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July 2003-July 2010InteractiveDig Sagalassos
Athanasios Vionis and Senem Ozdem working on medieval pottery; in the middle, Hannelore Vanhaverbeke

Comparing functional groupings of pottery between a "utilitarian" space (room 1-2) and the main courtyard of the urban mansion (room 13) in early Byzantine times. The former has more remains of food processing, while the latter contains clearly more remains of storage vessels (agricultural production), a fact also noticed in the other courtyard of the house (room 25).

Coarse wares from the medieval occupation of Alexander's Hill
Imported sgraffito ware decorated with hares and wavy lines from the fortress on Alexander's Hill (twelfth-thirteenth century A.D.)

Photos courtesy Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project. Click on images to enlarge.
by Marc Waelkens

Ceramology: July 10-21, 2005

General studies

As in the past, the ceramics of Sagalassos are being studied under the supervision of Jeroen Poblome. At the moment, the team consists of Athanasios Vionis (Leiden University, Netherlands) and Yaprak Ozkonu and Senem Ozden (Istanbul University). One advantage of a long-standing archaeological project, such as at Sagalassos, is that the ongoing fieldwork generates new material every season. Many of these finds consist of pottery of all kinds and periods. This should not come as a surprise considering the fact that the town has been a ceramic production center from Hellenistic through early Byzantine times. Over the years, we developed a specific methodology to process most, if not all the pottery finds within the same season they were found. This results in immediate insights into the chronological development of the excavated areas and the chronological range in occupation of surveyed sites. And it sustains further reflection on production technology and socio-economic aspects of the production, use, and discard of the pottery. The general interpretation of the excavated and surveyed sites also benefits hugely from the immediate results. One logical disadvantage of processing material from ongoing fieldwork, however, is the fact that the time constraints on comparing material from more than one campaign are very real. This implies the danger of concentrating more on newly discovered aspects while neglecting more fundamental avenues of research by allowing a certain degree of repetition of "standard results." Obviously, this implies the danger of concentrating more on newly discovered aspects, at the same time neglecting more fundamental avenues of research, by allowing a certain degree of repetition of so-called standard results. In this way, a sixth-century A.D. assemblage discovered this year would be considered in exactly the same respect as a similar assemblage studied in, for example, 2001. We may be right in doing so, but actually, in every instance of repetition of results, we should be proving our point.

Therefore, this campaign, the ceramological unit of the Sagalassos project is critically re-appraising their results of the past years. We will do this by selecting specific sites that have played a crucial role in the reconstruction of the general archaeology of Sagalassos so far. The first site undergoing this process is the excavation of the urban mansion (Domestic Area), which started in 1995. Deposits found on top of the floor levels of all the rooms excavated so far will be re-examined. By nature, these deposits can represent the final stages of occupation, document the nature of the abandonment process(es), or reflect the first stages of natural and human post-abandonment activities affecting the original composition of the deposits. A critical comparison of these deposits in the various rooms and functional units of the mansion we have excavated can answer questions on how the house was used in its final stages, whether there were different functions linked to specific rooms or whether different groups of families were occupying these spaces, forming logical nuclei of functional pottery assemblages. This type of study can also provide answers to when the house, or different parts of the house went out of use, whether or not such processes can be tied into the historical framework of the town, or rather attest less specific and more general processes of alteration and disturbance. That very few well preserved and nearly complete vessels have been discovered in only a couple of the house's rooms indicates that resolving matters of chronology and functionality will be seriously affected by post-abandonment processes. Obviously, the final interpretation of what exactly happened to the house and its inhabitants cannot depend only on the pottery found during its excavation, but should take into account other material categories, as well as the mansion's building and re-building history. Considering the multifaceted information any pottery assemblage contains, however, our broken bits and pieces can play a strategic role in this critical re-evaluation.

Medieval pottery studies and contemporary life at Sagalassos

A detailed study of the medieval pottery (early twelfth-mid thirteenth century A.D.) from the excavations on Alexander's Hill, where in the two previous years a mid-Byzantine fortress had been partially excavated (see report 2003) started on July 11 by Athanasios Vionis (Leiden University, Netherlands) with the assistance of Yaprak Ozkonu and Senem Ozden (Istanbul University, Turkey). The aim of this pottery study was to determine the character, function, and date of the ceramic finds recovered from the trenches on this hill excavated during the 2000-2003 campaigns. The so-called Alexander's Hill is a flat-topped hill that controls the main southern approach to Sagalassos. Excavations of previous years aimed at identifying past human activity on the hill, especially during the period after the troubled end of continuous urban habitation in Sagalassos in course of the seventh century A.D. A basilica-church of the sixth century, along with a crudely built circuit defensive wall and a water-reservoir dated to the twelfth-thirteenth centuries were identified here. The ceramic finds from the trenches shed light on human activities and everyday life in the territory of Sagalassos during the Middle Ages.

The aim of this season's pottery study in the excavation house was the identification of different fabric types and pottery shapes. Our post-Roman ceramic assemblage consists of undecorated coarse wares of daily use, such as cooking pots, small bowls or cups, jugs, jars, and storage containers (pithoi). Decorated tableware mainly comprises yellow- and green-glazed large dishes with incised (sgraffito) decorative motifs (hares and wavy lines), imported from the Aegean region. All pottery sherds were consequently entered into an electronic database according to fabric types and ceramic forms. Fragments from some 30 vessels were joined together by the conservation team, providing a fine example of pottery in use during the medieval period. On the basis of pottery shapes and lead-glazed ceramics, our assemblage (found in association with coins) can be dated between the early twelfth and middle thirteenth century.

The greater percentage of coarse wares from Alexander's Hill is noteworthy. Imported glazed tableware evidently comprises only a tiny proportion, and most of it bears signs of repair after the pot was accidentally broken. This may indicate that these ceramics were items of value and that the community living on Alexander's Hill during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries had limited access to trade of lead-glazed decorated pottery. However, the strategic position of Alexander's Hill and the identification of a medieval defensive wall and a large water cistern should be noted. Similar contemporary structures (cisterns and churches on hilltops fortified with crudely built circuit walls) of the same nature found on the Aegean islands provide a good parallel to medieval Sagalassos. Therefore, we could assume that a military group that controlled the wider territory of Sagalassos most possibly occupied Alexander's Hill, protecting a number of dispersed villages from the arriving Selcuks in this part of Anatolia.

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