Report on the 1997 Study Season

Elizabeth R. Gebhard, Director

The 1997 study season at Isthmia included a number of new activities and continued progress on the publication of site materials. The staff included Elizabeth Gebhard, director of the excavations, Frederick Hemans, assistant director, four students from Wichita State University: Katherine Cramer, Lee Dobratz, Jacob Marr, and Veronica Remaly, and Julie Marchenko from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Apostolis Sarris, from the Foundation of Research and Technology in Rethymnon, Crete worked with both the Ohio State University project as well as the University of Chicago project for 10 days in July directing the geophysical survey of the sanctuary. Daniel Geagan, after a long hiatus in his work, spent the months of June and July studying the inscriptions of the Roman period. Martha Risser continued her work on the study of the Classical pottery in May, and Liane Houghtalin continued her study of the coinage for two weeks in June.

Geophysical Remote Sensing

Geophysical survey of the sanctuary at Isthmia is being carried out with the broad objective of defining the major natural and man-made depositional changes throughout the historical periods. The survey in 1997 continues work begun in 1987-88 that was interrupted when our attention turned to large-scale excavations in 1989 and the analysis of the excavated materials in the following years.

From July 3-10, Apostolis Sarris and the U. of Chicago team used an electromagnetic conductivity meter to survey selected portions of the sanctuary. The instrument records soil conductivity to an effective depth of 6 meters, which is ideal for measuring the widely varying depth of deposits at Isthmia, and its ease of use make this a very good option for recording relatively large areas of the sanctuary. Instruments that measure resistivity (the inverse of conductivity) are better at recording shallower soil conditions but are very slow in their application. Surface conditions at Isthmia (fences, electrical lines, and buried pipes) make magnetics/gradiometer readings impracticable. A report on the results will not be completed until December 1997, but a few preliminary results and the reasons for testing each of these areas are described below.

Within the temenos three areas were tested. The first lies northeast of the Temple of Poseidon where the dump for the excavations from 1952-1989 was located until its removal in 1995-96. The area contains a portion of the Greek temenos that has not been excavated. From the conductivity readings we hope to gain information on remains of the boundary wall and any other structures and a more precise definition of the geological formations. As in all the areas tested, the measurements were taken at 1 meter intervals. Based on small test trenches excavated in 1952 the depth of soil is shallow, varying from less than 1 meter to ca. 2.5 meters over an area that slopes from ca. -1.00 to -3.00 meters below the site datum. A total of ca. 800 square meters was covered. The second area lies between the Northeast Caves and the Theater where a gully existed in the late Geometric/early Archaic period that, we believe, was used as a major pathway leading to the central temenos. During the later Greek and Roman periods the gully was filled by a series of terraces that extended the usable surface of the temenos plateau. An area of ca. 230 square meters was measured that we hope will yield information on the depth of the gully and the location of the pathway. The third area, of ca. 800 sq. meters, lies north of the first on a terrace located halfway between the temenos and the Roman bath, at an elevation 8-10 meters below the site datum. Preliminary results seem to reveal the path of the road that descended from the middle of the north side of the temenos plateau from Archaic through early Roman times. The position of the road indicates it sloped downward rather steeply from the temenos and then curved to the east behind the scene building of the Theater in a position that was occupied by the Theater Court during the Antonine period. As yet no indication of a road/path leading to the Greek bath has been found.

Another area of the sanctuary that was tested lies south of the Rachi settlement in the valley that leads southwest from the Later Stadium (Southeast Valley). The area contains several sections of a long wall running along the base of the slope on the south side of the valley that Broneer identified as part of a Mycenaean trans-Isthmian wall (see “The Cyclopean Wall on the Isthmus of Corinth and its Bearing on Late Bronze Age Chronology”, Hesperia XXXV (1966), 346-362, and an addendum in Hesperia XXXVII (1968) 25-35). At the extreme southwest corner of the area lies a curved portion of masonry thought to belong to the wall. On closer inspection of the workmanship and techniques employed, including ashlar blocks, it seems more likely that at least this portion of the wall is of Greek date. The configuration of the entire area with its relatively regular sloping sides, curved wall at the western end, its length of ca. 350 meters, and its close association with the Later Stadium suggest the hypothesis that this portion of the valley may contain the remains of the ancient hippodrome.

In the region described above we were able to collect four long transects of conductivity data. Each transect consisted of three parallel lines 2 meters apart, on which we collected data at 1 meter intervals. The transects were located as follows: 1) a SSE-NNW line through the approximate center of the area including parts of the “embankments” on either side; 2) a line extending SW-NE from outside the curving wall at the SW corner toward the middle of the “track;” 3) one at right angles to 2 cutting through the southern embankment; and 4) running from the center of the Later Stadium over its southern embankment and to the south an additional ca. 100 m. The southern end of transect 4 is a fairly level man-made fill behind the embankment of the stadium that might be an extension of the hippodrome or connected with its use. The data from all these transects consists of approximately 1,200 measurements.

The Marble Lion’s-Head Sima from the Classical Temple of Poseidon

The marble sima from the Temple of Poseidon is one of the finest examples of Greek architectural sculpture from the Classical era. According to the reconstruction drawings by Piet de Jong, there were 78 segments, each ca. 0.74 m. high and 1.48 m. in length with a lion-head spout flanked by palmettes. The majority of fragments are made of a grey coarse-grained marble that Broneer identified as belonging to repairs made to the temple in the 4th century B.C., whereas the original 5th-century pieces were made of Attic or island white fine-grained marble and have distinctively better workmanship. Broneer suggested that a few examples of a third type made of white micaceous marble and of “inferior workmanship” may belong to repairs in Roman times.

Recent study of the damage and repairs to the Classical Temple has called into question the sequence of alterations to the building. As described in “University of Chicago Excavations at Isthmia, 1989: II” (in press) the repairs in Roman times are more extensive than proposed by Broneer, necessitated by damage to the sanctuary and temple ca. 200 B.C. The use of the claw chisel on the limestone blocks is a feature that Broneer used to identify 4th-century repairs to the Temple (after the fire of 390 B.C.), but work by Christopher Pfaff at the Argive Heraion and our investigations of the finishing techniques used on blocks of certainly Roman date in the Isthmian sanctuary indicate that the use of the claw chisel on Corinthian limestone belongs to the Roman era. It has become clear that the sima and other elements of the building need further study to clarify the stages in the history of the temple.

Although Broneer published a catalog of 43 horizontal and 5 raking sima fragments from the Classical Temple (Isthmia I, pp. 150-160) these represents only a relatively small portion of the more than 300 fragments that were recovered. During the 1997 season a preliminary examination of all these fragments was made and ca. 100 additional fragments were inventoried. The grey marble fragments show extensive use of drill work and a toothed chisel, characteristics that might suggest a Roman date. This series includes a large number of palmettes that were carved separately and doweled to the sima below, apparently to save on material. The micaceous white marble fragments were tentatively re-identified as belonging to the same series of carvings as the white marble fragments that Broneer assigned to the 5th-century temple. In addition, a large fragment of a piece that matches a well-preserved sima found in Corinth (Cor. A 832) suggests that at some point a series of pieces that have grossly different dimensions and design were incorporated into the roof with the earlier pieces. The study is still very much in its preliminary stages and additional work will need to be completed in the future.

Reorganization of the Storage Areas

The available storage space on the shelving in the Isthmia apotheke had been filled after the completion of excavation in 1989. Since then a large number of ceramic vessels and other objects have been mended.

Four new bays of shelves, two on north and two on the west side of the apotheke have now been added. Each category of objects was given a designated location, and the materials that need further work are now stored on the on the north and west sides of the room. All the architectural fragments were sorted by building and placed under the shelves (much of it boxed) freeing the space on the north side for working space. New shelf lists have been made and the computer database files updated. In general, our categories of storage resemble their previous arrangement. For reference while using the shelves, there is a map of the apotheke, and a printed shelf list at the end of each bay.

Elizabeth R. Gebhard, Director

Frederick P. Hemans, Asst. Director