Ancient sources indicate that Elis was a classical settlement established in a synoicism that occurred in 471 BC. However, archaeological excavations demonstrate that a small settlement existed here before this time. A limited number of Bronze Age and Iron Age burials have been found in and around the agora. In the same area, 6th century BC architectural terracotta fragments and an inscribed bronze legal inscription attest to activity during the Archaic period as well. Apparently, there were either small temples or public buildings near the later agora. To be sure, most of the material at Elis is classical and later. By the 4th century BC, the agora had monumental stoas, and by the 3rd century BC the theater was built on an artificial earthen mound. There is substantial Roman material at Elis, including domestic quarters, industrial zones with kilns, and bath complexes.
The Austrian Archaeological Institute at Athens (1910-1914) initiated the first large-scale excavations at Elis. Their work focused mostly in and around the agora. Work was interrupted by the start of the First World War. The Austrians returned to Elis in the 1960s and worked until the 1980s. This was not a period of new large-scale excavations, but more a reexamination of the earlier material from the agora. Buildings previously excavated were studied again with the intention of establishing a better chronology through pottery analysis. Work by the Austrians was supplemented by the Archaeological Society at Athens, who excavated the theater and structures nearby. Some trial trenches were also explored at various other places. Publication of the material is scant. More recently, there has been increased interest by the 7th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. This coincided with the Athens 2004 Olympics, although much work at the site is still ongoing. Most notably, the 7th Ephorate began excavating a substantial domestic quarter of the city immediately southwest of the agora. The streets here are set at right angles, indicating that part of Elis was a planned settlement. Full results of these excavations, unfortunately, have not been published. A small geophysical survey was conducted by G. Tsokas and A. Sarris in March 2003 in fields immediately west and north of the agora. Magnetometry and electrical resistivity was employed, both with decent results. Of note was the discovery of several subsurface streets spaced at regular intervals, more evidence that parts of Elis were planned, perhaps during the Classical period. I conducted satellite remote sensing at the site between 2011-2012 and found good evidence for additional subsurface streets, especially west and south of the agora. From this, I have been able to offer a tentative reconstruction of a grid plan that extends perhaps as far as 1 km from the agora. In addition, there are a number of anomalies that may mark the presence of buried buildings. One promising example is a feature that appears to have three apses at the end of a long rectilinear feature. This may be a Christian church or a monumental Roman complex, perhaps for bathing.
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