynne A. Schepartz, Florida State University and Joanne M.A. Murphy, University of Akron

“Disturbed” tombs are usually assumed to have been looted for their valuables while their other contents were ignored or scattered. Several other behaviors, including secondary burial and tomb reuse, can produce similar archaeological signatures. To test if “looted” tombs differ in systematic ways from non-disturbed interments, we compared tholos and chamber tombs associated with the Bronze Age Palace of Nestor at Pylos for evidence of tomb re-opening, spatial patterning of contents, taphonomic condition and representation of bone, and tomb contents. The variation in the Pylos tombs suggests that mortuary behaviors were complex and contributed to the disturbance of most burials.

Faunal Remains

Paul Halstead and Valasia Isaakidou

(Reporting studies in September 2006)

Halstead and Isaakidou worked for two weeks in Chora, recording about 1500 identified specimens. This represents less rapid progress than in 2005 but is satisfactory given the more restricted strewing space due to our coinciding with the fresco team. The contexts recorded this year were from EBW and Lagou, as well as small quantities of material from various palace rooms. We also recorded some fragments retrieved this year from small finds by SS and succeeded in reassigning to context further ‘interesting’ specimens that Nobis had previously extracted. Once again, some cattle bones were from very small adults (presumably female and strengthening the impression that those in the burnt ‘sacrificial’ deposits were male). Some contexts contained material with well-preserved surfaces (unlike much of the material studied in previous years) and yielded large numbers of butchery marks. Once again, we observed repeated examples of very similar (i.e., apparently standardised) butchery marks, suggesting that some contexts represent specific episodes of carcass processing and deposition or at least butchery by one or two specialists.

Material remaining for study comprises:

1 bag of dental fragments from Lagou (unfinished business from this year);

1 large box of WGK+CKK 1962;

1 small box of PNW;

a few bags of burnt bone from EBW - these look like fragments of ‘burnt sacrifice’ material and should be checked for possible joins with the existing EBW burnt group to confirm the latter’s context.


We should be able to complete the bulk of the outstanding material in one further season, but there will be at least loose ends requiring a further visit. This estimate assumes that both the WGK/CKK 1962 and PNW boxes are from contexts sufficiently dateable to warrant study.

The Floor Plaster

Shannon LaFayette

Lafayette examined floor plaster from the Palace of Nestor in the Hora Archaeological Museum Apotheke 1 from June 16, 2007 – July 14, 2007. Her goal was to continue examining the floor plaster from the pantries of the Palace of Nestor, Rooms 16-22. For each tray of floor plaster she cleaned and observed every piece of plaster, then selected a sample to catalogue based on the quantity and variety of fragments in the tray. The data categories for each fragment in her catalogue are maximum thickness, minimum thickness, Munsell color readings for the plaster surface and any remaining deposition soil, and a description of the piece including fabric,surface and soil colors, and other distinguishing features such as burn marks, scratches or incisions, numbers or tags given by the excavators, etc. To complete the catalogue entries she photographed each fragment. She also devoted some effort to finding joins between fragments both of the same tray and of different trays. She was successful relative to the limited time that she was able to devote to the endeavor and the few joins that she made across trays will provide very useful contextual information.


Room 17 Trays 1-5 presented a very homogenous group of plaster with a light mottled gray surface, dense white fabric with mainly small to medium-large black and red rounded inclusions and a coarse breakage pattern that occurred in smooth, angular chunks. In profile the fragments appear to be comprised of a single, uniform plaster layer and their edges and bottom surfaces retain traces of a pale reddish brown soil. Because the group of plaster in Trays 1-5 appeared to be so uniform, she decided to examine and measure each piece to gain a rough estimate of the surface area that could have been covered by this group. Trays 6-7 from Room 17 appeared to be of a different type or from a different deposition layer, based on the different colors of surfaces and soil observed.


Nonetheless, it was during the meticulous examination of Room 17 Trays 1-5, together with information contained in the Blegen and Rawson excavation notebooks, that she was able to identify the group as plaster from an upper story of the palace. Upon further reading in the excavation notebooks simultaneous with observations of the plaster in the Hora Museum, she has good evidence that the majority of the plaster from at least Rooms 16 – 19 is from an upper story of the Palace of Nestor. That the plaster is from an upper story is contrary to what her colleagues and she had believed to be the context for this assemblage. It is an exciting and enlightening discovery and opens the door to new studies in the architectural techniques of the Pylians and the Mycenaeans.

A list of the trays and artifacts that she handled follows below.

Part I: Floor plaster trays examined:

• Shelf 11

o Room 16 – Tray 1

o Room 16 – Tray 2

o Room 16 – Tray 3

o Room 16 Shelf 11.III: two large fragments catalogued

• Shelves 13-15

o Room 17 1st Layer Tray (4 fragments catalogued, 164 fragments examined

and measured)

o Room 17 2nd Layer Tray (5 fragments catalogued, 86 fragments examined

and measured)

o Room 17 3rd Layer Tray (15 fragments catalogued, 24 fragments examined

and measured)

o Room 17 4th Layer Tray (10 fragments catalogued, 43 fragments examined

and measured)

o Room 17 5th Layer Tray (4 fragments catalogued, 58 fragments examined

and measured)

o Room 17 – Tray 6 (10 fragments catalogued)

o Room 17 – Tray 7 (9 fragments catalogued)

• Shelf 19:

o Room 19 – Tray 1

o Room 19 – Tray 2 (9 fragments catalogued)

o Room 19 – Tray 3 (15 fragments catalogued)

Part II:

• At the request of Hariclia Brecoulaki, she began to examine the Wall Plaster Drawers with floor plaster fragments intermingled. She looked through drawers 1-95 and she identified several fragments in the Wall Plaster drawers that are likely floor plaster. The fragment numbers are as follows:

o WP002.38-1

o WP002.39-1

o WP002.42-1

o WP002.43-1

o WP002.45-1

o WP004.21-1

o WP010.05-1/2

o WP053.35-16

o WP053.36-16

o WP053.38-16

o WP055.25-

o WP055.31-

o WP077.01

o WP077.02

o WP077.03

o WP077.04

o WP077.05

o WP077.06

o WP082.01-43

• Un-gessoed fragments

o WP Drawer 7: mixed box with a label “Exterior propylon floor“

o WP Drawer 87: One fragment, not gessoed and in a bag labeled “floor”

Part III:


• She took an inventory of the Palace of Nestor floor plaster trays in Apotheke 1 that remain to be studied. In Summer 2008 she hopes to return and study the material from Rooms 18 – 21.

o “Doorway between Rooms 18 &20” – 2 trays

o Room 19 – 1 tray

o Room 18 – 8 trays

o Room 20 – 10 trays

o Room 21 – 2 drawers and 2 boxes

o Room 39 – 1 tray

o Room 44 – 3 trays

o Room 46 – 6 trays

The Wall-Paintings

Hariclia Brecoulaki


Hariclia Brecoulaki (PhD Archaeology/conservation, ASCSA, Athens - University of Sorbonne, Paris)

Shannon Lafayette (Phd candidate, University of Cincinnati)

Emily Egan (University of Cincinnati)

Alexandros Zokos (Restorer, TEI, Athens)

Vassilia Kliafa (Restorer, TEI, Athens)

Eleni Kottoula (Restorer, TEI, Athens)

Rosemary Robertson (Illustrator)

Arthur Stephens (Photographer)

Jennifer Stephens (Photographer)

Maullory Tuab (Intern, University of Denison, photographers’ assistant)

Joseph Borema (Intern, University of Denison)

Jonathan Karadymas (Intern, University of Denison)

Stella Vassilopouulou (Archaeology graduate, University of Athens)

Jennifer Warner Wilson (PhD candidate, University of Melbourne, volunteer)

(See team photograph, fig. 1)



A. Documentation of the fragments


Drawing of inventory numbers and digital recording


     The assignation of a code to the remaining large fragments on the shelves and the fragments that are exposed to the museum was fulfilled this year, accomplishing a major goal of our project. The two interns from Denison University, Jonathan Karadymas and Joseph Borema and Stella Vassilopoulou worked for this purpose (fig. 2). The procedure followed was the same as with the fragments contained in the drawers (superficial cleaning of the fragments’ back, application of a gesso layer isolated and consolidated with Paraloid B72 and finally writing the inventory number on top of it). Jennifer and Arthur Stephens with the assistance of Mallory Taub accomplished the digital recording of the fragments contained in the drawers (approx. 5000 pieces) and all the fragments from the museum showcases. Jennifer Wilson also took high quality RAW images of the most well preserved fragments from the museum showcases for publication and the remaining “Ship” fragments for publication. The only fragments that haven’t been photographed up to now are the 150 large fragments that are stored on the shelves of the storage room that will require approximately another ten working days during next year’s session.


B. Restoration operations and search for joins


     The major restoration operations conducted this year consisted of :

1) The removal of gesso backings on the fragments from the outer and inner propylon (rooms 1 and 2) by John Karadymas under the supervision of the restorer Alexander Zokos. These fragments have never been checked for joins before because the thick gesso layer completely recovered their edges, despite their good state of preservation (remarkable thickness of plaster and fair colour condition) and their interesting subject matter, presumably depicting life-size figures as suggested by Lang (Lang 1969, p. 190-191). The completion of this operation will allow us to search for joins between the numerous fragments contained in the drawers and further clarify issues on their iconography.

2) The superficial cleaning and consolidation of large fragments from Hall 64, comprising the very poorly preserved “Chariot” and “Charioteer”, as well as other large fragments from Hall 64 depicting battle scenes on a light bluish ground. The uncoded fragment in Lang’s catalogue depicting a nautilus (fig 3,4) was also cleaned and the motif was clearly revealed (Lang only mentioned the presence of a very damaged piece of nautilus frieze but she didn’t give it a number nor showed a photograph of it in her publication [Lang 1969, p. 214]). The restorers Eleni Kottoula and Sylia Kliafa undertook the restoration of these scantily preserved but important pieces (fig.5). The search for new joins as far as the so-called purple fragments are concerned considerably progressed. More than a hundred new joins were found this year and some hypotheses were formulated for its possible subject matter. All the new joins were glued and the fragments properly restored. A decisive join allowed us to define the orientation of one of the three major groups of fragments, facilitating enormously the way of looking at the composition. Emily Egan and myself were devoted to this operation (fig.6).

3) The cleaning, superficial and in depth consolidation of the pictorial surface and plaster of the numerous fragments of the vestibule and the Throne Room (rooms 5 and 6). Almost the totality of these very important fragments both for their iconography and high artistic quality were considerably friable and every year they crumbled further. The proper restoration of these fragments was therefore considered extremely essential both for their maintenance and for the facilitation of their scientific and iconographic study. Restoration operations were performed by Alexander Zokos (The materials used for the above operations and their various stages have been described in detail in my previous reports [2003-2005]). The conserved fragments are stored in the following drawers and shelves: Shelf: 13 II s2, 6-SE wall, NE of door. Drawers: 20. Room 5; 21. Room 5. Vestibule NE; 22. Room 5. Vestibule NE; 26. Room 5; 31. Room 6. (Throne Room). New joins occurred during the restoration process. The most significant ones are between fragments: 026.24-5 and 020.50-5 and 031.06-6 and 031.01-6. This is an important join because it adds another small piece to the well known fragment “Two men at table” (Lang’s code 44H6), for which we had already proposed the revelation of another head below the table suggesting the presence of more that two seated figures at different levels. An important fragment that was stored on the shelves was also revealed through cleaning (594.001-5), supposed to be coming from Room 5, but presenting striking stylistic and chromatic affinities with the knucklebone line of the two large fragments “Lyre player and bird” and “Shoulder of a bull” of the Throne Room (figs.7,8). It is therefore possible that certain fragments collected from room 5 may join with fragments from room 6.

4) New joins were made to the procession of women by Jennifer Wilson (fig.9) and fragments were consequently glued by the restores Eleni Kottoula and Sylia Kliafa. In the table here below are described the joined fragments. New fragments that have been identified as belonging to the procession scene that have not been included in Piet de Jong’s aquarelle (Lang 1969, plate Q), allowing us for a more complete and accurate reconstruction of this important scene.






Total pieces

Description of joined fragments





Curving narrow pink flounce with two black lines, below which is a deep flounce of blue with a horizontal black line and parallel vertical red lines.




Left edge of pink flounce with net pattern in black with white dots at intersections; white background








Lower part of the centre of the skirt of Figure Y. Narrow flounces of yellow, then white with a red ripple line, then pink with black lines. Below is a wide flounce of blue with straight black and red lines, then multiple, parallel red ripple lines at almost the same angle.








Yellow flounce with horizontal red ripple line; then pink flounce with horizontal black lines (one shows as yellow); then blue flounce with horizontal blue and red lines; then blue fabric with vertical red ripple lines





Pink flounce with horizontal black line; then blue flounce with horizontal blue and red lines; then blue fabric with vertical red ripple lines.







Pink fabric with net pattern in black with white dots at intersections. To right are white flounce with red ripple line; then yellow flounce; then pink flounce that meets in a “v”; with yellow flounce to right.




Yet too be joined to



Blue fabric with red horseshoes. Near the base is a black line.

Blue fabric with red horseshoes; part of blue girdle; part of pink bodice with blue braid.




The base of a deep pink flounce, then three narrow flounces of yellow, white then pink, then the top of the bottom blue flounce. Straight edge of plaster to the right.




To be joined to these




Left edge of painting. At left a hand holds a piece of fabric outlined in red and black. Part of a skirt of yellow with black horseshoes; then a blue flounce with blue horizontal lines; then white flounce with red horizontal lines (straight, ripple, straight); then blue fabric with blue horizontal lines and then vertical red ripple lines.

Edge of top flounce of yellow with black horseshoes; white background to the left.




The lower part of a blue jacket with blue horseshoes, the front of a pink girdle; the top deep yellow flounce of the skirt of the figure to the left. Overlapping the flounce is a bouquet of red and white flowers held in the hand of a figure to the right. A thumbnail and a red bead bracelet on the arm are visible. Two black tresses descend to the girdle of the figure on the left; two other tresses descend to the top flounce of the figure to the right, which is blue with blue horseshoes, with a red and a black line just above its lower edge.


C. Reconstruction of the naval scene and study of other fragments from Hall 64


     A more accurate reconstruction of the naval scene was attempted this year with our illustrator Rosemary Robertson. The presence of the sail on the first ship was reconsidered and now we think that most probably the sail should belong to the middle ship which has no cabin. The second paddler was removed from the first ship and one of the two paddles was placed above the sea, explaining that way its unusual direction compared to the paddle represented inside the sea. The upper structure of the third ship was also considered in more detail as well as the possible presence of figures inside the cabin. The dimensions of the composition were also slightly modified, in particular the height, which was reduced. Considerable attention was given to the correct reproduction of the very poorly preserved polychromy of the composition, based both on analytical data and new microphotographs that were taken in situ on the fragments’ surfaces under our Leica stereomicroscope. It was possible to demonstrate the exact composition of the sea, a mixture between murex purple and Egyptian blue (Figs. 10, 11) and to proceed to the reproduction in watercolors of the three best-preserved fragments. The painted copies executed by R. Robertson in the museum, are approaching the original chromatic effect that the naval scene would have had on ancient spectators and at the same time offer a striking image of the sea with such an unusual coloration recalling the Homeric descriptions, as we have already suggested (Fig. 12). The chromatic harmony that emerges is therefore based on the complementarity of the yellowish-brown hues of the ships and the purple-mauve shades of the sea.

     A coordinated effort was made to try to understand the subject matter of the group of “purple fragments”. Despite the numerous new joins made this year, as mentioned above, no certain identification was possible. However, great progress was made and we are on track, at least, towards suggesting hypotheses. Three large groups of fragments were formed from many smaller joining fragments but these do not join between them (Figs. 13, 14). For the group preserving most of the figural elements, we explored the possibility that they represented animals, and more precisely at least one or two deer. A first sketch was made by R. Robertson but it will certainly require more refinement. For the second group of fragments presenting the largest and most “abstract” motifs, for which we had no idea how to look at them, a decisive join with the frieze of a lower border indicated for us its orientation. There is a possibility here that we have either part of an architectural setting or a large object, such as part of a chariot. Further investigation and a search for parallels in literature are required in order to better understand what is going on. As for the third group, it is possible of having part of a ungulating line and maybe parts of human bodies. These fragments represent an important corpus of unpublished material with painted surfaces that preserve much colors, and, therefore, we consider it important to try by all means to clarify their iconography and meaning within the painted program of Hall 64.

     This year we also tried to obtain an overall view of all the fragments that have been collected within Hall 64, after their cleaning and consolidation was completed. They represent by far the most numerous group of fragments from all the rooms of the palace. But at the same time, despite the use of an almost similar palette, they present significant differences both in style and in texture and composition of their plasters. After careful macroscopic examination it has been possible to distinguish five groups of fragments, presumably reflecting either different painted areas of a room (meaning different zone, wall or different level/story), different moments of the decoration (may be not all fragments were executed simultaneously) or even a different workshop/artist.

The following groupings were made:

1) The naval scene fragments. They all present traces of burning, which alters their original coloration but they preserve a remarkable consistency of plaster. This is composed from bottom to top, of a thick and consistent lime based layer (± 1-3 cm) and very thin layer (± 1-3 mm) applied on top of it. However, in places it looks like if there is another intermediate layer of thin plaster. A lime wash was applied on top of the surface of the plaster in order to smooth the surface before painting. The distinctive feature of this plaster is its whiteness, reflecting the purity of the lime used for its fabrication, its homogeneity and its compactness.

2) The “purple group” fragments. They are of variable thickness and texture. From the notebooks (see report 2006) it becomes clear that this is a specific group of fragments with traces of red earth on their back and of reed impressions. Their texture and color look very different from the naval scene fragments. They look more friable, although they bore no traces of burning, and their coloration is gray. In addition they seem to be composed of a single layer of plaster (± 1-2 cm).

3) Fragments that were found among the “purple group” but they are thicker (± 2-3 cm) and their coloration is darker. They are composed of a single layer of plaster. In this group seem to belong also the chariot and charioteer fragments and the most scantily preserved fragments of the battle scene (24H64, 25H64, 26H64 and 27H64). A thick layer of lime wash was applied on top of the plaster before painting. These fragments perceptively differ from the other well-preserved battle scene fragments that we restored in 2005.

4) The well known “battle scene” fragments (22H64, 23H64, 28H64, 29H64 and 30H64). The plaster here presents similarities with the fragments of the naval scene but they are more grey and composed of a single layer (± 1-3 cm).

5) A group of large very thick and heavy fragments (± 2-6 cm) composed of two layers of plaster presenting a very problematic adherence between them (139.03-64, 139.02-64, 134.03-64, 140.03-64). The second layer is very thin (± 0.5 cm) and scantily preserved. Among these fragments is also the one with the nautilus that was cleaned and restored this year. It would seem strange however to imagine such thick and heavy plasters as part of an upper frieze as suggested by Lang (Lang 1969, p. 214).


Representative samples from all the above groups of fragments are under analysis by Prof. V. Perdikatsis, and within the next two months their exact composition will allow us to further clarify the above issues and establish their differences on a more solid basis.


D. Technical studies


1) Analysis of the purple samples: new efforts to dissolve the murex dye:


     As reported last year, although securely murex purple was identified on 16 samples examined by means of FTIR at the Ormylia Art Diagonsis Centre, it was not possible to dissolve the ancient dye with the well known chemical solvents used for this purpose in all specialized laboratories, in order to proceed to further analysis and identify the species of the molluscs. This unusual problem presented a challenge to the scientists who performed further experiments and bibliographic research on this issue. What they came up with is that the only organic dye known in literature presenting dissolution problems is the Maya blue, but the problems encountered for this dye did not present similarities with the Pylos samples. Despite their efforts there were no results obtained and the mystery of the extreme stability of the Pylian murex will probably not be solved in the near future. The question therefore remains open: what are the reasons for this stability, never encountered before on other ancient murex samples? Our hypothesis, for the moment, may be resumed as follows: a) either there was an intentional effort, or a kind of technological invention, by Mycenaean craftsmen/artists, to obtain this astonishing stability for murex considering its high cost, even when it was used as a pigment or b) a very unusual chemical reaction, may be related to ageing parameters or/and to the other organic substances used as binders, caused a certain modification to the original chemical structure of the dye enhancing its stability, not detectable though by modern analytical means.


2) Analysis of the floor samples by means of X-Ray diffraction:


     Nine floor samples collected together with Shannon Lafayette last year, were analysed at IGME by Dr. G. Oikonomou, in order to determine their mineral composition. The samples were collected from rooms 20 and 21 and according to the results of the research of Sh. Lafayette they should all come from an upper story and not the basement floor.

The sample list is:

1) P1-F, P1-CH (F and CH corresponding to the first and second layer of plaster analysed) : FP Drawer 4 (2006), Room 20, NB I, p. 43, no.4

2) P2-F, P2-CH : FP Drawer 3 (2006), Room 20/21, NB I, p. 31, no.6

3) P3-F, P3-CH : FP Drawer 4 (2006), Room 20, NBI, p. 41, no.3

4) P4-F, P4-CH : FP Drawer 6 (2006), Room 20, NB I, p. 90, no.8

5) P5-F, P5-CH : FP Drawer 5 (2006), Room 20, NB I, p. 63, no.3

6) P6-F, P6-CH : FP Drawer 6 (2006), Room 20, NB I, p. 94, no.14

7) P7-F, P7-CH : FP Drawer 4 (2006), Room 20, NB I, p. 51, no.13

8) P8-F, P8-CH : FP Drawer 8 (2006), Room 21, NB I, p. 45, no.7

9) P9-F, P9-CH : FP Drawer 8 (2006), Room 21, NB I, p. 55, no.20


The results may be summarized as follows:

All samples are lime based. The content of calcite in both first and second layers varies between 58.7% and 98.4 %. In most cases the percentage of calcite is between 80 and 95%. The first layers (from bottom to top) contain a higher percentage of quartz (corresponding to the addition of pebbles in the lime based plaster), varying from 36.1 to 1,6%. Presence of muscovite, albite and anorthoclase are related to impurities.


3) Experimental burning of modern samples in order to evaluate the effect of high temperatures on the colour alteration of the wall paintings of the palace:


     The completion of this work conducted by E. Kottoula under my supervision gave us important information on both the chromatic alteration of the painted surfaces of the fragments and the identification of the pigments applied. A brief summary of the procedure and the results is given below:

     A hundred and ninety three (193) testers made of a calcite based plaster, on top of which were applied various pigments and binders, corresponding to the ones (or same groups of minerals) that we have identified by analytical procedures on the original wall paintings of the palace, were constructed. In addition two more organic pigments were tested that have not been identified on the Pylian wall paintings but represent ancient painting materials. The pigments used are both mineral and organic (purchased by the Kremer company, Munich): malachite, chrysocolla, Egyptian blue, ochres, murex purple, madder lake, indigo and carbon black. The organic binders used comprise hole egg, egg white, egg yolk, gum Arabic, gum tragacanth, lime wash. The fresco technique was also reproduced.

Burning procedure: The colour alteration on the samples has been observed at 150, 200-250, 300, 400-450, 600-65-, 800, 1000 and 1150oC.

Summarizing the results of burning we may conclude:

The pigments presenting the best stability are:

1. Red ochres, mainly containing iron oxides and clay impurities, present a slight modification of their hue, becoming red-brown, between 400-450oC but gradually they reacquire a lighter hue between 600 and 1000 oC. Only at 1150 oC their colour darkens significantly.

2. Egyptian blue, a high resistant material prepared by heating a mixture formed by sand, limestone, copper compounds and flux up to 800-1000 oC, remains unaltered after heating at 1000 oC and only at 1150 oC the vivid blue colour turns to black with the formation of small grains of green glass (green frit).


The other pigments are significantly more sensitive to the effect of high temperatures and present the following chromatic alterations:

1. Yellow ochres, based on goethite, are dehydrated at 300 oC, resulting in the production of Fe2O3, which colour is red. The colour becomes increasingly darker up to a temperature of 750 oC.

2. Malachite after heating at 250 oC becomes dark green, progressively brown and finally black at 300 oC. The decomposition of malachite is nearly complete at 600 oC and the black residue is cupric acid.

3. Chrysocolla turns very dark brown up to 400 oC. At 450 oC it becomes black, showing a similar colour alteration as malachite. At higher temperatures crystallisation of tenorite and crystobalite is observed (1000 oC).

4. Carbon black remains black and unaffected by heat up to 300 oC. At 450 oC becomes grey and finally at 600 oC white. Carbon black’s whitening after thermal treatment is due to carbon disappearance and formation of gaseous carbon dioxide.

5. Organic pigments: murex purple, indigo, madder lake, are very sensitive to fire and present a colour alteration already at very low temperatures (200 oC). They turn pale, grey and then white. Their disintegration is complete.


The above results allow us to estimate the colour alterations of the wall painting on a solid base and reconstruct with accuracy the burnt fragments. Besides the presence of two different pigments on a wall painting allow us to confirm certain analytical results for which there was uncertainty as for example the identification of chrysocolla on fragments of the Throne Room. The rarity of this pigment, never encountered before in Greece, had left an open question on whether it could be an alteration product of Egyptian blue after burning, such as the green frit, presenting a similar composition as chrysocolla. However, the fact that this green has been identified on fragments preserving purple and pinkish hues produced with murex purple, attests the presence of a mineral green and not an alteration product, since organic pigments decompose at very low temperatures while Egyptian blue becomes green only at 1150 oC. Another interesting observation for the estimation of the temperature is the presence of yellow ochre. If yellows are present, then we certainly know that fire did not exceed on the surface of the wall paintings 300 oC and therefore we shouldn’t expect colour alteration for mineral pigments. This shows, for example, how misleading is the suggestion of the lyre player background as bright red, and shows the necessity of producing new more reliable reconstructions.

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Fig. 11

Fig. 12

Fig. 13

Fig. 14


Coulson, W. D. E.

1983 The Pottery. In W. A. McDonald, W. D. E. Coulson and J. Rosser (eds.), Excavations at Nichoria in Southwest Greece Vol. 3: 61-259.


Coulson, W. D. E. 1986. The Dark Age Pottery of Messenia. Göteborg: Paul Åströms Förlag.


Coulson, W. D. E. 1988. Geometric Pottery from Volimidia. American Journal of Archaeology 92: 53-74.


McDonald, W. A. and W. D. E. Coulson

1983 The Dark Age at Nichoria: A Perspective. In W. A. McDonald, W. D. E. Coulson and J. Rosser (eds.), Excavations at Nichoria in Southwest Greece Vol. 3: 316-329.

Morgan, C. and T. Whitelaw

1991 Pots and Politics: Ceramic Evidence for the Rise of the Argive State. American Journal of Archaeology 95: 79-108.


Pemberton, E. G.

1989 The Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore: The Greek Pottery. Corinth: Results of the Excavations Conducted by the American School of Classical Studies Vol. 18, part 1. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

[1] In Coulson’s study, differences in decorative treatment and fabric characterize the difference between DA II and DA III. It seems clear that the Pylos DA pottery is coming from a different production site. No fabric change coincides with formal changes associated with the periods, and almost all drinking cups are undecorated.

[2] Coulson (1986: 67-69, fig. 20, pl. 15 a-f) commented on only five post-Bronze Age vases from the Palace of Nestor, all of which he dated to his DA III period, noting that they, “…belong rather to the second half of the Eighth Century B.C.”.

[3] Note that none of the fragments from Court 42 preserved signs of burning, although Coulson intimates that the fact that they vases here and in the megaron of the palace were found in black soil reflects their use in ritual, probably “hero worship” (1986: 68).

[4] Contrast the Protogeometric drinking set in the Toumba building at Lefkandi, Catling and Lemos 1990: 3-5; and Unit IV at Nichoria, Coulson 1983.