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Digging Through History:

Ann Santen joins Jack Davis's UC classics team
to uncover artifacts in Albania

Editor's note: Alumna Ann Santen, CCM '79, known for her years as former music director and general manager at WGUC, Cincinnati's classical music station, recently turned her interests to classical civilization, enrolling in UC courses in Greek history, art, architecture and literature; Roman archaeology; ancient Egypt; Archaeology of Hadrian; and Middle Eastern history.

Knowing Ann's interest in archaeology as a discipline, Jack Davis, Blegen professor of Greek archaeology, and Sharon Stocker, a co-director of the Bonjaket excavations in Albania, invited her to participate in a three-week "dig" there last summer. The quest was for evidence, through artifacts found at a site near the city of Apollonia, that a Greek temple there can be dated the oldest one in Albania.

Here are excerpts from Ann's excavation diary:

When I told friends I was going to Albania last summer, the first question was, "Why Albania?" The second was, "Where is it?"

I went with the University of Cincinnati Department of Classics to excavate a sixth century B.C. Greek sanctuary. Albania lies along the Adriatic Sea, just north of Greece and south of Croatia. Corinth and its colony (now Corfu) founded the city of Apollonia on a high ridge overlooking the coastal plain. On a clear day, one can see the Mediterranean 10 miles away. The Classics Department at UC is one of the best in the country, so it is not surprising that it would be involved in Albania, where little archeological excavation has been done and where, because of the country's poverty and primitive farming techniques, the soil is relatively little disturbed. Where we were digging, few tractors are used. Plowing is now done with animals, but not long ago there was only backbreaking human labor.

Remove just 8 to 10 inches of soil, and what the Romans left is still there, undisturbed. Greek artifacts are just a little lower.

We were fortunate to have a collaborative project, working and living with Albanian archaeologists and students who welcomed us and helped us understand the country. Our excavation site was a barnyard on the coastal plain about 5 miles from Apollonia. Four trenches had been prepared, and mine was where little statues and small clay vessels used as votive offerings in the sanctuary had been thrown.

Using mortar trowels and small picks, we dug down through history, carefully removing pottery shards, bone, shell, charcoal and pieces of figurines, sifting each bucketful of dirt to make sure we had missed nothing. Special finds were mapped, as well as large pieces of charcoal, because they could be used to carbon-date the level of artifacts. Nearly as reliable, and quicker, was our dig's pottery expert, who needed only a slender shard to quickly tell what kind of vessel it had been, where it was made and when.

Our workdays were long and tiring. In the trenches by 7 a.m., we dug, screened and documented our finds until 2:30 p.m., with only a half-hour break. Back in Apollonia, we turned over our finds to the museum staff, had lunch and a much-needed rest, then worked in the museum until 7 p.m. There was time for a glass of raki, beer or wine at a bar-restaurant nearby, then dinner at 8 p.m.

The living quarters were simple but good. The Albanian government built a house for archaeologists at Apollonia 15 years ago next to a former monastery. Everything was clean and comfortable, with excellent food, thanks to local farm products and the culinary touches of an Albanian colleague.

The monastery building houses a museum for local artifacts, plus workrooms and storage areas. We used the covered walkways of the cloister to wash our finds, aided by local ladies who spread the washed shards on screens to dry in the sunny courtyard.

On the second floor of the cloister were rooms for sorting, counting and weighing artifacts. The paperwork involved is huge, as everything is double-labeled, documented and entered into a database.

From the start, our goal had been to reach a level in our trench that would reveal the age of the nearby temple. The three adjoining trenches had uncovered a corner of the temple foundation, made of huge hewn-limestone blocks laid end to end.

As we went deeper and deeper -- about 5 feet down from ground level, or about 47 meters above sea level -- we found older and older artifacts. Finally, a couple of days before we had to close up the trenches, we found pottery shards that could definitely be dated to 525 to 500 B.C.

The final days of our dig were spent lining the trenches with green plastic and then filling them in with the soil we had so carefully taken out. We finished our cataloguing in the museum and stored our finds in the abandoned monks' cells, ready for next year's dig.


Diary of an archaeology dig, Albania 2005

View more images from this article

Discovery of the temple at Bonjaket farm

Concern for Albania's cultural heritage, 2001

UC archaeologists pinpoint site of Archaic Temple