PKAP News: Where to Excavate in 2008

The big conversation over the last month among the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project staff is where exactly do we plan to excavate this summer. We’ve received generous permission from both the Cyprus Department of Antiquities and the British on whose base we will be digging, and we know in a general sense that we plan to place two trenches on the ridge of Vigla and two on the ridge of Kokkinokremos.  Beyond that, we have established three criteria that have influenced our decision making.  My interest is primarily centered on the trenches on Vigla, so I will focus on that part of the site.

1. Our primary goals for excavating on the ridge of Vigla are to ground truth our geophysical and intensive survey work conducted there in 2007.  This includes determining whether the structure revealed by our electrical resistivity is, in fact, an Early Christian basilica and to attempt to understand why the vast majority of pottery on the surface of the ridge is Hellenistic or slightly earlier rather than, say, contemporary with the possible basilica there and what appear to be Late Roman fortification walls. 

2. We have only asked to conduct limited soundings rather than a full scale excavation.  There are a few reasons for this.  First, it was clear that the Department of Antiquities would not approve our request to excavate unless it was within the parameters of the survey work that we have already conducted there (i.e. Point 1.).  We plan 2008 to be the end of the first phase of field work at Pyla-Koutsopetria and will work next year to move our results toward publication.  Finally, our project has generally been committed to low-impact archaeology and using non-invasive (and destructive) techniques to the extent that it is possible.  Limited soundings offer the best opportunity for gaining archaeological knowledge within the context defined by survey and geophysical work while preserving as much of the subsurface archaeological record as possible.  Consequently our plan is only to set in two trenches on Vigla (and two on the neighboring ridge of Kokkinokremos), and back fill at the conclusion of the field season.

3. From an architectural standpoint we would like to be able to estimate the overall size of the possible Early Christian basilica.  The eastern end of the building is secure as the apse appears clearly on our resistivity.  The south wall possibly north wall of the church is also relatively secure.  The only place that we have not been able to determine with absolute confidence is the wall of the narthex or western end.  So we would like to position our trenches to best be able to capture this part of the building with would allow us to estimate an overall length.


The Apse is the semicircular feature just right of center.

An additional issue makes the matter of actually, physically placing the trenches a bit more of a challenge.  As you can see by the photo of the top of the Vigla ridge (below) there is nothing in the topography to help guide us.  Moreover, last year we did not have high resolution GPS units so the location of the geophysical transect (seen above) was established by a combination of old fashion surveying (over a rather dramatic change in elevation) and less accurate GPS coordinate (produced by a 2-3 m accuracy Trimble XH handheld GPS units).  If we plan for our soundings to be small — as close to 2 m x 2 m (or 3 m x 3 m) as possible — then it will be necessary to make sure that we have good control over the precise location of our geophysical units on the height of Vigla.  A small error in our planning this summer compounded by the 2-3 m margin of error inherent in our mapping techniques from last year could result in our trenches “missing” the apse of the church. 


Koutsopetria 006

The result of all this is that we are going to re-do a single geophysical transect across the top of Vigla in order to secure the location of the eastern apse where we plan to place our first trench.  Since our geophysical transect from last year is accurate relative to itself we should then be able to locate on the ground a reasonable location for the second trench. 

The best case scenario is that our excavations of the apse provides some good chronological and stylistic information on the building there.  We also hope to successfully locate the southeastern corner of the church so that we can estimate the length and width of the building (churches are generally symmetrical east – west).  Finally, we hope that our two soundings hit some earlier stratified deposits that can shed light on the earlier chronology of the ridge and provide some clue as to why the survey discovered so much Hellenistic material on the ridge.

As you can see, planning for the 2008 field season is ramping up quickly.  Check back next week for more…

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