BMCR 2002.04.08

Exploration archéologique de Délos – Fascicule XXXVIII – L’Îlot des Bijoux, L’Îlot des Bronzes, La Maison des Sceaux 1. Topographie et Architecture. Fascicule 1 et 2

Gérard Siebert, L'Îlot des bijoux, l'Îlot des bronzes, la Maison des sceaux.. Exploration archéologique de Délos ; fasc. 38. Paris: École française d'Athènes, 2001-. volumes in : illustrations, plans ; 30 cm.. ISBN 2869581521

This is the 38th instalment of archaeological reports under the “Exploration Archéologique de Délos” series of the École Française d’Athène. In this two volume set, Gérard Siebert (GS) renders a comprehensive ensemble of results of ten seasons of fieldwork carried out since 1964. GS has managed to synthesize over ten seasons of excavation work into a tight, yet detailed report which will be of use to any archaeologist interested in the architectural history, topography, quotidian architecture — albeit luxurious — and especially day-to-day life of the people of Delos. Oddly enough, with the exception of the present set of surveys, comparatively little has been published on archaeological research related to the day-to-day life of Delos; other than the numerous reports published in a variety of journals, significant, for example, is the early work of J. Chamonard and A. Plassart, published between 1916 and 1924.

The present work is divided into two volumes: The first is a systematic analytical study of the houses while the second considers problems related to the site itself. In Chapter 1, seven houses of the Îlot des Bijoux are analyzed, taking into account several seasons of excavations. Each is contextualized according to its spatial disposition, hydraulic arrangements, roof and structural components, history of occupancy and general architectonics (including a proposed restitution). The drawings that complement the text are clear and render a feel for exactitude. The roof restitution of the ensemble (figure 2, page 25) is of particular note, and, while GS does not tell the reader exactly how the restitution came about, the solution is nonetheless convincing. The study of the structures on the Îlot des Bijoux is comprehensive and well organized.

In Chapter 2, GS follows the same format for the Îlot des Bronzes, named, like the Îlot des Bijoux, after the main finds uncovered during the excavations. Again, a general contextual description is provided, as is a discussion of the arrangement of rooms and other spaces, hydraulics, roof and structural components, history, and architecture in general. The chapter also includes a well-executed presentation of roof restitutions and analysis (figures 3 and 4, page 63). For some (habitation II, for instance) a more detailed discussion is provided. The whole is augmented with relevant and clear photographs and drawings: overviews, sections, stratigraphy, building details, architectonic arrangements and so on.

In Chapter 3, GS provides a discussion of the excavations of the Maison des Sceaux. This is an important site, as is reflected in the level of detail provided. Illustrations and plans add clarity to the text, organized as in the previous chapters. The diagrams are remarkably well connected to the text. GS obviously chose the material carefully and the result is a coherent package. In Chapter 4, the streetscape is elucidated and, if one area seems lacking in GS’s work, it is here. The descriptive text seems abbreviated and the accompanying pictorials perhaps overly generalize the built realities of the site; the reader is left wondering, for example, if what is being represented is not perhaps overly typical. The sense of place seems lost. In other words, what makes this particular streetscape different (or not) remains unclear to the reader. Also, had this chapter been placed before the first three, it might have been more useful as an introduction to the site; it does situate the houses quite well and could have rendered more context for the earlier sections.

In the second part of the same volume, GS brings together what must have been a tremendous amount of material and synthesizes the whole into what could be interpreted as a cultural-architectural vignette. This is especially apparent after Chapter 5, where the author provides observations on construction details (walls, roofs, hydraulics and doors and windows). It is in Chapter 6 that the purpose and function(s) of individual spaces are discussed and we begin to have a feel for true human occupancy. A set of annexes providing real information is provided; more analysis might have been useful in this regard as the purpose of the information is not completely clear. We are not clearly told, for example, what relation exists between different yet adjacent spaces. In Chapter 7, GS tackles the age-old archaeological problem of chronology. Interesting is the way the site’s chronology is connected to historical “facts”. This is a successful way of integrating different types of information.

In the volume’s conclusion, GS provides what he calls an “Essai de sociologie du quartier de Skardhana”. As much as the contents of the previous chapters should be commended, that of the conclusion leaves the reader wondering. Only four pages outline what must have been a rich social and cultural life that would have permeated this vernacular architecture. One further wonders if the connections between the houses and adjacent spaces could have been explored and explicated more significantly.

In a separate fascicule, eighteen drawings (plans and restitutions) are provided. GS carries the textual information provided in the first part into a set of drawings that provide a visual interpretation of the excavations, finds and reconstructed structures. These are executed in a manner which is convincing yet not excessive; they complement the discussion of the previous fascicule. GS represents the archaeological findings with sufficient realism yet leaves enough latitude, enabling the reader to arrive at individual conclusions; the restitutions do not restrict the reader’s interpretations.

Finally, what could be perceived as a shortfall in the concluding chapter of the first fascicule (mostly due to its brevity) should not interpreted as a lack of scholarly integrity and quality. This work is of high quality and any individual — scholar or student — should turn to it for a deeper appreciation of the day-to-day life on Delos and a more general understanding of the architecture of the region. The double volume should not, however, be read without consideration for the previous (and subsequent) publications of the same series.