Monthly Archives: July 2014

Guest Post by Andrei Mihailiuk: Apollonia Pontica

Our latest blog post was written by Andrei Mihailiuk, one of UBC’s Classical Archaeology MA students. Enjoy!


It is mid-July, about two in the morning, when the crash of lightning set off car alarms. My roommate and I are jolted awake (at least I assume he was too – then again, I once saw him sleep through his missile silo alarm for fifteen minutes straight). The sound of Vancouver rain on rooftops is like pitter-patter. This sounded more like an attempted home invasion by a legion of rabid seagulls. Somewhere in the realm beyond, Hitchcock nodded approvingly. Against all odds, the beach resort town of Sozopol, one of the gems of Bulgaria’s coastline along the Black Sea, a safe haven for Russian men in Speedos who shouldn’t wear Speedos, was witness to one of its worst thunderstorms in twenty years. In that adrenaline-fueled moment, I realized with a sudden clarity that we wouldn’t be filling our buckets with soil that morning.

A Worker Readies Himself for a Dip

A Worker Readies Himself for a Dip

Sozopol wasn’t always cobble-stoned streets and pushy restaurant hosts. Sometime around the turn of the 6th century BCE, a group of plucky young East Greeks from Miletus, hungry for adventure and precious metals, docked their ships at the southern tip of what is now called the Bay of Burgas. The settlement they would found came to be known as Apollonia after its patron deity, but it would also go by the name Apollonia Pontica to separate it from the scores of other ancient towns of that same name (this was, after all, a time before Internet fact-checking). The scanty mentions of the town in ancient sources help us to glean a few helpful facts: it experienced some sort of vaguely defined civil upheaval during the 5th century; its sanctuary to Apollo was apparently located on an island; its independence was cut short in 72 BCE when Marcus Lucullus invaded the city. The insignia they stamped on their coins, an anchor, is often taken to mark its importance as a centre of maritime trade.


Sozopol, Bulgaria

Excavations on the island of St. Kirik first began in 2009 under the aegis of the Balkan Heritage Foundation and Dr. Krastina Panayotova. Since the 1920s, the island had been home to a naval academy, and the stripped and decaying shells of these buildings remain – one of the barracks is now used for finds storage. Its proximity to the shore made it the prime candidate in the search for Apollo’s sanctuary. Surely enough, the foundations of a late archaic temple and altar were uncovered, but its identification with the patron deity wasn’t clinched until last year, when a clay bowl was found nearby inscribed with Apollo Iatros (Apollo the Healer). Our season’s excavations would concentrate on the island’s northeast tip, not far from the temple and another structure tentatively identified as an early Christian church.

The Old Naval Academy

The Old Naval Academy

Of all the squares they could have put me in, I lucked out. Most of the others were working in mixed contexts, where it was just as likely you’d pull up a Domitianic coin as a cigarette carton. I, alongside a retired schoolteacher from Alabama and a Brazilian girl whose English was just as inscrutable, had the unique pleasure of excavating a 6th century BCE bothros, a kind of pit altar. For the first week and a half, while the others were pickaxing their sorrows away, I was carefully sifting through an embarrassment of riches: clay oil lamps, different varieties of perfume containers, intact bowls and plates, an iron rod, a bronze arrowhead and a bone game piece make up a portion of what we were pulling out of the ground. When you spend most of your days on excavations uncovering broken artifacts, the experience of finding something in one piece is uniquely gratifying.

The Bothros, Nicknamed The Pit of Joy

The Bothros, Nicknamed The Pit of Joy

A Bronze Arrowhead, Pulled Out of Our Bothros

A Bronze Arrowhead, Pulled Out of Our Bothros

Our offsite activities consisted of a number of lectures and workshops, largely targeted at first-time diggers, but with plenty of content that you’d only know if you study Greek settlements along the Thracian coast (I don’t). The definite highlight of the lecture series was provided to us courtesy of a Bulgarian cop, who spoke about his experiences in trying to fight antiquities looting and the whole illicit industry that has been built around it. There was an audible gasp as he showed us an image of the now-pockmarked Roman site of Ratiaria, and one of our supervisors started passionately criticizing the police’s bottom-up approach. It was a very exciting two hours.

Site with Old Town in Background

Site with Old Town in Background

A couple of excursions were worked into the schedule as well, the best of which being a megalithic site called Begliktash. The area is a bizarre and maze-like formation of giant rocks not far from the coast. Though archaeology attests to the presence of ancient peoples in this area, there is simply no way we can reconstruct the type of ritual itinerary that the site’s tour guides provide, who have even labeled most of the rocks with plaques in Bulgarian and typo-heavy English (“Ah, so this is the Nurtial Bed.”). The site is just as arresting as a surreal natural landscape as it is an example of academic credibility in conflict with the tourism industry. Whatever this formation meant to visitors thousands of years ago, I somehow doubt it involved something as ill-conceived and pervy as the marriage of Sun God and Fertility Goddess.

The Natural Weirdness of Begliktash

The Natural Weirdness of Begliktash

Luckily, when the rain hit, we were already two weeks into our season, and after a day bailing out our squares in bucket lines, we were pretty quickly able to resume digging. I pause to scan my surroundings. To my left: the imposing and overgrown façade of the naval academy, complete with Art Deco tower. To my right: the concrete breakwater connecting St. Kirik to Sozopol’s old town quarter, the picture of Balkan quaintness. Straight ahead: St. Ivan Island in the distance, surrounded by the open sea. There are certainly less beautiful places in the world for archaeology.  


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Filed under Archaeology

Coming soon…

One of the jewels of our collection is the cuneiform tablet. So you may be wondering why it hasn’t made an appearance on any of our promotional products yet.

Today Leslie Field and I started photographing some of the Near Eastern artifacts for our Zazzle store. Well, Lesley did the photography and I stood back and learned from the master.

photo (1)

The photo set up was working well enough for the cuneiform tablet and the Roman lamp, but when it came time to photograph a couple of the small Egyptian amulets that refused to stand up, we had to improvise…and ended up getting some fantastic results using a simple Epson flatbed scanner.


Egyptian amulet #1: 3.8 cm in height, takes the form of an animal with upright ears and a prominent flat snout, two legs, and a kind of tang projecting out from the back. The material is some kind of metal, possibly iron or bronze.


Egyptian amulet #2: 2.1 cm in height, takes the form of a rabbit with longish ears, and its body in profile. A small hole has been drilled from one side of the head to the other below the ears. The image appears to have been carved out of a pale green stone, possibly chlorite or soapstone.


In fact, it worked so well, we scanned the cuneiform tablet as well, and the results were so good we’re using these images for our posters (this is not the original image, its a much smaller jpg file). It will take a little while to finish editing the final image, so please check our Zazzle store early next week.



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Filed under Ceramics, Cuneiform, fundraising, Near Eastern, photography

Products Available

Everyone has always wanted their very own squeeze, right? In response to demand (and to help raise funds for our upcoming conference in Paris we have opened a store on to sell posters, mugs & other products featuring some of the artifacts and squeezes in our collection.

MugWe’ve chosen Zazzle for a number of reasons. Their product quality is well-reviewed, and all products are print-on-demand, which means we do not have to purchase the merchandise up front. Instead, each product is created as it is ordered by the customer. Zazzle has worldwide shipping and dedicated customer service which means we can keep our focus on the project rather than on merchandising. All of the products can be customized – right or left-hand mugs, poster size and paper options are up to you. We recommend reading this paper review before purchasing a poster to ensure you are happy with the quality of your purchase. Please note that changing options (travel mug vs basic coffee mug / matte paper vs semi-gloss) will change the price of the item. All of our products are priced so we receive an average profit of $1.50.

poster 1


Products can take up to 24 hours to appear on the main storefront, so here are links directly to products:

Mug – Epigraphic Chart

Poster – Epigraphic Chart

Poster – Squeeze IG I2 24

Poster – IG I2 124

T-shirt IG I2 124 (this can be customized for mens, womens, childrens or infants clothing items)



We will update as soon as more products are available – keep an eye out for the cuneiform tablet!


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EAGLE 2014 International Conference

We’ve had a poster submission accepted for the 2014 Eagle Conference in Paris this fall. This is an exciting opportunity not only because we get to send one or two lucky team members to Paris for a couple of days, but since the conference is for epigraphists, we get a chance to talk about the technical details of digitizing the collection and our work with Digital Initiatives. It will be a completely new experience to talk about the collection with specialists, as most of our presentations to date have been to audiences unfamiliar with epigraphy.

We are hoping that our process of photographing the squeezes will help other universities realize the potential of digitizing their own collections, and look forward to learning more about digital epigraphy from the conference, as well has having a couple days to explore Paris.



From their website, the Eagle Project is dedicated to creating a digital library of epigraphy:

Co-funded by the European Commission under its Information and Communication Technologies Policy Support Programme, EAGLE aims to create an e-library for Digital Epigraphy of unprecedented scale and quality for ingestion to Europeana.

EAGLE is also aiming at creating a network of experts and people interested in Epigraphy and Cultural Heritage. This event is intended to be a forum for anyone willing to share and discuss experiences and current general best practices for digital editions. It is open to researchers, archivists, industry professionals, museum curators and others seeking to create a forum in which individuals and institutions can find a place to collaborate.

And for those who have an interest in epigraphy, you can check out the following Eagle Project collections on their site, including Arachne (from the German Archaeological Institute), the Epigraphic Database Bari (Epigraphic Documents of Christian Patronage), and discover the rich epigraphic collections out of Spain and Portugal at Hispania Epigraphica Online.



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Filed under Conferences, Digital Classics, Epigraphy, Squeeze Collection