Monday, July 18, 2011

A Brief History of Isthmia

The archaeological site at Isthmia lies in a region of Greece known as the Korinthia, with Korinth as the most famous city in that area (Figure 5.1). There is archaeological evidence that humans have lived in the Korinthia since the Neolithic Era (New Stone Age; ca. 6500-3000 BC).

The region produces a brown stone known as chert that can be fashioned into tools such as axes and sickles. Archaeologists have found fragments of such tools scattered throughout the Korinthia along with pottery from the Neolithic period. Isthmia is one of the sites where Stone Age artifacts have been found. There were Neolithic settlers at a place called the Rachi, a ridge near the future site of the Temple of Poseidon. Unfortunately, not enough artifacts have been found to determine the size of the site or how long it was inhabited.

Archaeologists have also found signs of habitation at Isthmia during the Bronze Age (ca. 3000-1200 BC). The last part of the Bronze Age is known as the Mycenaean Period (ca. 1600-1200 BC). During this period Greece was divided into kingdoms and agricultural products and trade goods flowed into the palaces of each king. Most palace sites were fortified by walls constructed from large irregular stones in a kind of construction known as Cyclopean masonry.

Some of this kind of masonry has been found at Isthmia, and it has been suggested that the Mycenaeans attempted to build a wall across the Isthmus to protect southern Greece from northern invaders. It is now thought that this wall was not for defense, but it probably does reflect a Mycenaean presence in the area. There is other evidence that Isthmia was inhabited during the late Bronze Age (Figure 5.2). From pottery we know that people lived near the site, but the size of the settlement was probably small.

The Dark Age of Greece (ca 1200-800 BC) was characterized by massive depopulation, as many late Bronze Age sites were destroyed. The general level of material culture in Greece also declined, and finds of artifacts from this period are fewer and smaller than in the Mycenaean Period. Again, archaeology allows us to discover what kinds of things were going on at Isthmia.

Pottery finds reveal that it was during this period, perhaps during the 11th century, that the site was first used as a center for religious activity. The reason for this observation is that the pottery found there includes pieces normally used only in religious ritual. There was a road running through the Isthmus, and during this period a small shrine stood along this road near the Saronic Gulf.

For more interesting topics related to archaeology, visit archaeology excavations.

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