More on Polis Notebooks

This week I completed the first phase of the Polis notebook project.  The goal of this project is to create a robust database that will aid in the analysis of a basilica-type church (called EF2) at the site of Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus.  The church at the site underwent some important modifications during its 500 year of use.  Most important among these was its transformation from a wood-roofed basilica to a vaulted basilica. This substantial modification to the church architecture was not uncommon on Cyprus, but so far, no one has been able to assign this pattern of rebuilding to a particular period or historical event. Our goal with the church at EF2 (at least this season) is to attempt to establish a chronology of the architectural phases of the building. Beyond allowing us to assign a date to an island-wide trend in church architecture, we hope that this will help us to understand the changing function of churches through time, changes in the technology of decoration and maintenance, and the place of this particular building in the urban fabric of the city of Polis.

The first step to this was process was to key in descriptions of the basic stratigraphic units from the original excavation notebooks produced in the field during 1984, 1985, and 1986.  There were 11 notebooks, but only 7 or 8 contained records of stratigraphic excavations (some contained architectural notes or data concerning the numerous burials found around the church).  The descriptions themselves amounted to over 40,000 words of text in 5 to 6 different hands.


This text described a type of stratigraphic excavation at the site and each notebook recorded information from a trench or an area.  From what I could gather from the notebooks, there were 8 distinct areas of excavation. The most basic unit for excavation was the level which seemed to coincide – more or less – with a stratigraphic unit, although they might also represent a part of a trench or phenomenon that is not necessarily a single strata in an archaeological sense.  For example, burials, wall falls, and sometimes cleaning processes got their own levels (at times), but these levels did not represent singular depositional processes.  There were 204 levels from the notebooks.

In some cases, the excavator also recorded information regarding individual passes. The passes were subunits in a level.  Not every excavator recorded a description of every pass; in fact, one excavator typically did not record information related to individual passes at all.  In contrast, another excavator carefully recorded all level descriptions according to the individual pass. Judging by the different soil color, content, and features present in individual passes, it is pretty clear that, at times, the pass represented a change in depositional process more accurately than the level did. In other words, in some cases levels and on other cases pass described better the stratigraphy of the unit.  There were 345 passes recorded for 121 levels – 64% of the levels included information recorded at the level of the pass. 


In some cases, specific inventoried finds were recorded in the description of individual passes.  Although it is clear that many more finds were inventoried from the trench and recorded in the notebook than appeared in the level or pass descriptions, for phase 1 of data entry I only recorded objects that appeared in the descriptions of passes and levels. There were 235 of these objects and many (26%) of them were coins.

Before I get to Cyprus next month (!!), I’d like to be well along in phase 2 of the data organizing project. This will involve indexing the illustrations from the notebooks, so that we can quickly find trench plans and elevations that correlated with the descriptions in the database. Each drawing could contain multiple levels, features, and passes so this will be a relatively involved (although not overwhelming) project.

All this digital archaeology work, of course, puts me in the digital archaeology state of mind. This is great since Prof. Eric Poehler will be visit campus next week. Remember to come and hear him talk about his work at Pompeii at 6 pm on May 4th in the East Asia Room of the Chester Fritz Library.


  1. […] The excavation notebooks.  There are the basic descriptions of the archaeology prepared by the trench supervisors. They […]


  2. Oh man. That’s one of my first indications that there’s methodology trouble on a site–notebooks.


  3. […] atmosphere, but it would give me a chance to summarize my thoughts on developments from blogging to digital notebooks, 3D modeling, and innovations in digital and online publishing of both data and analysis. […]


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