The American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Elizabeth Pemberton and Ian McPhee work on their manuscript in the storerooms at Ancient Corinth. Photo James Wiseman.


Late Classical Pottery from Ancient Corinth: An Interview with Elizabeth Pemberton and Ian McPhee

by Andrew Reinhard

In 1971 in the southwestern area of the Roman Forum of Corinth, a round-bottomed drainage channel was discovered filled with the largest deposit of pottery of the 4th century ever found in the city, along with coins, terracotta figurines, and metal and stone objects. Authors Ian McPhee and Elizabeth Pemberton have just published the finds of the excavation in Late Classical Pottery from Ancient Corinth: Drain 1971-1 in the Forum Southwest (Corinth VII.6). They emailed with Andrew Reinhard, ASCSA’s Director of Publications, from their home in Australia about their work.

Andrew: When did you both start working in Corinth? How often do you return to the site?

Betsy: I began my love affair with Corinth in 1965, when I was a regular member of the School and spent the spring on the training excavation there. Henry Robinson suggested I study the material from the Vrysoula Classical deposit. After I finished that, Ron Stroud and Nancy Bookidis asked me to study the Greek pottery from the Sanctuary of Demeter and Kore. And I still am!

Ian: In 1973, Cedric Boulter, who had the responsibility for publishing the red-figure from the Corinth excavations and who supervised my Ph.D. thesis at Cincinnati, very generously gave me the 4th-century material in his care to publish.

It was Corinth that brought us together, in 1980. We try to return every year, sometimes even twice a year. It is our home away from home.

Andrew: Do you usually collaborate on research? What were the dynamics like when working together to complete this volume? Was there a division of labor?

Betsy: No. We have had few cooperative ventures, just a few short articles for Festschriften and a very small note in ZPE. We did initially divide the material from the Drain – and we shall not disclose who did what, though gender archaeology could be a clue – but we read each other’s work, so that the organization of the discussion did not diverge too much. Such collaboration can test a marriage, but neither of us is particularly thin-skinned, and we often reinterpreted our original analyses through argument.

Andrew: How/why were you assigned the material from Drain 1971-1?

Ian: We had both been nibbling at the edges of the Drain pottery for a number of years: Betsy for the black-glazed and stamped wares, and me for Corinthian oinochoai, Falaieff kraters, and Corinthian bell-kraters (all published in Hesperia). Increasingly, we saw how important the material was, so finally in the mid-1990s we asked Charles Williams, Director of the Corinth Excavations at that time, if we could publish it. And he kindly agreed.

Andrew: In the deposit, there is pottery for transport and storage, food preparation and measurement, cooking, serving/dining/drinking, lamps, oils/perfumes, and other things made from a variety of fabrics, some decorated and some plain. There are also coins, terracotta figurines, and other objects. Was this all fairly standard material to be expected within its context, or was there anything unusual in what was recovered from the drain? What does the excavated material tell us about Classical Corinth?

Ian: Since there is no other deposit of the 4th century from Corinth that has been published, the drain gives us for the first time a clear idea of the many types of pottery, both local and imported, in use in this part of the city, particularly during the second half of the 4th century. It is important to emphasize that this is the largest closed deposit of Classical pottery found to date in Corinth, over 500 kg. What is unusual is the diversity of shapes, including a few that seem to have a Macedonian connection.

The pottery provides insight into dining and food preparation in the city, and into changes in cooking and drinking during the 4th century. One of the reasons we wanted to study the deposit as a whole is that it dates to a critical period in Corinthian history, when the Macedonians had taken control of the city, with a garrison on the citadel. The study of the contents of the drain gave us the opportunity to consider the evidence for Macedonian presence in Corinth.

Andrew: Why would the pottery, coins, figurines, and other objects end up in the drain?

Betsy: Although a few artifacts were probably thrown into the drain during its use, most of the material was dumped at one time. This area of the Classical city was severely affected in the later 4th century, possibly by one or more earthquakes. In the cleaning up, much material from the buildings on either side was thrown into the open drain to level the area. This should be regarded as the first stage in the preparation of the area for the construction of the South Stoa, the major monument of the Hellenistic period.

Andrew: Prior to the discovery of the pottery in Drain 1971-1, what was the presumed date of the construction of the South Stoa?

Ian: Oscar Broneer, who published the Stoa in Corinth I.4, in 1954, believed that such a large building should be associated with the League of Corinth, and he proposed a date between 337 and 323 for the Stoa’s construction. But subsequent finds, both from excavation and from pottery sequences, began to push the date down. Some scholars have subsequently suggested that it was built at the very end of the 4th or the early 3rd century.

In 1971, Charles Williams excavated Buildings I and II, and Drain 1971-1, which are partly under the terrace of the Stoa. The pottery from the drain indicates that the Stoa could not have been built before the last decade of the 4th century, and probably somewhat later.

Andrew: What did you learn from the neutron activation analysis of the pottery?

Betsy: Chemical and petrographic analyses are increasingly important for pottery, when possible. Even though there can be differences in pottery fabrics that are discernible to the eye, it is more objective to base conclusions about clay origins on chemical or petrological testing. There has been little published analysis of Greek cooking ware, so this was the area we explored. We can now say that certain fabrics are not Corinthian, and that one group of very dark brown clay vessels, hitherto thought to be imported, is indeed local.

Andrew: What are your next projects? Are you working together on anything new?

Ian: No, there are no collaborative efforts planned, though we always help each other. There is often so much pottery to sort through, that four hands and four eyes make the study more efficient, and indeed more fun!

I am currently studying 5th-century material from a well excavated in 1970, and am also preparing an article on a fragmentary Attic bell-krater, a very late example of the red-figure technique.

Betsy: I have returned to the Demeter Sanctuary. I have submitted a study of the offering trays from the Sanctuary and am currently revisiting the votive deposits and pits, to investigate when a deposit represents cult activity and when it is a secondary dump.

Late Classical Pottery from Ancient Corinth is available for purchase here.

Late Classical Pottery from Ancient Corinth: Drain 1971-1 in the Forum Southwest (Corinth VII.6)
by Ian McPhee and Elizabeth G. Pemberton
318 pp., 1 col. frontispiece, 74 b/w figs., 4 b/w ills., 52 b/w pls., 18 charts, 4 tables
Cloth, ISBN: 978-0-87661-076-3