Saturday 16 November 2013

Excavation - Start on the Plot

With the track cut to the edge of the plot (see previous post) excavation of the plot could now get underway in earnest. The Archaeology Department were present throughout the day to check all the excavation undertaken, roadways as well as house site, for any evidence of further tombs and relics from the Minoan era. Again with the result if found of a total halt in proceedings.

Early morning before the diggers start.
It was therefore with a mix of emotions, the joy from the fact that at last we could start to make progress compared with a certain amount of trepidation from what might be found once excavation started.
The diggers very quickly got underway and the general approach adopted was to agree the routing of the "roadway" across the plot, section by section, the smaller digger would then rapidly clear the access for the larger digger that would follow on steadily doing the serious digging out of rocks etc and the smaller digger would then go back and tidy up (to some extent!) and smooth the surface.

Start of the site excavation.
This process meant that I could have at least some control to ensure that the routing did the least damage to the plot and the existing trees. I had heard too many stories since coming out to Crete of the destructive force of a digger in the hands of local driver!!
With no services electricity, gas or piped water available on the site I assumed there would be non of the usual problems of overhead cables being cut down or gas/water mains being dug up. Well I was wrong. Although I had removed the adjacent old irrigation piping I had underestimated the depth of a length of piping carrying drinking water from the filter attached to the storage tank down the site. Within a few minutes of starting in earnest the smaller digger, in clearing a 4 metre wide pathway for the larger digger down the side of the plot, had located and severed the drinking water pipe!! It was fixed as quickly as it occurred  and the rapid progress was maintained.

The Archaeology Department keeping a close eye on the excavations.
Given the slight relocation of the house and the decision to lower the ground level of the house one and a half metres we decided to abandon the original intention to have an entrance on the North side of the house since this would now mean the proposed car parking area would be some 7.8 metres above the ground level and entail the construction of a narrow, steep path down to the proposed entrance.
 We had previously expressed doubts of the feasibility of this approach to the Architect and Engineers but had been persuaded to keep this entrance for ventilation and to give light to the rear of the kitchen and an otherwise dark corridor. We have now decided that with the addition of a supporting wall across the original area outside the "front" door we can create a light well, say 2m x 3m, that will provide light and, most importantly in the hot weather, a route for the cooling mountain air, as it comes down the hillside in the evenings with the prevailing breeze, to enter the house and expel any hot air accumulated during the day through the vents in the window wall that faces South.

Finding a route between the trees.
This decision means that I wish to reuse the roadway being created down to the ground level of the house, for the excavation machinery, as the main access route to the house (though not necessarily 4m wide!). After a long discussion between the Excavation boss and the Engineers a route was found between the olive trees for this access that avoided the removal of any additional trees (my number one priority) and avoided a series of large rocks.
As an outsider it was interesting to observe this decision making process although I did not understand a word of what was being said - it was quite literally all Greek to me. Each party had strong views which they expressed quite forcefully (as is usually the way in Crete!) but they also listened to other views, points were acknowledged and a consensus to resolve the issues found. This process was in marked contrast to what we have observed in the village Kafenions where views are expressed very forcefully, with ever increasing volume, with all parties talking at once with absolutely no listening going on and rather than a consensus being reached it is as if World War III had been declared!

Consultation between excavators, engineers and builders.
As well as the routing down to the house site how the excavation was to be undertaken was also agreed. The approach adopted was to continue the "roadway" created down to the South West corner of the site along the Southerly facing front of the house pushing earth and rocks down the hillside to slowly build up the South Eastern corner of the site. Then the excavators would start digging back into the hillside to carve out the complete site all the time extending, reinforcing and consolidating the built up areas. Any surplus is to be stored (i.e. pushed into a large heap!) to be used to infill behind the walls when constructed and to form the earth sheltering cover to the whole house.
An observation on proceedings I would like to make and, particularly bring to the attention of those Northern European commentators who, throughout many bailout negotiations, have persistently depicted the workers in Greece as idle and lazy, is that apart from a 15 minute break for a coffee, the drivers of the diggers worked non-stop from 0830 to 1600. Sandwiches were eaten whilst work continued and the only pauses were for swigs of water, nature breaks, rolling the odd cigarette and consultations between themselves how best to progress. All this in temperatures just under 30 Celcius and in the very dusty conditions of late summer.

The "ballet"
Really amazing progress was therefore made over the first day with the diggers working in tandem amid great clouds of dust and incessant noise. The result was a captivating mechanical ballet performed with great precision with the larger digger breaking into the earth and rocks of the hillside and the smaller digger scurrying around in its wake pulling, pushing and scooping up the spoil and depositing it before pirouetting and starting all over again.
When the diggers had left for the day I took time in the total peace and quiet to reflect upon an amazing day's progress, after so many previous setbacks, and to acclimatise myself to the "feel"of the space that is being created.

The start of where the house will be.
The next day the "ballet" continued at a great pace with Archaeology again in close attendance. By mid-morning the top 2 metres of spoil had been removed from right across the whole site of the house and the diggers were starting to encounter a much harder rocky strata. It was in this top layer that Archaeology had expected to encounter further tombs.
At this point they took a lot of photographs, spoke with one of the digger drivers and left the site. The driver shouted to attract my attention, gave me the universal thumbs up sign with a broad smile and shouted "Fireworks". Now fireworks out here in Crete mean a party with lots of celebration and raki, lots of noise, obligatory gunshots and of course loud fireworks. My interpretation, which was later confirmed, was that the full excavation and build could now go ahead without the fear of the whole project being stopped by Archaeology.