Learning Sites: The Vari House Virtual World


Artifactsare objects made or modified by people. They are made or modified to suit certain uses.  For example, a glass is made a certain way because it must hold liquids, be easy to drink from without spilling, and easy to clean.  Therefore, if we can learn what an artifact was used for, then we can learn something about the people who made or used the object.

How do archaeologists come to their conclusions?

At Vari, the excavators found several broken pots of a shape, size, and interior decoration that they did not recognize.  There were large vessels, lids, and ceramic rings among the strange finds, and they all had similar diameters.  The archaeologists had to do some detective work to figure out what purpose these artifacts might have had.

1) Question: Were similar objects found at other ancient Greek sites?

    Answer: Rarely, but one site in the same mountain range as the Vari House did have several similar artifacts.

2) Question: Are similar objects still in use in modern Greece or elsewhere in the Mediterranean basin?

    Answer: Rarely, but one farmer on the island of Crete told the archaeologists about using vaguely similar containers with fabric or mesh covers to keep bees.

3) Question: Do any of the ancient Greek writers discuss or describe beekeeping activities?  If so, is there any evidence for the production of honey in this region of Greece?

    Answer: Yes, several ancient authors (especially Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher who lived from 384 to 322 BCE) do mention that keeping bees was part of farming activities. Other ancient writers commented that the best honey in the Greek world came from the Hymettus Mountain range, the location of the Vari house.

4) Question: Is there any evidence from other ancient cultures for the use of similar objects, or are there ancient pictures of beekeeping that might help us understand what methods were used?

    Answer: Yes, wall paintings and carvings at ancient Egyptian sites show very similar vessels for beekeeping and show the process of removing the honeycombs for their honey.

5) Question: As a check on previous deductions, is there any scientific evidence to show more certainly that the peculiar vessels found at Vari were indeed used for keeping bees for their honey?

    Answer: Scientific tests can be an expensive and time-consuming task which in some cases could damage the objects, so such tests are not used unless all other avenues of research have been exhausted. Chemical analyses were performed on the inside of fragments from the large pots found at Vari, and researchers indeed found microscopic traces of honey inside some pots.

It seems likely then that these numerous vessels were used together to form bee skeps, with lids and extension rings to enlarge the skep unit.  They are specially designed and constructed to encourage honey bees to build their honeycombs inside and to allow people to easily remove the combs and retrieve the honey.  Honey was in ancient Greece, as it still is today, a favorite food topping, ingredient, and dessert.

We can conclude that beekeeping was central to the life of the residents at Vari, based on the large numbers of these vessels found around the site.

Several steps were required in this research process, each designed to build on knowledge gained in the previous steps, until a complete picture emerged that archaeologists could defend to their peers.  But the excavators still did not have enough information to say definitely what the building was used for, and neither do you. You will need to uncover more clues.

Vari House Description 
Vari House Interior
Vari House Dating
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