BMCR 2010.12.03

Sagalassos VI: Geo- and Bio-archaeology at Sagalassos and in its Territory

, , Sagalassos VI: Geo- and Bio-archaeology at Sagalassos and in its Territory. Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2008. viii, 328. ISBN 9789058676610. $89.50 (pb).

In the mid-1880s the Polish count K. Von Lanckoronski led an architectural survey of some hitherto unknown Pisidian and Pamphilian cities in an effort to document their city plans.1 Conducted with the zest and the means of the day, Lanckoronski’s investigations laid the foundations for modern research thanks to fieldwork accuracy and meticulous publications. Stephen Mitchell’s survey of Cremna2 and Marc Waelkens’ current investigations at Sagalassos, in particular, have continued this important legacy. While Cremna still awaits a program of excavations, Sagalassos for the past two decades has been investigated by a Belgian venture directed by Marc Waelkens. The current excavations of the upper agora (in tandem with an exemplary program of anastylosis) are but one facet, albeit the most spectacular one, of the breadth of activities that are carried out under the “fieldwork” rubric in Sagalassos. What is more, these excavations elucidate the commingling of local euergetism and imperial initiatives that physically modified this urban milieu thereby leading it to greater prominence in Pisidia at the time of the early Empire. The gradual unearthing and restoring of the ancient city, however, are germane to a constellation of other research initiatives. Among these, J. Poblome’s on-going study of the ceramic industry and regional archaeological survey stand out as they highlight Sagalassos’ settlement narrative(s) as well as the ancient city’s economic and social landscapes.

As for the dissemination of these results, the “SAGA” series (in conjunction with its pendant SEMA) should be on the bookshelf of any scholar interested in the urban history of Asia Minor. Sagalassos VI, edited by Degryse and Waelkens, indeed continues this tradition. It is a thought-provoking collection of essays that, as the title suggests, deals with the application of sciences to the archaeological discourse at Sagalassos. Pitched for a specialist audience, the book varies greatly in focus and presents a vast range of research questions, maintaining, however, its structural coherence. The book consists of four sections, “Geological Setting,” “the Geomorphological setting,” “the Climatic Setting,” and “Exploitation of local resources and the Import of Subsistence Goods” form the armature. In the preface Marc Waelkens offers a useful presentation of the volume as well as a synopsis of twenty years of fieldwork at Sagalassos. Half a manifesto to Sagalassos’ “holistic archaeology,” half a chronology of scholars and agencies that underpinned this research, the chapter conveys the lengths this project has gone from its early days of the Pisidia Project. The following chapter,P. Degryse’s analysis of Sagalassos’ tectonic setting, brings to the fore the environmental framework that is indispensable to the understanding of the landscape modifications that occurred through time. The sheer scale of data acquisition on the ground, in conjunction with satellite imagery enabled the production of a geological map that explicates the Sagalassos basin’s geological configuration, the progression of environmental changes and, ultimately, the cascade of settlement responses. The presence of a glossary at the end of the chapter is a welcome addition for those who are not particularly steeped in the study of Paleozoic rocks. The following chapter by Philippe Muchez et al., finesses the picture presented by Degryse and brings into focus the petrographic and chemical specificities of rocks that characterize the landscape of Sagalassos. While outlining geochemical information, the article tangentially addresses the historical cycles with which certain types of raw materials, notably limestone, volcanic tuff and travertine were employed for Sagalassos’ building programs. The following group of three essays by Dominique Similox-Tohon et al. treats issues of seismology and represents a discrete unit in its own right. While the choice of replicating (almost verbatim) the incipit of two of the chapters in object is somewhat perplexing, the contribution that they offer is noteworthy on many counts. First, the essays emphasize that the history of Sagalassos is punctuated by earthquakes, as the city is poised in a first degree seismic zone. Similox- Tohon argues that the identification of active faults (through remote sensing and survey) in the Burdur- Isparta region as well as the assessment of their bearings on landscape geomorphology and drainage patterns are essential to identify signatures of unknown faults in the environs of the ancient city. Second, the authors propose the identification of systems of newly found faults; lying within a 20 km radius from Sagalassos these may account for the catastrophic events of the 6th and 7th centuries CE.

The book’s Part II (“The Geomorphological Setting”) offers further details about the battery of new technologies employed at Sagalassos. Veronique de Laet et al., in particular, address the potential (and shortcomings) of remote sensing through GIS, pixel- and object-base classification, applied to both excavated and unexcavated archaeological features in and around Sagalassos. Following this, Simon Six et al. steer the discussion toward paleoenvironment and its ecological byproducts. In a first of two essays they offer a report on the campaign of cores extraction undertaken in the Gravgaz basin, 15 km southwest of Sagalassos. The article, however, is centered on the recovery of a thin layer of tephra (the ashes resulting from the fallout of Santorini’s volcanic explosion) and with its regional ramifications. More fundamentally, this evidence provides a robust yardstick for the understanding of the region’s settlement history. A second essay by Simon Six et al. offers a snapshot of Sagalassos’ paleoenvironment; based on the results of the cores extracted in the Gravgaz basin, the authors propose a fascinating sediment history that informs the ebb and flow between the environment’s dry and wet conditions as well as the responses by human agencies. “The Climatic Setting” is the object of

Part III; at its onset is an article by Degryse et al., the focus of which is the analysis of travertine beds in the Başköy district (5 Km west of Sagalassos) and their signature of paludal and/or fluvial systems, evidence for the exposure to the action of water. Ultimately this calls into question the hydrological configuration of the region in antiquity, and in particular, the course of the Kestros river and its tributaries. In the succeeding essay, Degryse et al. take on the issue of limestone weathering. The survey aimed to test the action of elements (lichen, wind, frost and thaw cycles) that by and large cause stone deterioration, while also studying fissure patterns in discrete buildings, notably the Late Antonine nymphaeum, the theater, the fortifications and the Doric temple.

The book’s Part IV addresses in greater detail the question of the exploitation of local resources by the communities settled in Sagalassos and vicinity. The assortment of articles in the section is of great interest as it spans various aspects of archaeometry, applied as it were to ceramics and fish fauna. Poblome and Degryse angle the discussion from the viewpoint of clay resources; host to a thriving ceramics industry, Sagalassos’ landscape was sampled by the survey team so as to identify potential clay sources within the city’s catchment and thus illustrate the logistics this industry entailed. Importantly, however, geo-chemical and mineralogical analyses were brought to bear to identify most raw materials for the production of table and common wares. The same authors (along with several other contributors) focus the following essay on Sagalassos’ hallmark ceramic production, that is the red slip ware: at stake, however, is the pinpointing of the slip’s nature and provenience. To that end, 18 samples of vessels collected at various locations were chemically analyzed. They demonstrated that the ophiolitic clays found near the potter’s quarter were in all likelihood the prime source for the raw material. In a third essay, Degryse et al. turn to Sagalassos’ quarry landscape.

In brief, this very interesting study draws on the lithological analyses conducted in the region while adding a new layer about the constellation of short- and long- term exploitation quarries that framed the ancient city and supplied its building programs (especially during the Julio-Claudian, Flavian-Trajanic and Severan periods). The successive essay by Kimpe et al. elucidates the advantages a of lipid residues analysis applied to ceramics. This novel approach is a departure from the conventional analysis of seeds and bones found inside vessels and has implications on the general discourse of diet and nutrition in the ancient city, and by extension, on its economy. Finally, Van Neer et al. present the results of their surveys on the region’s main bodies of water; these were designed to gauge the characteristics of fish fauna in antiquity. Their results posit intriguing questions about long-distance and local trade of fish, thus opening important vistas on Sagalassos’ economic outlook and on the insertion of the city in a supra-regional web of commerce networks. All in all, this volume has much to recommend it. Copiously illustrated and clearly written the book has one great strength: Waelkens and Degryse as well as each individual author bridge the divide between raw scientific data and archaeological context, embedding tables, charts and figures right into the archaeological narrative, ultimately heightening our understanding of this unique Pisidian community.


1. K. von Lanckoronski et al., Städte Pamphyliens und Pisidiens I-II, Wien 1890-1892.

2. S. Mitchell, Cremna in Pisidia. An Ancient City in Peace and in War, London 1996.