Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project Prospects for the Summer of 2012

Last week, I wrote a bit on my plans for work at the site of Polis-Chrysochous for the summer of 2012. Before I even get to Polis, however, I will have worked for a little of three weeks at my long term research site of Pyla-Koutsopetria. This summer a team of Messiah College volunteers will team up with the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project to conduct excavations at the site of Pyla-Vigla.

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The site is the prominent height that towers above the narrow coastal plain of Pyla-Koutsopetria and our work since 2008 has documented the presence of a substantial fortification dating to the Hellenistic period. A preliminary publication of our work at the site should appear in the next volume of the Report of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus A pre-print is available here and a summary conference paper here

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We excavated at that site in 2009 and 2010, but left several unanswered questions that our work this season will look to resolve. Like the preceding two campaigns at the site our work will be focused and limited. At present we anticipate three small trenches (<10 sq m each) positioned to clarify three distinct questions:

1. Function. The last two campaigns at the site have produced some good evidence for settlement on the top of the Vigla plateau and inside the fortification walls. We have found traces of storage and cooking practices, the manufacture of military equipment (particularly lead sling pellets), the re-use of material from earlier structures including a possible religious sanctuary, and at least two episodes of destruction. We feel relatively confident, then, assigning this settlement to soldiers stationed at the site. At the same time, the extent of the settlement remains unclear and geophysical work conducted in 2008 and 2009 seems to indicate that some sub-surface anomalies extend toward the northern half of the plateau where we have done no excavation. One goal this summer, then, is to locate at least one sounding on the northern part of the plateau to determine whether the settlement extends over the entire area or whether the sub-surface anomalies represent non-domestic architecture or even the remains of earlier or even later activities at the site. 

2. Chronology. While we have a relatively secure chronology for the settlement within the fortification walls, the fortification walls themselves have so far escaped our efforts to assign secure dates. In 2009 we conducted a sounding along the eastern part of the fortification and in 2010 along the western. Despite substantial amounts of soil and, at least for the eastern sounding, some complex stratigraphy, we were unable to establish a secure date for the wall. In 2012, we plan to place a trench along the northern side of the wall close to where looters exposed a substantial section of the wall in the winter of 2009/10. The looter trench suggested that there is a good chance for undisturbed stratigraphy in this area and that the walls remains standing to a substantial height (>1 m). We hope that a trench in this area will turn up the so-far elusive foundation deposit. Unfortunately, even this might not produce an easy answer as far as the date of the entire wall is concerned. We have fairly good evidence that the wall saw several phases of construction.

3. The Southwest Corner. The southwestern corner of Vigla has also seen some looting in the past few winters. The steep slope of the southern side has also seen some substantial local erosion that has enlarged the looter trenches. The most dramatic exposure appears to have been the remains of a tomb perhaps of Hellenistic date. Recent erosion and possible looting has also exposed the remains of a wall that appears very similar to the fortification wall found further upslope. The extent and function of this wall along the southeastern corner and its relationship to burials in the area remain rather unclear. It could be that the wall is a retaining wall for a road that originally made its way from the coastal plain along the western side of the fortification. Or it may have been an outrigger wall that prevented an enemy force from establishing a position below the southern wall of the fortified plateau. If the wall served to fortify the southwestern approach to the height, it would presumably look similar to the fortification wall along the southern side of the plateau. If it was a retaining wall, we might expect it not to be a less substantial construction. Finally, it is possible that the wall has something to do with the burials in this area or even the quarrying activity further to the south. We hope that a small trench in this area can at least tell us whether the wall had two faces and guide our interpretation either toward or away from its function as a fortification.

To investigate these issues, we are fortunate to have a great team of trench supervisors this summer: Brandon Olson for Boston University, Dallas Deforest from Ohio State, and Aaron Barth from the joint Ph.D. program in History at University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University. As we have for the last five years, we will document our work via social media and as things going, I’ll provide details here!

So, stay tuned!

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