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One of the things that has kept me occupied recently is a series of trips down to Oxford chasing various plans and excavation reports. The series of plans I talked about last month can be found in a book Die griechischen Tempel in Unteritalien und Sicilien by Robert Koldewey and Otto Puchstein. I say in a book, I mean more next to a book. The plans are massive and held in a case next to the original book, which is equally large. The plans are in fact so large that I can’t photocopy many of them on an A3 photocopier. They’re really beautiful even more so than usual for me as they had north arrows, but I’ll get to that.

I’ll be honest they’re also a little odd. As I said the plans are large. One is so large is doesn’t fit onto one sheet, and so there’s an addition slip of paper to attach to the bottom. It seems Koldewey worked to scale, but either he or his printer didn’t grasp that scales are scalable. Hence the plan of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest ancient Greek temple, is slightly larger than A1 in size.

So anyway if they’re so wonderful and well drawn why the confusion? Here’s a comparison. Below is Koldewey’s plan from 1892 of the Temple of Concord.

Temple F

…and now here’s a plan in De Miro’s 1994 book La valle dei templi.

Plan of the Temple of Concord, Agrigento

It’s a scan of a photocopy, so it looks a bit odd, but you can hopefully see the problem.

De Miro doesn’t use a north arrow, because he’s interested in the layout of the temple rather than its orientation, but by itself that makes the plan very confusing. It’s hard to think of a reason why someone would want to turn a temple plan through 180°. It could make sense if you wanted to directly compare plans and put all the entrances on the same side, but in this instance it’s not the case. The plans in De Miro’s book have entrances on the left and right of the plans. So did Koldewey rotate the plan? This is where the shadows confused me. Fortunately GoogleMaps has the temple in reasonably high resolution to allow a comparison.

This has a knock-on effect because it raises doubt about the orientation of the Temple of Hercules at Agrigento. De Miro’s plan has an entrance to the left.

Plan of the Temple of Hercules, Agrigento

…while Koldewey has…

Temple A

This is more of a nuisance. It would seem reasonable to assume Koldewey’s plan is the correct orientation. De Miro’s plans aren’t necessarily bad, but it’s simply that he interested in the sort of questions I’m asking. Unfortunately when you look closer at Koldewey’s plans another problem rises.

Koldewey marks the direction of North very precisely, to within half a degree. Sadly while the direction is precise, it’s not accurate. Koldewey’s orientations tend to be around ten degrees to the south of my own measurements. The same temples have also been surveyed by Aveni and Romano, whose measurements are much closer to mine than Koldewey’s, which suggests that Koldewey is less accurate. That’s a shame as Koldewey also planned temples in Paestum and Metaponto, which I haven’t had chance to visit. If the error were consistent then I could still use Koldewey’s work, but it’s not.

The reason I’m taking so long over this and double checking it is that it does make the results look more impressive. Now only one of forty-four temples faces the western half of the horizon. Usually archaeoastronomical results aren’t so emphatic (unless you use the eye of faith). There are plenty of reasons other than astronomy for a temple to face in a certain direction, and in Greece there are temples which face north and south as well as east, so the lack of non-easterly temples in Sicily is a puzzle. One possible reason would be that temples in mainland Greece were built over older sites, like Mycenaean sanctuaries which may have had a very different ritual use. In Sicily this earlier tradition doesn’t exist.

Or at least it’s not traditionally thought to exist – except when you look at the archaeology you find pre-Geometric ware at many sites. This makes the earliest Greek pottery at some sites a couple of centuries older than the colonies. The usual explanation is that it’s evidence of trade, but there are problems with that explanation which I’ll explore some time in the future.

All-in-all it does indicate that there’s still plenty of basic work to be done at various well-studied sites across the Mediterranean.