Ioannis Smyrnaios is an archaeologist currently living and working in Athens. He was born in Greece in 1976, and his difficult-to-pronounce last name bears the signature of his Asia Minor descent. To his friends, he is also know as Yiannis, Yanni and Yan.
His early years
Ioannis spend his early school years in Athens, where he studied in the 52nd Gymnasium and Lyceum at the area of Kolonos, the former neighbourhood of the great philosopher Plato and the famous play-writer Sophocles. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the glamour of Kolonos had significantly declined since the glorious days of the 5th century BC. Just like many other contemporary teenagers of working class background, Ioannis suffered hardships until he figured out what he wanted to do in life, but most of all, until he managed to find an opportunity to fulfil his dream.
Ioannis began working at the age of 17 in a washing-machine factory. He joined the military a year later to realise the brutality of human nature and his complete repulsion to following orders. After that, he spend almost a decade of his life wondering through various professional fields such as catering, accounting and trade. His early education included professional courses in computing, accounting and finance, where he managed to obtain a state certification of professional skills.
From his early school years Ioannis had two passions: martial arts and foreign languages. In relation to the former, he has studied Kyokushinkai, Aikido and Aikijutsu. In relation to the latter, he has studied English, German and French, and during his adventurous life, he managed pretty well with Dutch, Danish, Czech and Arabic, although he never studied such languages properly. In the late 1990s, he started learning how to play the electric guitar and soon after he became the guitarist of an infamous heavy metal band, which was dissolved in the mid 2000s without having produced a single album.
Studies and early involvement in archaeology
Ioannis was always attracted by antiquities and archaeological sites. After all, this is one of the great advantages of having been born in Greece: antiquities are everywhere around you! During his vacations, Ioannis always enjoyed visiting old cities, archaeological sites, historical monuments and museums with collections of archaeological artefacts. To him, history and archaeology were always another passion. From 2000 onwards, Ioannis became involved in archaeological digs, originally as a volunteer and then as a site assistant. Even though his early work was seasonal, he participated in a number of excavations in Crete, Peloponnese and Macedonia.
In 2002, Ioannis applied and got accepted in the Greek Open University, in the BA course 'Studies in Hellenic Culture'. There, he studied a wide variety of modules such as Introduction to Hellenic Culture Studies; Greek History; Ancient Greek and Byzantine Representational Arts and Architecture; Public and Private Life in Ancient Greece and the Byzantium; Ancient Greek Literature; Modern Greek literature; Ancient Greek theatre; Ancient Greek and Byzantine Philosophy; European Philosophy; Music and Dance in Ancient Greece and the Byzantium; Archaeology in Greece; and finally, Modern Greek Theatre and Cinema. During his six years of study at the Greek Open University, he continued in full-time employment and practised archaeology during his spare time. His BA studies were also challenged by the sudden loss of his entire family and by professional misfortunes, which followed right after. With the help and support on few good friends, Ioannis graduated from the Open University in July 2008.
After his graduation, Ioannis decided to leave Greece. He had already started travelling and meeting people through various international projects, particularly in the Netherlands, since 2006. After many discussions with his lecturer and first mentor in archaeology, Ioannis decided that it was time to move on and seek for an archaeological career abroad.
In 2008, he moved to the UK and started his MA degree in Ceramic and Lithic Analysis for Archaeologists at the University of Southampton. There, he was trained in the analysis of excavated pottery and worked stone; ceramic petrography, thin section analysis and interpretation; archaeological illustration; theoretical approaches in the analysis of ceramics and lithics in context; analysis and practical training in large ceramic and lithic assemblages coming from a variety of archaeological contexts and cultural groups; recording methods; data analysis, presentation and publication; use of advanced archaeological software; and statistics. During his spare time he attended modules in Osteoarchaeology (Advanced Human Skeletal Studies and Bones in Context), and Maritime Archaeology (Ancient Mediterranean Seafaring). He graduated his course in September 2009 after submitting his MA dissertation under the title “An Investigation of Ceramic Production in Meroitic Lower Nubia During the Period of Roman Occupation in Qasr Ibrim”.
Between September 2009 and April 2010, Ioannis travelled in different countries and participated in a variety of international projects that expanded his personal and professional horizons. He lived for a short period in Belfast; he joined a medical expedition of Médecins du Monde at the island of Crete and worked as a coordinator in the organisation's mobile dental unit; he participated in British and German excavations in Sudan; and finally, he was chosen to lead the Greek expedition of Médecins Sans Frontières in Haiti, at the time when earthquakes had inflicted severe damages to the island and its population.
Academic research and international projects
In April 2010, Ioannis moved to Cardiff, where he started his PhD on Greek Early Iron Age pottery. His project focused on the technological study of Athenian Geometric and Orientalising finewares (c. 900-600 BC), in relation to the broader social transformations of the Attic Early Iron Age and the rise of the Athenian Polis. During his PhD studies, Ioannis engaged in archaeological theory, and more specifically in behavioural analysis and the chaîne opératoire approach. He conducted ceramic analyses with the use of advanced statistics and sophisticated microscopic techniques such as Thin Section Microscopy (TSM), Scanning Electron Microscopy coupled with Energy Dispersive X-Ray Spectroscopy (SEM-EDX), X-Ray Diffraction (XRD), and Energy Dispersive X-Ray Fluorescence (ED-XRF). He conducted extensive field research at the Athenian Agora in collaboration with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens; at the Kerameikos Museum in collaboration with the Greek Antiquities' Services and the German Archaeological Institute at Athens; at the Museum of the British School at Athens and the Fitch Laboratory under the broader supervision of the British School; and finally, at the British Museum in London. He obtained three years of postgraduate teaching experience in modules such as the Archaeology of the Ancient Mediterranean Societies; Aegean Bronze Age; Classical Greece; Ceramics; Discovering Archaeology; Introduction to Greece and Rome; Great Discoveries in Archaeology; and Archaeological Illustration. Furthermore, he gained three years of valuable experience in community engagement as a coordinator in the SHARE with Schools outreach project; in archaeological excavations for volunteers and the broader public; in the CAER Heritage Project and the excavation of the Iron Age Caerau hillfort; in experimental archaeology workshops; and in laboratory-based archaeological demonstrations.
Ioannis' PhD project was self-founded through personal hard labour, while part of his tuition fees were covered by a bursary from the Greek Archaeological Committee UK. During his stay at Cardiff, he was employed in a number of part-time jobs offered by his Institution. More specifically, in 2010 he worked for the International Students Office, and between 2013 and 2016, he was simultaneously employed in library portering and invigilations. During his last two years of work for the Invigilation Office, he was promoted to Senior Invigilator Supervisor. When not in Wales, Ioannis continued being involved in international archaeological projects. In 2011, he conducted ethnographic research on contemporary Cappadocian pottery production at Avanos, Turkey. In 2012, he worked as a ceramics specialist in Egypt, and more specifically at the Bubastis excavation, conducted jointly by the Universities of Potsdam and Würzburg, and the Tuna el-Gebel excavation, conducted by the University of Munich.
On Guy Fawkes Day, 5th November 2015, Ioannis submitted his PhD thesis under the title “The Correlation of Technological and Stylistic Changes, and Society, in the production of Attic Geometric and Orientalising finewares (c. 900 – 600 BC)”. He passed his PhD viva on 29th February 2016, a day that is remembered once every four years. On the day of the British Referendum, 23rd June 2016, he moved to Ipswich, where he began his career in British Commercial Archaeology. He worked as a Senior Finds Officer for Suffolk Archaeology CIC for two years and was involved in the analysis and publication of a variety of archaeological artefacts, such as prehistoric and Roman pottery, fired clay, ceramic building material, worked and heat-altered lithics, shell, animal bone, iron, and ceramic and lithic small finds. Furthermore, he became actively involved in public engagement activities in Suffolk and Essex. On the day of the French victory against Croatia in the World Cup's final, 15th July 2018, Ioannis moved to Milton Keynes, where he worked as a Finds Manager for Cotswold Archaeology, for one year. His work included the analysis and publication of archaeological artefacts from East Anglia, the South and Central Midlands, and further West; the training of staff on archaeological finds and the reviewing of the company's training methodologies; the development of new communication protocols and programming systems across the company's offices; and finally, a variety of outreach activities in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Cambridgeshire. In 2019, he was offered a Teaching Fellowship with the Open University of Cyprus, at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, for the programme 'Studies in Hellenic Culture'. On 8th October 2019, 250 years after the discovery of New Zealand by Captain James Cook, Ioannis returned to his homeland, Greece, to reconnect with his past, continue his archaeological activities and expand his knowledge in new research areas.
Ever since, Ioannis is actively involved in teaching, research and publications, in both Classical Archaeology and other disciplines. At the same time, he offers his services as a freelance artefact specialist and archaeological consultant in Greece and abroad. He is actively involved in the study of 19th and early 20th century material culture in Greece and beyond, with particular interest in the archaeology of World Wars I and II. He is engaged in the promotion, study and preservation of recent material culture in Greece, and the study of artefacts that fall under the broader umbrella of ethnography. These include post-Ottoman ceramics, building materials, furniture, early electromechanical devices, textiles, jewellery, ecclesiastical artefacts and recent works of representational art. Furthermore, he specialises in the study of early 20th century military equipment and relevant materials, which do not fall under the Greek Weapons and Ammunitions Act. Ioannis is still a member of the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists in the UK; the Ipswich Archaeological Trust; the Roman Finds Group; the Study Group for Roman Pottery; the Prehistoric Ceramics Research Group; and the Late Prehistoric Finds Group.