1996 Preliminary Report

With a permit from the Ministry of Culture and the assistance of the Fourth Ephoreia of Classical and Prehistoric Antiquities (Nafplion) and the Sixth Ephoreia of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Antiquities (Patras), The Ohio State University Excavations at Isthmia carried out a program of study and research at Isthmia for the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, from 14 June to 14 August 1996. Funding was supplied by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, The Ohio State University, and many private donors. Special thanks are due to Ms. Zoe Aslamatzidou of the Fourth Ephoreia, Ms. Konstantina Skarmoutzou of the Sixth Ephoreia, and Ms. Maria Pilali and Professor W.D.E. Coulson of the American School of Classical Studies.

Research this year again focused especially on the Roman Bath to the north of the Temple of Poseidon. Architectural study and recording was coordinated by Fikret Yegul of the University of California at Santa Barbara, assisted by Omur Harmansah of the Middle Eastern Technical University. The full architectural documentation of the building was virtually completed, including inking of a total of eleven detailed sections through the Bath, all done at a scale of 1:50. Substantial quantities of soil from previous excavations were removed from the western side of the Bath, allowing more detailed study of the decoration and heating system in this part of the building. Ms. Jane Philipp of the University of Minnesota pursued her study of the decoration of the interior of the Roman Bath, with this year's work focusing on the marble used in the building. As a result she was able to identify a large marble basin that must have stood in the southern apse of Room IX, the fist piece of bath furniture to be discovered in the building. She has to date been able to identify, aside from the standard white, some ten different types of marble, including cipollino and flor di pesco from Euboea, verde antio from Thessaly, breccia di Settebasi from Skyros, Proconnesian marble from the Sea of Marmara, Docimion white and pavonazzetto marbles, africano from Teos on the western coast of Asia Minor, and breccia corallina from Bithynia. Study of some 6462 fragments of colored marble from Room IX has already provided important information, not only about the original opulent decoration of the room, but also of its condition when the vaults of the building collapsed at the end of antiquity.

Professor Yegul had already raised the question of whether the extant remains might not represent two major construction phases, both probably in the second century after Christ. Further investigation of the architecture as well as the finds discovered in excavation seem to confirm this idea. We wish to thank Drs. Kathleen Slane and John Hayes for assistance this year in examining the pottery from selected areas of the Roman Bath.

Research also continued in the area of the so-called East Field, east of the Temple of Poseidon, partially excavated by Professor Paul Clement for UCLA in 1970-1972. Central to this investigation is an electronic "plan" of the area, created largely by Ms. Kathryn Connor of Mount Holyoke College. This plan shows some 185 individual walls in this area, divided into at least nine different construction techniques. Detailed consideration of the areas where excavation has already been carried out shows several periods of construction and use. Tentatively, these suggest an original construction phase in the middle years of the second century after Christ, with major rebuildings in the mid-third, fifth, and seventh centuries. It is still not possible to elucidate the precise function of the buildings in this area and their relationship to the sanctuary itself, although progress toward this end has clearly been made and we are in the process of compiling a preliminary report on the excavations in the East Field.

Conservation at the site was undertaken by Ms. Nancy Buschini of Harvard University and Ms. Blanche Kim of the University of Delaware. Progress was made in the conservation of ceramic material and in the proper storage of all classes of objects, along with the enhancement of our conservation database and further plans for long-term conservation of all material excavated by the OSU/UCLA teams over the years.

Conservation of the monochrome mosaic in Room VI of the Roman Bath was essentially completed during the 1995 season. Work during 1996 was carried out by Panagiotis Elias, assisted by many members of our staff. This concentrated largely on repairs necessitated by damage during the winter and consolidation of the sides of the mosaic. Some conservation remains to be done on the interior of the mosaic. We await approval of our request to erect a roof over Room VI of the Bath to protect this important monument.

Center of Panel restored
The central panels restored

An important innovation this year was the inauguration of the Hexamilion Spolia Project, a joint undertaking carried out in conjunction with the Sixth (Byzantine ) Ephoreia and the University of Chicago Excavations at Isthmia. This project seeks to identify, describe, photograph, draw, and study all ancient blocks that were built into the Hexamilion, the early medieval wall across the Isthmus of Corinth, either at the time of its original construction in the fifth century AD or later. Although the primary goal for the first year of project was development of procedures for the identification and recording of the spolia built into the wall, two teams were at work in the field for most of the season and a total of some 200 blocks were identified, described, photographed, and drawn. These teams were led by Frederick Schultz (Ohio State University) and Jon Frey (University of California, Berkeley). It is expected that this project will result in significant new information about the ancient buildings in or near the Sanctuary, as well as those from elsewhere on the Isthmus of Corinth.

In addition to these projects, work was carried out on a number of detailed individual studies of considerable significance. These included examination of the medieval settlement in the area of the Fortress, by Ms. Joan Downs of the University of Michigan, and the human skeletal material by Joseph Rife, also of the University of Michigan. Scott Moore of Ohio State University continued study of the so-called 1969-72 Dump, a group of artifacts numbering over 133,000 which provides considerable information about trade and economic patterns on the Isthmus of Corinth in the Roman period.

Finally, we were able to improve security at the site by construction of two new iron gates, one at the entrance to the OSU laboratory area, the other at the east entrance to the Roman Bath.

As always, thanks are due to every member of our staff, and especially to Richard Rothaus, Assistant Director, and P. Nick Kardulias, Field Director.

Timothy E. Gregory
September, 1996