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Sylvia Benton

Sylvia Benton.


Kythera: Excavations and Studies conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the British School at Athens.

J.N. Coldstream and G.L. Huxley (editors)
R. Hope Simpson, J.F. Lazenby and A.S. Trik,
with contributions from,
Bernard Anderson, W.G. Forrest, Judith Herrin, A.H.S. Megaw, and W.H. Plommer.

Faber and Faber Limited.
3 Queen Square, London.


This large "encyclopaedic-looking" book comprises 319 pages of text, and about 150 pages of brilliant line-drawings, and black-and-white photographs.

Of immediate interest is the dedication of the book:


The Preface, elaborates on Miss Sylvia Benton's achievements.

"The island of Kythera lies off Cape Malea, the south-eastern promontory of the Peloponnese On the headland of Kastri beside the Bay of Avlemon(a), on the coast facing Crete, Miss S. Benton discovered that there had been a prehistoric settlement in which Middle Minoan to Late Minoan I pottery had been used.

[Annual of the British School of Athens. 32 (1931-2), pages, 245-246.]

..further work by R. Hope Simpson added to Miss Benton's results,

[Annual of the British School of Athens. 56 (1961), pages, 153-156.],

..after road-making near Kastri in 1957 and in 1958 had ruined three chamber tombs.

In the tombs much Minoan pottery was found of the same date as the sherds* (*sherd - fragment put over hole of flower-pot) collected in the settlement. The abundance of Minoan remains indicated the presence of a Cretan colony, which would repay excavation and perhaps throw some light on the period of Cretan matitime dominance in the Aegean.

In 1963, thanks to the generosity of Mr and Mrs John Dimick, and of the University of Pennslyvania Museum, and also to the encouragement of the Director and Committee of the British School of Athens, a trial excavation at Kastri was undertaken with the permission of the Greek Archaeological Service.

The trials confirmed that Kastri was a Minoan colony, for the finds were mostly of Cretan character. There followed two five-week seasons of selective excavations in the summers of 1964 and 1965.

[A preliminary account can be found in the Illustrated London News (27 August, 1966), pages 28-29.

During the excavations brief reports on each season's work appeared in the Greek journal Archaeological Deltion, and in Archaeology in Greece.]

This report, (Kythera: Excavations and Studies conducted by the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the British School at Athens.), is chiefly concerned with the discoveries made in the Minoan colony of Kastri, but antiquities of earlier and later periods are to be found in the neighbourhood; some of them are described here, our observations being intended to supplement the descriptions given by earlier visitors.

Evidence for the ancient and medieval history of Kythera is also discussed in our book and related to the results of our excavations.

In early 2004, adminstrators of kythera-family stated that "it would be great to obtain photographs of "Miss Sylvia Benton"; and further information about her life and career."

In June 2004, kythera-family was contacted by a Ms Janet Trythall in Scotland, who had been net-surfing and come across the kythera-family site. Janet comes from the "south side of Moray Firth, NE Scotland."

Janet has lived around Moray for 14 years, in which time she has become "..informed about Scottish archaeology and archaeologists, Permo-Triassic sandstone,
beavers, and 101 things besides". She is also on the Board of The Moray Society "which among other things, owns our local museum, Elgin Museum".

Janet Trythall is an anaesthetist by profession. One of her aspirations is "..to go part-time, and write a biography of Sylvia Benton - as she was definitely "a character".

Brief biography of Sylvia Benton:

Born India, 1887, where her father was a judge. Family home; Sherrifston, Moray - now home of Moray Society president, a distant relative, [of the informant, Janet Trythall]. Sylvia read Classics at Cambridge and taught in girls' schools for many years before embarking on a career as classical archaeologist - after the death of her father.

It was while she was home from Greece she went to the Sculptor's Cave, near Moray, with a friend - to see the "Sculptures" - Pictish carvings on the walls.

"The Sculptor's Cave is c. 1 mile west along our coast and therefore on one of my constitutionals (walks) - and from wiggly writing on Ordnance Survey map (indicates an antiquity)".

"However, the floor was covered in human bones, so she got permission from the estate (now Gordonstoun School, where my husband teaches; which is why we are here) to excavate. One of my interests has been to try and find the bones (as this was pre-C14) but I have drawn a blank, although I do have copies of the lists prepared by some of the anatomists consulted - by context, they are Late Bronze Age.

Sylvia Benton retired to Moray, and was helpful to our regional archaeologist, Ian Shepherd when he re-excavated in 1979. She died in 1985, after a fall."

Some references:

Benton, Sylvia. The excavation of the Sculptor's cave, Covesea, Morayshire.
Proc. Scot. Soc. Ant.1931 LXV 177-216.

Cook, Prof. J.M. Obituary The Annual of the British School of Archaeology at Athens. 1986, 81 p. vii-x. (this includes a photo in old age).

Keillar, I. et al. Obituary PSAS 1985 115 p. 1-2.

We thank Janet Trythall, very much, for enhancing our knowledge of Sylvia Benton.

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