Archaeology (The Conservation of a Pithos)

23 Apr

There are many Pithoi (storage vessels) found on archaeological sites in Crete. These huge pots are sometimes as tall as six foot and used to store, as well as export such commodities as olive oil, wine and other such items. Sometimes they have been found complete like those discovered at the Palace of Knossos and Malia Palace in Crete. Other times they are found broken into many sherds and mixed with fragments from different vessels such as cooking pots,dishes or cups. Of course there are many other items found by archaeologists when excavating a site such as, bones,both human and animal bones, flint implements, a lamp or bowl made from stone or gypsum, a marble statue of a goddess, even metal or wooden objects. The Minoans diet included fish, so it comes as no surprise that many shells have been found on archeaological sites. The murex shell was the most treasured and is believed that the Minoans made their bright purple dye from a gland extracted from the murex itself.

The Instap Study Center for East Crete is where my partner John and myself work with other archaeologists on finds from excavations around the area. There are different rooms where we work depending on what work  there  is to be done. John works on the huge Pithoi and I usually work on Minoan cooking pots,cups or dishes,this involves sorting many broken sherds which have first been washed, into a system where they can easily be seen when having to join them together. For instance, an ancient cooking pot is usually a tripod vessel so I would begin by placing all the base sherds onto trestles provided then body sherds followed by rims and sometimes handles. The body sherds are the hardest to find when trying to find pieces of the same pot, handles and feet which had broken from pots are set aside in the hope that we find more fragments to fit together. Occasionally we are lucky to discover all the fragments are from the same pot and can be put back together to form a complete vessel,when this happens it is very rewarding. Of course everything has to be catalogued for archivel purposes and for other archaeologists when a site is resumed.

At The W.D.E. Coulson Conservation Laboratory of the INSTAP Study Center for East Crete under the supervision of  Dr Stephania N. Chlouveraki,Chief Conservator. John was involved with the conservation of one of the large 4000 year old pithoi which took almost six months to reconstruct from many sherds. Here are a few pictures to give you some idea of the work involved but ‘Oh so rewarding when finished.

Some of the Pithos Sherds

Working on the Base of Pithos

Taking shape from the Rim.

Conservation looking good. John on the left with

Stephania our Chief Conservator.

 Dr Stephania Chlouveraki(Right) and Matina Tzari(Left) Just Checking.


                                                   Preparing to place shoulders and  Rim

Almost there.


                                                                      Just a few pieces left to fit.

In my next post I will talk about the Tyrian  Purple dye extracted from the murex so prized by the Minoans.


Posted by on April 23, 2012 in Archaeology and Conservation


3 responses to “Archaeology (The Conservation of a Pithos)

  1. frandi

    April 30, 2012 at 11:14 am

    Love this article Rita-I am always interested in ancient storage vessels and the traces of the goods they used to carry. Looking forward to reading your next article about the purple dye.


  2. Etienne

    April 30, 2016 at 7:14 pm

    Love this!! Thanks!
    Where is the part about working on skulls and the story about your and John’s first day?


    • ritaroberts

      May 1, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      I think you will find it on my post about Charalambos. Etienne.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: