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Dr. Eleni Nodarou examining thin sections under the Leica DMLP polarizing microscope.

The petrography laboratory was founded in the summer of 2002 thanks to the vision and financial support of Dr. Jennifer Moody and Wick Dossett. The lab is equipped with a cut-off and trim saw, an impregnation machine, and a lapping unit for the manufacture of ceramic thin sections. The thin sections are studied under a Leica DMLP polarizing microscope and microphotographs are provided by a Leica DFC295 digital camera connected to the microscope.

Slide show from left to right (click on each photo to enlarge): machines used for making petrographic slides.

The projects undertaken by the laboratory focus on the island of Crete, and the ceramic material studied extends chronologically from the Neolithic period to the modern era. Through the individual projects, the laboratory has established a diverse collection of Cretan fabrics that extend from the western to the eastern end of the island. In this way, we examine pottery production and distribution across a broad geographic and temporal frame and issues of technology such as the use of raw materials and the development of pyrotechnology. The collection of ceramic thin sections is open to researchers interested in fabric studies, and it can be consulted upon request.

Some of the sites sampled for petrographic analysis: 1) Chamalevri, 2) Eleutherna, 3) Kommos, 4) Zominthos, 5) Philioremos Gonies, 6) Kastrokephala, 7) Alonaki/Juktas, 8) Knossos, 9) Gournes, 10) Pyrgos, 11) Skoteino Cave, 12) Hagios Charalambos, 13) Karphi, 14) Syme Viannou, 15) Chrysokamino, 16) Pseira, 17) Mochlos, 18) Petras, 19) Kephala Petras, 20) Trypitos, 21) Hagia Photia, 22) Zakros Karoumes, 23) Zakros Choiromandres.

Slide show from left to right (click on each photo to enlarge): three ceramic fabrics and the first thin section slides manufactured at the Study Center.

Since 2003 the laboratory has established collaborations with all of the Ephorates of the Ministry of Culture on Crete and many foreign archaeological schools. The lab has also worked closely with several institutions specializing in other types of material analysis, including the National Center of Scientific Research “Demokritos,” the Department of Geology at the University of Athens, and the Department of Geology at the University of Patras, in order to ensure a more integrated research approach to the ceramic material.

William A. McDonald

William McDonald in the field.

William A. McDonald was a pioneer in Aegean archaeology. He directed the University of Minnesota Messenia Expedition (UMME, 1959–1968), which was the first project in Greece to combine systematic surface survey, excavation, and scientific methods. The project inspired important advances in field techniques (survey, photogrammetry) and the integration of science into Greek archaeology. In 1981 he received the Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement from the Archaeological Institute of America.

McDonald was a tireless proponent of interdisciplinary archaeology in the field and the classroom where he inspired generations of future archaeologists. He taught at the University of Minnesota for over 30 years, and he was made Regent’s Professor of Classical Studies in 1973. Soon afterward he founded the Center for Ancient Studies at the University of Minnesota, the first interdisciplinary graduate program in the United States devoted to antiquity.

McDonald championed the “common” man in history, focusing his research on the hinterland of the kingdom of Pylos (rather than the “palace”) and the non-elite settlement of Nichoria. Surveying the Messenian landscape impressed upon him the untapped potential of undecorated pottery, which constituted 80% of the surface finds. At the time, undecorated coarse wares were usually discarded by researchers as “undistinguished.” Although not a ceramicist himself, McDonald had the vision that ceramic fabrics could be used not only to determine the origin of a pot, but also its chronology and function. To this end, one of the many archaeological sciences McDonald promoted was petrography combined with macroscopic ceramic fabric analysis.

The trail McDonald and his collaborators (George “Rip” Rapp, Fred Matson, James Muhly, and Richard Hope Simpson) forged during the 1960s and 1970s—against much opposition from the establishment—opened the door for modern archaeology in Greece, and we are indebted to them. It is an honor to have William A. McDonald’s name on our petrography lab.

Jennifer Moody

Jennifer Moody studying Cretan ceramic fabrics.

Jennifer Moody studied at the University of Texas with James R. Wiseman and at the University of Minnesota with William A. McDonald. She was later mentored by Peter Warren and Yannis Tzedakis on Minoan pottery, and A.T. and Jean Grove on paleo-environments. From 1981 to 2015 she partnered with the historical ecologist and botanist Oliver Rackham. They co-authored The Making of the Cretan Landscape (1996), and it was translated into Greek in 2004.

Inspired by her teachers and the Cretan landscape, Moody directed and co-directed four archaeological surveys across the island: Chania and the Akrotiri in the far west, Vrokastro with Barbara Hayden near Istron in the east, Sphakia with Lucia Nixon in the southwest, and Hagios Vasileios (a valley south of Rethymnon) with Alan Peatfield. She has consulted on many other archaeological projects around the Aegean.

An interdisciplinarian, Moody has delved into many fields linked to archaeology: geology, geography, ecology, climate studies, palynology, charcoal analysis, ceramic analysis, and petrology. In 1989 she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.

Taking McDonald’s belief in the potential of undecorated coarse pottery to heart, in the late 1970s and early 80s she developed a coarse-ware chronology for the Chania area for her Ph.D. dissertation, based primarily on macroscopic ceramic fabric analysis (MACFA). She has been a strong advocate for MACFA, especially combined with petrography and experimentation, ever since.

Petrographic Analysis

Petrography projects undertaken by the Study Center involve the sampling and analysis of ceramic material, thin section manufacture, and observation under an optical microscope. The center’s primary focus is material from excavations carried out on Crete; projects from off-island locations, however, with material considered to be imported from Crete are also welcome.

Ceramic petrography is an analytical technique applied in the characterization of pottery and the investigation of provenance and technology of manufacture. The foundation of any successful petrographic project rests foremost on a sound archaeological question that can be explored with the specific method and a thorough selection of samples. It is advisable for the archaeologist to discuss the aim of the project as well as the sampling strategy with the petrographer of the Study Center, as the complexity of the material and the archaeological questions will guide the nature and the number of samples. A good understanding of the pottery prior to sampling is also essential because the typology, context, and date of the material all factor into the results of petrographic analysis. The Director of the Study Center must be informed and must approve the project for it to be completed.


Sampling permits are issued by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sport. A complete application for the permit must include a full catalog and pictures of the samples. The size of pottery samples is generally 1×1 cm; care is taken not to spoil the maximum diameter or profile of the sherds. The sampling is carried out either by a conservator of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture or the Petrographer of the Study Center.


In order to get archaeologically meaningful results, discussion and close collaboration between the archaeologist and the petrographer are necessary. In order to put the analytical results into perspective, petrographic data should be combined with typological, stratigraphic, and chronological information.

Depending on the aims and requirements of the project, the laboratory can provide: full petrographic descriptions of the fabric groups on the basis of the analysis of the material; digital photos of the petrographic fabrics; a report with the results of the analysis.


The first publication or presentation of the results will be co-authored by the archaeologist and the petrographer, so that the views of all parties as well as the full analytical methodology are presented. If a separate chapter is more appropriate, then this should be authored by the analyst(s). Subsequent publications may be in collaboration or independent with appropriate acknowledgements and reference to the initial work.

For any queries, contact the Petrographer of the Study Center, Eleni Nodarou.


Dr. Eleni Nodarou received her degree from the University of Athens, Dept. of History and Archaeology and her M.Sc. in Environmental Archaeology and Palaeoeconomy and her Ph.D. in Pure Science from the University of Sheffield (U.K.). Since 2003, she has been the head of the W.A. McDonald Laboratory of Petrography of the Study Center. Her research interests include pottery analysis, ceramics technology, and experimental archaeology. She has participated in European projects and has presented the results of her work at conferences in Greece and Europe. She is currently participating in archaeological projects involving the analysis of Cretan pottery from the Neolithic to the Byzantine periods. She has taught seminars on ceramic technology at the Universities of Athens and Patras and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Since 2007, she has been an adjunct lecturer at the Hellenic Open University.

Matina Tzari is a conservation technician who also operates the thin-section manufacturing equipment. In addition to conservation she also serves as the trained petrography technician.

Petrography Internship

The Institute for Aegean Prehistory has established a four-week internship available every year to graduate students in archaeology, geology, and related studies who are interested in acquiring experience in ceramic petrography. Emphasis is given to the archaeological component of the discipline—the strategy behind sampling for petrographic projects—as well as the criteria for grouping petrographic samples and the methodology of describing thin sections. The internship takes place at the INSTAP Study Center for East Crete.

The interns are encouraged to bring their own thin sections (if they are already involved in the study of an assemblage); otherwise, they work on projects provided by the Study Center. The interns also have the opportunity to use all the facilities available at the Study Center, namely the library, the geological reference collection, and the computer lab, among other resources.

Past Interns

Slide show from left to right (click on each photo to enlarge): past interns.


Book Publication

Natalia Poulou-Papadimitriou, Eleni Nodarou, and Vassilis Kilikoglou, eds. 2014. LRCW4: Late Roman Coarse Wares, Cooking Wares and Amphorae in the Mediterranean. Archaeology and Archaeometry. The Mediterranean: A Market without Frontiers (BAR-IS 2616), 2 vols., Oxford.

This volume contains the proceedings from the fourth LRCW congress held at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki between 7 and 10 April 2011. It is arranged according to the thematic sessions of the conference rather than by geographical area: archaeology and economic history, production centers, distribution and consumption, typology and chronology, and regional contexts (East Mediterranean, West Mediterranean, and the Mediterranean: a market without frontiers). In this way it brings together research on similar issues across the Mediterranean, stressing the economic character of the sites and assemblages and culminating with the concept that the Mediterranean is after all an open way, a mare nostrum connecting west and east.

Workshop on Byzantine Pottery

Recent excavations of Byzantine sites on Crete and their subsequent publications, as well as a plethora of specialized studies, reflect a renewed interest in the Byzantine pottery from the island. When these studies are combined with archaeometric analyses they offer more synthetic approaches and interesting interpretations. The excavation of well-stratified sites and the study of other classes of material such as lead seals and coins have contributed greatly to a more secure dating of the pottery and a better understanding of the economic and trade activities of the various sites in Crete during the Byzantine period. In light of these developments, a 2-day scholarly meeting on the study of Byzantine pottery from Crete was held in Pacheia Ammos in 2013, combining new data, theoretical approaches, and a hands-on practicum on pottery and ceramic petrography.

The meeting was organized by Assoc. Prof. Natalia Poulou-Papadimitriou (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) and Dr. Eleni Nodarou (INSTAP SCEC). The response to our call for participation and presentation of new material was overwhelming: 40 pottery specialists from all the Byzantine Ephorates of Crete and from foreign schools came to Pacheia Ammos. The first afternoon was devoted to presentations of new material. The second day was devoted to pottery. The participants had the opportunity to examine selected Early Byzantine pottery from the island of Pseira and a few objects from Mochlos. N. Poulou guided them through the labyrinth of typology and chronology and discussed possible imports and trade routes. Then E. Nodarou presented the results of the petrographic analyses of Byzantine pottery from across Crete, and the participants acquainted themselves with the petrographic microscope.

The meeting ended with a glass of raki and the wish to meet again in the future somewhere else on the island.

Slide show from left to right (click on each photo to enlarge): two images of the workshop.

Pottery Workshop for the Sisi Excavation Team

A pottery workshop was organized for a group of students from the Sisi Excavation Project and led by their professor at Louvain-la-Neuve (Belgium), Dr. Charlotte Langohr. The workshop took place on the 16th of July 2016 and the students had the opportunity to have a hands-on experience with pottery from Mochlos and Gournia under the guidance of Prof. Angus Smith (Brock University, Toronto). The second part of the workshop was devoted to petrographic analysis. The students discussed issues of pottery provenance and technology with Dr. Eleni Nodarou (INSTAP SCEC) and became acquainted with pottery fabrics under the petrographic microscope.

An Important Donation

Thanks to a generous donation by the Ms. Foundation for Women, an electric kiln was added to the equipment of the W.A. McDonald Laboratory of Petrography. The kiln allows us to explore issues of raw material sources, test the workability of the clays and carry out experimental archaeology projects involving the manufacture and firing of clay artifacts.


Aphrodite’s Kephali
Nodarou, E. 2013. “Appendix A: Petrographic Analysis of the Pottery,” in Aphrodite’s Kephali: An Early Minoan I Defensive Site in Eastern Crete (Prehistory Monographs 41), P.P. Betancourt, Philadelphia, pp. 151–169.

Chlouveraki, S., E. Nodarou, K. Zervaki, G. Kostopoulou, and M. Tsipopoulou. 2010. “Technological Observations on the Manufacture of the Late Minoan Goddesses from Halasmenos East Crete, as Revealed during the Process of Conservation,” in Conservation and the Eastern Mediterranean. Contributions to the Istanbul Congress, 20–24 September 2010, C. Rozeik, A. Roy, and D. Saunders, eds., London, pp. 190–194.

Nodarou, Ε. 2011. “Το ΥΜ ΙΙΙΒ/Γ Κεραμικό Σύνολο από το Χαμαλεύρι Ρεθύμνου: Προκαταρκτικά Αποτελέσματα από την Πετρογραφική Ανάλυση,” in Πεπραγμένα του Ι΄ Διεθνούς Κρητολογικού Συνεδρίου A’(3), Chania, pp. 381–394.

Nodarou, E. 2006a. “Appendix L: Soils and Sediments from Natural Deposits at Chrysokamino,” in The Chrysokamino Metallurgy Workshop and Its Territory (Hesperia Suppl. 36), P.P. Betancourt, Princeton, pp. 403–412.

———. 2006b. “Appendix N: Petrographic Analysis of Two Final Neolithic Sherds from the Chrysokamino Metallurgy Location,” in The Chrysokamino Metallurgy Workshop and Its Territory (Hesperia Suppl. 36), P.P. Betancourt, Princeton, pp. 429–432.

———. 2007. “Exploring Patterns of Intra Regional Pottery Distribution in Late Minoan IIIA–B East Crete: The Evidence from the Petrographic Analysis of Three Ceramic Assemblages,” in Archaeometric and Archaeological Approaches to Ceramics. Papers Presented at EMAC ’05, 8th European Meeting on Ancient Ceramics, Lyon 2005 (BAR-IS 1691), S.Y. Waksman, ed., Oxford, pp. 75–83.

Nodarou, E. 2008. “Appendix: Petrographic Analysis of Selected Early Iron Age Pottery from Eleutherna,” in The Archaeology of Tomb A1K1 of Orthi Petra in Eleutherna. The Early Iron Age Pottery, A. Kotsonas, Athens, pp. 345–362.

Galanaki, K., E. Nodarou, Ch. Papadaki, and I. Triantaphyllidi. 2011. “Μινωικό Κτήριο στις Γούρνες Πεδιάδος,” in Πεπραγμένα του Ι΄ Διεθνούς Κρητολογικού Συνεδρίου A’(2), Chania, pp. 103–118.

Hagios Charalambos
Nodarou, E. 2015. “Appendix A: Petrographic Analysis of Selected Pottery Samples,” in Hagios Charalambos: A Minoan Burial Cave in Crete II. The Pottery (Prehistory Monographs 51), L.C. Langford-Verstegen, Philadelphia, pp. 75–99.

Xanthopoulou, M., E. Nodarou, and N. Poulou-Papadimitriou. 2014. “Local Coarse Wares from Late Roman Itanos (East Crete),” in LRCW4 Late Roman Coarse Wares, Cooking Wares and Amphorae in the Mediterranean. Archaeology and Archaeometry. The Mediterranean: A Market without Frontiers (BAR-IS 2616.II), N. Poulou-Papadimitriou, E. Nodarou, and V. Kilikoglou, eds., Oxford, pp. 811–817.

Nodarou, E. 2015. “Chapter 11. Petrographic Analysis,” in Kalochorafitis: Two Chamber Tombs from the LM IIIA2B Cemetery. A Contribution to Postpalatial Funerary Practice in the Mesara (Studi di Archeologia Cretese XII), A. Karetsou and L. Girella, eds., Padova, pp. 343–362.

Nodarou, E., and I. Iliopoulos. 2011. “Analysis of Postpalatial Pottery from Karphi,” in The Pottery from Karphi: A Re-examination (BSA Studies 19), L.P. Day, London, pp. 337–348.

Livari Skiadi
Nodarou, E. 2015. “Prepalatial Pottery: Petrographic Analysis,” in Livari Skiadi: A Minoan Cemetery in Southeast Crete I. Excavation and Finds (Prehistory Monographs 50), Y. Papadatos and Ch. Sofianou, Philadelphia, pp. 61–76.

Tsatsaki, N., and E. Nodarou. 2014. “A New Hellenistic Amphora Production Centre in West Crete (Loutra, Rethymnon): Study and Petrographic Analysis of the Pottery Assemblage,” BSA 109, pp. 287–315.

Nodarou, E. 2003. “Appendix B: A Petrographic Analysis of a Clay Sample from the Field Adjacent to the Artisans’ Quarter,” in Mochlos IB: Period III. Neopalatial Settlement on the Coast: The Artisans’ Quarter and the Farmhouse at Chalinomouri. The Neopalatial Pottery (Prehistory Monographs 8), K.A. Barnard and T.M. Brogan, Philadelphia, pp. 171–173.

———. 2010a. “Petrographic Analysis of the Late Minoan III Ceramics,” in Mochlos IIB: Period IV. The Mycenaean Settlement and Cemetery. The Pottery (Prehistory Monographs 27), R.A.K. Smith, Philadelphia, pp. 3–14.

———. 2010b. “Appendix A: Petrographic Descriptions,” in Mochlos IIB: Period IV. The Mycenaean Settlement and Cemetery. The Pottery (Prehistory Monographs 27), R.A.K. Smith, Philadelphia, pp. 139–153.

———. 2014. “Appendix B: Petrographic Analysis of the Hellenistic Cooking Ware,” in Mochlos III: The Late Hellenistic Settlement: The Beam Press Complex (Prehistory Monographs 48), N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, Philadelphia, pp. 103–107.

Evely, D., A. Hein, and E. Nodarou. 2012. “Crucibles from Palaikastro, East Crete: Insights into Metallurgical Technology in the Aegean Late Bronze Age,” Journal of Archaeological Science 39, pp. 1821–1836.

Nodarou, E. 2012. “Pottery Fabrics and Recipes in the Final Neolithic and Early Minoan I Period: The Analytical Evidence from the Settlement and the Rock Shelter of Kephala Petras,” in Petras, Siteia25 Years of Excavations and Studies. Acts of a Two-Day Conference Held at the Danish Institute at Athens, 9–10 October 2010 (Monographs of the Danish Institute at Athens 16), M. Tsipopoulou, ed., Athens, pp. 81–86.

———. 2017. “Pottery Fabrics and Recipes in the Later Pre- and Proto-palatial Period at Petras: The Petrographic Evidence from House Tomb 2 and Ceremonial Area 1,” in Petras, Siteia: The Pre- and Proto-palatial Cemetery in Context. Acts of a Two-Day Conference Held at the Danish Institute at Athens, 14-15 February 2015 (Monographs of the Danish Institute at Athens 21), M. Tsipopoulou, ed., Athens, pp. 131–139.

Priniatikos Pyrgos–Istron
Georgotas, A. 2013. “Raw Materials–Hunting and Experimental Research on Minoan Ceramic Technology: A View from the Mirabello,” KENTRO 16, pp. 11–13.

Molloy, B., J. Day, S. Bridgford, V. Isaakidou, E. Nodarou, G. Kotzamani, M. Milić, T. Carter, P. Westlake, V. Klontza-Jaklova, E. Larsson, and B.J. Hayden. 2014. “Life and Death of a Bronze Age House: Excavation of Early Minoan I Levels at Priniatikos Pyrgos,” AJA 118, pp. 307–358. DOI: 10.3764/aja.118.2.0307.

Nodarou, E. 2013. “Analysis of Granodiorite Pottery of the Vrokastro Area from the Final Neolithic Period to Modern Times,” KENTRO 16, pp. 10–11.

Nodarou, E., and J. Moody. 2014. “Mirabello” Fabric(s) Forever: An Analytical Study of the Granodiorite Pottery of the Vrokastro Area from the Final Neolithic Period to Modern Times,” in A Cretan Landscape through Time: Priniatikos Pyrgos and Environs (BAR-IS 2634), B.P.C. Molloy and C.N. Duckworth, eds., Oxford, pp. 91–98.

Th. Kalpaxis, K. Athanassas, I. Bassiakos, T. Brennan, B. Hayden, E. Nodarou, K. Pavlopoulos, and A. Sarris. 2006. “Preliminary Results of the Istron, Mirabello, Geophysical and Geoarcheological Project, 2002–2004,” BSA 101, pp. 135–181.

Poulou-Papadimitriou N., and E. Nodarou. 2007. “La Céramique Protobyzantine de Pseira: La Production Locale et les Importations, Étude Typologique et Pétrographique,” in LRCW2 Late Roman Coarse Wares, Cooking Wares and Amphorae in the Mediterranean. Archaeology and Archaeometry (BAR-IS 1662.II), M. Bonifay and J.-C. Tréglia, eds., Oxford, pp. 755–766.

———. 2014.“Transport Vessels and Maritime Trade Routes in the Aegean from the 5th to the 9th C. AD. Preliminary Results of the EU Funded “Pythagoras II” Project: The Cretan Case Study,” in LRCW4 Late Roman Coarse Wares, Cooking Wares and Amphorae in the Mediterranean. Archaeology and Archaeometry. The Mediterranean: A Market without Frontiers (BAR-IS 2616.II), N. Poulou-Papadimitriou, E. Nodarou, and V. Kilikoglou, eds., Oxford, pp. 873–883.

Syme Viannou
Nodarou, E., and Ch. Rathossi. 2008. “Petrographic Analysis,” in The Sanctuary of Hermes and Aphrodite at Syme Viannou IV: Animal Images of Clay (Library of the Archaeological Society at Athens 256), P. Muhly, Athens, pp. 165–182.

Vogeikoff-Brogan, N., E. Nodarou, and M.C. Boileau. 2008. “New Evidence for Amphora Production in East Crete in the Hellenistic Period. An Integrated Approach of Typology and Thin Section Petrography,” in Proceedings of the 4th Symposium of the Hellenic Society for Archaeometry. National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens, 2831 May 2003 (BAR-IS 1746), Y. Facorellis, N. Zacharias, and K. Polikreti, eds., Oxford, pp. 327–334.

Ben-Shlomo, D., E. Nodarou, and J.B. Rutter. 2011. “Transport Stirrup Jars from the Southern Levant: New Light on Commodity Exchange in the East Mediterranean,” AJA 115, pp. 329–353. DOI: 10.3764/aja.115.3.0329.

Gilboa, A., Y. Shalev, G. Lehmann, H. Mommsen, B. Erickson, E. Nodarou, and D. Ben-Shlomo. 2017. “Cretan Pottery in the Levant in the Fifth and Fourth Centuries B.C.E. and Its Historical Implications,” AJA 121, pp. 559–593.

Hein, A., V. Georgopoulou, E. Nodarou, and V. Kilikoglou. 2008. “Koan Amphorae from Halasarna – Investigations in a Hellenistic Amphora Production Center,” Journal of Archaeological Science 35, pp. 1049–1061.

Nodarou, E. 2010. “Ανάλυση Αρχαίας Κεραμικής: Χαρακτηρισμός, Προέλευση, Τεχνολογία,” in ΑρχαιοΥλικά, I. Lyritzis and N. Zacharias, eds., Athens, pp. 63–101.

———. 2011. Pottery Production, Distribution and Consumption in Early Minoan West Crete: An Analytical Perspective (BAR-IS 2210), Oxford.

Nodarou, E., C. Frederick, and A. Hein. 2008. “Another (Mud)brick in the Wall: Scientific Analysis of Bronze Age Earthen Construction Materials from East Crete,” Journal of Archaeological Science 35, pp. 2997–3015.

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