Recent Work on Survey Northeast Peloponnesus

Two new articles highlight the important work being done by survey archaeologists in the Northeastern Peloponnesus.  David Pettegrew‘s hefty “The Busy Countryside of Late Roman Corinth,” Hesperia 76 (2007), 743-784 and Y. Lolos, B. Gourly, and D.R. Steward, “The Sikyon Survey Project: A Blueprint for Urban Survey,” JMA 20 (2007), 267-296.

Toward Sikyon from the Corinthia

Both articles focus primarily on methodological issues.  Pettegrew examines the relationship between Early Roman/Roman ceramics (1st c. BC-3rd c. AD) and Late Roman ceramics documented by the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey.  He argues that the traditional picture of Early Roman/Roman economic and settlement contraction followed by a Late Roman “boom” is partially a product of the different visibility of the ceramic signatures of these two periods.  To put a complex argument simply, Late Roman ceramics are simply easier to identify than Roman ceramics in the field and, consequently, archaeologists have tended to identify a far more pronounced Late Roman signature in the landscape where as the Roman period is typically underrepresented.  This analysis of the EKAS pottery depended on understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the chronotype sampling strategy employed by EKAS (and explored in some detail in by Caraher, Nakassis, and Pettegrew in JMA 19 (2006), 7-43) and also by PKAP (in fact, Pettegrew discusses PKAP pottery on pp. 763-764).  He also demonstrates convincingly, however, that a bias toward Late Roman material occurs in other projects as well.  The result of this work could be to begin to read the history of the Roman Eastern Mediterranean (and Greece in particular) as a period of slow, but consistent recovery from tumultuous Late Hellenistic period, and another step in the rehabilitation of the Roman presence in the East. 

Lolos et al. propose a model for surveying known urban areas like the city of Sykion 20 km west of EKAS survey area based on their work on the Sikyon Survey Project (which has a spectacular web page!).  Their interest in such “large sites” resonates with our work surveying the large ex-urban site of Pyla-Koutsopetria.  That being said, the authors try to distinguish between areas designated as “large sites” and “urban areas (p. 268) by noting that urban areas are almost always conglomerations of “sites”.  I suspect, however, that most large sites are, in fact, multiple sites as well and the designation and definition of a site depends largely on the resolution one employs in during the survey.  In any event, the article makes an important contribution to the ongoing process of applying intensive pedestrian survey to areas with particularly high artifact densities. 

Both projects counted artifacts using clicker counters to produce an estimate of overall ceramic density in a particular unit.  Of special interest to me is how the two projects (EKAS and the Sikyon Survey Project) sampled the artifact scatters for chronological data.  EKAS (and PKAP) used chronotype sampling to collect ceramic data from each unit.  The chronotype system called each field walker to collect one example of each unique artifact he or she saw (and when in doubt about the uniqueness of a particularly artifact, they should collect it).  This ensured that we had at least one example of each type of artifact present in the unit.  Lolos and his team collected only “feature sherds” (p. 279) from each unit and collected all the artifacts from every 5th survey unit.  It would be particularly interesting to compare the ratio of collected sherd to counted sherds from each unit for each project.  Pettegrew (as well as others) have argued that chronotype collection tends to produce fairly robust samples of artifacts from each unit and, in practice, walkers tends to “over collect” — that is collect more than just one example of each artifact type present in the unit.  The jury is still out on how best to sample artifacts from high density scatters (aka “sites”) and while almost every method has its advocates and critics, it would be particularly valuable to see comparative data on sampling rates from various techniques.

Another interesting aspect of Lolos’ article is the relatively little attention given to the issue of visibility (pp. 279, 286).  EKAS found that visibility had a particularly significant effect on the quality of chronological sample from the unit.  That is to say, that the lower the visibility the less representative the sample of collected artifacts was likely to be of a putative total assemblage of material in the unit.  If you can only see 10% of the surface of the unit, no sampling strategy will produce more than a 10% sample of the artifacts in the unit!  I am sure that they will continue to develop these ideas as their field work and study continues. 

Both articles represent important contributions to the intensive survey method in the Eastern Mediterranean, and it is exciting to see it come from two projects in the Northeast Peloponnesus! 

  1. January 16, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    And there was not much discussion of the geophysical work done at Sikyon and how that complemented the pedestrian survey…I’m eager to see the results of the geophysics work once they’re published, as the data we collected in 2006 and 2007 was really interesting.

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