Home > Archaeology, David Pettegrew, Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project, Survey Archaeology > Artifact Level Analysis and Places of History

Artifact Level Analysis and Places of History

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working with David Pettegrew to finish writing the analysis of the survey data from the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (PKAP).  Followers of this blog know that this work is a long a term project and involves challenges both on the level of analysis but also organization and description.  In other words, we’ve been working to figure out both how to interpret our survey results, but also how do we organize and describe this data in way that is useful to scholars who are likely to ask different questions from the one’s that our survey set out to consider.

The biggest challenge is moving from the highly granular, artifact level analysis of individual groups of pot sherds to the level of historical time and space.  After all, very few important things happened in the space of a pot sherd or in a time framed absolutely by the life-span or production cycle of an individual vessel.  It is essential to aggregate sherds, space, and time in order to produce historical arguments.  The chronological ranges for artifacts through time depend, in particular, on our understanding of ceramic typologies based on the fabric, shape, and in some cases decoration.  These the chronology assigned to these various typologies are not necessarily meaningful in a historical sense and can be quite individualize to particular objects.

In other words, artifact level analysis is separate from the process of interpreting artifacts across the survey area as chronologically and historically meaningful groups.  Part of the interpretive process involves grouping artifacts together into more or less contemporary groups of object.  This process involves judgement on our part and cannot be applied in the same way across the entire assemblage.

As an example, our analysis of material representing activity across our site from the Classical to Hellenistic (BC 475 to BC 100) periods involves artifacts dated to at least 8 different, overlapping chronological ranges: Archaic-Classical, Archaic-Hellenistic, Classical, Classical-Hellenistic, Classical-Roman, Hellenistic, Hellenistic-Early Roman, and Protogeometric-Hellenistic.  In contrast, our analysis of activities on our site from the Roman period involves artifacts dated to three chronological ranges: Roman, Early Roman, and Late Roman.  Our ceramicist established the date ranges for individual artifacts largely based upon dates established through stratigraphic excavation and completely independent from our interpretation of the site as a whole.  It is common for individual classes of artifacts to receive have different chronological ranges. A sherd from a cooking ware pot might represent a vessel-type produced over a 500 year periods (say, any time during the Classical-Hellenistic period), whereas a fragment of fine ware might derive from a vessel produced during a 4 or 5 decade span of time (say, the early 4th century).  Each of the objects receives a different date and chronological range when documented in the survey area. As a very general rule, utility wares tend to be produced over longer spans of time than fine and table wares, but this has no necessary impact on how and when they were used.

The process of interpreting the artifacts documented by our ceramicist involves us aggregating these objects into chronologically, functionally, and spatially meaningful groups.  Past human activities took place in particular spaces and made use of object produced at different times and for different functions. To produce a picture of what happened in the past at our site that has meaning within these human terms, it is necessary to group together material with different date ranges into assemblages that have meaning in human terms.

For example, here are various maps showing some of the periods aggregated to produce our analysis of the Classical to Hellenistic period at our site:

NewImage.jpgArchaic-Classical Period

NewImage.jpgClassical Period

NewImage.jpgClassical-Hellenistic Period

NewImage.jpgClassical-Roman Period

NewImage.jpgHellenistic Period

NewImage.jpgHellenistic-Early Roman Period

To understand trends at our site from Classical to Hellenistic period, the data contained in each of these maps must be analyzed together.  Occupants at our site may have used coarse ware datable only to the Classical-Roman period alongside table wares dated more narrowly to the Classical period.  The Classical period table ware may have represented a households investment in public display, the same household may have stored their agricultural wealth in a series of amphoras that have forms and fabrics used for over 500 years.  To establish the potential spatial relationship between these two activities in an archaeological setting, it is necessary to plot artifacts assigned to different chronological ranges across our site in order to produce assemblages that reflect historical activities.

This task is central to the analysis of artifact level survey data and is the key interpretive move in mediating between the results of archaeological work and historical events in the past.  Our goal as we work to prepare this kind of analysis for publication is to keep this interpretative move as transparent as possible.  Transparency, while sometimes tedious for the reader, opens our analysis for critique on both evidentiary and methodological grounds and reinforced the idea that archaeologists produce the landscape that they interpret.

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