BMCR 2004.03.07

Zooarchaeology in Greece. Recent Advances. British School at Athens Studies, 9

, , , Zooarchaeology in Greece : recent advances. British School at Athens studies ; 9. London: British School at Athens, 2003. 310 pages : illustrations, maps ; 31 cm.. ISBN 0904887413. £59.00.

Since 1985, when Sebastian Payne wrote a “reader’s guide” to zooarchaeology in Greece,1 non-specialists have been aware of the potential of animal bone analysis for illuminating questions on human behavior, but they have been equally aware of zooarchaeology’s specialized focus on prehistoric subsistence and taxonomy. As recently as ten years ago, a survey of “recent work in Greek zooarchaeology” by David Reese2 observed that the discipline was still too specialized, too focused on the subsistence of prehistoric Greece at the expense of the more richly documented historical periods. Fortunately, this is no longer the case; now most historical excavations conducted in Greece have a zooarchaeological component, and these rich faunal data are being used to shed new light on a wide range of human activity. The contributors of this volume demonstrate the many new ways in which scientific bone analysis is engaging mainstream archaeological and historical discourses.

This collection of essays originated in papers for the first conference held in Greece on the subject of Greek zooarchaeology. Although the September, 1999 earthquake forced the cancellation of the conference, a round-table was held, and this volume was born. It is both a survey of the discipline and a guide for understanding and integrating zooarchaeological processes and interpretations into a wider context. Organized in four sections, (three containing thematically arranged papers and the fourth an English-Greek interpretative glossary of zooarchaeological and related terminology), the collection attempts to contextualize the state, evolution, and multi-disciplinary uses of zooarchaeological analysis conducted in Greece. The first section focuses on traditional questions in three subsections devoted to methodological studies, island assemblages, and subsistence. The second section shows the movement of the discipline beyond subsistence by examining consumption and ritual uses of animals. The third section suggests future directions, showing the profitable integration of zooarchaeological approaches with textual, representational and ethnographic studies. Each section and subsection contains a useful introduction, thus rendering the entire book easily navigable.

Given the number of submissions and technical nature of the component papers, this review will follow the organization of the editors and focus on section and subsection.

The first subsection concerns, how zooarchaeology might use new techniques and technology. The two articles here by Deborah Ruscillo and Ingrid Mainland focus on new ways to identify sex and dental wear, focusing on macro and micro analysis. Ruscillo seeks ways to sex mammal bones by broadening the criteria with which to define and assess sexual characteristics, while Mainland identifies techniques for analyzing dental microwear patterns. As both point out, greater accuracy in sexual identification and dental wear analysis lead to a clearer understanding of husbandry practice and domestication. Determining the sex of an animal allows for conclusions about economic strategies, culling patterns, and ritual practices, while dental wear analysis can help determine specific animal management strategies by separating out fodder type — specifically leaf-hay or cereal.

Subsection two focuses on islands. At first glance this might seem strange, but, as the editors point out, the unique nature of islands allows for a range of analysis. Since the natural and cultural landscapes islands offer are context-specific, island studies present a unique opportunity to employ an array of methods and offer a wide range of data from a relatively small region. The first three papers deal with prehistory to show the different impacts humans can have on island ecology. Masseti explores the important link between human activity and the replacement of Pleistocene fauna with Holocene forms on the Aegean islands. Mavridis focuses on human elements of change by showing the links between extinctions and human colonization. Powell examines the character of island occupation through fish remains. The next three papers focus on Crete during the historical periods, discussing wild fauna and the role of hunting (Wilkens), livestock rearing patterns and their impact on subsistence and ritual (Nobis), and fish remains and the fishing economy (Mylona). Mylona’s work on the Late Roman/Early Christian deposits from a house complex in Itanos is especially provocative since it provides a window on the role of fish markets and the distribution of marine resources in a small community.

The next subsection surveys current approaches to subsistence. The editors have divided it into two parts, a sampling of faunal reports from mainland Greece, ranging from the Palaeolithic to late antiquity (chapters 12-16), and comparative, interpretative studies (chapters 17-19) showing the role of faunal remains in reconstructing subsistence patterns. The reports show that faunal remains are now carefully analyzed according to the wider archaeological and interpretative context and no longer treated in isolation. The comparative studies (chapters 17-19) offer methodological, operational, and procedural techniques for more efficiently integrating individual faunal reports, so that they might best illuminate questions about human-animal interaction. These papers offer useful bibliography, and, in the case of Mylona’s chapter on fish remains (chapter 19), a gazetteer of sites.

The next section, “Beyond Subsistence,” shows the movement of the discipline beyond questions of subsistence, towards more nuanced, contextualized discourse about human interaction with animals. Here ritual is a key theme among all the papers. Forstenpointer and Chenal-Velarde and Studer, deal with blood sacrifices in the classical world and attempt to put their faunal material in broader historical and geographical contexts through a discussion of textual and iconographic sources. Snyder and Klippel explore the ritual significance of dogs as food during the Bronze and Iron Ages. Isaakidou focuses on the manufacture of bone tools and suggests that beyond being simple “raw material” bone use was shaped by various cultural constraints and perceptions. Hamilakis draws attention to hunting as a strategy for creating power and status during prehistory and the Bronze Age. Indeed, Hamilakis, in his introduction to the section, summarizes its intent best by saying that these papers point “to some future directions which can result in archaeological stories that do justice to the richness and complexity of this fascinating historical context.”

The third section of papers, “Beyond Bones,” demonstrates how zooarchaeological analysis should be integrated with ethnographic and historical studies. To this end, Leguilloux combines faunal data with inscriptions and archaeological survey to explain animal use on the island of Delos during the first century BCE. Halstead compares the zooarchaeological record from Late Bronze Age southern Greece with the Linear B texts to refine our understanding of the Mycenaean palace administration. Toufexis contrasts animal representations in Neolithic art from Thessaly with faunal evidence to show how a dissonance between iconography and bone remains can help explain the symbolic significance of different animals. Masseti concentrates on the similarities between Minoan faunal assemblages and art to underscore the high importance of exotic animals among the Minoan elite. Kapetanios analyzes cooperative labor groupings among the sheep/goat producers in highland Epirus, Ikaria, and the White Mountains of Crete to show that pooling milk production for cheese-making greatly influenced the formation of cooperative groups and affected the age at which young animals were slaughtered. Perez Ripoll focuses on contemporary animal production among the Pomaks of highland Thace to illustrate how a known integration of animal husbandry with arable farming might affect animal remains. Vardaki explores the social significance of large-scale meat consumption at wedding feasts in the highlands of Crete and the impact such cultural activities might make on the faunal record. In the end, all papers of this section show how an inclusive approach can enhance both zooarchaeological and historical analysis.

The final section, an “interpretative (English-Greek) glossary of zooarchaeological and related terms,” will be useful to non-specialist and specialist alike. Not only does it aid in the reading of the articles within the present volume and serve as a guide for interpreting zooarchaeological field reports, but most importantly it offers Greek translations for specialized English terminology in an attempt to standardize future Greek language faunal analysis.

To conclude: historians and archaeologists have waited a long time for a book like this. Here, zooarchaeologists have demonstrated that they have much to contribute to historical (and prehistorical) discourses. As an agricultural historian, this reviewer hopes that all disciplines which study the past will take this volume as a model for the integration of both humanistic and scientific approaches.


1. Payne, S. (1985). “Zooarchaeology in Greece: a reader’s guide.” In N. C. Wilkie and W.D.E. Coulson (edd), Contributions to Aegean Archaeology: Studies in Honor of William A. McDonald : 211-44. Dubuque: Kendal/Hunt.

2. Reese, D. S. (1994). “Recent work in Greek zooarchaeology.” In P. N. Kardulias (ed), Beyond the Site: Regional Studies in the Aegean Area : 191-221. Lanham: University Press of America.