An Analysis of the Architecture and Material Culture from the Earthquake House at Kourion, Cyprus
Costello, Benjamin, IV
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In the late 4th century AD, the site of Kourion, Cyprus was destroyed by an earthquake that struck with little or no warning, trapping victims and objects where they lay. Although much of the site was reoccupied and rebuilt, some areas were not, thus providing a unique example of an ancient city truly "frozen" in time. This dissertation presents the results obtained from a comprehensive study of the architecture, stratigraphy, and material culture assemblage recovered from the "Earthquake House," a multi-roomed domestic structure that was destroyed during this seismic event. The architectural analysis revealed that the Earthquake House was a modest construction whose techniques and overall plan reflect local traditions and functionality. During its life cycle, a number of modifications were made to the structure that increased its overall size and subdivided its internal spaces. Despite this expansion, the lack of any elements associated with aristocratic architecture indicates that the inhabitants of the Earthquake House did not aspire to elite status. Although the timing and reasons for these changes are unknown, they should not be construed as evidence of "decline," only that it was necessary to adapt the structure architecturally to serve the changing needs of the occupants. Study of the entire artifact assemblage recovered from the Earthquake House provided significant insights into the processes surrounding the use, re-use, and discard of artifacts. This analysis facilitated the identification of numerous behaviors by the inhabitants during the final occupation of the structure including the storage of consumable and non-consumable commodities, storage of material for reuse and/or recycling, food preparation, and waste disposal, including a partial reconstruction of the domestic "waste stream" in and among several architectural spaces. The archaeological documentation of these processes provides confirmation of many domestic activities and behaviors that are largely unseen in the archaeological record, and whose reconstruction has been based predominantly on theoretical models derived from ethnographic observations. Analysis of the artifact assemblage was further used to elucidate individual room function(s), specifically the types, locations, and diversity of activities that took place within them. As with previous studies of this type, the analysis of the artifact assemblage from the Earthquake House confirmed the flexible nature of domestic space, providing evidence for multiple activities occurring within a single room as well as the same activity taking place in multiple locations throughout the structure. Based on the architectural remodeling, artifact distribution, and the human remains recovered, the existence of at least two, possibly three, different residential groups that inhabited distinct parts of the structure can be inferred. This study has produced a nuanced model for understanding the distribution of artifacts in ancient domestic contexts. The results have demonstrated that even in cases of near instantaneous destruction without significant disturbance, a wide variety of variables must be considered when examining the artifacts of domestic assemblages including multi-functionality, condition, context, use status, and the overall organization of space. The methodology utilized in this work represents a step forward in the field of material culture studies that can be applied to other similarly well preserved and excavated assemblages in order to create a greater understanding of domestic life in the ancient world.