Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.06.23 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.06.23

Francesca Silvestrelli, Ingrid E. M. Edlund-Berry, A Greek Settlement at Sant'Angelo Vecchio. The Chora of Metaponto, 6.   Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2016.  Pp. xviii, 659.  ISBN 9781477309476.  $75.00.  

Reviewed by Katerina Volioti, University of Roehampton (

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

This excavation report of Sant’Angelo Vecchio (SAV), a settlement in the Metapontine chora that has yielded evidence from diverse types of activity (sanctuary, residential, funerary, and industrial), puts scientific investigation on the agenda, whilst demonstrating the relevance of both processual and post-processual approaches. The brilliance of close observation and analysis, both qualitative and quantitative, and the reflective focus on context and multiple interpretations become apparent even when flicking through the volume’s pages, which are rich in impressive figures (maps, tables, drawings, and, above all, high-resolution photographs that are, with few exceptions, in colour). Individual donors and foundations, most generously the Packard Humanities Institute at Los Altos, California, enabled this outstanding publication.

The volume is the sixth in a series edited by Joseph Coleman Carter, who has pioneered fieldwork in the Metapontine chora since 1974. It brings together an eclectic cast of 35 contributors, predominantly archaeologists but also established and younger scholars in scientific fields. The main authors, Francesca Silvestrelli and Ingrid Edlund-Berry, have done a magnificent job in marrying old with new evidence from SAV, following campaigns in 1979-80 and 2010-11. Silvestrelli, a specialist in South Italian red figure, has been immersed in the volume’s preparation since 2007. Edlund-Berry, also an expert in Italian archaeology and Professor emerita of the University of Texas, has first-hand knowledge of the site, having excavated there in 1979-80.

The volume contains 37 chapters organised in three parts. Part I consists of six chapters. Silvestrelli’s opening chapter, written in an engaging style, introduces the site’s many lives, past and present, comparing landscape changes to biographical objects’ vicissitudes. Her commendable consolidation of different types of data includes minor sources too, such as an exhibition brochure from 1980 (n. 59, p. 18). Chapter 2 has a technical orientation, explaining archaeological strata. Interpretation, however, is cautious, with the term “frequentation” used for unidentifiable activity. Chapter 3, presenting SAV’s main structures chronologically, is invaluable because the rest of the volume regularly refers to archaeological contexts. Chapter 4 offers an interdisciplinary account of Classical and Hellenistic tombs that were discovered in 1979 and 2010, respectively. Marshall Joseph Becker’s osteological report contains some difficult terms, such as trochantes and lineae asperae (p. 91), whereas that by Serena Viva (pp. 92-95) is more accessible. The catalogue of finds per burial (pp. 97-127) is outstanding in detail, commentary, and illustration, and we read about an hydria and a skyphos by the Pisticci Painter. The point about locals’ rearrangement of bones in graves, however, could have been explored further, since it may have pertained to claims to autochthony and land ownership.

Chapter 5 is dedicated to ceramic production (pottery and terracottas) in SAV, elsewhere in the chora, and in Metaponto. The scholarship here is exceptional, and the abundant comparisons and contrasts testify to Silvestrelli’s expertise. The reader is left wondering, nonetheless, whether the chora, with its rich and still largely unpublished material, sustained the asty with foodstuffs and traded goods. Appendix B could have been mentioned in the caption of Figure 5.2 (p. 134) so as to identify sites on the map. Chapter 6 offers a history of farmhouses at SAV from the medieval period onwards. Yet any conclusions that we may draw about agricultural adaptation on the basis of medieval and post- medieval farmhouses ought not to be simply applied to their ancient counterparts.

Part II consists of six chapters, all with a scientific focus aiming to analyse ecofacts. The geological assessment of SAV and its wider ambit (Chapter 7) concludes that humans settled there, presumably in prehistoric times, because of the availability of fine clays and perennial water from which to make pottery and bricks (p. 158). The key finding of archaeobotanical analysis (Chapter 8), which is most welcomed given the good preservation of pollen, is an economic model centred on animal husbandry (p. 165). The implications of such a model, especially for sedentism and social storage, could have been explored. We read about SAV’s cereals and legumes in Chapter 9, co-authored by Lorenzo Constantini, an authority on plant remains. Although the analysis, using binocular microscopy, was carried out in 1979, recent literature, too, is cited. Pliny’s praise for Italian wheat appears in Latin (p. 178), regrettably without translation.

Mauro Frattegiani’s detailed examination of how the landscape has changed over the last 150 years (Chapter 10) reminds us that the volume is about both the past and the present. It remains unclear, however, how such changes aid in contextualising ancient ecofacts. Wider issues, especially population growth resulting from soil fertility and crop returns, are not addressed. What is missing is a dialogue with earlier chapters. We read, for example, about the cultivation of cereals, citrus fruit, olives, vine, and peach in modern times (p. 186), whereas the plant analysis in Chapter 9 manifested only the use of economic crops (cereals), not fruit (p. 180). Anna Zsófia Biller’s analysis of animal bones (Chapter 11) cannot confirm an economy based on animal husbandry over the centuries (Chapter 8), since the sample is small (41 specimens), poorly preserved, and recovered mostly from secondary deposits. Neither can Cesare D’Annibale’s expert discussion of sea shells (Chapter 12) lead to definite conclusions. Whether the shells testify to connections with the sea and long-distance trade in exotic items remains questionable. Instead, SAV’s hinterland orientation is reinforced here.

Part III, the longest part of the volume with 25 chapters, discusses artefacts. Material follows, broadly, a chronological order, starting with prehistoric pebbles and ceramics (Chapter 13) and finishing with a nineteenth-century glazed potsherd (Chapter 37). Yet the chronological sequence is interrupted by types of objects, such as votive miniatures (Chapter 19), the dates of which span many centuries. Also, chapters 29 to 36 seem to address production, and this would explain why Keith Swift’s microscopic study of overfired wasters amongst banded and plain wares (Chapter 34) does not follow chapters 20 and 21 about these wares. Most chapters cover pottery, and understandably so, given the need to develop and apply typologies. Additionally, we learn about objects that do not always receive sufficient scholarly attention, including louteria, mortaria, and moulds. Finds, even when dispersed and displaced, are arranged according to archaeological context.

All of the authors have in-depth knowledge of the Metapontine chora, and many have contributed in earlier volumes of the series and are thus in a position to offer ample parallels from the region and beyond, even for small fragments. Some authors, like Mark Van Der Enden and Philip Bes, bring their expertise from survey projects elsewhere, offering an outsider’s account. By adhering to a comparative perspective, the authors address whether SAV was typical or atypical in terms of its material culture. Although a conclusion is missing from the volume, SAV appears to have been largely typical except for the production of terracottas and tiles. This industrial activity may have been seasonal, involving itinerant craftsmen, thus not upsetting greatly the typicality of the site. When one considers also the minimal presence of imported goods at SAV, we form an impression, as in Part II, of parochial communities that were well adapted to the natural environment and to local-level interactions. In a quasi-romantic fashion, readers may imagine that life in the countryside was peaceful and prosperous, and a good alternative to urbanism. Perhaps a more nuanced conception of rural life could have emerged from the chapters here.

Each chapter has two sections: first, authors provide background information about objects and distribution patterns and, second, a catalogue of key finds. Whereas background discussion is illuminating to non-specialists, in some instances, its relevance is questionable. We read, for example, about typologies of lagynoi from coastal sites around Metaponto in Carlo De Mitri’s introduction, but surviving fragments from SAV are not diagnostic and comparisons with regional finds are difficult. For all chapters, entries in the catalogue are exemplary, and the extent of colour images, even for fragmentary finds, is considerable.

The authors are open about the limitations of their methods and findings, proposing multiple interpretations and prompting readers to think creatively about finds and indeed archaeology in general. Thus, Antonietta Di Tursi (Chapter 25) admits the absence of chemical and petrographic analysis (p. 355) and that the local production of cooking wares remains tentative (p. 362). For Anna Lucia Tempesta (Chapter 29), the argument that SAV supplied architectural terracottas to the sanctuary of San Biagio is a working hypothesis only. According to Cesare D’Annibale, a rounded prehistoric potsherd could have been recycled as stopper, gaming piece, or kiln spacer (p. 213, Chapter 13) and a pebble in a mid-fifth-century grave could have been a token, marble, or personal keepsake (p. 553, Chapter 36). Wider issues are also discussed with caution. As befitting a site with few imports, we read about objects’ circulation, rather than their formal trade.

Space allows only for a commentary on select chapters. In investigating “Black-gloss Ware and Lamps” (Chapter 15), Emanuela Conoci analyses large datasets convincingly with only few shortcomings. The total of MNIs in table 15.2 is 32, and not 30 as noted in tables 15.1 and 15.3 (p. 222). More importantly, in mentioning the numeric preponderance of drinking shapes, Conoci could have expanded on feasting, partying, and hospitality culture(s), local or otherwise, as this preponderance is observable in late Archaic and early Classical sites across the Mediterranean. Conoci’s introductions to different shape typologies, such as to Ionic-type B2 cups and to B3b cups, are meticulously credible and useful to all who wish to understand these artefacts’ uniqueness. In line with other chapters in Part III, and in the volume as a whole, Conoci’s text is dense and technical, yet accessible and instructive.

Anna Cavallo’s contribution on “Banded Ware” (Chapter 20) is outstanding in terms of typological considerations, and her overview of shape complementarity is laudable. Whereas plain wares were used for food preparation and storage, serving vessels (banded and black gloss wares) featured decoration (p. 279). Again, feasting and hospitality could have been touched upon; Cavallo may have also considered the bowls’ dimensional standardisation.

In examining pottery production (Chapter 33), Alessandro Quercia is to be commended for discussing minor pieces of evidence: firing supports and tools. Quercia makes a significant observation, namely, that potters at SAV used the wedge- shaped and not the ring-shaped supports that were suited to firing fine wares at Metaponto (p. 533). The implications for rural vs. urban economy may have been explored further, albeit tentatively.

Three clearly laid-out Appendices appear after Part III, featuring in tabulated format contextual information about pottery, pottery production, and pollen and non-pollen palynomorphs. The bibliography is extensive and international in scope, and goes up to 2014.

On the whole, the presentation is excellent. Editorial work is thorough, with only occasional minor editorial shortcomings.1 The text also could have been condensed in places. Edlund-Berry’s excellent remarks about the circulation of moulds and terracottas (p. 453) repeat issues raised in the previous chapter.

The volume would have benefited from a concluding section bringing together the different pieces of evidence and highlighting themes about daily life and economic activity, and revisiting the issue of environmental adaptation, to which all chapters allude. Discussion might have been further enriched by theoretical considerations, especially about colonisation, feasting, and centre-periphery dynamics. Also, a table listing imports from far away would help us visualise the site’s few long-distance interactions.

The wealth of material presented in this impressive volume undoubtedly reaches out to a wide audience, from those familiar with excavation and surface survey, to those interested in specific classes of finds or periods.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents vii-x
Ingrid Edlund-Berry and Francesca Silvestrelli, Acknowledgments xi-xv
Illustration Credits xvi-xvi
Joseph Coleman Carter, Preface xvii-xviii
1 Francesca Silvestrelli, The Many Lives of a Rural Site: Sant’Angelo Vecchio 3-20
2 Francesca Silvestrelli, Site Phasing, Stratigraphy, and Site Assemblage, 21-60
3 Francesca Silvestrelli, Ingrid E. M. Edlund-Berry and Francesco Guizzi, The Structures at Sant’Angelo Vecchio 61- 84
4 Marshall Joseph Becker, Ingrid E. M. Edlund-Berry, Massimo Limoncelli, Edward G. D. Robinson, Francesca Silvestrelli, Serena Viva, Cesare D’Annibale, Marta Mazzoli and Francesco Perugino, The Tombs at Sant’Angelo Vecchio 85-128
5 Francesca Silvestrelli, Ceramic Production at Sant’Angelo Vecchio and in the Metapontine Chora 129-142
6 Erminia Lapadula, Sant’Angelo Vecchio in the Medieval and Post-Medieval Periods 143-148
7 Alessandro Montanari, Francisco da Conceição de Jesus Neto and Rachel Karlov, Geologic Setting 151-158
8 Assunta Florenzano, Archaeobotanical Analysis 159-172
9 Lorenzo Costantini and Fabrizio Pica, Charred Plant Remains and Plant Impressions in Fired Clay Fragments from Sant’Angelo Vecchio 173-180
10 Mauro Frattegiani, Observations on the Vegetation and Landscape Dynamics 181-194
11 Anna Zsófia Biller, Faunal Analysis 195-196
12 Cesare D’Annibale, Marine Shells 197-206
Catalog Abbreviations 209-210
13 Cesare D’Annibale, Prehistoric Artifacts 211-218
14 Francesca Silvestrelli, Corinthian Pottery 219-220
15 Emanuela Conoci, Black-gloss Ware and Lamps 221-252
16 Francesca Silvestrelli, Unguentaria 253-254
17 Mark Van Der Enden, Philip Bes and Emanuela Conoci, Red Ware 255-264
18 Eloisa Vittoria, Grey Ware 265-276
19 Anna Cavallo, Miniatures 277-278
20 Anna Cavallo, Banded Ware 279-306
21 Anna Cavallo, Plain and Coarse Wares 307-338
22 Carlo De Mitri, Lagynoi 339-344
23 Annalisa Concilio, Louteria 345-350
24 Annalisa Concilio, Mortaria 351-354
25 Antonietta Di Tursi, Cooking Ware 355-392
26 Erminia Lapadula, Roman and Late Roman Wares 393-406
27 Teresa Oda Calvaruso, Transport Amphorae 407-426
28 Annalisa Concilio, Opus Doliare 427-430
29 Anna Lucia Tempesta, The Architectural Terracottas: Some Considerations on Production 431-444
30 Ingrid E. M. Edlund-Berry, The Molds from Sant’Angelo Vecchio 445-454
31 Lin Foxhall and Alessandro Quercia, Loom Weights 455-468
32 Carlo Rescigno, Francesco Perugino and Eliana Vollaro, Roof Tiles and Bricks 469-528
33 Alessandro Quercia, Kiln and Workshop Furniture 529-540
34 Keith Swift, Evidence for Pottery Production: Fabric Analysis 541-544
35 Marta Mazzoli, Metal Objects 545-550
36 Cesare D’Annibale, Greek Lithic Material 551-556
37 Erminia Lapadula, Post-Medieval Pottery 557-558
Francesca Silvestrelli, Appendix A Assemblage Tables 561-580
Francesca Silvestrelli, Appendix B Census of Production Sites 581-588
Assunta Florenzano, Appendix C Archaeobotanical Analysis: Pollen and NPPs 589-606
References 609-638
Index 639-659


1.   Editorial shortcomings include: italicisation, e.g., for masseria (p. 3) and asty (p. 15), is used sparsely and rather inconsistently. For Chapter 12, bibliographic references appear in text, and not in footnotes. The text should read “feine Gebrauchskeramik” and “Firniskeramik mit Schlickerdekor” (p. 260). The apostrophe should be removed for an amphora of Corinthian type A (p. 411). The Greek “idiotipo” should read “idiotikon” (p. 615).

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