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.

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Categories: American School Excavations, Archaeological Discoveries, Archaic, Geometric, News Stories, Sites, Panayia Field

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