Thisvi Pottery at Thespies
On Tuesday Tim Gregory and I traveled to Thespies (Ancient Thesipeai) in Boeotia to look at the pottery from the Ohio Boeotia Expedition (OBE). The OBE was a intensive pedestrian survey project conducted by Gregory from 1979-1982. While it have been published in a general way, the ceramics from the project do not have a proper, published catalogue. Moreover, we think that it will be possible to discuss the results of the project in a more sophisticated way by converting the maps and data recorded in the OBE notebooks into database and GIS. Or at least this is what we hope. As I have mentioned before, the impetus for revisiting the OBE pottery and data is the work of Archie Dunn and colleagues on the Acropolis and City Center of Ancient Thisvi. The hope is that we can bring the survey data in some sort of conversation with the findings of his work.
The pottery that we found (cleverly labeled with the Greek letters OXAIO — Ohio) derived from the several survey transects across the Thisvi plain and from work on the island of Kouveli in the Corinthian Gulf. Much of the pottery appears to date to Late Antiquity, but we did see some earlier material. It was heartening that we could actually find some (perhaps all) of the pottery from that project in the Thespies storerooms after over 20 years! It was sufficiently well labeled that it appears that we can understand the provenience of the artifacts. We now need to go back to the notebooks and see if we can correlate the material that we found with descriptions of transects and sites from the survey. It looks like this will be feasible.
One of the interesting exercises in this kind of undertaking is that it forces me to think about larger issues in the storage, labeling, and even sampling of pottery. In fact, I was having a conversation just the other evening with some of the Regular Members about how excavations and surveys sample pottery that they record with formal catalogue entries and enter into long term storage. Most museums in the Eastern Mediterranean struggle to maintain the vast collections of pottery in ways that ensures their long term availability for scholars to restudy (and this is particularly true of context and survey pottery). At the same time, our methodologies call for ever more robust samples from both the surface and from excavated contexts, ensuring that we will continue to push the reasonable (and perhaps absolute) limits of storage space. Even projects who build their own storerooms rarely find the resources to maintain them indefinitely (like the massive storerooms maintained by, say, the Athenian Agora or the Excavations at Corinth). There is no real solution for the storage problems here — we will continue to sample the landscape in accordance with current definitions of methodological rigor — but it does reinforce the importance of labeling, documenting, and preparing the material for storage so that the maximum amount of data is preserved for future scholars. It goes without saying that the material from the OBE would be useless without the notebooks, and these notebooks were not kept with the pottery at the museum. It’s fair to say that Tim Gregory (and myself) were the only people capable of tying these artifacts to their place in the landscape.