Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.11.41

R. Angus K. Smith, Mochlos IIB: Period IV. The Mycenaean Settlement and Cemetery: The Pottery.   Philadelphia:  INSTAP Academic Press, 2010.  Pp. xxii, 208; 13 p. of tables, 93 p. of figures, 35 p. of plates.  ISBN 9781931534543.  $80.00.  

Reviewed by Charlotte Langohr, Université Catholique de Louvain (

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This book is the second of a planned three-volume series devoted to the “Mycenaean settlement and cemetery” of the Cretan Bronze Age site of Mochlos. The first volume was a thorough presentation of the two Late Minoan (LM) II-IIIB sites: the 13 houses set up on the islet and the 31 tombs dug into a low hill near the modern village (see the review of Mochlos IIA by Yannis Galanakis: BMCR 2009.11.12). This work also included the excavators’ conclusions about the character of the LM II-IIIB occupation of Mochlos. The volume at hand offers a complete publication of the pottery of the two sites, providing a rare opportunity to carry out a joint and comparative study of contextually differentiated but contemporary assemblages of the same community. As such it portrays a synopsis of the day-to-day but also the sociocultural and symbolic practices of the Mochlos inhabitants during the 250 years covered by the pottery styles. More than one thousand vessels are included, with the descriptions largely based on Smith’s 2002 doctoral thesis entitled “The Tombs of Mochlos and Myrsini: Pottery and Cultural Regionalism in Late Minoan III Crete”.1

After a brief introduction, the volume is divided in three chapters, two appendixes and two concordance tables. Chapter 1 offers a petrographic analysis of a selected sample of 95 LM II-IIIB ceramic vessels found both in the tombs and the houses. The sampling was based on the prior macroscopic examination of the assemblages which took both the fabrics and the variation of the associated shapes into account. Two different coarse fabrics, subdivided into six subfabric types, and ten fine fabrics were identified, all Cretan in origin. Two coarse phyllite fabrics and one, maybe two, fine fabrics are defined as local, whereas another coarse phyllitic fabric used for pithoi could represent products from the Lastros area not far from Mochlos. Two granodiorite types of coarse wares are characteristic of the northern region of the Ierapetra isthmus whereas a last coarse fabric with silver gray phyllite inclusions probably reflects imports from Palaikastro where this fabric is very common. A fine fabric, very well represented in the LM II-IIIB deposits at Mochlos, has also been recognized as coming from Palaikastro. Finally, for three if not four fine fabric groups, a central Cretan source is suggested, with a specifically north-central origin in two cases. No secure provenance can be assigned to three other fine fabrics.2 Appendix A offers the complete petrographic descriptions of these fabric groups.

The main issues related to the petrographic study are clearly stated by Eleni Nodarou in the introduction (p. 3-4) and appropriately developed afterwards despite the current lack of similar petrographic studies, which undermines fruitful comparisons with analytical data from other contemporaneous sites.3 Interestingly enough, Nodarou underlines the fact that several shapes whose fabrics are considered to be imported are not dissimilar to those of the local repertoire. This suggests a special demand either for their contents or for the symbolic and prestigious connotation they conveyed or both (p. 13).

Chapter 2 constitutes the main part of the volume, with the macroscopic study of the pottery assemblages articulated into a shape typology. This allows a clear division of the catalogue where each shape is introduced by a discussion of its morphological features and, where appropriate, its subtypes, the surface treatment, the decoration, and the fabric, with the recognized and possible imports already listed. Finally, chronological chronological dates, developments, and changes are given as well as some “occasional comparanda”. The coherent combination of a multi-axis ceramological analysis and a methodical classification, supplemented by the plentiful illustrations of the material, are the strengths of this volume.

Some main features of the ceramic assemblage may briefly be pointed out. The most distinctive local wares are represented by the Dipped decorative Tradition and the Pattern-painted Tradition, while the group of local coarse phyllite wares constitutes the majority of the storage and cooking vessels used on the site. The latter was “seen as a sort of all-purpose fabric suitable for a variety of vessel types” (p. 129-130). Where shapes are concerned, the association of the trefoil-mouthed jug and the pulled-rim bowl in the cemetery, whether in their plain or mainly dipped-painted versions, which together constituted part of a drinking set in 13 of the 31 tombs, is particularly noteworthy. This local production of dipped decorated wares and its local consumption in the form of numerous imports from Palaikastro as early as LM IIIA1 “connects Mochlos to a tradition that survived from the Neopalatial period in LM I eastern Crete” (p. 135). Besides, fine wares of a Knossian influence or origin in drinking shapes such as plain kylikes and pattern-painted deep cups, suggest that the ties between the community of Mochlos and the north-central Cretan society, particularly during the Early Reoccupation, “were more than simply economic” (p. 136). However, these vessels are fairly common in the settlement but extremely unusual in the tombs (4 kylikes from the tombs when at least 113 were found in the settlement; as for deep cups, respectively 2 and 42). Conversely, pottery shapes showing a continuity/development with the consumption practices of LM IB Mochlos, such as conical cups, rounded handleless cups and pulled-rim bowls, are popular both in the cemetery and in the houses. Trefoil-mouthed and collar-necked jugs, however, are now barely documented in the settlement but are well represented in mortuary consumption practices. Observations about the contextual distinctions between the cemetery and the settlement finds are kept to a minimum in Smith’s diachronic synthesis on the developments of both local and imported wares (p. 125-137), but in a paper presented elsewhere, he concentrates on these aspects.4

With an eastern Cretan perspective in mind, it may be regretted that Smith and Banou do not make use of the pottery analysis of the large deposits of LM II-IIIA2 pottery found in two wells at Palaikastro and published in 2007.5 First and foremost, this would have allowed for an update of the (old) Palaikastro terminology used in the present volume, since it is now obsolete and potentially misleading. For example, the equivalent of the "Top and Blot Dipped Syntax" of Mochlos, said to be called the “Blot and Trickle Style” at Palaikastro [p. 40, 131], is now called at Palaikastro the “Dip-disk Style”,6 with the “Blot and Trickle Style” being reserved for the typical decoration of the round-mouthed amphora. The same goes for the rounded handleless cup, said to be called the “bell cup” at Palaikastro when the Palaikastro excavators now call it the "bell bowl”.7 Moreover, Smith and Banou’s thorough examination would have benefited from a comparison of their results with the observations offered by MacGillivray and Hatzaki in the Palaikastro wells volume.

Where imports are concerned, the majority is said to come from Palaikastro. In addition to the 95 samples examined microscopically, Smith and Banou also specify when a vase is macroscopically recognized as an import. Therefore, they point out no less than 188 imported or probably imported pots from areas such as Palaikastro, central Crete - in some instances more precisely from the north part of this region or even as Knossian and, in one case, from the south region of central Crete -, but also Kalochoraphitis, Gournia, Chania, mainland Greece and Syro-Palestine. One should be careful in consulting the tables (35-37) at the end of the volume of ceramic imports from Palaikastro (44 vessels), north central Crete (66 vessels) and the Mainland (10 vessels) since the imports from Palaikastro only comprise the “monochrome painted and pattern-painted coarse and fine wares”, excluding linear-painted and above all dipped-painted wares. The latter, however, is the surface treatment most commonly found on vessels imported from this site to Mochlos. Thus, the summary table completely leaves out some of the most common imported shapes used at Mochlos, such as the pulled-rim bowl or the trefoil-mouthed jug. In total, 47 vessels are concerned, in spite of the fact that they are properly identified as Palaikastro imports in the catalogue, not to mention that 10 additional ‘probable’ imports from this site are also reported. Notwithstanding, this macroscopic study and fruitful attempt at identifying the imports on an intra-site scale forms a landmark for ongoing and future integrated typo-stylistic and petrographical studies in Late Bronze Age Crete, and particularly for the LM II-IIIB phases.

This volume constitutes a remarkably interesting and indispensable source of information for those concerned with the modes of production, distribution and mainly consumption of ceramics (except larnakes and funerary pithoi discussed in Mochlos IIC) in LM II-IIIB Crete and especially in the increasingly less obscure and “wild” eastern Cretan region. It also offers an exemplary methodology for studying stratigraphically, chronologically and contextually well-defined assemblages of pottery. Still, we are left somewhat frustrated. One of the goals of the publication, as outlined in the introduction (p. 2), was “to provide a better understanding both of local patterns of pottery production in the Mochlos region during these periods and of wider patterns in the importation of non-local pottery products”. Furthermore, as “the pottery was made by people, used by people, and deposited by people in the tombs or disposed of in the settlement by people, it is a better understanding of these people and their way of life that is ultimately the goal of this volume”. The results of this study are exemplary where the first objective is concerned. However one cannot but notice that the conclusions are very timid concerning the second objective. Indeed, some of the most stimulating observations and working hypotheses formulated in Smith’s doctoral thesis and synthesized in two of his articles are not even mentioned.8 More attention to a contextual approach of the modes of consumption of pottery at Mochlos from a local and regional perspective would have been welcome and, in a volume devoted to a such an interesting assemblage of material culture deriving from a Late Bronze Age community that had moved into the more advanced stages of that period, a fuller discussion of the modes of production and distribution of the local and regional pottery would have been saluted. Considering Soles’ general conclusions at the end of Mochlos IIA which tackled the definition of the character of the LM II-IIIB material culture of the Mochlos community, the present reviewer agrees with Yannis Galanakis as to the rigid approach in the “interpretation with regard to the LM III occupants by identifying them as 'Mycenaean'” (BMCR 2009.11.12). Indeed, in the present volume, the evidence for continuity in pottery consumption practices at Mochlos between the Neopalatial and Post-palatial periods is stressed on several occasions (e.g. at p. 8, 23, 40, 67, 69, 73, 83, 105, 106, 113, 114, 115, 119, 127-129, 135). This said, the reader is comforted by the announcement of “a discussion of LM III Mochlos in its regional setting” as a concluding chapter in the forthcoming volume of Mochlos IIC (p. 1).

Table of contents:

Introduction / R. Angus K. Smith and Jeffrey S. Soles 1
1. Petrographic analysis of the late Minoan III ceramics / Eleni Nodarou 3
2. Late Minoan II-III pottery / R. Angus K. Smith and Eleni Banou; with contributions by Thomas M. Brogan, Douglas Faulmann, Ann M. Nicgorski, and Jeffery S. Soles 15
3. Conclusions: Decoration, character, and relative chronology of the late Minoan II-III pottery / R. Angus K. Smith 125
Appendix A: Petrographic descriptions / Eleni Nodarou 139
Appendix B: Earlier Minoan and later orientalizing pottery from late Minoan III contexts / Jeffery S. Soles and Ann M. Nicgorski 155
References 165
Concordance A: Field numbers and catalog numbers for Mochlos vols. IIA, IIB, IIC 173
Concordance B: Contexts and catalog numbers in Mochlos vols. IIA, IIB, IIC 191


1.   UMI Dissertation Services 3077184.
2.   Further, in Chapters 2 and 3, two of these fine fabrics, fabrics 7 and 12, will be presented in one or several instances as, respectively, probably local and local from a macroscopic examination (p. 52 and p. 30, 38, 128).
3.   Except for another study of Nodarou E. 2007: “Exploring Patterns of Intra Regional Pottery Distribution in Late Minoan IIIA-B East Crete: The Evidence of the Petrographic Analysis of Three Ceramic Assemblages”, in S.Y. Waksman (ed.) Archaeometric and Archaeological Approaches to Ceramics Papers Presented at EMAC ‘05, 8th European Meeting on Ancient Ceramics, Lyon 2005 (BAR-IS 1691), Oxford, 75-83.
4.   This issue has been treated by R.A.K. Smith at the occasion of the STEGA Conference.
5.   MacGillivray, J.A., L.H. Sackett and J.M. Driessen (eds) 2007: Palaikastro: Two Late Minoan Wells (The British School at Athens Supplementary Volume 43), Athens.
6.   MacGillivray et al. (supra, note 5), 147.
7.   MacGillivray et al. (supra, note 5), 154, n. 38.
8.   Smith, R.A.K. 2004: “Late Minoan III Mochlos and the Regional Consumption of Pottery”, in Preston Day, L., M.S. Mook and J.D. Muhly (eds), Crete Beyond the Palaces: Proceedings of the 2000 Conference, Philadelphia, 309-317; Smith, R.A.K. 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. The latter is not even included in the bibliography of Mochlos IIB.

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