Contextual Analysis: July 8-12, 2007
While architecture and decoration traditionally received most attention on the excavation of ancient sites, recent studies stress that the full dataset of the artifactual evidence within its stratigraphical and architectural context should be incorporated into studies of human behavior in order to reconstruct daily activities and their organization. In these studies, the use of space is examined by describing the contents of rooms and by linking these contents to specific activities. In his recently defended Ph.D., Toon Putzeys proposed a methodology for interpreting artifact distribution patterns in three steps. First, the architectural subdivision of the space should be determined. Second, the degree in which the assemblage as found is representative of the original content of a room should be assessed by examining the formation processes of the archaeological record. Third, the presence or absence of certain functional categories within the archaeological assemblage should be investigated. Using this methodology for contextual analysis on the material from the eastern and western porticos of the Lower Agora several commercial premises could be identified. Both porticos were occupied for the last time during the late sixth-early seventh centuries A.D. During this period, the late first century A.D. porticos had been adapted and divided into a series of smaller rooms.
In the eastern portico, a complex of five interrelated rooms could be identified as a thermopolion or restaurant serving hot drinks. The complex still contained enough abandoned material linked to the occupation of the rooms to attribute different functions to the various spaces. Most objects related to the selling of products such as weights and steelyards and scales were found in the room providing access to the square (8). This room was accordingly interpreted as the retail unit of the complex. The larger room in the center of the complex (4) rather contained objects for the storage (among which a complete amphora, dolium sherds and imported ware), serving (small containers and jugs), and consumption of food and liquids (bowls and dishes). The assemblage of metal objects corresponds with this data. Furnishing elements were most abundant, next to household implements and the handle of an authepsa, a jug for serving hot drinks. Apparently, the assemblage indicates that the space was used for the serving and consuming of hot meals and drinks. A third room (3) apparently served as the kitchen of the complex. The room contained a hearth, while the artefact assemblage points towards food preparation with an almost complete cooking pot and utensils like a grinding stone and a knife. The plant remains of the room contained more grains, seeds of fruit and nuts, and aromatic herbs together with a concentration of leaves from pine and juniper. The seeds probably served as food or to flavor the dishes. The pine needles and juniper leaves were probably brought into the room together with small branches of these trees used for lighting the fire. Among the animal remains, commensal vertebrates like the black rat and the house mouse were proportionally better represented in this space. These animals probably entered the space after abandonment looking for left food remains. The two spaces in the back of the complex seem to have been largely depleted. One of these rooms (6), however, still contained a water-supply system indicating that it might be related to the preparation and consumption of food and drinks in the adjoining room 4. Overall, the archaeological objects give the impression of a mixed commercial/residential context. Apparently, the complex was both a shop and the residence of its owner, as attested in e.g. Sardis. On the other hand, the presence of a larger central room with adjacent kitchen together with artifacts for serving and consuming food and drinks makes the identification of the complex as a thermopolion plausible.
At the western side of the square, contextual analysis allowed to establish the function of several shops encroaching in the former walkway of the portico among which a shop for selling grain or flour and two bars selling food to passers-by. Especially, two shops in the northern corner of the portico contained rich artifactual assemblages. The architecture and content of these rooms seem to indicate that they were mainly used for storage and for food preparation. For this purpose, one of the rooms was provided with a hearth and a cupboard. In addition, in both rooms we found nails for the attachment of shelves in the walls. These furnishings were used to put away goods or ingredients for the meals. The ceramic assemblages retrieved from the two rooms contained a high proportion of vessels for storing (including four complete dolia and several imported and local/regional amphorae), cooking, and serving food. Further, concentrations of animal bones and cereals were found representing leftovers from meals. A supply of running water was available underneath the vault north of the rooms. A constant water supply is one of the main characteristics of bars since water was needed for preparing and cooking the food but especially because water was probably the most important commodity that bars served their customers: wine was only consumed if mixed with (normally warmed) water. The rather large number of coins suggests that commercial transactions frequently took place within the spaces during which these coins easily could have been lost. Other artifactual evidence was limited, as most still usable items were taken along with the inhabitants. The utensils, which were retrieved, however, rather pointed to the carrying out of household activities than to commercial activities. This might indicate that the shopkeeper also used the rooms as a space for living.
The material evidence of the small units encroaching within the east and west porticoes of the Lower Agora indicates that busy commercial-artisanal activity in and around the rooms encroaching on former public space continued up to the seventh century A.D. Apparently, the rooms were during their last occupation phase inhabited and exploited by a middle class of shopkeepers who either owned or rented the rooms.