Bryn Mawr Classical Review 96.04.23


Jayne L. Warner, Elmali-Karatas II: The Early Bronze Age Village of Karatas. Bryn Mawr: Bryn Mawr College Archaeological Monographs, 1994. Pp. 220 + Pls. 206. $40.00. ISBN 0-929524-80-2.


Reviewed by Peter Ian Kuniholm, Cornell University, peter@dendro.mail.cornell.edu.

In 1963 a Bryn Mawr College team began the first of twelve summer field seasons under the direction of Machteld Mellink at the EBA site of Karatas-Semayük in the plain of Elmali in Lycia, northwest of Antalya, Turkey. Preliminary reports by Professor Mellink appeared regularly, usually in AJA, from 1964 to 1974. Jayne Warner in the second of six planned final volumes sets forth the architecture discovered in some 133 trial trenches other than that of the Central Mound which will appear in Elmali-Karatas III. This arbitrary separation of the 'Main House' from the surrounding village is something of a hindrance to a full understanding of the site, for an appreciation of either 'Big House' or village is difficult without the other element.

Chapter 2: Karatas: The Site (pages 5-10) provides a short discussion of topography and chronology. The former, on the North side of the still-fertile plain of Elmali, rarely has as much as or more than a meter of soil depth between present surface and bedrock, which means that stratification is minimal, and some 377 intrusive pithos or pit burials interfere with a clear interpretation of the architecture. The latter covers about five centuries and is subdivided into six "periods" ranging from early EB I into EB III (with a sprinkle of Chalcolithic preceding). Absolute dating (page 10) is based on seven radiocarbon dates. In this 1994 publication Warner uses a long-out-of-date MASCA calibration table of 1982. A useful two-page geological comment (pages 11-12) by Lucian B. Platt is appended.

Chapter 3: Catalogue of Habitation Remains (pages 15-134) is a painstaking account of habitation remains, trench by trench from 1-125 plus an additional 8 given letter designations. This is the part of the book that reads most like a student trenchmaster's notebook. Some entries are mercifully short. "Trench 1: Grid. Ref. VI-A, Area Excavated 12 sq.m., Surface Level 12.03m. Bedrock Level 11.90m., Habitation: No finds." (Do we really learn anything from an entry like this? I suspect not, other than that it must have been frustrating for the trenchmaster.) This kind of information reminds one why magnetometer surveying was invented, and it could easily have been relegated to a table. Other entries are necessarily very long. The catalogue for Trench 35/37 includes 16 pages of information on 13 houses, a complex stratigraphy including 61 burials, and a wide variety of small finds. Warner leaves nothing out, and if the reader is seriously interested in even the smallest detail of what the Bryn Mawr team found, the information is there, even if in somewhat undigested and indigestible form. I found myself wishing that this part of the book had been put on a machine-readable disk so that if I had wanted, for instance, to learn how long a typical EBA anta was at Elmali (0.00m. to 1.30m.), or how a megaron wall was constructed, or what the ranges in dimension were, I could have found out without having to search through the entire catalogue.

Chapter 4: Form and Construction of Karatas Houses (pages 135-167) is easily the most readable and informative of the book. One useful chart on page 136 tabulates all the major statistics for 37 megarons. See also Fig.17 on page 167 where plans, drawn to the same scale, of all the Elmali buildings are presented, and Chart 11 on page 192 with the buildings tabulated in chronological order. (Reference to these summary charts and figures at the start of Chapter 3 would have been a boon to the unwary reader.) Of these buildings 22 are oriented east (perhaps an accident of excavation?). Lengths vary from 18.00m. to 2.35m+. Exterior widths range from 8.20m. to 3.50m. Average foundation widths range from 1.00m. to 0.18m., and so on. Houses are classified by construction techniques, although some of the techniques are arbitrary and more than one technique is used within a single house. For example, categories of foundation types such as:

a. single line of stones
b. double line of equal size stones
c. double line of unequal size stones
d. triple line with flat upper surface
e. triple line with lower central packing
appear to be unnecessarily subdivided. Anyone who has watched a modern village mason select whatever stones he has to hand and incorporate them all into a single wall might well be bemused by such fine distinctions.

Most houses at Karatas exist only at the socle level. A few pieces of burnt chaff-tempered mud walling material show signs of several variants of construction technique: simple wattle-and-daub with either single or multiple rows of vertical wooden posts, and then more complicated variants of the same with horizontal members reinforcing the posts. Some walls may have been built of wood altogether.

Burned mud roofing fragments provide evidence for small beams running at right angles to reeds. One corner fragment, fortuitously preserved, gives us the size of the corner post, the crossbeam, and the angle of the roof rafter, an EBA version of Dinsmoor's famous stone fragment from "The Largest Temple in the Peloponnese."

Chapter 5: The Karatas Settlement (pages 169-192) sums up the development of the community by period. During Period I/II the population estimate is 50 to 60 adults and children, calculated by an estimated population density of 10 square meters of roofed living space per person. The comparanda are modern Iranian villages with densities ranging from 10 square meters per person down to 7.3 square meters. The El Mali population peaks at about 640 in Karatas V and drops to 400 in Karatas VI. Warner also estimates individual household populations based on roofed floor space on a house-by-house basis. The high estimate per house is between 10 and 2 people. The low is between 7 and 2. For almost the entire life of the settlement, the Karatas houses remain clustered around, but at a respectful distance from, the Central Complex or Main House. In Period IV the houses start to encroach upon the Central Complex for reasons at which we can only guess. A set of similar estimates and comparisons particularly relevant to Karatas, published in 1983 and surprisingly overlooked by Warner, is EBA Demircihüyük where Manfred Korfmann estimates a 50+ square meter 'standard house' for a family of 5 or 6, thus 9 to 10 square meters of roofed living space per person for a population of approximately 130 persons (Manfred Korfmann, Demircihüyük: die Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen 1975-1978, Mainz am Rhein: von Zabern, 1983, pp. 216-222).

Cattle, sheep, and goats were raised at Karatas. An uneven distribution of spindle whorls and loomweights is the evidence for spinning and weaving. Grinding and pounding tools indicate the cultivation of cereal crops, specifically wheat, and, if present-day cultivation practice is any indication, probably barley as well. The shallowness of most of the trenches at Karatas means that local rodents have done better than the archaeologists at finding domesticated plant remains except in the Central Mound. Very little metal was found, notably two pins, one of silver, the other of bronze, with decorated heads (respectively, a boar's head and something that resembles a pineapple). Other structural finds were many pits, presumably for storage, some hearths, and a few circular stone platforms.

Chapter 6: Catalogue of Finds (pages 193-214) is a useful cross-referenced catalogue by object type: 162 pots, 113 spindle whorls and beads, 12 stamp seals, 42 loomweights, 17 spit supports, firescreens, and pot supports, 19 metal artifacts, 69 ground and polished stone implements, over 179 grinding/pounding implements, over 107 chipped stone implements, all local flint and mostly blades, 12 pieces of worked bone, 17 worked shells, and miscellaneous, including idols, brushes, and figurines. The cross-references are to trench number, to citations in the text, to illustrations, to the current location of the object (particularly useful to the researcher who wants to see the object itself), and to their prior appearances in preliminary publications. Detailed analysis of the finds will be the subject of later volumes of the Elmali-Karatas series.

The final part of the text (Chart 12) is a 5 page listing one-fourth as long as the catalogue of finds: by trench, year, and field notebook, of every excavator who worked at Elmali. Then follow sixty-six pages of drawings, the majority of them stone-by-stone state plans, and 140 pages of photographs, ranging from satellite imagery to 1 x 1 shots of the smallest objects. Finally, a fold-out, schematic pit plan completes the documentation. I tried hopping from text to drawing to photograph to see how the cross-referencing works. By and large it does, as long as one goes back to the basic trench reference in the catalogue, and as long as one has enough fingers to keep one's place at photograph, drawing, text, and object pages. Bold type notations allow the reader to find what object was found in which trench.

Many excavation sites far more impressive than Elmali-Karatas and with much more dramatic 'finds' remain either unpublished or have been 'published' in a form that is sketchy at best, certainly inferior to what we have here. The Elmali-Karatas series, thorough and painstaking, should be an object lesson for some of us. Indeed, one feels the pedagogical hand of Machteld Mellink throughout this book. The student excavators may have not found the sensational material that is written up in coffee-table books or in the popular press, but they treat their finds with respect. Not everybody can afford to print a series of final reports on good-quality stock with this kind of care. Not everybody arranges for subventions to make the volumes affordable to the next generation of students, and this at only $40 is good value. Despite my struggle with Chapter 3, my net assessment of Elmali-Karatas II is that it is a workmanlike job, and I look forward to Elmali-Karatas III to see what was going on in the Main House.