BMCR 2006.04.02

Response: Hempel on Chatr Aryamontri on Hempel, Die Nekropole von Tarent im 2. und 1. Jh.v.Chr

Response to 2006.02.39

Response by

In her review of my book Die Nekropole von Tarent im 2. und 1. Jh.v.Chr. Deborah Chatr Aryamontri accepts all my conclusions and gives a quite positive appraisal defining my work as “a significant addition to the archaeological research on Southern Italy”. While I agree obviously with this general tendency, some of the negative remarks in the final part of the review distort the facts and give a wrong impression about the real content of the book.

(1) In detail, Chatr Aryamontri after a general criticism (“The publication fails now and then in consistency and clarity”) asserts the following: “To mention a few examples, not all the vase shapes are contained in the typological charts (see e.g., the lamps and urns),…”

This is not correct, because the drawings of the urns are on page 247 (form 800). Furthermore, someone could think that the book lacks of illustrations, while there have been presented drawings of about 200 vase shapes (surely one of the biggest and best illustrated typologies existing in the field of Hellenistic pottery). Due to space or scale problems, some very small vases and a few sub-types are contained not in the typological charts but near to their verbal description in the typology text. The only ones lacking drawings are those of the three types of lamps (which can be consulted in a publication by L. Masiello, cited in my book).

(2) The reviewer continues: “… and he does not always supply a complete description in the catalog, including measurements, for each artefact.

That’s right, but it is due to a conscious choice and publishing strategies with the aim to include the maximum of new information and to avoid a useless wasting of paper and ink. For the complete description in the catalogue and for the photographs have been chosen findings from about 50 unpublished tombs containing about 650 objects. The objects of the other tombs (about 150) have only been listed because most of them are just published (often including measurements and other features). All the pottery is mentioned in the typology, every type has its drawing. All the references to the publications of any single tomb are cited both in the catalogue and in the concordances at the end of the book. A complete description and illustration of all the objects found in all the tombs would have tripled the pages of the book.

(3) Then Chatr Aryamontri criticises the “lack of information” about the coins and the terracotta figurines, but the problem is similar to the last one. As for the coins, an exhaustive publication is planned, while the terracotta figurines have recently (1997) been discussed in a monumental monograph by D. Graepler (not Graepel, as cited by the reviewer).

(4) The following criticism is somewhat generalizing: “Another shortcoming in the book is a lack of methodological detail in certain parts of Hempel’s research and conclusions. Even if Hempel purposely avoided weighing down the main text with excessive technical clarification, the work would have been much improved had it included more thorough detail on the methodologies used throughout the bodyof the text rather than forcing the reader to rely on bibliographical reference at the end. Having a clear understanding of the research methodologies employed is integral to supporting the work’s conclusions.”

It is difficult to guess which are the lacking methodological explanations, but the sentence may be referring to the discussion of the chronological seriation methods (correspondence analysis). Even if these techniques are new for some Classical archaeologists, there is a consistent tradition in other fields and even in the Taranto project. In a scholarly discourse it is not necessary to repeat all previous discussions, and it is quite normal to refer to the bibliography. As for the rest, every step in my work (archive work – photographing – typological definition – chronological seriation – reference to findings from other sites and discussion of the conclusions) is exactly described.

(5) “The most relevant flaw in Hempel’s analysis is the limited information he provides about the topography and typology of the tombs, which are crucially important to understanding the context of the finds.”

The expression “limited information” is clearly unacceptable. All available information about both the position and the typology of all the tombs can easily be found in the catalogue of the book (I simply translated the original documents in the archive of the National Museum). As for the topography, there are the maps with the approximate grave positions according to the excavators’ diaries. If someone is looking for further information, he or she should be aware that we are talking about old excavations (from about 40-100 years ago) without precise drawings and original maps and that about 99% of the tombs have been destroyed.

(6) The conclusion of this part is: “Thus the reader is compelled to hunt for further information throughout the book, making it difficult to develop a clear comprehensive composition of the tombs and their development, and to distinguish between hard data and personal interpretation.”

This sentence contains an unjustified generalization. The chronological development of the composition of the tombs can easily be recognized looking at the illustrations in the catalogue, where the tombs are presented in a chronological order. The catalogue itself has been considered as “übersichtlich” (“well organized”) in another on-line review. Furthermore, it is absolutely not correct to assert that in the book there are confusions between “hard data” and “personal interpretation”. All the “hard” information is to be found in the catalogue (the documentary work alone took about two years), while the interpretations are in the main text.

(7) Two other remarks by Chatr Aryamontri are on formal problems, such as the Italian translation of the main text and the “poor” printing quality. As for the latter, which corresponds to some Italian standards, I’d like to observe that nearly all of the ca. 650 objects on the photographs are vessels without decoration (and even perfect photos do not represent them better), while the quality of the drawings (which give a better idea of the pottery) is very good even in the printed version. In the translation (which is a kind of extended summary) there may be some mistakes, but the following example, cited by the reviewer, does not convince me:

The Italian text, by and large accurate, contains occasional errors in terminology, such as the use of “Imperial” instead of “Imperialistic” to denote the Republican period (p. 87).

The expression “sistema imperiale romano” ‘Roman imperial system’ must not necessarily sound odd to the readers, as imperiale in Italian may refer both to imperatore’emperor’ and to impero’empire’ (s. f.i. De Mauro’s dictionary). In this sense imperiale is used in collocations like “sistema imperiale sovietico” and sometimes it is referred also to the U.S.A. (references can be easily found on the web). Furthermore, I did not intend imperialistico‘imperialistic’, which has a marked negative connotation.

Finally, my impression is that Chatr Aryamontri is somewhat disappointed because of the general orientation of the whole book. Perhaps, some misunderstanding can be due to the title, as she observes in the beginning that “the title might foreshadow an analysis of the osteological and grave typological data, Hempel’s work provides little detail on these topics, and focuses essentially on the study of grave contents, with an emphasis on pottery.” That’s right, but if we take into account the subtitle “Studien zur materiellen Kultur”, we see that the preferences are specified, as is customary in German scientific tradition. Furthermore, the bones which have been found in the graves are not preserved, so we have no osteological data. As the contextual information is somewhat lacking or not always clear, I choose to focus on the discussion of the objects. In the field of Hellenistic pottery there are many interesting chronological problems (which are important for historical interpretations), and for that reason the contribution is not only to the archaeology of Southern Italy, but also to the study of Hellenistic pottery in general.