With the semester winding down, I’m beginning to organize myself for a three week summer study season at Polis in the Chrysochou Valley in western Cyprus. For the last ten years (almost!), Scott Moore and I have been working with the Princeton Cyprus Expedition team to to document and publish the rather remarkable assemblage of material from the Hellenistic to Medieval periods. The site is particularly rich in Late Roman material and includes two Early Christian basilicas, innumerable burials, lots of ceramics, and some evidence for the organization of Late Roman and post-Roman neighborhoods including roads, drainage, and industrial spaces. You can read more about our work at Polis here.
This summer, Scott and I will focus on completing our work on the area of E.F1, which was a Late Roman installation of some description that appears to have spanned the 6th to 7th century and underwent several modifications. The building itself is not terribly interesting architecturally (although a complete pane of window glass was preserved!), but it was associated with several assemblages of Late Roman ceramic material. The latest assemblage is from levels that we can date on the basis of a burial that cut into the final phase of the building. The burial contains a lead seal presumably on a document important to the deceased allowing that dates the inhumation to sometime after the final decades of the 7th century. We discuss that here. It provides a terminus ante quem for the abandonment of the building and the materials associated with the levels into which this burial was cut. We have a feeling that the material from this site will offer a distinctive Late Roman horizon for at least one episode of abandonment at Polis that might pre-date the reconstruction of the South Basilica in the neighboring area of EF2.
The cause for the abandonment of the installation at EF1 is likely to remain unclear, but what’s particular interesting is that at some point in the penultimate phase of the building’s life, there was a growing concern with drainage. The resulting covered water channels presumably represented an effort to move water around the building in a way that preserved its architectural integrity. The final phase of the building’s life saw wall thickening and buttressing in a way reminiscent of the modifications to South Basilica indicating that the structure was compromised probably at some point in the 7th century.
The relationship between the modified drains and the later reinforcement of the walls suggests that something about the location of this building and the flow of water made the building vulnerable. A similar scenario led to the collapse of the South Basilica nearby and this hints that the water management and drainage system of ancient Arsinoe had changed between the original construction of these buildings and the need to install drainage and reinforcement. There are many possible reasons for the change in the flow of water, but I’d be tempted to associate it with changes to the grid and roads in Arsinoe which would have disrupted the functioning of drainage systems during Late Antiquity. In other words, the modified water management systems at EF1 and EF2 may represent proxy evidence for changes to the urban fabric.
Our work at EF1 and EF2 (the South Basilica) will also contribute to two papers that I’m scheduled to give next year. One, in the fall, will consider the insularity of Byzantine Cyprus with reference to our work at Polis and Koutsopetria, east of ancient Kition. I don’t have a clear idea for that paper yet, but I think it will focus on the Early Christian architecture across the island and compare it – maybe – to the character of contemporary ceramic assemblages. I’ve argued, here and there, that both reflect choices and practices of communities across the island as well as the flow of material and knowledge (and tastes) over time.
The second paper considers “long Late Antiquity” on Cyprus and our assemblages from Polis speak to the 7th and maybe even early 8th century material signature of these communities. The understanding of the changing ceramics and their place in everyday life reveals both the different connections between various communities on the island and across the Eastern Mediterranean as well as changing and unchanging habits and footways.
Finally, I need to thing reflexively about how we have been dealing with legacy data from Polis for a paper that I’ve proposed for the 2020 AIA annual meeting. The migrating of data from one form to the other is an act of translation and transformation that both adds meaning but also reflects a set of priorities for how information moves through the distributed archaeological ecosystem. These priorities and values are not independent of our larger view of how our field (and the contemporary world) makes meaning and knowledge with a range of social, political, and historical implications for how we understand the past.
It should be a good summer!