The Corinth Excavations

August 26, 2014

The Temple of Apollo at Corinth.  This is the view I see each day as I walk from the excavation house to the Museum.
Fig. 1. The Temple of Apollo at Corinth. This is the view I see each day as I walk from the excavation house to the Museum.

I am writing from the site of Ancient Corinth, where excavations under the auspices of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens have been going on since the late 19th century.  The Corinth Excavations have been a training ground for generations of archaeologists, including me, and I thank the director, Guy Sanders, and assistant director, Ioulia Tzonou-Herbst, for making Corinth such a wonderful place to work.  I’ve been working at Corinth for a long time, so I’m also indebted to the director emeritus, Charles Williams, and the assistant director emerita, Nancy Bookidis, for a scholarly lifetime of support, encouragement, and friendship.

At Corinth, I am working on late seventh and early sixth century BCE pottery from the area known as the Potters’ Quarter.   Up next to the city wall on the west side of the city, the Potters’ Quarter is one of the sites around the city where pottery was produced.   The Potters’ Quarter was excavated by Agnes Newhall Stillwell, a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, for several years beginning in 1929, when she was a fellow at the American School.  No kilns where the pottery was fired have been discovered in the Potters’ Quarter, but the large quantities of damaged–misfired, cracked, misshapen–pottery as well as much material associated with pottery production, especially try-pieces, that are found in fills and deposits make clear that pottery was produced nearby.

Corinth C-31-46
Fig 2. Corinth C-31-46

I am working on the very large quantity of material from a well–Well 1929-1 in Corinth nomenclature–in the Potters’ Quarter.  The well was dug in the 7th century BCE and once it went dry, it was filled up with quantities of pottery, discarded no doubt from nearby potteries.  Some of the pottery from the well was published by Stillwell and J. L. Benson (Corinth XV:3:  The Potters Quarter: The Pottery.  Princeton 1984), but much remained unstudied and that is what I am working on.  I am particularly interested in the different painters whose work is represented in the well’s contents, and here I’ll focus on the painters of the shape known in Corinth as the kotyle.  It’s the same as a skyphos, a deep two-handled drinking cup, and the kotyle is very common in Corinthian pottery of the late seventh to mid-sixth centuries BCE.   Some Corinthian kotylai (the plural of kotyle) are very fine, but not the ones I’m working with.   An example, Corinth C-31-46, (fig. 2) from elsewhere at Corinth shows the shape–only one handle is visible here–and the decorative scheme, which includes a figural zone that here has an elongated panther and part of another animal.

Philadelphia 49-33-26
Fig. 3. Philadelphia 49-33-26

I have grown quite familiar with the style of these Corinthian kotyle painters, and one day, a few years ago, when I was looking a drawer of pottery sherds in the Mediterranean Section, I saw a small fragment by a painter well known to me from the kotylai of my Potters’ Quarter well.   The fragment, 49-33-26 (fig. 3), is part of a small study collection of Greek pottery, some of it from the Potters’ Quarter, which came to the Museum sixty-five years ago thanks to the generosity of the Greek government.  The Penn fragment is the work of an artist we call the Painter of KP- 248, whose name vase is from the Potters’ Quarter.  That fragment preserves the head of a panther, and you can see that same panther face in another little sherd, Corinth L-29-10-302, (fig. 4) also by the painter and also from the well.  And you see it again in the group of joining fragments, Corinth L-29-10-92, (fig. 6) which preserves about a third of the kotyle and has two elongated panthers (the head of the panther at the right is not preserved); these fragments are from the well and are the work of the Painter of KP-248.  The Painter of KP-248 was clearly painting his kotylai at a pretty rapid rate and usually stretches out his animals so that there’s only room for three in the picture zone.

Corinth L-29-10-302
Fig. 4. Corinth L-29-10-302
Corinth L-29-10-11 by the Painter of KP 14
Fig. 5. Corinth L-29-10-11 by the Painter of KP 14

To see how the style of the Painter of KP-248 is different from that of other Corinthian vase-painters, compare it to that of the kotyle Corinth C-31-36 above  (fig. 2), again from elsewhere at Corinth, and also to this other kotyle fragment, L-29-10-11, (fig. 5) from the well, by an artist also named for a complete kotyle in the well, the Painter of KP-14 (Yes, the painters have boring nicknames.   Of course, we don’t know the painters’ real names, so we give them nicknames, sometimes rather dull ones.).   You can see that the painters use the same idiom as they delineate their panther faces, with eyes flanking a prominent nose ridge, curved ears a little like leaves, and little lines to mark the muzzle or the whiskers.  But you can also see how alike the Painter of KP-248’s kotylai are and how different they are from the others, how different the details of the style of the Painter of KP-248 are from those of the other painters.

Corinth L-29-10-92
Fig. 6. Corinth L-29-10-92

The group of joining fragments, Corinth L-29-10-92 (fig. 6) by the Painter of KP 248, shows some variation in color because of problems with the firing.  You can see the animals and ornament are brownish instead of black, and there’s a reddish area on the top of the left panther’s head, on the right panther’s tail, and on the dots of fill ornament above the right panther’s back.  This reminds us of the extensive and important evidence that the material from the Potters’ Quarter provides for the study of the technology of pottery production.  And a new generation of scholars is discovering the significance of the Potters’ Quarter material, through new technical and scientific studies.  Amanda Reiterman (fig. 7), graduate student in Penn’s Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World program and Kolb Junior Fellow, and Bice Peruzzi, a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati, are doing new technical and scientific studies of the Potters’ Quarter material so that we may better understand pottery production and technology in the Corinth of the seventh and sixth centuries BCE.

Working on Potters' Quarter material Corinth with Amanda Reiterman, graduate student in the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World program, last summer.
Fig. 7. Working on Potters’ Quarter material at Corinth with Amanda Reiterman, graduate student in the Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World program, last summer.