AGIA PARASKEVI OF ARACHAMITAI
Report of work conducted in 2015
At the end of the first five-year excavation programme in 2014 we had reached a rather good understanding of the Hellenistic building with a central courtyard, which was accessed through a propylon and monumental gateway from the west. On the other hand we had only very preliminary knowledge of the real centre of cult that we had localised on the east side of the Hellenistic building. In order to find out more about the centre of cult as well as to learn more about the early courtyard building we began a second five-year excavation programme in 2015. The preliminary results of the work in 2015 are as follows.
The main emphasis in 2015 was put on the remains of an altar or temple located on the east side of the early courtyard building. On the basis of our work we now have a much better picture of the diachronic development of cult here at the very centre of the sanctuary. Cult activity began with an ash altar with a thickness of ca. 30-50 cm. Remains of it, consisting of charcoal, ash, very black soil, burnt bone fragments and a large amount of early pottery and votive offerings (e.g. bronze pins, terracotta figurines etc.), was found mainly on the northeast side of the walls WF 203 and WF 204. The finds from the ash altar date between the late seventh and the fifth centuries BC, although a series of C-14 samples indicates that its roots may stretch back as far as to the eight century BC. A special feature of the early cult activity are the small juglets, oinochoai or aryballoi that were dedicated upside down, i.e., with the mouth downwards, several of which are completely preserved. Such juglets were above all found in the ash altar itself, but some of them also in its closest neighbourhood.
The ash altar went out of use at some stage when a building was constructed, to which at least the foundations of the walls WF 202, WF 203, WF 204, and possibly also of WF 206 belong. The rubble stone filling between WF 204 and WF 206 also are part of the foundation of this building. Only part of this building, which may have been a temple, has so far been excavated. Among the few remaining parts of the upper structure of it can be mentioned a badly rolled Doric capital dating to the Classical period and a complete archaizing Corinthian antefix painted in red, black and white and dating to the fifth century BC. The fact that the complete antefix was found squeezed into the stone rubble on the south side of WF 204 indicates that it probably was placed there as a foundation offer in connection with the construction of the building, which thus probably should be dated to the second half of the fifth century BC.
This possible temple was thoroughly destroyed during the fourth century BC. The white well-worked limestone blocks placed on top of the foundations of WF 203 and WF 204 may originally have belonged to the early temple (from the euthynterion?), but are not any more in their original place. The white limestone blocks have thus been re-used for a new building which was covered by a Laconian roof. The collapsed roof is preserved mainly between WF 204 and WF 206, but also stretching some 1-2 meters towards the north of WF 204. The roof can be dated to the Hellenistic period and includes similar tile stamps as used in the roof of the early courtyard building. The layer just below the collapsed roof, partly consisting of the floor level, partly of finds on top of the floor, also dates to the Hellenistic period, e.g. including three coins dating to the third century BC. Five small square stone constructions aligned along the east and north side of WF 203 and WF 204 seem to belong to this same building phase, perhaps being the bases of wooden columns.
The function of the Hellenistic building remains unclear, but it probably was part of the early courtyard building. There are several indications that point in this direction such as the use of similar roof tile stamps and white limestone blocks. Further evidence is provided by WF 207 and WF 208 which seemingly connect the Hellenistic building phase in the east with the early courtyard building. We need to excavate more on the west side of the altar/temple in order to clarify how the Hellenistic building is connected with the early courtyard building, but also to understand the function of the so far rather enigmatic WF 201 better. For the time being we believe that it may be a terrace wall needed because the courtyard was located much lower than the altar/temple.
The last phase of cult activity is represented by a rectangular stone structure, the foundation of which measures 3.10-3.20x2 m. Two 65 cm high and ca. 84-90 cm wide well-cut orthostate blocks of white limestone give a rough idea of the original height of the structure. Around this structure, especially on its southern and southwestern side an almost black soil layer mixed with charcoal, burned bones and large amounts of fragments of Roman lamps were found, the most recent lamp being manufactured by Posphoros and dating to between ca. 150 and 225 after Christ. These finds indicate that we are dealing with a small stone altar that was in use during the early Roman period. The altar was probably built shortly after the destruction of the early courtyard building. In combination with the construction of the Roman altar, the spot where it was erected must have been cleaned from earlier debris, including the remains of the collapsed Hellenistic roof.