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.
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!