Conversations with David Pettegrew

A week worth of conversations with David Pettegrew is pretty challenging and invigorating stuff. 

Part of the great value of doing field work is the conversations during downtimes. David and I have been immersed in working on the Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Archaeology for the last two years, but we’ve been chatting about other projects – including our next book project, An Introduction to Early Christian Archaeology.

This summer we chatted about a potential collaboration between his brilliant Digital Harrisburg project and maybe a new tourist guide and The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. This led to a productive conversation about the potential of digital and public humanities. I suggested that the limited time that faculty have to dedicate to public humanities projects may well parallel the limited time that consumers of public humanities projects have to engage them. (In my experience, faculty are not particularly voracious consumers of public humanities projects.) 

We also discussed the strange tension between public humanities as opportunities for student learning, but also as having to compete with myriad distractions of modern life from video games and movies to work, sports, kids, and other media. A significant challenge for the historian or public humanist, who often works constantly between an academic and public audience, is finding ways to present what we know and do in a way that competes with professionally generated media. We’re underfunded amateurs who are often expected to bring students into projects that are intended to compete for attention with highly paid professionals capable of slick production, with access to marketing teams, skilled programers and developers, and massive media markets. 

At the same time, we celebrated the potential of “punk projects” with low costs, modest goals, and do-it-yourself practices. As we contemplate the demise of the National Endowment for the Humanities we began to imagine a world where competition for grants could give way to greater impulse for collaboration and the often large, lavish (but not always even in humanities terms) grants and projects funded by the NEH would be replaced by denser networks of collaboration among humanists. To be clear, I don’t think that more organic and DIY practices could replace the sustained and systematic investment and leadership of the NEH, but I do wonder whether there are positive, alternative ways to think about how the humanities works.

Invariably, David and I also talked about intensive pedestrian survey archaeology. We reflected a bit on the rise and decline of methodology as a central feature of the discourse of intensive pedestrian survey in the Mediterranean. I offered the observation that with the growing acceptance of intensive survey among Mediterranean archaeologist has blunted the apologetic tone so prevalent in survey literature in the immediate aftermath of the Second Wave survey projects. It’s hard to know for certain if this lull is real or just the maturation of the conversation which results in fewer blockbuster methods articles and more incremental change. At the same time, it is clear that the way that we talk about intensive survey practice and methods has become more confident and perhaps less critical and reflexive.

Finally, we’ve talked about our work at Pyla-Koutsopetria. We have a small, but tightly controlled body of data from three(plus) seasons of excavation and five worth of study that now almost ready for publication. The most interesting conversation focused on our careful and exhaustive (and exhausting) analysis of the plow zone assemblage from the site of Pyla-Vigla. This assemblage could be compared profitably to the assemblage produced during intensive pedestrian survey to offer a small, but well-controlled case study for the relationship between the surface, plow zone, and subsurface remains.

We usually circle back to our work at the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey and various ways to prepare a “final publication” that at least leads researchers to our data (when it’s fully published) if not to a particular set of conclusions or interpretations. 

Most conversations with David conclude with the refrain that we have too many projects and too many top priorities, but I think we both agree that this is better than being bored!

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.


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.

Announcing the Digital Edition of Pyla-Koutsopetria 1: A Free Download

Over the past three years, I’ve been working with the good folks at the American Schools of Oriental Research (especially on the Committee on Publications) and Sarah and Eric Kansa at Open Context to produce a linked, digital version of our 2014 book in the ASOR Archaeological Report Series, Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coast Town that I edited with my friends David Pettegrew and R. Scott Moore. 

Here’s a link to download the book. All you have to do is to become a friend of ASOR which free. Do it! 

Scott Moore and I worked to insert hundreds of links throughout the book to our data which we published on Open Context at about the same time as the book appeared. These links are permanent, persistent, and unique which is super cool. This allows a reader to “drill down” into our data. I blogged about this a couple of weeks ago, but I’ll expand some of the main points here This is good for our data and for our readers for a few reasons:

1. Every Sherd. Ok, well, not technically EVERY sherd, since we did group identical artifacts together into batches. But since the batch is the smallest level of archaeological analysis for our project, a reader can look at exactly those sherds that led to to make a particular argument. Here is a sample of the batch table, and here’s a link to a Roman period kitchen ware rim.

2. Every Unit. Our batches coincide with units which is the smallest spatial division of our survey area. Over the last couple of years Open Context has become much slicker in dealing with spaces in a survey project. So it’s now possible to attach particular batches of artifacts to particular spaces or to query particular places for the artifacts present there. Here’s Unit 39, and here’s Batch 29 (a Late Roman 1 Amphora handle).

3. Every Type. We organized our artifacts using the Chronotype system which provides a local typology for each artifact recovered during the survey. This typology can be extraordinarily broad (for example, a Medium Coarse Ware, Ancient History which is a sherd datable only to the historical period (i.e. 700 BC – Today) with a medium coarse fabric)  or rather more narrow (like a Late Roman 1 type amphora). These can then be viewed across the units in the survey area.

This kind of linked archaeological publication, however, is just the start. There are a few things that a future model for this kind of publication could do.

1. Links from Data to the Book. At present, it is easy and useful to drill down from the rather traditional archaeological monograph into the data. It is not possible, right now, to drill up (?) from the data to our arguments. 

2. Beyond the Book. There are also precious few opportunities (yet!) to go from our work and Chronotype typologies into other bodies of published data. One low hanging fruit would be the Levantine Ceramics Project data which could be linked to our PKAP finds data to expand both datasets. As we look ahead to publishing data from the excavation at Pyla-Koutsopetria and Pyla-Vigla, we hope to be able to link to both our survey and excavation datasets in a born digital publication.

3. Better Digital Circulation. Right now, this is a trial balloon designed to show what is possible leveraging existing platforms and a little DIY elbow-grease (like, inserting a bajillion links!). In the future, we need to look toward a better way to circulate the digital manuscript and to ensure it’s stability and persistence. Obviously, the friction of having to add your email and join a list is not terribly great, but it remains a barrier to access. More significantly, ASOR’s Archaeological Report Series does not have a standard way to distribute digital content and to make it discoverable on the web, and this makes sense, since this is a proof-of-concept type project, but in the future, we hope for a more robust method to make digital publications available from ASOR with as low a barrier to entry as possible!

Anyway, these are all exciting prospects for digitally publishing of archaeological data and reckon that this is a great way to celebrate “Love Your Data Week 2017

ARS 21  PKAP Linked SM Page 003

A Short Introduction to the Digital Edition of Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town

Over the last few days, I’ve been messing around with the wording of the introduction to a provisional digital version of the first volume of our Pyla-Koutsopetria series in the American Schools of Oriental Research Archaeological Report Series.

It’s a kind of writing that I find challenging to do for lots of reasons. It has to be concise, it has to convey some complicated concepts in a way that invites people to explore a text, and it has to recognize and articulate the limits to our work. This is what I came up with (and stay tuned for the release of this linked book):

We are very pleased to release a digital version of Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town (2014). We have modified this copy of the manuscript to include links to the archaeological data produced from 2003-2011 during almost a decade of intensive pedestrian survey and study by the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (PKAP). We have published our data with the Open Context platform where it underwent basic review by the managing editor. By integrating PKAP field and study data with Pyla-Koutsopetria I, the reader can now “drill down” into the data through hyperlinked text in a pdf version of the book. These links allow the reader to view the various digital archaeological “objects” that form the basis for the arguments advanced in this book. These digital archaeological objects range from individual survey units with attendant descriptive data to individual artifacts or batches of artifacts. We have also linked to the various categories of artifacts in our typology. These followed the chronotype system which both informed our sampling strategy in the survey and how we described our finds. We assigned a type to each artifact based on the chronotype naming conventions. These conventions combined a fabric or form with a period and could range from the exceedingly broad – like Medium Coarse Ware dating to the Ancient Historic period (750 BC- AD 749) – to much more narrowly defined and specific categories like African Red Slip Form 99. We have also linked to the various chronological periods assigned on the basis of the chronotype system which guided much of our analysis of artifact distribution in this book.

It is important to stress that this is a provisional document. In some ways, the book reflects the retrofitting of a traditional, analogue text with a layer (literally as well as figuratively) of links to our published digital material. As a result, we did not consider whether the data present in Open Context could be easily arranged by the user to replicate the analyses underpinning this analogue volume. For example, in the book, we organized our data spatially into zones which reflected both practical and archaeological divisions in our survey area. We have not arranged our data in Open Context in such a way that it is easy to query a zone for particular types of artifacts. In future projects, digital data and description will be more closely coordinated allowing the reader to explore the textual arguments more fully while still preserving the granularity of the original archaeological data. 

Ceramics from Koutsopetria

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working on getting a preliminary draft completed for our publication of the excavations at Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. This work involved two campaigns in the 1990s by Maria Hadjicosti and her team and a single season of targeted excavation by a team from the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project.

While the last two posts focused on the architecture and then the history of the site, the final part of this will focus on the ceramics. The only problem is that today is probably the last writing day of the great winter writing season, and I am not done writing that section yet.

And to make things more complicated, my partner in crime, David Pettegrew has started work on the introduction to our Oxford Handbook to Early Christian Archaeology. They’re having some kind of faculty write-in this week and he’s working away on that introduction. In solidarity, I’ll spend today writing the final parts of the first draft of our work at Koutsopetria. As a bit of motivation, I’ll post it when I’m done here!

So, stay tuned!

…. uh oh… still not done and it’s after 4 pm… maybe I can have a one day extension on this? 

The History of the Church at Koutsopetria

I have focused the last couple of weeks on finishing up a the first draft of our report on excavations at Koutsopetria on CyprusI posted something on the architecture of the Early Christian basilica excavated at the site last week. This week, I figured I might post something on the history of the building from an archaeological perspective. Next week, as an optimistic preview, I’ll have completed something on the artifacts.

The history below is unfortunately short on absolute dates and some nuance, but I think there is enough evidence to support our argument that the building endured a series of interventions over its relatively short life.

Here’s a plan of the remains set against a 5 m grid:

Scan310 cropped

Here’s a brief history of the building:

Unpacking the history of this site remains challenging as it involves integrating two different excavation methods over three campaigns of excavation. Nevertheless, the work at this site does provide a useful insight into the complex history of Late Antique ecclesiastical architecture on the island and cautions us against arguments that view the architectural history of the island as punctuated by catastrophic events rather than developing over the course of a number of small-scale interventions that combine to constitute the life of a building.

Room 1 and environs appears to have been constructed at some point after the final quarter of the 5th century based on the highly disturbed fills beneath the packed earth floor in Phase 1 in EU13. The fill levels present in EU13 reveal the long history of the occupation at Koutsopetria with artifacts from Cypro-Classical period to Late Antiquity. The flecks of Roman period wall painting associated with the Phase 1 floor in EU12 indicate that the Roman period occupation of the site involved fine quality wall painting consistent with domestic spaces. The small sherds of earlier material from the collapse levels of Room 1 likewise preserve a scrappy material record for the occupation of the history of the site during the Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman periods.

The excavation did not produce a conclusive date for the building of Room 1 other than some time later than the last quarter of the 5 th century. This is not inconsistent with the 6 th century date of many Early Christian basilicas on the island, although few of these buildings are dated on the basis of stratigraphy and the distinct arrangement of the central nave of the basilica at Koutsopetria occurs throughout what appear to be 5 th and 6 th century churches on Cyprus. Evidence from the excavations indicate that Room 1 was modified after its initial construction at least once with the walling up of windows, the replastering of the double arch, and repairs to the tops of the walls and the roof. The presence of 7th-century African Red Slip plate near the floor of Room 1, later forms of Cyprus Red Slip and Phocaean Ware, and a coin of Heracleios indicates that the modification took place before the7 th century when the room was presumably abandoned.

Initial publications of the site suggested that it was destroyed by Arab Raids and while it is impossible to rule out that a catastrophic event like an attack caused the room’s final demise, it appears more likely that abandonment of Room 1 took place in stages. Phases 3 and 4 in EU12 and EU13 represent repairs to the basilica. In EU12, a fragment of a small lugged basin found associated with the construction of a spur wall that buttressed the west wall of Room 1 joined with a fragment of the same basin found associated with the tumble of the double arch and buried well beneath the collapse of the room. This would indicate that the basin was either on the floor of Room 1 or from the second story. While the exact circumstances that led to this vessel being deposited in separate contexts are unclear, it indicates the building remained standing at the time when the spur wall was built and the damaged vessel were present on the floor of the room along with artifacts of a mid-7th century date. It is appealing to imagine that this interval allowed for the removal of the gypsum floor paving and the graffito of a ship on the central pillar of the double arch.

A later phase of repair, defined in EU12 as Phase 4 included numerous Late Roman rooftiles of the kind associated with Room 1, although not necessarily from that buildings, as well as Late Roman artifacts including a sherd of 7th c Cypriot Red Slip. This repair phase is perhaps contemporary with the reuse of a still-plastered wall fragment in EU13 in a later wall. While it is possible to construct a loose, relative chronology for these two phases of repair, their absolute date appears to be essentially contemporary with the latest phases of use in Room 1 suggesting that the room encountered a series of interventions over a short period in the 7th century. These modifications served either to repair the structure or to shore it up while marble revetment, floor tiles, roof tiles and other valuable parts of the room were removed for use elsewhere. A similar pattern of salvage seems to have taken place at the church at Kourion after it suffered significant damage in a seismic event (Megaw 2007, 134-135). It is tempting to imagine the fragments of Dhiorios type cooking pot rims found to the north of Room 1 to be the remains of a late-7th or early 8th century salvaging operation set up, like at Kourion, in the atrium of the damaged building.

The Church at Koutsopetria

Over the last few weeks I’ve returned to writing up our excavation results from our project at Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. This site, for people new to this blog, is in the southeastern corner of the island some 10 km east of the modern Larnaka (or ancient Kition). The site was a coastal town during the Roman and Late Roman periods and featured an Early Christian basilica.

Very little of the church was excavated either during the initial seasons of excavation in the 1990s under the direction of Dr. Maria Hadjicosti or during our brief campaign in 2009. The main focus of this work was a small, if well appointed annex room that probably extended from the south or western wall of the atrium of the church. In 1999, excavations at the site revealed the central apse of the basilica. The apse is wide and relatively shallow and features the transverse passage on its southern side that runs between the south nave colonnade and the western wall of the church.

PKAP2 Hajicosti Excavations scan310 2

This transverse passage is relatively distinctive among churches on Cyprus appearing predominantly among buildings in the neighborhood of Salamis and the Karpas Peninsula. Megaw suggested that the church of Ay. Philon served as a kind of prototype for the buildings in this area, and as you can see in the image borrowed from Richard Maguire’s 2012 dissertation (as are the rest in this blog post), has a similarly shallow and wide apse and transverse passages between the main apse and the two, smaller, lateral apses.

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf page 688 of 827

It may be that the builders of the relatively compact church at Ay. Philon modeled their building on the much larger pilgrimage church of Ay. Epiphanios at Salamis which shared the wide, shallow apse and the transverse passages. Both buildings likely date to the 5th century with the church of Ay. Epiphanios dated through a textual reference and Ay. Philon based on its stylistic affinities.  

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf page 775 of 827

Later buildings in the area, like the Panayia at Aphendrika carry on the tradition into the 6th century (at least according to the conventional date associated wth this building).

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf page 657 of 827

The regional distribution of churches of this type is intriguing. They appear on the Karpas and around Salamis and then across the northern coast of Cyprus including at Lambousa and as far west as Soloi.

MaguireDissertation2012Small pdf page 808 of 827

This corpus of buildings seems to be significantly different from the churches across the more densely-settled southern coast of the island where polygonal apses are more common and the churches lack the transverse passages between the central apse and the flanking spaces.

In our survey monograph, we argue that the site of Kousopetria was situated at an important route of travel through the area. The inland road linking the coast of Larnaka Bay to the city of Salamis joined the coast at our site in both antiquity and the modern period. We argue that the remains of an Iron Age sanctuary at or near our site likely reflected the regions liminal state on the political boundary between Salamis and Kition. The presence of a late Cypro-Classical fortification at Vigla reinforced the  Obviously such political boundaries faded to unimportance during the Hellenistic and Roman period when the island became part of a single imperial state, but it remains possible that these buildings preserve echoes of these borders carved into the landscape through persistent patterns of movement between major urban centers. It may be that the church at Koutsopetria represented the southern most reach of the bishop of Salamis or even just the influence of such significant buildings as the pilgrimage church at Ay. Epiphanios. 

ASOR Wrap Up

My apologies for missing a few days on the old blog last week, but I was pretty busy at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it to as many panels as I would have liked, but it was a productive meeting none the less.

So here are five things that happened (to me; after all, it’s my blog!) at ASOR:

1. Object Biography. The final workshop in a three year series of panels on object biography was a hoot (or as one of the panel’s organizers said “a bag of worms”), even if my paper was cautiously received. The papers were fun and the conversation was pleasantly edgy. Whatever the utility of object biography, the panels demonstrated an overwhelming desire for some kind of authentic engagement with things. It may be that object biography is flawed because most of us don’t think of objects as having life. At the same time, one wonders whether the recent interest in object agency especially among archaeologists, reflects our experiences struggling with objects that appear to have greater and greater autonomy from our wishes, desires, and intentions. In other words, maybe the idea of an object having a biography – a birth, a youth, an adulthood, and a death – is simply a matter of degrees from the idea that objects are agents. The former, however, seems contrived not because as we expand our notions of agency from individuals to things we are simultaneously diluting the very concept of being alive.

2. Welcoming our new digital overlords. I was amazed by the number of variety of panels on digital tools in archaeology at this year’s ASOR. Maybe it’s been like this for the last few years, but our fascination with the potential of digital archaeology was on full display starting with the plenary address by Sarah Parcak and continuing through many of the posters and papers. I was particularly pleased that the most recent book from The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota, Mobilizing the Past for a Digital Future, received a share of the attention. In fact, co-editor Jody Gordon recorded his paper and answered some questions for ASOR and this will likely be posted in the next week or so. I’ll put up a link to his paper and the interviews when they become available. 

3. CAARI has a new director. I am a member of the board of trustee of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute and after almost 7 years of dedicated service, Andrew McCarthy, is stepping down to pursue new adventures. In his place, the CAARI board approved the appointment of Lindy Crewe, a prehistorian who has worked on the island for many years and has a reputation for being a thoughtful scholar and an elite excavator. You can get a sense for her accomplishments on her page. It was a good choice and I look forward to her leadership at an institution that has contributed significantly to my work on this island and my career.

4. Digital Publishing and ASOR. As readers of this blog know, I’ve been working with Scott Moore to produce a digital version of Pyla-Koutsopetria I: The Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town. Since we published our data with Open Context, we produced an unofficial digital edition that allows a reader to move from the text to our published data throughout. We learned at ASOR that we’ve been given approval to release a linked digital copy of the book (as a beta) this spring once we work some bugs out. The goal is to present this beta-draft for some feedback and to prepare a revised digital edition at a later date. 

We also discussed the possibility of preparing PKAP II as a digital release with links throughout to our excavation data in Open Context. There are number of technical and cultural challenges to overcome, but hopefully we can propose a series of steps toward making the Archaeological Report Series a significant outlet for innovative digital archaeological publications.

5. The ASOR Meeting Program. I serve on the ASOR program committee and one of the most interesting conversations in recent years in that committee concerns the number of times people can officially appear in the annual meeting. This year, we decided (and it was a mistake) to only list the first author (or presenter) in the schedule section of the program book and to list coauthors in the abstract section. The reasons for this are complex and involve both aesthetics (and a concern for clutter in the schedule) as well as a concern that some members of ASOR are appearing “too frequently” in the program. Most academic meetings have some kind of policy limiting the number of times someone can appear in the program designed to promote diversity in the program and to ensure that scholars of all ranks can participate. At ASOR we have fiddled with this policy numerous times over the last few years and not quite settled on a universally accepted formula.

To me this is interesting because it considers both the meetings, but more importantly, the academic program as a lens through which we can understand and shape the field. Limiting the number of times someone can appear in the program will promote the the appearance of diversity, but it leaves open the possibility that the program does not actually reflect the work of writing the paper. At the same time, appearances can change reality and making the program appear more diverse might actually change the nature of field.  

Data, Digital Archaeology, and Publishing

To short things this morning related to digital archaeology. 

First, abstracts were due last night for the Society of American Archaeology Annual Meeting next spring, so there was the predictable flurry of activity. I generally don’t do much with the SAA conference, but this year there was some interest in a panel on digital archaeology, I’ll contribute to a paper with Erin Walcek Averett, Derek Counts, and Jody Gordon.

Here’s our abstract: 

“From Trench to Tablet: Field Recording, Interpreting, and Publishing in the Age of Digital Archaeology”

Since the arrival of robust mobile tablet devices in 2010, archaeological documentation has increasingly become born-digital. The adoption of digital tools and practices has not gone unnoticed, with reactions ranging from enthusiastic acceptance to outright skepticism. Significantly, scholars are beginning to offer more critical and reflexive views of the issues surrounding the use of mobile devices in archaeological fieldwork, interpretation, and dissemination. The ability to disseminate digital data directly from connected devices to a global audience threatens to destabilize traditional standards of archaeological documentation practices, which, in part, used media to define the stages of knowledge production: handmade, paper documents defined the provisional character of field documentation, and the printed, bound, publication marked definitive results. Digital media blurs these distinctions by making trench side data indistinguishable from its final form. By drawing on examples from current archaeological publication schemes, this paper will show how new digital tools and techniques can highlight the potential for mobile computing in archaeology, but also demonstrate how these new methods will challenge and transform institutions that shape archaeological knowledge.


On a related note, please check out the recently announced Open Context & Carleton Prize for Archaeological Visualization. Shawn Graham, one of the prizes co-sponsors, posted a snazzy video introduction to the prize. And like any good prize, it has some money behind it!

More importantly (and selfishly!), my survey project on Cyprus, the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeology Project, has data in Open Context that could be used for this prize. While we have been working to connect this data to our published monograph in preparation for a Digital Edition, we’d love to have someone approach the data from another perspective and for an innovative visualization of our data (especially in conjunction with other similar datasets in Open Context) to inform the analysis in our traditional paper book. 

Go check it out!


Pyla-Koustopetria Archaeology Project: Churning On

This blog began – back in 2005 or whenever – to share news from the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project with our various friends, supporters, and colleagues. Since that time, I’ve written well over 100 posts on various PKAP related topics both on this blog and in the archive. It’s a bit sobering to realize that I haven’t posted about PKAP for so long, but since David Pettegrew, Scott Moore, and I have spent the last few weeks working on PKAP related materials, it seems like a fine time for an update.

J74701 Pyla Koutsopetria 1993 Ar I

We are working to prepare a complete draft of the excavations at the site. The PKAP team conducted three seasons of targeted excavation at the sites of Pyla-Vigla, Pyla-Koutsopetria, and (in a rather strange situation) at Pyla-Kokkinokremos. We are working to publish the results of our work at Pyla-Vigla and Pyla-Koutsopetria and the description of the stratigraphy and phases associated with our work is largely done. Pyla-Vigla is a Hellenistic fortified site with three very clear phases. Koutsopetria is an Early Christian basilica. 

We are also working to publish the results from two earlier campaigns of excavation at the site of Koutsopetria by Maria Hadjicosti and the Department of Antiquities in 1993 and 1999. During these campaigns an annex room (Room 1) and part of the apse of the basilica were exposed. This is a more complicated project since we do not have the excavation notebooks (if they ever existed) for the project, but have a record of inventoried finds and the context pottery from the various excavated context. Ordinarily this would be a massive challenge for anyone trying to reconstruct the stratigraphy and phases of the building, but we had two advantages. First, we had David Pettegrew’s meticulous patience and willingness to solve archaeological problems. He went through the all of the records that we do have – mainly elevations and horizontal grid coordinates. – and created a series of plausible levels and passes. The other advantage was that the excavations mostly removed collapse and encountered only very small lenses that can be associated with the site’s pre-collapse abandonment. Complementing David’s work is analysis of ceramic artifacts by R. Scott Moore and the analysis of the painted plaster, molded gypsum, and various architectural fragments by Sarah Lepinski. 

For my part, I’ve taken David’s careful analysis and combined it with the Scott Moore and Sarah Lepinski’s work to produce a narrative of the building excavated over 20 years ago. The results so far have been intriguing. Here are a few little things:

1. Abandonment. It seems almost certain that Room 1 was largely abandoned at the time of collapse, but the absence of material later than the first half of the 7th-century suggests that it wasn’t abandoned for very long. The presence of several almost complete artifacts – including an African Red Slip 105 plate – on the floor of Room 1 hint that some material remained scattered about the space. Graffiti incised on architectural features perhaps indicates that the room had acquired a more casual function toward the end of its life.

2. Collapse. Room 1 appears to have collapsed to the south. Roof tiles appear immediately above the floor on the southern third of the room suggesting that the roof and the second story slid fell onto the floor perhaps as the south wall of the room fell to the south. The northern part of the room has more debris above the floor and fewer tiles made it to the floor level, likewise suggesting that the north wall collapsed into the room toward the south pushing the roof into the southern part of the room.

3. Residual Sherds. One of the coolest things about the levels excavated in 1993 is that they produced not only some relatively well-preserved Late Roman artifacts, but also a significant quantity of earlier material. Most of this earlier material – including easily identifiable Early Roman and Hellenistic fine wares – appears only as tiny sherds, typically smaller than 10 grams in weight. It would appear that most of this earlier material came from the coarse mortar used in the walls of Room 1 and in the packing associated with the floor of the second story. As we appreciated this residual assemblage of pottery deriving from various construction contexts in the building, we got to wonder about the scatter of Early Roman and Hellenistic pottery identified in the survey of the region and how much of that material might come from similarly residual contexts.

There is obviously much more that we can say about the excavations and as we pull together the finds, the phases, and the architecture. So stay tuned!