Advertisement for Myself: Talk at the University of Texas

August 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

At then end of September I’ll be giving a talk at the University of Texas’s Workshop on Late Antiquity. The talk is on September 27th at 5 pm.

The talk will be my first effort to wrangle architectural analysis and a more thorough and comparative study of the large residual assemblage of pottery from the “South Basilica” at the site of Polis into something approaching a coherent form. The paper will hopefully become the basis for a article length submission to a decent journal in the midwinter. As you might expect, I’ll keep my dear readers in the loop as this proceeds. 

One more funny thing. I originally called the talk: Architecture and Assemblage at the Site of Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus, but my hosts at Texas thought that this wasn’t a particularly student friendly title. I agreed. So we tweaked it a bit to: 

Reconstructing Community from Busted Pots and Ruined Churches on Cyprus

The last three decades has been something of a golden age in the archaeology of Cyprus. From pioneering intensive surveys to meticulous excavations focused on rural sites that often fell outside the traditional scope of Mediterranean archaeological research, scholars of Cypriot archaeology have engaged current debates surrounding postcolonialism and hybridity, networks of exchange and connectivity, insularity, and the development of the ancient state. The theoretical innovation and methodologically significant fieldwork on Cyprus, however, has done little to project the island from the fringes of most archaeological conversations. While the marginal status of Cypriot archaeology might be understandable for earlier periods like the Cypriot Iron Age which many have seen as peripheral to larger trends in contemporary Aegean and Near Eastern societies, for later periods the robust and sophisticated assemblages produced by recent archaeological work present a solid platform for studying imperial administration, the Mediterranean economy, and the tensions between the local and the global in the context of empire.

This paper will take as a point of departure the ongoing work at the site of Polis-Chrysochous (ancient Arsinoë) on the western side of Cyprus where a team has worked to document both the architecture of one of two Early Christian basilicas and an associated assemblage of Late Roman ceramics. The architecture and assemblage from this site demonstrates the connections between the city of Arsinoë and other sites on Cyprus as well as southern Anatolia. At first glance, these links may appear an unremarkable consequence of the site’s location, but the character of the basilica and the nature of the assemblage reveals more than simply geographic determinism and hints at the material manifestations of the human decisions that constitute culture. The significance of the past 30 years of field work on Cyprus, in this context, becomes clear as it provides an almost unparalleled potential to analyze the material culture of a series of related, yet distinct, sites in the ancient world.

Here’s the classy poster:

2013LateAntiquityPoster

The South Basilica at Polis

July 15, 2013 § Leave a comment

We’ve officially renamed the EF2 basilica. It is now “the South Basilica” and we’ve officially moved from pondering ceramics and architecture on the ground to writing. 

And this is our first effort to bring together the results of over three years of study (and many years of field work by many people before then)!

We’ve been working on lovely new illustrations of the site plan and our basilica, and they’re almost presentable now:

Figure 1 WRC3

EF2BasilicaDetail

And here’s our most recent text:

Analyzing Residual Ceramics in a Fill Deposit

June 26, 2013 § 1 Comment

I know this isn’t one of my best titles ever, but it describes what I am trying to do pretty accurately. As we move toward a comprehensive preliminary study of the basilica in area EF2 at the site of Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus, we want to be able to say something about some of the ceramic assemblages associated with the buildings. In particular, we have a massive fill level that we have tentatively associated with the second phase in the construction of the basilica.

The fill is dated by both coins and ceramics to the middle decades of the 7th century an consisted over 3000 pieces of broken pottery. Because the excavators did not save all pottery and tended to discard less apparently diagnostic artifacts, the fill consisted over over 40% fine ware (compared to 9% transport amphora sherds, 32% utility wares (primarily storage vessels and other less diagnostic coarse and medium coarse fabric sherds), and 15% kitchen wares). While it may be possible to reconstruct what they discarded into the pottery dump, for now we think that the assemblage is more or less representative of what was excavated.

imageCRS Sherds in the R09 Fill at Polis

The majority of fineware in this assemblage is Cypriot Red Slip (or, what we maybe should call Late Roman D Ware). The chronology of the assemblage represents almost the full chronological range of CRS production which began some time in the 4th century and perhaps continued as late as the 8th. Like many significant assemblages of CRS, CRS9 and its variants (largely identified by Henryk Meyza and his work at nearby Paphos) make up the largest percentage of our material. The particularly production long life of CRS9 (beginning in 400 and continuing with some variation to almost the end of the 7th century) might account for its preponderance in our assemblage.

Unlike many other sites on the island the Polis R09 Fill had an impressive quantity of CRS8 an CRS11 sherds.

CRS11

These likely date to the final century (or 150 years) of CRS production. The size of CRS11 vessels and the distinct folded-over shape of the rim of many of the CRS11 basins found at our site may suggest a local production center, although the rim of the vessel shown above is similar and comes from Anemurium in Asia Minor.

Our percentages are similar to those produced by the nearby Canadian Palaiopaphos Survey Project, but they identified fewer CRS11 sherds.

imageCPSP CRS Assemblage

A nearly contemporary assemblage associated with two basilica churches excavated by Marcus Rautman at Kopetra on Cyprus also produced a similar distribution of forms.

imageCRS from Kopetra

The main difference between the CSPS and Kopetra assemblages are that they probably represent a wide range of depositional processes from discard to (perhaps) use. Our assemblage from trench R09 at Polis is probably all secondary discard and two steps removed from its primary use context. It was deposited as a single event, but the material likely derived from a range of domestic discards.

UPDATE: One more example, here are the different forms documented by the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project.

image

End of the Season Varia

June 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

At the end of a study season, I’m always left with various things that I’m all excited about, but I don’t have sorted out for a blog post.

For example, I usually have a satisfying photograph of the end from the last day at the apotheke (or storeroom) like this:

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The table is empty, and that’s a good thing, because it was usually filled with pottery under study or being catalogued.

I also have a few photographs that try to capture the range of activities during the season in a single shot. So, I have a photograph that shows off Brandon Olson’s illustrations of Late Roman fine ware like this. Scott and Brandon are looking at two chronologically contemporary, but physically distinct areas of the excavation for joins.

Drawn

And I since we did some 3D modeling of parts of the basilica using Agisoft Photoscan, I invariably have some cool screen shots like those below. The first one is southwest corner of the narthex. If you look carefully you can see the lines of the original arched opening which was latter walled up with less well-sorted (and weight bearing) rubble walls.

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Here is another showing the buttresses in the north aisle of the church. You can see clearly how the eastern apses do not bond with the main wall of the north aisle. 

Screenshot 062513 032224 PM

One of the most useful things about modeling architecture using Agisoft is that we can show parts of the basilica at almost impossible angles without having to get a crane and reshooting photographs.

I also have a little gaggle of photographs that I like, but don’t really know what to do with. So I have this one of the “super moon” over the plataea of Polis at night. I like it because it looks a bit like a painting.

IMG 0660

Then I always have ridiculously beautiful scenes like this:

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Or like this:

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I don’t recall whether these two photos appeared on the blog.

It’s ok if you find this kind of thing empty and self-indulgent. I promise that I’ll  get back to more substantive blog posts over the next couple of days. I have some writing and thinking time in Larnaka before I head to Greece to check out an area where I hope to do some fieldwork next year.

Discovery in Pieces

June 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

Yesterday was one of my best days ever as an archaeologist. I didn’t discover some amazing new site. And I didn’t find some amazing or valuable object.  And my day didn’t involve out witting Nazis or mummies (or zombies).

Over the last few weeks, we have worked to establish dates and architectural relationships for the various parts of the basilica at EF2 at Polis. We figured out that the narthex and the south portico of the church were added to the building most likely date to the middle years of the 7th century. We found particular types of late Cypriot Red Slip pottery in a foundation trench associated with the narthex, and we know that the south portico – a long porch build along the south side of the church – had to date to after (or the same time as) the narthex. The south portico appears to have been cut into a massive rubble fill the extended north from the south wall of the church. (We’ve tentatively argued that this rubble fill was a response to a local drainage issue.

The other phase of the church that we’ve been studying involves the building of  buttresses along the walls along the walls of the main nave. The ceramics from deposits associated with these piers also date to the 7th century, but we had not been able to associate their construction with the building of the narthex and south portico. Until yesterday.

Yesterday, Scott Moore discovered a join between two pieces of a stamped Cypriot Red Slip plate. One piece came from the massive rubble course south of the basilica that narrowly pre-dates the building of the portico. The other piece of the same plate came from a foundation deposit associated with the construction of a buttress on the north wall of the nave. This sherd, then, connects the two major changes to the basilica: the addition of a narthex and portico and the reconstruction of the main nave.

TheSherd

The two pieces of pottery came from trenches about 15 m apart. The trench to the south of the south portico was excavated in 1985 and the trench in the nave in 1990. One sherd was inventoried as a find (which means that it stood out as something with intrinsic value) and one sherd languished in the boxes of context pottery. (We had to look through over 20,000 artifacts in the context pottery boxes to find this little guy!).

Bringing together the context pottery and the inventoried finds, two different episodes of excavation, and the narthex, portico, and buttresses of the main nave has unlocked the chronology of the church. It was a pretty good day.

Residuality and Fill Levels at the EF2 Basilica at Polis

June 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

One of the challenges that we faced working at the EF2 basilica at Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus was that so much of the ceramic evidence came from various kinds of fill levels at the site. In other words, we had very little material from traditional use contexts and an unbelievable quantity of pottery associated with either construction deposits or the massive rubble fill level that extends south from the basilica. While analysis of ceramics from areas of such relatively undifferentiated contexts has not always been the rule on archaeological project, recently decades have shown how the study of material in these fills levels can produce high-resolution snap shots of the certain components of a communities material culture.

R09FillNote the “Rubble Layer” in the scarp drawing

As we looked at the pottery from these levels we began to think about how to approach assemblages of ceramic artifacts produced by activities completely unrelated to the original to the original purposes of the objects. The artifacts present in the leveling and construction fills, for example, represent past activities at the site, habits of discard, and construction practices. They also provide chronological “type fossils” that allow us to date architectural features associated with the levels. 

Gavin Lucas in his new book, Understanding the Archaeological Record, puts it nicely:

“If we think about the archaeological record in terms of the residuals of assemblages, we must consider such residues as possessing the memory of the assemblage itself, insofar as the organization of the residue captures, however faintly, the organization of the parent. It is the residue of this organization that is being sought, not simply the elements or objects which were part of it.” (p. 211).

Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve worked out way through the material in the fills that extend south from the basilica and have paid particular attention to the very common Cypriot fine ware (or table ware) called Cypriot Red Slip as well as contemporary imported pottery (see my post yesterday for more on this). Our intent is to analyze the residual ceramics in these fills much like we’d interpret survey data. In fact, we intend to compare the assemblage produced by this fill with assemblages from both similar contexts (especially those associated with the nearly contemporary basilicas at the site of Kalavassos-Kopetra) as well as the results of survey work in the larger Paphos and Polis area.

Our goal is to be able to speak to and from the architecture as well as the assemblage in our analysis of activity in the area of EF2 at Polis.

More Pottery, More Problems

June 19, 2013 § 1 Comment

About two weeks ago, I was feeling pretty good about the date our our basilica at the site of Polis. We dated the church on the basis of five or six fairly secure deposits associated with the construction or modification of the church. The pottery in these contexts is largely the locally(ish) produced fine ware, Cypriot Red Slip.

The more pottery we have, however, the more problems it creates. And here’s how it goes.

First, we have to identify the major wares present and the make an effort to distinguish the different shapes. That often means spending hours looking at sheets of rim profiles and reading fiddly descriptions of fabric. Because these pots were not made on a production line, any sherd we find does not really line up precisely with the object in our books so we have to wiggle it to fit a category (and, moreover, the potters were not sitting around discussing how to produce Cypriot Red Slip Form 9!). It’s like getting some kind of polyhedron to pass through a round or square hole in a child’s game.

Screenshot 6 19 13 3 22 PMScreenshot 6 19 13 3 25 PM

Then, once we are satisfied that we have fit our sherd into the typology, we can begin attempting to date our shapes on the basis of stratified examples of these vessels elsewhere. Most scholars who contribute to the typologies we use to identify the sherds also make an effort to date the pottery. Unfortunately, the bewildering array of shapes and sub-types can devolve into equally bewildering chronological arguments. I had a bit of a “down-melt” this morning when confronted with several possible for a type ranging from 580/600-700 to early 5th to 7th century. That’s a big difference and 580/600 is not a secure date but TWO different dates separated by a slash. In terms of normal humans living in  normal time, this is meaningless. I was not born in 1972/1988. 

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Finally, once we get some dates on some pots, we have to reconcile the chronologies of various vessels within the deposit with one another. This always involves dating the deposit to after the date of the more recent object. Once we have the terminus post quem (that the date after which) for the deposit, we can begin to attempt to understand how earlier material made its way into the collection of pot sherds deposited as a single event. Since most of our deposits are associated with the construction of the basilica, it is easy enough to understand the various earlier sherds as being part of the debris used to backfill a foundation trench or pack a floor. In fact, from a use standpoint the latest and earliest sherd in the deposit functioned essentially the same way. They were all residual and probably all cast aside some time earlier in either a dump or in some kind of local destruction.

The problem is, of course, the more pottery there is, the more complicated the chronological relationships are. For each deposit, we have to sort out both the very local chronology of material, but also the relationship between it and others at our site which may not have the same types (or sub-types) or pottery, but may have a similar date. As a great man once said, mo’ pottery, mo’ problems

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