Corinth Report: Nezi Field excavations 2013, by Alison Fields, Jessica Lamont (June 23 - June 24)
Collection:   Corinth
Type:   Report
Name:   Nezi Field excavations 2013, by Alison Fields, Jessica Lamont (June 23 - June 24)
Title:   Session 3 2013 White: Late Classical to Frankish Strata in NE Nezi Field
Area:   Nezi Field
Site:   Corinth
City:   Ancient Corinth
Country:   Greece
Alison Fields and Jessica Lamont
Team White, Session 3
Nezi Field Excavations Interim Report
Area 1: N-S 1016.05-1011.70, E-W 274.18-278.91
Area 2: N-S 1009.51-1005.94, E-W 278.90-271.47
May 27-June 14 2013

This is the final report for the third session of the 2013 excavations in the northeast area of Nezi field. Guy Sanders (director) and Rossana Valente (field director) supervised. The white excavation team consisted of Alison Fields and Jessica Lamont (recorders), Athanasios Notis (foreman and pickman), Tasos Kakouros (pickman), and Vasillis Kollias (shovelman and barrowman).

The excavation consisted of two separate areas: Area 1 was bounded to the north by wall 5334, to the east by walls 1137 and 1138, to the south by wall 851, and to the west by wall 746, and began at H 86.28 m. in elevation. Area 2 was located due south but contained no physical relationship to Area 1. Area 2 stretched from N-S 1009.51-1005.94, E-W 278.90-271.47, and began at H 87.21 m. in elevation.

The goal of this session was to explore the final traces of early Byzantine activity in the excavation area, and to further illuminate the Late Antique/Late Roman levels. The initial aim was to gain a better understanding of the Late Roman/ Late Antique occupational activities in the area. However, excavation of these Late Antique levels exposed a good amount of earlier material, including a puzzling section of Late Classical/Early Hellenistic interior space, possibly containing evidence of ritual activity.


LATE CLASSICAL (4TH CENTURY B.C.E.): the Room with the Posthole Feature

A small section of a Late Classical (4th century B.C.E.) room (floor 1215) and an associated stone posthole feature (1196) are currently the earliest remains visible in Area 1 (both unexcavated). These remains are limited at the north by a Late Roman robbing trench (1178), and at the south by a Late Roman foundation trench (1166), both of which have cut away the original N-S extent of the room. This interior space is represented by a hard-packed clay floor (1215) partially underlying and partially laid up against the western face of the posthole feature. The small deposit to the east of the posthole feature (limited at the east by Wall 1138) was left unexcavated, so the eastern extent of floor 1215 is unknown, but analysis of the north-facing section created by the Late Roman robbing trench (1178) mentioned above does not show a clear continuation of floor 1215 beyond the posthole feature to the east, which suggests that the posthole feature serves as an eastern boundary for our room. The western boundary of the room is unknown as floor 1215 runs underneath a Late Roman wall (746) and outside our area of excavation.

The posthole feature is composed of two cut stones, set at an approximate NW-SE orientation; however, due to the Late Roman disturbances mentioned above, it is possible that the feature might have extended further to the north and/or south. The northern stone measures c. 0.38m L x 0.28m W x 0.14m D; the southern stone measures c. 0.52m L x 0.28m W x 0.19m D and contains a cylindrical cutting, slightly off-center toward the north, with a diameter of 0.185m and depth of 0.19m. The size of the cutting suggests that the stone might have originally supported a wooden column, although no traces of ash or other carbonized remains were found within the posthole, itself. The construction of the posthole feature and floor 1215 appear to be contemporary as the floor runs underneath the northern stone but appears to be partially laid up against the southern stone. While it is possible that the northern stone might have been installed later (after the final construction of floor 1215), the similar masonry style and orientation of the two stones suggests they should be interpreted as a unit.

Adding to our interpretation that floor 1215 was an interior space was the discovery of an embedded vessel nearly abutting the posthole feature at the SW. At some point after floor 1215 and the posthole feature were installed, a circular cut (1216) was made into the floor, c. 0.20m in diameter and .05m in depth, in order to accommodate a nearly-complete Late Classical cooking pot (as Corinth VII.6, III-59), dating broadly to the second half of the 4th century B.C.E. This cooking pot (deposit 1217) was not set on its base, however, but rather upside-down and perfectly vertical, and was thereby embedded beneath the floor from the rim to the shoulder. This curious and intentional placement indicates that the pot had been re-appropriated for a use alternative to cooking.

At some point, perhaps also in the second half of the 4th century B.C.E., a second hard-packed clay floor (1203) was laid c. 0.10m above floor 1215 and was laid up against both the posthole feature and the cooking pot. The continued use of both features adds their significance and indicates a continuation in the use of space. Embedded in this same floor, just ca. 0.30m north of the cooking pot and nearly abutting the posthole feature at the northwest, was a shallow depression (0.35 L x 0.26 W) blanketed with a thin layer of sterile, white clay and filled with ash. Curiously, the ash must have been re-deposited in this feature as the clay itself was unfired. Just under this feature and partially embedded in the clay was a fine bronze pin (MF-2013-19), a bronze ring (MF-2013-21), and a silver gilded pin with a floral design incised onto the head (awaiting conservation, MF-2013-18). All of these prestige objects date to the Archaic period, and were thus retained as heirlooms in this Late Classical context. In the case of both pins, the best comparanda come from Archaic sanctuaries such as that of Hera Akraia at Perachora and Artemis Orthia at Sparta.

The deposit of these prestige objects inside or just below the clay feature, the re-deposition of ash, and the continued use of the upside-down cooking pot—both nearly abutting the posthole feature—suggest this space was the focus of ritual activity. Although the base of the upside-down cooking pot was disturbed by a later robbing pit (1206), we speculate whether a hole might have been cut into the base (top) in order to receive libations concurrently with burned offerings upon the clay feature. In this context, the posthole feature might have served as a focal point, supporting a central, venerated column or monument rather than a beam to bear the weight of the superstructure of a building.

This interior space west of the posthole feature might have remained in use for two more phases, represented by clay floors 1195 and 1184; unfortunately any possible relationship they had either with the posthole feature or the venerated cooking pot was obscured by a robbing trench (1198) marking the final use of this interior space.


LATE CLASSICAL – EARLY HELLENISTIC (4TH-3RD CENTURIES B.C.E.)

In the late 4th or early 3rd century B.C.E., the posthole feature was put out of use and covered with a leveling fill or possible surface (deposit 1193, dated by the presence of echinus bowls and a body sherd of West Slope ware). Perhaps contemporary with this surface was a feature constructed of various tiles fragments (1182) embedded in earth to create a square paved unit (55 x 62 x 9 cm). Only the northern and western sides were fully preserved as the south side had been cut by the foundation trench for wall 851 and at the east by a robbing trench (1206). The robbing trench (1206), which was square in shape, ran parallel to the tile feature cutting into deposit 1193 as well. The shape of the cut suggests that the tile feature originally extended to its eastern edge before being robbed out and covered with a leveling fill (1181). The tile feature consisted of 18 tiles pressed into deposit 1190 at a uniform elevation; the tiles, furthermore, were of (at least) three distinct fabrics arranged at deliberate angles, with little earth separating the individual pieces (typically 1-2cm). This careful arrangement of tiles atop 1190 rules out a dumped-deposit, suggesting rather the creation of a possible surface. Notably, the earth packed around and under the tile feature contained a high concentration of carbonized remains, including many fragments of what appear to be whole olives (awaiting archaeobotanical analysis).

Interestingly, the tile feature (in its original state) was constructed directly over the area which had contained the embedded cookpot, the clay feature, and the posthole feature (although separated from these by two other floor levels, 1195 and 1184); furthermore, directly overlying the tiles were several joining fragments of a Classical perirrhanterion, suggesting that this area continued to be a locus for ritual activity into the 3rd century B.C.E. Perhaps the tile feature served as a surface for the perirrhanterion. Furthermore, the possible related surface to the east, 1193, contained several fragments of miniature vessels, possibly of a votive nature, providing further evidence for ritual activity in the area. The tile feature and deposit 1193 represent the last clear strata of ritual activity, however, as this level was then filled with two distinct leveling fills, 1181 and 1179, with no discernable features or remarkable finds.

It is interesting that this ritual activity was concentrated in the same area from the Late Classical period down into the Early Hellenistic period. This quiet interior space and ritual transcended the political turbulence that marred Korinth in the late 4th century BCE. The most contested of battlegrounds, Korinth hosted the armies of Phillip II and his son Alexander (338-323), the Antigonids (323-308), the Ptolemies (308-304), and then, under Demetrios Poliorketes, a second period of Antigonid hegemony. Confronted by chronic war and (forced) foreign rule, it is possible that this ritualized space, which had definite roots in the Classical period, served as a discreet assertion of longstanding Greek identity in the face of a new, Macedonian regime.


LATE ROMAN (5TH-6TH CENTURIES C.E.)

In the 5th-6th centuries C.E., but perhaps closer toward the mid-6th century C.E., two substantial pits were dug into our area. The first was a robbing trench (1178), which ran east from wall 746. The cut extended from E 276.71 to E 275.07 to a total depth of 1.28 m, at which point the cut reached sterile soil. The original eastern extent of the trench is unknown, as it was truncated by another pit dating to the Early Byzantine era (1163, see below). It is likely that this trench was dug in order to rob out an earlier E-W wall that existed before the construction of Wall 746 as the robbing trench fill (1170) appears to continue below the foundation of Wall 746 toward the west and outside our area of excavation. In addition, the deposits to the north of the robbing trench are distinct from those to the south, which provides further evidence that the deposits were originally separated by some sort of structure. A pre-existing E-W wall running underneath wall 746 in this location would have provided a sharp boundary between the deposits to the north and south and presents the most probable explanation for the different deposition pattern on either side of the cut.

Much of the cultural material recovered from the robbing trench fill (1170) included Archaic-Hellenistic pottery, including the base of an early Archaic aryballos painted and incised with two hoplite figures; two miniature vessels (skyphos and krater); 2 terracotta figurine fragments; and a bronze earring (selection lot-2013-). Perhaps these objects were originally used in the Classical period as votives, within the ritual contexts described above, before being cut away by robbing trench 1178. Although the contents of the robbing trench fill (1170) do not post-date the 1st century C.E. (Early Roman period), we have attributed the creation of the robbing trench to the Late Roman period for two reasons. First, a leveling fill (1168), which was directly overlying the robbing trench fill (1170), was nearly identical to the robbing trench fill in respect to soil color and composition, but contained a rim of African Red Slip Ware, Form 61B. This single sherd would down-date the entire deposit substantially, placing it in the 6th c. C.E. We believe this fill (1168) was part of the same action as the filling of the robbing trench (1170) and served as a subsequent surface. Secondly, at approximately the same elevation and orientation but further to the south (N 1012.81 – N 1012.48), a foundation trench (1166) was cut in order to construct wall 851. The fill for the foundation trench (1164) dates securely to the Late Roman period based on an Eastern Aegean micaceous fabric cooking pot as Hesperia 2005, II-35. The similar orientation and elevation of the cuts suggest they were probably constructed at the same time. Consequently, we believe that the area lacks undisturbed Early-Middle Roman contexts.

It is possible that the removal/destruction of the E-W wall once filling cut 1178—which we believe to have been a robbing trench—happened in connection to a large destructive event, such as the earthquake of 522 CE. After this event, households in the area were dumping debris in various areas (e.g., Nezi Field 2013 Session 1 excavations, contexts 870 and 1040), and likely looking for blocks for reuse and rebuilding. This would explain the chronological discrepancy between the Early Roman pottery of the robbing trench fill (1170), and the Late Roman date of the trench and its leveling fill (1168). With little to no habitation in this area after the Early Roman period, this spot would have been ripe for stone mining after the 522 earthquake. While the pottery could support this in a general way, we are currently reluctant to connect this robbing trench/leveling fill to a single historical event without further excavation.

After this robbing episode, Walls 851, 746, and perhaps also 1138 and the latest phase of Wall 5334, were constructed in order to create an interior space comprising the entirety of our excavation Area 1. The only datable evidence for this construction episode, however, derives from the foundation trench of Wall 851 (mentioned above). Although bonded to Wall 851 with plaster and founded at approximately the same elevation, the construction of Wall 746 left no trace of a foundation trench. The construction of Wall 746 therefore lacks associated pottery. The latest phase (upper two courses) of Wall 5334 at the north also lacked a foundation trench, and the eastern-most wall of our area, 1137, retained no associated deposits as its western face was cut by an Early Byzantine pit (1163). However, the bottom elevation of Wall 1137 (H 85.25m) is relative to the bottom elevation of Wall 851 (H 85.38m). The fact that all four of these walls were founded as approximately the same elevation, and are bonded and aligned perpendicular and parallel to each other, suggests that the space confined by these walls was designed intentionally as a unit, with an entryway at the SE (between Walls 851 and 1137).


EARLY BYZANTINE (610-802 C.E.)

In the late 7th-8th centuries C.E., the interior space confined by the Late Roman walls mentioned above became the location for a massive destruction dump. Here, abutting wall 5334 at the north and 1137 at the east, a large pit (1163) was constructed (2.55 x 2.06 x 1.55 m; 1015.38 N, 1013.74 S, 278.11 E, 276.73 W). The cut for the pit reached a total depth of 1.55m, cutting into sterile soil. The fill of the pit (1145) contained ca. 70% inclusions of large coarse building materials, such as tiles, marble, mosaic floor, and storage vessels, which suggests that the pit might have been dug in order to dump this debris after the destruction of a nearby building.

The latest datable feature in Area 1 is Wall 1138, which is a solid block of plaster foundation aligned N-S and resting on a single course of stone. These foundations abut Wall 851 at the east. Although the structure is lacking a foundation trench and thus all datable material, its construction cut through our Early Byzantine pit at the south, placing the date for the construction of the wall to the 8th century C.E. or later.


LATE BYZANTINE (1059-1210 CE)

Excavations in our southernmost area (N-S 1009.51-1005.94, E-W 278.90-271.47) illuminate activities during the Late Byzantine Period, during which this expanse functioned primarily as a dumping ground. Almost all deposits with few exceptions were characterized by large and diverse inclusions such as iron slag, broken tile, pottery (predominantly burnt, broken coarse and cooking ware), rocks, shell, and large bones (jawbones, ribs, etc.). This area contains two pits: a large, late 11th c. CE pit to the east, and a later (mid-late 12th c. CE), smaller pit to the west. The smaller pit (Cut 1229) cuts the topmost level of the larger pit (Deposit 1244, in Cut 1245) and thus postdates it.

Most striking in this area is the large pit east of Wall 746 (Cut 1245, N-S 1008.95-1006.39, E-W 277.94-275.39). This pit is square in shape but has rounded edges, and appears to have been cut into a reddish soil visible on the pit’s eastern edge (unexcavated). Measuring 2.7m. L x 2.3m. W x 1.34 m. D, the fill of this pit was excavated in several baskets, created arbitrarily to monitor changes in ceramics relative to elevation. Of particular interest from this pit were the substantial amounts of Byzantine White Ware, painted and glazed in the Polychrome technique. The presence of White Ware Polychrome (Type I & II) cups and plates within four levels of the pit (Deposits 1214, 1234, 1238, 1241) offers new evidence in support of an 11th-early 12th c. CE chronology for the ceramics (as per G. Sanders, 2001, “Byzantine Polychrome Pottery,” pp. 89-104.) In the lowest level of the pit, furthermore, sherds of White Ware Polychrome were found alongside Slip Painted Ware, perhaps explaining the resemblance in shapes between this late regional style.

This big pit continued in use for a long period of time; accordingly, few architectural or large-scale building debris were found, suggesting that this pit was not cut after a single episode or destruction. Rather, at all elevations the pit contained striking amounts of iron slag (over 100 circular slag amalgams, possible “hearth blooms.”) The large presence of iron slag throughout the pit suggests metalworking activity in the area; possibly these highly ferrous deposits are related to Byzantine industry, such as the nearby lock-production. One specimen, containing vitreous blue glass within the slag amalgam, may also suggest nearby glass production. In either case, this area functioned as a dumping grounds for large amounts of metal waste, in addition to organic and rubble debris.

After the full excavation of this pit (Cut 1245), we determined that it was cut in the late 11th century CE, and continued to function until the first half of the 12th century CE when it was put out of use. Despite encountering a few pieces of Frankish fine ware pottery in the bottommost and topmost levels of this pit (Deposits 1244 and 1234, respectively), we interpret these sherds as contaminants from beyond the pit’s southernmost boundary, accidentally breached by our workmen. Likely cutting Pit 1245 was a later Frankish pit further to the south, running under our southernmost scarp. The Frankish sherds emerging in contexts associated with Pit 1245 are thus contaminants, coming from a breach of this later, Frankish context.

Our chronological interpretation of this area—which we date to the Late Byzantine rather than the Frankish Period—can be tested by future excavation of the reddish soil into which Pit 1245 was cut. A substantial deposit is extant to the east of Pit 1245, and a smaller deposit can also be found east of Wall 746, into which the NW part of Pit 1245 was cut. This deposit should be contemporary with or earlier than the late 11th century CE, as it was cut by pit 1245 and filled with debris during the Late Byzantine period. If, however, excavation of this orange earth deposit reveals Frankish pottery, then pit 1245 and its associated deposits (1234, 1238, 1241, and 1244) must be Frankish, too. Further excavation under the southern scarp should also bring to light Frankish activity, namely the deposit(s) into which our pickmen scratched while excavating 1234 and 1244.

Finally, the excavation of these pits revealed the southern extent of Wall 746, which by the Late Byzantine period was used as the western, sub ground-level retaining wall for Pit 1245. It was covered over completely in the mid 12th c. CE by the latest fill of Pit 1245.


FRANKISH PERIOD (1210-1458)

The same southern area described above (N-S 1009.51-1005.94, E-W 278.90-271.47) exhibits continuity of function into the Early Frankish period, continuing to be used as a dumping ground for debris and organic waste. All strata feature large inclusions such as tile, rough stones, bone, ceramics, shell, etc. in large quantities.

Our latest levels (Deposits 1219, 1212, 1221) date to the Frankish period on firm ceramic grounds, but still feature sherds of Byzantine fine ware. It is likely that in these deposits, we are glimpsing the transition between the Late Byzantine and early Frankish Periods. This scenario serves as a reminder that the material culture at Korinth did not alter instantly in the wake of the Fourth Crusade; the change was gradual. The ceramic record reveals more of an ease into the Frankish era, with vessels categorized as “Byzantine” being used well into the mid-late 13th century CE.
If politics changed overnight, it appears that the ceramics—and likely other aspects of daily life—did not.


RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE FUTURE:

1. Contiguous excavations south of Wall 851 to determine whether contexts 1196, 1215, 1216, 1217, 1203, 1197, 1195, 1184, 1198, 1194, 1190, 1182, 1206, and 1181 have parallel strata to the south.

2. Excavation below floor 1215 and stone feature 1196 to determine whether ritual activity predates the Late Classical period, and how early continuity can be established.

3. Excavate the deposit immediately east of stone feature 1196 to determine whether the stone feature marked a boundary, or whether the interior space (and associated ritual activities) continued as a related context.

4. Excavate west of Wall 746 to expose the foundation trench and the strata through which it cuts, and whether the interior ritual space and floor 1215 continues to the west.

5. Excavate south of the southernmost scarp, and east of Pit 1245 into the red-soil deposit to more firmly secure the chronology of Pits 1245 and 1229.