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The American Excavations at Kenchreai

For over half a century the American School of Classical Studies has explored the settlement and region of Kenchreai, Corinth’s eastern harbor. The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has generously permitted and supported the activities of the American Excavations since their initiation. Through ongoing research by a dedicated team of scholars, the rich textual, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence for Kenchreai is revealing the complexities of life and death at this ancient port-town on the Saronic Gulf of the Aegean Sea.

In 1962 the American School of Classical Studies at Athens launched a major campaign of excavation and study at Kenchreai under the joint sponsorship of the University of Chicago and Indiana University and the senior direction of Robert L. Scranton. This work concentrated on the harborfront but extended across the whole area of ancient settlement, from the north and south cemeteries to the western periphery. Regular fieldwork continued until 1969, and the study and publication of finds from that phase of excavation continued in ensuing decades.

Fieldwork at Kenchreai under the auspices of the American School resumed in 2000. Joseph L. Rife participated in extensive exploration of the wider area of the port-town as a member of the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey during 2000 and 2001. On the basis of this work in 2002 he initiated the Kenchreai Cemetery Project, a research and educational program focusing on the Roman-era burial ground that extended outward from the settlement’s northeastern edge on the Koutsongila Ridge. In 2007-2009 he joined Elena Korka of the Directorate of Antiquities in the Ministry to direct a cooperative excavation of the cemetery and residential quarter on Koutsongila. In 2011 he was appointed the Director of the American Excavations at Kenchreai and coordinator of the conservation, study, and publication of discoveries by his predecessors. In 2014, Professor Rife and Jorge J. Bravo III, who joined as co-director of the Excavations, began a new phase of exploration at Kenchreai, starting with the re-evaluation of a large building complex immediately west of the south mole on the former Threpsiades property. Sebastian Heath is currently preparing all textual and graphic records along with spatial data from the American Excavations for dissemination through an open-access digital interface, The Kenchreai Archaeological Archive.

The goal of the American Excavations at Kenchreai is to document artifactual, architectural, biological, and environmental evidence in order to understand how the ancient community evolved over the long-term. In particular our work addresses the social structure, economic relations, religious character, ritual activities, and cultural identity of local residents. Moreover, we are examining several interpretive questions that animate current scholarly discourse in Mediterranean archaeology: the phenomenon of small to medium-sized cosmopolitan ports in the eastern provinces as nodes of communication; the impact of environmental change on local settlements; the nature of the transition from Classical Antiquity to the Byzantine Middle Ages; and the regional dynamics of identity formation.

Study of the site to date has chiefly investigated the Early Roman to Early Byzantine periods at Kenchreai (ca. end 1st century B.C.E.-7th/8th centuries C.E.), the long phase of occupation that is most visibly preserved along the modern coastline. Our ongoing research, however, is increasingly exploring the earlier settlement at the site, particularly the Late Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic port located inland to the west of the modern shore (ca. late 6th-1st centuries B.C.E.). Another developing area of study is the use of the harbor during the Middle Byzantine to Early Modern eras (ca. 10th-19th centuries C.E.). In the future we plan to continue Scranton’s program by exploring the submerged harborworks and the extent of the port settlement out to its periphery.

Recent work by the American Excavations at Kenchreai, including fieldwork under the direction of Professor Rife since 2000, has received generous support from several institutions and offices: The American School of Classical Studies at Athens; the Center for Hellenic Studies of Harvard University; Vanderbilt University; the University of Maryland; Macalester College; and Cornell University.

We have received major grants, donations, and contributions from several agencies, foundations and institutions: The National Endowment for the Humanities; The National Science Foundation; The Centre national du recherche scientifique (Paris); The Loeb Classical Library Foundation (Harvard University); The White-Levy Program for Archaeological Publications (Harvard Semitic Museum); The International Catacomb Society (Boston); The Luther I. Replogle Foundation (Washington, D.C.); The Samuel H. Kress Foundation (New York); The Boston Foundation; The American Philosophical Society; Centre d’étude des peintures murales romaines (Soissons); and The American Hellenic Education Progressive Association.

We thank the following schools and programs for their support and participation: Amherst College; Carleton College; Center for Hellenic Studies; College Year in Athens; Colorado College; DePauw University; Eckerd College; Grand Valley State University; Hampshire College; Harvard University; Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University; Luther College; Macalester College; Norwich University; Reed College; Rhodes College; Ripon College; Skidmore College; Texas Tech University; University of Chicago; University of Maryland; University of Puget Sound; University of Vermont; Vanderbilt University; and Vassar College.