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The Chora of Metaponto 3: Archaeological Survey, Bradano to Basento

July 2016 (120.3)

Book Review

The Chora of Metaponto 3: Archaeological Survey, Bradano to Basento

Edited by Joseph Coleman Carter and Alberto Prieto. 4 vols. Pp. 1,648, figs. 481, graphs 3, tables 167. University of Texas Press, Austin 2011. $200. ISBN 978-0-292-72678-9 (cloth).

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This publication, the third in the series on the chora of Metaponto, is a comprehensive compilation of survey work and analysis that spans decades of field research in the territory of the Greek polis. The work aims to trace the use of the territory across nearly a millennium of occupation, from the foundation of the Greek city to Roman occupation. Edited by Carter, the publication includes contributions from numerous scholars and multiple sections authored by Carter himself; it achieves its objectives by presenting results in four exhaustive volumes, including an oversized gazetteer with color maps and photographs (vol. 4). The endeavor encompasses the management and analysis of more than 30,000 artifacts and results in a seminal study of the hinterland of a Greek polis and a valuable record of the changing nature of terrain in the ancient world.

The work’s comprehensiveness allows for individual aspects of both the territory and its use to be isolated and evaluated as factors shaping the hinterland. Accordingly, the first volume is divided into three sections, the first of which (consisting of chapters by Folk and Abbott) approaches the territory from a geological and geoarchaeological point of view and provides foundational information revealing how the natural elements, including access to water, clay deposits used for pottery production, and relative fertility of different regions, influenced settlement distribution. One important question about the geology of the territory regards the “division lines,” which appear across the Metapontino and which form a major theme in the work. First recognized in aerial photography and subsequently the object of intense speculation, they are oriented at N 50 W with uniform spacing of 195–220 m. Folk presents evidence for a geological origin of the lines, suggesting that there is a continuous gradation between natural features and anthropic lines. The division lines have been treated as nearly unique insight into the use of the chora, or the parceling out of the land, but their prominence may reflect natural drainage patterns. Folk challenges the concept of the division lines as borders, noting that they represent extensive work for a simple concept. Carter (ch. 28) reconstructs their presence in the chora as drainage channels that also served as boundary lines; in broad strokes, their arrangement presents an ancient approach to the countryside similar to the divisions within the urban core or asty.

Section 2, “Methods and Analytical Tools,” begins with a presentation of the survey work by Prieto; the initial transect was a swath located between the Bradano and Basento Rivers, approximately 10 km long x 4.2 km wide, and a locus that corresponds to the area of greatest concentration of division lines. GIS methods and considerations are presented in chapter 4 by Dana. The analysis comprised 11,000 records, with sites dated by fine ware artifacts and classified by type: farmhouses and Greek agricultural settlements, necropoleis/tombs, sanctuaries, and combinations thereof. An estimation for the “best date” for a site is produced using the equivalent artifact weight (EAW), which measures the quantity of black gloss pottery within a designated half century. Relative significance of the site is calculated through the final multiple criteria evaluation (FMCE), a weighted system that “takes into account the size of scatter, density of ceramic roof tile scatter and quantities of dateable and un-dateable pottery” (636) and places the site within a 50-year period. Both the EAW and FMCE leave some subjectivity, but the result is a basis of comparison for date and type of site.

Section 3, “Survey Materials and Assemblages,” starts with Swift’s analysis of survey assemblages (ch. 5). Ceramic material dated to a broad Greek period (625–25 B.C.E.) was recovered from 525 sites, of which 484 are identified by site type: farmhouses and Greek agricultural sites (271 or 51% of the total) yielded 69% of ceramics; necropoleis and tombs account for 25% of the sites (133) but contain less than 10% of total ceramics; and sanctuaries constitute just four sites but held 4% of ceramics. Principal ceramic types (e.g., fine wares, plain and banded wares, cooking and storage vessels) were then quantified by site function, the result of which broadly corresponds to, and confirms, the site-type designations applied during the survey; for example, fine ware cups constitute 10% of finds at farmhouses and tombs but twice that proportion at sanctuaries (131), and transport amphoras constitute 2.7% of ceramics at necropoleis, compared to 2% at farmhouses, with the higher proportion indicating their use as grave goods and funerary markers. The majority of the first volume is dedicated to the presentation of individual ceramic classes. Chapter 6, “Archaic and Black Gloss Fine Ware” by Lanza et al., analyzes this most diagnostic category of pottery. Evidence for pottery production is revealed through kiln sites and wasters, including sixth-century wasters of Ionic cups at Cogno del Pero. Evidence for foreign contact is more indirect than direct: imitations of Protocorinthian wares were found, but only one imported Corinthian fragment was recovered. Chapters 7 to 14 present the ceramics by class: grey ware by Vittoria, figured ware by Silvestrelli, plain and banded ware by Vittoria, lamps by Conoci with Vittoria, Greek and Roman republican cooking wares by Gabrieli, archaic to late republican transport amphoras by Swift, terracotta objects by Ammerman, and loomweights by Foxhall. Two fragments of SOS amphoras from the seventh century B.C.E. are the earliest finds, and along with Corinthian A and Archaic Type B, their presence indicates that the chora of Metaponto received goods from central and western Greece in the Archaic period.

The second volume begins with section 4, “Prolegomena to the Settlement of the Chora,” which contextualizes the field survey data while addressing how the survey results relate to evidence from other sites and sources, with the aim to “weave this large body of information into a coherent narrative of the polis from its inception through its decline” (559). This introduces such big-picture questions as the chronology of the settlement of the chora (also relative to the asty) and the continuity of pre-Greek presence in Metapontine territory. Carter concludes that the earliest settlements in the chora are nearly contemporary with that of the asty: five nucleated settlements in the countryside, referred to as Early Village Clusters (562), were recorded, three of which included sanctuary space and therein demonstrate cultural forces binding them into communities. Based on these groups, it seemed that settlers established themselves on choice land soon, if not immediately, after arrival on the Ionian coast. The inland settlements formed quickly in part because the territory was already known. Iron Age settlements are the most relevant here but also the most elusive; evidence for occupation in this period is concentrated at a few large sites, namely Incoronata and Cozzo Presepe. Greeks were living at Incoronata before the foundation of Metaponto, but the relationship is not clear: Carter’s observation that Greeks were there "at the pleasure of the native population” (586) is most salient and is an important observation on Greek expansion—the so-called mixed settlements were frequently politically controlled by the indigenous population.

The analysis of settlement dynamics brings the discussion back to site identification and the use of the chora. While the fertile coastal plains, river valleys, and marine terraces of the Metapontino provided arable land for plow-based agriculture, the chora also included sloping valley walls better suited to vines and olive production, along with pasturage. How far did the chora extend? Survey extended inland 27 km to individuate the line beyond which there was no longer surface evidence of structures or pottery. The team divided the total area of the chora into quadrants, with areas I and III extending from the coastline to roughly the furthest extent of the division lines, while areas II and IV, north and south of the Basento, respectively, constitute the farther chora (Cozzo Presepe is located near the division between I and II). The nearer chora is 240 km², and all together the area covers a sum total of 412.7 km². Extrapolating from the 565 Greek-period sites surveyed across just 18% of the chora, a potential total number of sites in the near chora would be more than 3,000, based on the observed density of 16 sites per square kilometer. These data lead to questions of territorial control: was the countryside divided in an egalitarian manner, and did the regular division of the terrain correspond to an equitable division within the community? FMCE values for 625–575 B.C.E. show a very even distribution of farmhouse sites around a mean of 1.74 (636). While the survey data cannot answer specific questions, the picture that emerges is one of a number of farmhouses of equal size with a few outliers.

Section 5 traces the historical development of the chora and pinpoints critical moments from the Archaic period to the last century B.C.E. Particularly important was a revival of the chora in the mid fifth century: half of the significant farmhouses of the period were new settlements and were concentrated in areas where the division lines (drainage channels) were most dense. The coordination with new farmhouses indicates that there was a redistribution of land that brought new settlers to the chora. An average FMCE 8% lower than in 550 B.C.E. indicates that while there were more farmhouses in 450 B.C.E., they were also more modest settlements. Volume 3 covers the Roman Imperial period through the post-medieval settlements in the Metapontino.

In summary, this landmark work significantly increases the knowledge base of critical aspects of the use of the chora, including its development in relation to its asty and the territorial growth of a Greek apoikia. Additionally, it is a model for survey work and large-scale analysis of survey data. It will be used by specialists and nonspecialists alike and has set a high standard for investigations of the Greek countryside. The work is also remarkable for its high production quality: the plethora of color maps and images make referencing the dense data quite easy.

Spencer Pope
Department of Classics
McMaster University

Book Review of The Chora of Metaponto 3: Archaeological Survey, Bradano to Basento, edited by Joseph Coleman Carter and Alberto Prieto

Reviewed by Spencer Pope

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 120, No. 3 (July 2016)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1203.Pope

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