Corinth Report: Temple E, Southeast excavations 2015, by Rodríguez-Álvarez, Emilio, Lorenzová, Alžběta with additions from Larkin Kennedy (April 21 - April 28)
Collection:   Corinth
Type:   Report
Name:   Temple E, Southeast excavations 2015, by Rodríguez-Álvarez, Emilio, Lorenzová, Alžběta with additions from Larkin Kennedy (April 21 - April 28)
Title:   Final Report Unit 2, Rooms 4 and 6. Session I 2015
Area:   Temple E, Southeast
Site:   Corinth
City:   Ancient Corinth
Country:   Greece
This is the final report for the first session of excavations in the 2015 season for Rooms 4 and 6 of Unit II in the area of Temple E SE. Room 4 was last excavated by A. Rohn in July and August of 1997 (See NBs. 895 and 907). Room 6 was last excavated by S. Rous and R. Worsham in April of 2014, although the southernmost part of it was last excavated by J. Rife and B. Olsen in April of 1996 (See NB. 864 p.57-119). Dr. Guy Sanders (Director) and Larkin Kennedy (Field director) supervised. Alžběta Lorenzová excavated in Room 4 while Emilio Rodríguez-Álvarez excavated in Room 6.

Excavation in Room 4 aimed at exploring any undisturbed graves remaining after the 1990s excavation. In two places, cleaning revealed the bottom of the cut from previously excavated graves 1997-43 (1069.70-1070.70N; 114.35-116.10E) and 1997-13C (1069.25-1069.90N; 114.65-116.25E), as well as the tile bedding for the heads of the skeletons interred in those graves, but not any undisturbed material (cf. NB 895). Alžběta Lorenzová excavated the one undisturbed grave (2015-02) abutting the rubble baulk at the north wall, about 2.25m away from the west wall and 2.20m away from the east threshold of the room. The south side was further bounded by a baulk (1070.80-1070.60N; 118-27-117.57E).

Excavation in Room 6 took place in three specific spots, the south side of NB 864 pit #10, the surface of the south side of the room, and a deposit in the west of the room along the wall (Wall Structure 58), all of which had been identified previously as possibly containing human skeletal remains. The general area of the excavation was delimited by the west wall of the room (Context 58; formerly Wall 13 of NB 864) (1076.94–1083.30N, 117.20–118.12E), and by the east wall of the room (Context 59; formerly Wall 11 of NB 864) (1077.48–1084.33N, 119.64–121.55E) and the associated robbing trench (removal detailed in NB 864). The south boundary was effectively a pedestal surrounding the reused Hymettian orthostate at the entrance to the narthex of the church to the south (1076.5N). The north boundary was arbitrarily established in a line at 1080.20N as excavation focused on the south segment of the room, much of which had remained unexcavated in the course of previous examinations of this area. However, despite its reduced size, work did not take place on the whole surface of the demarcated area.

Goals of the excavation:
Room 4 and Room 6 are grouped in this report since they share common research goals as well as the same problems in addressing them. Although excavation was carried out in the northern and central portion of Room 6 during the 2014 season, the defined area, as well as the whole of Room 4, were last excavated in 1996 and 1997 respectively. The goal for both rooms was to explore a series of features visible on the surface that had the potential of being unexcavated burials cut into the otherwise exposed surface visible in both rooms. As excavation methodology in the 1990’s made use of a grid system with baulks, current consolidation efforts in the Frankish quarter required further excavation according to open area excavation methodology, including the removal of baulks between areas excavated in the 1990’s (e.g. Context 595).

Frankish Period (AD 1210-1450)

Room 4:
During the Frankish period, Room 4 was used as a cemetery. In the 1990s more than 200 skeletons were excavated in relation to this phase of activity (Williams, Snyder, Barnes, Zervos 1998, p. 239). Interments were placed in E-W trenches through the floor of the room, with graves 1997-43 (1069.70-1070.70N; 114.35-116.10E; Context 896; cf. NB 895: 172-175) and 1997-13C (1069.25-1069.90N; 114.65-116.25E; Context 897; cf. NB 895: 83-86) each the western-most burials in two such parallel trenches. Grave 2015-02, a tile grave (Contexts 592, 615, and 623; Cut Context 630; 1071.30-1070.95N; 117.10-116.01E), underlies Graves 1996-17, 1996-28, 1997-4, 1997-5, and 1997-46 (NBs 864, 895). This rectangular grave, oriented E-W, was the earliest (H 85.29m) and easternmost in an E-W trench along the north wall of Room 4. The tiles, mainly broken terracotta and one stone, were arranged in a tent coffin (Context 615; 1071.21-1070.67N; 117.30-116.03E) 1.18 m long x 0.40 m wide. This small size indicates the grave was intended for a small child. At the west end several boulders may also have formed part of the structure. Plaster was present between some tiles and many fragments of white painted plaster have been found in the whole grave, suggesting the coffin was at least plainly decorated. The tiles were arranged in two layers, with flat tiles on the inside (max. dim.: 30x0.24x0.03m) and curved tiles on the outside (max. dim.: 0.18x0.16x0.0.25m). Even though the position of the tiles indicated an undisturbed grave, no skeleton was present in the grave fill (Context 623). In the west end of the grave was a curved pillow tile (at an elev. of 84.53m), propped up from the grave cut with stones and fill. The upper grave fill (Context 592) contained few human bones, most likely related to other, previously excavated burials in the room, and yielded a fragment of gouged sgraffito bowl dating to the second quarter of the 13th century, providing further evidence for the Frankish use of this area as a cemetery.

Room 6:
In the later part of the 13th century, a refuse pit (partially excavated as pit #10 in 1996) was dug in the southern portion of Room 6. It measures 0.90 x 0.45 m. The depth is unknown yet since the excavation conditions of Context 595 (fill of the cut that remained unexcavated in 1996) required work to be ended before exhausting it. This pit also cuts through an earlier pebble surface of the room which remains unexcavated.

After a period of compaction (related to Floor 6 excavated in former seasons), this area was used for burial activity during the late 13th to early 14th centuries (1996-6, Grave 2014-02, Context 621). A cut by Structure 58 during this time period (Context 633; 0.98 x 0.23 x 0.33 m), though presenting a rather irregular shape that required further analysis, contained an accumulation of disarticulated bones (Context 621), both animal and human, though oriented in a NW-SE axis parallel to the wall. A shallow burial (1996-6, NB 864 p.112-113) overlaid this context, the fill of which seems to correspond with the matrix and inclusions from Context 621 (a very soft soil with a mixture of infant and animal bones). The bone pile removed as context 621 is therefore probably related to Grave 1996-6 or Grave 2014-05 (Rous and Worsham 2014).

Room 4:
The nature of Grave 2015-02 conjures more questions than answers. The burial was not disturbed, possibly truncated only on the very edge of the cut, yet not even a disarticulated skeleton has been found. Finds from upper levels were most likely related to other burials (young adult and adult teeth have been found, irrelevant to the currently investigated grave due to the small size) and are probably the result of animal disturbance. The fact the grave was intended for a child is very interesting in combination with the missing corpse. One possible explanation is that this was a symbolic burial. Cenotaphs are common for soldiers who died battling in distant lands and whose families built a mock tomb to honour their memory. Since this grave is way too small for an adult, the child could have died at sea (possibly in a shipwreck), or in the mountains – in both cases it is nearly impossible to retrieve the body for a proper burial. Another option is that the child could have been victim of a highly contagious illness and in that case cremation would be the safer option for the community. The author does not dare explore possible religious reasons to explain the absence of a corpse.

A mock child burial can be considered exceptional. In medieval times, child casualties were common, and common folk would most likely not put the effort and money into building a cenotaph for approximately a 3 year old. On the other hand, although upon examining the size of grave 2015-02, one would instantly call it a child burial, it may have been intended for the cenotaph of an adult, since it would serve only as a symbolic tomb and not as the actual grave. While common for soldiers, cenotaphs may also have been used for merchants during the medieval period, and especially in connection with the Frankish area in Corinth, which was probably wealthy according to other material finds. Therefore it could be a mock burial for a member of a mercantile family who disappeared on one of his journeys.

The above interpretations are based entirely on material remains of the grave 2015-02 (which were very poor in cases of pottery and other small finds), and general characteristics of Room 4 and the Frankish area. Speaking of the graveyard in Room 4, one particular question comes to mind: why, in a heavily used cemetery with over 200 cadavers scattered over the whole room in nearly any position so they could all fit into such a small space, remained an unused grave? If the community using this burial ground have had no problems moving and manipulating the earlier burials, why was this one left undisturbed? It does not seem it was separated from the other graves in any unapproachable manner; was it then left forgotten? Since this grave was earlier than the others, maybe the community had not resolved to disturbing older burials at that point of Room 4 usage, and only started that practice when the number of the dead increased – this observation may be supported by the fact the cemetery was actually subdivided and organized in sections, each for a different family (Williams, Snyder, Barnes, Zervos 1998, p. 242). Relationship between social and economic circumstances and the nature of burials in Room 4 allow yet another view of grave 2015-02 and would deserve further study.

Lastly the dates must be discussed. The church and the row of rooms (A-D) N of the church, starting with Room D (the Frankish “Room 4”) in the east, were constructed in the first third and damaged by the end of the 12th century (Williams, Snyder, Barnes, Zervos 1998, p. 237). At the beginning of the 13th century this section of Unit 2 was partially restored, but the most significant change happened in the mid-13th century, when only the church and Room D continued to be used, serving the new purpose of a grave chapel (Snyder, Williams 1997, p. 21). Destruction of Room 4 is to be dated to around 1300, most likely connected with a great earthquake (Williams, Snyder, Barnes, Zervos 1998, p. 239). Grave 2015-02 probably dates to the very beginning of the Frankish usage of Room 4: the coffin contained a marble tile, and perhaps this stone slab was originally part of the nearby church that underwent reconstruction by the mid-13th century; another grave, excavated in 1997, thus being in the immediately following level after grave 2015-02, contained a similar marble slab (Williams, Snyder, Barnes, Zervos 1998, p. 240). Upon considering the stratigraphical relationships, the overall chronology of the room, and the little pottery that was useful for establishing at least a terminus post quem, grave 2015-02 probably falls to the mid-13th century.

Room 6:
The limited amount of time devoted to excavation this session and the state of the area restricted the outcome of the work. The transition in the excavation methodology from the Wheeler-Kenyon method to Open Area and the time span of almost two decades between interventions in the area made necessary a careful study of former notebooks and reports before resuming work. However, and despite these issues, this limited intervention has been able to link past and present results in the area and provide a more coherent picture of the stratigraphic sequence.

As of the end of Session 1, there are two clearly identifiable layers visible in Room 6. The study of NB 864 seems to indicate that these layers were defined in the past as Floor 5 (Basket 56), a compact dark yellow soil characterised by the presence of major inclusions of shards and stones, and Floor 6 (Basket 62), a compact light yellow soil with no visible inclusions (NB 864, p.117). These surfaces were dated respectively to the 1260-1270 and the middle of the 13th c. The effects of weathering, however, prevent us from establishing a more direct connection, since many of the surfaces and the boundaries of these baskets could have been lost by exposure to the elements. Context 611 could be the surface defined as Floor 7 (NB 864, p.117) that was exposed but left unexcavated in 1996.

The results of this intervention reinforce the chronological interpretation of Floor 6, which covered the burials excavated in the room, given by S. Rous and R. Worsham. They excavated in 2014 a portion of what they interpreted as Floor 6 (Context 90) and dated by pottery to the late 13th–early 14th centuries. Although the original excavators in the 90's dated this floor, based also on pottery finds, to the middle decades of the 13th c., the fill of Grave 2014-02 (late 13th to early 14th centuries) and of Context 621 (4th q. of the 13th c.) support a much later use of the area for burial. Wall 58, against which the later graves were excavated (e.g. Grave 2014 02, Context 621), was constructed not later than the 4th quarter of the 13th century.

Pit # 10 and the burials of the area seem to belong, based on the material recovered, to the same period. The mixture of human and animal bones in Context 621 could be interpreted as an almost simultaneous use of the space for burial and garbage deposition. A possible interpretation of these results is that the area had a primary use as a garbage deposit and that a specific event demanded the area to be re-adapted as a burial ground. But this hypothesis is based only on the limited area cleaned this session with the problems indicated above. Further research in the north sector of the room, which still retains surfaces belonging to later periods, can not only increase the dataset available but also clarify the stratigraphic sequence of the different depositions.

Recommendations for Future Excavation:
Room 4:
Exploring the surrounding area, especially the truncating tile, could yield some more evidence of the early Frankish usage of Room 4. However, one must remember that this room had been thoroughly explored in the 1990s. Cleaning of graves 1997-43 (context 896) and 1997-13C (context 897) yielded pottery, tile, and human and animal bone from the lowest level of fill in the grave cut, but this material was fragmentary and the information available from such scrappy material may be limited. The human skeletal material will be compared to that excavated in the 1990s in an effort to rejoin elements for osteological analysis.

Room 6:
Future work should aim at continuing to stratigraphically unify the whole area of excavation. As the excavation of Context 611 demonstrated, the removal of layers related to exposure and weathering of the area can greatly enhance its interpretation and facilitate correlations between previous and current excavations. As stated above, this context could be a portion of Floor 7 left unexcavated in 1996 (NB 864, p.117). However, the effects of two decades of weathering and trampling affected negatively the visibility of the stratigraphic relationships among context.
Finally, the removal of the layers referred to as Floor 5 and Floor 6 is the next logical step in the stratigraphic sequence, after removal of any burials cut into these surfaces. Finally, Graves 1996-5 (Basket 63) and 1995-2 (Basket 60) (NB 864 p.107) require further examination in order to assess whether these burials were completely excavated.