CATEGORIES: September 2015

The Classical Studies Program offers the opportunity to study abroad for seven weeks in the Archaeology of Greece program, excavating on the island of Crete at the site of Azoria.  Here, four ISU students who participated in the 2015 program talk about their experiences.

On the first day of the excavation someone told me that Azoria is magical. In the beginning I found this very hard to believe—I was focused on the daily routine of waking up early, working in the heat, and excavating to discover early-phase buildings.  As the summer went on, however, I found myself enjoying the more subtle aspects of excavation. Whether it was finding an ancient spindle whorl or a long buried and forgotten wall, the meaning of the word magical slowly became more of an understatement than disbelief. Having the opportunity to help discover something ancient and meaningful is something that I feel all the students from Iowa State will forever appreciate and truly remember. 

-Rylie Groves (BPMI major) 

The Experience

The seven weeks I spent on Crete were some of the most memorable in my life. The people I met, the places I went, and the things I discovered will always stay with me. I know how cliché this sounds, but I didn’t realize how life changing this experience would be. I’ve wanted to be an archaeologist for as long as I can remember and finally being able to put some of my knowledge into practice has allowed me to test myself and confirm what it is I want to do with my life. Despite my complaints of the heat and physical exhaustion at the end of each day digging, I wouldn’t change a single thing. Azoria, Kavousi, and Crete are always going to be where I decided on my long-term goals for life. My favorite part of the seven weeks was going up to Azoria every day and discovering ancient things. Creating data. Unraveling a puzzle. Making sense of how these ancient people lived. Also, processing material under the supervision of several experts in various fields (such as pottery, palaeoethnobotany, zooarchaeology) showed me just how much work is required for a collaborative project such as this. This summer I was able to check off so many things on my list of goals and I will forever be grateful.                             – Jennifer Sanders (Classical Studies & Anthro major)

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Traveling outside of the United States for the first time I was incredibly anxious; I did not know what to expect. However, this trip was amazing. I met a lot of cool people who were really welcoming and we navigated this trip together. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am glad I choose this it to be my first experience in international travel. I also really enjoyed the archaeological aspects of the program, learned an extraordinary amount, and finally got to feel what it would be like to be a real archaeologist. I would not trade this experience for anything in the world and I will be telling people stories starting with “when I was in Crete” for a very long time.

– Hannah Overton (Anthro major, CL ST minor)

I really enjoyed this program, so much so that I want to do it again next summer! I think what made it so great were the people I met on the excavation and in the village. I loved the experience and I love the place, but I think the people are what really made it special for me.

– Arrien Hansel (Anthro major, CL ST minor)

For me this program was a real eye opener, this whole trip was something completely new. While at first it was difficult to comprehend some aspects of the process of excavation, I began to understand it like you would a new language. And while at times the work was difficult and labor intensive, I was constantly dazzled that the things we were discovering were thousands of years old. Having the opportunity to uncover and help in the process of understanding aspects of this site are things for which I will always be grateful. This program was a wonderful professional and personal learning experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

– Rylie Groves

Exploring Crete and Other Islands

One of the most important aspects of study abroad is going to other places around the area where you are living. Some of our favorite side trips and excursions were those to Spinalonga, Karphi, Rethymno and the island of Santorini (Thera).

Rethymno was one of the most beautiful places that I went too. It was a three-hour trip, but it was worth the long ride, after which we spent the day at the Venetian Fortress in town. It was nice to be able to walk around and explore the architecture and beautiful scenery. On our way back we hiked down to a nearby beach with nice sand and exceptionally clear blue water.      

-Arrien Hansel

Spinalonga is located beside the city of Elounda, in the Lasithi region of Crete, about an hour and a half bus ride then a fifteen-minute ferry ride from Kavousi, the village in which we lived during the program. Spinalonga is a small, breathtaking island. It is surrounded by beautiful beaches and captivating architecture: one side of the island has magnificently decorated by a Venetian Fortress, dating to the 1500’s, while the other side has the remnants of a 20th century leper colony.  My favorite thing about the island is that visitors are allowed to roam free, giving me the opportunity to climb to the very top of the island’s fortress.  This is where I really fell in love with Venetian architecture. Of all the places I had the opportunity to see on Crete, Spinalonga was one of my favorites.

-Hannah Overton

Thera is another more famous and beautiful island; many still call it by the Venetian name, Santorini. A massive volcanic eruption thousands of years ago created a caldera in the center of the island that filled with water and resulted in the dramatic landscape for which it is well known. The prehistoric archaeological site of Akrotiri is on the southern tip of the island and its amazing perseveration is the result of being buried by volcanic ash from a large eruption. The museum in the nearby town of Fira houses many of the decorative wall frescoes and other finds recovered during the excavations at Akrotiri. The town on Thera that I most highly recommend is Oia. It is known for its blue domes and white buildings that look absolutely beautiful against the backdrop of the caldera. Although it is, without a doubt, a tourist town, it was my favorite on the island. We ate dinner while overlooking the caldera and watching a magnificent sunset. Santorini is one of my new favorite places and definitely worth the trip.

–Jennifer Sanders

Site Visits

The nice thing about eastern Crete is the large number of archaeological sites in the area. This gave us ample opportunity to visit many sites in the area, including Chalasmenos, Lato, Zakros,  Kastro and Karphi, among others.  The Early Iron Age settlement on the Kastro was one of my favorite parts of this trip. Both the archaeological site and the view were spectacular. The view provided an excellent vantage point of Kavousi below, where we lived, as well as the beaches and surrounding hills. The hike back down the mountain was both exhausting and rewarding. In many ways it was difficult physically but being able to look at the mountain from below and realize that I was able to climb down it is one of the most rewarding thoughts.           

– Rylie Groves

Chalasmenos is one of many Late Minoan IIIC sites located around the village of Kavousi. It is about a thirty-minute car ride up a rocky road to the site. If you pay close attention on the way up, you can see a tholos tomb on the side of the road. Luckily, I was with a well-seasoned archaeologist, who worked with us at Azoria and excavated at the both sites, and she was kind enough to point out the tholos tomb when giving us a tour of the site. In addition to telling us about this ancient village, we were also taught useful things about archaeological method and the system used at this site, as well as advice on how to write a good field notebook.  I will definitely be looking at publications of this site in the future.

–Hannah Overton

My favorite site on the trip was Lato, and ancient classical city destroyed around 200 BCE. I loved that you can walk up the ancient stepped street and see all of the well-preserved architecture up close.  The open agora area and high terraces at Lato make it a fun site to explore and climb. The large stone masonry that can be seen here is impressive, preserved almost to ceiling height in many areas, and one of the reasons I found it so intriguing.  I especially found the large cistern in the middle of the site very interesting because it made me thing about how ancient people acquired water. I really enjoyed the beauty of this site.

– Arrien Hansel

The Minoan palace of Zakros is not far from the east coast of Crete; only a little under two hours away from the village of Kavousi. It was extremely windy the day I went, making walking a difficult task but, nevertheless, the site was nice to visit. It is definitely smaller than the other two palaces I visited this summer, Knossos and Mallia, but interesting to compare all the same. Because of the unusual rains earlier in the summer, several of the excavated rooms were underwater. There is a pathway to the beach under an extended archway of grape vines. The owner of the grapes runs a restaurant on the beach and sells food made from his various local crops, including the grapes. With just a short walk along the road, we ended up at the palace and had the site to ourselves, which made our visit that day particularly memorable.

– Jennifer Sanders


The Beaches on Crete were definitely a contributing factor in my decision to participate in the Archaeology of Greece program this summer. I knew they were going to be great but I was not expecting the water to be as clear and beautiful as it was. Overall I think they were one of my favorite parts of the trip and definitely something that made it special.  Agriomandra is magnificent and within walking distance of the pension where we live. It is truly one of those things that you must witness with your own eyes before you can understand what we mean when we say magnificent. However, you must be prepared when you go because the hike is definitely one of the more difficult ones. Good directions to Agriomandra are key; it is not called the “Secret Beach” without reason. Most locals know how to get to it and you can get directions from them, but it’s even better to catch a ride there with someone who is from the village! Whether you walk or drive the benefits definitely outweigh the travel when you get to see the sunset between the gorge and the light slowly sinking into the water.  Agriomandra was definitely my favorite beach on Crete and definitely worth the hike.

– Hannah Overton

In northeastern Crete, the largest natural palm-tree forest in Europe is found at Vai. Although it is a popular destination, there is ample space on the beach to accommodate everyone. What I enjoyed most about Vai was the tubing!

– Jennifer Sanders

The excavation program will be offered again during the summers of 2016 and 2017 (CL ST 394-395; contact prof. Margaret Mook for more information msmook@iastate.edu; go to http://isuabroad.iastate.edu/index.cfm?FuseAction=Programs.ViewProgram&Program_ID=12150