The Transylvania Times -

By Kara Fohner
for The Transylvania Times 

Brevard College Students Dig Deep In Crete – Brevard NC


In June, a group from Brevard College got some hands-on experience in Crete working on an excavation site. (Courtesy photo)

In mid-June, five Brevard College students and alumni accompanied Dr. Anne Chapin on her fourth dig to the eastern side of Crete, the fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.

There, they worked arduous nine to 11 hour days on the Gournia Excavation Project, unearthing and preserving the ruins of an ancient Minoan palace.

The palace dates back to approximately 2000 to 1300 B.C.

From 1901 to 1904, archaeologists began to excavate and conserve the site.

In 2010, the University of Buffalo in New York began the excavation process again, inviting volunteers to participate.

While the sound of the name “Gournia” is similar to C.S. Lewis’ famed Narnia, this site is not fictional.

Volunteers and archaeologists have unearthed cobblestone streets, bronze tools and weapons, pottery and much more, revealing Gournia to be an incomplete, but detailed depiction of a Late Bronze Age (1500 B.C.) town.

The excavation process has been a collaboration between students, professionals, artists and historians, meshing academic discourse with physical experience.

It placed Brevard College student Emily Saunders at a distinct advantage.

Saunders is an art major who will graduate next May. She specializes in sculpture and ceramics, and her time spent shaping clay in the studio has introduced a passion for the careful artistry of seemingly mundane vessels such as bowls, jars and cups.

“Because of my hands-on experience at Brevard, I was able to connect with the pottery,” Saunders said. “I could identify and even explain how pieces were made to ceramic experts, who had only experienced the pottery through books and articles.

“In return, they explained the historical context to me. Now, I have a much better understanding of the pottery’s background. It became an amazing, mutually beneficial relationship.”

Brevard College graduate Dean Mobley first traveled to Crete in 2011, while Jacob Liske came in 2012, directly after his graduation.

Steve McGee, a history major, also graduated in May of 2013, but this summer was his first opportunity to visit Crete.

He explained in basic terms the process of an excavation.

“This year there were 95 people working in the field and the center,” said McGee. “They made more progress than last year. I have learned how to identify rocks from shards of pottery.

“The physical labor taught me how things were done in a trench. I needed to sweep up the surface first, dig up the first level and sweep again before starting with the next level. I helped conserve some of the walls in Gournia. There, we mixed mortar and applied it to the wall, after scraping the old material away.”

For Liz Birloin, a graphic design major and a senior at Brevard College, the excavation was an opportunity to broaden her skillset.

“As an art major, when people asked why I came, I told them that I wanted to travel and learn,” she said. “I took Aegean with Dr. Chapin, but sitting in the class is incomparably different to getting a hands-on experience. I learned that I can use my design skills to draw pottery in the drafting room, which is where I hope to be this semester.”

The final segment of the Gournia Excavation project will begin next June.

For now, the progress of this excavation can be attributed both to the faithful volunteers and the seasoned professionals who have, for the past three years, uncovered the remnants of a society that will likely never be found at the back of any wardrobe.


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