Lisa Nevett

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Lisa Nevett


Lisa Nevett is Professor of Classical Archaeology in the Department of Classical Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and is also co-director of archaeological field projects at the ancient cities of Olynthos and Pella (Greece). She has a B.A. in Classics, an M.Phil. in Archaeology and a Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology, all from the University of Cambridge, U.K. Her research interests include: method and theory in classical archaeology; household archaeology in the Graeco-Roman world; ancient Greek urbanisation and urbanism. Recent and forthcoming books include Theoretical Approaches to the Archaeology of Ancient Greece (edited, Ann Arbor 2017), An Age of Experiment: Classical Archaeology Transformed, 1976-2014 (edited with J. Whitley, Cambridge, 2018) and Ancient Greek Housing (Cambridge, in press).


Lecture 1: Changing Research Paradigms in the Archaeology of Ancient Greece: the example of the study of housing

The history of research on Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic Greek housing offers a lens through which to examine some of the changes which have taken place in the study of the archaeology of ancient Greece more generally. Domestic buildings were often neglected in favour of excavating and reconstructing religious and civic structures, which were studied paying particular attention to their formal and decorative elements. Where housing was uncovered, this was sometimes as a by-product of the search for these more prestigious buildings. Nevertheless, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, houses were uncovered at several sites, including Athens, Delos, Olynthos and Vroulia. In keeping with the established practice in classical archaeology more generally, the excavators focused on study of the architecture and any decorative elements such as mosaic floors or painted wall plaster. Following the typical procedures of classical archaeology more generally, where consideration was given to how these buildings functioned as lived spaces, the ancient literary sources were considered a key element in the interpretation: terms from Classical and Roman authors were adopted as labels for various forms of excavated space. At the same time, a typological scheme was established, based on the layouts of the buildings at different sites, which was used to classify excavated buildings. While the numbers of houses known continued to grow at a modest rate through the twentieth century, it was only in the 1980s that a new way of viewing and interpreting these structures emerged. This opened the way for a shift in the evaluation of the archaeological evidence, from material that could be used to illustrate and visualise the words of Classical writers, to an independent source that can be interrogated to address new questions about a whole range of aspects of ancient society which cannot be approached using texts. In my paper I discuss some of the questions that have been addressed, the interpretative frameworks that have been applied, and the problems still to resolve.


J. W. Graham, 1974. Houses of Classical Athens. Phoenix 28: 45-54.

S. Walker, 1993 [1983]. Women and Housing in Classical Greece. Images of Women in Classical Antiquity, edited by A. Kuhrt and A. Cameron, 81-91. London: Routledge.

L. C. Nevett, 1994. Separation or seclusion? towards an archaeological approach to investigating women in the Greek household in the fifth to third centuries B.C. Architecture and Order: approaches to social space, edited by M. Parker Pearson and C. Richards eds. London: Routledge. 98-112.

R. Westgate, 2007. House and Society in Classical and Hellenistic Crete. American Journal of Archaeology 111: 423-457.

L. C. Nevett, 2008. Ceramic typology and activity area analysis: a comparison from Greek domestic contexts. In Thinking about Space. The potential of surface survey and contextual analysis in the analysis of space in Roman times, H. Vanhaverbeke et al. eds. Leuven: Brepols-Turnhout, Studies in Eastern Mediterranean Archaeology 8. 153-160.

Lecture 2: The Olynthos Project: an example of inter-disciplinary Greek archaeology in the twenty-first century

The Olynthos Project is an inter-disciplinary archaeological research project that was in the field between 2014 and 2019; the data collected is currently being prepared for publication. The work is a collaboration between scholars from across Europe and North America, sponsored by the British School at Athens and the Greek Archaeological Service. Olynthos was the site of a settlement which was founded in the Archaic period and by the end of the fifth century BCE had grown to be an important city, covering an area of ca. 55 ha. and serving as the centre for a political alliance known as the Halkidian League. Historical sources paint a picture of a community caught between the influence of Athens and the rising power of the kingdom of Macedon, before it was obliterated by Philip II in 348 BCE. Olynthos was extensively investigated by an American team between 1928 and 1938, and more selectively during restoration work by the Greek Archaeological Service between 1988 and 1994. A number of important questions nevertheless remained about the city and its inhabitants: what was the total size of the urban area? What was the nature of the interface between the city and its wider territory? When was the community first established and how was the early settlement organised? How similar or different were the lives of the inhabitants in two contrasting neighbourhoods on the North and South Hills? And how did the individual households create their identities in the face of the various political and cultural influences to which they were exposed? These were some of the questions the Project set out to address. In addition, a major goal was to re-think approaches to the archaeology of Greek cities and of their inhabitants, centring human community as the object of inquiry and exploring how new methodologies could furnish a new, more detailed, understanding of Olynthian society at multiple scales (domestic, neighbourhood, civic and regional). In my paper I offer some examples of the questions we have been addressing collaboratively through the use of a range of data-sets acquired and studied by a number of different scholars.


W. Matthews, 2005. Micromorphological and Microstratigraphic Traces of Uses and Concepts of Space. Inhabiting Catalhoyuk: reports from the 1995-1999 seasons. I. Hodder ed. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeology. 553-572.

E. Margaritis, 2014. The Kapelio at Hellenistic Krania: food consumption, disposal and the use of space. Hesperia 83: 103-121.

C. Robin, 2013. Everyday Life Matters: Maya Farmers at Chan. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. Chapter 3.

M. L. Smith, 2014. The Archaeology of Urban Landscapes. Annual Review of Anthropology 43: 307-323.

L. C. Nevett et al. 2020. Constructing an Urban Profile: the evidence from Olynthos. Annual of British School at Athens 115: 329-378.


The Ann Arbor Campus of the University of Michigan: a tale of two museums

The University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor Campus is privileged to host a number of museums, most of which which originated as teaching collections to be used in the education of its students. In this presentation I focus on two of these museums: the University of Michigan Museum of Art, which has its origins in a canpus gallery first established in 1856, and the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, which was founded in 1928 to support the teaching of classical languages by making available original papyrus texts together with objects evoking the cultural context from which they had come. In hosting these two different museums, the campus separates collections of objects that are often housed together in other contexts – namely artefacts from the Greek and Roman worlds (most of them excavated by University projects but some also purchased) and works of art produced more recently by other cultures (in this case comprising European art of the Renaissance to 19th century, Japanese and Chinese art from antiquity to the 19th century, African art of the 19th and 20th centuries and American art from the 19th century to the present). In this presentation I explore the implications of this division of material for how the roles of the two museums might be conceived, their respective holdings understood, and their collections interpreted.