Monthly Archives: November 2015

The Portuslimen Project. Geophysical Survey and Fieldwalking at Ephesus

One of the more constraining factors of geophysical survey in an archaeological context is the potential difficulty in dating or phasing anomalies in the data. Although hard science forms the main component of survey work, there is a large subjective element involved in the interpretation of geophysical survey data, which ultimately can decide the nature, function and phase of features. Our interpretation sometimes belies the complexity of the archaeological remains in question (issues relating to survey resolution and the nature of deposits can affect this) and this is particularly true of the different phases of construction and occupation at a site. Complementary information on the phases of deposits represented in geophysical survey data can be provided through surface collection and recording over the survey area, and this integrated approach to archaeological survey is particularly pertinent to the recent Portuslimen survey conducted at Ephesus.

In August and September of 2015 a small team of archaeologists from the University of Southampton travelled to Ephesus in Turkey, to take part in the season of fieldwork run by the Österreichisches Archäologisches Institut (ÖAI). The ÖAI has conducted archaeological research at Ephesus for 120 years (http://www.oeai.at/index.php/grabungsgeschichte.html ), and for the last 16 years has conducted geophysical survey across the site, with work directed by Dr Sirri Seren of the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (https://www.zamg.ac.at/cms/en/news). The Portuslimen team were invited to look at some very specific areas of the ancient site and landscape, namely the areas of the inner and outer Roman harbours, and the surrounding landscape of the river. The aim of the survey was to add to the areas already surveyed by the ÖAI, and to address the development and possible phasing of the harbour complexes of ancient Ephesus. The team comprised the author, together with Dominic Barker, Ben Urmston, Jack Pink and Jack Frowde.

Panoramic view of the area of the outer harbour and river as seen from the promontory

Panoramic view of the area of the outer harbour and river as seen from the promontory

 

Magnetometry being undertaken at the inner harbour

Magnetometry being undertaken at the inner harbour

To address these aims the team utilised fluxgate gradiometers, with gridding out and topographic survey conducted using an RTK GPS. Magnetometry was used in a field to the east of the inner harbour of Ephesus, and in fields around the outer harbour and river channel, also on the promontory overlooking the outer harbour.

In addition Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) profiles were conducted at sites along the northern edge of the river channel, across the area of land between the outer harbour and river, and in the area of the floodplain to the north of the inner harbour. These were designed to assess the nature of the deeper sediments associated with the geoarchaeology of the landscape, for comparison with the borehole data collected by the University of Koln.

Although the geophysical survey techniques were deemed appropriate for the conditions of the site, the broad geographical range of the different survey areas,and the potential variations in phasing for the different results, presented the team with a problem; how to recognise the different periods of occupation in these areas, together with an idea of the character and function of many of the structures. To address these issues, fieldwalking was undertaken over each of the survey areas., utilising the grid set out for the geophysics, and using each of the survey markers as the central point for an area of surface material to be collected and recorded within a a 3m radius.

 

Set out of the survey grid using an RTK GPS

Set out of the survey grid using an RTK GPS

 

ERT survey to the north of the river channel

ERT survey to the north of the river channel

 

Surface collection to the north of the river channel, using the RTK GPS and note-taking

Surface collection to the north of the river channel, using the RTK GPS and note-taking

 

The method of sampling allowed collection of all pottery, with a record of presence and absence of CBM (? meaning )and building material. The collection of surface ceramics provides the diagnostic sherds necessary for establishing the type and chronology of the vessels, while its total collection over a small but standard sample area make it possible to calculate the count and weight of sherds and, thus, the potential ceramic density density in each area.

The results of the survey not only provided some excellent information about structures and port infrastructure in the different areas, but also provided some useful spot-dating of the potential phases of occupation of the areas. On the promontory overlooking the outer harbour a number of pit and gully features were found in the geophysical survey results, matching other surface evidence for Archaic settlement pre-dating the Roman harbour. The results of survey to the north and west of the outer harbour indicated large structures associated with the port, dating to the Roman and Late Antique periods. Finally the survey results to the north of the modern river channel detected structures and a possible canal that, when compared to the surface collection, seem to represent Late Roman and Byzantine phases of the port of Ephesus.

 

Location of surface collection points across the 2015 survey area

Location of surface collection points across the 2015 survey area

 

Roman amphora bases located to the west of the outer harbour

Roman amphora bases located to the west of the outer harbour

 

The results of the season are only preliminary, and further work needs to be undertaken on the data and at the site to fully understand the complexities of the changing harbours of Ephesus. However, a pattern is emerging which seems to indicate a gradual shift in the development of port infrastructure, with activity moving from the inner and outer harbours between the early Roman and Late Antique periods, to a later complex to the north of the modern river between the Late Antique and Byzantine periods. The evidence for pre-Roman occupation in the area is also of interest.

There are obvious caveats about the methodology that we have applied to the site, such as the depth of potential deposits and the nature of material exposed at the surface, which will ultimately affect the dating of material to particular periods of occupation. However, the combined strategy of surface collection and geophysical survey does provide us with a more nuanced data-set than with geophysics on their own, and has already started to raise interesting questions relating to the development and use of this fascinating port complex.

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The Portuslimen Project. Geophysical survey at Tarragona, and the constraints of modern urban areas

Over the past few months of field survey, work has swung around to a series of projects lined to Roman ports in the Mediterranean. In June and July I headed back for a season of excavations at Portus, and in August and September geophysical survey at the site of Ephesus in Turkey (more on this in a future post). In October and November work has commenced on a geophysical and topographic survey of the Roman port area of the town of Tarragona in Catalonia, Spain. The work, together with that of Ephesus, forms part of the Roman Meditteranean Ports (RoMP) project, or Portuslimen (http://portuslimen.eu/). A component of this project involves the survey of a number of port sites, to understand the form and extent of these sites, and help analyse the ways in which they may have functioned through time. The work at Tarragona is being conducted in collaboration with colleagues from l’Institut Català d’Arqueologia Clàssica (ICAC).

 

The modern port of Tarragona, with its harbour, docks and factories

The issue with Tarragona is that the development of the town and port spans from the pre-Roman period, to the establishment of the Roman town in the third century BC, to Late Roman and Visigothic settlement in the 6th, 7th and 8th centuries, and later Islamic influence. Over this time the town and its port expanded and contracted, and archaeological deposits were buried under fluvial deposits from the Francolí river to the west of the port. Later post-medieval expansion of the town, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries saw much of the Roman and later port built over, and a new harbour constructed over the remains of the ancient port. The aim of our survey is to attempt to locate significant structural remins of the Roman port and harbour through intrusive methods. The good news is that a number of areas in the city have been excavated in the past 40 years, which helps in the location of the survey to gain as much as possible from the efforts. The bad news is that, due to the modern town plan, many of the survey areas are constrained by modern buildings and infrastructure. Thus our work has to use some specific techniques to conduct survey in the areas that are available. This includes topographic survey and location of survey grids using RTK GPS and total station survey, and use of GPR and ERT along streets and in plazas to map buried remains.

Set up of the GPS and GPR by the University of Southampton team in the Placa dels Carros

Set up of the GPS and GPR by the University of Southampton team in the Placa dels Carros

 

The GPS base station collecting static data for the survey

The GPS base station collecting static data for the survey

 

Fortunately for the University of Southampton team, the open plazas of the town provided sufficient space for static data to be collected by the GPS base station, and for a series of preliminary stations to be established using the GPS. Where the streets became narrow a total station was used to establish further stations in a traverse around the port area of the town.

Geophysical survey s far has focused on 500MHz GPR, propagating 3-4m below the modern street level to find the buried archaeology. In some of the streets in the northern part of the port area, particularly along the roads close to the Roman baths and theatre a number of walls and other features are visible. As the survey progresses southwards, however, modern infrasructure such as manhole covers, and the nature of the made-up ground close  to the modern harbour, make the results more difficult to interpret. The restrictions in terms of spatial coverage have also provided a challenge in terms of data interpretation.

Total station survey in one of the streets of Tarragona

Total station survey in one of the streets of Tarragona

 

500MHz GPR survey in one of the plazas

500MHz GPR survey in one of the plazas

 

To better understand the geoarchaeology of the site we have been applying Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) to record both archaeology and deeper deposits in the town. The main constraint with this is that the paved areas of the town preclude the use of survey probes (these cannot be dug through cement and Tarmac). Thus we have had to adapt using a system of electrode copper conductors and a conductive gel. Most surfaces will allow an electrical current to be passed through them, but asphalt and Tarmac act as insulators, meaning that for the ERT to work long stretches of cement pavement need to be surveyed.

A conductor formed from crocodile clips, wire and pipe end copper usually used for plumbing.

A conductor formed from crocodile clips, wire and pipe end copper usually used for plumbing.

The ERT profile being conducted adjacent to the Roman theatre

The ERT profile being conducted adjacent to the Roman theatre

 

In spite of our initial misgivings, the conductors and gel, with the ERT equipment, have proved to work very well indeed. The profile alongside the Roman theatre has revealed a number of areas of walls and rubble aligned adjacent to the excavated theatre remains. The team hope to conduct a long profile of ERT in the southern part of the modern port which, together with the boreholes of Ferreol Salomon, will investigate the nature of the harbour deposits.

The survey work is being conducted until 15th November, and there are many features of the topography of the ancient harbour that remain to be discovered, including the line of the Roman seafront and mole.

The bay to the east of the port

The bay to the east of the port

 

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