Agia Paraskevi of Arachamites is a site located at the highest point of the pass leading from Asea to Arachamites in Arcadia – more specifically, roughly between Tripolis and Megalopolis. Preliminary archaeological work, including magnetometer prospecting and opening of trial trenches, was conducted by the Finnish Institute at Athens at the site between 2006 and 2008 under the directorship of Björn Forsén. The aim of this work was to clarify the date and function of the site. The preliminary results indicate the existence of a small sanctuary dating to between the mid-sixth and late first century BC. In the mid-Roman period a large courtyard structure of unclear function was built in part on top of the original sanctuary.
Apart from the shorter reports published in English on this web-page and in Archaeological Reports a longer preliminary report in Greek on the work conducted at the site in 2006 - 2007 has been published:
B. Forsén, J. Forsén, T. Smekalova & E. Tikkala, “Το αίνιγμα της Αγίας Παρασκευής Αραχαμιτών”, in Y. Pikoulas (ed.), Ιστορίες για την αρχαία Αρκαδία, Stemnitsa 2009, 223 - 230.
2a. Preliminary report for 2006 - 2007
A geophysical prospection was carried out on the site, followed up by small trial trenches (A to C) in order to clarify the date and function of the structures detected. The magnetometer revealed at least two monumental buildings at the site, one of them being rectangular in shape (ca. 30 x 11 m), the other one square (ca. 65x65 m) with a large central courtyard. As a result of the trial trenches the rectangular building can be reconstructed as a stoa, opening towards the north and having a series of square rooms along its southern back side. The shape of the stoa indicates a Hellenistic date. The most recent piece of evidence found below the collapsed roof, which thereby offers a terminus post quem for the destruction of the stoa, is a Lakedaimonian coin dating to the second quarter of the first century BC.
South of the stoa we struck a shallow pit filled with dark soil, large quantities of pottery and other small finds. The pottery includes large quantities of mould-made bowl fragments, both imbricate and floral bowls that date to ca. 225 to 150 BC, but also some long petal bowls that date to ca. 150 to 80 BC. There are also miniature vessels, cooking pots, amphorae, jugs and some lamps as well as a handful of female figurines of the second century BC. At the southernmost end of trench A we found a water channel made of terracotta and next to it black-glazed pottery of the late fifth through mid-third century BC, as well as a piece of the bronze foot of a hydria dating to the second half of the sixth century BC.
The composition of the finds in the pit could be interpreted as the remains of ritual dining, common in sanctuaries. The lack of male figurines seems to point towards a female deity. Two tile stamps, one beginning with ΑΡΤΕΜ… and the other one with ΔΕΣΠ…, could possibly indicate the existence of a cult to e.g. Artemis Despoina, although this needs to be proven by further research. Further work is also needed in order to explain the date and function of the larger, ca. 65 x 65 m structure at the site.
2b. Preliminary report for 2008
Further trial trenches were opened at the site with the purpose of clarifying three issues concerning the two monumental buildings detected here – a large courtyard structure and what looks like a Hellenistic stoa. Firstly, we wanted to define the date and function of the large courtyard structure. Secondly, we wanted to collect more information concerning the relationship between the two buildings, which are differently aligned and thereby seem to be of different date. Finally we hoped to find out more about the pre-Hellenistic activities at the site, which were known only through a handful of finds from the trial trenches of 2007.
The magnetometer survey of 2007 gave us a fairly clear idea of the ground plan of the monumental courtyard structure. Rows of 5 - 6 m large square rooms are visible on all sides around the courtyard, in the centre of which there seems to be a round pit. Furthermore it seems as if there existed two entrances to the courtyard, one in the centre of the western side and another in the centre of the eastern side. Two trial trenches were opened in 2008 in order to verify the existence of this structure as well as to find out information concerning its date and function. Trench E was placed at the location of the possible central pit and Trench F in one of the square rooms flanking the courtyard.
Trench E turned out to be a disappointment. Part of it was excavated until a depth of 165 cm below surface without producing anything but a handful of sherds and some tile fragments. The quality of the soil is better here than anywhere else on the site, being mixed with organic material but void of stones. The trench was too small to clarify whether there really was a man-made pit here or not.
Trench F revealed the exact location of three of the walls in one of the square rooms. The walls are built of small natural stones with no mortar and have a width of ca. 60 cm. They are still standing to a height of some 60-70 cm with their upper part covered by some 20 cm of top soil. The area between the walls, i.e. the interior of the room, was covered by a 10 - 20 cm thick roof tile layer mixed with a burned mass of red clay, possibly the remains of sun-dried bricks once forming the upper part of the walls. Very few finds were recorded in the layer below the collapsed roof – only some iron nails and a handful of non-diagnostic sherds mixed with charcoal and ash.
Because of the few finds in Trenches E and F, the question concerning the date and function of the courtyard structure is still uncertain. However, many of the roof tiles found in Trench F were decorated with finger strokes in a way typical of Middle to Late Roman tiles and thus give a rough indication of the date of the building. This date is further supported by a C-14 sample taken below the collapsed roof, which dates to the third or fourth century AD.
The third trench excavated was an enlargement of Trench A dug in 2007. This year it was enlarged by an additional 15 m2, mostly towards the west and south in order to find the borders of the shallow pit filled with dark soil, large quantities of pottery and other small finds. Throughout most of the trench there was a 30 - 50 cm thick dark layer mixed with fragments of roof tiles, large amounts of pottery (including miniature vessels), fragmentary terracotta figurines, various small finds, charcoal and ash. The layer is thicker and also occurs slightly deeper in the north towards the stoa-like structure. Below this dark layer follows sterile soil except in a smaller area in the north of the trench, where more dark soil mixed with large quantities of pottery, various small finds and ash continues at least to a depth of 170 cm below surface. Here the dark soil, which most likely belongs to a pit, differs from the previous dark layer in that, instead of fragmentary roof tiles, it contains some large stones.
The earliest finds were made in the south part of the trench. These include e.g. parts of a local red-figure vase dating to the mid-fifth century and black-glazed pottery of the fourth to third century BC. The finds mostly date to the third and second centuries BC, and they include Megarian bowls and bronze coins. Several coins were found in the pit and one of them, recovered at a depth of 155 cm, is minted by Kassandros. The composition of the finds was thus rather similar to the one found in Trench A already in 2007, although we now have more evidence for the early phases of cult activity as well as a better picture of the stratigraphy of the dark soil layer.
3. Project Participants
Björn Forsén, University of Helsinki (Director)
Jeannette Forsén, Göteborg University (Find registrar)
Tatyana Smekalova, University of St. Petersburg (Geophysical survey)
Esko Tikkala, University of Oulu (Architectural remains and topographical mapping)
Magnus Brimsholm (2007), Vivi Deckwirth (2008), Björn Forsén (2006 - 2008), Jeannette Forsén (2007 - 2008), Richard Forsén (2008), Leena Haikonen (2007-2008), Sami Kukkonen (2008), Jani Oravisjärvi (2008), Anna Patteri (2007), Touko Paukkonen (2007), Tatyana Smekalova (2006 - 2007), Mikko Suha (2006 - 2008), Markus Suuronen (2008), Esko Tikkala (2006 - 2008), Tommi Turmo (2007 - 2008).
Ella and Georg Ehrnrooth Foundation (2008)