Household and City Organization at Olynthus
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Household and City Organization at Olynthus
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Search JURN. Contributors Chuck Jones Tom Elliott. I never met Ellingson, but I got to know her through the scrapbook. In that scrapbook I found clues she had left to an even more surprising secret she had kept from everyone. Ellingson wanted to become a classical archaeologist. According to a biographical statement attached to her dissertation, she was born H.
In she went to Baltimore to attend graduate school at Johns Hopkins University. What drew her there was David Moore Robinson , a well-known expert in the field.
Only two years earlier Robinson had begun a new project, the one that would cement his reputation as one of the great classical archaeologists. According to Nicholas Cahill in his book Household and City Organization at Olynthus , Robinson began excavating houses at the site of Olynthus in northeastern Greece, a revolutionary idea at the time as archaeologists interested in ancient Greece normally sought temples, theaters, and other public architecture Fig.
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Over the 24 years he published the results of his excavations, Robinson convinced his colleagues that houses could provide them with important information about daily life among the ancient Greeks. His 14 volume Excavations at Olynthus published between and is still considered the cornerstone of ancient Greek domestic studies and as a graduate student and aspiring archaeologist I had to read every volume.
Ellingson could not have had a better guide than Robinson to help her enter the field. The normal practice at the time was for male graduate students to supervise Greek workmen excavating in the field while female graduate students cleaned and catalogued finds in the dig house, a practice Robinson followed at Olynthus in according to Raymond Dessy, author of Exile from Olynthus. Robinson divided the artifacts by category and put one graduate student in charge of cataloguing pottery, another coins, another metal objects, while he assigned Ellingson terracotta figurines Fig.
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These artifacts stood inches tall and depict deities, animals, and theater masks as well as standing, sitting, and dancing women. The big question of the day was how the ancient Greeks used these figurines. It was widely assumed they had only religious significance since excavators found them only in temples and graves.
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When Robinson published Excavations at Olynthus volume IV on the figurines he had excavated in , other archaeologists were curious to know if he had found them in houses. His records from that season were so poorly kept that he could not explain where he had uncovered each of the figurines he catalogued in the volume. All pilloried Robinson for poor record-keeping and a missed opportunity to weigh in on a central question.
She not only catalogued the figurines but she offered interpretations of their use. She found some of the figurines on household shrines, indicating a religious function, but others she uncovered had once been suspended from walls or placed on display, suggesting a decorative function. She also excavated figurines made from the same mold in houses and in graves indicating that their use changed over the lifetime of the figurine.
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Finally, Ellingson realized that when she found animal figurines in graves, those graves belonged only to children. She argued they had no religious or decorative function; they were toys. These were radical and exciting new interpretations for their day.