Sikyon survey project

Archaeological Survey

Digitized map of the plateau with the three areas and the field tracts.

The mapping and examination of surface material remains scattered around the plateau is a core part of the project. The intensive survey sets to investigate the when, how and why of the human presence and activity in the urban area. The dating rests primarily on ceramic and architectural evidence, and here comparison with data from the Corinth excavations has proven to be most helpful. More specific questions relate to the prehistoric and early iron ages, i.e. prior to the foundation of the city by Demetrios, as well as to the Late Roman and Byzantine periods of which we hear almost nothing in the written sources. Rescue excavations carried out in the coastal plain have brought to light part of cemeteries of the Late Helladic and Late Roman/Early Byzantine periods, and the question remains whether the main settlement was located there or on the plateau. In addition, the data available from the extensive survey of the Sikyonian countryside offer a basis for comparison and study of the relation between the city and its countryside. We would like to know whether, when and to what degree the growth of the countryside, as is betrayed by the rise in the number of sites, occurred to the expense or to the advantage of the asty. The Late Helladic, Classical, Late Roman, and Middle Byzantine periods account for the majority of artifacts from our extra-urban settlements. On the contrary, the Archaic, Hellenistic and Roman periods are thinly represented. Ironically, these are the periods when Sikyon flourished according to the historical sources. We suspect that these were also periods of intensive urban activity, and the on-going archaeological survey should check this hypothesis.

Survey of the squares in the upper plateau.

The answer to how was the settlement organized on the plateau has many components, most of which the survey hopes to address. The spatial distribution, quantitative and qualitative analysis of material remains could help us to distinguish separate land uses (domestic, agricultural, industrial, religious etc.), density and even hierarchy of habitation (rich versus poor). A high density of artifacts over a large area is a sign of densely inhabited quarters of the city (as at Olynthos for example), whereas pockets of artifact scatter betray rather a pattern of habitation in houses separated by unoccupied space. Regarding hierarchy, the presence, for example, of mosaic fragments and elaborate fine wares indicates a rather wealthy milieu, whereas the high density of domestic coarse wares point to cluttered, lower class domestic surroundings. Answering why the settlement developed the way it did can be only speculative. Yet, taking into consideration various factors pertaining not only to the geology and topography of the area, but also to the cultural traditions of the periods under examination we can agree to possible explanations. For example, the application of a rigorous grid on the entire plateau in early Hellenistic times with insulae of more or less standard dimensions must be seen in the light of theories of urbanism and town-planning practices of that period.

The methods that we have adopted correspond to our research goals and the topography of the study area. In order to extract detailed information we first divided the plateau into three large areas: the upper plateau (UP), which rises above (west of) the theater, the northern plateau (NP) and the southern plateau (SP), the two being separated by the main road of the village which was also an artery of the ancient city. In each of these three areas, we have plotted the modern field boundaries, as these define the tracts which we actually walk. Each individual tract we then divide into squares of more or less standard size, ca. 20x20 m. Each square gets a number within its tract inside its area. Thus UP3.2 designates square 2 of tract 3 in the upper plateau.

Surveying the squares of the northern plateau.

Survey of the squares consists of surface scanning by teams of five members who walk in parallel lines ca. 4 m apart under the guidance of a team leader. Given that in optimal visibility each person has a 2 m range of vision, the distance of 4 m allows surface coverage of ca. 50%. Each team member counts all sherds and tiles along his/her line with the help of two tally counters, while he/she collects "diagnostic" pottery and artifacts at a representative ratio. Every fifth square all artifacts are collected in order to be weighed and roughly sorted in the field. This allows the distinction between sherds and tiles; the latter are quickly processed in order to determine their average dimensions, type, surface treatment and broad dating. The sherds are brought back to the apothiki in order to be washed and studied.

Cross-sampling survey.

When a square is littered with artifacts, then total collection is limited to two lanes crossing each other at right angle at the center of the square. The square is then surveyed using tally counters in the normal manner. In 2008 we doubled the distance between walkers in every other square of the upper plateau. Thus, in half of the squares that we have covered in the upper plateau during 2008, the distance between the walkers was 10 m (as opposed to 4 m for the rest of the squares). This allowed us to cover more ground in this specific area, and will be the subject of research during the processing stage, in order to find out whether the doubling of the distance between the walkers influenced the kind and volume of information extracted from the surface finds.

Important, non-movable finds (segments of walls, dispersed stone blocks, stone mills, wells etc.) are photographed, and their precise position is marked with the help of a portable GPS. Remains of structures (as opposed to membra disiecta) visible above surface are mapped accurately with the use of a laser theodolite. Areas with signs of structures above surface or with unusual concentration of architectural members are singled out for geophysical survey. Also, some of the tracts are selected for resurveying under different soil condition and preferably at a different season of the year. Resurvey is conducted using the same tract and square layout so that comparison becomes easier and more straightforward.

Sorting pottery in the field.

Data collected in the field are entered in two separate forms, one for the tracts and another for the squares. The tract record form simply contains information on the field conditions, including soil type and condition, land-use and vegetation. It is the square record form that carries all the archaeological information including the number and weight of pottery retrieved, the number and kind of tiles and other artifacts observed, as well as a description of architectural features which are consecutively numbered across the entire plateau. All this information is then entered into an Access database. Subsequently the collected sherds are processed with the aim of grouping them into separate fabric categories based on inclusions, texture and color of the clay. The last processing stage is the inventory of individual pieces, namely featured sherds and other diagnostic objects, and includes a description (preservation, dimensions, fabric, decoration and surface treatment), identification (function and type) and dating of the find. Spatial information, i.e. the limits of each square, and the position of various features, is recorded onto the digitized map of the area using CAD and GIS software.

2005 saw the introduction of two new categories, the "special tracts" (ST) and the "slope interface tracts" (SIT). The special tracts refer to areas with zero visibility and heavy vegetation. Dividing the tract into squares was judged uneconomical. Instead, the tract is treated as a unit of irregular size, and surveyed for obvious architectural and other features. These features are recorded on the corresponding form and mapped with a GPS. Ceramic counts are not kept. The slope interface tracts refer to the slopes that largely occur between the upper and lower plateaus. We deemed it necessary to include these areas in our survey as they could provide us with vital information concerning both erosion processes and the exploitation of the slopes in antiquity and later periods. Given that the majority of movable items found in this zone come from higher levels, we divide the tracts into strips 20 m wide across the top of the slope, while their length and shape vary according to the extent and configuration of the slope. The teams line up on the bottom of the slope, and walk uphill in as regular a fashion as the terrain and vegetation allow. As with regular squares, counts of ceramics and tile are kept, and diagnostic or unusual artifacts collected. Any architectural or unusual features are also recorded and mapped.