Sikyon Project

Hellenistic building

2016 season

Orthophoto of the fifth area with the numbers of the architectural features.

The exploration of earlier phases of the ancient city, than the ones that we have so far documented, was the main though not the only reason for opening a fifth area between the fourth and the third excavated area. Geophysical prospection in this area had shown faint signs of the presence of an orthogonal structure, oriented east-west, perpendicular to the east side of the pi-shaped complex and with an apsidal western side. In order to include the outline of the whole building but also the southern continuation of the inner wall of the Roman complex (Wall 3001) we laid out a trench 15 (east-west) x 10 m (north-south). We removed topsoil (Context 4000) with the help of the bobcat. Because of the slope of the terrain, the thickness of this context along the west side of the trench reached 1 m while along the east side just a few centimeters. Surface pottery was similar to the one recovered from the fourth area, namely of mixed periods with the latest examples dating from the 7th century CE. Because no signs of the building appeared at the bottom of this context, we decided to continue the excavation in a zone 5 m wide along the eastern side of the trench, so that we have the time to uncover the eastern end of the apsidal building as well as the section of Wall 3001, and to investigate the relation between them. Before Wall 3001 emerged, we identified along its line a distinct layer (Context 4001), of a maximum depth of 1 m, which filled the robbing trench (Context 4002) of the upper part of this wall. The limited, in relation to the volume of soil, pottery that was found in this layer dates from the first half of the 5th century CE, while one of the two bronze coins that we retrieved is an issue of Aegion during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 CE). Under this layer, along the west side of the wall, we noticed a layer of rubble (Contexts 4017 and 4018) and chunks of plaster. The few datable sherds found in this layer are mostly of Early Roman date.

In the layer 25 cm thick that covers the rest of the trench (Context 4003), parallel to Wall 3001, we found chunks of plaster along with pottery that dates as late as the Late Roman period. Further down, the excavated layers (Contexts 4004, 4006, 4007, 4016, 4019), of a maximum total thickness of ca. 60 cm, included material which in its majority dates up to the late 1st century CE. The composition of these light-colored layers suggests that we are dealing with successive fills, possibly artificial, for the purpose of leveling the area west of Wall 3001. Wall 3001 is founded in the underlying layer (Context 4008), 0.50 m of average thickness and of dark reddish color, from which we collected mostly early Roman pottery (which goes into the third quarter of the 1st century CE.) and two bronze coins – Sikyonian issues of the 3rd and early 1st century BCE. Similarly, the scanty pottery found in the fill of the cut (Context 4009) that we identified on the west side of the wall, dates from the late 1st century CE. With the removal of context 4008 the surface of the walls of the eastern end of the apsidal building emerged, at a maximum depth of ca. 1.4 m from ground surface. It is constructed with ashlar blocks 0.48 to 0.57 m wide, and preserves in some places one and in others two courses of stones founded on bedrock. The inner width of the building comes to 6.0 to 6.2 m. Interestingly enough, the south wall (Context 4012) is not perfectly rectilinear but bends slightly towards the interior, which explains the difference of ca. 20 cm in the width of the building between its easternmost and westernmost exposed section. Its eastern wall (Context 4015) is almost parallel to Wall 3001 of which it is just 0.37 to 0.47 m apart. A rubble masonry (Context 4029) covers the northern end of the east side of the building and the space that separates it from Wall 3001. On the south side, an ashlar block extends the southern wall (Context 4012) to Wall 3001, while its overlying block cuts Wall 3001 on which a recess is visible for receiving it. Under the parallel Walls 4015 and 3001 passes a clearly defined layer of rubble (Context 4024), oriented west-northwest to east-southeast, 1.35 m wide and 0.24 to 0.34 m thick. It is not clear yet what this layer is, but it is certainly artificial.

The fifth area at the end of the season.

The stratigraphy of the fifth area of excavation, looking west.

The north side of the trench with the successive building phases, looking east.

The chronology of the above structures is problematic. Context 4011 that we excavated to the south of Wall 4012 down to bedrock was sterile. The context between Wall 4012 and Context 4024 (Context 4013) yielded pottery which dates up to the second half of the 1st century CE. Of similar chronology is the scanty pottery found between the parallel walls 4015 and 3001 (Contexts 4014 and 4021). In the still lower strata, that we dug down to bedrock (Contexts 4022, 4023, 4026, 4027), the little pottery that we recovered is mostly Hellenistic. Context 4024 seems to date to this period, which is the earliest building phase of this area.

The next building phase is represented by the apsidal structure with the ashlar foundations (Contexts 4012-4015-4025) of which we discovered its eastern side. The foundation course rests into Context 4011, which produced no finds. The layers from the interior of the building (Contexts 4013, 4022, 4023, 4026) yielded pottery dating from the 1st century BCE to the late 1st century CE. Of significance for the chronology of the building is its structural connection to Wall 3001 which we described above. We hope that by continuing the excavation towards the west and by uncovering the rest of the building during next season we shall gain more and safer chronological information.

Wall 3001, which we also exposed in the fourth area of excavation, represents the third and final building phase in this area. It is built with rubble, tiles, and mortar and has a width of 1.35 m. Its role is still under investigation but in the light of the stratigraphy that was brought to light this year, it certainly functioned as a retaining wall for the thick, light-colored fill that covered the area to its west. The precise chronology of the wall is also under investigation. In the layers below its foundation (Contexts 4011 and 4014) we had no finds, but the material from the thick Context 4008, into which Wall 3001 rests, dates in its majority to the late 1st century CE, while the fill of the robbing trench of the upper part of the wall (Context 4001) contained pottery which dates as late as the 5th century CE.