Dropping into Ancient Corinth (the CyArk and Google Partnership)

Years ago, a visitor to ancient Corinth (and other sites of Greece) had immediate access to most of the archaeological remains within the site. One could stand directly next to one of the standing columns of the Temple of Apollo, or even climb within the Fountain of Peirene, as I know a group of university students did two decades ago. Open access provided physical contact with remains thousands of years old, and the first-hand experience of exploring the complexities of ancient architecture, but this was not necessarily all good. There were dangers in letting visitors climb in and among the site’s entire remains, and the monuments themselves undoubtedly suffered for the wear. Eventually, the ropes, rails, and fences came, which bounded and directed the visitor’s experience, restricting access and keeping the visitor at a distance. At some sites, such as the fenced Lechaion basilica, fences effectively barred visitors from any access except during those rare times when the site opened its gates.

Digital environments are changing all of this again. While we cannot physically touch an archaeological site remotely, the advent of new tools for exploring sites from a distance mark an exciting development in archaeology today. You may recall that at the end of the excavation season in 2015, the ASCSA Corinth Excavations reported on efforts by members of CyArk — a non-profit that preserves cultural heritage sites through 3D modeling — to recreate the Peirene Fountain and Temple of Apollo. Last week CyArk and Google Arts and Culture announced a new partnership to make 3D models of Corinth and other archaeological sites around the globe available through its free digital archive. A gallery called Open Heritage features online exhibits and 3D models of sites and monuments. As the blog for Google Arts and Culture noted,

As part of this new online exhibition you can explore stories from over 25 iconic locations across 18 countries around the world, including the Al Azem Palace in war-torn Damascus, Syria and the ancient Mayan metropolis of Chichen Itza in Mexico. For many of the sites, we also developed intricate 3D models that allow you to inspect from every angle, using the new Google Poly 3D viewer on Google Arts & Culture.

 

Greek Reporter provides this brief overview of the work in Greece, with links to a TED Talk with Ben Cacyra, founder of Cyark.

Remote visitors to the Ancient Corinth Exhibition may with this slideshow “Explore Ancient Corinth Expedition” which explains how CyArk created their 3D models of Peirene Fountain and the Temple of Apollo (through LiDAR and photogrammetry) and showcases videos of late antique frescoes within the fountain of Peirene.

The expedition also links to pages that allows anyone to download the data. Here’s the lead page for the expedition:

In collaboration with the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, CyArk documented the mythical Peirene Fountain and the Temple of Apollo in the city of Ancient Corinth, Greece. Survey of the extant structures was conducted primarily with LiDAR and both terrestrial and aerial photogrammetry. The surviving frescoes within the Peirene Fountain were surveyed with an Artec scanner, which measures the 3D shape of a surface using pulsating light and a camera system. CyArk’s digital documentation of the temple and fountain provided the ASCS with accurate and precise data on the current state of preservation for both architectural complexes. In particular, it was important to record Peirene which is currently closed to the public due to concerns surrounding its preservation. This work was made possible through the generous support of the Macricostas Family Foundation

Then go on to explore the interactive map that allows any viewer to drop the little yellow street view figure onto any of the photogrammetry points. Voila — anyone can actually move within the Fountain of Peirene for the first time in decades. You can also explore 3D models of the Temple of Apollo and Peirene Fountain.

Recall that Google has already made available interactive imagery of Ancient Corinth through its street view feature: you can drop into almost any street in the village anytime you want. Through its “photo sphere”, you can also drop into the archaeological site and have a look around.


The Open Heritage collection along with Google Maps provides another great opportunity for teaching students and the public outside of Greece about ancient Corinth.

More Extreme Sports: Aerial Dancing over the Corinth Canal

I missed this event last but it certainly deserves a place among my growing collection of extreme sports on the Isthmus of Corinth. Modern dancer Katerina Soldatou aerial dances over the Corinth Canal. The Greek Reporter noted that “dancer and yoga instructor Katerina Soldatou…carried out a breathtaking performance of extreme aerial dance suspended above the Corinth Canal, as part of the “Greece Has Soul” programme. The event was held in order to raise awareness of the environment and the need to respect the history of each place.” As Katerina says in her video, “Experiencing a place of great history throughout is a most fulfilling way of understanding its true value…Sometimes the time is now.”

 

Soldatou has continued her tour recently dangling from the Rio-Antirrio bridge.

If you’ve missed my earlier series on adventure sports at the Isthmus, check out the following:

A Coin Hoard at Lechaion is not the Real Story

Some more Corinthian clickbait hit us last week in a series of news articles about a coin hoard from Lechaion. We have heard quite a bit in the past about the Lechaion Harbor Project (LHP), a Danish and Greek operation to document the underwater remains at Lechaion since 2013. Their press releases, which come at the end of each calendar year, find their way into media outlets around the world just in time for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. We covered the work of the 2014 and 2015 seasons herehere, and here (2015), and press releases of their work in 2016 and 2017 can be found here and here.

The coin hoard, however, was found by the other Lechaion Project. Yes, that’s right, the other project. There are two separate, ongoing archaeological projects at Lechaion these days. While the Danish-Greek project has been investigating the underwater remains since 2013 and has received global coverage, the American-Greek Lechaion Harbor and Settlement Land Project (LHSLP) has been studying all the remains on land since 2014 and only begun excavation more recently. The results of their work are just beginning to circulate in archaeological conferences. It was this project that discovered the coin hoard.

Now, coins and coin hoards are always exciting to discover in an excavation, but they are not particularly mysterious, even (especially?) when discovered beneath the floors of collapsed buildings. LiveScience and Newsweek headlines suggest otherwise:   “1,500-Year-Old Coin Stash Leaves Archaeologists with Mystery”  and “RARE DISCOVERY OF 1,500-YEAR-OLD BRONZE COINS IN GREEK HARBOR PUZZLES SCIENTISTS”.  Archaeology magazine and Neos Kosmos toned down mystery and exception with more descriptive titles  “1,500-year-old bronze coins found at Greek harbour” (Neos Kosmos) and “Coin Hoard Unearthed Near Corinth’s Harbor” (Archaeology). According to these reports, the hoard includes coins from as early as the reign of Constantine century and as late as the reign of Anastasius, so it is interesting to think about the curation of coins and the longevity of circulation over nearly two centuries–and another reason for a little skepticism about dating excavation contexts from coins alone.

But there should be some bigger and more interesting stories to come out of the work of the LHSP, especially if results are coordinated with those of the LHP. As the LiveScience article reported, based on recent talks at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America and interviews with Paul Scotton and Michael Lerardi, the hoards were found in a putative work yard, which includes slag, iron, a basin, and animal bones. The Neos Kosmos  piece reports the discovery of “two large Roman civic basilicas….Believed to have been government buildings, one dates to all the way back to the end of the 1st century, meaning they are likely from the early Roman colony founded by Julius Caesar.” The work of the LHSLP, which includes survey, excavation, remote sensing, and geophysics, could contribute eventually to outstanding debates about Lechaion and, indeed, about Corinth herself, including: the origins of the harbor and the history of the visible works; the growing importance of Lechaion during the century-long interim period following Rome’s devastation of Corinth in 146 BC; the patterns of land division documented by David Romano dating to the third quarter of the first century AD that point to planned neighborhoods; the role of the harbor and its refurbishment during the visit of the emperor Nero and the reign of Vespasian; the relationship between Corinth and Lechaion in the Roman era; the environment of the famous Lechaion basilica church, an early Christian church excavated long ago by Dimitrios Pallas; and the “abandonment” of the harbor in the Byzantine period (there is an ongoing debate, after all, among geomorphologists and geologists about whether Lechaion was destroyed by tsunami or not, but that’s another story). And I will also note that in a region characterized by archaeological fiefdoms–where individuals, institutions, and ambitions lay claim to particular buildings, sites, and classes of material–it would be a great (touching even) human story if these projects found a way to share their data and build a complementary study of the harbor over the period of a millennium.

So, we can celebrate the finds that make clickbait, but hold out for a better story or two. Not any time soon, mind you, as archaeological study takes years, even decades, and the real significance and results of programs of fieldwork are even then not always obvious.

For more information on the work of the Lechaion Harbor and Settlement Land Project:

Corinth and its Revolution

This recent piece at the Greek Reporter — War and a Greek City: Corinth and its Revolution — discusses Greece’s Independence Day on March 25 from the perspective of the battle between Ottomans and Greeks over and around Corinth in 1822, when “Corinth” was Ancient Corinth, not the modern city to its northeast. News pieces on the 19th century Corinthia are exceptional (in English, anyway), so this one is worth a read. What especially caught my eye was the description of the destruction of Corinth’s countryside in the 1820s:

The failure by the Greeks to hold the city — which would have required only a small force of men in the early stages of the war — had angered independence fighters.

Greek commanders, among them the legendary Theodoros Kolokotronis (called ‘Colocotroni’ by Green) approached from Patras in the west and saw small Ottoman detachments raiding now-abandoned villages on the plain of Corinth.

On July 22, a column of 7,000 Ottoman cavalry and 4,000 infantry rode out to find a scorched-earth landscape, where all edible produce had been destroyed by the Greeks, leaving their forces running out of food.

Between August 4-7, having waited for reinforcements, the Greek forces attacked as the Ottoman commander gave the order for his army to return to Corinth “in great disorder”.

In the narrow mountain passes between Mycene and Corinth the retreating Ottomans’ rear guard was attacked, suffering 5,000 casualties in a few hours.

Twelve-hundred were also killed at the head of the advancing army. Green reports how European volunteers fighting with the Greeks there “expressed astonishment at the tranquil manner in which the Turks, both the infantry and cavalry suffered themselves to be cut down without making the smallest resistance as if they had looked upon themselves as consigned to death by some supernatural power”.

You can read the rest here.

I’ve been working over the last year or so with colleague Kostis Kourelis to document the colony of Greek refugees established by American philanthropist Samuel Gridley Howe at a site known as “Washingtonia,” which was located in the modern village of Examilia on the Isthmus. Howe describes the insecurity and desolation of the countryside after the Greek war of independence and references the battle described above. At some point in the spring or summer, as I have time, I may write more about our work to investigate and locate Washingtonia. You can read more at the idea for the project at Kostis’ blog:

 

Holy Fools in Corinth

Corinth always gets the spotlight this time of year in homilies and op-ed pieces about the significance of Christian Holy Week, especially that three-day period known as the “Triduum,” which begins on Maundy Thursday (celebrating Jesus’ last supper), proceeds to Good Friday (the crucifixion), and culminates in Easter Sunday (the resurrection).

Corinth is front and center in this annual cycle largely because of the disbelief and difficulties of the first Christ followers living in the city in the mid-first century, whom the apostle Paul took time to address in a fulsome letter now known as 1 Corinthians. In Chapter 1, Paul seeks to correct the perspective of some in his community who viewed power, status, wealth, and education as the most important values in shaping and structuring their relationships: Paul highlights, rather, how Christ’s death by crucifixion — the “foolishness” of the cross — turned the Roman world, in its orientation to power and dominance, upside down. In Chapter 11, the apostle deals with division and disorder in community meals by reminding them of Jesus’ words on the night of his betrayal: “the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread….” And in the final chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses disbelief of some in the Corinthian community about the Resurrection of Christ.

The letter itself, then, frames the content celebrated in the Triduum, and Christians today hear plenty of reflections on the Corinthian situation between Maundy Thursday and Resurrection Sunday.

This year western and eastern churches celebrated holy week in quick succession, and western Easter coincided with April Fool’s Day for the first time in 70 years. Many of the Easter homilies and op-eds I read concerned the foolishness of the cross. Among the better ones I read:

A new book on Corinth in Late Antiquity

For some time I have been following alerts that Amelia Brown’s book on Corinth in Late Antiquity is almost out. The publisher, I.B. Tauris still lists it as not yet published, and Amazon shows it will be available for order next month. But Google Books still got hold of a copy and has posted parts of the front matter and introduction in a typically snippety way. Here are the details:

Amelia R. Brown, Corinth in Late Antiquity : A Greek, Roman and Christian City , 2018: I.B. Tauris.

 

The abstract indicates a wide-ranging survey of Corinth in late antiquity:

Late antique Corinth was on the frontline of the radical political, economic and religious transformations that swept across the Mediterranean world from the second to sixth centuries CE. A strategic merchant city, it became a hugely important metropolis in Roman Greece and, later, a key focal point for early Christianity. In late antiquity, Corinthians recognised new Christian authorities; adopted novel rites of civic celebration and decoration; and destroyed, rebuilt and added to the city’s ancient landscape and monuments. Drawing on evidence from ancient literary sources, extensive archaeological excavations and historical records, Amelia Brown here surveys this period of urban transformation, from the old Agora and temples to new churches and fortifications. Influenced by the methodological advances of urban studies, Brown demonstrates the many ways Corinthians responded to internal and external pressures by building, demolishing and repurposing urban public space, thus transforming Corinthian society, civic identity and urban infrastructure.

In a departure from isolated textual and archaeological studies, she connects this process to broader changes in metropolitan life, contributing to the present understanding of urban experience in the late antique Mediterranean.

And the outline of chapters shows a thematic approach oriented around key spatial features of Corinth’s urban topography:

Introduction: Significance, Scholarship and Structure

  1. Landscape and Civic Authorities in Late Antique Corinth
  2. The Forum and Spaces of Civic Administration
  3. Commerce, Water Supply and Communications
  4. Spaces of Civic Assembly and Entertainment
  5. Creation and Destruction of Public Sculpture
  6. Sacred Spaces around the Forum
  7. Sacred Spaces in the City and Corinthia
  8. Fortification Walls: Isthmus, City and Acrocorinth

A couple of appendixes follow.

The book revises Brown’s dissertation. Anyone who knows Brown’s scholarship knows her incredible abilities for crafting narratives through synthesis of a wide range of evidence. This should be a fulsome book that sets the record straight on Corinth in late antiquity and dismisses that outdated old idea of a city in decline. Now someone please send me a review copy.