Studying Greek and Roman pottery at Knossos

Sheffield Archaeology MA student Ellen McGuinness reflects on her experiences

Ellen McGuinness, a student on Sheffield’s MA Archaeology of the Classical Mediterranean programme, spent a rewarding time studying ancient pottery over the Easter period this April. She participated in a
two week intensive Greek and Roman pottery course at the Knossos Research Centre in Crete, using the collections from the Stratigraphic Museum. This course was run by the British School at Athens.

Ellen reports on her experiences:

The course was very international, with students from America, France, Argentina, Italy, Greece, Norway, Iceland, Australia, Denmark, as well as the UK. It was interesting to meet and chat with postgraduate students from different countries. We all got on very well, and have plans for a reunion this summer.

Highlights included:
• Visits to see potters and potting villages at Margarites and Thrapsano. Watched and helped with the process from making the clay, to wheel making pots, and emptying the kiln.
• Extensive 3 to 4 hour sessions with UK experts (including Dr. C. McDonald, Dr. C. Trainor, and Prof. T. Whitelaw) handling pottery from different periods and learning how to identify them. Pottery ranged from Neolithic through to late Roman.
• In addition we had evening lectures, and sessions on petrography, survey and drawing pots.
• Visit to the Heraklion Museum, where we were shown around by Ms E. Galli and the former Director of the Museum Dr G. Rethemiotakis. We were also shown the Linear A and B collections by Dr G. Flouda.
• Visits to archaeological sites (Phaistos, Gortys and Galatas) with Greek archaeologists.
• Particular highlight was the opportunity to visit Galatas, as it is not open to the public. We were given a tour with Knossos Curator Dr Kostis S. Christakis, who excavated the site and also oversaw the entire course.

Making pots at Thrapsano

My overall highlight was having our own project for two days at the end of the course. After declaring a period we would like to explore more, we were given suitable boxes from the store to explore. My box was Protogeometric from the North Cemetery at Knossos and included items from Euboea, the area of research for my dissertation. After time to investigate and research we each gave a presentation to everyone else on the course about our boxes. It was incredible to get the chance to handle all the material, and then to decide which areas to focus on to feedback to the group. It was also a great way to learn more about everyone’s research interests and get some additional detail, building on what we had learnt during the course.

The course was of immeasurable value. It was a fantastic way to meet people with similar interests from round the world, while receiving an intensive introduction to the Greek and Roman pottery likely to be found at sites across Greek. The opportunity to handle so many pots, including many that were complete was an invaluable way to take in so much information in just two weeks. An exhausting, but hugely satisfying experience - one that I would highly recommend.

More on the MA Archaeology of the Classical Mediterranean

More on courses offered by the BSA

Heraklion Museum

Cleaning Pots

Galatas Gortys
Knossos Museum Making pots at Magarites