Ioannis Broustis
Ph.D., Department of Computer Science and Engineering
University of California, Riverside
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Kopanaki Messinias

Kopanaki lies in the south-western corner of Peloponnese. It is famous for its olive trees, and for its circular dance (known as the 'kalamatianos') danced by pretty girls whose hands are linked by the silk kerchiefs for which the town is also known. Messinia with the sea on three sides, land of wise king Nestor of Pylos, whom Homer describes, land of Navarino, where a historic sea battle placed the seal on the Greek victory over the Turks, is as light and airy a place as the music for the 'kalamatianos'. Although many of the inhabitants of Messinia are engaged in occupations related to the sea, the majority still work the land. In Kopanaki, the olive tree and its fruit and oil provide work for many families, but general farming is highly developed in Messinia, with production of lemons, oranges, cotton, rice, figs, potatoes, wine, and vegetables. This is one of the reasons why Messinia has retained its population; with more than 159,000 inhabitants, the Prefecture is, with Ileia, the second most densely inhabited in the Peloponnese, after Achaia. Around Kalamata there is also a considerable amount of industrial development, particularly in the processing of olives, olive oil, alcohol, soap, etc., which has also contributed to maintaining the population at a constant level. The main road from Elia continues along the coast and enters Messinia. At about 14 kms there is a fork at the village of Kalo Nero. The branch to the east leads to the villages of Kato Kopanaki, Kalliroi and Allagi and then joins the main Tripoli-Megalopoli-Kalamata road.

History, and excavations around Kopanaki

During the late 60s, a scientific project by W.A. McDonald and G.R.Rapp began, which was published by the University of Minnesota in numerous volumes. Some years ago (1990-2000), the establishment of the last published excavations in the Messinia region took place. The publications for the Messinia region excavations began at the Tomb of Kampo Abias by Chr. Tsounta (AE. 1891, 184ff). However, the biggest and most protected agricultural settlement, in the Messinia region, was excavated in north Trifilia. At the mountain Ramovouni, agricultural settlements were also excavated (Protohelladic-Ysterohelladic III, G1) (Karagiorga, Excavation of the Dorion’s region, AE 1972, Chronica, 12-20). Another one was found in the same region nearby the village Kopanaki in 1980 (Kaltsas, The archaic oikia in Kopanaki of Messenia, AE 1983, 207-237).

Malthi is the name of the northern spur of the mountain range of Ramovouni in northern Messenia. In 1926 Natan Valmin came to the region and was shown two tholos tombs which he excavated the same year. Later on, a third tholos was identified, but it was destroyed before there was time to excavate it. The tholos tombs are situated just west of the Malthi acropolis, by the small village of Malthi (former Bodia). Tholos-1 contained a mixture of Mycenaean pottery sherds. The diameter of the circular chamber was 6.85 m and the height was 5.80 m. Tholos-2 was partly collapsed at the time of excavation; both of them had been robbed. Both tombs were obviously cut out from the cliff (according to Hope Simpson and Dickinson, A gazetteer of Aegean civilization in the Bronze Age, Vol I: The mainland and islands, 1979, 174) and were not built directly on flat ground as Valmin states. The next year Valmin excavated two more of them: one west of Kopanaki and another between Vasiliko and Kallirrhoi. The results are published in Bulletin de la Société Royale des Lettres de Lund 1926-1927, 190 ff. The same year, 1927, the excavation of the settlement on top of the acropolis started. Excavations continued in 1929, 1933 and 1934. During these years the entire settlement, which is encircled by a wall, was uncovered. The area within the wall measures 140 x 80 m. Valmin stated that the earliest habitation was Neolithic. This he called Dorion I. Dorion II was larger; according to Valmin, it should belong to the Early Bronze Age. The wall around the settlement was erected during Dorion IV in the Middle Bronze Age. This habitation continued down into Mycenaean times. Valmin describes how Dorion IV was divided into three separate parts: the central area where the architecture seemed to be more of a monumental character and where there were workshops in the northern part, the area which runs along the interior of the wall, and the empty areas where there was no habitation.

A number of 47 graves were excavated in the settlement within the walls. They were situated beneath and between the buildings. They are either simple pitgraves or cist graves, the sides of which consisted of stone slabs or were built by smaller stones. Single burials were most common, although some of the graves held two individuals and some held several. Two of the graves held no human bones. Nine of the burials were adults and the rest were children. Valmin searched in vain for chamber tombs in the region during all the excavation campaigns. Many of the finds from the various excavations conducted by Valmin and his colleagues were restored and put on display in the local museum of Vasiliko. This museum is now closed. The findings from his excavation are now in the Kalamata Museum.