Sikyon – Finding Old Sikyon

The Project

The ancient polis of Sikyon was located on the north-east coast of the Peloponnese, between the poleis of Corinth to the east and Pellene to the west (Fig. 1). It was famous as a centre of arts and crafts, particularly sculpture and painting, from Archaic times to the end of the 3rd c. BC. In 303 BC, the Macedonian general Demetrios Poliorcetes captured the city and rebuilt it at a new site close by where it could be better defended. The site of this Hellenistic city has been identified on a plateau between the rivers Asopos and Helisson and is well known through the investigations of American and Greek scholars since the 19th century (Fig. 2). Recently, the site is being studied by an important project conducted by the University of Thessaly in Volos and the Archaeological Society of Greece. The site of the Archaic and Classical city, however, has never been clearly identified. It is supposed to be located in the plain to the north-east of the plateau, where according to literary sources its acropolis was, and had a separate harbour (Figs. 2-3). In the plain between the two rivers, Classical remains have been found at various locations within the framework of rescue excavations, including houses and cemeteries, but these only provide sparse indications.

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In the summer of 2015, a project was initiated to identify the site of the pre-Hellenistic city and to analyse the specific settlement structures and urban fabric of “Old Sikyon”. It is set up as a collaboration between the Ephorate of Antiquities of Corinth, represented by the Ephor and Greek project director Dr Konstantinos Kissas, the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, represented by the senior researcher and director of the Danish side of the project Dr Silke Müth-Frederiksen (who followed Dr Rune Frederiksen in this position in March 2016), the Danish Institute at Athens, represented by its director Dr Kristina Winther-Jacobsen, and the Institute of Geosciences of the Christian Albrechts University at Kiel, represented by its director Prof Wolfgang Rabbel. Funding is provided by the Carlsberg Foundation (Denmark).

Research Methods and Aims

The research area of the project extends over the whole plain between the plateau of the Hellenistic city, the aforementioned two rivers and the coast. The first phase of investigations covering the years 2015 and 2016 was dedicated primarily to non-invasive research methods: systematic intensive survey (directed by Dr Kristina Winther-Jacobsen, assisted by Giorgos Giannakopoulos and Zoe Spyranti/Ephorate of Antiquities of Corinth), several methods of geophysical investigation (directed by Prof Wolfgang Rabbel and Dr Harald Stümpel/University of Kiel as well as Burkart Ullrich/Eastern Atlas, Berlin), geological coring (directed by Dr Wieke de Neef, assisted by Nikolaas Noorda/University of Groningen) and remote sensing (by Dr Jamieson Donati). This phase served the purpose of locating the core of the settlement, of delimiting its extension, and of identifying special structures like city walls, the acropolis and the separately fortified harbour, the street grid, major public or religious spaces and buildings, living quarters and industrial and workshop areas. The fact that most parts of this plain, and particularly the most promising ones, are not covered by modern settlement proved very fortunate for this purpose. The rich agricultural activity, however, mainly fruit orchards often fenced in, as well as the fact that much of the plain is covered by thick alluvial sedimentation complicated the investigations. From 2017 to 2019, excavations are envisaged in order to investigate certain structures and buildings revealed by non-invasive research, to retrieve chronological information and to gain more material evidence concerning the urban and cultural life of Old Sikyon. Through both phases, field research will be complemented by ancient historical and philological expertise (Dr Thomas Heine Nielsen/University of Copenhagen).

The primary foci of the project are the identification of the precise location of Archaic and Classical Sikyon with its acropolis and harbour, to investigate its urban fabric and cultural remains and to verify if life there in fact stopped short in 303 BC or if it continued for a while on a smaller scale. This, however, is intended to serve the greater purpose of answering general questions about Archaic and Classical urbanism, as it is a very rare case that a major Archaic and Classical polis was given up at a clearly defined date and never overbuilt afterwards, neither by later ancient, nor by larger medieval or modern settlements. Moreover, the archaeological investigation of Old Sikyon will allow us to evaluate the accounts of the written sources on this very active centre of art against the seizable archaeological remains and thus to evaluate their reliability. Finally, it will inform us about the structure and organisation of a famous centre of art and culture in comparison with other such centres like Corinth and Athens.

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Dr. Rune Frederiksen presentation at the Carlsberg Conference in January 2016

Research Campaigns and Preliminary Results

Summer campaign 2015
During the 2015 campaign, a side-by-side survey (K. Winther-Jacobsen, G. Giannakopoulos), remote sensing through aerial photography (R. Frederiksen) and geophysical investigations (W. Rabbel, H. Stümpel and B. Ullrich) were carried out. In the side-by-side survey, 578 units were surveyed covering an area of 0.79 square km (Fig. 4). A total number of 52.326 pottery fragments, 17 lithics as well as 85 architectural artefacts were collected, washed, counted and described, while the most important specimens were drawn and photographed (Fig. 5). A pottery inventory was created consisting of 328 sherds, however, a detailed study of the chronology awaits the 2016 season. According to our preliminary observations, the surface revealed far richer traces of the buried past than we had dared to hope for, based on our knowledge of the geomorphology of the landscape of Sikyon. The finds date from the Late Neolithic-Early Bronze Age to the present day, but material from the Classical period is predominant.
The preliminary overview of the distribution of finds recorded by the intensive survey (Fig. 6) appears to confirm existing theories on the location of the pre-Hellenistic city. Elevated densities are recorded predominantly on the second and third marine terraces (the ones closest to the plateau) directly north of the river Asopos. This is also the area where emergency excavations have revealed architectural remains of habitation. Additionally, graves seem to line up along the edge of the second marine terrace, which actually cuts directly through the area with elevated densities. It needs to be clarified if the densities beyond these graves indicate a later extension of the city.
The geophysical investigations carried out in 2015 comprised geomagnetic (Fig 7), electrical resistivity (Figs. 8-9), seismic (Figs. 8-9) and georadar surveys (Fig. 10). These revealed a series of interesting structures (Fig. 11). In general, indications for the densest occupation are found in the area immediately to the east of the southernmost spur of the plateau. Here, several continuous linear structures may be interpreted as streets that form a roughly rectangular pattern. Two parallel linear anomalies in the resistivity profiles seem to point to a large building in this area. Further to the north, on the eastern side of the National Road, two magnetic maxima may be interpreted as a crossroads, and south and south-west of this area, more anomalies point to a street grid in approximately the same orientation. A broad double magnetic maximum of more than 150 m length in the eastern part of this area is running a bit off this orientation from north-west to south-east and is merging into a single one in its further progress. Perhaps it can be connected to a wall. To the south-east of this area, north of the river Asopos and west of the new train track to Kiato, two parallel linear anomalies – a magnetic minimum right next to a maximum – could point to a ditch or a wall, or both next to each other. On the edge of the second marine terrace close to the new train track, a trapezoidal structure might be connected to an ancient quarry.
The general picture points to a city centre close to the south-eastern spur of the plateau, and extensions or suburbs and further peripheral structures in the extended area of the second marine terrace. The different candidates for larger walls might reflect parts of the town’s defences in its different phases.

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April campaign 2016

In the spring of 2016, a team of archaeologists (S. Müth-Frederiksen, K. Winther-Jacobsen, G. Giannakopoulos, Z. Spyranti) and geoscientists conducted manual augerings (W. de Neef, N. Noorda) combined with a resistivity survey (B. Ullrich) for a quick-scan of soil properties and sediment thicknesses in the plain between the rivers Asopos and Helisson. The main aim of this research was to reconstruct landscape formation processes, such as soil erosion and accumulation, in this area. The gentle slopes of this plain are not continuous, but consist of a series of gradual steps known as marine terraces. These terraces were originally formed as shallow-water deposits in a river delta, and were uplifted by different tectonic movements. The result is a complex landscape of different soils, affected by erosion along the terrace slopes, soil accumulation at the terrace bases, and sediment transport through the rivers Asopos and Helison.
The augerings (using an Edelman screw auger, see Figs. 12-13) were conducted along the same transects as the electrical resistivity measurements, as well as in locations where major anomalies had been mapped by previous geophysical investigation (Fig. 13-15). The preliminary results show different soil types and sediment thicknesses along the investigated transects (Fig. 16). Archaeological stratigraphies to depths of more than 3 m were mapped on the upper terrace, including pottery related to the settlement phase of Sikyon. Moreover, indications were found of an ancient lake associated with prehistoric artefacts. At the centre of the research area, however, very shallow, strongly eroded soils without traces of human activity were mapped. The lower terraces, nearest to Kiato, again yielded deeper soils with indications of human presence.
Furthermore, a first attempt at locating the ancient harbour of Sikyon was made. Three augerings along a transect towards the modern coastline yielded indications of a small, shallow marine inlet. While the two outer cores ended on hard conglomerate deposits within 150 cm depth, the centre one showed fine marine sediments with pebble layers such as can be expected in coastal situations, at 280 cm depth. Further work is needed to confirm the presence of a natural bay or man-made harbour, but the results of this campaign are encouraging.

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Summer Campaign 2016

In the 2016 summer campaign, the side-by-side survey (K. Winther-Jacobsen, G. Giannakopoulos), the geophysical investigations (W. Rabbel, K. Rusch, H. Stümpel and B. Ullrich) and the aerial photography (S. Müth-Frederiksen) were continued. Moreover, a systematic documentation of architectural structures in the field (P. Foss, T. Roland, Z. Spyranti) was carried out.
In the archaeological survey (Fig. 17), 18 Danish and Greek students divided into three teams carried out the field-work and the daily processing of the finds (supervised by V. Oikonomou). Gaps remaining from the 2015 season were closed, and at the end of the campaign, a total of approximately 10% of the whole research area had been covered by the survey. The overall distribution pattern reveals a strong spatial logic (Fig. 18). Finds date from the Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age to Pre-modern period, but the Classical period is strongly represented particularly in the south-western corner of the survey area, which is also where the high densities are consistently located. Apart from the field work, preparations for the coming publication were started.
Geophysical investigation again comprised geomagnetic survey by Eastern Atlas (Fig. 19) and electrical resistivity, seismic and georadar surveys by the team of Kiel University (Fig. 20). The geomagnetic survey was extended to the areas south of the plateau, directly east of the plateau and to the northern area of the plain; furthermore, magnetic measurements in the area of 2015 were intensified (Fig. 21). In this way, the limits of the settled area of Old Sikyon could be defined in the north-west, north, south and south-west, and more indications for the street grid could be gathered. In the north-western area, the location and extent of a necropolis was established and a 2-3 m wide wall running through it was found, which might have been part of the city’s defences in one of its phases. South of the plateau, no clear traces of well-structured settlement were found, but an industrial area may have been located here, as is also suggested by other evidence in the fields and the closeness of the river.
The resistivity, seismic and radar surveys (Fig. 20) of anomalies already found with geomagnetic prospection in 2015 indicated a major public or cultic building in the area east of the southernmost spur of the plateau and a structure with five parallel walls a bit further north. Close to the northern limit of the settled area, two different regular settlement patterns with clear building structures were discovered and an anomaly in between, which probably represents the foundation trench of a fortification wall that was torn down when the city was extended beyond. Meanwhile close to the southern border of the city, a complex structure was detected, which might be related to a part of the city wall with attached buildings. Seismic investigations in the assumed harbour area await long-term processing.
As for architectural structures, the most interesting find was a pile of ancient blocks located to the south of the plateau, which originally belonged to at least two different monuments and were reused as spolia. The size of some of these blocks, like e.g. a huge triglyphon (Fig. 22), indicate a very large building, most probably of cultic origin. The most important of these blocks were drawn.
The continued, intensive, multi-disciplinary research in 2016 represents a huge step forward in our knowledge about the topography and geomorphology of Old Sikyon. We are now able to trace the limits of the settled area, we have an idea about the function of certain extra-urban areas, and have plenty of indications about the infrastructure of the city in the form of street grids, several parts of the city-wall and major buildings and in one case also about the development of settlement structures in successive phases.

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Summer Campaign 2017

In 2017, fieldwork in Sikyon was carried out in late June and July and was primarily dedicated to excavations. It also included again geophysical investigations (by W. Rabbel, K. Rusch and H. Stümpel/Institute of Geosciences, Christian-Albrechts University of Kiel), a geoarchaeological survey (by Chris Hayward/University of Edinburgh) and the study of architectural blocks.

The geoarchaeological survey comprised searches for quarries within the vicinity of the ancient city, searches for potential sources for oolitic limestone in the surroundings as well as the study of the stone varieties in the architectural remains of the old town. It was possible to identify significant quarry traces of a soft bio-oosparrite (Fig. 23) and of conglomerate. Conglomerate was largely used in the architectural structures of Sikyon, while no archaeological remains using bio-oosparrite are yet known in Sikyon. Oolitic limestone was used in Old Sikyon in large numbers of architectural remains, but initial prospections in eastern Sikyonia did not show evidence of quarrying of this stone variety. Observation of stone materials in a pile of blocks next to the chapel of Agia Varvara as well as in the architectural remains of the recent rescue excavations along the national road Athens-Patras yielded a variety of lithologies, often combined in the same structures.

Geomagnetic prospection (Fig. 24) was continued in order to define more precisely the borders of the settled area of Old Sikyon in the north, north-east and east. The area of the settlement of Sikyon amounts to around 1.55 square kilometres (155 hectares) including suburban areas with thinner traces of occupation (Fig. 25). Furthermore, geomagnetic and resistivity survey helped to provide further indications for the likely course of the city wall north of the town and for the course of one of the main streets connecting the city to its harbour in the direction of the plateau. Additionally, intensified resistivity survey on selected fields helped to generate a 3D-geoelectric picture, which will be very useful for comparison with excavation results. The topography of the harbour was further investigated as well: The processing of the data generated seismic profiles in 2016 indicates a former water inlet of 25-30 m width, which was followed over a larger area by using the H/V (Horizontal-to-Vertical Spectral Ratio) seismic method. The processing of the data is still in progress and promises to yield further valuable information about the form of Sikyon’s harbour.

Excavations were conducted in eight trenches on five different fields (Figs. 26-27), which were chosen on grounds of anomalies detected through archaeological survey, geophysical research and remote sensing. The Fields 1 and 2 in Agios Konstantinos are located in the presumed area of the ancient city centre, while Field 3 in Agios Nikolaos is still close to this area. In Field 1, a wall from the late Geometric/early Archaic periods was observed, which represents the oldest architectural remains of Old Sikyon discovered so far, but needs further investigation for interpretation. The wall is accompanied by several cuts from the same period, while later phases are not well represented. Field 2 yielded building structures from the Classical, Late Roman and Byzantine periods in Trench A: a Classical pebble floor with an irregular mix of multi-coloured pebbles in mortar was found, crossed by a Roman or Byzantine wall running from southwest to northeast, while a wall of Byzantine date runs south of it in an east-west direction. In Trench B, another part of a Byzantine wall was found, running roughly northeast-southwest.
After the removal of a huge layer with dense pebble inclusions of yet unclear interpretation in Trench A of Field 3, two parallel walls located roughly 3.5 m apart were discovered. Their character, however, is very different and makes it improbable that they belong to the same construction phase: the south-western one consists of rough and irregular masory, while the north-eastern wall (probably of Classical date) is made of monumental and finely dressed limestone blocks, which might indicate some important public or cultic building. In Trench B, two small sections of walls (both earlier than the late 4th c. BC) came to light, which run roughly in a right angle, but in the layers excavated so far are not connected to each other. The walls in Field 3 all correspond to anomalies in the geophysical resistivity measurements.
Field 4 and Field 5 are located in more suburban areas. Trench A in Field 4 contains two parallel walls located roughly 4 m apart in an approximately east-west direction, the northern wall consisting of large blocks, while the middle wall combines slab-like blocks with rubble masonry. Between these two walls, a layer with a high pebble concentration needs more investigation. In Trench B (north-east of A), two walls diverging towards the east were unearthed. The northernmost wall combines vertically standing slabs with rubble stones and faces south, while the southern one (running east-west) consists of limestone and conglomerate slabs on a rubble foundation. In the area in between, a large amount of pottery and other finds of the late 4th c. BC was found. South of the southern wall a possible road surface with pebble inclusions was uncovered. The geomagnetic investigations imply a road running north of the northern wall in Trench A and south of the southern wall in Trench B, bordered by walls on both sides. It is obvious that we are dealing here with a border zone of Old Sikyon, with a road leading out of the city in the direction of its harbour, which is also confirmed by the likely presence of graves in its vicinity.
The excavations in Field 5 yielded no architectural structures, but very interesting finds, e.g. coins, obsidian and flint fragments, pottery sherds from the late 8th/early 7th c. BC through to the middle Hellenistic period and fragments of mortar, stucco and mosaic floors, which hint at buildings and show that this area was occupied not only during the time of Old Sikyon, but also thereafter.

In Field 6 in the very southwest of the project’s research area, a huge pile of ancient blocks used as spolia was nearly stripped down to the ground. All the significant architectural blocks (amongst others column drums and Doric frieze blocks) were arranged in a lapidarium (Fig. 28), numbered, described and photographed, and the most interesting blocks were drawn. It turned out that the blocks must have been part of at least two, but probably more ancient buildings, most likely of public or cultic function.

The excavated fields all yielded pottery from the Classical period; and the majority of the trenches also from Archaic times (Fig. 29). Moreover, pottery from the Hellenistic up to the Byzantine periods was found, mostly in the top layers. Late Geometric/early Archaic pottery as well as some examples of Helladic pottery were especially found in Field 1, which indicates that this area was settled during these periods. In Field 2, most of the pottery dates to the 4th c. BC and to the Late Roman and Byzantine periods, while in Field 3, the 5th and 4th c. BC predominate. Field 4 also yielded pottery from the 5th and 4th c. BC in large quantities. In Field 5, finds range from the late 8th/early 7th c. BC to the middle of the 3rd c. BC and also include many minor obsidian fragments. Moreover, eleven coins were found in total, most of them being Sikyonian from the 4th c. BC, but also including examples from later times and other Greek regions. For archaeobotanical studies, many earth samples were taken from the different trenches and flotation was carried out with a newly-built flotation machine (Fig. 29), and the remains are now awaiting further analysis.

With the fieldwork of the 2017 season, we were able to gather much further information about the old town of Sikyon, its geology, topography, urbanistic structure and some of its private, public and cultic buildings. The excavations generated a huge amount of ancient material of all sorts, which already now offers a deep insight in the material culture of the town and yields valuable chronological information. Excavations in Old Sikyon will continue and be expanded within the next two years in order to allow for more precise and extensive information on the infrastructure and urban development, the private, public and cultic architecture as well as the famous art and culture of this major polis in Archaic and Classical times.

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Summer Campaign 2018

Fieldwork in Sikyon in 2018 was carried out in July and early August and was again primarily dedicated to excavation. It also included a geoarchaeological survey (by Chris Hayward/University of Edinburgh) and the drawing and study of architectural blocks (by Nils Hellner and Thomas Roland Jensen). In addition to the permanent staff and external experts, 26 students of Classical Archaeology from the Universities of Copenhagen, Aarhus, Crete and Oslo as well as one conservation student from the Technological Educational Institute of Athens and 16 workers took part in this season (Fig. 30). The excavations revealed domestic contexts, remains of a public or cultic building and a suburban burial area, all from the Classical or early Hellenistic periods, as well as a Byzantine industrial building in another suburban area (Fig. 31). 3D documentation was employed for the first time (by Toke Hansen, Copenhagen) and permits the three-dimensional visual reconstruction of the excavation process in all layers including the position of architecture and important finds, thus facilitating the interpretation of the ancient contexts and remains in the single trenches (Fig. 32).

Nine trenches were opened in six different fields (Fig. 33), four of which had already been started in the 2017 season. In Field 1, an extension of last year’s trench to the east revealed that what formerly had been interpreted as a somewhat askew late Geometric/early Archaic wall was in reality a strange arrangement of covering stones for a grave dating to the same period. No traces of early architecture were revealed in this trench. In Field 3, the Classical building structures in Trench 3A were further examined by extending the trench to the north, east and south. The monumental wall already found in 2017 was excavated down to bedrock and probably dates to the first half of the 4th c. BC, although its function cannot be specified yet. In the second half of the 4th c. BC, this wall was included in a room of hitherto undefined function constructed of rubble walls to the west of it, which yielded large amounts of pottery (Fig. 34) and tiles as well as terracotta figurines. These finds together with the monumental wall point to a public or cultic use for this structure, which was covered by a massive fill in the early 3rd c. BC (i.e. after the destruction of the old town).
In Field 4, both trenches from 2017 were extended southwards. In the southern part of Trench 4A, a late Classic/early Hellenistic grave district was discovered, which on its northern side was bordered by a channel that was at some point filled with earth and covered by slabs to form a wall. North of this wall, a road characterised by different surfaces and repairs of Classical times ran in an east-west direction, i.e. between the city and the harbour, and was bordered by a wall on its northern side. Trench 4B yielded the corner of a wall of large, partly reused blocks generously laid in mortar, which could have defined a grave precinct or could have had other funerary functions. A new trench was opened in Field 6 south of the church of Ag. Varvara because of anomalies in georadar measurements discovered in 2016 and revealed a Byzantine structure of some production purpose and Byzantine graves in connection with this structure. The establishment of earlier phases under this structure will be a task of future seasons. The pile of blocks used in the former church of Ag. Varvara was stripped to the ground, the blocks being arranged in the lapidarium and further investigated.
In field 7 in the northern area of Old Sikyon, 3 trenches were laid out on anomalies discovered in resistivity measurements. Trench 7A yielded Classical building structures (a room, a corridor (?), a drain and the remains of floors; Fig. 35) connected to a large complex, including destruction layers from the late 4th c. BC, maybe corresponding to the time of destruction of the town. Through Trench 7B, a linear anomaly crossing the whole field was investigated, as it was suspected to represent part of the fortification wall, but this theory could not be confirmed. Trench 7C revealed the front of a late Classical or early Hellenistic grave monument of very fine execution. In field 9 in the area of the core of the old town, a trench was opened because of anomalies in the geomagnetic measurements and finds of domestic architecture in previous rescue excavations. The corner of a room with a mortar floor and a corridor to the south of it were excavated and seem to belong to a private house from the second half of the fourth c. BC.

All finds were again processed in the Ephorate’s depot (Fig. 36). The dating of the pottery from all the trenches ranges from the Helladic period to the Byzantine. The excavated fields, except Field 6, all yielded pottery from the Classical period. Field 1 yielded the earliest pottery, while many well-preserved vessels of both cooking ware and fine ware, among which was a lot of fine-quality symposium ware from Attica and Corinth, many loom weights and some figurines were excavated in Field 3 (Fig. 34). The graves of Field 4 yielded well-preserved fine ware miniatures, Corinthian fine symposium ware and several cooking vessels. The majority of the Byzantine pottery comes from Field 6 alongside almost 1000 shells and 3000 tile fragments. A total of nine coins was recovered from the trenches and studied by prof. Michael Ierardi (Bridgewater State University). Most of them are from the 4th c. BC and Sikyonian, others come from Corinth, Pheneos, Euboea and Trachinia. The stone objects were studied by Pernille Foss (University of Copenhagen). Conservation of some special finds and fragile architectural elements was performed directly during the season (by Angeliki Kandri; Fig. 34). Soil samples were collected again from the individual trenches and were processed through flotation. In a preliminary examination, cereals (barley and wheat), lentils, grapes, olives, figs and almonds were identified.

In the geoarchaeological survey, the quarrying activity close to the village of Palaiochori, east of Old Sikyon was further investigated and showed that exploitation of biopelsparrite was extensive. Furthermore, all 2018 excavation trenches with exposed masonry and bedrock as well as the remaining blocks used in the older church of Ag. Varvara were examined to identify the lithologies present, which seem to be partly local and possibly partly imported. Another focus of this survey was the search for exploitable stone resources and ancient quarries in the wider Sikyonian region as well as the search for clay resources suitable for exploitation, which will help tracing the origin of Sikyonian pottery.

With the manifold research in 2018, we have again gathered a huge amount of valuable information and come a huge step further in our knowledge about the topography and culture of Old Sikyon. The finds of this year’s season include some excellent pieces and offer valuable chronological information as well as details about the city’s own arts and crafts and its trade with other poleis through imported wares.

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Summer Campaign 2019

In 2019, fieldwork in Old Sikyon was carried out from late June to the end of July and included archaeological excavations, a geoarchaeological survey and the study of architectural spolia. In addition to the permanent staff and external experts, 26 students of Classical Archaeology from the Universities of Copenhagen, Aarhus, Crete, Oslo and Kiel, one intern from the National Museum of Denmark, one conservation student from the Technological Educational Institute of Athens, one student of building archaeology from the University of Regensburg and 15 workers took part in the field season (Fig. 37).

The excavations concentrated on six trenches in four different fields (Fig. 38), four of which had already been started during previous seasons. In Field 3 north-east of the supposed city centre, the excavation of a late Classical building was continued in order to reveal a room to its full depth as well as part of its surroundings (Fig. 39). The partly underground rectangular room (6.30 × 4.40 m) was made of walls of monumental blocks on two sides and of walls of mixed material on its two other sides and was originally covered with a tiled roof. Stairs led down into it from its north-eastern corner and maybe also from its south-western corner. In direct contact with the bottom of the north, west and east walls, three Archaic graves (ca. 610-555 BC) cut into the bedrock were revealed. They contained multiple burials (men, women and children) and were marked by particular stones, but only one of them featured grave goods, including nine aryballoi and one askos (small vases) in the form of a hare dated to the early to middle Corinthian period. The building had at least two different construction phases and went probably out of use in the 2nd half of the 4th c. BC, perhaps in connection with the destruction of the city in the year 303 BC. On the base of the uncovered remains including the large amounts of pottery and various figurines found within this room, it can be interpreted as a sort of Heroon, where an ancestors’ cult and maybe also the veneration of chthonic deities were practiced. South of this room, a grave of the 5th c. BC was uncovered, which contained as the only grave goods the remains of the shoes of the deceased, in the form of two iron frames, which originally were nailed to wooden soles (Fig. 40).

In Field 7 further to the northeast in the outskirts of the city, a Classical or Early Hellenistic grave monument (ca. 350-300 BC) was further revealed (Trench 7C; Fig. 41). Its architectural front of 4,60 m length was oriented along a road on its northern side. Only the lowest course over the foundation is preserved consisting of large limestone blocks connected by Z-clamps and featuring a cyma reversa. On the western and eastern sides, two symmetrically placed blocks mark the limits of the monument. Two stone cist graves with a single burial of a grown-up in each were excavated within the monument, yielding rich and well-preserved grave goods: fine drinking cups, lidded lekanis bowls, miniature vases, lamps, a silver coin and iron strigiles. In a higher level, the burned remains of a grave ritual were found, including dozens of fragments of human and animal figurines and numerous shapes (e.g. bowls, plates and pouring vessels) of a special type of red-slipped pottery stamped with a characteristic egg decoration. This type of pottery was probably produced locally between 340 and 275 BC (Fig. 42). Just next to the monument, a deposit from the 5th c. BC including six Attic lekythoi (one of which white-ground) and a kotyle was revealed, indicating the funeral use of this area at least from this time onwards.

50 m northwest of this grave monument in an area outside the borders of the settlement, Classical building remains were found (Trench 7A; Fig. 43), which, judging from the resistivity survey, could belong to a large building complex of ca. 18 × 20 m. A large room (2.50 × 2.50 m) and an adjacent smaller, corridor-like storage room (ca. 2.90 × 0.90 m) were completely revealed, while another room to the south was only partly excavated. On the base of many large fragments of storage vessels, the few fragments of fine-ware pottery, loom weights and coins might indicate an extra-urban workshop or agricultural context.

In Field 8 in the south-eastern part of the town, a new trench was opened on top of a large positive linear anomaly found with geomagnetic prospection, which could have indicated the trace of the city wall. Instead, part of a monumental late Classical building and in direct connection with it an early Hellenistic grave covered with tiles were excavated (Fig. 44). The building might have had a public, cultic or funeral function. Directly southeast of it, a four-sided floor-like surface was probably used for workshop activities. In the early Byzantine period, the area was used in an agricultural context, which is indicated by a large pithos (Fig. 45) with a preserved diameter of 1.40 m set up in an (indoor or outdoor) area bordered by walls. Also the large amount of burnt olive stones found in the corresponding layers and a large olive press in the neighbouring field indicate the production of olive oil.

Private house remains from the 2nd half of the 4th c. BC found in 2018 in Field 9 (Trench 9A) in the core of the city were further investigated this year (Fig. 46). It was revealed that the walls of this habitation context were dug into a large floor from a slightly earlier phase and that floors of stamped earth belong to the phase of the walls. Remains of earlier constructions were not found in this trench. An extension of the trench to the west (after a gap of 3 m due to a modern water pipe) yielded the continuation of the building complex in several walls belonging to different construction phases, which witness of continued domestic activity including reuse and rebuilding trough a longer period of time.

Another trench (9B) was opened on the south-western end of the same field (Fig. 47) and revealed the first archaic construction remains ever found in the area of Old Sikyon. The four Archaic walls are arranged around an area which could have formed a courtyard. In the Classical period, more walls and a drain made of roof-tiles were constructed, which were covered in the late Classical/early Hellenistic period again by a larger drain carefully made of Π-shaped stone blocks. In the eastern part of the trench, a boulder was installed earlier in the Classical period and surrounded by miniature vessels dating mainly to the 5th c. BC, which indicates cultic activity. In the Hellenistic period the Π-shaped drain and its surroundings were covered and two perpendicular walls decorated with red- and yellow-painted stucco with a mortared pebble floor between them were installed. This representative private room indicates the sporadically continued use of the area for habitation also after the destruction of the old city.

3D documentation of the excavations was applied again by Toke Hansen (Museum of South-Eastern Denmark). For large-scale archaeobotanical studies, a particularly high number of 290 soil samples were collected and processed this year. In addition to that, samples for starch analysis were collected, particularly fragments from cooking and storage vessels, in order to investigate their content.

The 2019 field season was exceptionally rich in finds, many of excellent character, which were again processed at the Ephorate’s depot at Archaia Sikyona/Vasiliko. From Trench 3A particularly the Archaic grave goods have to be emphasized, but also the iron shoe frames as a special find. Furthermore, this trench yielded a high number of complete or partly complete vessels of all types, ranging from transport amphorae, vessels used for preparation and cooking of food and drinking cups in particular. From Trench 7A, the high amounts of storage vessels stand out, while the late Classical grave goods of Trench 7C along with the Attic lekythoi and the remains of a ritual pyre represent particularly excellent material, providing a proof for the existence of an independent and high-quality Sikyonian pottery production. The grave goods from Trench 8A form an interesting Hellenistic ensemble. Trench 9B yielded a few fragments of Helladic pottery and many impressive fine-ware fragments from the Geometric, Archaic and Classical periods, indicating continuous activity in this area over a long period.
Also in terms of coins, the season was particularly yielding. They were studied again by Michael Ierardi (Bridgewater State University). All in all, 24 coins were found, most of which are from Sikyon (one from the 5th c. BC and five to six from the 4th c. BC), others from other Greek states including Corinth, Salamis (Cyprus), Mykonos and Syracuse. The stone objects were again studied by Pernille Foss (University of Copenhagen), some skeletons were investigated by Mette Arenfeldt (Museum of Southern Jutland) and the conservation of the most important finds was, as in previous years, taken over by the conservator Angeliki Kandri. In the framework of a Master’s thesis, Melanie Nguyen (University of Regensburg) studied the spolia from the former church of Agia Varvara in the southwest of the study area.

The geoarchaeological survey was continued by Chris Hayward (University of Edinburgh), who identified more rock varieties used in excavated structures and undertook further systematic surveys of exposures of bedrock within the Sikyonia to identify the types and exploitable volumes of construction stone available and traces of ancient quarrying. The results suggest that the high-quality oolitic limestone used in Old Sikyon originated from Corinthian, rather than Sikyonian sources, while calcarenite suitable for ashlar masonry is present near to the city’s location and plentiful supplies of conglomerate and local calcarenites were available for rubble construction.

The results of the 2019 campaign greatly enhance our knowledge of the private architecture of different phases of Old Sikyon including home decor and storage facilities, and of workshop arrangements. Moreover, a great range of important information about burial rites and practices over time, grave rituals, ancestors’ cult and burial monuments was collected. After the results of the 2019 season and the range of information gained in the field seasons of the first phase of the project, it would be particularly desirable to continue the research in Old Sikyon in a second project phase, in order to clarify the remaining important questions of topography, which concern the different parts of fortification, the more detailed form of the harbour and the harbour town and the inner organisation of the city including the city centre and the street grid, in order to gain a more thorough insight into Old Sikyon’s material culture, including the famous Sikyonian sculpture and local pottery, and in order to investigate the social and cultural practices of life in the old city over time. The rich material collected in the field seasons 2015-2019 represents an excellent base for such studies, but needs to be complemented for both, a broader overview and a deeper insight.

All the illustrations


The Sikyon project organised a workshop on its first two years of research at the National Museum of Denmark, which included presentations about all the different approaches of non-invasive archaeology chosen for this first project period, as well as reports on former research on the site and presentations of running PhD projects.

The programme of the workshop may be found here

Links to summaries of the contributions below:

Thomas Heine Nielsen (University of Copenhagen, Saxo Institute): An Introduction to Sikyon’s History
Kristina Winther-Jacobsen (Danish Institute at Athens): The Archaeological Survey
Katharina Rusch, Harald Stümpel and Wolfgang Rabbel (University of Kiel, Institute of Geosciences): First results of the geophysical survey in Sikyon
Silke Müth-Frederiksen (National Museum of Denmark, Ancient Cultures of Denmark and the Mediterranean): Geophysical Investigations and Remote Sensing: Archaeological and topographical Interpretations
Zoe Spyranti (Ephorate of Corinth/Danish Institute at Athens): Architecture and Design of Private space in Classical Sikyon
Giorgos Giannakopoulos (Ephorate of Corinth/Danish Institute at Athens): Classical Pottery from Sikyon: The Fine Wares
Kyriaki Tsirtsi (Ephorate of Corinth): Cooking Wares, Storage Vessels and Dietary Habits in Classical Sikyon

Fig. 2: Location of Old Sikyon in relation to Hellenistic Sikyon (Google Earth/G. Giannakopoulos)

Fig. 1: Location of Sikyon on the north-eastern Peloponnese (Google Earth/S. Müth-Frederiksen)

Fig. 5: The processing of survey finds in the depot (C. Winther-Jacobsen)

Fig. 7: Geomagnetic survey in summer 2015 (R. Frederiksen)

Fig. 8: Resistivity and seismic measurements in summer 2015: field transects (W. Rabbel)

Fig. 9: Resistivity and seismic measurements in summer 2015: data recording (R. Frederiksen)

Fig. 13: Parallel augering and resistivity survey in April 2016 (W. de Neef)

Fig. 16: Core from the augerings in April 2016 (W. de Neef)

Fig. 17: Field survey, Summer 2016

Fig. 19: Magnetometry by Eastern Atlas, Summer 2016

Fig. 22: Triglyph, Summer 2016

Fig. 23: Quarries of bio-oosparrite

Fig. 24: Geomagnetic survey and data processing

Fig. 25: Settlement area of Ancient Sikyon

Fig. 27: Excavations in Fields 1-5

Fig. 28: Removal of blocks and lapidarium at Agia Varvara

Fig. 29: Find processing and flotation at the depot

Fig. 30: Participants in the summer season 2018 of the Old Sikyon project (S. Müth)

Fig. 31: Structures found in the excavations 2017-2018 on the background of the geomagnetic map (S. Müth, Institute of Geosciences/CAU Kiel, on the basis of Google Earth)

Fig. 32: 3D documentation of Byzantine graves in Trench 6A (T. Hansen)

Fig. 33: Excavations fields of the 2018 season (S. Müth on the basis of Google Earth)

Fig. 34: Recovery of a complete hydria by the conservator A. Kandri and two workers (S. Müth)

Fig. 35: Excavation and drawing of Classical building remains in Trench 7A (S. Müth)

Fig. 36: Washing of pottery and drawing at the depot (S. Müth)

Fig. 37: Group picture of the participants of the 2019 summer season (The Old Sikyon Project)
Sikyon Fig 37

Fig. 38: Fields with excavation trenches in the summer season of 2019 (on the basis of Google Earth)
Sikyon Fig 38

Fig. 39: Drone picture of Trench 3A from southeast with the ‘Heroon’ and its surroundings (The Old Sikyon Project)
Sikyon Fig 39

Fig. 40: Grave from the 5th c. BC next to the ‘Heroon’ in Trench 3A, with remains of the shoes of the deceased (The Old Sikyon Project)
Sikyon Fig 40

Fig. 41: The grave monument from the late Classical or early Hellenistic period in Trench 7C (The Old Sikyon Project)
Sikyon Fig 41

Fig. 42: Remains of a grave ritual in Trench 7C with burned figurines and pottery (The Old Sikyon Project)
Sikyon Fig 42

Fig. 43: Drone picture of Trench 7B with Classical building remains (The Old Sikyon Project)
Sikyon Fig 43

Fig. 44: Part of a monumental building from the late Classical period in Trench 8A (The Old Sikyon Project)
Sikyon Fig 44

Fig. 45: Removal of the large Byzantine pithos from Trench 8A (The Old Sikyon Project)
Sikyon Fig 45

Fig. 46: Drone picture of Trench 9A with domestic structures (The Old Sikyon Project)
Sikyon Fig 46

Fig. 47: Drone picture of Trench 9B from northeast with Archaic to Hellenistic structures (The Old Sikyon Project)
Sikyon Fig 47