Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.03.14 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.03.14

Evangelia Kiriatzi, Carl Knappett (ed.), Human Mobility and Technological Transfer in the Prehistoric Mediterranean. British School at Athens studies in Greek antiquity.   New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2016.  Pp. xvii, 278.  ISBN 9781107142435.  $99.99.  

Reviewed by Nicholas G. Blackwell, Indiana University (

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

This publication investigates the movement of prehistoric peoples and technologies across the Mediterranean through analyses of various craft industries. The product of a 2010 workshop held at the British School at Athens’ Fitch Laboratory for science-based archaeology, the edited volume is the first in a new monograph series—British School at Athens Studies in Greek Antiquity—published by Cambridge University Press. The book relies on case studies supported by Knappett and Kiriatzi’s introductory theoretical discussion of the movement of humans, materials, and knowledge with emphasis on the mobility of technologies. The Mediterranean’s unparalleled potential for connectivity, highlighted by both Broodbank and Kristiansen, offers further background in the assessment of prehistoric movement. The book’s primary goal is the investigation of technological mobility, or how technological knowledge was acquired, transferred, and replicated in different areas. The papers demonstrate that the precise combination of people, materials, knowledge, and methods/techniques that moved varies on a case-by-case basis. Technological choices not only indicate particular methodologies but also may signify shared knowledge amongst communities of practice. The volume’s discussions, seen through science-based archaeology and technology, are richer and more detailed than traditional studies of connectivity that rely primarily on artifact distributions and trade networks.

Twelve chapters comprise the book, four of which are introductory, theoretical, and/or reflective commentaries. Eight case studies form the core of the book and address one or multiple types of craft (e.g., ceramics, metallurgy, stone working, glass production, and fresco painting). Several themes emerge, notably: connectivity, scale of production, community, and role of the state. The extent of technological mobility is based on several factors, including the nature of the craft work and the presence or absence of administrative oversight. State authorities can certainly drive technological transfer trans-regionally, as Blake emphasizes in her chapter. The papers also demonstrate, however, that such exchange is not limited to state societies. In short, technological mobility is detectable at local, regional, and international levels, illustrating that macro or micro-scale approaches are, on their own, flawed.

The volume’s success stems from its broad spatial, chronological, and material coverage. The geographical core lies largely within the Aegean, though neighboring regions are not ignored. Moving east to west, attention is given to the northern Levant, Egypt, Crete, the Cyclades, the Argolid, Macedonia, Italy, central Europe, and even Scandinavia. Ethnographic parallels from Africa are also cited for comparative purposes. Despite this broad scope, notable gaps occur for a survey on human movement and technological exchange in the Mediterranean. Anatolia and Cyprus, for instance, are conspicuously absent, and though Crete is referenced several times by individual studies, it is not the subject of a focused chapter. Chronologically, papers span the Neolithic and entire Bronze Age, with emphasis on the late second millennium BC. This range enables readers to compare technological developments, human mobility, and shared knowledge in stateless versus state-level societies.

Ceramic technology is the focus of several papers, for it is an ideal industry for tracking technological mobility at various scales and socio-political situations. 1 Urem-Kotsou explores how new pottery traditions (e.g., in fabric and surface treatment, vessel shape, and functionality) in Late Neolithic Macedonia emerged from competition, conspicuous consumption, social changes, and restricted mobility. In the absence of itinerant potters in the region, a limited number of finished vessels appear to have been carried to new areas through trade and/or social networks. Further south, Nikolakopoulou and Knappett evaluate Minoanization in the Cyclades through analysis of pottery (and wall painting, discussed later). The appearance of new ceramic types in Late Cycladic contexts reflects local stylistic preferences combined with Minoan ceramic technology like wheel fashioning. Human and social mobility and the sharing of technological processes can account for Cretan features in the Cyclades. Minoanization is thus best studied through technical identities and the exploration of how the transmission of technology, mobility, and learning mechanisms intersect.

Boileau presents an intriguing case study of Aegean-like pottery at Tell Kazel in the northern Levant. By examining the chaîne opératoire and the particular choices made during the local production of unpainted Mycenaean and Handmade Burnished Ware, Boileau identifies an enclave of Aegean immigrants at Tell Kazel by the 12th century BC. They produced pottery using local materials according to their own traditions and consumption needs. Further west, Kiriatzi and Andreou consider Mycenaean and locally-produced Mycenaean pottery in Macedonia and the central Mediterranean. Macedonian potters acquired knowledge of Mycenaean ceramic practices through their own mobility or that of Mycenaean artisans, and reproduced pottery in the standard fashion of the southern Aegean. Though the distribution of Mycenaean pottery is extensive across southern Italy and Sicily, overall quantities are meager. Local production of Mycenaean pottery in southern Italy, however, signals the arrival of Aegean potters. These ceramic cases illustrate that entrepreneurial and mobile Aegean potters thrived and played a significant role in spreading Mycenaean potting practices to peripheral areas that resulted in unique products that incorporated local traits and preferences with foreign technology.

Georgakopoulou’s fascinating contribution on Early Bronze Age metallurgy explores the mobility of smiths in the southern Aegean by comparing the localities of ore sources and metallurgical sites. Third-millennium smiths exploited sources at or near the surface but processed the ore elsewhere. The Aegean’s limited copper sources (primarily on Kythnos and Seriphos) and scattered smelting sites signal the movement, probably seasonal, of people, copper resources, and technology. Despite sharing technological knowhow, craftspeople also clearly made individual technical choices. Certain metallurgical sites, for instance, employed perforated furnace walls to facilitate oxygen intake while others did not. The paper highlights the broad regional mobility of smiths and metallurgical technology in the absence of political elites. A welcome addition for comparison to this dataset would have been a paper on Aegean metallurgy in the Late Bronze Age and its relation to centralized authorities. Kristiansen’s paper does explore metal trade at a macro-level by discussing how the demand for metals as well as secondary commodities created an interconnected Bronze Age world that extended beyond the Mediterranean and into central Europe and even southern Scandinavia. Kristiansen associates this extensive mobility of people and material with itinerant warriors and traders.

Bevan and Bloxam offer an important cross-cultural comparison of stone working practices and the transmission of such knowledge in Pharaonic Egypt and the Aegean Late Bronze Age. The Egyptian survey is of particular interest to Aegean prehistorians unacquainted with studies of Egyptian masonry and quarries. The paper rightly emphasizes the need for training and apprenticeship with regard to stonework and cites several cases of stonemason mobility with varying degrees of scale and connectivity. Although well-cut masonry in the Bronze Age typically reflects an affiliation with political elites, evidence in Egyptian quarries (e.g., Widan el-Faras and Aswan) also indicates the existence of “more loosely based, bottom-up knowledge-sharing among kin-based groups of regional and local stonemasons” (69). The basalt exploited at the Old Kingdom Widan el-Faras quarry was shipped from the Faiyum region to Giza, where masons then employed large-scale saws to refine the blocks. This technical knowledge of stone sawing seems geographically (and socially?) restricted since such cutting methods are not attested at the quarry site. For the Aegean, the authors argue for Cretan-trained masons operating in Messenia on the Greek Mainland, either representing temporary royal exchanges or permanent moves following the LM IB destructions on Crete. I agree with the authors regarding the need for state diplomacy in facilitating craft mobility and technological transfer for elite stone working in the Aegean. One omission in the discussion of craft/artisan exchange between the Hittites and Mycenaeans is the prospect of Anatolian stonemasons working on the Lion Gate relief at Mycenae.2

Questions about the mobility of stonemasons are related to painters and frescos since both crafts necessitate substantial training and apprenticeship. Moreover, it is likely that artisans of both industries traveled, since their products are more immobile. In their assessment of Minoanization, Nikolakopoulou and Knappett discuss how wall paintings at Akrotiri on Thera exhibit technological sophistication in the preparation of plaster that resembles Cretan practices and examples. Yet the paintings incorporate local styles; the authors thus argue that local Theran artisans produced the Akrotiri paintings after receiving substantial training from Minoan specialists—either on Crete or on Thera.

Shortland explores a craft paradox in the Mycenaean world. While evidence of open molds from Greece shows that Mycenaean artisans manufactured glass objects like beads and inlays, the actual production of glass from raw materials occurred elsewhere, likely in Egypt and/or the Near East. Mycenaean glass, at this point, merely signifies international trade between the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean rather than the transfer of technological knowledge from the east. Consumption trends in the Aegean indicate a market for glass, so what hindered the emergence of the technology in the region? Perhaps the industry relied too heavily on the state, and political elites never supported the import of the technology or the necessary raw materials. Whatever the explanation, the failure to adopt glass manufacturing techniques in the Aegean shows that certain craft methods and procedures did not spread as easily as others.

Overall, typographical errors in the book are minimal. More problematic are certain illustrations. Some figures, particularly photographs, lack an ideal sharpness while complex maps would have been enhanced by color. Figure 3.1 includes numbered sites on a map but lacks a corresponding legend. A comprehensive map showing the location of key sites referenced throughout the entire volume would have been useful. These minor criticisms do not detract from the book’s overall importance. Aegean prehistorians will want a copy of this volume as a reference for interpreting regional connections through craft work and technology. It should also appeal to anthropologists and archaeologists working in any region, since the Mediterranean offers, as Broodbank explains, unique opportunities and models for evaluating human mobility and technological exchange. The final two commentary chapters by Blake and Gosselain demonstrate the applicability of the book’s themes to other datasets and landscapes, including those not as rich or diverse as the Mediterranean.

Table of Contents

1. Carl Knappett and Evangelia Kiriatzi, Technological Mobilities: Perspectives from the Eastern Mediterranean – An Introduction, 1-17
2. Cyprian Broodbank, The Transmitting Sea: A Mediterranean Perspective, 18-30
3. Dushka Urem-Kotsou, Changing Pottery Technology in the Later Neolithic in Macedonia, North Greece, 31-45
4. Myrto Georgakopoulou, Mobility and Early Bronze Age Southern Aegean Metal Production, 46-67
5. Andrew Bevan and Elizabeth Bloxam, Stonemasons and Craft Mobility in the Bronze Age Eastern Mediterranean, 68-93
6. Andrew J. Shortland, Towards and Understanding of the Origin of Late Bronze Age Glass, 94-101
7. Irene Nikolakopoulou and Carl Knappett, Mobilities in the Neopalatial Southern Aegean: The Case of Minoanisation, 102-115
8. Marie-Claude Boileau, The Archaeological Signatures of Mobility: A Technological Look at ‘Aegeanising’ Pottery from the Northern Levant at the End of the 2nd Millennium BC, 116-127
9. Evangelia Kiriatzi and Stelios Andreou, Mycenaean and Mycenaeanising Pottery across the Mediterranean: A Multi-Scalar Approach to Technological Mobility, Transmission and Appropriation, 128-153
10. Kristian Kristiansen, Interpreting Bronze Age Trade and Migration, 154-180
11. Emma Blake, Commentary: States and Technological Mobility – A View from the West, 181-192
12. Olivier P. Gosselain, Commentary: On Fluxes, Connections and their Archaeological Manifestations, 193-205


1.   The literature on the transmission of ceramic technology is rapidly growing. See: Gorogianni, Evi, Natalie Abell, and Jill Hilditch. 2016. “Reconsidering Technological Transmission: The Introduction of the Potter’s Wheel at Ayia Irini, Kea, Greece,” American Journal of Archaeology 120.2: 195-220; Gauss, Walter, Gudrun Klebinder-Gauss, and Constance von Rüden, eds. 2015. The Transmission of Technical Knowledge in the Production of Ancient Mediterranean Pottery: Proceedings of the International Conference at the Austrian Archaeological Institute at Athens 23rd-25th November 2012. Wien: Österreichisches Archäologisches Institut Wien.
2.   Blackwell, Nicholas. 2014. “Making the Lion Gate Relief at Mycenae: Tool Marks and Foreign Influence,” American Journal of Archaeology 118.3: 451-488.

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