Stories from Study Abroad: The Archaeology of Greece

CATEGORIES: December 2013

David Parkinson is a double major in Classical Studies and History.  In the summer of 2013, he participated in the Classical Studies Program’s excavation field school, “The Archaeology of Greece.” David was one of the recipients of the Marcus Aurelius Scholarship last academic year, and like many recipients, used his scholarship to help defray the costs of study abroad.  Since 2002, the Classical Studies Program has been able to offer one to four Marcus Aurelius Scholarships, totaling ca. $4000 each academic year, to outstanding Classical Studies majors and minors, who have completed their Latin or Greek language requirement.

During the seven-week study-abroad program, David and four other Iowa State students (Alex Adams, also a Marcus Aurelius Scholarship recipient; Emily Bingaman; Emily Milton; and Sarah Parkinson) were part of a larger team of archaeologists, specialists, local workmen and women, and other students excavating and researching the archaeological site at Azoria, on the island of Crete.  The Azoria Project team is recovering the evidence of an Archaic Greek city built ca. 600 BCE and destroyed by fire early in the fifth century BCE.  The establishment of this Archaic city included alterations to the landscape of the site and an architectural transformation of both domestic and civic space, including monumental buildings. The project is also exploring the site’s preceding occupation throughout the Early Iron Age (1200-700 BCE) and Early Archaic (700-600 BCE) periods and the changes that attended its transformation to an urban center. Below, David recounts his study-abroad experience on Crete.

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David writes:

“I first want to express my immense gratitude for the Marcus Aurelius Scholarship that helped fund my summer abroad excavating in Greece! When I am asked about what I did this past summer, I say that I cannot be modest about my experience because to downplay the adventures, events, education, and friends I made just wouldn’t be right. One would think that the days spent in a village of a few hundred people would be routine and perhaps mundane. But the village of Kavousi, Crete, is no ordinary village. Surrounded and infused by literally thousands of years of history, filled with people who all have unique life stories to tell, and different views on politics from my own, I just could not be still! I have a drive to know about and have a positive impact on as many people’s lives as I can, so I seized every opportunity to explore, witness, and converse with whomever I met. I spoke with everyone I could from village elders to the village youth. I played basketball with the young men and boys, played soccer for the first time in my life with men from every class, and even became an honorary Ierapetra Panathinaikos Football Club member! Whether it was exploring a beautiful cave which humans occupied 5,000 years ago, finding the secret entrance to an Italian WWII bunker, snorkeling and seeing artifacts at an ancient port, or climbing a mountain every day to excavate at Azoria, there was not a day that I let go by without doing something new. I even planned a boat trip to the nearby island of Pseira and prepared handouts of maps and historical outlines for my fellow students on the remains of the ancient Minoan harbor town that we explored there.


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When we had free weekends, the other students and I planned trips to see places like the famous Bronze Age town at Akrotiri on Santorini. On Crete, I also travelled to the cities of Ierapetra, Chania, and Heraklion. On the weekends when we did not travel elsewhere, we stayed in the Kavousi area and spent time with the locals. The village put on a concert by a famous lyra player, we climbed to the top of the Kastro (a mountain settlement higher than Azoria), we visited friends’ mountain home, which was built in the 1600’s by their ancestors. Incidentally this home was built on top of a tholos tomb of a wealthy individual from the nearby site of Kastro. I also participated in a local banquet that included incredible food, Greek music, and Greek dancing. When exhausted from the dig day, I was able to relax on the nearby beaches at Tholos and the more distant and secluded one at Agriomandra. This is only a brief summary of the extracurricular activities I was able to undertake after digging and I wish I could share all of the stories associated with each place, person, or activity, but then I would be writing a book rather than a letter!

Of course, the most influential part of my trip was excavation itself. Having no previous hands-on digging experience made this an especially exciting learning opportunity. I am majoring in History and Classical Studies, and minoring in Political Science and Anthropology. I did this study-abroad program, “The Archaeology of Greece,” because I have always believed that in order to truly understand human history one must engage and explore all the evidence. Archaeology has been a unique unifier of all my areas of study. While digging at Azoria, I learned methods for recovering fragile artifacts and structures, the process of interpreting finds and contexts, and how to reach conclusions through deductive reasoning. While I had previously taken classes in which we discussed the science and methods of excavation, being able to apply this information in the field made the time spent in classrooms even more valuable. I am now able to apply my understanding of archaeological excavation to the study of ancient history and as a result have a deeper and broader view of humanity. Although I do not plan on pursuing a career in archaeology, I have started an Archaeological Club at Iowa State.

The club actually will be digging at a 19th century coal mining town 4 miles north of Ames, called Zenorsville. I am doing this, in part, because I was inspired by my participation in the excavation at Azoria, but also because I want others to share and participate in this field. I hope that other students, who may be more cautious or hesitant than I to leave home, will make that leap to go study abroad, open their horizons, and experience a different culture firsthand. I think the knowledge and experience I have gained pursuing my education at ISU will help me achieve my professional goals and make me a valuable asset to an international political institution or international organization. The key unifier in this educational experience is the archaeological excavation at Azoria.

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Another important part of this experience, one that made it so special, is that I was fortunate enough to be able to share it with my little sister, who was also a member of the excavation. She and I come from a tight-knit family and have always been very close friends. After the dig, my sister and I spent three days in the city of Napflio, in the Peloponnese, and a day in Athens. In Nafplio we visited Palamidi, a Venetian fortress, went to every museum in the Old city, made new friends with a local potter and his wife, and dined at unique local establishments. In Kavousi, we also made mutual friends, whom we will hold dear the rest of our lives. We still continue to communicate with them via postcards, Facebook and Skype.

Participation in the program not only furthered my educational and professional pursuits, but also brought me new life-changing experiences. This was my longest time studying abroad though Iowa State and it was the most profound and absolutely the most beneficial. I hope someday soon to return to Kavousi, visit my friends, witness the progress of the archeological dig, and have a few new stories to tell!”

Iowa State students will be able to participate in this excavation each summer from 2014 through 2017.  For additional information, please contact WLC professor Margaret Mook at