Ann Brownlee on the Potter’s Quarter

It must be a sign of the official end of summer in the U.S. that the Penn Museum Blog has been running a series of final field reports on field work and study at archaeological sites in Egypt, Iraq, Italy, Xinjiang, Turkey, and Greece.

One of these posts comes from Ann Brownlee, Associate Curator of the Mediterranean Section of the Penn Museum, who writes about her summer work studying the Archaic pottery and vase painting from the Potter’s Quarter.

I am writing from the site of Ancient Corinth, where excavations under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens have been going on since the late 19th century….At Corinth, I am working on late seventh and early sixth century BCE pottery from the area known as the Potters’ Quarter.   Up next to the city wall on the west side of the city, the Potters’ Quarter is one of the sites around the city where pottery was produced.   The Potters’ Quarter was excavated by Agnes Newhall Stillwell, a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, for several years beginning in 1929, when she was a fellow at the American School.  No kilns where the pottery was fired have been discovered in the Potters’ Quarter, but the large quantities of damaged–misfired, cracked, misshapen–pottery as well as much material associated with pottery production, especially try-pieces, that are found in fills and deposits make clear that pottery was produced nearby.

I am working on the very large quantity of material from a well–Well 1929-1 in Corinth nomenclature–in the Potters’ Quarter.  The well was dug in the 7th century BCE and once it went dry, it was filled up with quantities of pottery, discarded no doubt from nearby potteries.  Some of the pottery from the well was published by Stillwell and J. L. Benson (Corinth XV:3:  The Potters’ Quarter: The Pottery.  Princeton 1984), but much remained unstudied and that is what I am working on.  I am particularly interested in the different painters whose work is represented in the well’s contents, and here I’ll focus on the painters of the shape known in Corinth as the kotyle.  It’s the same as a skyphos, a deep two-handled drinking cup, and the kotyle is very common in Corinthian pottery of the late seventh to mid-sixth centuries BCE.   Some Corinthian kotylai (the plural ofkotyle) are very fine, but not the ones I’m working with.   An example, Corinth C-31-46, (fig. 2) from elsewhere at Corinth shows the shape–only one handle is visible here–and the decorative scheme, which includes a figural zone that here has an elongated panther and part of another animal.

Read the full post here.

Posted in American School Excavations, Blogosphere, Ceramics, Periods, Archaic, Urban Center | Leave a comment

Eastern Korinthia Survey and the Isthmus in Google Earth

Some time ago, I started playing around with the connection between Google Earth and ArcGIS. You can easily export GIS layers as a KMZ file that will open in Google Earth. It provides another interesting way to view and analyze data spatially, and the files can be shared quickly with other Google Earth Users.

Consider, for example, this digital map of Harrisburg, PA, which projects a GIS layer of the city as it appeared in 1900 over the modern urbanscape. As part of a new Digital Harrisburg initiative at my college, we’ve been linking the population recorded in US Census Data from the turn of the 20th century with to digitized maps of the city. The shape files of two wards projected over recent satellite images of the capital of Pennsylvania show how much the city has changed in the last century.

DigitalHarrisburg

I hadn’t done this kind of thing for the Corinthia until I started playing around with it last week. Here’s an aerial of the Isthmus of Corinth. Light green shade represents the survey units of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey.

EKAS-Isthmus

And a closer view of the images in the areas of Kromna, Perdikaria, the ancient quarries, and on the Corinth-Isthmia road.

EKAS-Isthmus2

Another view of the proximity of these survey units to Isthmia: the Rman Bath and Bzyantine fortress are clearly labeled.

EKAS-Isthmus3

And if you have never seen the site of Isthmia from the air, it’s splendid. You can make out the fully excavated area. The light green shade in the lower right represents nearby EKAS survey units.

Isthmia

At some point in the not too distant future, I’ll release some of the cultural data I’ve been collecting in GIS—like sites, canals, walls, and the isthmuses of the ancient Mediterranean—as KMZ files. No promises on when. I’m never on time.

Posted in Digital Corinthia, EKAS (Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey), Isthmia, Isthmus | Leave a comment

Digitizing Isthmia with the Archaeological Resource Cataloging System (ARCS)

DKP Introduction: I noted yesterday that the National Endowment for the Humanities recently awarded Jon Frey, Assistant Professor of Art History & Visual Culture at Michigan State University, a major grant for the digital implementation of an open-source application known as the Archaeological Resource Cataloging System (ARCS). I asked Jon more about what his teams have been doing at Isthmia and what they hope to accomplish with the grant. He kindly agreed to provide the following overview of the work of Michigan State University and Ohio State University in recent years.

First of all, thanks to David for inviting me to post to Corinthian Matters as the forum he has created gives me an opportunity to write more candidly about our efforts to build an online collaborative workspace for the utilization and organization of digitized archaeological documentation. I tend to feel a bit awkward trying to describe this project more formally as if it has always followed a linear research plan with clearly defined goals and expectations. Rather, in the spirit of a weekend DIY project—and I think ARCS fits into that category in many respects—I’ve been learning as I go, largely through trial and error, but also through the helpful advice of far more experienced neighbors in what I have found to be a very welcoming and encouraging digital archaeological community. This is very much a good thing, as my own feelings about this project oscillate at unpredictable intervals between the fear that ARCS is nothing new (“good for you, you built a VRE!”) and the hope that this project will enable many smaller archaeological projects to share their evidence in a way that respects both their limited resources and the unique ways in which they have organized their recording systems.

History of the Project

The project as a whole began over five years ago with the digitization of notebooks at the Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia. Yet far from following a clearly defined, institutional plan, this project served a much less lofty, personal goal. More than anything else, I was tired of returning to America at the end of the summer only to discover that I had failed to record a key piece of information and would have to wait until the following season to continue my research. By keeping all of these notebooks on a hard drive, I could eliminate this problem. At some point though, it became apparent that by relying on digital copies of these documents, I had effectively removed them from the information network in which they had been designed to function. This is because the document archive at Isthmia—as at most excavations and surveys—is essentially an analog form of a relational database. Depending on their research question, individuals may consult field diaries, photographs, maps, drawings, descriptions of individual artifacts, or informal reports, all of which, ideally, reference one another according to a pre-determined system.

Figure. Working at the Isthmia archives

Such systems have been refined over decades and have become quite effective at aiding in the retrieval of information, but are not without their inefficiencies and idiosyncrasies. As the work of individuals who are at different levels of experience—frequently the case at projects that also serve as field schools—certain documents may be incomplete or contain errors. Moreover, as artifacts themselves, archaeological records may deteriorate, be misplaced or become lost altogether. Thus, as most archaeologists know, gathering primary information is typically an immersive experience that requires as much time-consuming physical activity as mental. Moreover, most are also familiar with the fact that such archival work rarely reaches a successful conclusion without the helpful intervention of another, more experienced individual who is familiar with all of the peculiarities of a project’s documentation system.

Bearing all this in mind, I soon became interested in exploring how one might build a digital version of an archaeological archive that improves upon this system rather than replaces it altogether. A brief survey of other digital archaeology projects and services revealed a number of ongoing efforts to address related issues, but such initiatives appeared to be more concerned with the standardization and secure storage of archival quality digital data than with the utilization of that data in a virtual research environment. In addition, the use of such services was significantly easier for projects that had been “born digital” or possessed the financial resources to employ full time archivists or independent companies to digitize their entire archive at once.

As a result, with colleagues at the MSU College of Arts and Letters Academic Technology Office I began to develop an open source solution that would allow an archaeological project to create a digital workspace where documents could be collected, curated and shared according to an organizational scheme defined by the individual project. With the assistance of an NEH Digital Humanities Startup Grant in 2011, we created the Archaeological Resource Cataloging System (ARCS), which can be accessed at the present moment at http://arcs.cal.msu.edu

The goals outlined in the NEH proposal seemed modest at the time, but in hindsight, were too ambitious. We offered to build a program that would:

  • Interface with Digital Asset Management systems like ResourceSpace and Omeka
  • Work on PC and mobile devices
  • Be easily modified to suit different archaeological projects
  • Allow a variety of file types and data types
  • Augment but not replace digitized documents through the use keyword tags and links to stable URIs.
  • Be open-source and free to use

As the project began, we soon learned that we could not reasonably achieve the first two objectives within the grant period. Thus we resorted to the creation of our own database and optimized the site to work best on PC devices running Google Chrome. In addition, the complexities involved in building a version of ARCS to be tested using data from Isthmia made it difficult to maintain a separate, project non-specific source code. There were also a number of issues that we discovered we needed to address before ARCS could become a useful system. To begin with, there was the question of who exactly would be carrying out the work of uploading and curating the information. Then there was the question of what metadata standard and terminology we would use in order to make the documents presented through ARCS easily searchable and relatable to other resources.

In order to address the labor issue, we adopted a “crowd-sourcing” approach, but this presented its own challenges. A great deal of time was devoted to devising and implementing the type of user access and control measures that are typical of all digital projects that have resorted to volunteer workers to achieve their goals. The metadata issue was less easily solved. While Dublin Core appeared to be the best solution, we soon discovered that this schema did not apply to archaeological documentation as well as we would have hoped. Quite often the 15 core elements had to be translated into descriptive categories at Isthmia that merely seemed the best fit. Other aspects of archaeological documentation were left completely unaddressed. The end result was the creation of a metadata schema for Isthmia that was more complex and idiosyncratic than the system already in use at the excavation. Finally, the development of a list of approved terminology and formats for these metadata fields has proven to be a challenge in and of itself.

These issues aside, the beta version of ARCS should still be seen as a successful demonstration of the advantages of presenting primary archaeological documentation as digitally augmented evidence. This is seen most clearly in the case of the field notebooks with which this digitization project began. On the one hand, a simple digital image of a notebook page cannot be easily parsed by a computer and thus made machine searchable.

70-GBO-002 uncropped.pdf

 

A 1970 notebook from the Isthmia Archives

On the other hand, electronic transcriptions (even when carried out in accordance with TEI standards) do not fully capture the dynamic and organic character of these documents with their photographs, drawings, and handwritten notes, often made by several different individuals over time. Yet, when a notebook page is presented as an image, supplemented by user-generated keywords and hyperlinks to other digital resources, the result is the best of both worlds.

ARCS notebook

Notebook as it appears in ARCS

The main governing principle throughout the development process has been to electronically update, but not replace the traditional operating procedures common to most archaeological archives. Thus the front page offers the user the opportunity to consult evidence by type (notebooks, maps and plans, cataloged artifacts, reports, etc.) just as these documents are physically arranged at an archive or library.

Thematic view

Front page of ARCS

While users may search for a specific reference at any time, the “resource view” interface also allows for a visual scan of the evidence, just as one might fan through the pages of a book or a series of index cards or drawings.

Inventory card

When a user has identified the information they seek, hyperlinks offer them the chance to follow digitally the cross references that already exist in the original documents. Moreover, just as one might gather together several different types of documents as part of their research, ARCS allows users to create digital collections to which they can return at any time.

Collection

All documents and collections have stable URIs so this information can be shared between users as well. Also, because work at an archive often involves conversation with colleagues and consultation with experts, each document on ARCS has an associated discussion forum, where users can ask questions or provide answers.

Finally, because excavations and surveys—even those that are not currently engaged in fieldwork—continue to grow and =generate evidence in both traditional and digital formats, ARCS is equipped with a simple drag and drop upload feature. While they are encouraged to provide as much information as possible about the resource they are creating, at the very least users must define a title and type for the resource. In this way, large batches of information can be uploaded at once and left on the system to be cataloged, tagged, and linked to other data later.

Upload

Upload page in ARCS

The version of ARCS currently in use at Isthmia continues to grow. At present the system contains nearly 7,300 unique resources, ranging from digital copies of all notebooks, to notecards representing all inventoried artifacts, to a representative sample of drawings, plans, and type-written reports. Other documents are added each season as they are scanned and processed. As a matter of conservation and preservation alone, this is an important step for the OSU Isthmia Excavations. At the same time though, any of these resources can now be organized into collections and shared with interested researchers in a matter of minutes. Thus requests for information from the Isthmia archives are now beginning to be met by means of an email containing a link to the relevant digital resource. But most significantly, the ARCS system has allowed a smaller project like Isthmia to “go digital” on its own terms (literally and figuratively) and budget without relying on its better-funded peer institutions to share their source code and resources.

In addition, the ARCS project has also produced an unexpected, but no less important, outcome. As a teaching tool, this online resource has been used not only as a way to provide undergraduate students with unprecedented access to primary archaeological documentation but also as a way to encourage them to contribute in a meaningful way to its creation. For the past three years, students enrolled in Prof. Timothy Gregory’s online classical archaeology courses at OSU have been presented with the full body of documentation associated with the excavation of a number of individual trenches at Isthmia, which they then use to generate archaeological reports of their own. For the past five years, students participating in my own study abroad program and courses at MSU have taken a lead role in scanning, processing, uploading and annotating the documents themselves. The process is not always perfect—asking undergraduate students in Greece to perform up to the standards of a professional archivist is at times a real challenge—but in the end, the results are generally reliable. In any case, such activities challenge students not only to make sense of several, potentially conflicting forms of evidence, but also to see the practices and assumptions that underlie the interpretations of the past that are often taken for granted. This is exactly the type of “doing history” that is now held to form the foundation of effective teaching strategies in undergraduate education (see, for example, the discussion in T. Mills Kelly’s recent book on Teaching History in the Digital Age).

Future Directions

While the source code is now freely available on GitHub, there is still much to be done before ARCS can be easily implemented at a wider range of archaeological projects. This is why I am excited that, in collaboration with Ethan Watrall at the MATRIX Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences and with the funding of an NEH Digital Implementation Grant, we are now able to continue with this project. Some of the more significant improvements that we have proposed are as follows:

  • Because the creation of the underlying ARCS database had represented a stop-gap measure when integration with other data management systems proved too difficult, we plan to implement the KORA Digital Repository and Publishing Platform. This will improve the speed and efficiency of keyword searches as well as the overall organization of the data that is studied through ARCS.
  • Inasmuch as it became clear in the early stages of development that ARCS could not (and probably should not) serve as an archival solution, we will be developing an export utility that will properly format the data created and augmented within this system according to the standards required for data storage with services such as the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) and the Digital Archaeological Record (tDAR). This export utility will also allow for the transfer of data generated in ARCS to other software applications such as Microsoft Access and ArcGIS for higher order statistical and geospatial analysis. In addition, because many projects—especially those that have transitioned from traditional analog to digital recording practices—have already created their own databases or other forms of machine-readable information, we will develop an import utility so that this evidence can be organized, augmented and shared through ARCS.
  • Because the import and export of different types of data will require a standard format for ease in identification, we will adopt the use of the ArchaeoCore metadata standard, developed at the Fiske Kimball Fine Arts Library at the University of Virginia specifically for use in archaeological contexts. We expect that, in keeping with the work of the Linked Ancient World Data Institute the use of ArchaeoCore will allow data to be shared between archaeological projects without requiring each individual project to redesign its recording system to fit a universal standard.
  • Having implemented these changes in the version of ARCS already in use at Isthmia, we will begin to collaborate with William Caraher and Amy Paplexandrou at the Princeton Polis Expedition Medieval Monuments Project, Adam Rabinowitz at the Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos Excavations at Chersonesos, and Kim Shelton at the UC Berkeley Excavations at Nemea in order to test the ability of the ARCS system to adapt to different recording systems for archaeological data. This will involve the creation of an installation wizard that can be used to customize ARCS to suit a particular project’s unique recording system as well as an ontology mapping tool to aid in the sharing of data between projects.

Given my experience in the first phase of this project, it is reasonable to assume that we will encounter some obstacles along the way. Likewise, it would be foolish to think that ARCS will offer a solution to all of the long standing issues associated with the transition to digital techniques for gathering archaeological evidence. For example, we at the OSU Isthmia excavations have maintained some traditional techniques but have adopted certain innovations so that the resulting mix of traditional, handwritten notebooks and artifact catalogues alongside digital images, illustrations and databases requires a concerted effort to coordinate. But at the same time, I think it is reasonable to hope that through the development of ARCS, it may be possible to achieve the elusive goal of sharing archaeological evidence between and among sites in way that nevertheless respects the unique identity of each project’s system for recording and interpreting its evidence. In this way, it may be possible to follow the lead of survey archaeologists in adopting a regional view of the ancient world, but with a degree of detail that is typically the strength of an excavation.

Posted in American School Excavations, Digital Corinthia, Isthmia, Periods, Diachronic, Teaching Corinth | Leave a comment

Major NEH Grant awarded for the Digitization of Excavation Records at Isthmia

It’s not every day that one sees friends and colleagues awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop open-source applications for uploading, organizing, and sharing archaeological data and records. I was delighted last month when I saw the announcement circulate on FB that Dr. Jon Frey of Michigan State University received a Digital Humanities Implementation grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities on the order of $324,586—all to continue to develop and expand a tool called Archaeological Resource Cataloging System, or ARCS for short. These grants are incredibly competitive and award little more than 10% of applications, so congratulations to Dr. Frey and his colleague Ethan Watrall for developing a compelling archaeological tool that has earned the national recognition of a tough group of external reviewers.

I’ve invited Jon to contribute a post about the work of Michigan State University and Ohio State University at Isthmia over the last few years in digital affairs, and map out what he plans to do with the grant he’s been awarded. So, tomorrow’s post will come straight from Jon. In the meantime, here’s the press release from the NEH.

And the press release from Michigan State University:

“The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded nearly $1 million to Michigan State University as part of its Digital Humanities Implementation Grants program.

Marking the largest grant, Jon Frey, assistant professor of art history and visual culture, and Ethan Watrall, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology and associate director of MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences, received $324,586 for ARCS: Archaeological Resource Cataloguing System.

It will provide an open-source application in which users can upload, tag, sort and link digitized copies of photos, drawings and archaeological documents. The project builds upon the original case study of Ohio State University’s Isthmia excavations, for which Frey is field coordinator….”

The blog site for MATRIX: Center for Digital Humanities & Social Sciences at MSU, provides a little more context:

“Originally funded by an NEH Digital Startup Grant and developed as a proof of concept by a small research group in the College of Arts and Letters (http://arcs.cal.msu.edu), ARCS is an open-source application designed to reintroduce many of the advantages of traditional archival research into its new electronic form. By means of an intuitive web-based interface, users can upload, visually scan, keyword, sort, and link together digitized copies of photographs, drawings, and (frequently handwritten) documents that together are the most faithful representation of the archaeological record. What is more, ARCS relies on a crowd-sourced approach to augment the information it contains. This not only provides a ready alternative to archaeological projects that lack a staff of dedicated archivists, but also encourages collaboration among scholars as well as public interest in a project’s ongoing research.

While the start-up phase of the project was very successful, the NEH Digital Implementation Grant will allow the project team to address several key software, design, and sustainability issues, including improved software architecture, interoperability, and community adoption and use.

As part of this new phase of the ARCS project, the project director’s have identified three archaeological projects that have already begun to digitize their primary documents and are interested in using the ARCS software in order to meet their research needs. Implementation at each of these projects will involve a further development of ARCS, which will in turn yield an even more flexible platform that can be customized to match each individual project’s unique system of archaeological documentation. Most importantly, because our implementation of the software involves multiple projects, we will be uniquely suited to develop a middle-ground solution that bridges the gap between the need to preserve the unique character of each project’s evidence and the larger goal of utilizing the evidence from several locations in research at a regional scale.”

Stay tuned for Jon’s fuller presentation of his work with ARCS and outline of where he plans to take it.

Posted in American School Excavations, Digital Corinthia, Isthmia, Periods, Diachronic | Leave a comment

Touring Corinth (virtually) with the Field Trip App

About a month ago, Andrew Reinhard of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens announced a new digital tour of Ancient Corinth that accompanies the publication (in press) of Ancient Corinth: A Guide to the Site and Museum. The book, which will hit the market this fall, marks the first guidebook to Corinth published by the ASCSA in over half a century, and it should offer a total overhaul of the sixth edition of the old guidebook. Here’s a description of the new (physical) guidebook:

“This is the first official guidebook to the site of Ancient Corinth published by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens in 50 years. Fully updated with the most current information, color photos, maps, and plans, the Corinth Site Guide is an indispensable resource for the casual tourist or professional archaeologist new to the site. The Guide begins with a history of Corinth and its excavations, followed by a tour of the museum. The Guide continues with a route inside the fenced area of the archaeological site from the Temple of Apollo to the Bema to the Peirene Fountain and more. The final section describes the ancient monuments outside the fence: the Odeum, the Theater, and the Asklepieion, and then the various remains of Ancient Corinth located within and outside the ancient Greek walls, including the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore and the Lechaion Basilica. Short bibliographic notes for many entries lead the reader to fuller descriptions of monuments, objects, and concepts. A glossary is also provided. Interspersed between descriptions of 69 monuments are seven Topographical Notes and focus boxes on special topics such as geology, Pausanias, St. Paul, and prehistoric Corinth and the Corinthia.”

What makes this seventh edition of the guidebook particularly interesting is that the ASCSA partnered with Google to make much (all?) of the content of the guide available for free via Google’s Field Trip app (which you can download here for iPhone and here for Android). In fact, given the partnership with Google, the app enhances and even changes the reader’s experience of the tour. As their press release notes, “You will be notified by your device’s GPS when you approach any of over 50 Corinth monuments. View images, descriptions, links to more information on ascsa.net, and related Hesperia articles. Field Trip frees you to tour Ancient Corinth however you like in whatever direction you choose.” In other words, you can jump in and out of tour from anywhere on site and are not constrained by the linear presentation that the physical guidebook assumes. All you need is a phone and connection.

As for the app itself, the iPhone page notes that

“Field Trip runs in the background on your phone. When you get close to something interesting, it will notify you and if you have a headset or bluetooth connected, it can even read the info to you. Field Trip can help you learn about everything from local history to the latest and best places to shop, eat, and have fun. You select the local feeds you like and the information pops up on your phone automatically, as you walk next to those places.”

Field Trip works just as this description suggests. When I downloaded and loaded the app, a map appeared showing my location as a blue dot in Camp Hill, PA, with yellow dots representing the sites in surrounding Harrisburg. There are cards for monuments, churches, synagogues, and sites associated with Harrisburg’s place in the American Revolution, Civil War, City Beautiful, and historic floods, among many others. Clicking on the dots loads cards containing photos and information related to the place, and external links to relevant sites. The app, which is designed especially for, well, “field trips,” spotlights sites in the vicinity of your current location. The designers have not yet made it easy for “virtual” field trips.

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I was curious, though, whether I could access the Corinth tour virtually from my home in south-central Pennsylvania. I discovered that I could, in fact, but not as easily as I would have expected. The app does not include, so far as I can see, an inbuilt search feature that will zip you around the world instantaneously to another place like Ancient Corinth, but it does include a global map, which you can slide to any location in the world by zooming out and then in.

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I was disappointed at first to see no yellow dots over Ancient Corinth and assumed the app didn’t work from remote location, but the cards appear once you zoom into close range.

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Unfortunately, the app is really not designed for this purpose. For example, you can’t save your particular place on the map if you’ve strayed far from home, and if you’re looking at Ancient Corinth from Harrisburg, PA, and accidentally tap on the “Map” or “Nearby” button on the bottom, and (sometimes) the “Back” arrow when looking at a card, it will teleport you back to where you actually are.

These foibles aside, there’s still much to gain from a virtual field trip. There are dozens of cards with up-to-date information and scores of beautiful high-quality color and B&W photos. In their brevity, the cards oversimplify the debates over particular places in the Corinthian landscape, but they do hint at the scholarly controversies. I was glad, for example, to see in the discussion of the fortification walls of Corinth the two hypotheses about the date of the Late Roman wall, the Theodosian and Justinianic. The cards also link to additional information beyond the app, although the external links to bibliography are selective.

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Two other things struck me as I was using this app and thinking ahead about teaching this upcoming year. First, as I work today on my syllabus for a course in Historical Archaeology, I’m considering having my students take the virtual tour of Corinth and see what they can do with both the urban topography of Corinth and the ways that archaeologists construct knowledge in a landscape. The aerial view, in particular, could encourage students to consider the city in terms of topography and natural resources.

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Second, as I’m planning for another field school and museum program with the Pyla-Koutsopetria Archaeological Project in Cyprus, I’m struck by how easy it could be to create Field Trip cards (or use those that already exist) for the sites of Cyprus, which form our itinerary when we visit the island in late May.

Posted in American School Excavations, Digital Corinthia, Periods, Diachronic, Teaching Corinth, Urban Center | Leave a comment

Zigzags (and Technology) in Early Corinth

Live Science seems to have made something of the most recent Hesperia article on the Panayia Field by Guy Sanders, Sarah James, Ioulia Tzonou-Herbst, and James Herbst. The Hesperia piece from early 2014 offers an important synthetic overview of remains in the Panayia field dating from the Neolithic age to the Hellenistic period excavated in 1995-2007.

The short piece from Live Science, which was published online yesterday, focuses on the “Zigzag Art”  on Geometric vessels from a sarcophagus of Corinth dating to the early 8th century BC. It suggests that the discovery was recent, but those tombs were dug almost a decade ago now. Here’s a bit from the article:

“Archaeologists working at the ancient city of Corinth, Greece, have discovered a tomb dating back around 2,800 years that has pottery decorated with zigzagging designs.

The tomb was built sometime between 800 B.C. and 760 B.C., a time when Corinth was emerging as a major power and Greeks were colonizing the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea.

The tomb itself consists of a shaft and burial pit, the pit having a limestone sarcophagus that is about 5.8 feet (1.76 meters) long, 2.8 feet (0.86 m) wide and 2.1 feet (0.63 m) high. When researchers opened the sarcophagus, they found a single individual had been buried inside, with only fragments of bones surviving…..

[Break to zigzags]

….The vessels were decorated with a variety of designs, including wavy, zigzagging lines and meandering patterns that look like a maze. This style of pottery was popular at the time, and archaeologists often refer to this as Greece’s “Geometric” period.

You can read the rest of the piece here. There are plenty of zigzags in the Hesperia article, of course, but, as the author himself notes, there’s nothing really exceptional about them on Geometric vases. The author missed the real story here, which is about the early technological achievement of the population of Corinth.  These limestone sarcophagi are absolutely massive — they include the longest and largest found to date — and indicate major displays of wealth in burial and status differentiation. Especially important are their early date, which pushes stonecutting back to 950-900 BC, and weight (1.5-2.5 tons), which indicates sophisticated technological capabilities to transfer the monolithic pieces out of the quarry below the Temple of Apollo and lower into a trench cut for burial in the Panayia field. I was at Panayia field when several workmen pried open the lid from one of these sarcophagi. The lid itself is massive.

It’s great to see the Panayia field excavations get some press, and the half dozen photos presented from the excavations are fun. But for the implications of these discoveries, look at the Hesperia article.

Posted in American School Excavations, Archaeological Discoveries, News Stories, Panayia Field, Periods, Archaic, Periods, Geometric | Leave a comment

A New History of Hellenistic Corinth

There was buzz around Corinth this summer about Michael Dixon’s forthcoming book on Hellenistic Corinth. I wasn’t expecting the work to arrive so quickly, but friends have passed on good news of its publication. Here’s the bibliographic reference:

Dixon, Michael D. Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Corinth, 338-196 BC. Routledge Monographs in Classical Studies. New York 2014.

The book description at Routledge as well as sections of the introduction made available at that site show that the book comprises a study of Corinth’s relationship with the Macedonian kings and the Achaian koinon between the late classical period and the settlement following the Second Macedonian War. Here’s the abstract from the publisher’s page.

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Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Corinth, 338-196 B.C. challenges the perception that the Macedonians’ advent and continued presence in Corinth amounted to a loss of significance and autonomy. Immediately after Chaironeia, Philip II and his son Alexander III established close relations with Corinth and certain leading citizens on the basis of goodwill (eunoia). Mutual benefits and respect characterized their discourse throughout the remainder of the early Hellenistic period; this was neither a period of domination or decline, nor one in which the Macedonians deprived Corinthians of their autonomy. Instead, Corinth flourished while the Macedonians possessed the city. It was the site of a vast building program, much of which must be construed as the direct result of Macedonian patronage, evidence suggests strongly that those Corinthians who supported the Macedonians enjoyed great prosperity under them. Corinth’s strategic location made it an integral part of the Macedonians’ strategy to establish and maintain hegemony over the mainland Greek peninsula after Philip II’s victory at Chaironeia. The Macedonian dynasts and kings who later possessed Corinth also valued its strategic position, and they regarded it as an essential component in their efforts to claim legitimacy due to its association with the Argead kings, Philip II and Alexander III the Great, and the League of Corinth they established.

This study explicates the nature of the relationship between Corinthians and Macedonians that developed in the aftermath of Chaironeia, through the defeat at the battle of Kynoskephalai and the declaration of Greek Freedom at Isthmia in 196 B.C. Late Classical and Early Hellenistic Corinth is not simply the history of a single polis; it draws upon the extant literary, epigraphic, prosopographic, topographic, numismatic, architectural, and archaeological evidence to place Corinth within broader Hellenistic world. This volume, the full first treatment of the city in this period, contributes significantly to the growing body of scholarly literature focusing on the Hellenistic world and is a crucial resource for specialists in late Classical and early Hellenistic history.”

And the table of contents:

1. Corinth, The “Gateway of Isthmian Poseidon”

2. Corinth in the Age of Philip II and Alexander III, 338-323 B.C.

3. The “Corinthian Troubles,” Corinth and the Diadochoi, 323-301 B.C.

4. Antigonos Gonatas and Corinth, “The Passion of his Life”

5. Monuments and Cult in Early Hellenistic Corinth

6. The Achaian Interlude, 243-224 B.C. From Liberation to Rebellion

7. The End of Macedonian Corinth

8.Conclusions and Reflections Bibliography

This looks like a book of major importance for understanding the late Classical, Hellenistic, and early Roman interactions in Corinth. I’ve just ordered a copy for my college’s library.

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