Regional Archaeological Research in Albania: Apollonia and Its Hinterland

Author: Dr. Michael L. Galaty

In May-June of 1998, a team of Albanian and American archaeologists gathered to inaugurate a joint project of regional archaeological study in the vicinity of the ancient city of Apollonia (founded in 588 B.C.), located near the modern-day city of Fier, just above the village of Pojani. Under the direction of Professors Muzafer Korkuti (Instituti Arkeologjik, Tirana), and Jack Davis (University of Cincinnati, USA), the Mallakastra Regional Archaeological Project’s – MRAP’s – main goal is to survey wide tracts of countryside and inventory all archaeological remains, from the Stone Ages through recent times. Mallakastra provides the ideal environment for archaeological survey work. Because much of the region has not yet undergone extensive industrial or infrastructural development, archaeological sites have not been severly disturbed, as they have in other European countries. The majority of farmers practice traditional forms of agriculture, which preserve topsoil. Consequently, few archaeological sites have disappeared due to soil erosion. Finally, Albanian landowners have graciously allowed access to their fields, pastures, and orchards, in support of MRAP’s scientific endeavors.

In the first season of work, over the course of approximately twelve days, two teams of MRAP archaeologists operated in small valleys to the east of Apollonia, surveying nearly five square kilometers. Referring to topographic maps, team members systematically searched the landscape, pinpointing sites of past human activity, mapping them, and collecting artifact samples. Collected artifacts were returned to Apollonia’s museum to be catalogued and registered in a computer database. At the same time, a MRAP geologist worked to interpret the area’s complex geography. Fieldwork produced surprising and scientifically important results.

Prior to MRAP’s survey, there existed no documented evidence for early Stone Age settlement in Mallakastra. This is in contrast to southern Albania, where there is good evidence, from the vicinity of Saranda for several periods of Stone Age occupation (see the Frosina Infobit by Dr. Karl M. Petruso on Konispol Cave). MRAP collected 400+ chipped stone artifacts, many of which, as it turns out, date to the Middle Paleolithic period (circa 200,000 to 35,000 years before present). Some of these tools were made using a technique, called Levallois, generally associated with Neanderthals. Of special importance, a very large Paleolithic site was discovered, designated Kryegjata B, perhaps the largest of its kind yet located in Albania. Of course, over the coming years, MRAP will continue to investigate the Stone Age archaeology of the Apollonia region.

Middle Paleolithic stone tool from Mallakastra. Drawing by I. Zaloshnija.

Artifacts dating to Albania’s historic periods, during which Apollonia was a bustling colonial city, are quite plentiful. Of great interest to archaeology, the intensity of settlement outside the city’s walls appears to have been heaviest during the Hellenistic (circa 4th-1st centuries B.C.), as opposed to the Classical (circa 6th-4th centuries B.C.), period, the reverse of settlement patterns found elsewhere in the Mediterranean. Accounting for this reversal will now be a specific target of MRAP’s future resarch. Might there be an environmental explanation for the increase, through time, in small, scattered farmsteads? an economic explanation? or perhaps the nature of Greek and native Illyrian socio-political interactions changed?

Investigations in Apollonia’s tremendous necropolis may help, in part, to answer some of these questions. This large cemetery incorporates an estimated 400+ tumuli (burial mounds) and potentially thousands of graves. Changes in funeral rites may represent the melding of traditional Illyrian and Greek customs. Another goal of MRAP, therefore, is to produce a digital map of the whole tumulus field, perhaps thereby shedding light on the origins and evolution of this fantastic Apollonian landmark, one monument among many that grace Mallakastra’s archaeological landscape.

In May-June of 1998, a team of Albanian and American archaeologists gathered to inaugurate a joint project of regional archaeological study in the vicinity of the ancient city of Apollonia (founded in 588 B.C.), located near the modern-day city of Fier, just above the village of Pojani. Under the direction of Professors Muzafer Korkuti (Instituti Arkeologjik, Tirana), and Jack Davis (University of Cincinnati, USA), the Mallakastra Regional Archaeological Project’s – MRAP’s – main goal is to survey wide tracts of countryside and inventory all archaeological remains, from the Stone Ages through recent times. Mallakastra provides the ideal environment for archaeological survey work. Because much of the region has not yet undergone extensive industrial or infrastructural development, archaeological sites have not been severly disturbed, as they have in other European countries. The majority of farmers practice traditional forms of agriculture, which preserve topsoil. Consequently, few archaeological sites have disappeared due to soil erosion. Finally, Albanian landowners have graciously allowed access to their fields, pastures, and orchards, in support of MRAP’s scientific endeavors.

In the first season of work, over the course of approximately twelve days, two teams of MRAP archaeologists operated in small valleys to the east of Apollonia, surveying nearly five square kilometers. Referring to topographic maps, team members systematically searched the landscape, pinpointing sites of past human activity, mapping them, and collecting artifact samples. Collected artifacts were returned to Apollonia’s museum to be catalogued and registered in a computer database. At the same time, a MRAP geologist worked to interpret the area’s complex geography. Fieldwork produced surprising and scientifically important results.

Prior to MRAP’s survey, there existed no documented evidence for early Stone Age settlement in Mallakastra. This is in contrast to southern Albania, where there is good evidence, from the vicinity of Saranda for several periods of Stone Age occupation (see the Frosina Infobit by Dr. Karl M. Petruso on Konispol Cave). MRAP collected 400+ chipped stone artifacts, many of which, as it turns out, date to the Middle Paleolithic period (circa 200,000 to 35,000 years before present). Some of these tools were made using a technique, called Levallois, generally associated with Neanderthals. Of special importance, a very large Paleolithic site was discovered, designated Kryegjata B, perhaps the largest of its kind yet located in Albania. Of course, over the coming years, MRAP will continue to investigate the Stone Age archaeology of the Apollonia region.
Middle Paleolithic stone tool from Mallakastra. Drawing by I. Zaloshnija.

Artifacts dating to Albania’s historic periods, during which Apollonia was a bustling colonial city, are quite plentiful. Of great interest to archaeology, the intensity of settlement outside the city’s walls appears to have been heaviest during the Hellenistic (circa 4th-1st centuries B.C.), as opposed to the Classical (circa 6th-4th centuries B.C.), period, the reverse of settlement patterns found elsewhere in the Mediterranean. Accounting for this reversal will now be a specific target of MRAP’s future resarch. Might there be an environmental explanation for the increase, through time, in small, scattered farmsteads? an economic explanation? or perhaps the nature of Greek and native Illyrian socio-political interactions changed?

Investigations in Apollonia’s tremendous necropolis may help, in part, to answer some of these questions. This large cemetery incorporates an estimated 400+ tumuli (burial mounds) and potentially thousands of graves. Changes in funeral rites may represent the melding of traditional Illyrian and Greek customs. Another goal of MRAP, therefore, is to produce a digital map of the whole tumulus field, perhaps thereby shedding light on the origins and evolution of this fantastic Apollonian landmark, one monument among many that grace Mallakastra’s archaeological landscape.

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