On-site and off-site at Pyla-Koustopetria: A Response to Chris Cloke’s Interpreting Ceramic Assemblages

Last week Chris Cloke generously shared some of his work with the pottery from the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project over at Corinthian Matters in a three part post. In a nutshell, he argued that there was evidence for manuring during Late Antiquity.

It’s a busy week, but I wanted to follow up on his suggestion that PKAP present some of its data to see whether we could detect similar trends. Our work at Pyla-Koustopetria, of course, is rather different in scope than the work of the NVAP. We focused on one, mid-sized, site rather than an entire region. Moreover, by Late Antiquity the built up area of our study area appears to have been rather large in relation to our overall study area.

Nevertheless, there is reason to think that the northern reaches of our study amount to an off-site zone. The distribution of tiles, for example, suggests that only the coastal zone of our study area had tiled buildings. (The tiny numbers in each unit represent the total number of Late Roman artifacts from each unit.)


Moreover, the distribution of fine and kitchen wares, most frequently associated with domestic activities appear to be concentrated in similar area.


In contrast, the distribution of coarse and utility wares, like amphora, extends of a much larger percentage of the study area.


Judging by these maps, it would appear that the northern part of our study area which comprised the coastal plateaus of Mavrospilos/Kazamas and Kokkinokremos saw a functionally different kind of activity than the coastal area. Cloke has suggested that the prevalence of less diagnostic sherds – and coarse and utility wares are almost be definition less diagnostic than fine and kitchen wares – might represent material scattered through manuring.

Cloke argue, however, that this is a product of smaller sherd size rather than a specific functional difference, and compares the percentages of diagnostic pottery from both on-site and off-site transects to demonstrate that similar proportions of diagnostic ceramics appear in both ceramics. Clearly, this pattern does not appear in the PKAP data.

Moreover, it does not appear that the average weight of the sherds varied in a consistent way across the PKAP study area.


The map above shows the average weight of Late Roman sherds (excluding tiles) across the study area. It is possible to imagine a slightly higher average sherd weight for the coastal units immediately below the height of Vigla in the left-center of the map, and a slightly lower average sherd weight for the material scattered to the north on the Mavrospilos/Kazamas plateau.

While this is slightly suggestive, I wonder, vaguely, whether this has something to do with the greater soil depth on coastal plain that “protects” sherds more. The plateau units tend to have thin soils with patches of exposed bedrock. This seems like a far more hostile environment for sherds and may have accounted for why they are more poorly preserved. In other words, the condition of the sherds has much more to do with post-depositional processes than how they were deposited.

I expect that David Pettegrew – the expert on survey site formation processes – might have some observations.

Crossposted to Corinthian Matters.


  1. Might not many of the coarse, medium coarse and perhaps amphora sherds from the higher inland plateau at Pyla-Koustopetria not be late Roman after all, but date to early medieval times? If so, one might suggest a settlement shift. Here in southern Apulia, early medieval ceramics have often been identified as Roman coarse wares.


  2. Paul,

    Thanks for the comment. It certainly seems possible that some of our coarser “Late Roman” sherds go quite late (8th century or later) and that might increasingly apply to some fine wares as well. At the same time our understanding of “Byzantine” ceramics on Cyprus – particularly locally produced coarse ware – remains in its infancy. So our overall perspective of, say, 8th to 10th century, settlement is likely to change significantly over the next decade.

    Thanks for the comment!



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