The Final Figure for Pyla-Koutsopetria Survey Volume

Lately I’ve been talking with friends and colleagues about the feeling that I’m wasting my sabbatical. Despite all sorts of reassurances, I feel the days slipping away. Recently, I’ve spent entire days writing grants, editing page proofs, making travel plans, having meetings, filling out Doodle polls to schedule meetings, organizing speakers, writing emails, deciding whether to italicize words in a title, conjuring press releases, and, most recently, finishing up figures for the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project 1 manuscript.

These are not creative tasks. 

In fact, these small tasks can completely suck the energy out of a work day, a work week, or, if I’m not careful, an entire sabbatical. 

That being said, I did finish the final figure for the PKAP manuscript (now that it’s up in Amazon and all). This is important stuff. I need always to color between the lines.


Figure5 2


Figure5 2FIXED

The more I try to roll on shabbos, the more I realize that gravity always wins.

Communities of Practice in Late Antique Roman North Africa

One the best things about being a sabbatiquol is getting a chance to make a dent in my backlog of reading. This week, I pushed on through Leslie Dossey’s Peasant and Empire in Christian North Africa (Berkeley 2010). I am only 5 years late!

As you might guess, I read the book as I am collecting my thoughts and citation for a short article with David Pettegrew comparing evidence for connectivity in the Eastern Corinthia (via EKAS data) and the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus (via PKAP data).  David and I will, more or less, follow current trends in discussions of Late Roman trade, but trying to find the fine line between older arguments that recognize most ancient economic activity as state sponsored and more recent arguments that see the economic structure of the ancient world outlined in a series of relationships between interdependent, but relatively autonomous microregions. Juxtaposing these two understandings, of course, implies more of a dichotomy than actually exists. As I argued last week, there is an issue of visibility that complicates matters. Economic activity that took place at a scale sufficiently large to be visible was likely mediated by the state. In fact, most of our typologies of ceramics – particularly transport amphora from Late Antiquity – focus on vessels used for the distribution of agricultural goods on a very large scale. In fact, the scale alone the massive quantities of highly visible Late Roman amphoras compromises an romantic (and frankly silly) notion of an economy powered exclusively by small scale cabboteurs carrying a few amphoras from each port of call.  

Dossey’s book sets out one way to understand the relationship between individual communities and large-scale trade in the Mediterranean by arguing that indigenous communities (i.e. communities of not fully Romanized “peasants” in imperial North Africa) acquired growing access the diagnostic Late Roman material over the course of Late Antiquity. This access reflected both change in the status of peasants and, more importantly, the change in consumption patterns. The access peasants had to material associated in earlier periods with Roman or thoroughly Romanized populations of North Africa reflected decisions on the part of the Roman policy and peasant communities. The Roman and Romanized populations depended upon, the consumption of red slip pottery, as a marker of distinction and elite status during the initial centuries of Roman rule in North Africa. This occurred because the Romans undermined the traditional land tenure, village settlement structure, and production patterns in the region and drew peasants onto larger estates where the Romans could exert considerably more control over peasant consumption patterns through social pressures and the increasingly monetized nature of the Roman economy that focused on production for urban elites and export.

For Dossey, then, Roman rule led not to depopulation – as some have argued – but the collapse of an identifiable rural signature for the non-Roman population. The “reappearance” of the rural population in Late Antiquity occurred not because peasants began to reoccupy the countryside, as some have argued, but because of the breakdown of Roman social, economic, and – at least during the 3rd century – political organization. This breakdown had an economic impact in that it motivated the redevelopment of rural industry as it sought to fill the gap left by the larger disrupted economic relationships. The development of rural industry and the breakdown of traditional social and political order also created space for changes in peasant consumption. Not only did peasants have greater access to material, but they also took the opportunity to subvert weakening social pressure by adopting increasingly Roman habits.

While she doesn’t articulate it specifically in this way, Dossey describes Roman and Late Roman consumption patterns (and attendant archaeological visibility) in North Africa as a function of communities of practice. I’ve been messing with these ideas over the last year or so as a way to understand variation in Late Roman ceramic assemblages across the island of Cyprus. Our site at Pyla-Koutsopetria, for example, showed a far greater variety of imported fine wares than, say, the site of Polis-Chrysochous on the western side of the island. Both sites showed signs of 6th century economic prosperity, but it manifest in substantially different assemblages of pottery. 

The idea that assemblages are not exclusively representative of access to materials, but also represent decisions by communities adds a level of complexity to my own tendency toward systemic arguments. Both the Eastern Corinthia and Pyla-Koutsopetria are areas that show significant engagement with the economic power of the Late Roman state. At the same time, both areas show distinct assemblages of table and fine ware that hint at the workings of communities there.  

Late Roman Economy and Formation Processes

I’ve spent some quality time with the most recent volume of Late Antique Archaeology this past month in preparation for writing a short contribution with David Pettegrew on connectivity in the Late Roman eastern Mediterranean. We plan to compare the Late Roman assemblages produced by two survey projects:  Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Project and Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeology Project. An important component of both assemblages is Late Roman amphoras: EKAS produced substantial quantities of Late Roman 2 Amphora probably produced in the Argolid; PKAP produced quantities of Late Roman 1 Amphora produced both on Cyprus and in southern Cilicia. We hope to discuss how the concentrations of these common transport vessels reflected and complicated how we understand economic patterns in the Late Antiquity.

Over the past half-century two basic models for the Late Roman economy have emerged. The earlier models saw the state as the primary engine for trade in antiquity. More recently, however, scholars have argued that the core feature of ancient trade is small-scale interaction between microregions across the Mediterranean basin. While there is undoubtedly some truth in both models, the latter has substantially more favor among scholars at present and the volume dedicated to connectivity focuses on the kind of small-scale interregional exchange that created a network of social, economic, and even cultural connections that defined the ancient Mediterranean world. The classic question introduced to complicate our view of ancient connectivity is: if the ancient Mediterranean is defined by these small-scale connections, then why did the political, economic, social, and even cultural unity of the communities tied to the Middle Sea collapse with the fall of Roman political organization in Late Antiquity?

Figure4 18

This is where David and I want to introduce the complicating matter of formation process archaeology. The substantial assemblages of Late Roman amphora represent the accumulation of discard from two “nodes” within the Late Antique economic network. These two nodes, however, are particularly visible because of the substantial concentration of a class of transport vessel.

These transport vessels most likely served to transport supplies to imperial troops either stationed in the Balkans or around the Black Sea, or in the case of the Eastern Korinthia, working to refortify the massive Hexamilion Wall that ran the width of the Isthmus of Corinth or stationed in its eastern fortress near the sanctuary of Isthmia. The visibility of these two areas depends upon a kind of artifact associated with a kind of exchange. As David has noted the surface treatments associated with LR2 amphora make them highly diagnostic in the surface record. LR1s, in turn, have highly diagnostic, twisted, handles that make them stand out from a surface assemblage dominated by relatively undifferentiated body sherds. In other words, these amphora assemblages represent a visible kind of economic activity.

The impact of this visible type of economic activity on our understanding of Late Roman connectivity is complex. On the one hand, the kind of persistent, low-level, economic connections associated with most models of connectivity are unlikely to leave much evidence on the surface. The diverse and relatively small group of very diverse amphoras, for example, found upon the coasting vessel at Fig Tree Bay on Cyprus would have been deposited at numerous small harbors along its route. Moreover, the fluidity of the networks that characterized connectivity would have made the routes of caboteurs irregular and contingent on various economic situations throughout the network of relationships. This variability and the small-scale of this activity is unlikely to have created an archaeologically visible assemblage at any one point on these routes. More than this, overland trade in wine or olive oil may not have used amphoras at all further impairing the archaeological visibility of the kind of low-level connectivity characteristic of Mediterranean exchange patterns. Between ephemeral containers and variable, low-density scatters, the regular pattern of archaeological exchange characterizing connectivity will never be especially visible in the landscape.

In contrast, imperial provisioning requirements, fueled for example by the quaestura exercitus, would present exceptionally visible assemblages of material. The interesting thing, to me, is that the amphoras visible on the surface in the Korinthia and at Koutsopetria  are not what is being exchanged, but the containers in which exchange occurs. The material exchanged, olive oil and wine, are almost entirely invisible in the archaeological records on their own. The visibility of these two places reflects the presence of outlets for a region’s produce. The produce itself, however, leaves very little trace, and we have to assume that networks that integrated microregions across the Mediterranean functioned to bring goods from across a wide area to a particular site for large-scale export.

The collapse of these sites of large-scale export during the tumultuous 7th and 8th centuries did not make trade between microregions end, but it made it more contingent and less visible, as I have argued for this period on Cyprus. The absence of large accumulations of highly diagnostic artifact types in one place represent a return to our ability to recognize normal patterns of Mediterranean exchange as much as the disruption of this exchange. The decline of these sites both deprived archaeologists of visible monuments of exchange and ancient communities of a brief moment of economic stability within longstanding contingent networks.

Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project Volume 1

After several rounds of edits, some fiddling, and some polishing, David Pettegrew, Scott Moore, and I have finally (once again) submitted the final draft of Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project 1: The Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town. It will be published in the Archaeological Research Series of the American Schools of Oriental Research.

The manuscript will invariably still require some editing but it is complete in terms of content and style. You can see our complete survey data set here at Open Context.

And, as a teaser, check out the table of contents and introduction here: 

Settlement on Cyprus in the 7th and 8th centuries

This past week R. Scott Moore and I sent off a draft of a paper on settlement in Cyprus during the Early Byzantine period. 

This has been a work in progress for the last few months and developed partially from our work on Cyprus at the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project and at the site of Polis-Chrysochous. 

This is the earlier draft of this paper, and you can read more on this paper hereherehere, and here.

The Northern Levant at the End of Antiquity

I was pretty excited to read Jesse Casana’s very recent article on the Late Roman landscape of the Northern Levant in the most recent Oxford Journal of Archaeology. I’ve been poking, in a tentative way, around this region lately (via articles and books, mind you) in an effort to situate Cyprus more clearly in its regional context. Casana’s article was particularly insightful because he relied heavily on evidence from survey archaeology.

He drew upon a number of recent survey projects (Ghab Regional Survey and the Amuq Valley Regional Project) to demonstrate that the lower Orontes Valley in the immediate neighborhood of Antioch was densely settled throughout the 5th and 6th centuries. The settlements on these fertile valley bottoms have largely been overlooked by scholars of the Late Roman period distracted, it would seem, by the dramatic remains of the “Dead Cities” of the limestone massif some 20 km to the west. The Dead Cities are remarkably well-preserved largely because the relatively arid landscape of the limestone massif was not reoccupied in later periods leaving the substantial limestone structures standing until today.  Moreover, scholars working in the Orontes Valley tended to study  the prominent tell sites which primarily date to the Bronze Age and Iron Age and overlooked the scattered tiles and ceramics that provide evidence for Roman and Late Roman occupation of these regions.

The evidence for Late Roman occupation in this region was substantial and, as Casana documented in a small-scale excavation, included elaborate buildings whose walls were either robbed for building material in later times or were made of mud brick. Casana argues that these apparently affluent settlements developed in response to markets in Antioch, Apamea, and accessed by sea from the coast of the North Levant. The Dead Cities, occupying more marginal land, are part of this same process of producing for booming urban markets and dynamic regional trade.  

Casana’s understanding of the boom in the Orontes Valley coincides with my reading of settlement on Cyprus. The Late Roman period in the East – perhaps into the 7th century on Cyprus – represented a period of urban prosperity, a high degree of monetization, and thriving regional markets in the Eastern Mediterranean stimulated at least, in part, through imperial policy and the needs of the army on the frontiers and the capital at Constantinople. The opportunities of the market stimulated the exploitation of marginal lands and this coincided with a gradual diversification of agricultural production from strictly subsistence practices to limited, opportunistic production for market. As Michael Decker has argued for the same region marginal lands sometimes become opportunities for niche production and the traditional reading of the Dead Cities on the limestone massif suggested that these villages produced olive oil primarily for export (although more recent work has shown that the villages may have also produced wine and grain perhaps for local consumption). 

As a conclusion, Casana frames the issues involving the structure of settlement in the Northern Levant as primarily archaeological in character. In other words, the remarkable preservation of the Dead Cities of the limestone massif has led scholars to overlook and mischaracterize contemporary settlement on the more fertile lands of the Orontes valley. This, as one can imagine, distorted the reading of settlement in this region and overlooked the massive expansion of settlement present in the region. The work of the two surveys summarized by Casana brings the Northern Levant in line with contemporary settlement patterns in the so-called “busy countryside” of Late Roman Cyprus. Like the Northern Levant, the booming urbanism of Late Roman Cyprus and access to the substantial and monetized Eastern Mediterranean economic world supported the expansion of settlement across the island. When the cohesive Eastern Mediterranean market faltered in the face of invasions and plagues in the later 7th century (on Cyprus and perhaps in the Levant as well), urban areas declined and regional markets returned to levels prior to the momentary stimulus provided by the state and an exception period of economic and political integration.     

A Working Paper on Settlement on Cyprus in the 7th and 8th Centuries

Since we’re in excavation mode today after our spring storm yesterday, I’ll offer up a working paper for your inspection. The paper looks at settlement on Cyprus during the 7th and 8th centuries and argues three interrelated things.

First, it challenges the idea that scholars should consider Late Roman Cyprus to be normative and late-7th and 8th century Cyprus in decline. Cyprus during 5th-early 7th century experienced a rather extraordinary period of economic prosperity and economic integration with both the Roman state and markets across the Mediterranean basin. 

Next, I suggest that our inability to grasp the situation on Cyprus during the late 7th and 8th century (as well as our tendency to declare Cyprus in decline) exists at the intersection of archaeological methods and historical circumstances. Our tendency to rely on artifact that circulated widely in the Mediterranean to establish chronological control of sites on Cyprus and our inability to consistently recognize locally produced ceramics (except those produced Cyprus that circulated widely), created a situation where disruptions to the Mediterranean economy in the late 7th and 8th centuries disrupted our ability as archaeologists to study communities on Cyprus.

Finally, I follow the well-trod path of a gaggle of recent scholars who have suggested that there is evidence for continued economic activity in the late 7th and 8th centuries across the island, but we need to become more sensitized to the kinds of evidence present. Arab coins, handmade pottery, and late forms of well-known, earlier types will tell the story of a dynamic, persistent, if more contingent economy, during the so-called “Dark Ages.”

More on this paper here, here, here, and here.   

Or you can just read the working paper here:

Writing as Process and the 7th Century on Cyprus

Spring break is one of my favorite times in my busy semester because for the last few years, I’ve been able to dedicate this time to a sustained writing project. In a normal semester, my writing has tended to get broken into tiny fragments of time – a morning here or an afternoon there – between teaching responsibilities, service, and other faculty duties. The result of this situation is that anything I write tends to be highly granular and composed of tiny 300 word snippets cobbled together and smoothed over in editing.

This is fine in some circumstances, but is hardly conducive to producing sustained and careful arguments. Spring break writing (and this goes for winter break and late, post-field season, summer writing too) holds forth the elusive opportunity to write in a series of 1000 word chunks over the course of five consecutive days (until a wife-mandated “rest day/date night”!). 

What this sustained writing has helped me to see are the little strands that make intuitive connections communicable. For my paper on Cyprus in the 7th century, for example, I’ve been able to notice the arguments for the appearance of handmade pottery in 7th century contexts on Cyprus and the disappearance of large issue coins are  interrelated in my argument. Handmade pottery appears in assemblages alongside both imported fine wares and locally produced cooking wares indicating that it was not a response to the abrupt end of regional or local trade and production. Instead, it would appear that handmade table and utilities wares appeared on Cyprus in a gradual way as a local response to slowly changing pattern of access. As for coins, the disappearance of large issues on Cyprus has sometimes been seen as evidence for abrupt economic decline, and there is little doubt that the disappearance of large issues after the reign of Constans II indicates some kind of economic change on the island. At the same time, Guy Sanders has noted that we are likely missing many of the small issues (nummi or minimi) that circulated throughout Late Antiquity because they were so small that they slipped through the excavator’s sieves. Like handmade pottery, these tiny coins served to shape Late Antique life on Cyprus in a way not entirely visible to the 20th century excavator. 

Nummi and handmade pottery have parallels with the ephemeral character of short term settlement to the careful eye of the contemporary survey archaeologist. We know that local communities throughout history adopted flexible strategies to manage agricultural risk even during times of apparent economic, political, and social stability. During times of unrest or rapid change, like the middle decades of the 7th century, there would be a tendency to adopt more flexible approaches to survival and to shy away from longterm investments that would be more visible to the archaeologist 1500 years later. Like handmade pottery and nummi, ordinary features of everyday life would have persisted as low risk strategies and objects like imported pottery or large issue coins would decline as communities and individuals became less inclined toward significant investments or more substantial economic transactions warranting the use of larger coins.

The fragments of my writing over the course of a normal semester reflect the day-to-day strategies adopted to survive 21st century academic as a moderately productive scholar. The long, lazy writing days of spring break allow higher risk strategies to unfold, and these included interrogating intuitive connections and making obvious their relationships.

Coins, Raids, and Dates in 7th Century Cyprus

I plan to dedicate most of this week to putting words on the page for an article on settlement on Cyprus in the 7th and 8th centuries. The article will start with a brief treatment of the difficulties associated understanding settlement in this period. These difficulties which range from problems with the ceramic chronology to the dependence on poorly understood historical events to date archaeological evidence make the second half of the 7th century a particularly opaque period in the history of Cyprus.

The first issue that I’m working to tackle is what I’ve termed “the Heraclius problem”.   The emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641) yas always had a special place in the history of Cyprus. One of the first moves in the future emperor’s revolt was securing the island of Cyprus in 608 at which time he began to mint coins in his own name on the island. His efforts to secure Cyprus revealed an understanding of the island’s strategic significance for controlling the eastern Mediterranean. Heraclius’s appreciation of the island’s strategical value continued in his conduct of the Persian Wars. The island represented an important staging area for Roman forces cycling in and out of the east. The importance of the island as a base for campaigns in Syria, Egypt, and southern Asia Minor likely accounted for the interest shown by Arab forces in the middle decades of the 7th century and their eventual stationing of a garrison on Cyprus, probably on Paphos.

One result of the island’s special relationship with Heraclius and the key role that it played as a staging area for 7th century campaigns in the Levant is the ubiquity of coins minted during the reign of Heraclius. In fact, coins minted under Heraclius are the most common issues from the 5th-7th century on the island. This likely reflects the issuing of coins to pay troops moving back and forth through the island and the coins minted by Heraclius on the island from 608-610. Coins from Heraclius’s successor Constans II (r. 641-668) are almost as common. The number of coins drops precipitously after the reign of Constans II largely owing to the decline of regional mints and the political and economic ambiguity of the island as it passed into the strange condominium period during which both Arabs and Byzantines had some authority on the island. 

The abrupt drop in coins after the reign of Heraclius and Constans II poses an interesting problem for archaeology on the island. Because the number of coins declined so dramatically, we can probably assume that coins of Heraclius stayed in circulation for at least a generation, if not more. As a result, the use of coins of Heraclius to date archaeological features is a particular challenge. In the archaeology of Cyprus, however, this is a common occurrence. For example, coins of Heraclius date at least a dozen of the 70-odd Early Christian basilicas on the island. In most cases on Cyprus, the evidence from ceramics or other datable artifacts from stratigraphic contexts does not accompany the evidence from coins. Coins alone appear to date the structures. 

The use of coins to date buildings, destruction levels, and stratigraphy is problematic on archaeological grounds. Despite the appeal of coins as firmly dated artifacts, they are only useful if they are the latest object in a level. Moreover, the absence of coins from the 8th century on the island means that any dating by coins alone becomes problematic because of the uneven supply of currency to the island.

The use of coins to date these basilicas to the middle decades of the 7th century reinforces arguments for the collapse of Cypriot settlement and society at this time. In particular, the coins of Heraclius tend to support arguments from the destruction of these buildings as a result of the Arab raids on the island around 650. Of the 70-odd basilicas on the island, excavators have argued that a third of them were damaged or fell out of use over the second half of the 7th century and attributed this trend to the Arab raids. 

I sometimes joke with my ceramicist friends that our continued efforts to trace the use and production of traditional Late Roman red-slipped wares and storage amphora into the 8th century will eventual force us to change the dates on some well-known emperors. The “funny” is that I assume we can use ceramics to date coins and then to date political events just as coins have often been used to date ceramics. The ongoing revision of ceramic chronologies and a more critical treatment how coins work in an archaeological context are important steps in understanding 7th century settlement on the island.

Pyla-Kokkokinokremos and the Political Geography of Cyprus in the Second Millennium BC

Dimitri Nakassis brought to my attention that Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project Alumnus, Michael Brown, had published an article in Annual of the British School at Athens on the political geography of southeast Cyprus in the Late Cypriot period. The article derives from his dissertation which focused on the settlement landscape of southeast Cyprus in the Late Bronze Age and has already informed our analysis of the Pyla littoral.

Brown beings with a discussion of the Gialias River valley that flows from the Troodos foothills north of Larnaka to the east coast at Enkomi. His article become more interesting for readers of this blog when he takes on the fraught task of undermining the political orthodoxy that the prominent, Late Bronze Age site of atop the Kokkinokremos plateau was somehow associated with the arrival of Aegean settlers.

Kokkinokremos 2007

Vassos Karageorghis, Pyla-Kokkinokremos’s most recent excavator, has tirelessly advanced this interpretation of the site and while scholars have generally met this analysis with skepticism, the impressive location of Kokkinokremos, its casemate style architecture, and seemingly abrupt appearance in the Late Cypriot IIC period (and equally abrupt disappearance around 1200 BC) has underscored the unusual nature of this site. From the perspective of political geography, its location is curious as it represents one of three large settlement sites on Larnaka bay alongside Hala Sultan Tekke and Bronze Age Kition. It remains difficult to understand the political or economic circumstances that allowed two contemporary settlement to develop very close to each other (Hala Sultan Tekke and Kition) and a third some 10 km to the east.  

Brown focused some significant attention on the area around Pyla-Kokkinokremos and followed our general arguments from various PKAP publications: the main asset available for the development of Pyla littoral and Pyla-Kokkinokremos was likely the presence of a now-infilled embayment that formed a natural harbor at the site. Moreover, for the Bronze Age Brown has pointed out that there is evidence for earlier settlement in vicinity of Pyla-Kokkinokremos at the sites of Steno, Pyla-Stavro, and Verghies. Each of these smaller, less monumental sites, demonstrated a population who may have already availed themselves to some of the environmental assets of the region. 

For Brown, the catalyst for the development of the monumental site of Pyla-Kokkinokremos was the maritime connections available through the natural embayment at the base of the plateau. Without entirely dismissing site’s fortified character, he gently suggests that the casemate wall was more architecturally imposing than militarily robust. There is evidence – albeit unpublished and only obliquely mentioned in this article (“although possibly not an uninterrupted ‘fortification’”) – that the casemate walls had openings to the exterior of the settlement. Brown noted that this would not have detracted from the appearance of the walls at the site, but would have reduced their quality as fortification. Perhaps, then, the wall around Kokkinokremos was more of a mark of civic identity in the region and its orientation toward the sea.

The maritime orientation of the site perhaps indicated strong connections with the Levant. Brown concludes his article with a discussion of Alashiya, a word that might refer to part of Cyprus in Syrian and Babylonian texts. While not all scholars agree that Alashiya refers to Cyprus, Alashiya was noted as a source of copper. Brown offers the interesting observation that the site of Pyla-Kokkinokremos is only 10 km from the copper mining area around Troulli which was exploited at least as late as the Roman period and maybe as early as the Bronze Age. Perhaps, then, the location of Kokkinokremos allowed the community to engage productively with metallurgical resources, avoid the concentration of economic and political power at Kition and Hala Sultan Tekke.

Brown’s article summarizes a raft of interpretations of the Pyla littoral that both developed during and informed the interpretation of this region that will appear in the monograph describing our work in the wider Pyla microregion. It is good to see some of Michael’s work in print and I hope we can incorporate citations to this article in our volume.