Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2013.05.08 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2013.05.08

Thomas M. Brogan, Erik Hallager (ed.), LM IB Pottery: Relative Chronology and Regional Differences. Acts of a workshop held at the Danish Institute at Athens in collaboration with the INSTAP Study Center for East Crete, 27-29 June 2007. (2 vols.). Monographs of the Danish Institute at Athens, 11.1-2.   Athens:  Danish Institute at Athens, 2011.  Pp. 656.  ISBN 9788779345737.  kr 599.95.  

Reviewed by Luca Girella, Uninettuno University of Rome (

Table of Contents

Since the publication of The Troubled Island in 1997, there has been no comprehensive treatment of the period following the eruption of Thera up to the end of LM IB on Crete, i.e. the last phase of Neopalatial era, in which Crete underwent major changes in material culture, administrative systems, and political and social structure, not to mention the devastating destructions at the end.1 In the face of the great amount of data offered by old and new excavations, LM IB pottery has remained plagued by chronological and terminological problems. This two-volume book fills an important lacuna in the scholarly literature and collects the papers given at a workshop organized in 2007 at the Danish Institute of Athens in collaboration with the INSTAP study centre of East Crete. The volumes include an exhaustive introduction, 32 papers and a short conclusion, followed by an extensive final discussion and two indexes. Papers are organized geographically, from western to eastern Crete: two papers focus on western Crete, twelve on the central part, four on the central-east, and eight on eastern Crete. Furthermore, one paper (Christakis) presents a different field (pithoi and the role of storage) and another two (Tournavitou, Nikolakopoulou) discuss non-Cretan sites. Contributions are offered by a wide range of specialists on pottery, from the senior Minoan scholar, Sinclair Hood to young scholars. Papers are paired with responses and followed by a discussion. Some respondents comment on particular assemblages and sites, while others address specific topics (Mountjoy, Hatzaki) or raise related issues concerning the LM IB period (Cadogan, Knappett, Cunningham). On the whole, each paper is richly illustrated, with site maps or photos, and often stratigraphical sections related to the deposits discussed. Pottery is copiously illustrated in drawings combined with black-and-white and color pictures. Needless to say, this book constitutes an important contribution to our understanding of Cretan pottery and relative chronology. Moreover, it opens the discussion of several other historical and side issues, thus forcing the reader to reexamine The Troubled Island, which still stands as the most comprehensive contribution to scholarship on the late Neopalatial period. On the whole the present book is not meant to be an exhaustive gazetteer of LM IB sites (p. 42),2 but rather a selection of old and fresh excavation sites. As such, it is a welcome test for seeing where and how much the papers presented in this workshop have affected the debates.

The introduction offers a comprehensive overview of and background to the major tendencies of past research on LM IB pottery, i.e., the extremely selective character of the old published material and the consequent preference for commenting only on decorated pottery (e.g., the so called Special Palatial Tradition, which includes a set of decorative arrangements called Marine Style, Floral Style, and Alternating Style). Unfortunately, the proliferation of names applied to the same vessel class illustrates the disorganized state of the ceramic terminology of this period. Although a useful final index helps the reader search through the papers (pp. 647–49), this publication did not seize the opportunity to take the first step towards standardizing Minoan pottery classification.

The book aims to approach two main problems: the analysis of local production and consumption and the relative chronology of the LM IB. The reader who tries to examine the papers with these two main arguments in mind will gradually realize that they are interconnected. It is, however, worth alerting the reader that the different types of sites and contexts presented constitute the main source of problems as regards the synchronisms between the phases of different sites and the nature of pottery assemblages (see the case of Zominthos [pp. 93–107], where problems of relative chronology are not successfully explained due to the remote geographical location of the mansion). Indeed, although majority of the ceramic deposits presented are from settlement contexts, a few others belong to workshops (Zominthos, Pitsidia and Mochlos) and religious places (Kythera). Apart from these, there are seven palatial sites (Khania, Knossos, Galatas, Phaistos, Malia, Petras, Zakros), four urban settlements with palatial character (HaghiaTriada, Kommos, Palaikastro, Myrtos–Pyrgos), another three without palatial character (Mochlos, Pseira, Papadiokampos), and five isolated buildings (Nerokourou, Makrygialos, Pitsidia, Skinias, Karoumes).

As regards pottery consumption and production, the book shows that much research still needs to be done on ceramic technology. Indeed, many papers (on pottery from Pitsidia, HaghiaTriada, Kommos, Phaistos, Skinias, Petras, Poros, Zakros, Nerokourou, and Knossos/Hatzaki, Knossos/Macdonald) use stylistic analysis, a few rely on macroscopic description of the ceramic fabrics (Palaikastro, Karoumes, Chania, Kythera, Galatas, Makrygialos) and mention technological and manufacturing information (Zominthos, Malia), and very few (Mochlos, Pseira, Papadiokampos) refer to archaeometric analysis, particularly petrography. Furthermore, only six papers use statistical analysis (Knossos/Warren, Galatas, Petras, Pseira, Kommos, Kythera). This last aspect is related to the nature of the deposits (i.e. closed deposits or not) or to the stage of study and publication. Furthermore, large areas of the island (and interestingly the central one) still lack proper research on technological aspects of pottery production, and Knossian imports, for instance, are mostly recognized on stylistic grounds. Technological aspects are crucial for understanding regional practices of production and consumption. Many papers stress the preference for local production, which is to be expected, or show the existence of major regional differences, but these conclusions are still mostly derived from a stylistic approach. In this context, two contrasting situations are symptomatic: on the one hand, the analysis of decorated ceramics from Skinias (located in the eastern Mesara) shows affinities with the Pediada area (p. 301); on the other hand, in the paper on Papadiokampos, the macroscopic and petrographic analyses demonstrate the existence of a wide, and possibly unexpected, range of connections between the local inhabitants and multiple workshops around the island (p. 593). The two cases prove that pottery production and consumption are part of a more complex exchange network than hitherto imagined, and that the archaeometric approach is indispensable in building up a network analysis. Unfortunately only a restricted number of papers achieve this major goal. This is not to say that the book is incomplete. Interestingly, most of the papers reveal an unexpected window on exchange networks and pottery consumption, where regional preferences are mixed with broader choices, and one of my main reactions, after reading the volumes, is to ask how much central Crete and other areas of the island were integrated in LM IB. Although in many cases discussion focuses on pottery styles and the circulation of vessels in Special Palatial Tradition, there is also the awareness that pottery masks major social transformations after the eruption of Thera and that settlement histories and responses to the eruption vary regionally, measured between two extremes, either an increase in local agency (p. 231) or a reorientation towards the mainland. While the book cannot for obvious reasons provide such a broader perspective, it affords a significant landmark that future research can build on by embracing a larger class of evidence.

The second topic of the book is the relative chronology of LM IB. Among the major outcomes of this publication has been the suggestion that several sub-phases of LM IB can be identified, although these are difficult to synchronize between sites. Seven points may be selected for the discussion.

(1) Phasing the beginning of LM IB: actually, only a few sites provide evidence for an early LM IB phase (Kommos, Malia, Mochlos).

(2) Phasing within LM IB: while many sites show an undivided LM IB period (Zominthos[?], Knossos, Galatas, Makrygialos, Pitsidia, Skinias, Petras House II.1, Karoumes, Papadiokampos—the same may be true of sites not included, e.g. Sklavokampos, Tylissos, Nirou Chani, Archanes Tourkogeitonia, Kastelli Pediada, and possibly Gournia), several others offer evidence for two or more phases within LM IB and thus require more specific comment. Distinctions at Phaistos, Haghia Triada, Kommos and Kythera are mostly based on stylistic grounds, but sometimes linked with stratigraphical information taken from different areas of the settlement. On the other hand, Chania, Malia, Mochlos, and Pseira clearly show different architectural phases to which stylistic distinctions are attributed. Finally, for Palaikastro and Zakros two LM IB destructions are isolated but without obvious stylistic differences.

(3) Phasing the end of LM IB: few sites (Chania, Kommos, HaghiaTriada, Phaistos/Chalara, Mochlos, Pseira, Palaikastro, Karoumes) show evidence for a final stage of LM IB that might in some cases overlap with LM II. The definition of this last stage is a matter of discussion throughout the book. Although at the end it is generally accepted, it is distinguished according to different criteria, from purely stylistic to a combination of architectural and ceramic features (Mochlos, Kommos). When clear stratigraphical arguments are missing or, as in the case of a single LM IB phase, the stylistic arguments are the only possible ones, presenting the reader, however, with circular arguments, like the use of Marine Style as evidence of an LM IB earlier stage (e.g., the single LM IB destruction at Petras that is put before the final stage of LM IB because of the absence of Marine Style vessels). As observed (pp. 634–35), although Marine Style constituted a special kind of material, it would be dangerous to keep using it as anything more than a general chronological marker. Likewise, many papers raise the possibility of overlapping this final stage with LM II by again using a few key shapes or motifs when, unfortunately, this last period is far from being completely understood and is documented only in certain parts of Crete.

(4) Time span: while this is not fully debated, a few authors raised the issue of the length of the period and conjecture about the possibility of reducing it to few generations. The main feeling is that LM IB destructions within the same site or between sites were relatively close in time. In the end, there was no discussion about the absolute chronology of the period and one question still remains: how much the picture derived from these papers fits with the absolute chronology of LM IB, to which almost 120 years have been assigned by some scholars.3

(5) The eruption of Thera: the use of the natural phenomenon as a main chronological division between LM IA and LM IB is questioned (pp. 628–32), and does not find a consensus. Actually, clear evidence of a post-eruption LM IA phase exists at Mochlos (House C.1, House C.7 Room 2.12) (pp. 434–36).

(6) Chronological correlations: the question here is whether the identified destructions were contemporary or not all over the island. It is worth noting the endeavor made by Rutter to synchronize different sites, by including stratigraphical information and ceramic characteristics (pp. 340–41). As previously noted, while a few sites can be correlated (Mochlos, Petras, Kommos, Malia) in an early LM IB stage, there is still major discussion regarding the final stage, depending on how this final step is perceived, identified and defined. On the one hand, the evidence from south- central Crete provides an opportunity to find good correlations, while on the other the final destructions of Chania in the West and Zakros in the East cannot easily be correlated with events in the central part of the island (Knossos). Still more dilemmas remain when the reader realizes that many terminologies are in use for the relative chronology of LM IA and B—definitions of early, mature, advanced and final phases are by no means accepted throughout the island nor can these be correlated between neighboring sites.

(7) The nature of destruction: few authors, and certainly not the final discussion, addressed this matter in detail (pp. 232, 640–46). AfterThe Troubled island 4 it is interesting to note that the debate largely focuses on two possibilities, human and natural agency, or, in a few cases, both at the same site. There is no a general agreement, however, as to what kind of natural disaster may have affected the island. The often mentioned explanation (earthquake) 5 still requires a special investigation—discussed at a recent workshop6—for the architectural and stratigraphical evidence cannot always explain when and how earthquake disasters lead to social changes.

In conclusion, because of these complex remaining problems, this stimulating book is definitely not an easy task for novice readers. Nonetheless, it is a major contribution to our knowledge of Neopalatial pottery, and anyone who wants to investigate this crucial period, which sees the passage from the final Minoan palatial stage to a new era oriented toward the mainland, should consult this book as a source of primary evidence as well as of much other useful information.


1.   J. Driessen and C.F. Macdonald,The Troubled Island: Minoan Crete before and after the Santorini eruption (Aegaeum 17), Liège and Austin 1997, reviewed by P.M. Warren inAJA105, 2001, 115–18. See also J. Driessen, I. Schoep, and R. Laffineur, Monuments of Minos. Rethinking the Minoan Palaces (Aegaeum 23), Liège and Austin 2002. Recent overview of LM IB in P.M. Warren, “The Apogee of Minoan Civilization: The Final Neopalatial Period,” in E. Matzourani and P.P. Betancourt (eds.), Philistor. Studies in honor of Costis Davaras (INSTAP Monographs 36), Philadelphia 2012, 255–72.
2.   Driessen and Macdonald 1997: 119–258.
3.   S.W. Manning et al., “Chronology for the Aegean Late Bronze Age: 1700–1400 B.C.,” Science 312, 2006, 565–69.
4.   Driessen and Macdonald 1997: 105–13.
5.   Warren 2012: 268.
6.   Out of Rubble. Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Minoan Earthquakes. International workshop. Leuven, 29– 30 November 2012. ​

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