I have long advocated for an increase use of working papers in the field of Mediterranean archaeology. Circulating pre-publication drafts of articles is already a common practice and the presentation of sites and finds in an efficient and prompt way has long stood as an ethical obligation for archaeologists.
In that spirit, I am presenting as a working paper my preliminary analysis of the fortifications from the site of Vigla on Cyprus. This is a working draft so the research, analysis, and interpretation should be regarded as provisional. The basic description of the fortification on the hill of Vigla is accurate and should not undergo significant modification.
This past week, I’ve started to write up a formal description and analysis of the fortification on Vigla at the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria on Cyprus. While we were not able to date the walls precisely, despite excavating several sections, it seems most likely that fortifications date to the Hellenistic period. The settlement at the site appears to date earlier with Iron Age and Classical material present. Moreover, excavations in 2008 revealed that the fortification wall cut through an earlier building at the site.
The site itself does not appear in any textual sources for the island, and it clearly lacked any documented civic status. As a result, Vigla represents another example of a rural fortified site that stands outside the main narrative of the island’s history. From the start, we have speculated that the site at Vigla could be a mercenary garrison camp, built quickly for a particular group of Ptolemeic mercenaries stationed on the island during the 3rd or 4th century BC. The site could also represent a refuge for a local population whose position so near the coast would have exposed them to possible attach during the unsettled Hellenistic period. Scholars have offered similar explanations for similar rural fortifications from Greece.
The body of rural fortifications in Cyprus is far smaller. Claire Balandier in her dissertation (and a series of articles in the RDAC in 2000, 2002, and 2003 and elsewhere) has collected evidence for just a handful of rural fortification on the same scale of the fortifications at Vigla. The most notable among these rural fortified sites is Paleocastro on the Kormakiti peninsula in Kyrenia district (in the North). The Italians documented the site over several campaigns in the late 1960s and early 1970s as part of a project focusing on the landscape of the Kormakiti peninsula near Ayia Irini (the fortification at Paleocastro might be associated with the ancient anchorage of Melabron). Work was interrupted by the invasion of 1974, but preliminary results were published, including a good plan, is RIASA 19/20 (1972/73), 7-120.
The site is larger than the fortified area of Vigla, but situated in a similar way. The fortified settlement stands on a slight rise over the coast and has a gate on its inland side protected by towers. Vigla stands on a more prominent height (check out Vigla in gigapan), overlooks a likely ancient harbor, and is accessed through its more highly fortified inland side. The settlement at Paleocastro shows signs of Archaic or Classical origins and then disappears by the 2nd century AD. The fortification wall appear to be Hellenistic.
Stay tuned for more work to document, contextualize, and understand Vigla.
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:
Hellenistic-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.
For the past few months, David Pettegrew and I have been “publishing” the preliminary results of some experimental analysis conducted over the past year at the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project on Cyprus. As part of the experimental component to our project we were interested in documenting the relationship between the surface assemblage and the assemblage of material produced by excxavation
The archaeological fieldwork conducted on the elevated height of Vigla provided us with an opportunity to compare assemblages produced by intensive pedestrian survey and the excavation of a trench in the survey area.
Longstanding critiques of survey have suggested that the relationship between the surface assemblage and the subsurface material is too problematic for survey to be a technique used to produce a comprehensive view of the landscape. While it is true that there are more variables in the formation processes that impact the creation of a surface assemblage, we should be aware of the potential for a false dichotomy. Excavated assemblages are every bit as much a product of formation processes as those on the surface and as a result, we always have to temper our interpretation of past events with the understanding of the archaeological record as the product of a whole range of physical and cultural transformations. The goal of this comparison then is not to test the surface assemblage against the subsurface material, but rather to suggest that their correspondence indicates that the area may have endured similar archaeological processes.
As with all of our experimental units, the comparison is influenced by significant differences in the spatial comparison between the two sample areas. The surface area of our trench EU 8 represented only 6 sq meters; The two survey units 500 and 500.1 combined to covere over 6000 sq m. Any comparison of area, however, is problematic; the trench had volume and the relatively two-dimensional surface of the survey area did not.
The excavation unit produced significantly more ceramic material. The excavation unit produced over 4000 artifacts. By comparison, we counted anywhere from 366 to close to 1000 artifacts from our survey of various areas on the top of Vigla (depending on surface conditions and the number of walkers available), and these samples allowed us to estimate an overall artifact density of between 15,000 – 11,000 artifacts per ha. These are astronomical densities by any reckoning.
While we counted every artifact visible in our 20% sample of the surface, we collected artifacts using the chronotype sampling strategy which required us only to collect each unique type of sherd from each swath. Using this technique in two campaigns of field walking on Vigla, we collected 963 artifacts with a weight of 27.6 kg. In contrast, we collected and analyzed every artifact from the excavation area and this resulted in over 4000 artifacts, but this assemblage weighed less than 10 kgs more (37.0 kg) than the assemblage collected from survey.
The nature of the chronotype sampling method used in the survey makes it difficult to find a metric to compare the quantity of material collected from the survey against the quantity of material collected from excavated contexts. The key point for evaluating the correspondence between the two assemblages is not necessarily the quantities of material but rather the presence or absence of material indicating particular activity, periods, or material types present in the area.
Comparing the period date between the two collection strategies reveals that the survey collection produced more chronotype period categories (16 compared to 14) and nine of the periods represented in the survey assemblage were also represented in the excavation assemblage. In general, the survey material represented a longer chronological range with material from later periods present on the surface including material from the Late Roman, Medieval-Modern, and Modern periods. The excavated area, in contrast, produced more material from narrower periods and at least one object from a period earlier than those represented in the survey, a sherd potentially dating to the Bronze Age (for more on broad and narrow periods, see here). This artifact appears to pre-date the earliest phases of architecture present in our trenches and may not represent a past activity on the site. In general, the material from both the survey and the excavation overlap, but the excavation material offered slightly more chronological resolution than the material from the survey.
The diversity of chronological periods in the survey material would appear to extend to the chronotypes represented in each unit. The excavation produced 54 chronotypes, while the survey unit produced 57. There are 30 overlapping chronotypes between the two collection methods. While the different sampling techniques make it difficult to compare the assemblages in a meaningful way, the quantity of material from each area nevertheless provides a very basic matrix for comparing the relative quantity of various types of material from each unit. The survey and excavation both produce a significant number of artifacts from the three rather general chronotypes: ‘Coarse ware, ancient historic’, ‘medium coarse ware ancient historic’, ‘kitchen ware ancient historic’. The excavation also produced a significant proportion of material from two additional chronotype that were poorly represented in the surface assemblage: ‘animal bone’ and ‘fineware, Hellenistic-Roman, Early’ which made up 6.6% and 5.5% of the excavated material respectively, but less than 1% of the material from the survey. The absence of animal bone on the surface of the ground could be an issue with visibility (white and tan bones do not stand out as well against the buff colored soil) and certainly preservation.
It is notably harder to compare the potential range of activities present in the area. The chronotype method of collection privileges larger, better preserved sherds (walkers will often discard small or poorly preserved sherds if they find larger examples of the same chronotype). It also tends to under represent very common chronotypes in proportion to the total assemblage. In other words, there are fewer examples of chronotypes such as “medium coarse body sherd, ancient historic” in the survey sample in part because field walkers were instructed not collect multiple examples of this very common type of artifact. In the excavation, excavators collected every example of a “medium coarse body sherd ancient-historic” causing sherds of this type to make up a larger proportion of the total assemblage.
This tendency can be seen in the relative size of artifacts collected from the survey and excavation. From the survey, the collected artifacts were much larger and this probably reflects both our field walkers’ tendency to select larger sherds more frequently than smaller sherds for collection and the difficulty seeing the smallest sherds on the ground from a standing posture. These two tendencies combined to produce an average survey artifact weight almost 30 g as compared to the average size of an excavation sherd that was under 9 g.
The fabric groups present show some significant differences in the assemblage that we can largely trace to different sampling strategies. The survey unit preserved more coarse ware
(47%) whereas the majority of material from the excavated unit was medium coarse ware. The weight of the two fabric groups as a percent of the total assemblage sheds more light on the situation. Medium Coarse wares from the excavation represented 53% by volume, but only 22% of the assemblage by weight. In fact, the average weight of a medium coarse ware sherd is less than 4 grams. In other words, many of the medium coarse fragments of pottery from the excavation are quite small, and these sherds are the most likely to be overlooked during survey. Cooking/kitchen ware, coarse ware, and amphora represented the other significant parts of the excavation assemblage. As the chart below indicates the percentage of weight is significantly different from the proportions determined by counts. In weight amphora and coarse wares combine to make up the majority of material.
The material from survey shows different proportion, but these proportions are significantly biased by our sampling technique that suppressed the collection of redundant artifacts.
Coarse ware is the most common fabric group by quantity and makes up the majority of material by weight. Amphora sherds, which tended to be handles or very large body sherds, represent a massive quantity by weight, but significantly lower percentage by quantity. The opposite is true of medium coarse ware and kitchen/cooking ware.
Similar tendencies are visible from rim-base-handle-sherd analysis (for more on R-B-H-S Analysis, see here).
The results of this comparison suggest that for the height of Vigla the most major differences between the assemblage produced by survey and that produced by excavation are tied to the different sampling strategies used in these different contexts. At the same time, the basic patterns present in the survey assemblage were also present in the assemblage from the excavation. The presence of material from the Classical and Hellenistic period, the presence of fine ware, kitchen/cooking ware, and utility wares, and the almost complete absence of earlier material allows us to argue that the site was first occupied in the Archaic to Classical period, saw domestic activities, and then was used less intensively in later periods. This close correlation of survey and excavation assemblages reflects, in part, the stability of the soils on Vigla and the relative lack of erosion, on the one hand, and the lack of intensive activity during later periods, on the other. In other words, the surface assemblage and excavation assemblage enjoyed similar sets of formation processes which produced similar assemblages.
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.
- Artifacts that do not fit into any known typology such as body sherds without particularly characteristic marks, fabrics, or shapes.
- 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.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been running what will hopefully be the final set of unique queries on the data from the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project’s survey of the site of Pyla-Koutsopetria and its environs. These queries are mostly following little hunches or the comments that my co-director David Pettegrew made in the margins. It is re-assuring in some ways to find that I have not overlooked much (and I hope to circulate a working paper of my distributional analysis by the end of this calendar year), and its always fun to find little patterns. So here are two small PKAP patterns.
For some reason on the edges of comprehension our ceramicist, Scott Moore, documented unworked stones collected in the bags of ceramics collected by our field teams. Unworked stones collected from the fields are not traditionally regarded as archaeological material (except that their presence in a bag of ceramics has associated them with the archaeological method). But Scott’s unworked stones do show a pattern. In the last few years, archaeologists have suggested that “background disturbance” or the presence of stones or other materials that look like ceramic objects has a clear correlation with our ability to recover artifacts from the field (the best discussion of this is in Knapp and Given, Sydney Cyprus Survey Project volume). Presumably our field walker’s tendency to collect stones from the field might reflect a similar pattern. The map below shows the distribution of unworked stones.
And as you can see, a pattern does emerge. Most of our unworked stone comes from units with high or modern background disturbance and this suggests two things. First, it confirms that the unworked stones are most likely unworked (in some cases Scott documented unworked stone because he was not entirely sure that they were unworked and wanted Nick Kardulias our lithics expert to check them out). Next, it suggests that background disturbance does influence our field walkers ability to recognize artifacts. It is encouraging to note, albeit in a tentative way, that our field walkers collected objects that they thought might be ceramics and this might give us enough confidence to at least suggest that they did not overlook objects that might be stones.
The second little analysis I ran was on the distribution of faunal remains across the site. David Reese examined the faunal remains from our excavations in 2008 and 2009 and at the same time looked over a small quantity of faunal remains collected from the survey. I’ve added to the map the major roads in the area (rather inelegantly displayed unfortunately). Most of the faunal remains are near the major roads suggesting that at least some of them – particularly the chicken bones – were discarded by passing traffic. The remains of sheep or goat bones appear cluster in the lowest lying area of the Pyla-Koutsopetria plain. This area is pretty marshy despite efforts to keep it drained and as a result not generally under cultivation. This kind of marginal land seems likely to have served as pasture for local flocks.
The final analysis run over the last few days was on some very broad chronological periods into which we grouped material from the survey. Among the broadest is the “Ancient Historic” period which stretches from around 750 BC to the end of antiquity in AD 749. The transparent dots on the map below show the distribution of artifacts datable only to this long period in the past. Their distribution more or less follows over all artifact densities (with the exception of Kokkinokremos where the ceramicist who read our Iron Age to Bronze Age material used a slightly different designation). This suggests that artifacts grouped into this broad period are not likely to represent a single class of difficult to identify material, but rather a whole group of artifacts from multiple periods that remains outside of traditional ceramic typologies and chronologies. It is never heartening to see how much material from a survey goes unidentified (or identified in only the broadest possible way), but it is encouraging to see that it does not cluster in suggestive ways.
No RBHS is not a local high-school to whom I’ve outsourced PKAP data analysis, nor is it a new type of digital hi-def television. Those letters stand for Rim, base, handle, sherd and represent the basic parts of a ceramic vessel. Since most of the vessels one finds in survey and even excavation are not whole or are broken and mangled, documenting the rim, base, handle, and sherds from each vessel is an important way to understand how we as archaeologists are able to identify an particular object and assign it to a date, function, and even, sometimes, place of manufacture. It is also helpful in secure, stratigraphic contexts (that not in an unstratified survey context) for identifying the minimum number of possible vessels of a particular type because we know that some kinds of vessels on have, say, one-handle, then a four handles would represent at least four vessels of this type.
David Pettegrew’s research has really set the stage for applying this kind of analysis to the PKAP survey data. He has argued that certainly highly diagnostic artifact types (for example Late Roman 1 amphora handles or Late Roman “combed ware” body sherds) can distort the chronological distribution of material at a site. Periods characterized by less diagnostic artifact types tend to be less easily associated with a narrow chronology or function and under represented in relation to period defined by more easily identified vessels types. So isolating the way in which particular periods become visible using our Rim/Base/Handle/Sherd analysis becomes an important to critique our survey data.
Fortunately, the basic system that we use to document our ceramics, the chronotype system, took into account rbhs. The chronotype system required the ceramicist to separate and document as a group, called a batch, according the extant part of each type of vessel present . In other words, we counted in one batch all of the rims from, say, a Roman Amphora and in another batch all the handles from the same kind of amphora. This has allowed us to parse quite finely the character of our assemblages and its relationship to our ability to identify particular types of artifacts based on their individual parts.
So here are some basic observations:
- Of the 19 periods with more than 20 sherds collected using our standard survey procedure, 13 counted the majority of artifacts as body sherds. In other words, for most periods, body sherds represent both the most common and the most chronologically diagnostic type of material.
- Only for the Archaic period were the majority of artifacts identified by one part of a vessel, and these almost all came from one type of vessel, so-called Archaic basket handled storage jars.
- Of the 258 chronotype (that is discrete types of artifacts) that produced extant parts (some chronotypes, like shells or wall plaster fragments, do not produce extant parts that we can easily record), 138 of 55% of these chronotypes were identifiable based on only one extant part. 76% are recognized by only two extant parts and 90% by three. 99% by four extant parts (mainly RBHS). In other words, most artifacts are only recognizable by one part of the vessel.
- It is interesting to note that the number of chronotypes associated with a particular period has almost no influence on the average number of extant parts by which a vessel is identified. Large number of chronotypes identifiable by a large number of extant parts (4+) come from Roman (40), Late Bronze Age-Hellenistic (18), Ancient Historic (39), Hellenistic-Early Roman (24) vessels. At the same time 4 or more extant parts also appeared for periods with fewer chronotypes, like Classical-Roman (6), Late-Cypriot II-Late Cypriot III (4), and Post-Prehistoric (4). This means that while the majority of sherds from each period are body sherds, they nevertheless have vessels that are identifiable based on other parts of the artifact. In other words, our ability to date artifacts to a particular period is independent from the number of vessels with identifiable extent parts. Some periods have three or four chronotypes with lots of identifiable fragments; others have 25 different chronotypes with a mix more and less easily identifiable artifact types. There does not seem to be a pattern.
- Far more central to the number of parts of the vessel that we can identify is the kind of vessel and their function. Kitchen/Cooking ware produce the most possible extant parts (4+) followed by coarse ware and amphora chronotypes (3.8). Medium coarse ware produced 3.5, while pithos, semi-fine, and fine all produced 2.4 or fewer extant parts per chronotype. This likely has more to do with the shapes of the vessel than the size of the vessel.
This kind of analysis may seem tedious and complicated, but it is important to understand how bias in our ability to identify a particular type of artifact can influence the kinds of chronological and functional landscapes that we create from survey data. In examining our data in this way, we can really see the point of contact between what our ceramicist does in placing artifacts in particular classes and our historical reconstructions of the landscape. The entire world of Pyla-Koutsopetria is literally born from the data gleaned from individual artifacts.