Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.07.31

David French (ed.), Canhasan Sites 2. Canhasan I: The Pottery. Monograph No. 32.   Ankara:  The British Institute at Ankara (distributed in the U.S. by The David Brown Book Co.), 2005.  Pp. xvi, 293; ills.  ISBN 11-898249-16-4.  $90.00.  

Reviewed by Charles C. Kolb, Independent Scholar and National Endowment for the Humanities, Washington, DC (
Word count: 2790 words

The British Institute at Ankara, founded in 1948, supports, promotes and publishes British research focused on Turkey and the Black Sea littoral in all academic disciplines within the arts, humanities and social sciences. It also maintains a center in Ankara that focuses on the region's archaeology, works closely with the Turkish authorities and Turkish universities and is responsible to the Turkish authorities for all British archaeological projects in Turkey. The Institute's current Director is Dr. Hugh Elton. David French, the Canhasan site's distinguished excavator, was for many years the Director of the British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara. The Institute's Monograph No. 13, Anatolian Iron Ages 2, was edited by A. Çilingiroglu and David French (Oxbow Monograph in Archaeology 13, 1991) as was Monograph No. 16, Anatolian Iron Ages 3 (1994). At least ten preliminary reports on Canhasan were published between 1961 and 1997, primarily by David or Elizabeth French in Anatolian Studies (p. xv-xvi). The ceramic assemblage from the Canhasan I site includes pottery types previously unknown or not found elsewhere in stratified contexts and, hence, is of fundamental importance for an understanding of this Chalcolithic period in Anatolia. The monograph under review contains four chapters, 204 figures, 10 plates (two black-and white photographs per plate), four tables, and a 47-item bibliography. This second monograph also contains a seven-item "Corrigenda to Canhasan Sites I" (p. xiv). However, assessing the merits of this new volume presents a reviewer with several unique issues, chief among which is the fact that this is the second of a projected multi-volume compendium. To assess the volume requires knowledge of and facts from the initial Canhasan monograph published in 1998 for appropriate orientation, context, and information. The initial volume, also written by David French, Canhasan 1: Canhasan I: Stratigraphy and Structures (1998) already appears on remainder lists.1 I shall refer to this volume as French (1998). A projected third volume in the set, the report on the "remaining categories of material" (French 1998, p. 20) has not been published nor has a publication date been announced. The new publication, listed on the back cover of the second monograph, is to be titled Canhasan Sites 3: Canhasan I: The Small Finds.

Therefore, reviewing the current volume is like having only the middle chapters from an Agatha Christie "who-done-it." Your reviewer's task is exacerbated by the fact that the book being assessed is predominantly a compendium of illustrations with only 32 pages of actual narrative plus the captions for the illustrations. Therefore, in order to make sense of the second volume, one must also refer to the 1998 publication. The misidentification of one of the Canhasan sites (noted below) serves to confuse the issue for those unfamiliar with Anatolia and the nuances of site designations and relative versus absolute chronology.

Canhasan is located approximately 13 km northeast of Karaman in the Konya Plain of south central Turkey and is about 60 km southeast of Çatalhöyük, a better-known site excavated by noted British archaeologist James Mellaart. Three separate archaeological mounds (höyükler in Turkish) comprise the Canhasan site and were numbered I, II, and III (although Mellaart inadvertently designated Canhasan III as Canhasan II and assigned it chronologically to the EBA [Early Bronze Age]; see his report in "Early Cultures of the South Anatolian Plateau, 2," Anatolian Studies 4:175-240, especially p. 209, Site No. 67. Canhasan I, situated about 250 m north of the village of Sudurayi (formerly known as Sidivre), is the largest of the three mounds and was "discovered" and briefly surveyed in the modern era by James Mellaart, Alan Hall, and David French in October 1958. The site was then located on a treeless plain and the mound was covered by thick steppic vegetation, primarily artemisia. The area is now a land that is cultivated and planted with orchards. Canhasan II is a smaller mound located between the village and Canhasan I; Canhasan III is approximately one km northwest of Canhasan I. The region was visited by a number of European travelers, among them The Reverend E. J. Davis in June 1875 and J. R. Sitlington Sterrett in June 1885. Both wrote and published accounts of their visits and these memoirs provide valuable early descriptions of the region's environment and topography.

The Canhasan I mound lies at an elevation of 1,016 m and is ca. 355 m east-to-west and 400 m north-to-south, has an irregular shape, and a maximum elevation of 10 m. Soil collected from the lower western edge of the mound was used as roof covering for dwellings in the contemporary village though at least 1960. A village cemetery, enclosed by a dry-stone wall, still occupies the southern half of the site. There is no water at or within 100 m of the site and few surface sherds were observed except in the soil borrow pits.

The work at Canhasan had two major objectives: 1) a stratigraphic sequence for the Chalcolithic of the Konya Plain, and 2) an area-exposure of the Chalcolithic period at Canhasan (French 1998, p. 8). The excavations at Canhasan I revealed a series of occupations beginning with four levels of Ceramic Neolithic and seven levels or phases of settlements dating from the Early through the Late Chalcolithic periods. Following an occupational hiatus, there are five post-Chalcolithic levels (Iron Age, Classical, Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine occupations). The mound known as Canhasan 1 revealed a series of stratified Chalcolithic period settlements (ca. 5500-3000 BC). Briefly, the relative chronological sequence is (French 1998, p. 20):

ByzantinePost-Chalco1 1 level + pits, sherds, 1 coin
RomanPost-Chalco2 sherds, reported coin
HellenisticPost-Chalco3 sherds
ClassicalPost-Chalco4 sherds
Iron AgePost-Chalco5 pits, sherds
Chalcolithic, Late15 levels
Chalcolithic, Middle2A(?) 3 levels + phases + deposits
Transitional2B1 level
Chalcolithic, Early31 level
Neolithic (latest)41 level
Neolithic51 level + phases
Neolithic61 level + phases
Neolithic71 level
French's first volume details the work carried out between 1961 and 1967 (specifically three field seasons: 1961-1961, 1964-1965, and 1967), providing locational information, maps, and site stratigraphy and structure, and is illustrated by 60 figures and 9 plates. Here we learn about the site's fundamental stratigraphy and the major structural developments of the Chalcolithic period. The superb, detailed drawings of the structures are keyed to the stratigraphic sequences and present a clear view of the architectural sequences. One chapter documents the stratigraphic and structural sequences with information on wall orientations, foundation styles, building materials, and brick sizes. There is a candid assessment of the problems, change in recovery methods, and uncertainties in the stratigraphy. Contexts are tabulated but the concordances of artifact collections designations and stratigraphic contexts are left to future volumes. The site's stratigraphic sequence and chronology have been adjusted several times since the 1960s and in the initial Canhasan volume (French 1998, pp. 19-20). Therefore, it is not entirely clear which chronological sequence French employs. It is apparently one derived from his own observations based on relative ceramic chronologies. Neither of the two published volumes presents any additional chronological data. However, some radiometric data have been assembled and published for Central Anatolia, including Canhasan data; see Thissen (2005); the sections on Canhasan are reproduced below.2

French notes that future monographs would examine the phases of discontinuity at the site (unique in the south and western Anatolian record) in greater detail, and provide a discussion of ceramic and environmental evidence -- the second volume in the series, under assessment here, focuses on the ceramics. We also learn (French 1998, p. 13) that the artifact collection methods varied according to the artifact class -- all chipped stone lithic artifacts were retained but only a portion of the ground stone objects and the diagnostic ceramics were kept. Fortunately, the discarded materials were reburied at the site.

Canhasan Sites 2. Canhasan I: The Pottery begins with an introductory chapter (p. 1-11) in which French presents an outline of the volume, discusses his scheme of data presentation and illustrations, elaborates the "grading" of the pottery and value of the sherds, and documents the storage of the pottery and creation of the lead-pencil sherd drawings. His meticulous and rigorous excavation procedures and subsequent laboratory methodologies are elaborated. Chapter 2: The Pottery (pp. 13-33) includes a synopsis of the pottery wares (Neolithic through Byzantine) and detailed descriptions of the ceramics for all seven Chalcolithic layers. The format for the latter includes: Illustrations; Fabric and Surface, and Colour Codes; Shapes and Features; Decoration (if present); and Comment. There is a full catalogue of the best-preserved and most important pieces in Chapter 3: Catalogue of Registered Pottery, which has 193 entries (pp. 35-54). Chapter 4: Tables and Concordances (pp. 55-82) comprises four tables: layer, ware and grade for 11 layers (pp. 55-58); 144 registered pottery vessels (p. 59); 2,501 unregistered pottery sherds (pp. 60-71); and 880 concordances of registered pottery to catalog numbers and figures (pp. 72-82). A major feature of this volume is the drawings of the 2,501 less well-preserved pieces, which illustrate all the characteristic shapes and types of decoration (figures, pp. 83-283 and plates pp. 284-293). Color analysis of vessels and sherds follows the Munsell system but then French employs non-Munsell terminology (Orange, Buff, Brown, and Pink etc.) to designate ware, group, and subgroups. The subgroups are delineated by surface treatments such as painting, burnishing, and incision. The pottery fabrics are characterized by color and inadequately described using terms such as very fine clay, grainy or gritty clay, grit inclusions, some chaff, minute mica particles, white (calcite?) particles, multiple inclusions, etc. Unfortunately, there has apparently been no attempt to evaluate the fabrics/pastes and tempers or aplastics through the use of binocular microscopy or the preferred thin-section petrography that has been in use since the 1930s. The appearance of calcite seems to be as natural inclusions in the clay. Chaff-tempering is defined as "tiny fragments of finely chopped straw" (p. xiv). In my analyses of Southwest Asian and Central Asian archaeological and ethnographic ceramics with Fred Matson (Emeritus Professor of Ceramics and Emeritus Professor of Archaeology, The Pennsylvania State University), I would suggest that this "chaff-temper" is actually dung temper and that the "finely chopped" straw is straw passed through the digestive systems of sheep or goat (Ovis/Capra). However, we are not informed about the presence of wild, semi-domesticated, or domesticated animals at Canhasan, but if the straw is in the 2-10 mm range, I would consider this as a likely alternative. Lastly, information about the site and regional geology and pedology are not characterized, and no clay samples have been collected or petrographically assessed.

However, this volume presents a vast amount of descriptive data about the Chalcolithic pottery, but information about a key layer, the Early Chalcolithic, is minimal. As French summarizes: "the pottery to be associated with Layer 3, therefore, cannot be defined" (p. 18). From his descriptions, I have created the following tabulations:

PeriodLayer/LevelNumbers of Levels and Pottery Wares (n = ) and ware designations
ByzantinePost-Chalco / Level 11 level: 1 H12
RomanPost-Chalco / Level 2sherds, 2: H10, H11
HellenisticPost-Chalco / Level 3sherds, 2: H8, H9
ClassicalPost-Chalco / Level 4sherds, 2: H6, H7
Iron AgePost-Chalco / Level 5sherds, 5: H1, H2, H3, H4< H5
Chalcolithic, Late15 levels, 9 wares:G1(a), G1(b), G1(c), G2, G3, G4, G5, G6, G7 (see below)
Chalcolithic, Middle2A(?) 3 levels, 9 wares: E1, E2, E3(a), E3(c), E4, E5, E6 (see below)
2B or A8 wares: F1, F2(a), F2(b), F2(c), F3(a), F3(b), F4(a), F4(b) (see below)
Transitional2B15 wares: D1(a), D1(b), D1(c), D1(d), D2, D3(a), D3(b), D3(c), D3(d), D4(a), D4(b), D5(a), D5(b), D6(a), D6(b) (see below)
Chalcolithic, Early31 level, not defined (page 18)
Neolithic (latest)41 level, 1-3 wares maximum: A, B, C
Neolithic (latest)51 level, 1-3 wares maximum: A, B, C
Neolithic (latest)61 level, 1-3 wares maximum: A, B, C
Neolithic (latest)71 level, 1-3 wares maximum: A, B, C
Prehistoric Miscellaneous 6 wares

Chalcolithic Wares

G1 Black/Red Ware: 3 subgroups based on surface treatments

G2 Scored Ware

G3 Red Patterned [Ware]

G4 White Coated/Patterned [Ware]

G5 Buff/Brown Plain Ware

G6 Red Wash (internal) + Scoring (external) [Ware]

G7 Rough Ware

F1 Dark Brown/Red Patterned Ware: 1 subgroup based on surface treatments

F2 Dark Brown Red Patterned [Ware]: 3 subgroups based on surface treatments

F3 Red-Brown [Ware]: 2 subgroups based on surface treatments

F4 Buff [Ware]: 2 subgroups based on surface treatments

E1 Brown/Red Patterned [Ware]

E2 Buff-Grey Burnished [Ware]: 2 subgroups based on surface treatments

E3 Dark Brown [Ware]: 3 subgroups based on surface treatments

E4 Red Wash [Ware] ("Pink Ware")

E5 Buff and Orange [Ware]

E6 Two-Coloured Patterned [Ware] ("Polychrome Ware")

D1 Red Patterned [Ware]: 4 subgroups based on surface treatments

D2 Red/Black Matte Painted Ware ("Imported Ware")

D3 Brown/Black Patterned [Ware]: 4 subgroups based on surface treatments

D4 Buff/Grey Ware: 2 subgroups based on surface treatments

D5 Brown/Red Ware: 2 subgroups based on surface treatments

D6 Brown/Buff Ware: 2 subgroups based on surface treatments

A unique element of French's analysis is a careful grading of the material in terms of chronological reliability. Only compete or nearly whole vessels found on floors are regarded as contemporaneous. Related pottery may be accepted as contemporary, but with less certainty, while French treats unrelated wares with circumspection, since they may be either recycled from earlier layers or intrusive from later occupations. He states that:

The failure to find extensive groups of pots in situ has bedeviled the interpretation of the stratigraphic sequence at Canhasan. Faced with a fearsome quantity of material I have been bemused by the bewildering variety of surface treatments and colours and by the difficulties in categorizing multiple variations of single decorative techniques. Mistakes of attribution are undoubtedly present in the account which follows below. In several cases the same sherd was assigned, before a final decision was taken, to different wares. It is hoped that mis-attributions such as these have largely been corrected but errors no doubt remain undetected.. . . The reader is here advised to treat the account of the Canhasan pottery with some caution and to assess the divisions and conflations, presented below, as no more than provisional, until the discovery, on future excavations, of complete vessels located, one hopes in some quantity, on floors that can be associated with a series of structures vertically or even horizontally stratified--as, in 1961, was the original aim and objective of the Canhasan excavations." (p. vi)

French is certainly honest and forthright but leaves the reader in a quandary.

Neither of the published volumes presents the reader with an understanding of the inhabitants and their life ways. We are not informed about the numbers, arrangements, functions, and dimensions of the rooms, courtyards, and passageways. Towards the end of the Neolithic in Central Anatolia, communities are perceived generally as being constituted by relatively autonomous and homologous households occupying discrete residences and performing most domestic activities within the house. These settlements became bounded only by the end of the Neolithic in Central Anatolia as seen at Asikli Höyük and Çatalhöyük.3 It appears that the settlement pattern remained the same for the Chalcolithic period. Hopefully, the future publications on Canhasan will undertake the assessment of these concerns and identify room functions and define the activities and life ways of the inhabitants. Clearly, there must be work rooms, sleeping quarters, and storage areas such as are found in important sites of the Chalcolithic period, notably Hacilar, Beycesultan, Alisar, Alacahöyük, Kuruçay, Mersin, Yumuktepe, Elazig Tepecik, Malatya, Degirmentepe, Norsuntepe, and Fikirtepe.

In sum, the monographic series illustrates a very traditional approach to site excavation and artifact analyses, and serves as a reminder about the changes that have taken place in archaeological field and laboratory methods and reporting. French is meticulous and what he presents is clear and explicit but he is self-critiquing, lamenting, for example, the brevity and the lack of details in his reports. Nonetheless, seminal work by Gordon Hillman and Sebastian Payne on Neolithic plant and animal remains provides us with a better understanding of regional subsistence and ecology. In spite of any drawbacks, we are fortunate to have French's analysis of the pottery for this important site.


1.   D. French, Canhasan 1: Canhasan I: Stratigraphy and Structures. Monograph No. 23, London: The British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara, 1998. Pp. x , 102; figs. 60, pls. 9, $80.00, ISBN 1-898249-09-1, ISSN 0969-9007. Distributed by Oxbow Books, Oxford and by The David Brown Book Company in the United States; remaindered at $19.98.
2.   L. Thissen, "CANeW Central Anatolia and Cilcia 14C Chart," Central Anatolian Neolithic e-Workshop (last updated February 20, 2006) (html and pdf).

Canhasan I. Six dates from Canhasan I stem from a possibly single, or short-term event, viz. the burning and collapse of the W and E rooms of House 3 during the last subphase of Layer 2B (P-794, P-795, P-790, P-791, P-792 and P-793). P-793 must be intrusive, as it is too young, and may very well be related to the Middle Chalcolithic Canhasan Layer 1 occupation, as suggested on the chart (see below -- Canhasan I layer 1 entry). A combination of the remaining dates fails at 5% in a X2-test due to P-794. Leaving this early date out yields a combined range of 5710-5640 cal BC, with an agreement of 102.9%. No dates being available for Layers 7-3, the beginning of Canhasan I at approximately 6000 cal BC should be considered tentative. Layer 2A is represented by a single date P-789, predating the Layer 2B range gained supra, and is therefore not used in the chart (cf. also the comment in the database).

Canhasan I, Layer 1 (Middle Chalcolithic) Canhasan I, Layer 1 has not provided any radiocarbon dates, and the one date used here (P-793) is in fact stemming from Layer 2B where it is a clear outlier to the other 2B dates (see Canhasan comment supra). We consider P-793 as a possible intrusion from Layer 1 into Layer 2B.
3.   B. S. Düring and A. Marciniak, "Households and communities in the central Anatolian Neolithic," Archaeological Dialogues 12:165-187 (2005).

Read Latest
Index for 2006
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:31:08, Friday, 03 April 2009