Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.10.46

Jeffrey S. Soles, Costis Davaras (ed.), Mochlos IIC: Period IV, the Mycenaean Settlement and Cemetery: the Human Remains and Other Finds. Prehistory monographs, 32.   Philadelphia:  INSTAP Academic Press, 2011.  Pp. xxvi, 243; 60; 35 p. of plates.  ISBN 9781931534604.  $80.00.  

Reviewed by Luca Girella, UniNettuno University of Rome (

[The volume’s contents are included at the end of this review.]

This Mochlos volume is the third and last of the three-volume series dedicated to the site’s history in the LM III period (see also the reviews of Mochlos IIA BMCR 2009.11.12 and Mochlos IIB BMCR 2010.11.41). Mochlos IIA presented the settlement and the cemetery, including the stratigraphy and architecture of the settlement, the tombs and the list of all finds with relative contexts. Mochlos IIB was instead devoted to the LM II and LM III pottery from the settlement and the cemetery. The present volume aims at discussing the skeletal material, as well as the other finds, including the ecofactual ones. Therefore, it is important to stress that the reader cannot use this book on its own without consulting the previous ones. Although the results of this editorial choice (such as the lack of any general and distribution maps in the present volume, or the subdivision of certain topics, such as the treatment of skeletal material, between both Mochlos IIA and Mochlos IIC)may cause some general frustration when reading the volume, it nevertheless sets the reader on an attractive journey to discover the multifaceted traits of everyday life at Mochlos, as reflected by the rich material culture recovered since 1989 by the Greek-American excavation directed by Jeffrey S. Soles and Costis Davaras.

A concise and clear introduction guides the reader into a book composed of six chapters and five appendices. These are complemented by two useful concordances, a plentiful bibliography, and numerous and very clear drawings and plates. Although a detailed inventory of the skeletal material has already been published in Mochlos IIA, chapter 1 of the present book supplements it with further information about the funerary treatment of the deceased (p. 2-4), paleodemography (p. 5-6), and health and oral status (p. 6-15). This chapter deserves special attention, in consideration of the relatively few studies at the population level on Crete. Health and oral status research opens an important window indeed on gender and social distinction in LM III Mochlos, showing how both men and women, though physically different, were involved in various outdoor activities, and further demonstrating that patterns of stress also reveal the participation of adolescents in occupational activities (p.16-18). This result may allow future researchers to substantiate a recent interpretation of the Minoan house not just as a building, but as a body of active participants in intergenerational history and the most important unit in the political economy of the wider community.1

Chapter 2 discusses burial containers (p. 21-34). The chapter includes a detailed catalogue of chest and tub sarcophagi, pithoi and jars, all listed by tomb. Although burial offerings provide evidence that certain types of burial vases might reflect the social status of the deceased, the discussion limits itself to the uncontroversial assertions that the chest sarcophagi (p. 22) were “reserved for the most highly ranked individuals” and the tub sarcophagi “for prosperous individuals”, whereas the pithoi were used “for the population at large” and jars (except for one case) were used for infants. While there seems to be no correlation between burial vessels and gender, the majority of the grave offerings do seem to be related mainly to burials located in the sarcophagi (either of tube or chest type). However, any attempt to decode a social stratification from the grave offerings and painted scenes on the sarcophagi must face up to the fact that a large part of the Mochlos community was apparently not buried at all (or at least not here) and that the evidence at our disposal thus reflects only a small fraction of the LM III population at the site.

Aside from pottery, both the LM II-III settlement and the cemetery at Mochlos produced a great number of objects and tools, the largest category of which is jewelry in this volume; all these finds are discussed in Chapter 3 and accompanied again by rich and solid catalogues. It is clear that jewelry, consisting mainly of beads made of various materials, betrays a non-local origin (p. 36-43). A special attention was thus devoted to necklace No. 1 from tomb 10 (Appendix B), whose XRF analysis has revealed traces of cobalt in the faience beads and, on the side of the gold bead with rose pink patination, a similar composition of the rose to that of the rosy purple gold from Tutankamun’s tomb. Both aspects indicate an Egyptian origin for both the material and the technique. Two other categories, however, point to craft activity on the site itself: pottery production aside, we see metal tools and implements (p. 44- 54) and ceramic objects, mostly represented by loomweights (p. 54-62). Sealstones (p. 63-64) and other objects (p. 64-66) complete the chapter; additional information comes from two appendices dealing with stone vases (p. 173- 178) and painted plaster from House A (p. 179-185). The discussion of stone vases, consisting of residual Neopalatial material and recovered almost entirely from settlement contexts alone, raises an important issue related to the discontinuity between the Neopalatial occupation and the reoccupation after LM IB.

This interpretative line is one of the aims sought by Carter in Chapter 4, devoted to the stone implements. This large and valuable study is more than a straightforward presentation of material: it offers a thorough typological analysis of the ground stone tools (p. 70-92), as well as chipped stones (p. 92-104), followed by a discussion by context (p. 104-115) and concluded with a synthesis of the LM III consumption of obsidian at Mochlos and Crete (p. 115-123). Some points deserve special attention here: (1) the analysis of lithic assemblages confirms the major role played by House A within the settlement (an issue pointed out in several occasions in the book), for it produced a large amount of ground stone tools and obsidian, suggesting therefore that this was also a primary space in which knapping occurred (p.112-115); (2) despite the relative lack of information about obsidian production in LM III Crete and the Aegean, Carter demonstrates that “there was a marked disjuncture with regard to the organization of production between LM IB and LM III Mochlos, though the nature of production, i.e., pressure-flaked blade production, essentially remained the same” (p. 116); (3) the Mochlos community continued to use obsidian from Melos in LM III periods with other northern coastal sites, such as Mallia and Chania, possibly doing the same (p. 116-119); (4) the obsidian assemblage from Mochlos is one of the only pieces of evidence for the existence of a Cyclado-Cretan relation during LM III, probably re-oriented after LM IB as a result of new protagonists and new sea routes (p. 120- 121).

Chapter 5 deals with faunal and archaeobotanical assemblages, including the discussion of wood charcoals. Again, this section of the book revisits material presented in Mochlos IIA (p. 5-128), in this case discussing by houses and rooms floral and faunal material listed in the previous publication. In many cases the authors cannot distinguish LM I from LM III remains, with the LM III deposits lying almost everywhere on top of LM I ones; therefore, the chronological association varies with particular context. The analysis provides a useful portrait of food consumption and other activities of daily life, which fits very well with those reconstructed for other Cretan sites. This is for instance true for the results coming from faunal remains (p. 130-131, mainly Ovis/Capra followed by Sus and Bos, one Equus and one Lepus, whereas marine invertebrates include Patella, Monodonta, Pisania and Murex) and archaeobotanical samples (p. 139, 2- row barley, wheat, legumes, grape, fig, and sweet almonds ). Furthermore, the picture seems to be largely comparable to that revealed for the LM I period by material from the Artisan’s Quarter and Chalinomouri farmhouse (p. 140). The analysis carried out on charcoal allows the identification of a broad array of plants used in LM III (p. 140-148), again with a major concentration in House A (Table 5.10).

The final conclusion of this useful volume is similar to those of the previous two with T. Brogan and A. Smith (Chapter 6, p. 149-161) examining the LM III site in relation to the bay of Mirabello and the northern isthmus of Ierapetra. The analysis benefits from many years of research on Mochlos as well as the intensive surveys conducted on Pseira, Kavousi, Gournia, and Vrokastro, and can be considered the first attempt to summarize a large body of evidence, though uneven and in some cases still awaiting a proper publication. Mochlos is so far the only site in the area providing a clear diachronic development (represented by two broad phases of occupation, corroborated also by radiocarbon dates presented in Appendix A: Phase 1 LM II/IIIA:1 to LM IIIA:2 early, and Phase 2 spanning the LM IIIA:2 and LM IIIB periods) and the rare combination of information from the settlement and the accompanying cemetery. Following this chronological framework, the authors address a general denucleation of settlement after the LM IB period, followed by a reorganization of the area that coincided with the flourishing of the LM II-IIIA2 palace of Knossos, the earliest occupation of Mochlos and the construction of House A, while very little evidence for simultaneous settlement the coastal plain and low foothills south and east of the island of Mochlos in the coastal region exists. What followed in LM IIIA:2 late and LM IIIB was the gradual decline of the importance of Mochlos, perhaps to be linked with the growth of Gournia, exemplified by the construction of Megaron He. This period, largely coincident with the collapse of the palace at Knossos, seems to reflect a more dispersed settlement pattern, as it is shown by newly settlements or farmsteads either along the coast (such as Chalinomouri) or away from the coast (largely documented by settlement/cemetery clusters). During LM IIIB and IIIC this trend continued and was accompanied by the total abandonment of Mochlos and coastal settlements.

With this three-volume publication Soles and his team have produced a contribution that is very relevant for the examination of two major issues, still debated in Cretan studies: firstly, the understanding of local and regional settlement transformations, and secondly, the problems of cultural identity and the processes behind the formation of such identity in LM III Crete, i.e. the process known as Mycenaeanization. We are sure that this publication will play an important role in future research into the first issue. As for the second issue, several authors (belonging to the Mochlos team) have already expressed their opinions, with some nuances, in previous publications, and these are enumerated again in the present book. Although the authors do not approach the question from the problematic angle of “ethnicity”, they clearly believe that the settlement was controlled by Knossos during the first phase of its occupation (p.150). Switching from a definition of the Mochlos community as “Mycenaean” (p. xxv) to “a new population unfamiliar with the contents of the LM IB houses” (p. 151) still raises the methodological problem of how to deal with the archaeological evidence at our disposal, and does not answer questions about the presence of a Mycenaean community at Mochlos or, in a different extent, about control by Knossos during the LM II-IIIA period. Therefore, we cannot escape the fact that the Linear B tablets are silent concerning the eastern Crete, that the overall picture of the funerary landscape at Mochlos speaks a local language, and that the pottery production combines cultural traits taken from Knossos, Palaikastro and local traditions. Few questions remain open: do drinking habits signify ethnic identity, and can a change in drinking etiquettes therefore be assumed to indicate a change in ethnic identities? What was the purpose of Knossian control in this part of Crete? If Knossos was in control, why does the settlement pattern show a movement away from the coastal area after the final destruction of the palace at Knossos?

With these small reservations in mind, we believe that this indispensable publication, though far from providing definitive answers to these questions, certainly adds more food for thought and opens new paths for further exploration.

Table of Contents

Introduction/ Jeffrey S. Soles xxv
1. The human remains/ Sevi Triantaphyllou 1
2. Burial containers: Sarcophagi, pithoi, and jars/ Jeffrey S. Soles, George Rethemiotakis, and Ann M. Nicgorski 21
3. Jewelry and other small finds/ Jeffrey S. Soles, Ann M. Nicgorski, and Katerina Kopaka 35
4.The stone implements/Tristan Carter 67
5. Fauna and flora/ David S. Reese, Dimitra Mylona, Joanna Bending, and Maria Ntinou 125
6. The Mochlos region in the LM III period/ Thomas M. Brogan and R. Angus K. Smith 149
Appendix A. Radiocarbon dates/ Jeffrey S. Soles 163
Appendix B. Necklace No.1: Evidence for Egyptian influence in Mycenaean jewelry production/ Alessandra Giumlia-Mair 167
Appendix C. The stone vases/ Tristan Carter 173
Appendix D. The painted plaster from House A/ Polly Westlake 179
Appendix E. Pumice counts from LM III contexts/ Kelly Cladwell and Sarah L. Smith 187
References 191
Concordance A 209
Concordance B 227
Index 239


1.   Driessen, J. 2010: “Spirit of place: Minoan houses as major actors”, in D.J. Pullen (ed.), Political Economies of the Aegean Bronze Age: Papers from the Langford Conference, Florida State University, Tallahassee, 22-24 February 2007, Oxford 2010, 35-65.

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