Feb. 12, 1998
Contact: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Cincinnati -- As another winter Olympics begins Feb. 6, a Greek fortress that has connections to the beautiful woman to whom the famous games trace their origin has become significant for something much more everyday: its water system.
The Bronze Age citadel at Midea, excavated since 1985 by University of Cincinnati archaeologist Gisela Walberg, who works under the direction of Dr. Katie Demakopoulou, director of the National Museum in Athens, holds historical significance because of its proximity to two other late Bronze Age citadels, Tiryns and Mycenae, both popular tourist stops on the Peloponnesus in southern Greece.
To followers of Greek mythology, Midea also holds interest as the site where Hippodameia, the beauty behind the Olympic legend, is said to have taken refuge and eventually died. The Olympic games, founded in 776 B.C., are fabled to have been founded in honor of her and her husband Pelops, who had won her hand in a dangerous chariot race, the precursor to the games.
According to yet another myth, Midea was constructed for Perseus, the Greek hero known for slaying the Gorgon Medusa, and is one of two walled cities attributed to him.
Recent field seasons at Midea and its lower terraces have uncovered evidence of a much more practical nature, however, according to Walberg, who uncovered a main palace hall in 1991 where Hippodameia may have stayed, if she existed. The Midea excavation team has found a system of aqueducts and cisterns, built to take advantage of the slope of the hillside and to get water from the hillside above and the top of the hill. This discovery represents the most complete and earliest remains of a water collection system on the Greek mainland.
While three other Greek sites Tiryns, Mycenae and the Acropolis (in Athens) have cisterns, none of those are a system as complete as the one at Midea, which includes two cisterns one connected to four water channels or aqueducts, another connected to a fifth water channel. The water collection system remains found by Walberg s team at Midea date back to the 16th century B.C. while the cisterns and aqueducts at the other Greek sites are from 300 years later in the 13th century B.C.
"Within Bronze Age Greece," said Walberg, "the water system at Midea provides the most complete and earliest example of a water collection system."
"This shows how the people at Midea lived and how they solved the very practical problem of getting water. The water system is located within the complex surrounding the main palace hall, or megaron. The nearest spring is at the foot of the hills about a 40-minute walk away, so the water system would have been very useful." The top of the hill is 270 meters above sea level, she said.
While the water systems at Mycenae, Tiryns and Athens are underground and reached by stairways, the Midea system is at ground level.
In addition to the water management system, another significant discovery has been three nodules, or lumps of clay bearing seal impressions. Two of the nodules are inscribed with the most ancient form of Greek known, called Linear B, and may have recorded some of the bureaucratic activities of the palace.
Walberg returns to Midea this summer from June 15 to Aug. 2. This year, she will publish two volumes on excavations at Midea in a series (in English) to be printed by the Swedish Institute in Athens. She will be returning to Midea this summer for a study season and plans to present reports on the excavation project in Liege, Belgium, in April; in Athens, in early May; and at UC on April 2.
The excavations have received funds from the University of
Cincinnati's Louise Taft Semple Fund and a research grant from
the German government.