UC Team Pinpoints Site of Archaic Temple

The 80th anniversary of archaeology at the University of Cincinnati is being marked by yet another archaeological discovery.

UC archaeologists have pinpointed the site of an Archaic temple, believed to be the first signs found of the Greek colony of Epidamnus, located in present-day Albania at Durres.

A UC team led by Jack Davis, the Carl W. Blegen Chair in Greek Archaeology, and Sharon Stocker, a doctoral student in archaeology, discovered the site while on an urgent mission at Durres with colleagues at the Albanian Institute of Archaeology. Their task was to survey Albania’s significant historical sites before they would be lost to rapid commercialization and development. They traveled to Durres for exploration in March 2001, hoping to beat the massive migration, looting and development that had begun after the fall of communism.

Davis is a pioneer in the use of a technique called field surface survey, which explores the archaeological significance of a broad area without the expense of excavation. “One aspect of surveying is to identify significant spots for protection and further exploration before undertaking an expensive excavation project,” says Davis. In this case, the UC team found ancient terracotta tiles, some Classical Hellenistic black-glaze pottery sherds and two fragments of an ashlar block that led them to suspect that they had stumbled upon the site of an Archaic temple. The site was near an area where more architectural pieces of terracotta had been found some years ago.

The UC discovery spurred an archaeological team led by Iris Pojani, director of the International Centre of Alabanian Archaeology (ICAA) based in Tirana, to begin excavations at the site.  Pojani’s team uncovered the Archaic temple in November 2002.

“Actually, the site was defined by the survey that Jack and Shari's team did in Durres’ hilly uplands in May 2001,” says Pojani.

Pojani says the temple is conserved partly because it was abandoned in antiquity, but it sustained considerable damage during military and agricultural action the 1970s. So far, the Albanian team has excavated the temple’s foundations and a structure of a fallen roof.

Says Gloria Ferrari Pinney, research professor of the classics and history of art and architecturep at Harvard University, “The most important thing about the temple is the temple itself, because of its antiquity, to begin with. To my knowledge it  is the only archaic temple that has been found in this region and it is likely to add to our knowledge of the growth of monumental architecture and regional developments.  I am interested at the moment in an ancient tradition about a pilgrimage route that brought offerings from the Danubian region to Delos, in the middle of  the Aegean, along the Adriatic coast, via Dodona, in Epirus, which is south-east of Epidamnus. I wonder now if and how the 'new' temple fit into this route, and how far north one might be able to trace it.”

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She also notes that “we know next to nothing of the Archaic and Classical Greek city of Epidamnus. In general, this area of Greek colonization is archaeologically less well known than Magna Graecia  and Sicily or the Black Sea area, so that an addition such as this to  our meagre documentation will be welcomed by scholars dealing with the archaeology of colonization -- a hot topic at the moment.”

From the point of view of newer field methods, “the discovery is a spectacular demonstration of what can be achieved by means of the non-destructive, relatively low-cost techniques of archaeological survey that have been developed so effectively by Jack Davis and his team working in the Peloponnese and now in Albania,” she adds.

Located in western Albania along the Adriatic Sea, the site is about 40 minutes northwest of Tirana by car.

Established in 627 B.C. by Corinthian colonists living on the island of  Corfu, Epidamnos held a strategic position in the Greek and Roman world. It was located just across the Adriatic Sea from present-day Italy. The city also became one of the points of disagreement between Sparta and Athens during the Peloponnesian War. In the Roman era, it bore the name of Dyrrachium and was the western starting point of the Via Egnatia, a road that ran all the way to Istanbul. The city also holds significance in that Pompey had a base there during his civil war with Julius Caesar.

Pojani is working with the Institute of Monuments in Tirana on a conservation plan for the temple.  Her team is made up by students of the Tirana University and archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology in Tirana.  Her project and the UC work in Durres were supported by the Packard Humanities Institute.

Jack L. Davis, UC professor of classics, 513-556-1939 (o); jack.davis@uc.edu

Iris Pojani, director, Centre of Alabanian Archaeology; ipojani@albaniaonline.net

Gloria Pinney, Harvard research professor of the classics and history of art and architecture, 617-495-2156; pinney@fas.harvard.edu

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