Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2009.11.12

Jeffrey S. Soles, Thomas M. Brogan, Sevi Triantaphyllou, Mochlos IIA: Period IV, The Mycenaean Settlement and Cemetery: The Sites. Prehistory Monographs; 23.   Philadelphia:  INSTAP Academic Press, 2008.  Pp. xxx, 265; 145 p. of plates.  ISBN 9781931534239.  $80.00.  

Reviewed by Yannis Galanakis, University of Oxford (
Word count: 3293 words

Table of Contents

This Mochlos volume (Mochlos IIA), the first in a series of three, presents the results of the Greek-American excavations from 1986 to 2004 of two Late Minoan III sites: the settlement on the south slope of the island and the Limenaria cemetery near the modern village. Volume IIB will present the pottery and IIC the burial population and the small finds. Although this review deals only with Mochlos IIA, it is indispensable for those interested in the results of these excavations to consult all three volumes, not least because very few details and images of the finds are published in the present volume.

This publication is divided into three main chapters and a number of sub-chapters. Following a brief history of research and an introduction to the 'historical' setting, Chapter 1 describes the thirteen houses found in the settlement with a room by room presentation of the excavated data. Their description is accompanied by a summary of their stratigraphy, architecture, finds and possible use(s). Chapter 2 covers the 31 tombs, all but one of which was unplundered;1 provided for each tomb is a description of the architecture, burials and objects and, briefly, the skeletal remains (the conditions of which are illustrated in figures 134-142 by highlighting the preserved parts of the skeleton). Chapter 3 offers an overview of the relationship of the settlement and the tombs. The authors of this volume see this relationship as complementary rather than contrasting. The appendix brings the two sites closer together by reconstructing a particular ritual, the 'killing' of objects, "in the hope of learning more about the interaction between the living and the dead" (p. xxiv).

Mochlos is a very important site in the Bronze Age archaeology of Crete. The Early Minoan cemetery, one of the largest and most important of the Prepalatial cemeteries in eastern Crete and the Neopalatial settlement have long been known since they were first excavated by R. B. Seager in 1908. However, prior to Nikos Papadakis's discovery of nine LM III tombs at Limenaria in 1986, it was generally thought that the Neopalatial destruction had brought an end to the Bronze Age occupation of the site. The closest site with LM III remains, prior to the recent Mochlos excavations, was located about 3km to the south of the modern village, where N. Platon excavated some rock-cut tombs at the location Koukoutsia or Mathainas Lakkos and C. Davaras collected remains of a LM III chest-larnax.2

Two thirds of this publication deal with the data recovered from the settlement. Despite the detrimental role played by the extensive Late Hellenistic (1st c. BC) reoccupation with regard to the preservation of LM III deposits at Mochlos, the thirteen excavated houses, all one-story buildings, yielded evidence for two main phases of occupation: the first dates to around 1400 to 1350 BC (end of LM II to first part of LM IIIA2) and the second from 1350 to about 1250 BC (LM IIIA2 to first part of LM IIIB). Although all thirteen houses yielded evidence for a LM IIIA2 occupation, fewer yielded LM IIIB pottery, suggesting to the excavators a slow rather than sudden abandonment of the site around 1250 BC (with the exception of House A, the destruction of which suggests "a hasty unplanned exit" [p. 29]).

This LM III settlement was probably smaller and more haphazardly arranged in comparison to its Neopalatial predecessor. The excavations showed that the old Minoan houses were not re-occupied in LM III -- instead new buildings were built to accommodate the population. Only House A, the largest and most imposing of the excavated buildings, sits on top and partially reuses an average Neopalatial house. Although most houses had one, two or three rooms, House A, carefully built and approached by its own cobbled street (the only one during LM III attested in Mochlos), contained eight different rooms in LM II/IIIA1. Its location, size, architectural details (the only one completely built in stone) and finds (including more imported pottery than any other house: table 5) distinguish it from all the other LM III buildings at Mochlos. The exceptional features of House A made the excavators consider it the residence of the local rulers. In LM IIIA2/B, this house was altered with the main room and the vestibule now functioning probably as a small terrace (8-9sq.m.) and a point of access to two different structures (though it is unclear whether this building still operated as a single unit or two separate wings). Room 4, perhaps the most important in House A, yielded a remarkable ceramic assemblage associated with eating and drinking (including a group of LM IIIB pottery). Based on architectural and artefactual remains, the excavators identified in House A areas for storage, sleeping, bathing and cooking along with evidence for commercial (e.g. the Canaanite amphora fragments) and ceremonial/religious activities, perhaps for the entire community.

Among the other buildings (all with stone foundations, mudbrick superstructures and flat roofs, the edges of which might have been covered with schist plaques) houses Β, Δ, Η, Ι, Μ and Ν were arranged in pairs on terraces and clustered together near the centre of the site. Houses Γ, Ε, Ζ, Λ were isolated toward the western side and Κ, Θ toward the eastern side of the LM III settlement. The rectilinear plan with an axial arrangement of six of the houses may reflect mainland practices, according to the authors of this volume (pp. 8, 188). Most of these buildings, along with their adjacent areas, yielded evidence for 'household'-related activities (drinking/eating and weaving). A number of separate 'cook-sheds' for the preparation of food were identified, while House K is interpreted by the excavators as "a tavern for visiting seafarers" (p. 188). Clay pots and stone tools form the bulk of the material found in these houses along with floral and faunal remains. Metal finds (bronze and lead) are rare (less than a dozen), among them two lead weights, part of a lead bowl, a sickle and a chisel.

The other major LM III site at Mochlos is the cemetery on the west side of the hill overlooking the Limenaria bay. Within view of the settlement, it is not the only LM III cemetery: seven pit graves with burials, mostly of subadults, in jars and a pithos, were found in the old Neopalatial Artisan's Quarter (already published, along with the burial at Chalinomouri).3 Yet, the Limenaria tombs appear to constitute the most important LM III cemetery for the Mochlos community. Overall, the excavators observe considerable variation in the "size, type, and location of the tombs ... the types of burial containers and grave goods ... the number and sex of the skeletons, the manner of burial, and the evidence for secondary use" (p. 131).

The cemetery consists of 26 chamber tombs and 5 pits (including a natural cavity and a pit in the dromos of an unfinished chamber tomb), making it one of the largest known LM IIIA-B cemeteries in Crete. It is also the largest cluster of chamber tombs in East Crete, the burial record of which is characterized by considerable regionalism during this period. The use of the cemetery is contemporary with that of the settlement: i.e. from about 1400 (LM IIIA1) to 1250 BC (LM IIIB). Most of the tombs (up to 20) yielded a single burial, six tombs yielded two burials and only three tombs (one each) gave three, four and five burials. Two tombs yielded no skeletal material (perhaps more circumstantial than intentional). The average number of burials (1.5 per tomb) is in agreement with the existing east Cretan record (half the LM IIIA-B Cretan average).

Although erosion certainly accounts for the deterioration of some tombs, the size of the sample and excellent documentation offer a good understanding of the cemetery's architecture. Most of the tombs were equipped with a short dromos (up to 3.6m in length). Their narrow and low stomia are undifferentiated from the dromos walls in all but one case. The tombs lack refinement and features of elaboration. Only tomb 13 is somewhat better built, including the 'keyhole'-shaped design of the dromos, the clearly distinguished stomion with jambs, a built threshold, a doorway (1.5m high) and a façade (around 2m in height).4 Stones often blocked the entire dromos and not just the stomion, while a 'step' sometimes led from the dromos to the chamber. The small size of the chambers (none exceeding 5sq.m.) is in agreement with the published record for east Crete.5 The low and crudely carved chambers (best described as 'cave-like') were not high enough for a person to stand upright (being as low as 0.70cm). All of these features are more frequently attested in Cretan chamber tombs than in their mainland counterparts, where LH IIIA-B tombs of this type tend to be more uniform in terms of layout.

The detailed anthropological study of the human remains constitutes one of the most important contributions of the Mochlos Greek-American excavations in the LM III cemetery, since this is one of the few sites where analyses of this kind have been methodically carried out. Males, females and children were identified among those buried in the tombs (up to 44 individuals). Dental disease was one of the most common ailments noted along with osteoarthritis (p. 193-194), although their health was generally good, with around 40% of the studied skeletons having an age over 30 (see Triantaphyllou, Mochlos IIC). The skeletal analysis also confirmed the suspicion that a number of the Mochlos tombs contained 'couples' (a male and a female individual: e.g. tombs 10,17,29).

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Mochlos burials at Limenaria is the use of different types of burial receptacles. In total, pithoi were attested in 18 tombs, chest larnakes in 5, tub larnakes in 4 and a jar burial in one. A pyxis in tomb 13 contained the secondary burial of an adult (probably female), a practice rarely attested in LM IIIA-B Crete (see e.g. Angeliana and Pachyammos). The high proportion of pithos and jar receptacles is consistent with the east Cretan record, suggesting the development of a local practice. The use of receptacles is more popular in central and eastern Crete than in the western part of the island and any other part of the Aegean.6 The containers held primary burials; earlier burials were removed from the container and placed on the chamber floor, making space for the new burial inside the receptacle. In a few instances, however, the earlier burial was simply pushed to the side (e.g. tomb 10). Most of the pithoi had been sawn to allow the interment of the body (and possible future re-use) and then resealed with the sawn-off part.

There appears to be no correlation between burial receptacle type and gender. Pithoi are mainly attested in LM IIIA tombs, while rich assemblages are most frequently associated with medium and large tombs with larnax burials. Some jar types may have been reserved for child burials (as for example appears to have been the case with the LM III graves over the Artisan's Quarter). Only juveniles (12-18yo in tombs 11 and 13) and adults were buried in the larnakes.

The wealthiest tombs (i.e. those with the most diverse and numerous assemblages) are also among the largest in the cemetery: with the exception of tomb 16 (single burial in a large pithos), all the other 'rich' graves were provided with a tub or chest larnax, an element that may have determined the chamber size of the 'large' tombs. That the main effort was to provide the necessary space for the burial receptacle can also be seen by the tightly placed large pithos in tomb 8 and the larnakes in tombs 10 and 13.

The variation observed in the quantity, quality and diversity of the objects found in the tombs appears to suggest some kind of social hierarchy within the Mochlos community. The jar burials were modestly furnished or not furnished at all. At the other end, those buried in the larnakes received far more objects (including significant quantities of pottery, especially drinking vessels: e.g. 27 pots with the single male burial in tomb 15 and 44 pots with the five burials in tomb 13). Almost 80% of the pottery found in the tombs comprises jugs, stirrup jars, bowls and cups. Although bowls and cups are frequently attested in the settlement, there is also a high percentage of kylikes (20%), which are rarely found in the cemetery (a pattern that makes J. Soles postulate a 'symbolic' use for the three kylikes discovered in two of the Mochlos tombs). Table 2 summarizes in a useful way the capacity in mls of the drinking vessels offering insights into the possible quantities consumed and the number of partakers.

Almost half of the tombs yielded bronze objects, ranging from jewellery (rings, pins, beads and bracelets) to tools (razors, knives, chisels, cleavers, a spindle hook and a fishhook). Tomb 10 yielded a bronze bowl with a mirror plate as its lid. The only weapon is the 'ritually killed' dagger from tomb 15. A few gold beads and a gold-plated bronze ring were found in only two of the 31 tombs. Most of the beads were made of glass, faience and cornelian, and a smaller number of other materials such as haematite, serpentinite and rock crystal. Four steatite seals were found in two tombs (two in each). Despite the seemingly modest furnishing of the tombs, this cemetery is among the richest by LM IIIA-B east Cretan standards.

The man in tomb 15 has been identified by Soles with a telestas of the Linear B administration as a result of the notable assemblage and the presence of four rhyta in the tomb, a quite rare accumulation of this ritual vessel type. Other notable points include the evidence for a drinking/eating ceremony in the dromos of tomb 13 and the possible placement of an amphoroid krater in a cairn as a grave marker for tombs 26-28, a practice also attested in the LM III graves over the Artisan's Quarter.

In the conclusions, J. Soles attempts a brief synthesis by comparing the settlement with the tombs "in the sense that they both shed light into the life of this small LM III community" [p. 184]. For example, the differences between House A and the other buildings in the settlement are strengthened by the architectural and artefactual variation observed in the funerary context, both suggesting the existence of a hierarchical society.

One of the most intriguing aspects regarding the relationship between settlement and tombs is that of the 'missing dead'. At least 13 families were identified in the settlement by the excavators, or about 400 people for a period of 150 years (p. 7). If one considers that a significant part of the settlement and cemetery have actually been excavated, then the 53 individuals found at the Limenaria cemetery and the Artisan's Quarter (p. 190) account for only a fraction of the Mochlos community (13%). Although other burial methods (at sea or cremation) should not altogether be dismissed, there is absolutely no evidence for other mortuary practices, a point already made clear by the excavators (p. 194). If, thus, a large proportion of the population was not buried, the act of visible burial may in itself have been an element of social differentiation.

The attempt to reconstruct the history of occupation at Mochlos raises some interesting questions about the identity of the small LM III community,summarized in the final sub-chapter on "Ethnicity and Power": pp. 198-205. According to the Mochlos team, the Neopalatial occupation ended in a sudden and devastating destruction at the end of LM IB. Following a brief period of abandonment, the site was occupied once more from around 1400 to 1250 BC. During this period, its population decided not to reuse the old Neopalatial buildings or retrieve the LM IB buried bronzes. Instead new buildings and tombs were erected. This possible break with the past is interpreted by the excavators as evidence for the presence of 'settlers' during LM III.

However, instead of the more nuanced approach of some of the preliminary reports,7 where the debate over the character of the LM II-III material culture was played out, this publication offers a more rigid interpretation with regard to the LM III occupants by identifying them as 'Mycenaean'. The reader, for example, is assured that "most archaeologists will agree now that Mycenaean Greeks were in control of the palace at Knossos when the new settlers arrived at Mochlos ... around 1400-1390 BC" (p. 3) and that "the way the living treated the dead, the tombs they used, the grave goods they chose, and the funerary ceremonies enacted identify individual elites and are also good indicators of ethnicity that suggest who these LM III settlers actually were and from where they came" (p. 3). Although there is now more of a consensus regarding the early date of the Knossos Linear B tablets, and most scholars would agree that the funerary record may shed light on real or symbolic identities, the nature and extent of Mycenaean involvement in LM II-III Crete and the use of burials as a marker of ethnicity are issues far from conclusive and unanimous in Aegean archaeology.8 For example, even if certain funerary practices were inspired by developments in mainland Greece,9 most of the practices observed in the Mochlos cemetery appear to be in agreement with either Cretan, Knossian or even local developments, thus pointing to a fusion of traditions and the creation of a local identity within the (politically and socially) dynamic environment of Late Bronze Age III.

This last sub-chapter will not only help stimulate further discussions on the cultural character of LM II-III in relation to mainland Greece, but also on the political geography of the island during this period. The strong links between Knossos and Mochlos (mostly in the ceramic record),10 interpreted by the excavators as reflecting a direct Knossian involvement in the foundation of this small community (pp. 185, 203), will certainly re-open the question regarding the role of east Crete in the administrative network established by Knossos during LM II-IIIA1. The Mochlos team is of the opinion that this community was under direct Knossian control and that the destruction of House A around 1350 BC and its altered appearance in LM IIIA2 reflect "a political change in the organization of the settlement" related to the collapse of centralised power at Knossos. This change resulted in a period of growing regionalism, shifting social networks and political fragmentation.

The role of Knossos in setting the agenda and promoting a certain elite etiquette in Crete as well as the Aegean during LM/LH II-IIIA1 has been the focus of a number of recent articles.11 At the same time, the strong sense of regionalism across the island and the role of material culture in shaping identities, especially during LM IIIA2-B, should be taken more fully into consideration in discussions pertaining to the cultural character of the island and its political organization.

The decision by J. S. Soles and C. Davaras, the editors of the Mochlos series, to correlate the settlement and cemetery is to be praised, given the small number of publications that deal with contemporary Bronze Age settlements and cemeteries. Overall there are very few typographical errors. The high quality of publication is also reflected in the clear line drawings, the careful reconstructions, the detailed tables, the excavation photographs and in particular the tomb drawings annotated with findspots. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, the INSTAP team, the 24th Ephoreia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities and the Greek Archaeological Service should all be congratulated on a fruitful collaboration and the prompt and exemplary publication of their research. One can only look forward to the publication of the two remaining Mochlos II volumes.


1.   Tomb 27 was reused in the Early Orientalizing period (pp. 177-179).
2.   ADelt 33 (1978), 393.
3.   Soles, J.S. and C. Walker 2003: 'Chapter 6: Human Skeletal Remains', in Soles, J.S., Mochlos IA, Period III. Neopalatial Settlement on the Coast: The Artisans' Quarter and the Farmhouse at Chalinomouri (Prehistory Monographs 7), Philadelphia, 135-147.
4.   Tomb 13 dates to LM IIIA2-B, a period during which the most elaborately built tombs appear outside Knossos (often placing emphasis on the dromos/façade of the tomb).
5.   The Mochlos tombs are grouped by the excavators, somewhat unusually, into small, medium and large based on their total length (dromos to chamber).
6.   For burial receptacles in Crete most recently Preston, L. 2004: 'Contextualising the larnax: tradition, innovation and regionalism in coffin use on Late Minoan II-IIIB Crete', OJA 23:2, 177-197. For the use of burial containers in mainland Greece see Phialon, L. and S. Farrugio 2005: 'Réflexions sur l'usage des larnakès et cercueils en Grèce mycénienne', RA, 227-254.
7.   E.g. Smith, R.A. 2005: 'Minoans, Mycenaeans and Mokhlos: The Formation of Regional Identity in Late Minoan III Crete', in D'Agata, A.L. and J. Moody (eds.), Ariadne's Threads: Connections between Crete and the Greek Mainland in Late Minoan III (LM IIIA2 to LM IIIC) (Tripodes 3), Athens, 185-204; Brogan, T.M., R.A.K. Smith and J.S. Soles 2002: 'Mycenaeans at Mochlos? Exploring Culture and Identity in the Late Minoan IB to IIIA1 Transition', Aegean Archaeology 6, 89-118, esp. p. 116 where they state that "the pottery and ritual practices associated with the tombs at Mochlos may not conclusively support the presence of either a specifically Mycenaean or Knossian elite". They place the richly furnished LM IIIA2-B burials within the pan-Cretan elite identity (idem, 2002, p. 117): "This combination of local and foreign traditions points to a fusion of cultural identities at Mochlos during this period".
8.   See e.g. Driessen, J. and I. Schoep 1999: 'The Stylus and the Sword: The Roles of Scribes and Warriors in the Conquest of Crete', in Laffineur, R. (eds.), POLEMOS: Le contexte guerrier en Égée à l'âge du Bronze (Aegaeum 19), Liège and Texas at Austin, 389-401; Preston, L. 1999: 'Mortuary Practices and the Negotiation of Social Identities at LM II Knossos', BSA 94, 131-143; Driessen, J. 2001: 'Kretes and Iawones: Some Observations on the Identity of Late Bronze Age Knossians', in Bennet, J. and J. Driessen (eds.), A-na-qo-ta. Studies Presented to J. T. Killen (Minos 33-34: 1998-99), Salamanca, 83-105; Preston, L. 2004: 'A mortuary perspective on political changes in Late Minoan II-IIIB Crete', AJA 108:3, 321-348; Driessen J. and Ch. Langohr 2007: 'Rallying Round a "Minoan" Past: The Legitimation of Power at Knossos during the Late Bronze Age', in Galaty, M.L. and W.A. Parkinson (eds.), Rethinking Mycenaean Palaces II, second edition (Cotsen Monograph 59), Los Angeles, 178-189; Bennet, J. 2008: 'Now You See it; Now You Don't! The Disappearance of the Linear A Script on Crete', in Baines, J., Bennet, J. and St. Houston (eds.), The Disappearance of Writing Systems. Perspectives on Literacy and Communication, Oxford, 1-30. See also Tsipopoulou, M. 2005: ''Mycenoans' at the Isthmus of Ierapetra: Some (Preliminary) Thoughts on the Foundation of the (Eteo)Cretan Cultural Identity', in D'Agata, A-L. and J. Moody (eds.), Ariadne's Threads: Connections between Crete and the Greek Mainland in Late Minoan III (LM IIIA2 to LM IIIC) (Tripodes 3), Athens, 303-352 (with response by H. Whittaker). Ariadne's Threads contains a good selection of articles (a few of which are quoted in Mochlos IIA) regarding the debate over the nature and extent of Mycenaean influence on Crete.
9.   Some of the practices quoted by the excavators as reflecting Mycenaean trends do not take into account their frequency in mainland Greece: e.g. the pithos burial from Mycenae (based on Wace, A.J.B. 1921-23: 'Excavations at Mycenae', BSA 25, 406-07) is quoted twice as evidence for these common practices "noted in other Mycenaean sites" (pp. 180, 199). But the Mycenae pithos dates to LH IIIC and pithos burials are generally rare in LH IIIA-B (see e.g. Lewartowski, K. 2000: Late Helladic Simple Graves: a study of Mycenaean burial customs, BAR-IS 878, Oxford). On the contrary there is a very good record of pithos burials in East Crete (and of receptacle burials as a whole).
10.   There is also a strong east Cretan link based on the ceramic imports (especially with Palaikastro): table 5.
11.   The recently discovered tombs at Chania, similar to the Zapher Papoura cemetery at Knossos, will certainly play an important role in future discussions on the issue.

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