From Cyprus to Greece (and an advertisement for myself)

Yesterday, I wrapped up the first of my of three little study seasons and traveled from Cyprus to Greece.

As a kind of poetic gesture, our long-gestating article on the South Basilica at Polis appeared yesterday in Hesperia 88 (2019). Here’s a link to it (and if you want an offprint and don’t get the Hesperia, drop me an email or a DM on the Twitter). 

The article offers an archaeological argument for the date of two phases of the South Basilica. The second phase will likely be of most interest to architectural historians for Early Byzantine Cyprus because it involves the conversion of the church from a wood roofed structure to a barrel vault. We also managed to phase, and date, the construction of the narthex and a portico that ran the length of the southern side of the basilica. Plus, there’s a massive “French drain” (and who doesn’t love Mr. French’s drains?) designed to help deal with the flow of water against the south wall of the church. 

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The weakest part of the article is our discussion of the urban context for the basilica, and, in fact, this is a work in progress for our understanding of the site of Polis and the arrangement of Early Christian churches in the changing urban landscape of Late Antique Cyprus more generally. If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll undoubtedly know that this is something that I’ve been thinking about lately

We’re also happy that this article involved links to our publication of data from Pyla-Koutsopetria in Open Context. This summer, we’ve started to work a bit on the “digital backbone” for Polis in Open Context (as well as preparing the data from our excavations at Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla). This involves making our notebooks available as well as our analysis of the context pottery. The inventoried finds from Polis are already available on Open Context in draft form, but they will acquire addition significance only when linked to descriptions of the excavations and other material from the trenches. This is a big job for the area of E.F2 (in the Princeton Polis grid) which includes the South Basilica, but we hope to produce a model for organizing the E.F2 data using the smaller and more manageable area of E.F1 over the next few months.

Thinking about digital publication and curation of archaeological data is always good thing! For the next week, my old buddy David Pettegrew and I will be working with Jon Frey and Tim Gregory with some Isthmia Excavation data and trying to wrangle and think about how best to organize, disseminate, and curate their data. More on that over the next week or so…  

Western Cyprus

One of the downsides of looking at notebooks, pot sherds, and databases all day is that sometimes you forget to look around. Last week we cruised around the Chrysochou Valley a bit to check out some of villages that stand along its east side.

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From Pelethousa, we got a nice view of the Limni mines and Chrysochou Bay in the distance. We also visited the church at Chorteini.

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The church is likely Medieval (or even Byzantine) with its cross-in-square plan. The presence of a ruined aisle along its north side suggests that at some point it may have had a more basilican plan. Tiles building into the wall of the north aisle are almost certainly Late Roman or Early Byzantine in date which doesn’t do much for understanding the date of the church, but suggests that there likely was a Late Roman settlement in the area. Recent survey results, I think, confirm this. 

We also visited the Panayia Chryseleousa in the village of Lysos. This church is probably later than the church at Chorteni (with some very late additions).  My photo is overly dramatic, but the sun behind the dome seemed like a good idea at the time.

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The heraldic crests of various branches of the Lusignan family and the various Gothic touches give the church a distinctly Late Medieval Cypriot vibe.

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We have a ways to go before we understand the settlement history and landscape of the Chysochou Valley in the Roman, Late Roman, and post-Roman period. Moreover, the landscape is deceptively complex with the hill countryside east of Polis (ancient Arsinoe) is made of abrupt hills, rolling rises, and variations in landforms, resources, and access. Sorting this all out to understand the larger context for the city of Polis will be a challenge, but one with appealing views and intriguing vistas.

An Island Archaeology of Early Byzantine Cyprus

As I haiku-ed this morning on the Twitters, I am working on an abstract for a paper that I’ll give at the 2019 Dumbarton Oaks colloquium “The Insular World of Byzantium” in November.

Here’s the haiku:

Writing an abstract
During the summer season
evokes autumn cold

Here’s the abstract:

An Island Archaeology of Early Byzantine Cyprus

Over the past 20 years the work of historians and archaeologists has complicated the our understanding of the 6th to 8th century on the island of Cyprus. The tidy narratives of devastating invasions, earthquakes, condominium, and social dislocation have given way to more messy and nuanced understandings of these centuries. Some centers saw continued prosperity while other experience decline. Innovative architecture existed along side more modest forms of ceramics. Invasions created destruction and new economic relationships. The complexity of this era offers some insights into character of Cypriot insularity.

This paper is grounded in recent work at the sites of Polis (ancient Arsinoe), modern Polis, in western Cyprus and the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on the eastern side of the island. Both sites produced a substantial assemblage of Late Roman to Early Byzantine pottery and a basilica style churches. Architecture and ceramics offer perspectives on how the Cypriot islandscape mediates distinctive economic relationships and forms of cultural and religious expression. The connection between these sites and other places on the island, across the region, and around the Mediterranean suggests the contours of an insular culture that is neither uniform nor consistent.

On the one hand, the difference in the character of assemblages and architecture across the island (and between Koutsopetria and Polis) makes defining a singular Late Roman or Early Byzantine Cypriot insular identity impossible. On the other hand, these difference reflect both historical trends that defined the island’s political and social landscape for centuries and distinct pressures of the 6th-8th century. In the case of Cyprus, an island archaeology informed as much by historical contingency as geography provides a context for a new understanding of the Early Byzantine era.

Summer Work in Cyprus

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!

  

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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