On-site and off-site at Pyla-Koustopetria: A Response to Chris Cloke’s Interpreting Ceramic Assemblages

Last week Chris Cloke generously shared some of his work with the pottery from the Nemea Valley Archaeological Project over at Corinthian Matters in a three part post. In a nutshell, he argued that there was evidence for manuring during Late Antiquity.

It’s a busy week, but I wanted to follow up on his suggestion that PKAP present some of its data to see whether we could detect similar trends. Our work at Pyla-Koustopetria, of course, is rather different in scope than the work of the NVAP. We focused on one, mid-sized, site rather than an entire region. Moreover, by Late Antiquity the built up area of our study area appears to have been rather large in relation to our overall study area.

Nevertheless, there is reason to think that the northern reaches of our study amount to an off-site zone. The distribution of tiles, for example, suggests that only the coastal zone of our study area had tiled buildings. (The tiny numbers in each unit represent the total number of Late Roman artifacts from each unit.)


Moreover, the distribution of fine and kitchen wares, most frequently associated with domestic activities appear to be concentrated in similar area.


In contrast, the distribution of coarse and utility wares, like amphora, extends of a much larger percentage of the study area.


Judging by these maps, it would appear that the northern part of our study area which comprised the coastal plateaus of Mavrospilos/Kazamas and Kokkinokremos saw a functionally different kind of activity than the coastal area. Cloke has suggested that the prevalence of less diagnostic sherds – and coarse and utility wares are almost be definition less diagnostic than fine and kitchen wares – might represent material scattered through manuring.

Cloke argue, however, that this is a product of smaller sherd size rather than a specific functional difference, and compares the percentages of diagnostic pottery from both on-site and off-site transects to demonstrate that similar proportions of diagnostic ceramics appear in both ceramics. Clearly, this pattern does not appear in the PKAP data.

Moreover, it does not appear that the average weight of the sherds varied in a consistent way across the PKAP study area.


The map above shows the average weight of Late Roman sherds (excluding tiles) across the study area. It is possible to imagine a slightly higher average sherd weight for the coastal units immediately below the height of Vigla in the left-center of the map, and a slightly lower average sherd weight for the material scattered to the north on the Mavrospilos/Kazamas plateau.

While this is slightly suggestive, I wonder, vaguely, whether this has something to do with the greater soil depth on coastal plain that “protects” sherds more. The plateau units tend to have thin soils with patches of exposed bedrock. This seems like a far more hostile environment for sherds and may have accounted for why they are more poorly preserved. In other words, the condition of the sherds has much more to do with post-depositional processes than how they were deposited.

I expect that David Pettegrew – the expert on survey site formation processes – might have some observations.

Crossposted to New Archaeology of the Mediterranean World.

1 comment

  1. Bill,

    I was very excited to read this and glad to see you taking a slightly different approach to the same problem. The beauty of the PKAP dataset is that it’s a nicely bounded area where patterns (or lack thereof) pop out a bit more readily. I agree with your impressions about the role the landscape (plateau vs. plain) may have played in preserving artifacts and allowing for them to be found at the surface – this is something I’ve worked into my longer discussions of NVAP stuff, based on a detailed geological and geomorphological analysis of the area.

    I really like the way you’ve plotted out these variables, and it inspired me to do the same with the NVAP material. I’m still working on mapping out various vessel classes in the way you’ve done, though my impression so far is that the NVAP data will not show nearly so striking a functional divide according to distribution (except perhaps a subtle one for the Archaic and Classical periods, when off-site things are generally more coarse and storage-related and on-site finds show a predilection toward dining, drinking, and cooking, as in the PKAP coastal region).

    I have now mapped out the average weight of sherds in each tract, however, and this shows some interesting patterns I wasn’t able to discuss in my posts here. In short, while the PKAP data shows a really varied patchwork, the NVAP data looks strikingly different in different periods. In most Greek periods, for instance, there are very high average weights in tracts, but these are highly localized and drop off to no finds for much of the area. Again, I think this supports a picture of a landscape with many small sites and not much artifactual distribution outside their immediate orbits.

    In the Roman period, on the other hand, far wider swaths of the area turned up finds, but the vast majority of these,except in the vicinity of sites, are very light on average.

    To compare this to your last map above, the Classical landscape around Nemea is characterized by scattered patches of dark red (high avg. weight) while the Late Roman landscape is characterized by wider areas of light red (low avg. weight).

    In short, this is an excellent job which has made me look at my own things in new ways, but interestingly, these seem to uphold the original analysis and demonstrate some fundamentally different things going on in these two survey areas.


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