Review of Pseira. A Bronze Age Seaport in Minoan Crete. Introduction to the Site



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Pseira. A Bronze Age Seaport in Minoan Crete. Introduction to the Site

This CD-ROM provides a visual tour of the site of Pseira, illustrating how archaeological excavations have given us a glimpse into the life of a small Minoan harbor town. The site is located on an islet in the Gulf of Mirabello, in eastern Crete. Most of the unearthed remains date to the Late Minoan I phase (roughly mid-second millennium B.C.), when Minoan civilization was at a highpoint. The author was co-director of the joint Greek-American excavations which were conducted at the site from 1985 to 1995. The results of this campaign are being published in a series of scholarly works, of which the first three, discussing various buildings, have already appeared.

The Pseira CD-ROM is easy to use, even for the computer novice, with clear instructions on the back cover on how to open it with MAC or PC. The introductory pages lead to an attractive menu with photo icons offering an array of topics, from a basic introduction to Minoan civilization to more specific items related to Pseira, comprising religion, trade, architecture, notable finds, history of the site, and daily life. A credits file lists members of the study team whose work is used in this CD, as well as supporting institutions and private donors.

The user navigates through most narratives in a linear fashion, with occasional submenus providing opportunities to delve into specific topics. Written texts tend to be short but informative, and on the whole, there is a good balance between visuals and writing. The quality of the images is generally good. Sometimes there is too much repetition; for instance, a pithos decorated with double axes and bull's heads from Pseira is shown five times.

Under the topic "History of Pseira" we find a brief sketch of human occupation of the islet as well as an overview of archaeological investigations. The site was excavated first in 1906-1907, by the American pioneer R. Seager, and again in 1985-1995 by P.P. Betancourt and C. Davaras. There is little information on excavation methods or techniques. This is remedied to some extent by useful tidbits on stratigraphy and pottery dating interspersed elsewhere on this CD.

The section "Daily Life" informs the user about the subsistence base and economic activities of the Minoans on Pseira. It briefly addresses the settlement pattern and major categories of artifacts found at the site, ending with a discussion of diet, cooking facilities, and food storage. The "Trade" section discusses Cretan and foreign goods brought to Pseira, emphasizing the importance of Minoan shipping. "Notable Finds" is mostly devoted to pottery, stone vases, wall paintings, and some interesting architectural features such as dams for catching runoff water. The discussions of pottery and wall painting would have benefited from more detail on production techniques, such as is given for stone vases.

The "Religion" section treats the evidence from town and cemetery under separate headings. "Religion in the Town" includes a short discussion of Minoan beliefs. "Religion in the Cemetery" discusses tomb types and burial practices. Four tomb types are shown, but without addressing the possibility of chronological or societal differences, even though elsewhere ("History of Pseira") it is indicated that there are chronological distinctions between tomb types. The narrative also neglects to point out that there are no tombs from the major, Late Minoan I, period of occupation at Pseira, and that this is a widespread and unexplained phenomenon on Crete. Plans or reconstruction drawings of the tomb types would have been useful as well.

The most impressive section of this CD-ROM is the "Building Tour". It exploits the possibilities of the CD format more fully than the others, having a hierarchical structure that allows the viewer to move between general and more detailed levels of information following his or her own curiosity. A click on the introductory view of the islet leads to an aerial view and two site plans with 12 labeled buildings and the town square. One can open windows with more detailed information and close-up images by clicking the mouse at specific locations in the site or house plans. In this way, even though only one window exists at any moment, the viewer never loses track of the wider context of a minute detail. A colored plan and short description are given for most buildings. The viewer can delve into specifics such as building stratigraphy or the construction of Minoan walls, entrances, or staircases.

The menu item entitled "Who were the Minoans?" is meant to give a basic introduction to Minoan civilization but disappoints for several reasons. A major shortcoming is that it provides bits of information about palaces, religion, art, writing, and the town of Gournia, but without integrating those into the wider context of Minoan society or political organization. Thus, rather than setting the stage for the more specific sections dealing with Pseira, it tends to duplicate them. Moreover, the user is never told how the town of Pseira would have fitted into the Minoan political structure.

On a more basic level, this introductory section fails to provide sufficient chronological or topographical information to the uninitiated viewer. Whereas it gives the chronological boundaries of Minoan civilization and the Bronze Age, it never explains terms such as "Middle Minoan II," "Late Minoan IA," or "Late Minoan II-IIIA," which are used in this CD-ROM, sometimes even in abbreviated form. To avoid this problem, a time line could have been provided incorporating all chronological terms used in the text, with their approximate absolute dates. Another shortcoming is the absence of maps. Two maps are shown elsewhere ("History of Pseira," "Trade"), but both are limited to eastern Crete. One cannot expect the average lay reader to be able to locate eastern Crete in the world, or to know the location of places such as Knossos, Melos, Thera, or Yiali, mentioned in this CD but not shown on either map. The introductory section would have been the ideal place to provide such basic information.

Furthermore, throughout this CD-ROM, a number of specialized terms are used, such as "Bronze Age," "Minoans," "double axes," "Hieroglyphics," or "bridge-spouted jug," without adequate explanation. The author could have helped out the uninitiated user without interrupting the flow of the narrative by making such terms searchable, giving access to definitions (and guidelines to pronunciation) with a simple click. Further explanatory detail could have been made available through cross-references between sections, avoiding duplication of information. For instance, the tomb descriptions in Religion could have been cross-referenced with History of Pseira, where their chronology is discussed. Likewise, the usability of the CD would have been improved by providing, via a click on the images, short descriptions with date, provenance, size, and material of objects. Such information would have been especially desirable for remarkable artifacts such as the large stone bucket ("Notable Finds"), or the seal from Mochlos showing a sailing ship ("Trade").

Overall, this CD-ROM suffers from unevenness in the level of information. It seems that most of the problems pointed out above could have been avoided if the author beforehand had clearly defined his target audience.

In spite of its shortcomings, this CD remains an attractive introduction to the site of Pseira and aspects of Minoan civilization even for the total novice, provided that he/she has access to basic outside reference material. At present, Pseira is the only Minoan site which is presented to the larger public in an easy-to-use CD-ROM format. The author is to be commended for his pioneering effort in broadening the appeal of Minoan archaeology through this new, popular medium.



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