Thursday, February 25, 2016


William R. Caraher, R. Scott Moore, David K. Pettegrew, Pyla-Koutsopetria I: Archaeological Survey of an Ancient Coastal Town. Archaeological Reports, 21. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research, 2014. Pp. xvi, 330. ISBN 9780897570695. $79.95.

Reviewed by Catherine Kearns, Stanford University (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

In a review that took the pulse of Mediterranean survey around the year 2000 for the volume Archaeological Field Survey on Cyprus, John Cherry noted that Cypriot surveys, since the days of Hector Catling in the 1950s, have shared at least one characteristic: the majority of project directors "have been prehistorians first and foremost" (pg. 27).1 It is refreshing, a decade later, to see that imbalance partly shifting in this volume of the Pyla Koutsopetria Archaeological Project (hereafter PKAP), a survey whose directors draw from a mixed background of specialties in the first-millennium BCE and CE periods. PKAP's publication has the additional benefit of elucidating the diverse landscape practices of a region in eastern Cyprus that tends to be pigeon-holed with a singular (but fascinating) Late Bronze Age site, Pyla Kokkinokremos. For these reasons, the volume under review is a welcome and exciting addition to the ongoing development of survey on Cyprus and to the archaeology of its landscapes.

The volume consists of seven chapters, which present the premise and methods of the survey project, a catalogue of finds, the spatial and chronological evaluation of the data, and final syntheses. Due to the timing of the publication, this volume could not include, regrettably, several of PKAP's central objectives— a study of the local geomorphology, the results of geophysical survey, and material excavated throughout the survey area—all of which are set to appear in a second volume (pg. 5).

The first chapter briefly lays out PKAP's raison d'être, centering in on the concept of the micro-region as a conduit for investigating survey methodology, the dynamics of town and country, religious landscapes, and connectivity (as conceived by Horden and Purcell 2), via a 100 hectare stretch of coastal plain near the village of Pyla, on Cyprus' Larnaca Bay. These themes are couched in terms of critical debates in Mediterranean archaeology, and the authors' goals are to illustrate how pedestrian survey material—despite the problems of visibility, of the stochastic appearance of materials, or of the variability in field walkers, to list a few—can successfully participate in and even frame discussions of ancient landscapes. The introduction thus places considerable emphasis on the benefits of intensive survey as "an obvious choice to record the function and chronology of this stretch of coastline" (pg. 5), and it is within the presentation and legitimation of this methodology that the volume's contribution resides.

The strength of the directors' expertise in survey work is best exemplified in the next two chapters, which cover the objectives behind high-resolution distributional survey and the evaluation of methods for estimating artifact representation. Chapter two outlines this theoretical and methodological framework, which includes justifying the choice of distributional methods as opposed to site-based ones, describing the four survey zones, and explaining the system of chronotype collection. This scheme, developed in projects like the Sydney Cyprus Survey Project (SCSP) and the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (EKAS), aims to combat the inefficiency of large-scale projects by producing more data for less analysis: nested chronological and descriptive typologies allow field walkers to collect only one representative (body, rim, base, handle) sample of artifact type, reducing the material that needs to be stored. The authors note that these strategies have been criticized for not producing reliable quantitative data, but less acknowledged here are the charges that chronotype data cannot be compared easily with other projects' data, restricting the type of side-by-side comparative regional analysis championed in recent years.3 Despite concerns of inter-project compatibility, the authors spend ample time highlighting the intra-survey queries that are possible with this type of sampling method. The chapter ends by pointing to an interesting preliminary geomorphological assessment that reveals a natural embayment, now infilled, which would have formed a harbor for populations living in the Pyla area.

The authors point to their personal training on survey projects in the eastern Mediterranean (most notably the EKAS and the SCSP mentioned above) as relevant background for developing their research goals and survey strategies (pp. 7, 20-21). This self-reflexivity highlights the important interdisciplinary reasoning behind PKAP's framework and sampling methodologies. Yet it also seems to distance the project from the island's rich history of archaeological survey, alluded to above. A more substantive framing of PKAP's relationship with earlier survey work on Cyprus in these initial chapters, for example, would have helped set the stage for the broader impacts of the project's findings, which the authors write as marking "a whole new chapter in presenting the history of the micro-region of Koutsopetria in terms of the surface remains" (pg. 10; e.g., given that the majority of regional projects on Cyprus have been oriented towards research questions related to prehistory, the members of PKAP are especially well positioned to discuss and compare survey analysis of 1st millennium landscapes). The direct relationship between surveys and salvage work on Cyprus since the 1950s is also noticeably absent from discussions (perhaps related to PKAP's position within the Dhekelia Cantonment and British-controlled sovereign base). More importantly, this type of historiography would shed necessary light on the theoretical value of the authors' chosen concept, the micro-region, a term which does not fully describe the three eroded plateaus of the Pyla littoral under investigation (and a term which appears, confusingly, with and without quotations). We learn that the authors frame micro- regions ecologically, following Horden and Purcell, and see them as having a "discrete nature" (pg. 20), but the shape of the material and historical nature of the micro-Pyla-region lacks articulation, without the presentation of the local landscape or ecology (appearing in the second volume).

In the third chapter, the authors provide a detailed description of the methods and results of experiments aimed at understanding the representation of "actual" artifact density on the surface. Owing to the pervasive habit of surveyors to self-consciously question and critique the intensity of methods, these experiments have become de rigeur. Perhaps not surprisingly, the authors argue that higher intensity total collection ("hoovering" 5% of a 40 x 40 meter unit) does indeed produce higher total density of artifacts recovered, at greater resolution, than pedestrian walking (covering 20%).

The fourth chapter presents all of the catalogued finds, moving from ceramics to figurines, inscribed sling bullets, lithics, and ground stone. Descriptions of each item are given and in some cases, published comparanda. Important discussions on the methods of describing Cypriot materials are included in each section as are concluding remarks on the relationships between the Pyla assemblages and trends seen across the island.

The fifth chapter traces the chronological and spatial distribution of the recorded finds and suggest trends in the diverse occupations and uses of the Pyla littoral since the Bronze Age. Readers will gain a more clear understanding of the chronotype system at work, as artifact counts are analyzed in terms of either broad chronological ranges, such as "Ancient Historic" (ca. 750 BCE to 750 CE), or narrow sub-periods, such as the Cypro-Geometric (here, ca. 1050 to 751 BCE). The authors conclude that wider temporal ranges possess less diversity in terms of fabrics or types, while narrow ranges inherently demonstrate greater diversity based on identifiable characteristics, most often recognized through painted fine wares. This acknowledgement naturally leads to a discussion on differential visibility (pp. 138 ff), on account of the greater diversity of some periods' material (in Pyla's case, the Roman and Late Roman), and the "hiddenness" of others'.4 A detailed breakdown of artifact wares by period and location follows, presenting shifting patterns in occupation from the Bronze Age to the modern era, which will be especially helpful for those interested in the findings for a particular period.

Chapter six describes features such as walls and concentrations of building materials. In some cases, the presence of numerous large limestone or gypsum blocks suggests original placement for built forms, possibly monumental, while in others the authors argue for displacement and secondary use. The project also excavated Classical-Hellenistic fortification walls on the coastal ridge of Vigla. While the full report on those excavations will appear in the second volume, the authors note that both the Vigla fortifications and those excavated nearby at Kokkinokremos indicate the local, iterative creation of apparent defensible structures on a likely strategic embayment over the course of the first millennium BCE.

The seventh and final chapter will be of most use for those focused on the long-term political, social, and economic relationships between the Pyla region and the rest of the island. It is here, for example, that we learn how the coast around Pyla (i.e., "Gates") sat near important routes linking cities like Kition and Salamis, as well as probable routes heading to the island's central Mesaoria plain and to the copper-rich foothills of the Troodos mountains. Picking up the five themes outlined at the beginning of the volume, this last chapter sets out to explore the survey evidence for town-country dynamics, regional trends, religious landscapes, and Mediterranean connections. Although conclusions drawn from survey material can often seem conjectural, especially for periods with less surface representation, the chapter nicely rounds out the volume and poses interesting questions for studying the region's diachronic practices.

The maps, satellite imagery, and photos, in black and white, are clear and legible; since the data are all presented in-text in tables, there are no appendices. The project does, however, have its data openly available online, a commendable feature. I did note a few points at which the authors address material with little clarification, or with confusing misspellings: is the "Kalavasos Valley Project" mentioned (pg. 19) that of Todd, the Vasilikos Valley Project,5 or that of Rautman, the Kalavasos Kopetra Project?6 The name of a ridge is spelled as Koukouphouthkia on initial maps (pp. 24-25), as Koukouphoukthia (pg. 44), and as Koukoufouthkia (pg. 46, 272). Finally, despite the chronological breadth of the directors' expertise, the diachronic range of the survey is at times underdeveloped, due to the project's central focus on the Late Roman occupations of Koutsopetria. While it was not the prerogative of the project directors to write an entire prehistory of the area, the story of the landscape seems to develop in medias res at the end of the second millennium BCE, because of the focus on Late Bronze Age Pyla Kokkinokremos.

This volume represents a significant contribution to the published survey data for Cyprus, and the authors' straightforward discussions of the region's material will form a critical and methodologically rigorous reference for those interested in the region or in island-wide trends. PKAP's work certainly fills a gap in our understandings of first-millennium CE landscapes for the eastern coastal areas of Cyprus. The in-depth discussions of sampling and grid strategies will also be a great resource for scholars and practitioners of Mediterranean survey more broadly. Readers must wait for the project's second volume to provide a more fleshed-out picture of the Pyla littoral (which can often be the case with survey publications!); nevertheless, PKAP places a lesser-known landscape in a prominent position and provides robust material for future investigations.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – Introduction
Chapter 2 – Intensive Survey
Chapter 3 – Survey Data and Experiments in Sampling
Chapter 4 – Catalogue of Finds
Chapter 5 – Artifact Distributions
Chapter 6 – Features in the Landscape
Chapter 7 – Historical Conclusions


1.   Cherry, J. 2004. Cyprus, the Mediterranean, and survey: current issues and future trends. In M. Iacovou (ed), Archaeological Field Survey on Cyprus: Past History, Future Trends, pp. 23-35. (London).
2.   Horden, P. and N. Purcell 2000. The Corrupting Sea: a Study of Mediterranean History. (Blackwell)
3.   Alcock, S.E. and Cherry, J.F. 2004. Side-by-Side Survey: Comparative Regional Studies in the Mediterranean World. (Oxbow). See also James Muhly (BMCR 2006.09.14).
4.   Bintliff, J. et al. 1999. The hidden landscape of prehistoric Greece. JMA 12: 139-168.
5.   Todd, I.A. 2004. Vasilikos Valley Project 9: The Field Survey. (Paul Åströms Förlag).
6.   Rautman, M. (ed) 2003. A Cypriot Village of Late Antiquity: Kalavasos Kopetra in the Vasilikos Valley. (JRA)

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