Sikyon survey project

The 2009 season

Study of the material

Peter Stone, our Hellenistic pottery specialist, has finished reading and recording the Classical and Hellenistic diagnostics recovered during the five survey seasons. In terms of shape, the early and middle Hellenistic pottery from Sikyon (end of 4th - middle of the 2nd century BC) is akin to the pottery from Corinth, Isthmia and Stymphalos, and differs substantially from the ceramic assemblages of Attica, Argos and Elis. During these centuries imports are few, mostly amphorae from the Adriatic whereas Aegean imports are almost non-existent. With the intensification of Sikyonian ceramic industry during the 2nd century, Greco-Italic amphorae (notably Brindisi and Lamboglia 2 types) provided the model for the local amphora production. Besides amphorae, the Sikyonian ceramic industry active particularly from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AC produced table, cooking and utility vessels, all in the local coarse silicate fabric. The most important potter's quarter of ancient Sikyon was located at the southern edge of the South plateau, and bordered residential areas to the north and the east. Hellenistic material was unevenly spread over the entire plateau, with higher concentrations in the lower plateau. On the contrary, Classical material was found in very small numbers particularly at the far western end of the UP and along the southern edge of the SP. These concentrations at the outskirts of the city may be due to the relatively low presence of Hellenistic and later material which elsewhere masks earlier remains.

Elli Tzavella, our Roman and Byzantine pottery specialist, has read the remaining pottery from the South Plateau. The sector just to the south of the agora (SP76-81) produced pottery mainly from the Middle and Late Roman period (2nd to 4th cent. AC), whereas the area to the east of the agora (SP83-106) had high concentrations of Late Roman and Early Byzantine material (4th-7th AC). On the contrary, Late Roman and Byzantine material was very thinly represented at the SE knoll of the plateau and its vicinity (SP82 and 107) which produced mostly Frankish to Early Ottoman pottery (13th to 16th century). It appears that the expansion of the settlement here was due to the construction of a castle by the Villehardouins in the early 13th century. Activity on the site shrank from the 17th century onwards even though the castle or parts of was still standing this time occupied by an Ottoman guard. It is also worth noting the presence here of early Roman material which indicates that the expansion of the settlement during that time had reached a climax. Although the post-Hellenistic pottery from a significant portion of the northern North Plateau (NP108-138) and the central part of the Upper Plateau (UP56-81) has not been examined yet, the pattern which emerges from the material processed thus far is the following: in the early Roman period the settlement spread over most of the plateau with the possible exception of the western part of the Upper Plateau. Residential areas covered most of the north and south plateaus while the southern edge of the south plateau was the potters' quarter as in Hellenistic times. In middle Roman times, the settlement appears to shrink with habitation concentrating in the North Plateau. Further contraction is definitely observed in Late Roman-Early Byzantine times, when activity is located in the central part of the plateau, around the ancient agora. A noticeable feature of the Early Byzantine ceramics collected from the survey is the almost total absence of fine wares which may indicate that the community was not particularly prosperous at that time.

Matt Maher, responsible for the Roman finewares, has finished reading and cataloguing the sherds collected from the survey. They are sparsely encountered across the lower plateau, with a definite higher concentration of Late Roman finewares (mostly African Red Slip) in the area to the east of the agora.

Ioulia Tzonou-Herbst has looked at our prehistoric assemblage, a total of 60 sherds. Despite the small number, all major periods are represented beginning with the Middle Neolithic and ending with LHIIIC. At least 20 sherds belong to the LHII-III periods, a dozen appear to be Neolithic, and even fewer of EH and MH period.

Our artist Anastasia Douka has drawn some 90 sherds complementing the ones drawn in previous seasons so that we now have most of the pottery drawings needed for final publication.

Conor Trainor, responsible for the study of Sikyonian fabrics, has focused on the fabric analysis of diagnostic sherds collected in the survey in order to achieve a finer resolution and better understanding of the Sikyonian fabric groups established in previous seasons. Amphora pieces are particularly significant in this regard and their analysis was done by Leticia Rodriguez with Conor's guidance. In addition, the shape diagnostic sherds from SP82, mostly prehistoric and Frankish to early Ottoman, have been fabric indexed. The problem with the fabrics observed in the Sikyonian plateau is their homogeneity since more than 3/4 of the sherds which we collected (some 140,000 pieces) occur in one local fabric family, of coarse silicate nature. Petrographic analysis showed that this coarse silicate fabric is a mixture of marl and possibly terra rossa clays with mostly quartz, lime and chert inclusions. The challenge of analyzing the ceramic fabrics from the area of the Sikyon plateau therefore became to see if we could spot fluctuations in the composition, firing or levigation of the pastes and if so, what these fluctuations might be able to tell us. The study of 335 index sherds has produced a preliminary chart of properties (firing, paste features, hardness, texture and density, surface texture, inclusion size and color/texture etc.) by functional category (storage, table, cooking etc) and chronological period (Hellenistic, Early Roman, Middle Roman, Late Roman, Ottoman/early modern). Of the 141 diagnostic amphora pieces examined, more than half appear to be local or regional, with the majority of local examples coming from the south plateau indicating their likely place of production. Finally the examination of prehistoric sherds from SP82 has showed the use of local clays and minerals as early as the Middle Neolithic period.

The coins recovered from the survey have now all been cleaned by Nicole Anastasatou (the Corinth conservator) and read by Orestes Zervos (the Corinth numismatist). We have 21 coins in total - an interesting collection which ranges from an Athenian issue of the 4th century BC to a Venetian issue of the 16th century AC.

Yannis Lolos and Dan Stewart have gone through all architectural fragments located during the survey (over 1200), and entered the information on a dedicated database (designed by Michael Charno) which includes identification, lithology, dimensions and other characteristics (stylistic and others) of each catalogued feature. It was not always easy or safe to establish whether the recorded dimensions represented the original or preserved or again visible dimensions of the architectural features, so when not clear we decided to be cautious and record the dimensions as "preserved" even though in some cases they may represent the original dimensions. The plan is to plot the non in-situ architectural fragments on the map by type (stone blocks, column fragments etc.) based on the handheld GPS measurements and various descriptions as to their location. This way we should be able to check whether their spatial distribution is due to modern field clearance or to the actual archaeology when compared to the in-situ architecture and the results of the geophysical investigations. In addition, the dimensions of these fragments, in their majority ashlar blocks, will help us to determine the usual dimensions of stones cut by Sikyonian builders and will feed into the study conducted by Chris Hayward on the quarries of the plateau.