Home > Cyprus, David Pettegrew, Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project > Processing Pyla-Koutsopetria Pottery

Processing Pyla-Koutsopetria Pottery

Another post with help from our guest blogger and 2010 Cyprus Research Fund lecturer, David Pettegrew. Check out the first in our series of posts here.

In 2010 the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project was above all the year of the potsherd.  Excavations generate a lot of material.  Our thirteen Excavation Units in 2008 and 2009 generated pottery at rates faster than our poor ceramicist, Scott Moore, could read and pottery began to pile up at the museum while we were finishing our work.  We promised Scott that 2010 would be different and we were fully committed to getting the material read.  In fact to our surprise, some bureaucratic snafus getting our permits to do fieldwork prevented the collection of additional materials, and allowed us to devote more time to processing the material collected in past seasons.  So rather than venturing out into the field, we spent each mornings out at the museum processing hundreds of bags of ceramic artifacts and our afternoons processing digital data from previous years.  The result of all this is that we caught up.


Now to the untrained eye, ceramic processing looks like a bunch of people doing just one or two different tasks.  If you had come to Larnaka and peeked into our work space, you might only discern a couple of obviously different activities say, washing vs. analysis.  But the team was conducting a wide range of different tasks related to the finds.  The most obvious and important preliminary activity involved washing artifacts.  There were a slew of them to wash, 147 bags to be exact, each bag containing dozens, sometimes hundreds of artifacts.  Student enthusiasm for washing artifacts declined over a period of a week and a half but that is to be expected.

Dallas Deforest photographed every catalogued artifact at a resolution high enough to be published.  In 2010, Dallas took over 1,200 digital photos of our catalogued artifacts to join the 3,100 artifacts taken in previous years.  Two of our PKAP veterans from 2009, Becky Savaria and Melissa Hogan, began the process of labeling these photos.  In late June, David spent about 10 additional hours getting all the photos in order.  Now we have an archive of 4,300 digital photos of the 700+ catalogued artifacts and uncatalogued artifacts.

Building 13 was the central hub of ceramic analysis.  Our co-director and golden child, Scott Moore, spent 3 weeks analyzing the ceramics from excavations including those occurring in the 1990s at the site of Koutsopetria and our more recent ones at Koutsopetria and Vigla.  Scott analyzed the pottery in two different ways.  First, he “scanned” less significant contexts from stratigraphically unimportant matrices like the plowzone, the kinds of contexts where reading pottery in great detail is not all that beneficial.  “Scanning” involves 1) sorting pottery into broad categories based on fabric groups (e.g., fine ware, cooking / kitchen ware, and coarse ware); 2) setting aside the most distinct and diagnostic artifacts; 3) making basic observations about the context as a whole on a scanned unit form; and 4) analyzing in greater detail the most diagnostic pottery.  Indeed, scanning is common in Mediterranean urban excavations where excavations might easily produce hundreds of thousands of artifacts (or millions).  The more important contexts Scott read more thoroughly by identifying every artifact with a specific chronotype.  A chronotype is simply a specific, limited identifier for known groups of pottery that combines date, potential functions, shape, and appearance.  The point is that Scott read (and this is an estimate) 200 contexts while in Cyprus this year.

The other activities going on in Building 13 were data management (Bill), illustration (Becky Savaria, Melissa Hogan) and artifact cataloguing.  David, Dimitri, and several students wrote more detailed catalog entries for particularly significant finds from the survey and excavation.  In 2007, we completed a formal catalogue of the most significant artifacts from our archaeological survey.  This year, we completed the catalogue of artifacts recovered in the two years of excavated soundings.  The combined total of catalogued artifacts now exceeds 700.  While it is unlikely that we’ll be able to publish a catalogue of 700 different artifacts, we plan to eventually release this complete catalog in a digital form and publish on paper a smaller number of “greatest hits”.

We recorded the following information for each artifact in our catalogue.

Artifact Number:



Description Fabric:

Description Shape:

Description Decoration:


Besides this work, we did a variety of more specialized work.  Sarah Lepinski and Bill completed the documentation of the architectural and painted plaster from the excavated area at Koutsopetria producing a complete catalogue of material for publication.  Sarah’s pain-staking examination of the plaster from the excavated area has revealed not only several phases of reconstruction and redecoration that remained obscure in the stratigraphic record, but also import clues about the architecture and even construction techniques used in the building.  Nearby, several students completed a special project analyzing artifacts from the plowzone which we plan to report on later in the week.

In sum, at the end of the 2010 season, we can offer this summary of the quantity of artifacts processed by team PKAP between 2003 and 2010:

Total number of units processed (from both the survey and the excavation): 711.  Each unit represents a discrete archaeological context either in terms of stratigraphy, method, or horizontal space in the survey area.



PKAP Pottery Processing by the Numbers

Batches of artifacts processed: 12,900.  Scott divides the pottery from each unit into batches of similar types of artifacts based on the artifact’s fabric, the part of the vessel represented, and the chronotype.  Over the past 8 years Scott has processed slightly fewer 13,000 batches.

Total number of artifacts processed: 37, 141.  Each batch has an average of 2.9 artifacts.

Total weight of artifacts processed: 1,482.1 kg or 3,208.7 lbs or over 1.5 tons of pottery.

Artifact Photos Taken: 5,500

Artifacts Catalogued: 727


  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: