Our ASOR Paper: A Small Production Site on Cyprus

Scott Moore and I finished our paper for the 2018 ASOR Annual Meeting this fall with alarming efficiency. The paper is titled “A Small Production Site at Polis” and offers a pretty detailed – albeit short – description of the area EF1 at Polis Chrysochous on Cyprus and some chronological notes regarding the material from the site.

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What makes this interesting is that the site has pretty decent chronological controls thanks to a Byzantine lead seal associated with a burial that has a clear physical relationship with features at the site. This burial represents the latest activity at the site and dated to some time after the final decades of the 7th century.

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The site itself has some decent deposits that allow us to date the earliest phase to later than the mid-6th century and the later modifications to it to sometime later than the early 7th, but earlier than the early 8th centuries (that is, earlier than the burial).

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The assemblage is largely residual, but it still provides us with a useful cross-section of activity at the site in the 6th and 7th century which has some local significance in how we use ceramic assemblages to date activity across the site.

Check out our paper here.   

Also, do check out some of the buzz about the potential of a name change for ASOR. This is motivated by concern about the ambiguity of the name (what are the Schools of  Oriental Research?), the outdated (if not racist) use of the term “Oriental” to describe the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, and the fact that many ASOR members are not American or even affiliated with an American university. The challenge, I suspect, will not be agreeing to change the name, but agreeing on a new name… but we’ll see.

Assemblages and the 8th Century

One of the things heard among archaeologists of the Eastern Mediterranean is that the 7th century is the new 6th century. We’re living in an era during which the “Long Late Antiquity” is becoming even longer. 

In the Western Argolid in Greece, I’ve been lucky enough to work with a few Late Roman sites and assemblages both from our survey and in well-known sites in the area. My colleague Scott Gallimore and I can legitimately talk about a 7th century landscape that appears quite distinctive from earlier centuries but also shows significant signs of continuity.

At Polis Chrysochous on Cyprus, Scott Moore and I have worked on two 7th century assemblages: one from the South Basilica that we’ll publish this winter in Hesperia, and this summer we worked on a little site called EF1

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The intriguing thing about the site of EF1 is not in its architecture or even its archaeology, but that a burial with a lead sealing and a clear abandonment deposit with another lead sealing dates the destruction or abandonment of this site to sometime in the very early 8th century. The assemblage of material from the site, however, lacked many of the late-7th century artifacts that we saw across the street at the site of the South Basilica. The missing artifacts included the well-known Cypriot Red Slip “Well Form,” (dated to after 630 in a context in Anemurium) Dhiorios wares, or the last in the sequence of Late Roman Amphora (like LR13). 

We have dated the assemblage at the South Basilica to the end of the 7th century and this assemblage dates a major modification to the building’s structure. Now, however, we’re wondering whether this is really an early 8th century assemblage. The argument might go like this. Both the South Basilica assemblage and the various assemblages present at EF1 derive from secondary contexts – floor packing, construction fills, and various other levels that do not reflect use. The processes that account for the development of these assemblage took place over rather long periods of time and, as a result, the assemblages tend to have numerous examples of residual artifacts that represent a wide range of cultural and natural processes leading to their appearance in an archaeological context. In general, it appears that the material in the neighborhood of EF1 and the South Basilica derived from the nearby cite of Arsinoe (ancient Polis) and localized industrial activities. It seems reasonable to assume that the northern area of Late Antique Arsinoe saw burials, industrial activity (which took advantage of the downslope flow of water in the area), and other installations that tended to be situated on the outskirts of a Late Roman urban area.

The difference in the two assemblages in similar nearby secondary context got me thinking about both how these two groups of pottery formed over time. I had rather naively assumed that the date of the contexts was probably a couple or three decades after the latest material in the fills. This would allow for a significant enough signature of pottery to enter a particular context for it to become archaeologically visible. As I think about the South Basilica assemble, it has occurred to me that if our typical late-7th century material does not appear at EF1 where we have a pretty good date marking the abandonment of the building at this. Maybe that means that the modifications to the South Basilica has an early- to mid-8th century date?

Maybe in a few years, the 8th will be the new 7th century and on we’ll go!

Walls and Sherds from EF1

Over the past week, Scott Moore and I have tried to organize what we know about the area of EF1 at Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus. The area was excavated by the Princeton Cyprus Expedition during two seasons, 1988 and 1989, and with three trenches. The area is to the northeast of South Basilica and its neighborhood and to the west of the area EG0. It stands on the “neck” of a narrow, north sloping ridge that extends toward the coast. While I’m not entirely sure where the Late Roman city center is at Polis, I’m assuming that it is under the modern village which stands largely to the south of the South Basilica with its cemetery and its partner in the area of EG0 which is also surrounded by burials. 

Excavations at EF1 produced a group of walls that shared a similar orientation as well as a significant body of pottery and other small finds. In 2016, we read most of the pottery from secure deposits and later this week, we’ll document the various small inventoried finds. The area appears to be some kind of industrial area with significant quantities of slag, some wasters, and (maybe) some other indicators of industrial use. The entire area of EF1 has signs of significant hydraulic engineering with at least two drains running through the buildings. I suspect its position on the north slope of a hill along the top of a relatively narrow ridge gave the area and its buildings certain advantages.

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Like so much of Polis, the number of secure deposits was relatively small. Part of this is the consequence the constant reconstruction and modification of the buildings at the site over the course of Late Antiquity. The earliest secure deposit is the floor packing of a lime floor associated with the earliest major wall in the area. In a clearly defined second phase, a new series of walls were built over and around the first series of wall with a new series of fills. The material in these two phases is barely distinguishable for one another chronologically or typologically so it’s pretty challenging to date either phase securely.

We do have one secure date for the area. A burial in the area likely after a period of abandonment seems to represent the last significant activity at the site. The burial  included a lead seal that was published a couple of years ago and dated to the second half of the 7th century. In other words, it seems likely that this area was abandoned by the end of the 7th century. 

What is intriguing is that by comparing the assemblage produced at EF1 with the assemblage from the South Basilica and there are some obvious differences. For example – and this is all very tentative – the EF1 assemblage appears to lack Dhiorios cooking pots, LR13 amphoras, and the latest forms of CRS, like the so-called CRS well form. Moreover, the only evidence for a few forms of Cypriot Red Slip comes from post-abandonment levels. CRS form 8, for example, appears exclusively in post-abandonment levels. That most of the material from EF1 and the South Basilica appears in secondary contexts in construction fills and other contexts that are not associated with a particular use. The opportunity to compare substantial assemblages from two areas of the same site provides us with some significant food for thought!

Summer Work: Polis 2018

I’m settling into the wonderful village of Polis-tis-Chrysochous in northwest Cyprus today after a long day of travel and a hectic end of the semester. As I recover from jet lag, I’ve found it convenient to sit awake a 2 am thinking through our priorities for this 2+ week study season.

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There are three things that I want to accomplish this summer.

1. EF1. Over the past two summers, we moved through the ceramics and stratigraphy excavated from the area a Polis designated (evocatively) as EF1. This area is – superficially – uncomplicated comprising two rooms, part of a passageway, and the remains of some kind of industrial feature. The vast majority of material from this area is Late Roman in date, and will likely reward a bit more rigorous study as we’ve become more adept at pulling apart the ceramic evidence from the 5th-late-7th century on the island.

Before we can even do that, however, we have to unpack a pretty dense (and closely superimposed) set of stratigraphic and architectural relationships. The area clearly consists of a series of walls constructed over 100 to 200 years following a similar orientation and perhaps supporting similar functions. Like in so many places at Polis, the control over water to manage drainage and to harness its energy in productive ways is important.

2. After Late Antiquity. The next thing that we’re working on is preparing material for our Medieval (and later) ceramicist to analyze. Over the last 10 years we’ve been filtering our research to avoid – except when absolutely necessary – the post-Late-Roman material from Polis. Fortunately, this has been pretty easy to do owing to the abundance of Late Roman questions (and material) available at the site. 

Nevertheless, we’ve felt like we can only see part of the picture and it is clear that many of our buildings and areas under study continued to function into the Medieval period with significant post-Ancient phases and transformations. This follows recent trends that have extended the reach of the long-late-antiquity well into the 7th, 8th, and even 9th centuries. On Cyprus, a growing interest in this continuity complements a critique of the “condominium” centuries, the impact of the Arab raids, and new assessment of interaction between Cyprus and the Near East in the Early Byzantine and Early Islamic periods. 

3. Other projects. The great and somewhat depressing thing about our work at Polis is that it has an almost unlimited number of research projects just waiting for someone willing to give them time and energy. For example, we have an assemblage of Roman lamps that need to be published, we have a seemingly infinite assemblage of Roman and Late Roman pottery that could be documented, quantified, and analyzed to shed light on the connections between the Cyprus and the wider Roman world, and we have (of course) another Early Christian basilica that is begging for study.

While we probably won’t be able to complete or even really get started on these other projects, there’s nothing more motivating than being around the sites and the material. Already, an hour standing around looking closely at EF1 produced certain insights that looking at a plan would not. Stay tuned for updates over the next couple of weeks!

From Little Things

Despite having written and blogged about slow archaeology and the importance of being in the landscape and various expressions of embodied knowledge, I’m nevertheless always surprised by how time with ancient artifacts helps me think through archaeological problems.

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The last two weeks in Cyprus have focused on the artifact assemblages from the site of Polis-Chrysochous and Pyla-Koutsopetria. At both sites, we’re working to finish processing artifacts from excavations. Over the past decade, we read most of the ceramics from these sites and documented their type with brief descriptions. A handful of objects, however, receive more detailed descriptions and study. Generally speaking these artifacts represent the most chronologically or functionally diagnostic types from the assemblage. We focused on fine table wares, amphora, and cooking pots at Polis and Koutsopetria and spent a good bit of energy looking carefully at each artifact and preparing a catalogue entry. 

This kind of work has got my thinking about the end of antiquity in Cyprus and the role that various types of artifacts have in understanding the end of the kinds of economic and social pattern that have historically defined antiquity. Individual classes of ceramics from Roman red slip fine wares (particularly African Red Slip, Phocaean Ware, and Cypriot Red Slip (LRD)) not only provide elusive dates for end of ancient patterns of trade connecting production sites and consumers across the Mediterranean but reflect tastes in pottery types (as well as foodways) that persisted for half a millennium. The same can be applied to cooking pots and even humble transport amphora. This intersection of economic patterns and social habits embodied in these tiny, broken sherds fascinated me over the last two weeks and located the world of antiquity in smallest fragment of the past.

Images from Polis

I’ve been working on the last few figures for an article on our work around the South Basilica at Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus. For various reasons we do not have a digital site plan, so I’ve been building one piece meal from the excellent hand drawn plans made over the past three decades. My goal was to combine the two so that I didn’t have to redraw the entire site map and so I could preserve some element of the original plans while highlighting certain features.

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From Cyprus to Greece

I head from Cyprus to Greece this morning and transition from our work at Polis (which is publishing an excavated site) to field work with the Western Argolid Regiona Project

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I haven’t quite finished the last bits of my season report for Polis and there are a few little database issues to resolved over the weekend. It was a good season overall, and I’ll miss spending time with artifacts and colleagues. More on my work at Polis in the next few days.

Onward to WARP!

Working at Polis

For the last week or so, I’ve been working with Scott Moore and Brandon Olson at Polis-Chrysochous on Cyprus. This is a ongoing publication project focused on the study of the Hellenistic and later material. We started our work in the area around the South Basilica (or E.F2 in Polis lingo), and Brandon Olson continues to work on the Hellenistic material from there. 

Scott Moore and I have shifted our attention from E.F2 to a small excavated area around E.F1. Over the last week, we’ve read most of the pottery from the area and unpacked the stratigraphy as best we can. Now, we’re working on writing up the phases and commenting on the function of the area.

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This work has yielded some intriguing results.

First, we’re beginning to define certain horizons across the area and seem to have at least two phases of Late Antique activities at the site. One is earlier, perhaps dating to the 5th century, and the other seems to date to late 6th and early 7th century, and both are defined by ceramic assemblages. We also have an earlier 1st c. BC/1st c. AD horizon across the site and Brandon is working to put together an assemblage of Early Hellenistic material. (What is particularly cool about these early Hellenistic assemblages is that they link our material from Polis to some of our excavated assemblages from Pyla-Koutsopetria on the eastern part of the island.) We hope these assemblages both inform how we understand the site of Polis, but also how we understand these periods across the island as a whole.

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Secondly, so far the areas we have studied at Polis have shown signs of industrial activity ranging from ceramic production to iron work. EF1 has a rather expansive and clearly defined level filled with iron slag. We also found an usually large number of pithoi (storage vessels), a few amphora stands, and a funnel which also may have industrial functions. We hope that our work will not only help us date the slag and various utilitarian ceramics as well as slowly piece together the history of settlement in this section of the city.

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Finally, the area of E.F1 showed several phases of architectural activity which begins at bedrock. With any luck we’ll be able to unpack these architectural phases to understand the shape of this room and hallway at various times in its history. The site is small, the assemblages manageable, and the problems seem relatively minor, but part of the fun of archaeology is that everything seems to make sense before you try to write it down.

As someone with very uneven archaeological experience consisting of several years of survey, a few seasons of excavation, and some weeks in storerooms looking at pottery and notebooks, projects like Polis help me learn to think more systematically as an archaeologist. Going through past notebooks, scrutinizing ceramics and building schematic diagrams of horizontal and vertical relationships has helped me learn to understand how excavation produces knowledge. I may never be a good or “real” archaeologist, but I hope that working through the site of E.F1 (and E.F2) and taking a few weeks a year to immerse myself in the complexities of spatial relationship, chronology, artifact typologies, and ancient actives will help me be better able to understand archaeological evidence when it’s deployed in the service of historical arguments.

Summers are for Ideas

Summertime is a great time for ideas, problem solving, and field work, but it’s not a great time for blogging or any kind of long-form writing. I do keep a little notebook of ideas and keep notes in my phone using the irresistibly twee Vesper application for my iPhone. 

So, I have a few idea, most of which I (subjected?) shared with Scott Moore over the last few days.

1. Polis: City of Work. This summer we’ve been working to understand an industrial area of the site of Polis-Chrysochous. It was an area that probably did not enjoy as much attention as the monumental remains of the city in the recent Polis: City of Gold exhibition and catalogue. This was a shame, because we have a ton of evidence for production both in the area where we’re working – including a ceramic kiln and some evidence for possible glass production, metal working, terra-cotta sculpture, and probably other activities that are not associated with the glamorous life of monumental buildings, well-appointed sanctuaries, and other elite manifestations of ancient urbanism.

2. Wall and Holes. This year, the small team at Polis right now has focused on an area laced with walls and deep trenches. Unfortunately, it has been difficult to associate the trenches with walls and walls with floors and surfaces with fills. The big problem is that many of the excavators struggled to see foundation cuts in the difficult soil. Compounding this (and probably the major reason that foundation cuts went undetected) is the numerous “later” burials in the area and the constant rebuilding and adaptation of the area.

The end result is that we have walls, we have fills, and we have surfaces, and it is very difficult to link any of these together. So we have to find a way to publish the site that recognizes the challenges associated with the excavations and the limits to our knowledge as well as the potential the site and excavation have to contribute to archaeological knowledge on the island.

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4. Wall atop Walls. One of the coolest things about our corner of the Polis site is that it features walls atop wall over a span of nearly 1000 years. The basic grid plan of the area was probably established by the Hellenistic period and it persisted into Late Antiquity and probably beyond. As a result, the area of our current work has massive evidence for the reuse of architecture throughout. 

While the use of spolia is fairly well studied for monumental architecture like fortification walls and churches, it is not as considered in its most banal and practical form. Our area provides a window into the everyday life of an “ordinary” neighborhood at Polis on Cyprus. The reuse of blocks, the cuts, fills, and reconstructions, and the collapses and debris are all preserved as the fabric of the area’s history. 

3. Zombies and Ceramics. This summer, I’ve had the distinct pleasure of working alongside an expert on Roman and Late Roman ceramics and zombies: R. Scott Moore. 

I’ve begun to prepare a treatment for a small-budget film that features Scott Moore as the only man who can save humanity from the onslaught of zombies propagated through contact with Late Roman ceramics. The first zombie, of course, was John Hayes whose work defined the field of ceramics in Late Antiquity. The disease soon spread to a group of scholars desperately trying to understand how to use his volume on the Roman ceramics from the site of Paphos. Others are stricken working their way through his volume on the Roman and Late Roman fine wares from the Agora or material from Saraçhane in Istanbul. Graduate students are particularly susceptible, but the cursed virus slowly begins to take down all the ceramicists in the Mediterranean, then excavators, then site directors, and finally tourists. 

Only Scott Moore remains immune. No one knows why or how, but what is more important is that he is the only person who can read Late Roman pottery without becoming a zombie.