Archaeology Films A-Z: The Ancient Hydraulis

Title: The Ancient Hydraulis
Year: 2002
Length: 9.5 minutes
Made by: European Cultural Centre of Delphi
Genre: phenomenological/expository
Authors: Directed by Maria Hatzimihali-Papaliou, who was born in Greece and is part of the New Greek Cinema movement. She has made several documentaries highlighting social issues and disability in addition to her documentaries about ancient Greece. A notable film that combines these topics is People of Peace, a film that juxtaposes excerpts from ancient Greek writers and images of 20th century conflict. Interestingly, the credits list both the filmmakers and the “scientific team” behind the movie.

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Oh god, she thinks, not another archaeology video with pan-flutey music. Seriously, can’t we think of anything better?

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oh. This is new.

I fully admit that I had no idea what a hydraulis was before the viewing of this video. It is pretty damn cool.

The narrator quotes from primary sources to tell us the power of music in Greek society, how the symphony created by the hydraulis captivated an entire congress. The original 3rd century instrument was powered by a hydraulic air pressure stabilizer that was eventually replaced by bellows, turning the hydraulis into a wind instrument.

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The video streaming kept breaking, so I got to hear this dude sing at least a dozen times. I switched to watching the video on Daily Motion:

We switch to expository mode next, when we learn more about an archaeologist finding the remains of a hydraulis and reconstructing it. The hydraulis eventually turns into our more familiar pipe organ, adopted and then developed by the Catholic church.

There are a few overviews of the site of Dion, during which we learn about the archaeologist Dimitrios Panternalis who found the hydraulis at Dion and is now the president of the New Acropolis Museum. It is a little unfortunate that they don’t have any images of the process of construction, so we continue to see scenic Dion.

The Ancient Hydraulis is a mildly interesting video about a fun bit of experimental archaeology that could have been about half as long. If you are wildly into the Greeks, Classical Archaeology, Experimental Archaeology, or like to hear a yodeling dude, this video is for you.


Archaeology Films A-Z: Ancient Greece: Pots Tell the Story

Title: Ancient Greece: Pots Tell the Story
Year: 2003
Length: 12 minutes
Made by: Karen Aqua and Ken Field in collaboration with Treasure Mountain Middle School, Park City, Utah
Genre: Experimental
Authors: Karen Aqua was an artist and spent 35 years making brilliant animated films before dying far too young from ovarian cancer. He husband, Ken Field, is a famous musician and composer who has made music for Sesame Street, among other productions.

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Interesting opening, very DIY, stop-motion animation using children’s drawings. There’s a narrator, telling us what the children have learned while studying Ancient Greece, very nice….wait, what? “They ruled a large part of the world thousands of years ago.” Large…uh…hmm.  During this description we have various drawings of Greek pots shimming across the frame.

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There are several narrators, which is great. First a woman, then a man (presumably Karen Aqua and Ken Field, which are surely the names of folksy, down-home superheroes) and then various children. Nice–a varied voice de-centers the usual authoritative voice-of-god narration.

We learn standard the standard bits about the columns  through cute animations of Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns emerging from the ground with cranking noises, but I do not particularly like this disembodied emergence of architecture, especially when it comes to Greek architecture. People built those.

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Speaking of people, we get actors in “heavy, sweaty masks,” musicians, and the first Olympics. We also hear about Greek mythology and monsters at length. The drawings are very cute and the animation is extremely inventive.

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Overall, the film is aimed at a young, elementary school audience, probably 7-10. It is an excellent project, and I applaud the enterprising animators who put this fun film together. I love the idea of young school children drawing figures from Greek pots and extrapolating stories that they could animate using these figures. In this case I’d argue that the making of the film is actually more important than the particular outcome, which is a bit boring and basic.

2/5 – Movie content
5/5 – School project, great for outreach

Archaeology Films A-Z: The Amphora of Eleusis

Title: The Amphora of Eleusis
Year: 2006
Length: 4 minutes
Made by: Eleni Stoumbou
Genre: Experimental
Authors: Eleni Stoumbou has made several short archaeology films and contributes to Archaeology Magazine. She studied documentary filmmaking at Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense.

Review:  title

A delightful short video subtitled in Greek and English that takes the viewer through the story of Odysseus and the Cyclops as if it were being told to a child using the decorated amphora of Eleusis as a story book.


The soundtrack is performed in part with a Cretan lyre and compliments the subject–light and repetitive without being grating. There are some slightly cheesy Adobe After Effects and a random and jarring animation, but they don’t detract too much from the film.


A simple, creative exploration of an artifact that shows the potential for archaeology films to go beyond a simple expository framework. I was delighted by the presentation of the amphora and then the progression of the film to show a mother and child looking at the artifact in a museum. There’s even a slightly macabre twist near the end!

Absolutely one to show archaeology, conservation & museum students as an example of how to make a simple, engaging film using a single artifact.


(I had to skip the  previous film in the sequence, The Akha Way, as I had trouble streaming it. I’ll come back to it.)

At the Souvlaki Stand


Three old Greek ladies with gold cross necklaces, swimming and smoking, smoking and swimming. They wash their feet off in the little beach shower and join their friends at a larger table.

It’s windy and the shirtless boy that serves the dakos and souvlaki and raki puts the napkins under the bread baskets, a bracelet guarding against the evil eye sliding down his wrist.

On the west side the stand is bordered by a buttressed Ottoman building that everyone pees inside of.  East is the beach, a small shower head mounted in concrete by the shore, a Byzantine wall eroding out of the sand, more beach, then the site at the far end.  I could probably see people working there from the stand, but I’m always the one working, and I wonder if they watch us hopping on walls and scratching the dirt during the day.  Mountains rise above the shore, craggy and cloudy in a very Greek there-could-be-gods-here sort of way.

The sunsets are always lovely, but not spectacular with gaudy colors. I’m watching another one, alone, drinking my second big Mythos out of a small cup and eating some salty peanuts. I hunt through the shredded pile of skins, find another one, and pop it into my mouth.

There are grape vines everywhere, and trees shade the diners. Two old men shout across my table at each other, discussing their day or the weather or I don’t know.  An ice cream cooler is next to the beer cooler, so it’s a popular spot for the archaeologists after we finish our day. The plunge into the ocean after a brutally hot day on site is too sweet for words.  So we come by and swim, and chat about our day, dripping salty water into the dust under the trees at the souvlaki stand.

The souvlaki stand has a puppy out back, and just yesterday I noticed that there is a low wall behind him that is built into the bedrock that eats through the shore.  The bedrock has been rounded off on top, and a few flower pots are placed in the crevices.  We have been uncovering rocks just like it on site, with obsidian blades tucked in between them, the neolithic less than a meter underneath the Byzantine.

I’ve finished my beer and my peanuts, the sun has gone down and the tables full of greek families are emptying, one by one, to go eat dinner and tend to the large olive groves that line every road. We are lucky, archaeologists, for being able to stay in one place for this long, and we tend to find things like the souvlaki stand to make us comfortable, so far from home.



The permit arrived on Friday just after breakfast, so we spent a bit of time tidying up the site and finalizing area assignments before the long (Saturday AND Sunday) weekend.  On Saturday I realized that I hadn’t had a day off in two weeks, and one day I had before that I spent hiking up three waterfalls inside of Wadi Mujib, a gorgeous canyon  in Jordan. So, needless to say, I was tired and spent the day mooching around site, resting, and swimming.
On Sunday I was feeling restless and while I was still tired, it was time to travel.  All of the ferries in Ayios Nikolaos had gone for the day, so we caught a ferry in Elounda to Spinalonga, a small island fortress.  Spinalonga was built in 1579 to guard against the Ottoman threat.  There are some nice ruined Ottoman houses on the island.  During the early 20th century it was used as a leper colony, and seeing as I’ve already excavated at one leper colony in Hawaii, I thought I’d visit another island leposarium.  Besides, who wants to see another classical site? Yeesh, not me.


It was a blindingly hot day, so the hike around the island was a little tedious, but there were some nice details in the architecture and reuse of the early fortress ashlars that made it worth it.  I was also worried that it would be completely overrun by tourists, but it seemed like it was mostly Greek families who came for the nice swimming off of the battlements.  The ruins of the leposarium were unsurprisingly grim, even in the lovely setting.


So, I got a bit of touring in. I’m not sure where I’ll go next weekend and I suppose I’ll try to fit Knossos in at some point, but I think I’ve gone into archaeological site freefall, where one pile of stones starts to look a whole lot like the next.  Speaking of piles of stones, progress in my part of the trench is a bit slow, but we’ve started to move a bit today, getting rubble cleared and walls disambiguated.  I’m working in a part of the trench that has been actively avoided until now, so that maybe says something.
More about the archaeology when I actually find something, I suppose.

Priniatikos Pyrgos


I made it to Heraklion at around 1PM, minus one piece of luggage. My Amman to Istanbul to Athens to Crete flights had started at 3:30AM that day, and the suitcase containing the majority of my clothes and my dig boots had gotten lost somewhere in-between. The site is about 1.5 hours away by bus, but the next bus wasn’t for a couple of hours, so I had some nice coffee with Dan in Heraklion’s main plaza. I was still dazed from transit but I couldn’t help but notice….

Everybody was naked.

It was true! I hadn’t seen that much flesh for what seemed like ages and I found myself completely shocked. Bikinis! Tiny shorts! Shirtless guys! Such a startling change from dusty ol’ Dhiban. Well, the nudity and the sparkling Med, olive orchards and absolute disinterest from the locals–a blessing after the constant harassment in Jordan.

When the bus pulled into Istron we got off at the bus stop and were immediately sighted by Barry, the site director. He picked us up and we had a quick beer at the local bar. The dig house is about a mile away from town, down a small road that wanders through olive orchards, tiny house gardens, and WWII gun emplacements. Each of the apartments has a small kitchen inside, so I’ve been eating lovely greek salads and ratatouille and as many vegetables as I can stomach. There are lemon trees outside and the cicadas buzz so loudly you can’t hear the person next to you at times. I’m sharing the flat with a lovely Polish couple who made mead to drink tonight at sunset.

The site is on the coast, a walk back up the town road and then a short walk to the beach, where the ruins rise out of a rocky outcropping in the sea. It’s a beautiful walk in the morning, wandering between the shadows of the olive trees and checking out the first swimmers of the day.

Sadly it’s been a slow start when it comes to the archaeology. The permit process has been slow this year and we can’t start work until it is issued. So we’ve been cleaning and planning and the students have been washing and sorting pottery until they’re half-blind. I have been taking my time planning the area I’ve been assigned, which mostly fits onto a 5m x 7m grid of graph paper. There’s a scatter of stones to the north and what looks like a room to the south, but the walls are a bit wonky and the coursing is strange, so I’ll have to sort it all out when we are allowed to dig.

The site is multi-phase (it has a really excellent website if you want details) but it looks like I’m up in the Byzantine again, with a hint of Hellenistic. Odd work for a girl that likes the prehistoric, but I’m quite happy as we’re digging the site using a modified single-context system. It’s amazing how much of a difference that makes for me. I’ve vowed not to dig at sites that use other recording systems, but that vow will probably go the way of the vow I made several years ago that I’d never dig for free again. Hah.

My dig boots arrived yesterday so hopefully the permit will come in soon. In the meantime, I think I’ll go for a swim after my glass of mead.

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