Home > Archaeology, Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project, Survey Archaeology > Broad Period Artifacts and Survey Analysis: Quantifying what you don’t know

Broad Period Artifacts and Survey Analysis: Quantifying what you don’t know

By far the most vexing issues facing most survey projects is the analysis of artifacts datable only to very broad periods of time (a point I brought up in my blog post from last week).  In the work of the Pyla-Koustopetria Archaeological Project, these artifacts are the equivalent to objects of “unknown date” from other survey projects.  The chronotype identification system required our ceramicist to date each artifact even if these dates are exceedingly broad.  As a result, we have significant quantities of artifacts dated to periods that exceed 1000 years in length. These broad periods tend to represent two types of artifacts. 

  1. Artifacts that do not fit into any known typology such as body sherds without particularly characteristic marks, fabrics, or shapes.
  2. Artifact types that remained in use for long periods of time.  This is most often the case with various kinds of coarse and medium coarse utilities wares probably produced from local fabrics.

In some cases, the fabrics or shapes can tell use enough to allow us to group the artifact into a relatively well-defined, yet still exceedingly broad, date range.  For example, the most common period for an artifact dated to a broad period is “Ancient Historic”.  This is a date range that extends across the entire period of historical antiquity on the island of Cyprus: 750 BC – AD 750.  Almost all of these sherds (89%) are body sherds. The artifacts datable to this period appear over 77% of the total area of our survey and in 84% of the units where artifacts occur.  Statistically, the distribution of “Ancient Historic” artifacts correlates more closely to the overall artifact densities across the entire study area than any other period, broad or narrow (the correlation is .674).  This is particularly significant because artifact counts and the number of artifacts assigned to a particular period are independent variables: our artifact counts are based on the total number of artifacts visible on the ground according to clicker counts and the number artifacts dated to a particular period is a subset of the number of artifacts sampled from the units.  Finally, the fabric types present in Ancient-Historic period more or less parallel the fabric groups present in narrower, better-known, or at least more clearly defined periods (e.g. Classical or Classical-Hellenistic). For the Koutsopetria plain, for example, “Ancient Historic” material appears as coarse ware, medium coarse ware, and kitchen/cooking ware which finds rough parallels with the groups of material present from other periods and the general functional character of the area (for those of you keeping track at home, we call the Koutsopetria plain Zone 1)


Other broad periods from our site represent small quantities of obscure material that stands outside traditional typologies.  For example, there are only two sherds assigned to two chronotypes dated to the Ceramic Age (a Red Micaceous Pithos and coarse ware). Only four sherds assigned to four chronotypes received the generic Ancient date (Ancient Lekane, fineware, kitchen ware, medium coarse ware). Only one chronotype, amphoras, receive the designation Post-Prehistoric.

In old days of survey, sherds dated to broad periods tended to be neglected either at the analysis phase, or more commonly at the sampling and collection phase.  The vast majority of broad period sherds are body sherds (85%) and most of these would not appear to be diagnostic. As a result many traditional collection strategies that privileged diagnostic sherds (feature sherds with distinct marks, rims, handles, bases) would have overlooked broad period material. More recent work has at least assigned the designation of “unknown date” to these broad period artifacts, but rarely do they appear documented in the survey publication.

This material is difficult to correlate with past human activities. At best, it reinforces the notion that certain types of productive practices may have endured for long periods of time without much in the way of visible changing.  It suggests that certain vessel shapes, fabrics, and pottery categories may have continued to serve basic functions within the community, the household, and the economy for long periods of time as well. In Braudelian terms, the apparently long, slow, and relatively unchanging character of such a large part of our ceramic assemblage represents the slow swells of the sea.  The more closely dated and rapidly changing character of fine wares or even the more diagnostic parts of the vessel , for example, which tend to allow us to produce our narrow period assemblages, show the more fickle and rapidly changing nature of ancient ceramic habits.

The value then of our effort to understand the distribution and character of artifacts datable to broad periods from PKAP is that they give us a real measure of how much we do not know about material from our survey area.  And at the same time, reveal that much of the most basic practices typical of the ancient world likewise continues to elude our grasp.

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