Bryn Mawr Classical Review 98.5.08

C.L. Lyons, Morgantina Studies, Vol. V: The Archaic Cemeteries. Princeton: Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University in association with Princeton University Press, 1996. Pp. 261 + xxix, pls. 96. ISBN 0-691-04016-8.

Reviewed by John K. Papadopoulos, Antiquities, The J. Paul Getty Museum, P.O. Box 2112, Santa Monica, CA 90407-2112,

This volume, the fifth in the Morgantina Studies series and the first of two final reports on the cemeteries of the ancient city, presents the tombs of the Archaic city and their associated finds. The period of about two centuries covered by the Archaic cemeteries of Morgantina is of critical importance in the history of Sicily and Magna Graecia in general on account of the cultural and economic links with the cities of mainland and East Greece, and their affects on the local populations. The burials of the hilltop community of the Cittadella at Morgantina afford a unique glimpse into the processes of assimilation and acculturation, if not hybridization and creolization,1 and it is against this backdrop that Lyons' meticulous study provides important new evidence. The expressed goals of the study (p. ix) are: (1) to contribute to the documentation of the Graeco-Siculan settlement on the Cittadella through the presentation of the excavations undertaken in 1957-1970; (2) to provide a chronological and typological framework for the study of the artifacts, particularly ceramics, from the Archaic habitation contexts on the Cittadella and at other inland sites; (3) to suggest approaches to a synthetic interpretation of the site from the perspective of the burial ground; (4) to encourage renewed critical consideration of previous investigations of Sikel cemeteries from the dynamic transitional period of the eighth through the fifth century B.C.

In view of these expressed aims, the volume proceeds methodically. Chapter 1, "The Cemeteries" (pp. 3-13), outlines the history of excavations and a brief description of the various cemeteries. The excavations on the slopes of the Cittadella revealed discrete clusters of tombs which ringed the settlement; tombs of the Archaic period were found in a number of large areas designated Nekropoleis II, IV, V and VI. The chapter ends with a brief account of the relative chronology of the tombs in the light of the patterns of usage that emerged from the distribution of the tombs around the settlement. The earliest intact tombs, three tombe a forno, dating to the second half of the eighth century B.C. were published in an earlier volume of the Morgantina Studies series.2 Although eighth-century B.C. pottery was found occasionally on the northeast and east slopes of the Cittadella, as well as a few grave groups that could be assigned to the seventh century, the scarcity of eighth- and seventh-century graves was in stark contrast to the relatively abundant evidence of this period from the settlement itself. Looting and reuse of earlier tombs are offered as plausible, but not totally compelling explanations, and this brings to the fore one of several interesting phenomena that emerge from the site that are worthy of further investigation.

Chapter II (pp. 15-28) deals with tomb typology. Although nine different types of burials are presented, rock-cut chamber tombs for multiple burials clearly predominate at Morgantina, accounting for sixty-seven percent, or forty-five of the sixty-seven recorded tombs. These chamber tombs continue an indigenous tradition in use from the Early Bronze Age and highlight a form of burial unknown in contemporary Greece. The most common form of burial after the chamber tomb is the fossa grave; this consists of a rectangular trench surrounded by a shallow ledge that supports the cover slabs or rooftiles. Several varieties of these mostly modest burials were encountered, many of them for child inhumations, though adult fossa tombs were also uncovered. Other tomb types include tile-built tombs, sarcophagi, pot inhumations, urn cremations, as well as primary cremation burials, wooden coffin burials and simple earth burials. Four examples of tile-built tombs were recorded, primarily, but not exclusively, of the tombe a cappuccina or a pioventi variety, in which pan tiles were erected in lean-to fashion to shelter the deceased. Three types of sarcophagi were recorded: stone slab, terracotta and rock-cut, all found in the vicinity of chamber tombs. The adoption and use of the sarcophagus is considered by Lyons to be a prestigious form of burial at Morgantina, and the preferential burial type for adults of higher social status. Two instances of inhumations in large pottery containers (enchytrismos) were positively identified in the Archaic cemeteries, both for infant burials. In contrast to inhumations, cremation burials were rare in the Archaic cemeteries, accounting for only seven out of 114 individual burials. In the majority of these, the cremated remains were placed in an ash-urn, invariably a local hydria, but in one case (Tomb 36) a primary cremation was encountered in a shallow fossa covered by tiles. In discussing the cremations, Lyons concludes that they reflect foreign rather than indigenous tradition. As for the existence of wooden coffins, or biers, these are suggested by the presence of iron nails in a number of chamber tombs; no actual remnants of wood were found and, as such, the presence and original form of a bier or coffin is conjectural. Finally, there was one example of an inhumed infant, with no grave goods, in a simple shallow grave in the soil.

The next three chapters provide overviews of the pottery found in the tombs. Chapter III (pp. 29-52) presents the Greek imports, Chapter IV (pp. 53-71) the Sikeliote pottery, and Chapter V (pp. 73-91) the local pottery. Of the imported pottery, Attic imports (present in 43% of the burials) open the lineup, followed by Corinthian (representing the most numerous imported category, encountered in 45% of the Morgantina tombs). A relatively small number of plain black-glazed Lakonian imports were recovered, as were a handful of securely identified East Greek imports. The latter, though numerically scant, represent those pieces that stand out clearly in terms of their fabric and feel as Ionian imports. Mindful to avoid the confusion that has been engendered by the overconfident identification of East Greek pottery overseas, Lyons presents "colonial" versions of East Greek pottery in Chapter V. This said, the "East Greek imports at Morgantina are much rarer than the obvious influence of East Greek wares on the colonial and local pottery would lead one to expect" (p. 49). The term "Sikeliote" is applied in Chapter V to the pottery produced by the Greek colonies and subcolonies of Sicily. In using the term, Lyons preserves the traditional distinction made in the literary sources between "Sikeliotes," "Sicilian Greeks" and "Sikeloi." Lyons notes (p. 53) that in the Archaic period the distinction between "colonists" and "natives" was sharper than in later periods and that this distinction is clearly reflected in ceramic production. The latter is a moot point, since pottery alone can be a misleading indicator of cultural or ethnic realities, as a number of scholars have recently stressed.3 It appears that Sikeliote potters of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. borrowed from the Attic, Corinthian and East Greek traditions (p. 55), and, in her presentation of the Sikeliote material, Lyons distinguishes between the readily recognized imitation Corinthian pottery and the rest. It is also under the heading of Sikeliote pottery that the lamps are presented (pp. 69-71). The Local pottery of Chapter V refers to all the non-imported and non-colonial wares, painted and plain, as well as the "coarse domestic" pottery. The material is presented under the sub-headings of (1) Sikelo-Geometric pottery, (2) Banded and Matt-Painted pottery, and (3) Impasto and Coarse Ware. The coverage of the pottery in all three chapters is traditional and largely stylistic, but it does form the necessary chronological and material backbone of the study as a whole. More, however, could have been said about the pottery in its context as material associated with the dead and how it compares and contrasts with that of the living.

The jewelry from the graves is presented in Chapter VI (pp. 93-105). The assemblage of personal ornaments includes fibulae, rings, hair spirals, earrings, necklaces, beads, pendants, chains, bracelets and clothing ornaments (buttons, bosses and disks). Although stated to be "comparatively restricted in quantity and typological diversity," the jewelry is nevertheless considered as being "of fundamental importance in assessing status along ethnic, socio-economic, gender, and age group lines" (p. 93). Other kleine Funde are discussed in Chapter VII (pp. 107-113), including the terracottas, weapons and utilitarian objects. Among the terracottas there is a variety of figurines and protomes, of which the veiled goddess protomes are the most numerous; other terracottas such as loomweights and spindlewhorls are relegated to utilitarian objects. Weapons, which are rare, include a few arrowheads, spear blades and knives. A much greater assortment of material is presented under the heading of "utilitarian objects," varying from bronze cheese graters,4 iron hooks and flint blades, to strigils, gaming pieces and coins.

Burial customs are discussed in Chapter VIII (pp. 115-133). The chapter begins with overviews of the rites of inhumation and cremation, followed by brief remarks, under the subheading of "Funerary Ritual," on perideipna, offerings of food and libations, as well as a series of pits referred to as ustrina.5 All of the material previously discussed in Chapters III-VII is taken together contextually under the subheading of "Grave Goods" (pp. 125-129). Lyons' aim here is not to provide a detailed analysis, but rather to point to certain salient features and to hint at possible directions for further research. To this end, she avoids altogether the sort of analysis preferred by scholars such as Lars Jørgensen, as well as those recommended by Ian Morris.6 This is a conscious decision by Lyons, since to have incorporated successfully more analytical interpretive approaches in a single volume would have been impossible and this, in itself, represents a dilemma between the presentation of archaeological material, on the one hand, and its interpretation, on the other. Some scholars, such as Anna Maria Bietti Sestieri, for example, published two books on the same material in order to overcome this very problem.7 The final subheading of the chapter, on social and ethnic identities, is perhaps the most synthetic and interesting section in Lyons' monograph. Lyons visualizes Archaic Morgantina as a multicultural society, made up of Sikels, immigrants from various parts of the Mediterranean, Sicilian-born residents of Greek origin, as well as individuals of mixed heritage. There is much of value here, though the discussion on both gender issues and ethnicity seems somewhat abbreviated and could have been extended.

The final chapter (IX: pp. 135-226), is a catalogue of the 67 tombs and their contents. The tombs are arranged topographically and their contents are presented in categories, beginning with pottery, followed by terracotta figurines, metal objects and miscellaneous small finds. The descriptions of the tombs are precise and clear; those of the finds are in "telegram style," providing only the barest essentials. As with many publications of tombs and cemeteries, the physical anthropology appears as an appendix at the end, written by Marchall J. Becker; what survives of the human skeletons from the Archaic cemeteries of the site is briefly presented on pp. 227-237. This is followed by a concordance of inventory and catalogue numbers (pp. 239-248), and a very useful index (pp. 249-261).

The volume as a whole ends with the plates. There is a good balance between photographs (arranged on plates 1-71) and line-drawings of the tombs and some of their contents, especially pottery (plates 72- 96); additional line-drawings are presented as figures in the text (figs. 1-14; see list on p. xxiii). Both the photographic plates and the figures are of excellent quality, and those who consult the volume will appreciate the scale at which the illustrations are published.

All in all this volume is a welcome and important contribution, not only on the Graeco-Siculan settlement of the Cittadella at Morgantina, but on burial customs in Sicily and the Italian peninsula more generally. It will certainly encourage renewed critical consideration of the dynamic period between the eighth and fifth centuries B.C. by providing the material remains that would make such an undertaking both possible and worthwhile.  


1. See further H. Bhabha, "Signs taken for wonders: questions of ambivalence and authority under a tree outside Delhi, May 1817," in H. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London 1994 [1985]), 102-22; U. Hannerz, "The world of creolisation," Africa 57 (1987) 546-59; N. Thomas, Entangled Objects: Exchange, Colonialism and Material Culture in the Pacific (Cambridge, MA 1991); P. van Dommelen, "Colonial constructs: colonialism and archaeology in the Mediterranean," World Archaeology 28 (1997) 305-23; J.K. Papadopoulos, "Phantom Euboians," Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 10 (1997) 191-219.  

2. R. Leighton, Morgantina Studies Vol. IV: The Protohistoric Settlement on the Cittadella (Princeton 1993) 97-110.  

3. A.J. Graham, "The historical interpretation of Al Mina," Dialogues d'Histoire Ancienne 12 (1986) 51-59; J.K. Papadopoulos, "Euboians in Macedonia? A closer look," Oxford Journal of Archaeology 15 (1996) 151-81. See also the important recent monographs: J.M. Hall, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity (Cambridge 1997); S. Jones, The Archaeology of Ethnicity: Constructing Identities in the Past and Present (London and New York 1997).  

4. To the comparanda for cheese graters presented on p. 110, n. 19, add the recent discussion by D. Ridgway, "Nestor's cup and the Etruscans," Oxford Journal of Archaeology 16 (1997) 325-44.  

5. A term properly denoting the place of cremation, but often used in Sicily and south Italy to refer to any burned area in a cemetery.  

6. L. Jørgensen, "Family burial practices and inheritance systems. The development of an Iron Age society from 500 B.C. to A.D. 1000 on Bornholm, Denmark," Acta Archaeologica 58 (1987) 17-53; id., "Castel Trosino and Nocera Umbra. A chronological and social analysis of family burial practices in Lombard Italy (6th-8th centuries A.D.)," Acta Archaeologica 62 (1991) 1-58; I. Morris, Death Ritual and Social Structure in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge 1992).  

7. A.M. Bietti Sestieri, La necropoli laziale di Osteria dell'Osa (Rome 1992) for the formal presentation of the archaeological material; ead., The Iron Age Communities of Osteria dell'Osa: A Study of Socio-Political Development in Central Tyrrhenian Italy (Cambridge 1993) for a more theoretically aware analytical overview.