Site Based Projects

The Thorikos Mines

Exploring the Mines

Five km of galleries have been explored and surveyed in Mine no. 6 and nearly one km in Mine no. 3 under the Velatouri hill. Neither has been fully prospected; the same goes for the opencast mines, some of which are still visible, but the recovered data are nevertheless considerable. The network is exceptional in its layout and extension, and several phases of activity have been observed. Archaeological data including pottery and stone hammers point towards an early date for the first phase of mining in the Final Neolithic/Early Helladic period, c. 3200 BC. The Classical period (particularly the 4th century BC) has left the most perceptible remains, however: tool marks, working faces, oil lamps and an inscription on a wall testify to activities at this time. Shafts discovered inside connect two main levels of mineralizations, and some abandoned galleries have been entirely banked up during successive phases of mining and are now inaccessible. Recent investigations and dating evince the exploitation of ore resources also during the Late Roman period, particularly in the 4th and 6th centuries AD, using fire-setting technology. Underground, the stifling atmosphere and temperatures up to +21°C raise the crucial question of ventilation: the mining works evinced here suggest that the physical capabilities and skills of the ancient miners was quite considerable, as they were able to exploit such complex silver ore deposits and assure ore dressing in this taxing environment. In all, the evidence testifies to a deliberate strategy and a highly developed technological and spatial control over the process.


The Thorikos Survey Project (TSP)

Survey Project

Between 2012 and 2015, a Ghent-Utrecht team conducted an intensive survey on the south slopes of the Velatouri, covering the area of the lower town of Thorikos as well as parts of the acropolis. In 2018, a team from Louvain-la- Neuve and Liège resumed the survey, extending it to the north, with the aim of completing the surface investigation of the whole hill. The project has several aims. The main goal is to connect the records of the various, dispersed excavations within a unified documentation to allow for a better understanding of the site’s historical development and shifts in settlement pattern. Secondly, the comprehensive approach will shed light also on remains from understudied periods, most notably the Neolithic through Early Bronze Age and the post- classical period. Finally, the results are expected to increase our understanding of the socio-economic relationships between Thorikos and the wider region. The survey was carried out by field- walking. First, the pre-existing 50×50 m macrosquares were divided in four. Four students then walked each resulting mesosquare for 20 minutes, which enabled the team to scan the entire surface for finds and features, paying equal attention to each square while avoiding dangerous areas – shafts, cliffs, dense maquis etc. Aside from observing the artefact-scatter, close attention was paid to architectural remains, mine shafts and entrances, and rock graffiti. The 2012-15 field- campaigns were followed up by material processing campaigns until 2017, as students and professionals from several European universities joined to classify and document the 56,898 finds. These include metallurgical residues such as slags and litharge, lithics such as grinding stones and obsidian, and ceramics. The pottery chronology is very extensive, spanning the Final Neolithic to the Early Modern period.

Roald Docter, Floris VAN DEN EIJNDE, Sylviane DÉDERIX and Amber BRÜSEWITZ

The Cistern 1 ergasterion in Macrosquare A’51

Cistern in A’51

Between 2010 and 2012, Ghent University and Utrecht University investigated the largest cistern in Thorikos and its immediate surroundings: Cistern No. 1. Whereas most cisterns in the Lavriotiki had been emptied during the 19th and 20th century activities of the French Mining Company or during more recent archaeological excavations , it seemed that Cistern No. 1, a rectangular structure, had remained intact. Moreover, the fact that its sides had not only been partially cut into the bedrock but also partially built in monumental ashlar masonry with huge boulders suggested that excavation on the outside would be able to provide material indicative of the chronology of its construction. The finds from these excavations have since been inventoried and studied, allowing for a comprehensive publication currently in preparation. The cistern had been built in the late 5th or early 4th century BC at the earliest, and seems to have gone out of use by the end of the 4th or early in the 3rd century BC. Its fill consisted of eroded material of the Late Archaic to Early Hellenistic periods that had been washed in over the years from higher up the slopes, but remarkably also a portion dating to the Late Roman and Early Byzantine periods (6th – 8th centuries AD). The metallurgical workshop (ergasterion) to which the cistern belonged was associated with Mine No. 2 and consisted of several rooms adjacent to the cistern, a crushing table, and a washery.


See: K. Van Liefferinge, R. Docter, T. Pieters and F. van den Eijnde, The Excavation of Cistern No. 1 at Thorikos (2010-2011 Campaigns), in: R.F. Docter (ed.), Thorikos Reports and Studies 10, Gent 2011 [2012], 61-85; R. Docter, P. Monsieur and W. van de Put, Late Archaic to Late Antique Finds from Cistern No. 1 at Thorikos (2010 Campaign), in: R.F. Docter (ed.), Thorikos Reports and Studies 10), Gent 2011 [2012], 86-123.

The Theatre of Thorikos

The theatre during excavations

Thorikos’ theatre is the most renowned, conspicuous and controversial monument of the site. Materially and visually imposing with its peculiar, ellipsoid shape (sometimes called primitive, archaic or simply irregular), it has struck locals and travelers alike through the centuries. Archaeological exploration of the theatre began in 1886 by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Investigations were resumed in 1963 and 1965 by the Committee for Belgian excavations in Greece, and in 2011-12 by the Greek Archaeological Service (Ephorate of Antiquities of East Attica). During these three campaigns, the theatre was partially excavated. The seating section (cavea or koilon) is divided in two – the lower (earlier) with rows of built bench-seats, a small temple of Dionysos and an altar flanking the oblong stage (orchestra), as well as an enigmatic room with a bench. All these were erected on the surface of an earlier marble- and limestone quarry between two long-lived mines and a cemetery with conspicuous tombs from the 6th-4th centuries BC. The earliest built feature of the theatre has been dated to the first half of the 5th century BC, whereas what we see today was shaped by an extensive construction phase in the 4th century BC. Ancient theatres, especially those of the rural chóra, were inseparably linked to the sociopolitical organization of the Athenian polity, structured by Kleisthenes’ demes-and-trittyes system, in place since the late 6th century BC. Aside from accommodating the staging of dráma in the context of festivals in honour of Dionysos, theatres functioned as congregation foci for citizens contributing to the Athenian democratic institutions. At Thorikos, the capacity of the theatre is estimated to 3184–3826 seats. A new Belgian-Greek project is currently revisiting the archives and finds of all excavations to date, supplemented by small-scale, targeted excavations and applying modern techniques such as 3D-scanning and reconstruction with a view to a comprehensive publication.


Hackens, T., Le théâtre, in: H.F. Mussche, J. Bingen, J. Servais, R. Paepe, T. Hackens, Thorikos l: 1963. Rapport préliminaire sur la première campagne de fouilles, Brussels, 105-118; Hackens, T., Le théâtre, in: H.F. Mussche, J. Bingen, J. Servais, J. de Geyter, T. Hackens, P. Spitaels, A. Gautier, Thorikos III: 1965. Rapport préliminaire sur la troisième campagne de fouilles, Brussels, pp. 75-96; Miller, W. 1885/86, The Theatre of Thoricus, Preliminary Report, Papers of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens 4, 1-21.

An Archaic and Classical house at Thorikos (House 5)

Finds from House N° 5 Click for a better view

House 5 is located in the Industrial Quarter. The ground plan shows several rooms around an open court. The Belgian excavations of 1971/72 yielded a huge number of finds. During three seasons (2016-18) we studied almost 4000 sherds, took photographs and made drawings. More than 700 sherds are preserved to an extent that permits comparisons and chronological assignations. The bulk of the datable material belongs to the 5th century BC (almost 60%, more than 400 sherds). Some 20 fragments are dated to the 5th/4th century BC, and 100 sherds to the 4th century BC. There is earlier material as well: over 90 fragments fall into the 6th/5th century BC, and more than 70 into the 6th century BC. The large amount of 6th century material, almost 10%, indicates early use of this area and probably an pre-Classical phase of house 5. The material is made up of coarse ware, cooking ware, fine ware, black-glazed – even blacked figured (40 fragments) and red figure ceramics, as well as a large number of lekanes (large wash-basins): more than 290 fragments, 145 of them dated, mainly to the 5th century BC. The life of house 5 hence seems to have combined luxury items, black- and red figure vases, with the ore washing process nearby, where lekanes were used in large amounts. The Göttingen team is working on a comprehensive publication of the finds from house 5 to achieve a better understanding of life in an Archaic and Classical house at Thorikos. The processing of about 4000 finds was finished in 2018, and a database is currently being built to analyse the finds and their spatial distribution within the house. The results will be published in the Thorikos series.

Johannes BERGEMANN and Rebecca KLUG

The Geometric House in the West Necropolis

Geometric House

Remains of an intriguing building have been located in the West Necropolis. They may have represented part of a small domestic nucleus, whose earliest phase of occupation has been dated to the transition from Protogeometric to Geometric (end of the 10th or the beginning of the 9th century BC), continuing in use till early in the Middle Geometric I period (around 850 BC). It has been assigned an industrial use related to silver production but in the absence of a comprehensive publication of the finds the true function of this building remains debated. Room III was used in the Early Geometric period, by the end of which it must have been abandoned. Remains of pyres were explored inside the room, as well as a square cist and three circular pits, whose contents point to some ritual action, related with the abandonment and the sealing of the room. In the third quarter of the 8th century, Room III was repaired and with the addition of a closed porch (XXVI) formed a rectangular building, which remained in use for a limited period of time until the early 7th century, when an urn burial destroyed its southeast corner. A square hearth occupied the centre of Room XXVI. A number of fine decorated and cooking vessels of the late 8th century, together with a clay spindlewhorl were recovered from its interior. A complete spouted krater was found in situ at the south‑eastern corner of the doorway. The material from this room further testifies the domestic use of this building, which seems to have been contemporary or slightly earlier than the earliest Late Geometric burials detected in its vicinity. The architectural ensemble has already been preliminarily published and is now object of a more comprehensive contextual study.


Bingen J., 1967. L’établissement du IXe siècle et les nécropoles du secteur ouest 4, in: Thorikos II, 25–46; Bingen J., 1967. L’établissement géométrique et la nécropole ouest, in: Thorikos III, 31–56; Bingen J., 1968. La nécropole ouest 4, in: Thorikos I, 59–86; Bingen J., 1969. Thorikos IV, 70–120 ; Bingen J., 1984. La nécropole géométrique ouest 4 (1972 et 1976), in: Thorikos VIII, 72–150.

The Southeast Necropolis

Socket for a (funerary) stele in the southeast necropolis (photo: Rebecca Klug).

On the lower southeastern slopes of the Velatouri, along the coastal road and probably also along an east-west road connecting the Industrial Quarter and Theatre area with the Agios Nikolaos peninsula, the existence of a necropolis has been hypothesized. At least five cavities in the bedrock in this area show that stelai had been set up here. During the 2012-2015 survey, moreover, several finds suggested the presence of probably disturbed graves of the Classical period. On the basis of these indications, a geophysical survey was carried out by a team from Ghent University leading to the discovery of anomalies in the subsoil, one of which was excavated in 2013 by the Ghent/Utrecht team. It yielded a simple burial of a female adult without any gravegoods. Stratigraphical data suggest that the grave may be dated to the 5th century BC at the earliest. In 2019, the Göttingen partners within the Thorikos Archaeological Research Project investigated two of the other anomalies, with positive results warranting further investigation. Excavations here will be continued in 2020.

Johannes BERGEMANN, Rebecca KLUG, Roald DOCTER and Floris VAN DEN EIJNDE


Fortifications on Agios Nikolaos

In a joint project started in 2018, Ghent and Utrecht Universities investigate the fortifications of Thorikos, mentioned in ancient and early modern sources. In his account of the Peloponnesian War, Xenophon (Hellenica I, 2, 1) related that the Athenians fortified Thorikos in the first year of the 93rd Olympiad (408/407 BC). This remark most likely refers to the maritime fortress on the Aghios Nikolaos peninsula, but other defensive structures are not to be excluded. In particular, the fortifications observed by both the American traveler Edward Dodwell in 1801 and the British colonel William Martin Leake in 1841 come to mind. These were described as walls with square, projecting towers surrounding the town with a circuit of over 4.5 km.

Large wall of gate structure in the fortifications of Thorikos (3D photo model by Sofia Psaltakou)

Little appears to remain of these walls today, and it is possible that they were demolished for building material during later infrastructural works related to modern mining activities. But a stretch of a 0.80 m thick, double-faced wall with large boulders discovered in the western part of the site may be connected with the historical observations. To the south and southwest, ancient Thorikos would have been protected by an estuary in the now silted-up Adami plain and lower Potami valley, so a start of these fortifications in the southwest is plausible. Recent excavations focus upon a possible tower or northern gate in the prolongation of this wall, between the West Necropolis and the Industrial Quarter. Associated pottery suggests a date in the late 5th century BC.


Prehistoric Thorikos

Mycenaean Tomb N° III (photo Maria KAYAFA)

The metal resources of the Lavrion fueled the Athenian economy from the late Archaic period onwards, but there is also clear evidence that access to (and perhaps control over) local ores was already of strategic importance during prehistory. On current evidence, Thorikos appears to be the main Bronze Age site in the Lavrion. The earliest evidence of occupation date to the Final Neolithic, and the discovery of five monumental tombs (late Middle Bronze Age/early Late Bronze Age) suggests that the site had become a major center ruled by an elite by the 17th-16th century BC. The available archaeological data paint the picture of a major site exercising a significant role in the Aegean and the wider East Mediterranean. Copper, lead and silver from the Lavrion found their way across the Aegean and beyond during the Late Bronze Age, whereas imported pottery testifies to the participation of Thorikos in broad networks of interaction. But at the same time, the existing data remains fragmentary since (1) the upper slopes of the Velatouri have been explored only partially, (2) old excavations still await final publication, (3) settlement data are few, and (4) no metallurgical installations have been identified. In order to start filling the gaps at prehistoric Thorikos, the project addresses issues pertaining to the evolution of settlement patterns, funerary landscape, and metal exploitation and exchange from the Neolithic to the end of the Bronze Age, with special emphasis on the period of Minoan and Mycenaean palaces (i.e. the 2nd millennium BC), when metal trade reached its peak.

The project benefits from generous funding from the Institute for Aegean Prehistory (2018, 2019), the Shelby White and Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications (2018-2020), and the Mediterranean Archaeological Trust (2018, 2019).


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Digitization of the Thorikos Archive

Now …

Before …

Since the start of modern archaeological investigations at Thorikos in 1963, an immense archive has been built up consisting of administrative documents, excavation diaries, inventory books, maps, drawings, photos, negatives and even movies. As soon as PCs became available, all data regarding the finds (pottery, stone, terracotta, metal etc.) were entered in a digital database. Since the resumption of fieldwork in 2004, most finds have been recorded directly during the campaigns, and a new data-base has been created, based upon the structure of the initial one. Over the last five years, the paper archives based at Ghent University and at the Belgian School in Athens have been inventoried and almost completely scanned. This digitization process is intended to safeguard the data and guarantee accessibility for future generations of researchers – some of the old data carriers are in fact rapidly deteriorating, especially the photo negatives. To date, only large formats still await digitization. The old and the new databases are currently being merged and updated with the inclusion of hitherto unprocessed finds in the store-rooms at the Lavrion Museum. The nearly fully digitized archive is already available in a cloud environment for internal use by collaborators of the Thorikos project, and it is expected that all different types of data will soon be linked in an integrated digital environment, leading to a platform that can be consulted and used by all interested in the archaeology of Thorikos.