The study of geological and biological archives in Ephesos in the archaeological context

The reconstruction of the landscape and the environment over time and space is essential for the understanding of the settlement center of Ephesos not least because of the massive partially natural, partially human-induced changes to the ecological system. The interdisciplinary project uses a variety of methods and analysis procedures and combines archaeology with the geosciences.

Originally, the gulf of Ephesos filled the entire plane of the lower Cayster valley and slowly silted up since the Chalcolithic, i.e. the 4th millennium BCE, through the sedimentation of the Kuçuk Menderes and its tributaries. This process was vastly accelerated in the Hellenistic period through human influence and probably was accompanied by the intensification of agriculture and the deforestation of the mountains in the hinterland. Today, only small lakes remain of the former sea bay along the northern edge of the valley. 

The city and the sea

A basic requirement for the establishment of settlements in the area of Ephesos was a functioning connection to the sea. The changes to the coast also entailed a shift of the settlement sites and the creation of new harbors. The coastal geography of the Hellenistic period even was the determining factor in the re-foundation of Ephesos under King Lysimachus; during the Roman imperial period on the one hand the silted up areas were new building sites and agricultural areas, on the other hand the city had to be artificially linked with the sea. 

Sources and methods

The diversity of the sources also requires an interdisciplinary methodological approach that links the natural sciences and humanities. The information comes from historical and current maps, from aerial and satellite images, excavation contexts and geophysical surveys as well as the evaluation of historical and literary sources. Corings were used for the extraction of sediments; their dating is based on 14C-dating of organic material as well as the stratigraphy through diagnostic pottery. Depending on the research questions sedimentological, geochemical, palaeontological, and microbiological analyses take place in special laboratories.

Coring as stratigraphical method

Geoarchaeological methods have long been employed in archaeology particularly where excavations are difficult or not at all possible. Today, the holy district of Artemis is covered by 7 m of alluvium and its density does not permit any significant geophysical results over a depth of 2 m. Through systematic corings it is not only possible to determine the extension of the temenos but also to gain an absolute chronological layer sequence through a depth profile.

Landmarks and pilgrimage site

Geoarchaeological studies also made a significant contribution to the reconstruction of the landscape. A hill 9.6 m in height and of little notice is located 6 km from Ephesos along the coast of Pamucak, however, in antiquity it was an important land mark because it marked the entrance to the bay of Ephesos. Geoarchaeological studies provided evidence that the elevation was an island up until the early imperial period before the area slowly became marshy and in late antiquity a Christian pilgrimage site was built on top. A small harbor located in the northeast facilitated the convenient access for pilgrims and was connected to the harbor channel leading to Ephesos.