Polis Notebooking Season

Before the dirty, exhausting, and incremental (let’s say) season of actual field work begins in the Western Argolid, I’m taking a few weeks to work amid notebooks, pottery, and architecture in the village of Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus this summer.

People who read my somewhat jet lagged and unapologetically grumpy post from yesterday may have some idea of what I’m up to, but I should probably be a bit more specific. Over the next few weeks, Scott Moore, Brandon Olson, and I will be working our way through the final gaggle of notebooks from area E.F2 excavated by the Princeton Cyprus Expedition on Cyprus. Over the last few years, we have focused on sorting out the stratigraphy and chronology of the 6th to 10th century AD basilica-style church at the site, and now we’re turning our attention to its larger context in the urban grid. 

Unlike most people’s idea of what archaeologists do, we’re not digging. We’re not even walking around the countryside. In fact, we’re spending our time in doors, staring at laptops and in storerooms surrounded by dusty trays of ceramics. (We walked over to the site itself yesterday and tried to orient ourselves on the basis of the notebook we had been reading, and let’s just say it was not entirely successful…). We’re pouring over notebooks from trenches excavated 20 years ago and looking at context pottery to make sense of the excavated contexts. Most of the areas we’re studying have material that dates from the Hellenistic, Roman, Late Roman, and Byzantine periods.

The notebooks are a decidedly uneven affair. Some are models of efficient descriptions of contexts and features. Other notebooks are baffling and frankly psychedelic odysseys into the excavator’s mind. Sorting the pseudo-stratigraphic relationships from these notebooks requires patience and the tolerance for a certain amount of informally probabilistic interpretation and fuzziness that typically archaeological analysis avoids. The uneven character of the notebooks makes every day a wild ride between straightforward interpretation of archaeological contexts and wild comedy (er.. tragedo-comedy… excavation is destruction, kids, remember that!). Scott Moore gives an impression of our work on his blog.

Our plan this season is to sort out the history of the area south and west of the basilica which in the Hellenistic and Roman period appears to be a busy thoroughfare and an industrial area with a kiln, perhaps some metallurgical workshops, and maybe domestic space. There is a well preserved road with rather extensive drainage system designed to manage the flow of water down the slope of the hill on which the site sits. After the Roman period, the area seems to have been somewhat neglected with the drains being filled in, burials made on the road, and other signs of neglect and some slight hints at destruction. Our current research questions focus on the process of change in the area and whether these were punctuated by earthquakes or other destructive episodes or simply the changing function of the space through time.

So this morning, we’re off to the Princeton apotheke to begin sorting out the ceramics from the trenches. Wish us luck!

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