Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.11.38

Neil Brodie, Jenny Doole, Giorgos Gavalas, Colin Renfrew (ed.), Horizon: A Colloquium on the Prehistory of the Cyclades. McDonald Institute Monographs.   Cambridge:  McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2008.  Pp. xxiv, 540.  ISBN 9781902937366.  $130.00.  

Reviewed by Athena Hadji, University of Patras (

[Table of contents are listed at the end of the review.]

The book is the thorough publication of a 2004 colloquium on Cycladic prehistory. It comprises 43 chapters with an introduction by C. Renfrew. Even a cursory glimpse at the table of contents (pp. v-vii) is indicative of the book’s scholarly range, which, to a certain extent, justifies its length. Horizon is a much needed and long-awaited endeavor, because recent research in the Cyclades remains for the most part unpublished; also because it attempts to contextualize Cycladic prehistory within its broader Aegean context. Chronologically, the book covers the time span from the Aegean Mesolithic down to Mycenaean times, which in its turn is a novelty, given that interest in the prehistory of the Cyclades traditionally focuses on the Early Bronze Age.

A table of contents, contributors’ contact information, an extensive list of figures and a corresponding list of tables, a short preface and acknowledgements is included in pp. v-xxiv. All references are collected in a separate section at the end of the book, which greatly facilitates searching for titles (pp. 493-528), but does not help those who are interested in the literature of a specific subject. The bibliography is comprehensive and up-to-date. The book concludes with a detailed index (pp. 529-540).

Individual chapters are preceded by an introduction by Renfrew, however a conclusion, desirable in a massive volume like the one in question, is missing. Renfrew begins with a brief review of research on Cycladic prehistory from the beginnings in the 1880s and the pioneering work of Christos Tsountas to present times. He stresses the need for systematic surveys (p.1) and urges the contextual use of chronological terms, –either the traditional tripartite chronological division or the so-called culture scheme. The conclusion of Renfrew’s introduction is reminiscent of his earlier work,1 as he advocates for a diachronic perspective in Cycladic research.

In Chapter 1, Papageorgiou presents evidence on sea routes in the prehistoric Cyclades, based on environmental data and (indirectly) later literary sources. Two types of routes are distinguished: intra-island and inter-island routes, whereas the conclusion supports a seasonal pattern of seafaring.

In Chapter 2, Sampson discusses the Cycladic Mesolithic, presenting evidence from his excavation at the site of Maroulas on Kythnos, otherwise relatively unknown. After a brief discussion of different classes of features and artifacts, Sampson concludes that the evidence, though provisional, indicates patterns of island adaptation as early as the mid-7th millennium B.C.

Chapter 3, while it touches upon the Mesolithic, is the first of a series (Chs. 3-6) of chapters that deal with the Neolithic in the Cyclades, discussing sites such as Cyclops Cave on Youra, Ftelia on Mykonos, and Strofilas on Andros. In Chapter 5, Phoca-Cosmetatou starts with the analysis of the faunal remains in light of the economy of the site, and employs the theory of transported landscape, arguing - albeit inconclusively - that the transport of communities of people, plants and animals from the mainland carried along a perception of landscape to the island of Mykonos. This is a significant point since perceptions of landscape in Aegean prehistory have not been extensively studied as yet.

Televantou on Chapter 6 presents the hitherto virtually unknown prehistory of Andros, focusing on her excavation at Strofilas. The most interesting and intriguing features of the on-going excavation are the so-called rock-cut compositions (p.46), the existence of which allows for the possibility of a sanctuary with a floor adorned with figures of symbolic, perhaps ritual character. Conclusions are tenuous, and so are the author’s explanations which belong to the symbolic sphere (p.53, Conclusions section).

Chapter 7 examines a matter of utmost importance for Cycladic prehistory, as yet unresolved: Final Neolithic/ Early Cycladic chronology. Manning proposes a tentative absolute chronology sequence based on new measurements, mostly unpublished, from newly located and excavated sites. A particular merit of the essay, which adds to its validity, is that the author details methods of measurement and calibration. The dates obtained do not alter the existing picture dramatically;the samples presented, though securely dated, are not sufficient to be suggestive of a firmly established Cycladic sequence.

Chapters 8-30 deal with the Early Bronge Age in the Cyclades and related Aegean areas (Attica, Crete). Since most of the known prehistoric material from the Cyclades dates to the EBA, it is not surprising that the EBA chapters cover the most extensive part of the book. In Chapter 8, Katsarou-Tzeveleki and Schilardi address the issue of disproportionate attention between cemeteries and settlement sites by researchers in Cycladic prehistory, presenting evidence from the ECII settlement of Koukounaries on Paros. The authors’ discussion of the "boundary between funerary and domestic" (p.68), is crucial for the study of Cycladic prehistory and merits attention. On the other hand, the arguments put forward with regard to the preservation of ancestral memory are not particularly convincing.

In Chapters 9 and 10, issues of social differentiation are touched upon. Marthari discusses EBII pottery, based on material from her excavation of Skarkos on Ios. The examination is organized by pottery type. Whereas the minutiae of each pottery class presented might be burdensome to the non-specialist, the end discussion adopts a broader perspective: ostentatious display of wealth as a vehicle of social differentiation is related to finds of imported fine pottery of a standard inconceivable for the local potters (p.81). Also, Zachos and Dousougli study the Early Bronze Age sealings from the Cave of Zas on Naxos in an attempt to refute the hypothesis of lack of social differentiation in the Cyclades based on the absence of seals. In the conclusions section, the authors discuss evidence for sealings in an Aegean context and they conclude with a provisional discussion of social complexity in the Early Bronze Age Aegean.

Chapters 11 and 12 focus on the sites of Markiani on Amorgos and Dhaskalio on Kavos, an islet off Keros, respectively and essentially summarize the content of the respective volumes which have been published recently. Markiani covers most of EC II-III and was a fortified settlement. Especially significant is the coherence of the pottery assemblage which allows for "a new basis for EC chronology" (p. 99) and "underlines the need for the island-by-island study of EC pottery" (p. 101) - as well as culture, one might add. Dhaskalio constitutes a unique specimen of an open-air Cycladic sanctuary with massive evidence for intentional breakage of objects (mostly marble figurines), however the character of the site - sanctuary, cemetery or even "island of the blessed" (p. 113) remains to be assessed. Sotirakopoulou, in Chapter 13, studies pottery from investigations conducted on Dhaskalio in the 1960s and reaches a similar conclusion about the nature of the finds.

Chapters 14 and 15 draw from the N and EB phases of Akrotiri on Thera, most notable for its LBA phases, presenting a hitherto unknown picture of a prosperous site already in the EBA. The conclusions with regard to the issue of conspicuous display, inter-island relations, and manufacture of non-utilitarian goods and circulation in Chapter 15 (p. 146) are somewhat unsubstantiated and, at times, clichéd, e.g.,. "therefore, the choice of material was dependent on its properties and on the intended use of the final product".

Chapter 16 revolves around a much-debated assemblage, both in terms of chronology as well as its implications regarding ethnicity, the so-called Kastri group of pottery from the island of Syros. Angelopoulou, based on excavated evidence, makes the crucial point hitherto ignored, that "the [Kastri] group cannot be considered - a priori - as chronologically cohesive". (p. 150). The chapter offers an interesting insight into the EC fortified acropolis as a refuge for the population of a nearby settlement in times of trouble (p. 151), alluding to a well-known passage from Thucydides regarding piracy in the Aegean (p. 159).

Chapter 17 is an attempt to interpret the context of a series of rock-cut chambers unearthed at the site of Akrotiri. Doumas supports the idea of funerary use of the chambers (p. 168) in their original context (throughout the EC) and subsequent filling and abandonment (possibly due to the expansion of the MC city, p. 169) as well as the construction of a cenotaph. The tentative interpretation is based on contemporary ethnographic (p. 172, 174) and archaeological examples (p. 173) revolving around veneration for and grave offerings to the dead.

Chapter 18 examines the use of obsidian in the EBA Aegean in a new light. Moundrea-Agrafioti begins with the valid observation that obsidian is a rare find in EC tombs, continues with a detailed typological examination and concludes with a plausible interpretation that obsidian objects functioned as heirlooms valued for the symbolic context, a practice already documented for metal daggers and EC figurines.

Chapters 19, 20 and 21 refer to cemetery excavations on Ano Kouphonisi, Naxos and Melos respectively. Zafeiropoulou (p. 192) briefly addresses the issue of choice of settlement in an area of no arable land, pointing out alternative ways of living, such as, in this case, fishing.

In Chapter 22, Sampson and Fotiadi discuss ECII-III finds from Rivari, focusing on the pottery range and warning against using pottery typology to infer ethnic background of users and producers (Kastri group, p. 223).

Chapter 23 is a discussion of EC obsidian. Carter summarizes the current state of research and discusses the sociocultural context of technological practices. He raises a significant point (p. 228): technological shifts in obsidian tools cannot be used as sole chronological markers in the absence of corroboration from other data types.

Chapters 24, 25 and 26 discuss connections between Crete and the Cyclades and the stance of each author is a case-study on traditional and new approaches to the study of archaeological material. Whereas Betancourt (Ch. 24) suggests that the cemetery of Hagia Photia with its strong and undeniable Cycladic affinities belonged to a Cycladic colony, Karantzali (Ch. 25) interprets her evidence as showing a local interpretation of Cycladica rather than import of vessels from the Cyclades.

Chapters 27 and 28 discuss the Cyclades in relation to the mainland, covering a rather extensive time span (N-EBII). Ιnformation provided in Ch. 27 (albeit condensed by necessity and thus hard to absorb) and a plethora of references make the contributions valuable as a starting point for the study of cultural developments from the Neolithic into the Bronze Age. Although its approach enforces uniformity, the chapter serves as a nice introduction to the following chapters which deal with the mainland.

Chapters 31, 32 and 33 (Overbeck and May Grego) move on to the Middle Cycladic period, examining material from Ayia Irini, Akrotiri, and Kolonna on Aegina.

Chapter 34 is a rather lengthy essay on the Minoanization of the Cyclades. Davis and Gorogianni argue for a participation in the "new environment" of the Neopalatial Period (pp. 340-341) in varying degrees for different communities contrary to the general assumption of an all-encompassing cultural and political homogenization process. They suggest differential adoption of Minoan elements, rather than direct access.

Chapter 35 refers to a rather neglected issue, the not-so-prestigious, but necessary task of cooking. Birtacha presents LC material from Akrotiri, accompanied by four appendices: lithics (Devetzi), mammal remains (Trantalidou), fish remains (Mylona), organic remains (Sarpaki and Asouti).

Chapters 36, 37, 38 and 39 touch upon issues that are thematically unrelated: from seals and Linear A inscriptions in the LBA Cyclades (Ch. 36), to Cycladic metallurgy (Ch. 37), a re-evaluation of the 1911 excavation at Phylakopi (Ch. 38) and the idea of the body in Cycladic prehistory (Ch. 39). Of particular interest is the discussion of Cycladic metallurgy. Gale and Stos-Gale reach conclusions substantially different from their past stance on the matter. What is markedly different in this essay is a detailed description of their methodology (analytical, rather than sampling, though that would also be interesting) on p. 390, where the authors admit to lack of confidence in earlier results.2 There are quite a few misspellings of names and place names, i.e. Chrysostomos on p. 393 must refer to the site of Chrysokamino.

Chapters 40 and 41 continue the shift to the symbolic domain, already suggested in Chapter 39, with material from Akrotiri. The layout of the two chapters follows the conventions of art presentations (catalogue, description, interpretation). In Ch. 40, the Papagiannopoulou follows a rather conventional art historical approach with the consequent problems, i.e. the application of terms such as "essentialist" art/ rendering to MC pottery decoration. Chapter 41 is accompanied by an extensive set of high-quality photographs of the spectacular wall-paintings as well as a very useful floor plan with an indicative placement of wall-paintings on each room (fig. 41.51, p. 465).

Chapters 42 and 43 complete the volume as we reach the end of prehistory in the Cyclades. In Chapter 42, the presentation of the material follows a chronological order and an analysis by site which is rather useful since it allows for the emergence of patterns, showing clearly regional differentiation rather than overwhelming homogeneity, whereas the concluding chapter presents evidence for the Cyclades of the 12th century B.C. According to the author, the pattern of regional differentiation continues from the Mycenaean period.

Overall, the book is well planned and laid-out, extremely informative, but sometimes hard to navigate.

Introduction Colin Renfrew, Cycladic Studies Today 1

Chapter 1 Despina Papageorgiou, Sea Routes in the Prehistoric Cyclades 9

Chapter 2 Adamantios Sampson, The Mesolithic Settlement and Cemetery of Maroulas on Kythnos 13

Chapter 3 Katerina Trantalidou, Glimpses of Aegean Island Communities during the Mesolithic and Neolithic Periods: the Zooarchaeological Point of View 19

Chapter 4 Adamantios Sampson The Architectural Phases of the Neolithic Settlement of Ftelia on Mykonos 29

Chapter 5 Nellie Phoca-Cosmetatou, Economy and Occupation in the Cyclades during the Late Neolithic: the Example of Ftelia, Mykonos 37

Chapter 6 Christina A. Televantou, Strofilas: a Neolithic Settlement on Andros 43

Chapter 7 Sturt W. Manning, Some Initial Wobbly Steps Towards a Late Neolithic to Early Bronze III Radiocarbon Chronology for the Cyclades 55

Chapter 8 Stella Katsarou-Tzeveleki and Demetrius U. Schilardi, Some Reflections on EC Domestic Space Arising from Observations at Koukounaries, Paros 61

Chapter 9 Marisa Marthari, Aspects of Pottery Circulation in the Cyclades during the Early EB II Period: Fine and Semi-fine Imported Ceramic Wares at Skarkos, los 71

Chapter 10 Konstantinos Zachos and Angelika Dousougli, Observations on the Early Bronze Age Sealings from the Cave of Zas at Naxos 85

Chapter 11 Lila Marangou, Colin Renfrew, Christos Doumas and Giorgos Gavalas, Markiani on Amorgos: an Early Bronze Age Fortified Settlement —Overview of the 1985-91 Investigations 97

Chapter 12 Colin Renfrew, Christos Doumas, Lila Marangou and Giorgos Gavalas, Dhaskalio Kavos, Keros: the Investigations of 1987-88 107

Chapter 13 Panayiota Sotirakopoulou, Dhaskalio Kavos, Keros: the Pottery from the Investigations of the 1960s 115

Chapter 14 Panayiota Sotirakopoulou, Akrotiri, Thera: The Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Phases in the Light of Recent Excavations at the Site 121

Chapter 15 Anastasia Douvetzi, Akrotiri, Thera: Stone Vessels and Implements of the Early Broze Age – A Preliminary Report 135

Chapter 16 Anastasia Angelopoulou, The Kastri Group: Evidence from Korfari ton Amygdalion (Panormos) Naxos, Dhaskalio Keros and Akrotiri Thera 149

Chapter 17 Christos Doumas, Chambers of Mystery 165

Chapter 18 Antikleia Moundrea-Agrafioti, Obsidian Beyond Technology? The ‘Cenotaphic’ Use of Obsidian in the Pillar Shaft 17 Area of Akrotiri, Thera 177

Chapter 19 Photeini Zapheiropoulou, Early Bronze Age Cemeteries of the Kampos Group on Ano Kouphonisi 183

Chapter 20 Olga Philaniotou, with an appendix by Tristan Carter, Naxos, Tsikniades: An Early Cycladic Cemetery 195

Chapter 21 Christina A. Televantou, The Early Cycladic Cemetery at Rivari on Melos 209

Chapter 22 Adamantios Sampson & Pelly Fotiadi, Ear;y Cycladic II-III Finds from Rivari, Melos 217

Chapter 23 Tristan Carter, The Consumption of Obsidian in the Early Bronze Age Cyclades 225

Chapter 24 Philip P. Betancourt, The Cemetery at Haghia Photia, Crete 237

Chapter 25 Efi Karantzali, The Transition from EBI to EBII in the Cyclades and Crete: Historical and Cultural Repercussions for Aegean Communities 241

Chapter 26 David E. Wilson, Peter M. Day & Nota Dimopoulou-Rethemiotaki, The Gateway Port of Poros-Katsambas: Trade and Exchange Between North-Central Crete and the Cyclades in EBI-II 261

Chapter 27 Ourania Kouka, Diaspora, Presence or Interaction? The Cyclades and the Greek Mainland from the Final Neolithic to Early Bronze II 271

Chapter 28 Maria Pantelidou Gofa, The EH1 Deposit at Tsepi, Marathon: Features, Formation and the Breakage of the Finds 281

Chapter 29 Jorg Rambach, Note on the Extent of Cultural Continuity on the Cyclades after the ‘Zeit der Wende' (Time of Change) in the Late Third Millennium BC: The Ceramic Perspective 291

Chapter 30 Neil Brodie, The Donkey: an Appropriate Technology for Early Bronze Age Land Transport and Traction 299

Chapter 31 John C. Overbeck & Donna May Crego, The Commercial Foundation and Development of Ayia Irini IV (Kea) 305

Chapter 32 Irene Nikolakopoulou, Fragoula Georma, Angeliki Moschou & Ρhotini Sofianou, Trapped in the Middle: New Stratigraphic and Ceramic Evidence from Middle Cycladic Akrotiri, Thera 311

Chapter 33 Walter Gauss & Rudolune Smetana, Aegina Kolonna and the Cyclades 325

Chapter 34 Jack L. Davis & Evi Gorogianni, Potsherds from the Edge: the Construction of Identities and the Limits of Minoanized Areas of the Aegean 339

Chapter 35 Kiki Birtacha with appendices by Eleni Asouti, Anastasia Devetzi, Dimitra Mylona, Anaya Sarpaki & Katerina Trantalidou, Cooking' Installations in LC IA Akrotiri on Thera: a Preliminary Study of the 'Kitchen' in Pillar Shaft 65 349

Chapter 36 Artemis Karnava, Written and Stamped Records in the Late Bronze Age Cyclades: the Sea Journeys of an Administration 377

Chapter 37 Noel H. Gale & Zofia A. Stos-Gale, Changing Patterns in Prehistoric Cycladic Metallurgy 387

Chapter 38 Neil Brodie, Michael Boyd & Rebecca Sweetman, The Settlement of South Phylakopi: a Reassessment of Dawkins and Droop's 1911 Excavations 409

Chapter 39 Lucy Goodison, Horizon and Body: Some Aspects of Cycladic Symbolism 417

Chapter 40 Angelia Papagiannopoulou, From Pots to Pictures: Middle Cycladic Figurative Art from Akrotiri, Thera 433

Chapter 41 Andreas G. Vlachopoulos, The Wall Paintings from the Xeste 3 Building at Akrotiri: Towards an Interpretation of the Iconographic Programme 451

Chapter 42 P.A. Mountjoy, The Cyclades during the Mycenaean period 467

Chapter 43 Andreas G. Vlachopoulos, A Late Mycenaean Journey from Thera to Naxos: the Cyclades in the Twelfth Century BC 479

References 493

Index 529


1.   Renfrew, C. 1983. "Divided We Stand: Aspects of Archaeology and Information," American Antiquity 48, pp. 3-16.
2.   See the relevant debate, in JMA 8 (1), 1995.

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