Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.05.33

Mark L. Lawall, John Lund (ed.), Pottery in the Archaeological Record: Greece and Beyond. Acts of the international colloquium held at the Danish and Canadian Institutes in Athens, June 20-22, 2008. Gösta Enbom monographs, 1.   Aarhus:  Aarhus University Press, 2011.  Pp. 168.  ISBN 9788779345874.  $40.00.  

Reviewed by Antonis Kotsonas, University of Amsterdam (

[The Table of Contents is listed at end of review.]

Archaeologists introducing novel theoretical approaches typically wish that these are taken up by others, and such a wish is expressed by T. Peña in the final lines of his Roman Pottery in the Archaeological Record Cambridge, 2007. The author could not, however, have easily envisaged that only a year later a number of experts on Greek and Roman pottery would come together in Athens to reflect on his book in a colloquium, which was entitled “Pottery in the Archaeological Record: A view from the Greek world” and eventually resulted in the publication under review.

In his monograph, already a reference work on Mediterranean ceramics, Peña articulates a new conceptual framework for the life cycle of Roman pottery. Going beyond the model of ceramic production, distribution and consumption (which is well-known by now though still not widely applied by Classical archaeologists),1 Peña defines a broader set of behaviors which governed the formation of the archaeological record. He focuses on the re-use of pottery for various purposes and regularly uses the example of transport amphorae. Comparable emphases pervade the collective work under review, which largely follows the structure of Peña’s book: from production to discard. This structure was also employed in the Athens colloquium, although not all the papers presented made it to the published proceedings.

Lawall and Lund, the organizers of the colloquium and editors of the volume, rightly perceived a need to consider the significance of Peña’s influential work for periods and regions not treated by him. Accordingly, the collection of papers covers Greece, the Eastern Mediterranean and adjacent areas —a broad region discussed considerably less than the Central and Western Mediterranean in Peña’s book. The chronological span of the book is basically Archaic to Late Roman, with most essays dealing with the Roman period. One could wish for more papers on earlier Greek pottery, especially in light of the colloquium’s original title, as well as for contributions on pre-Roman, non-Greek pottery. This range would have helped to conceptualize the applicability of Peña’s model beyond Roman material, particularly since most of those writing on Greek ceramics (Lawall, Lynch, Rotroff) seem to agree that this model is not directly applicable to their material.

The editors of the volume asked contributors to comment on both the general model and the specific examples presented by Peña. However, some of the contributors took that model as carved in stone and adopted it rather uncritically (it is suggestive that only Peña himself, in the epilogue, cites the many reviews of his work). A notable exception is the paper by Lawall, which focuses on Greek amphorae and compares their life cycle to that of Roman amphorae discussed by Peña. Lawall, like Peña, produces flow diagrams which cover the complexity of the ceramic life-cycle and take in more spatial and temporal variations than those considered by Peña. Here Lawall’s great experience with Greek amphorae is evident and this essay deserves to be read by all specialists, in addition to those interested in Peña’s work. Less innovative, but well researched, is Lund’s complementary paper on Roman amphorae and the varied iconographic evidence for their life cycle. The argument that ancient pictures are not the equivalent of modern photographs should have been the author’s starting point, rather than his conclusion.

Scholars interested in the repair and re-use of ancient pottery must read Rotroff’s contribution on material from the Athenian Agora, which extends from the Neolithic to the Ottoman period with emphasis on Archaic to Hellenistic. Making the most out of the extensive pottery database of the Athenian Agora, Rotroff identifies and quantifies ancient repairs by date, shape/function, ceramic ware, method of mending and local or foreign provenance. This analysis lays the foundation for comparative studies with collections of material from other sites. To give an example, the number of pots with mends represented within the large assemblage of Early Iron Age pottery from the different contexts of the Agora is lower than that seen on material of similar date found in a single well in Voula, in the southern outskirts of modern Athens.2 The pattern could well be explained by the markedly different distance which separates the two sites from the main center of pottery manufacture and sale in ancient Athens.

Mending and re-use, particularly of Roman pottery, is also treated by Handberg, Martin, Slane and Tomber. However, in these cases, a criticism advanced by Rotroff (p. 118) is largely applicable: “The anecdotal publication of random mends [and, I shall add, cases of re-use] leaves us without a sense of the scale of the practice and of its variability over time, over different classes of pottery, and in method”. This said, some of the papers in question, and that by Tomber in particular, raise broader considerations on pottery and economy or ceramic quantification. Comparing these papers, which mostly regard Roman pottery, with those on Greek pottery one comes to the conclusion that the modification and re-use of ceramics, which was much discussed by Peña, is much more widely seen in the Roman period. It is unfortunate that this conclusion, which is of paramount importance given the scope of the volume, is left for the reader to discover.

The re-use of Greek pottery, including usable ceramics, as structural fill in the Athenian Agora at the time of the Persian Wars is discussed by Lynch. The analysis, which has now received a longer treatment in a very important monograph,3 engages with the reaction of the Athenians after their return to their devastated city and the imprint of this reaction on the archaeological record. Lynch distances herself from Peña’s approach and produces a particularly refreshing contribution, the only one in the entire volume which goes beyond the empirical and processual traditions.

The management of everyday, domestic ceramic waste in a Roman house at Kourion is discussed by Costello. By using spatial analysis, ceramic quantification and cross-joins, the author convincingly defines areas of provisional discard of ceramic waste and monitors its circulation within the house. A potential complication of the fairly robust methodology arises from the treatment of space as two-dimensional in all relevant calculations. The third dimension, which involves, for example, the stacking of vessels on the ground or even on shelves, can have a grave impact on the density of material recovered and thus obscure the identification of discard areas.

Two papers, one by Hasaki and another by Murphy and Poblome, report on research projects on ceramic production, bringing in ethnographic and ethnoarchaeological work. Since these issues were little discussed in Peña’s book (where they are basically singled out as lines for future investigation), the two essays do not directly engage with that work. Hasaki presents her ethnoarchaeological project with traditional potters in Tunisia and its importance for reconstructing the physical setting of ancient Greek (and why not other Mediterranean as well?) pottery workshops. There is much of interest here with reference to the size and spatial layout of workshops and the scale of production. Likewise, on the basis of their fieldwork at the potter’s quarter at Sagalassos, Murphy and Poblome argue that existing models of ceramic production have not paid enough attention to the variability in the physical setting, production modes and technologies manifested within a single production site. The Sagalassos research project is stimulating and that is why one would like the paper in question to have been more detailed.

The volume closes with a brief response by Peña, who comments on few of the preceding conributions and cites some important works which appeared after his book was submitted for publication.

A special note should be made on the editorial standards of the volume under review. Thanks to the financial support of the Foundation of Consul General Gösta Enbom, the glossy paper, the many color illustrations and the other uses of color in this work are superb. The illustrations in particular compensate for the bad quality of many of the black and white photographs in Peña’s book. The editorial work is also good, but the spelling of the much used terms re(-)use and life(-)cycle should have been consistent. Typos and other flaws are rare and insignificant and the only notable case is the confusion in the references to the illustrations on pp. 34-35. Likewise, the lengthy point made in the volume’s preface (p. 5) on the overlooked case of pots concealing coin hoards should not have omitted citing the relevant discussion on pp. 92-93. I also note that the many secondary geographical, chronological and other designations which are taken as known, may limit the accessibility of the volume by scholars beyond Classical Archaeology.

The work under review is a welcome contribution on the subject of ancient pottery. It offers several thought-provoking papers and elaborates on the model and ideas put forward by Peña. Although the volume is unlikely to have the broad impact of Peña’s monograph, it deserves the attention of all those interested in current approaches on Mediterranean ceramics.

Table of Contents

Per Kristian Madsen, Preface
Mark Lawall and John Lund, Introduction
Eleni Hasaki, Crafting Spaces: Archaeological, Ethnographic, and Ethnoarchaeological Studies of Spatial Organization in Pottery Workshops in Greece and Tunisia
Elizabeth Murphy and Jeroen Poblome, Producing Pottery vs. Producing Models: Interpreting Workshop Organization at the Potters’ Quarter of Sagalassos
Mark Lawall, Greek Amphoras in the Archaeological Record
John Lund, Iconographic Evidence for the Handling and Use of Transport Amphorae in the Roman Period
Søren Handberg, Amphora Fragments Re-used as Potter’s Tools in the Rural Landscape of Panskoye
Kathleen Lynch, Depositional Patterns and Behavior in the Athenian Agora: When Disaster Strikes
Benjamin Costello IV, The Waste Stream of a Late Roman House: Case Study of the Commissary Block in the Earthquake House at Kourion
Archer Martin, Olympia: Roman Pottery in the Archaeological Record
Kathleen Warner Slane, Repair and Recycling in Corinth and the Archaeological Record
Roberta Tomber, Reusing Pottery in the Eastern Desert of Egypt
Susan I. Rotroff, Mended in Antiquity: Repairs to Ceramics at the Athenian Agora
J. Theodore Peña, Roman Pottery in the Archaeological Record: Some Follow-Up Comments by the Author


1.   For an application of this model to a large body of material see: A. Kotsonas. 2008. The archaeology of tomb A1K1 of Orthi Petra in Eleutherna: The Early Iron Age pottery Athens.
2.   A brief reference to this new discovery: Γ. Κουράγιος. 2009-2010. Ο αρχαίος δήμος των Αιξωνίδων Αλών (σημ. ΒούλαΒουλιαγμένη) Αττικής. Ευλιμένη 10-11 (forthcoming).
3.   K. M. Lynch. 2011. The symposium in context: Pottery from a Late Archaic house near the Athenian Agora Princeton.

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