Report 8: Ordinary Lydians at Home: The Lydian Trenches of the House of Bronzes and Pactolus Cliff at Sardis (2021)

by Andrew Ramage and Nancy H. Ramage

Chapter 3. Late Bronze Age and Earliest Iron Age (Thirteenth to Tenth Century B.C.)


Because of the difficulties involved in clearing a wide area of HoB to the depth required to reach levels of the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age, sondages in a few areas were undertaken in 1960, 1962, and 1966; they are referred to in the preliminary reports as “deep pits,” but in this volume are called “deep soundings.”1 The three deep soundings are all in the northeast area of the trench (Fig. 3.1) and were set close enough together to provide evidence that would be comparable to that from a wide continuous surface at the lower levels.

The stratigraphy of the three soundings displayed an appropriate uniformity, when one allows for the probable unevenness of the ancient surface and the slight slope downward to the north described in the Introduction. In all the soundings, ample numbers of potsherds and indications of organic matter were mixed with layers of clayey earth (exemplified by Fig. 3.3). In other words, the texture of the earth, when it had a heavy clay content, was a sure indication that we were in a habitation level. These layers were separated by bands of sandy gravel, sometimes containing a few worn potsherds, but frequently barren of any occupational material.

This finding is similar to the situation in the upper levels, except that on the South Side of HoB, thick bands of coarse gravel are less in evidence between *98.40 and *97.60, and sandy lenses are more frequent (Fig. 3.3). Although a surface or floor can sometimes be recognized, these earth bands are better thought of as the remains of an occupational level brought to an end by flooding, only to be covered with erosional debris as a result of desertion and neglect. Judging from our experience in later levels, where there is wider exposure, not every band of clay in the separate deep soundings should be turned into a subphase, since isolated patches of occupational debris are often found at slightly different levels. One has to be content with positing continual but intermittent habitation over the long period of the Late Bronze Age and Earliest Iron Age.

Within the range of levels of the following period, Lydian IV, little differentiation of levels or strata could be distinguished, although bands of clay and soil, as well as some occupational debris separated by gravel bands, were identified (see Chapter 4).2 But from the nature of the debris in Late Bronze Age levels, we can propose structures of the same kind as, but flimsier than, those found in the Lydian III Destruction Level at ca. *97.0 (see Fig. 5.1), to be discussed in Chapter 5. The evidence agrees well with the overall historical picture that suggests a gradual increase in settled populations, trade, prosperity, and eventually urbanism during the Early Iron Age across the Aegean region. It is however completely different from Gordion, where the site was remarkably urbanized, and home to several monumental buildings, by the ninth century B.C.3

All of the deep soundings began at the level of the heavily burned layer of the late eighth century, below the Lydian III Destruction Level (see Chapter 5). A second burned level was located lower down, not necessarily the result of an attack but more likely a domestic fire.4 In the catalogue, finds from just below the Destruction Level (down to *96.5) have been placed in the Lydian III phase, and those from *96.5 to *94.75 in the Lydian IV phase, both discussed separately in the following chapters.

The catalogue of finds from each of the deep soundings starts with finds from the *94.75 floor. Thus, in each case, the deep soundings begin below Lydian III. This means that pottery and other objects that came from a higher level—in other words, those that were found above the levels of Lydian IV—are not considered part of the deep sounding, even if they come from the same grid coordinates as the deep sounding at the lower levels.

Let us postulate that the kernel of what was to become “Golden Sardis” originated during the Early Iron Age. We can even turn to the Herodotean tradition of the founding of the Heraklid dynasty in the late second or earliest first millennium5 and suggest that it reflects the memory of a renaissance or an indirect reference to closer political and economic relations with the Aegean. Some such pattern of events may be inferred from the radical change in the tradition of decorated pottery seen between the Early Iron Age and Lydian IV, to be described in the following chapter.6 We can at least allow the existence of a village, now that the remains of these deep soundings and the implications of the finds have been studied. For whatever the specific attributions of particular pots, imported or local, early or late, we must recognize the quantity and variety, and note the presence of the resources necessary either to acquire them through trade or to make them locally in imitation of external models. It is possible, too, that the thicker clay layers, the “major strata,” were the result of more sustained occupation and perhaps more prosperous times than we are accustomed to allow.

  • Fig. 3.1

    The three deep soundings, A, B, and C, and some of the test pits, with Lydian IV features nearby. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.3

    South face of test pit in South Side of HoB at W15–35, section at S120 (see Fig. 3.2). (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 5.1

    Lydian III features in the Lydian Trench of sector HoB. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Deep Sounding C

Because Deep Sounding C was the largest of the three soundings, and yielded the most features and artifacts, we shall discuss it first (even though it was excavated last), to be followed by Deep Soundings B and A, in that order.

In 1966 we reached the deepest levels excavated to that point at Sardis,7 digging down seven meters below the Lydian III Destruction Level. Although starting from a relatively wide area of exposure at ca. *97.00 (Fig. 3.4), at the late eighth century level,8 the trench was very small at its lowest level, the Late Bronze Age or possibly Middle Bronze Age, at *89.90.

Just over a meter below the destruction surface, about 1.7 m of thick bands of dense earth appeared.9 The upper 30 centimeters overlay a floor,10 indicated by patches of charcoal and groups of small stones resting on the surface, including a collection of stones piled up into a square (Fig. 3.5). In the considerable concentration of pottery at this level, pithos sherds were particularly abundant. Pithoi here are plainer than those found in earlier levels in this trench (see below, pp. 40, 45), and most are of red clay. Typically at this level, pithos sherds might account for 50–80 percent, by bulk, of a day’s finds, which would run from ten to fifteen wooden boxes.11 Even allowing for the high number of pithos sherds, which take up a lot of room, this was a heavy concentration of pottery.

Despite the small size of the exposure, Late Bronze Age as well as Early Iron Age painted pottery12 was recovered daily from these strata (see Figs. 3.11 and 3.12). It is noteworthy that these different types of pottery were found on the same levels.

The finds included many pieces that were stylistically similar to Greek Protogeometric and Geometric wares, and show either actual imports or close local imitations; they bear witness to contact with mainland Greece and its islands. Among the objects other than pottery from these strata were a stone celt (HoB 241) and a group of a dozen loom weights (HoB 220HoB 229) as well as an iron sickle. Also of interest was a clay rack for holding an iron spit that would have been used for cooking food over the fire (HoB 230).13

At the center of the area, a floor level emerged in association with a line of stones and a good deal of charcoal and a piece of iron.14 This area produced about fifteen pieces of painted ware, mostly Black on Red with concentric circles, and a little fine Gray Ware and Buff Ware as well as pithos fragments. There were a few artifacts of an occupational or domestic kind, namely, a straight bronze pin with a rolled end (HoB 235) and another that was not inventoried, probably because it was rather corroded; and also a strainer (HoB 213). From just above the floor came fragments of an oven or furnace grate (HoB 251). A large iron double hook (HoB 238) lay on the floor, and nearby, an iron sickle blade (HoB 237). The presence of these iron tools and a knife (HoB 236) suggests that the Iron Age began rather earlier at Sardis than is usually acknowledged.

This pattern of finds is paralleled at another floor level, just below *95.00,15 with perhaps a little more Gray Ware. This level is Late Bronze Age or earliest Iron Age. Here we found a long, thin bronze needle (HoB 234) and an iron nail,16 as well as six pieces of grinding stone and an iron sickle (HoB 237). A notable object, a piece of clay with stick impressions (HoB 276), substantiates the idea that some of these stones carried a wattle and daub superstructure. Whether this was a piece of wall or roof is not clear. It could be that the area was in operation only seasonally in this period, and buildings were left untended between times of use; however, the quantities of pithos sherds imply a real investment and suggest a degree of settlement in one place. The thickness and extent of the bands of clayey earth, and the quality of the occasional painted and imported wares and metal items, attest to a life more prosperous than that of hand-to-mouth subsistence.

Swift recorded quantities of monochrome pottery, especially Gray Ware, which we connect with the Anatolian tradition.17 By far the most notable find was a nearly complete red clay pithos, set in the floor at *94.75, with its own neck fallen inside it (HoB 216; Fig. 3.6). It had mending holes, which means that it could not have held liquid and must have been used for dry storage.

The pithos was dug into the ground with only its broken neck projecting above the floor (Fig. 3.7). Inside, in addition to its own neck, were one complete doughnut-shaped loom weight (HoB 231) and fragments of three others, as well as one complete hammerhead loom weight and fragments of four others.18 Also inside was pottery sufficient to fill four boxes; many of these pieces were other pithos fragments made of red or red-buff clay, often with a gray or black core. Typically they had a flat rim forming a ledge toward the outer diameter, a short vertical neck, an ovoid body, and a flat base. Many would have stood over a meter high. A few were decorated on the neck with incised cross-hatching, hatched triangles, or wavy lines, sometimes on raised bands.

Associated pieces of pottery, in addition to the pithoi, were fragments of a fine small Gray Ware cup (HoB 23) and a coarse hand-formed basin made of gritty clay that had been fired at a low temperature (HoB 217). Of particular importance were fragments of two Mycenaean kraters with wavy lines (HoB 155, HoB 156),19 fragments of two jugs or amphorae (HoB 167, HoB 169),20 and the handle from a cup (HoB 141), all of which have been identified as Late Mycenaean or elegant local imitations. These pieces are particularly important for indicating contact between Sardis and the Aegean. Based on these fragments, the period to be assigned to this level (roughly *94.75) is Late Bronze Age. However, these levels have a certain fluidity because in a level basically overlapping this one, Protogeometric-influenced pottery was found.

The large number of pithos fragments provides telling evidence that either the material requirements for daily life in this period—Late Bronze or Early Iron Age—were quite different from those of the seventh century,21 or that remains from a specialized activity, like the processing and storage of liquid or cereal products, have been preserved. The pithoi noted here and in Deep Sounding B suggest that an area requiring storage of materials lay close at hand.

The painted and finer wares give a hint that this activity was not carried out in an isolated industrial area but was associated with household activities like eating and drinking as well as preparing food in the cooking pots. The walls of cooking pots at this time are thick and handmade (HoB 30), while in later periods, in Lydian III, they become thinner and more regular.

A high-arched bronze fibula (HoB 233) found in this area22 points to external relations with the Aegean world, since its closest counterparts are Greek Island types rather than those found to the east.23 The Greek pieces were previously dated Geometric to Archaic,24 but several more high-arched fibulae now known from Protogeometric graves at Iasos are similar to ours.25

A small, greenish schist disk with a lightly incised design of a goat or deer has been interpreted as a seal (HoB 242); but a decorated jar stopper or a game piece are more likely possibilities, since there is no perforation or handle for use as a seal. It comes from the same level as the arched fibula mentioned above (HoB 233).26

We must rely on the stratigraphy and not the typology to determine the date of the deposits. At the very latest, this level (ca. *95.00) could be put around 900 B.C., because there is little gravel intervening between it and the floor level below. This floor at *94.75,27 lying 0.25 m below the one just described, should be dated to the Late Bronze Age based on the painted pottery (see below).

At the south side of Deep Sounding C, and associated with enormous pottery numbers, were four surviving sections of a flimsy stone wall (Fig. 3.8; and plan, Fig. 3.1) that lay close to the pithos (Fig. 3.7).28 Small stones, presumably the base for a mudbrick wall, stretched in a straight but interrupted line for about eight meters.29 This wall was two to three stones in width where best preserved, measuring 40 cm wide and 20 to 30 cm high. Clusters of similar stones in the space to the north of the wall formed roughly circular masses about a meter in diameter and one stone high.

According to Swift’s report, across the southern end of the sounding lay a bed of practically pure clay, much denser than the somewhat sandy earth directly above and below it, with indications of a habitation surface (Fig. 3.9).

A little below the eastern edge of the trench, at *94.7, was a large cup painted in a manner close to the Greek Protogeometric style (HoB 1). Analysis by neutron activation analysis (NAA) shows this to be of local manufacture.30 Michael Kerschner noted that its low ring foot, instead of the high conical foot that was normal for Greek Protogeometric, could indicate a later date. Its decorative scheme is inspired by Protogeometric, but its shape is more like Middle Geometric examples. Overall Kerschner would describe these as “sub-Protogeometric” and estimates a date in the ninth century or early eighth century B.C. However, he acknowledged that local developments in shapes could be different from examples along the coast, and we would argue for an earlier date for the Lydian examples. HoB 1 was found near HoB 155 and HoB 156, which are actual Mycenaean or sub-Mycenaean kraters.31

Another Lydian Protogeometric cup (HoB 2) was found nearby, and other pottery included two cooking pots (HoB 30 and HoB 31), a deep Gray Ware bowl (HoB 18),32 and about half of a shallow Gray Ware cup with a handle scar. Taken together, these pots appear to belong toward the end of the eleventh century, based on correspondences with well-studied items from the mainland Mycenaean world as well as from Chios.33

Two ancient pits of about one meter in diameter (at W2/S106 and E2/S104) were lined with a heavy layer of charcoal of 2–3 cm in thickness. They were presumably dug down from a floor that is apparently the same one observed in Soundings A and B at nearly the same level (see below, pp. 44–45, 48).

Half a meter below the floor of *94.75, at about *94.2, and not far from the pithos and wall described above, was the surprising discovery of the bones of a donkey (Fig. 3.10). Swift’s report describes the find:

In the brown earth below this floor, a row of stones 1.20 meters long, some of the stone being flat and set on edge, projected from the east face of the excavation. Directly northwest of these stones, the partial skeleton of a small but apparently mature donkey (?), curiously missing the ribs from one side, lay on its right side.34 Nearby were the remains of another small pit that penetrated from the base of the brown earth into the sand below. The deepest part of the sounding35 produced only gravel and three sherds: one gray, one pinkish [HoB 46], and one red with a coarse body. It was impractical to dig any deeper.

Closely associated with the stratum in which the donkey appeared was a small piece of bronze that may well be the catch mechanism from a fibula (HoB 36). If this identification holds, it will be one of the earliest known from western Anatolia, strengthening our impressions of the important connections with the Aegean coast in this period.36

An iron knife blade (HoB 236) comes from just over the floor level above the donkey and rather to the north of the bones themselves. It had been made with sophisticated hammering and folding techniques. A second iron knife (HoB 37) was found close to the level and findspot of the donkey (E3–5/S100–102 *94.4–94.24), together with the leg of a three-legged cooking pot (HoB 33). The finding of objects of iron, a material still unusual at this early date, attests to the importance of the area and the skills of the inhabi-tants. The other material has a domestic flavor, in the form of cups, jugs, and storage jars. The evidence for household activity is provided by artifacts associated with the life and tastes of the Aegean people of this period, rather than those of inland Anatolia. Other than these items, there were few finds associated with the donkey, and the reason for the animal’s presence remains unknown. It is remarkable that the bones of the animal were undisturbed, given that only one side of its rib cage was found. This fact, and because two knives and a cooking pot were found nearby, makes one wonder whether perhaps the locals were making donkey stew, and had cut off the other half, as one would a “side of beef.”

Additional finds from on or below the floor at *94.75 include a small flattened and perforated bronze bead with a zigzag design on the exterior (HoB 35), a bone toggle (HoB 38), a Gray Ware bowl fragment (HoB 16), and about two hundred painted sherds (Figs. 3.11, 3.12).37 While only a few sherds were closely associated with patches of floor, the totality forms a coherent group in which pieces stemming from the sub-Mycenaean tradition are found with pieces that are distinctly Protogeometric. The two styles appear to be contemporary at Sardis, and both were even found on the same floor (at *94.75), as described above. While some of the Bronze Age sherds may be residual, displaced from lower levels, it is possible that earlier styles continued to be used at Sardis well after they had gone out of fashion in other places. Given the later tendencies to conservatism among Lydian potters, there should be little surprise in their having continued an old style while welcoming a new one. This is, of course, most easily argued if all the pieces are local versions, but several have been regarded as imports (HoB 155, HoB 156, HoB 169), and so have one or two of the Protogeometric sherds with particularly glossy paint. The overwhelming majority are clearly local in spite of their high quality.

Given the limited exposure and the difficulty of discerning actual floors, it is not possible to insist on a significant chronological division between the level at *94.75 and that at *94.2, although a gap is likely in view of our experience of the buildup of debris in later levels. The pottery below *94.2 (HoB 24, HoB 27, HoB 29, HoB 39HoB 52) is all coarse ware, including pithos or cooking ware, or else reddish micaceous or plain buff monochrome. Floor or no floor, it is clear from the change in the pottery below ca. *94.2 that we are at the transition between the Iron Age and the Bronze Age.

Test trenches were dug in 1983, 1984, and 1985 in order to further clarify the evidence from Deep Sounding C.38 The stratigraphy was similar to that of the earlier finds in the deep soundings, but the ceramic finds were inconclusive. However, an inhumation burial of a small child was found under or beside what had been the wheelbarrow ramp for one of these test trenches farther to the south (Fig. 3.13; see Fig. 3.1). The burial rested in layers of water-deposited silt, gravel, and sand, at about E5/S107, the level being about *94. The child, lying in a fetal position in a clay-lined pit (diameter ca. 0.50 m), was found with an earring under its head. This burial is thought from the stratigraphy to date from the eleventh or tenth century B.C.39

  • Fig. 3.4

    The upper part of Deep Sounding C, looking southeast, after the deep pit was dug (1966). (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.5

    Floor near the bottom of Deep Sounding C (at W0–5/S105–109 *95.5), with potsherds and a group of stones piled into a square at right, in shadow. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.11

    A selection of later Mycenaean and Lydian Protogeometric potsherds found near each other in Deep Sounding C. Assembled by G.F. Swift, Jr. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.12

    Mycenaean-influenced and Iron Age potsherds found near each other in Deep Sounding C. Assembled by G.F. Swift, Jr. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.6

    Pithos in Deep Sounding C (HoB 216). The pithos neck was broken and found inside it. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.7

    Pithos HoB 216 as found, looking east, with only its neck projecting from the floor at *94.75 in Deep Sounding C. It was dug in the ground beside a flimsy stone wall, which is visible in the foreground and continues next to the pithos. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.8

    The flimsy stone wall at level *94.75 on the south side of Deep Sounding C, looking south. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.1

    The three deep soundings, A, B, and C, and some of the test pits, with Lydian IV features nearby. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.9

    Section showing south face of Deep Sounding C (W1–6 / S108.5–9; section C–C in Fig. 3.1). (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.10

    The bones of a donkey found near the bottom of Deep Sounding C, at *94.2. Oddly, the ribs from only one side were present. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.13

    Bones of a small child lying in a fetal position in a clay-lined pit beyond the southeast corner of Deep Sounding C. Eleventh or tenth century BC. An earring was found beneath the head. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Deep Sounding B

Exploration of the deeper levels in the Lydian Trench in sector HoB was attempted also in 1962, when an area measuring roughly 15 × 10 m40 was opened at what would become Deep Sounding B (Figs. 3.1, 3.14). A burned level at *98 to *97.75 corresponded well with the “upper burning” level found in Deep Soundings A and C,41 now interpreted as the late eighth-century Destruction Level (Lydian III, see pp. 57–58).

Below that level, floors for supposed occupation levels were difficult to distinguish for the next two and a half meters,42 where the matrix is described as “earth, pebbles, debris” on the section drawing (Fig. 3.14). The ceramics from these strata, grouped with the Lydian IV phase, included important Early Iron Age examples such as a trefoil jug neck in the duller version of Black on Red (HoB 246) and the foot of a much heavier white Bichrome krater decorated by a hatched meander with white paint (HoB 245). The pieces all can be seen as forerunners of later popular styles, a point that is important in the discussion of Lydian artistic origins and cultural borrowing. In Deep Sounding B there were no obvious floors and not many strikingly decorated pieces of pottery among the overwhelming mass of pithos and Gray Ware sherds. A find unique at Sardis was a small Gray Ware globular vessel (HoB 250) decorated with oblique ridges on the lower body, and an incredibly fine incised wave-like pattern, bordered by even finer hatchings above and below the wave pattern. It was handmade, and might be an import from Troy.

A second thick burned layer at *95.00, called the “lower burned level,” corresponds to one in Deep Sounding A, but we did not find a comparable burned level in Deep Sounding C. No evidence of a building in the area survives, and it is assumed that the lower burned level was the result of burning at an outdoor or summer facility, rather than due to hostilities.

*94.75 Hearth Level and Below

(ca. 1100–1060 B.C.)

At *94.75, at a level 0.25 m below the beginning of the lower burned level, was found a clear floor level, at least part of which, to the north and east, seems to have been cobbled. Here was also a hearth made of fragments of pithos and stone slabs over an area about 0.50 m square at E11/S94 at *94.75 (Figs. 3.14 [marked h], 3.15). It was made of two stone slabs standing on edge with the base of a pithos forming the third side. Ash and a few bits of animal bone were recovered from the hearth and its surroundings, as well as sherds of red-buff plainware and cooking ware, and pieces of a Gray Ware bowl (HoB 54). In addition, one fragment of a heavy-walled pithos lay within the hearth, and fragments of pithos, including many pieces decorated with incised patterns from one pithos (HoB 57) and other fragments that may come from different jars (HoB 58, HoB 275), were also strewn about on the floor. The designs include incised diamond patterns, horizontal herringbone bands with three and five rows of diagonal incisions, and patterns made by drawing a finger through the damp clay (HoB 57 and Fig. 1.6). The proportions of the ceramic material at the hearth level are 45 percent Gray Ware, 45 percent coarse red ware, 5 percent pithos, and 5 percent painted wares.

Below the hearth, the occupation levels in clay that continued for another three-quarters of a meter, to *94.00, produced a few painted sherds of importance for understanding early Lydian pottery, such as early examples of the use of concentric semicircles (HoB 65 and HoB 73). Also below the hearth, to the east and south of the floor, the ceramic material is similar, including pithoi with exactly the same patterns as mentioned above: 45 percent pithos, 30 percent red-buff ware, 10 percent cooking pots, 5 percent Gray Ware, and 10 percent finer and painted wares.

A piece of a large domical pithos (?) lid with red con-centric circles is covered with a thick reddish slip over a coarser body (HoB 56). It has faint traces of a handle attachment at the rim, suggesting that it had two or four loops on the circumference. This unusual piece is perhaps in the Anatolian traditions prevalent in Lydian IV and continuing into the seventh century. A sherd from a large vessel painted with matt Black on Red checkerboards also belongs to the same tradition (HoB 61).

Still lower, near the west edge of the sounding, at *94.1–93.9, were found a part of a fine black whetstone 4 cm long (HoB 102) and a piece from the middle of a granite quern with traces of burning (HoB 103),43 a pithos fragment with a hole through it (HoB 71), and a shoulder fragment of a pithos (HoB 62). Gray Ware was scarce in this area.

A patch of floor at *93.7 was identified by bits of charcoal, small stones, and possibly a piece of mudbrick.

At the southern edge, another apparently contemporary small patch of floor, ca. 0.30 × 0.60 m, was made of limey plaster with pebbles. An unusual find here was a cache of a dozen ceramic pieces resembling Lydian breadtray, but thicker (0.016–0.02), among which only one piece had a rim or raised edge (HoB 88). They are, however, smooth on one side and show burning on the rough side just like the later breadtrays. Perhaps they were from the center part of a basin such as was found at higher levels in Deep Sounding C (HoB 217). In addition, an iron knife blade found just above the floor level (HoB 101) is one of the earliest iron objects yet found at Sardis, and is comparable in level and context, again, to the two knife blades found in Deep Sounding C (HoB 236 and HoB 37).

A floor described as a layer of hard clay was encountered at *93.60, where there was a concentration of potsherds (c on Fig. 3.14). Among these was a buff sherd with brown paint (HoB 75), the upper part of a trefoil jug (HoB 76), the body sherd of a large jar (HoB 77), and another painted sherd.44 A boar’s skull was recorded at that level too but seems to be an isolated piece, without any way of determining a context. Perhaps it was the remains of someone’s dinner.

Another floor was found at *92.65, and below that was another mixed layer.45 Within this stratum were three separate levels: the first, with disintegrated building material;46 the second with a floor and outline traces of a circular hut (Fig. 3.16);47 and below that, a pithos burial. A total of one box of sherds was retrieved from a small area ca. 2.0 × 1.5 m at the level to *93.4, and a decided change in the pottery was noted when compared to samples from above: the proportion of pithos sherds was much smaller, and some of them were of a different, yellow-buff ware and were finer and smoother. There were fewer gray monochrome examples, but red-buff ware was about the same. There was relatively more fine and polished Buff Ware. This transition was found across all three soundings, as discussed below.

Round Hut and Cremation Burial

The lowest level at which actual occupation could be established in Deep Sounding B consisted of the floor and outline of the circular hut just mentioned (Figs. 3.1 and 3.14: labeled b);48 it was about two meters in diameter. A patch of “red burned floor” of ca. 1.70 × 0.70 m was found at *91.75 within an irregular layer of reddened earth with many pieces of charcoal.

Associated with this floor were numerous lightly baked fragments of wattle and daub from the walls or roof of the structure (Figs. 3.17, 3.18). The fragments themselves are small, and the imprints preserved on them do not indicate the use of large timber or poles: the maximum diameter of any of the imprints was about one centimeter. The imprints were generally parallel, although some had two series of impressions crossing at right angles. The striations are more compatible with those found on the stems of stout grasses and reeds such as Arundo donax, a large Mediterranean grass not unlike bamboo; there is no sign of the branching one would expect if twigs had been used.

The circular shape of the hut was quite clear, but because so few indications of the structure were preserved and the floor was not substantial, we must imagine a distinctly flimsy, perhaps temporary structure. The pottery associated with it consisted of less than half a box, of which about 50 percent was cooking ware, together with a few pieces of pithos and coarse ware, and twelve pieces of finer yellowish buff ware with a pink core.49 A few of these were darkened, perhaps by fire, and two or three were slightly polished. One piece was apparently a self-standing spit holder or some sort of rest for kitchen tools (HoB 106).

About 0.20 m below the level of the hut floor, and about one meter to the northwest,50 was found a pithos that had been used for a cremation burial (HoB 105; labeled a in Fig. 3.14 and visible in Fig. 3.1). The complete but broken pithos lay on its side with its neck facing east (Fig. 3.19). Inside were broken and partially burned human bones. They were not well preserved, but enough fragments were left to show that the deceased was an adult and that the long bones had been broken before they were put inside. The pithos contained nothing else except earth and stones that may originally have been used to stop up its mouth. The lack of grave goods is entirely in keeping with the poverty of the hut remains. The most significant fact is the very existence of a cremation burial of this era—the Late Bronze Age—in western Anatolia.51

Excavation continued in Deep Sounding B to ca. *90.00, 13 meters below ground level, in a small area (3.1 × 1.2 m) to the east of the hut floor. A new level of ca. 0.40 m of brown earth was encountered here after digging through gravel with “strips of earth and pockets of concentrated burning.” The sherds were similar to those found with the hut, with a few additional potsherds of the same buff polished ware and some pithos fragments. Excavation in this area, as in the other deep soundings, never reached a sterile level even though finds became sparse enough to indicate that this specific place was uninhabited.

  • Fig. 3.1

    The three deep soundings, A, B, and C, and some of the test pits, with Lydian IV features nearby. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.14

    Section B–B in Deep Sounding B. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.15

    The hearth at *94.75 in Deep Sounding B, looking south. Two stone slabs and the base of a pithos form the edges of the hearth, and many fragments of pithos lie about. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 1.6

    A finger was wiped through the wet clay to create part of this design on a pithos (HoB 57). (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.16

    Floor of the round hut at *91.75 in Deep Sounding B, looking north. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.17

    Fragments of baked mud showing the imprints of reeds from the roofing (?) of the hut in Deep Sounding B. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.18

    Detail of baked mud showing the imprints of reeds from Deep Sounding B. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.19

    Mustafa Gürtekin excavating the Late Bronze Age pithos that had been used for a cremation burial in Deep Sounding B. Its opening faced east. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

Deep Sounding A

Deep Sounding A, dug in 1960, started as an area ca. 8 × 5 m (Fig. 3.21).52 The purpose of this trench was to get a better sense of the stratigraphy at lower levels than had been possible in excavations at Sardis thus far. What was found here and somewhat tentatively defined as Late Bronze Age and Lydian IV was later confirmed in the other two deep soundings, dug in 1962 (B) and 1966 (C), as already discussed.

Below the Destruction Level of Lydian III,53 five harder surfaces were distinguished between layers of pebbly gravel, defined in some cases by a stub of wall (Fig. 3.20).54 One can track the change in the proportions of different classes of pottery as the sounding was deepened. In the upper levels beneath the Destruction Level, several Greek Geometric or Lydian imitations of the same were found (Fig. 3.3): HoB 312 (a Greek import), HoB 311, and HoB 313, as well as pithos fragments, including one (HoB 264) bearing the thumbprints of the potter, who apparently added an extra ring of clay near the rim to thicken and strengthen it.

Geometric pottery continued to appear in even lower levels (*95.41–95.2), including HoB 254, HoB 257, and HoB 258. There were also imitations of sub-Mycenaean and Mycenaean pots and possible imports (HoB 107 and HoB 255). A glass bead (HoB 267), probably the earliest piece of glass from Sardis, and a bronze button were also found in Deep Sounding A. As the digging advanced downward, we continued to find Mycenaean imports (HoB 120), but there was a higher proportion of coarse ware, especially pithos fragments. Then came an increasing proportion of first gray and then reddish and buff monochrome near the lowest levels. A few sherds were still found at the bottom (Fig. 3.24), and the excavation never reached sterile soil.

A tabulation of finds here gives an idea of the proportions in the lowest levels of the sounding, and in some cases a notation of the quantity of sherds recovered provides a way of gauging what weight may be placed on the figures. The finds were 30 percent coarse red, 20 percent cooking ware, and 50 percent Buff Ware. A large lump of iron (HoB 119; axe or adze) is one of the earliest iron objects ever found, thought to have been made by the layering technique, which involves hammering together iron blocks with different carbon contents.55

A brief description of specific sherds helps to enhance the picture at each of the different levels. Several Greek Geometric sherds and Lydian imitations from different floor levels below the Destruction Level56 offer a measure of control on the absolute dating. Below the *95.1 level, intriguing connections with the Greek world are suggested through imports or local imitations of Mycenaean, sub-Mycenaean, and Geometric pieces.57

The trench was progressively narrowed and ultimately reached the small area of only 1.50 × 1.00 m at the bottom, where several apparently purposely placed stones had been laid (Figs. 3.22, 3.23). At the very bottom of Deep Sounding A, from *93.80 to *92.00, the excavator ran into a deposit of sand that yielded only isolated sherds and bones and a horn core.58

  • Fig. 3.21

    Deep Sounding A (top right corner) when excavation there was just starting, looking south. The wall in the center is from Lydian I, and the regular wall of stones and bricks at the left is from the Roman Building R, which marks the eastern edge of the Lydian Trench of sector HoB (1960). (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.20

    Section A–A of Deep Sounding A. See Fig. 3.23. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.3

    South face of test pit in South Side of HoB at W15–35, section at S120 (see Fig. 3.2). (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.24

    Sub-Mycenaean and Lydian Geometric sherds and one imported Greek sherd (HoB 312, bottom center) from Deep Sounding A. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.22

    Apparently purposely laid stones near the bottom of the trench in Deep Sounding A. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 3.23

    Deep Sounding A from the surface, looking 11 meters to the bottom. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)


The deep soundings that were undertaken to explore the earliest levels in 1960, 1962, and 1966 progressively validated the previously speculative conclusions about the finds and their meaning. In 1960 the pottery suggested connections with the Mycenaean Greeks; in 1962 this was shown to be even more likely, along with direct evidence for occupation in the Bronze Age in the form of a small hut and a cremation burial within a pithos; and finally, in 1966, a sufficiently large area was opened—to a depth of more than ten meters—that demonstrated convincing connections with the Mycenaean world. The sequence revealed at Sardis offers a framework for ordering the finds from the Late Bronze Age in a larger geographical area, where until recently most known artifacts had come from accidental finds or limited excavations.59

In terms of prehistoric sites, Sardis lies in a wide area of virtually unexplored territory that ranges from Beycesultan and Kusura to the east, Troy and Yortan to the northwest, Aphrodisias to the southeast, Bayraklı and Klazomenai/Liman Tepe to the far west, and Kaymakçı to the west (see Figs. 2.1 and 2.7). There is no lack of intermediate sites, but they are only now being systematically investigated.

During the Late Bronze Age, a burst in the production of painted pottery imitating Mycenaean Greek prototypes in local fabric was seen at Sardis as well as at Troy.60 But the native preference for monochrome wares remained constant, and the stratigraphical analysis reported over the years shows that as one descends to earlier levels in the excavation, there is a marked increase in monochrome wares whose profiles continue to be dependent on Anatolian prototypes. As a result of closer study of the material from Deep Sounding C, it is clear that many of the earlier Lydian shapes are closer to an Anatolian tradition than had been realized at the time of excavation. Pieces that had seemed odd, rare, or out of place as they were found can now be put into the pottery sequence, and accepted as being contemporary rather than intruders from earlier levels. Painted pottery does not disappear, but becomes rare in our sample until about the middle of the eighth century (or a bit earlier), when both Black on Red and Brown on Buff wares become more common.

The deep soundings thus revealed that Sardis was already a place where Greek and Anatolian cultures mingled. The cultural connections that are well known from the time of Alyattes and Croesus in the sixth century, specifically reflected in the Greek literary tradition,61 were already beginning in the Late Bronze Age. There are interesting affinities within the pottery finds at those early levels: on the one hand what one might call an Anatolian koine, showing a preference for monochrome, and on the other, shapes and a painting vocabulary that point toward Mycenaean and Greek Protogeometric styles. This is a situation also clear at Troy and Old Smyrna,62 and it is being observed at an increasing number of other places in western Anatolia as more sites are excavated and more tombs come to light.63

At Sardis the quantity of sherds leaning toward Greek Protogeometric is higher than it is at Troy, and the Mycenaean is lower,64 but in both styles, most pottery at Sardis is to be regarded as a local version inspired by Greek imports. Trefoil jugs, cups, and kraters are the most popular shapes in Lydian versions of Protogeometric; jugs and kraters are common in gray and tan wares. Buff Ware, usually inspired by Anatolian sources, predominates among monochrome fabrics at this period, and within that category the color is a pinker and a yellower version than in similar wares from later periods. Gray Ware is still found as low as the gravel layer that belongs to the Bronze Age.65 The proportion of Gray Ware increases as one moves upward in the trench until it dominates in the ninth century.66 The favorite shapes in monochrome are the same, be they tan or gray, and the color seems to be a question of taste, since examples of several colors occur side by side.

The ceramic artifacts other than pottery most frequently found in these early levels are cylindrical hammer-shaped objects (called hammerheads). They are narrower in the middle section, which is pierced transversely, and have been identified as loom weights, even though they have a much heavier weight module than those from the eighth century and later. With a texture more like mudbrick than pottery, they are quite lightly fired, as is especially noticeable in those with temper. The light firing seems to have been intentional, which contrasts with later usage, because the texture is uniform and no crude pieces or half-baked fragments were found. The hammerhead (HoB 34, HoB 220HoB 229) is quite different from the later pyramidal loom weight (see pp. 103–104), and is rare elsewhere; however, numerous examples were found at Klazomenai, and a single example can be cited from a grave at Exochi dated to just after 700 B.C.67

In addition to loom weights and spindle whorls, a considerable number of pieces from coarse, fired basins and fire grates (HoB 251) are recorded, and there is frequent mention in the fieldbooks of fragments of fired mudbrick found in the fill. One wonders if a small-scale industrial center had been in the area from early times. This possibility should be considered when evaluating the frequent and persistent remains of burning, for which specific and hostile connections have often been suggested.68

Other cultural objects are hardly common enough to establish anything more than a hint of the pattern of life, and certainly do not allow us to recreate many specialized activities in the area; but the recurrence of iron objects in an era when they were supposedly scarce is suggestive. The weight of many substantial lumps of iron was not inconsiderable and would be hard to explain unless there were a forge fairly close.69 A small, squarish iron ingot (HoB 390) of the eighth century, which was found during a follow-up stratigraphical excavation just south of Deep Sounding C, lends weight to the suggestion that a traditional use of the area might have been ironworking.

The iron lumps and knife (HoB 101) should be considered together with the iron tools published by J. C. Waldbaum, several of which were subjected to extensive technical analyses.70 One of these, an adze (HoB 119),71 is regarded as particularly important for showing the sophistication of Lydian metalworkers at the transition to the Iron Age,

and Waldbaum indicates that Lydian smiths had begun to understand the importance of laminating in the forging,72 which produces in the charcoal fuel furnaces a superior form of the metal. In effect the Lydians had a rudimentary example of steel.

It remains to be seen what historical identity the artifacts and stratigraphy can be given. It now appears that the major fortified regional capital in the Bronze Age was not at Sardis but on the Gygaean Lake, at Kaymakçı, with another major center near Alaşehir at Gavurtepe. One would look to Kaymakçı rather than Sardis for direct contact with other Bronze Age peoples.73 The evidence from the ceramic tradition grows ever stronger for Anatolian connections in this early period. Changes in the ceramic preferences for shape, color, and surface in the stratigraphic sequence revealed at Sardis must be compared with the excavated Bronze Age pottery from other sites in the region.74

The finds from the lower levels of the Deep Soundings C, B, and A complement one another, and the tentative conclusions drawn from A and B about the cultural connections and external relations of Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Sardis were thus decisively confirmed by the evidence of Deep Sounding C. The evidence for bold propositions—such as Hanfmann’s suggestion, originally advanced with caution, that there should be Bronze Age remains under the Archaic levels75—is now firm, and some hypotheses may be claimed with confidence. As described above, then, the deep soundings at sector HoB demonstrate affinities to both inland Anatolia and the coastal Aegean throughout the Late Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age, with preferences for or ties to one or another area changing to and fro over time.

  • Fig. 2.1

    General map of Turkey and Greece, showing sites mentioned in this book. (Map by LauraLee Brott, ©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)

  • Fig. 2.7

    Map of central Lydia. (Map by LauraLee Brott, ©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)


  • Fig. 3.1

    The three deep soundings, A, B, and C, and some of the test pits, with Lydian IV features nearby. (©Archaeological Exploration of Sardis/President and Fellows of Harvard College)