BMCR 2005.03.02

Sinop Landscapes: Exploring Connections in a Black Sea Hinterland

, Sinop Landscapes: Exploring Connections in a Black Sea Hinterland. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2004. 211; figs. 97, tables 14. $39.95.

The Black Sea world, though long a part of the scholarship of the ancient world, has been relatively neglected. Within the context of Classical studies, in particular, the region awaits the full light of scholarly interest. Although issues of colonization and the development of interconnectivity inform the work of nearly every scholar in classics and history, in the case of the Black Sea, access to material data has been an issue for many western scholars. Thus, while much work, especially that which focuses on colonization and art history, has touched on facets of the classical Greek experience in the Black Sea, and somewhat less on those peoples with whom they interacted, there are myriad questions that need asking. With the publication of Owen Doonan’s (hereafter D) Sinop Landscapes: Exploring Connection in a Black Sea Hinterland (hereafter SL) we have taken a small step in the direction of elucidating one of the most fascinating and promising arenas of archaeological and cultural research. This is particularly so when one considers the geographical locus of the Black Sea as a natural gateway between the Caucasus and Eurasian steppe, with its own, vast ‘hinterland’ where opened the great civilizations of Central Asia. Although D aims to discuss more than 5,000 years of settlement history in SL, given this journal’s focus and the research interest of the present reviewer, I shall focus on the Greek-Roman periods.

Chapter 1: introductory material, geographical and climatic overview. In this chapter, D effectively places Sinop within its context, rightly stressing that the area was always more naturally inclined to engagement with the Black Sea littoral than the hinterland of the city thrust against the Pontic Alps. Conducting a study of connectivity and the internal-external dynamics of economic and social relations is, in the context of Sinop, a bit like studying an island. This fact comes across well in Chapter 1.

Chapter 2 outlines the scope, aims and methods of the work of the Sinop Regional Archaeological Project (SRAP). The fieldwork reported in this volume is very much in progress, as the author stresses from the outset. In this chapter we find the expected discussion of hypotheses advanced regarding landscape formation and the human rendering and interpretation of them. One of the considerations that D makes is to recognize both the potential and limitations of survey and some ideas critical within the archaeological community. Although in some ways very specific, this is critical discussion that needs airing, especially to those approaching this realm from non-archaeological backgrounds. However, the caveat should be kept in mind that this book really is a preliminary study, and the approach that D finally settles upon is an econocentric model based on Bayesian statistical analysis. The survey itself has both extensive and intensive components, and D is quick to underscore the point that, though Mediterranean cultures insinuated themselves within the milieu of the Euxine, the Black Sea offers a set of ecological and geological boundaries that many intensive surveys in the Mediterranean do not face. Temperate, overgrown environments are a key challenge to overcome. The division of the survey area into eleven environmental and topographic zones highlights this challenge, and as the reader is taken through each of them, one feels that there was considerable adaptation and evolution within the original concepts of survey that the participants had brought with them from the Mediterranean. In the end, though, the feeling that SRAP has yet to conquer the problems of elevation and vegetation coverage that dog surveys in Old World temperate, mountainous environments cannot be escaped. Undoubtedly this will be a focus of future work, as many of the sampling and recording methods outlined in this chapter are either discarded or prove their merit.

Chapter 3, Sinop Before Colonial Times, provides a brief overview of the little data we possess from the Sinop hinterland in the Stone and Iron Ages. One of the more intriguing sections of this chapter discusses the Early Bronze Age settlement discovered at Sinop kale NW, which underlies the Hellenistic and later walls there. Here again the vision is sweeping, covering broad changes from 6,000-1,000 B.C.E. In these phases of settlement the question of gravity is of course the extent to which the inhabitants of the coast interacted with the Anatolian hinterland and the coastal regions of the Black Sea. The excavations at Ikiztepe provide obvious comparanda for the earlier phases of Sinop, but for the ceramics from the Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Bronze Age collections to be more accessible, we would like to see more illustrations of the material. As the data continue to be assessed, they are likely to continue to show, as D suggests, that the beginning of a Black Sea complex was in kernel quite early and that Sinop always looked more to the waterways than to the landscapes behind these settlements.

This is the trend that certainly emerges from the analysis presented in Chapter 4, which deals with the colonial episode, when Sinop became the site of the colony called Sinope, from the 7th-3rd centuries B.C.E. D supports the 7th-century foundation of the city and this is where text and archaeology have a significant meeting point, in which the author engages Strabo and Diodorus Siculus with the accumulating archaeological data to support the date later than some have derived from Eusebius’ account. In this chapter the initial sections deal with a textual survey extending into the Hellenistic period. This is followed by the archaeological record, which is mostly negative for the region of Boztepe until the Hellenistic period. Material from the fourth century onwards yields ample data on the expansion of settlement in the city chora and further afield. It is from this time that Sinopean amphorae begin to establish the overseas commercial identity of the city, internally expressed in the 164 magistrates and 256 local potters documented in the amphorae stamps of the city.

This industrial feature of Sinopean history is further addressed in Chapter 5, which again begins with a survey of the textual evidence of the Roman period. Archaeologically, the number of sites discovered suggests considerable expansion and a thalassic economy, with settlement developed in areas with few agricultural possibilities. Change in the urban landscape is also detectable, with the early data evidencing suburban expansion, and the integration of Sinope within the wider Black Sea world reaching its height. Unsurprisingly, settlement penetrated into the uplands and into previously little exploited landscape zones. The initial survey results are tantalizing, but ultimately we are left waiting for the final reports.

Chapter 6, which covers the materially challenging Medieval-period settlement phase, has many similarities with the pre-colonial chapter. Coverage is selective and spotty, and we are taken up and down historical periods without a clear anchor within chronology or place. This situation is not much helped by the coastal-inland place headings that carry over from chapter to chapter. Lack of evidence and ceramic chronologies is clearly a problem here, due in large part to the general malaise of medieval and modern archaeology within Turkey. For example, the focus on Byzantine-Turkish remains in the highlands features prominently in this chapter, more so than in the discussion of the Hellenistic-Roman periods, although D states that these higher areas were more sparsely populated during the later phases. The picture rendered is thus one of interesting features rather than a holistic vision of settlement and land use. This diverts the discussion to pastoral and religious features within the uplands that will hopefully be further examined in the final publication of the SRAP.

Chapter 7 offers a synthetic view of the coast-hinterland dichotomy established throughout SL. Boztepe, the Demirci Valley and Karasu Valley each are examined in light of the systematic survey conducted there. The addition of the Highlands and attempts to draw conclusions about them, D admits, would be awkward given the lack of systematic survey undertaken there. Nonetheless, this chapter draws together the whole work and demonstrates what we can expect from the methodologies employed. In the end, the focus remains on the ebb and flow of settlement as detectable in the number of sites. However, given the numerous questions, ecological variety, and chronological expanse of the SRAP, we are left wondering what is next.

With all the questions that appear throughout the text, and the archaeological debates of which D is certainly cognizant, we might expect a fully developed picture of future work in light of past experience. Unfortunately, what appears is a rather pixillated image that reads more like a to-do list than a coherent methodological framework integrating the most suitable instruments from an ever-expanding list of survey tools.

As is clear from the start, this work is really a preliminary report. Given the importance of the Sinop region, the lack of synthetic archaeological work published previously, and the long-term nature of the investigation, a monograph is understandable. Scholars have for years lacked easily accessible scientific survey work from the Black Sea region. Given the precarious nature of offering analysis based on preliminary data, however, one wonders if much of the material in SL would have been better presented in a series of articles. In particular, the lack of illustrated and quantified ceramic materials that could be accommodated in a book of rather modest size was an obvious hindrance to any real scrutiny. In a similar vein, the small format of the book hinders the presentation of such illustrative material. Throughout the work another problem spot is the inconsistent quality of the images, some of which are too dark and lack the clarity required to advance the text. This is a study that in every way outgrows the space: at times SL gets caught up in a discussion that we know must take place, but certainly cannot be resolved in a preliminary study. As an introduction to Sinop and to archaeological methods where those studying Mediterranean life naturally turn, D offers a stimulating view of the challenges and ways forward for this project. Many arenas of research are available to him in a promising arena that is intellectually and archaeologically open country. Given the glimpses offered in SL, we eagerly await the full publication of the SRAP that, when it appears, will undoubtedly form a standard work on Pontic survey archaeology.