Punic amphoras in Classical Corinth
Punic amphorae found in the ancient city of Corinth are the focus of a research initiative that is being carried out at the Fitch Laboratory this year. Leandro Fantuzzi, Ceramic Petrology Fellow for the ‘Corinth Punic Amphora Building Project’ is conducting petrographic and elemental analysis of these amphorae, in collaboration with Noemi S. Müller and Evangelia Kiriatzi. The overall project is co-ordinated and funded by Charles K. Williams II (American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Director Emeritus of the Corinth Excavations)
To contextualise this project, we need to go back a few decades, in particular to the late 1970s excavations at the forum of Corinth, conducted by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens and directed by C. K. Williams II. In the southwest corner of the forum, a building from the mid-5th century BC was excavated and tons of amphora fragments were found in it, including a surprisingly large number of Punic amphorae and associated fish remains. The latter finds suggested that a strong commercial link existed between Classical Corinth and the Punic societies in the Western Mediterranean. The well-preserved fish remains, mainly of tunny and gilthead sea bream, further indicated that the amphorae —mostly belonging to type Mañá-Pascual A4 or Ramon T-188.8.131.52— served as containers for transporting dry-salted fish from Punic centres. The significance of these findings led the excavators to name the complex as the ‘Punic Amphora Building’ (PAB). This remarkable assemblage of amphorae is still to this day the most complete of its type in the Eastern Mediterranean.
A few years after excavation, an innovative laboratory-based project analysing some of these amphorae, employing a multi-technique approach, was carried out by Richard Jones and Ian Whitbread at the Fitch Laboratory and by Yannis Maniatis at the National Center for Scientific Research ‘Demokritos’. That study provided new insights into the production technology of the Punic amphorae found in Corinth and also into their provenance, which was broadly related to the wider region of the Gibraltar Straits, extending from southern Spain to northern Morocco. Despite the significance of this cutting-edge archaeometric research, in the early 1980s the existing evidence from Punic amphora production centres in the Western Mediterranean was still quite limited, and this constraint did not allow for a more precise identification of the production sites.
Over the last 30 years the amount of evidence on Phoenician-Punic settlements in the Western Mediterranean has experienced an unprecedented increase. This has resulted in the development of a recent research project that aims to thoroughly re-examine the ceramic materials and faunal remains recovered during the 1970s excavations of the PAB in Corinth. This study has been primarily undertaken by Antonio M. Sáez Romero (University of Sevilla; expert in Punic Amphora studies) in collaboration with the ASCSA and the Fitch Laboratory under the direction of Mr C.K. Williams II. Leandro’s work fits within this interdisciplinary project. The initial results of the scientific investigation of Punic amphorae has started shedding new light on the provenance of these transport containers found in Corinth indicating a wide range of sources, from the Atlantic coast of Spain to Sicily. More than 150 Punic amphorae from the PAB context are currently being. In addition, a large number of reference samples from Punic amphora production sites in southern Spain and northern Morocco are being examined for comparison, together with potential raw materials for ceramic production collected from areas surrounding the likely production zones. It is expected that the results of this analytical research project will provide significant new data on the commercial interactions between Corinth and the western Mediterranean in the Classical period.