BMCR 2007.06.15

Lefkandi IV: The Bronze Age. The Late Helladic IIIC Settlement at Xeropolis. BSA Suppl. 39

, , , , Lefkandi IV : the Bronze Age : the Late Helladic IIIC settlement at Xeropolis. Supplementary volume / British School at Athens ; no. 39. London: British School at Athens, 2006. xviii, 332 pages, 103 pages of plates : illustrations, maps, plans ; 31 cm + 1 computer disc (4 3/4 in.).. ISBN 0904887510 £98.00.

This book is the long-awaited publication of the excavations at Xeropolis covering the Late Helladic IIIC remains. It is thus the predecessor (in chronological terms) as well as the immediate successor of Lefkandi I, which covered the Iron Age remains at the site.1 Excavation of the Xeropolis settlement took place between 1964 and 1969 and the study of the material covered in Lefkandi IV was completed for the most part in the 1970s, but although several preliminary reports appeared,2 the final publication was delayed due to the discovery and emergency excavation and publication of the Heroon and the Toumba cemetery, which detracted time and personnel from Xeropolis and to which the intervening volumes of the Lefkandi excavations are dedicated.3 The publication was planned and drafted by excavation co-director Mervyn Popham (π whose death in 2000 preceded the finalization of the publication plans. The task of completing this publication and of bringing all information up to date fell to P’s collaborators Don Evely (ἐ, who edited the volume, co-director Hugh Sackett (ησ the late Elizabeth Schofield (εσ and Susan Sherratt (SS); Joost Crouwel (ξ Elizabeth French (φ Jonathan Musgrave (μ and David Reese (R) also contributed chapters.

The first two chapters are the most extensive. Chapter 1, “The site and its excavation” (1-136), by P, E, and HS, briefly introduces the site and presents an exhaustive room-by-room analysis with find catalogues. A distinction is made between the Trials (test trenches), which constituted the preliminary investigations on the site, and the Main Excavation in small part of the mound where tests had revealed Early Iron Age levels stratified over Late Mycenaean strata. In discussing the Main Excavation (8-87), E follows a chronological approach, whereas HS for the Trials (87-136) adopts the opposite procedure and discusses from the top down. This is made explicit and should not cause trouble for the attentive reader.

Chapter 2, “The pottery” (137-231), by P, ES, and SS, provides a thorough analysis of the pottery types by phase, followed by two overviews titled “Pots through the ages” and “The pottery in a wider context.” Pottery catalogues are missing, probably because the pottery already features in the room catalogues in chapter 1; additional information is given in Appendix 3 on the accompanying CD. “Pots through the ages” is organized by vessel shape and, with its useful overview over the main developments of the principal vessels forms, can easily serve as a handbook on LH IIIC pottery from Lefkandi; “Pottery in context” compares the Lefkandi pottery with that from other sites along the North Euboean Gulf and in Central Greece, and gives a summary of the differences with pottery from Mycenae.

Chapter 3, “The Late Mycenaean pictorial pottery” (233-255), by C, is the first of the specialist chapters and as such significantly shorter than the previous general chapters. It is an important chapter dealing with delightful examples of locally made pictorial LH IIIC Middle sherds, predominantly from craters. A catalogue of 93 entries follows a general introduction, description, and analysis, which includes a brief attempt to identify workshops and painters.

Chapter 4, “The terracotta figurines” (257-263) by F analyzes 45 human and 46 fragmentary animal figurines. Since none are complete or from primary contexts, interpretation is necessarily limited to remarks about chronology, typology, and fabric; a catalogue completes the chapter.

Chapter 5, “The small finds” (265-302) by E includes six sections organized by material: stone, metal, bone, clay, faience, and organic materials, the last two consisting of just about 10 lines each. Despite the often mundane and/or fragmentary state of the objects described, this chapter gives the most information about everyday activities going on in the settlement.

Chapter 6, “LH IIIC Lefkandi: an overview” (303-309) by SS is a brief synthesis and conclusion of the material presented in this volume. It can also serve as an excellent introduction to the site, since all salient features are contextualized and their importance explained.

A CD-Rom is included with three appendices, the first two of which are, in effect, specialist chapters. The first (CD 3-19), written by M, covers the human burials and is based on the 1991 report by M and P; the second (CD 20-29), by R, deals with the shell material. The third appendix gives the statistics, tables, and deposit comments for the pottery (CD 30-86). Concordances (CD 87-121) take up the remainder of the CD. All are in PDF format.

A brief summary of some important features:

Trials yielded evidence for earlier (MH and EH) as well as later (PG and Geometric) material4 and for continuous occupation and the existence of a fortification wall from MH to LH IIIC times; they also confirmed the spread of the LH IIIC settlement over most if not all of the mound after an apparently scanty LH IIIB phase.5

In the Main Excavation area three LH IIIC stages of occupation were distinguished in four partially excavated houses (the North, East, South, and West House); each of these three stages is further subdivided into two. The three main phases are marked by the slightly different alignment of buildings and were confirmed by stylistic differences in the pottery, more or less corresponding to the pottery phases of LH IIIC Early, Middle and Late.

The earliest LH IIIC phase (1a and 1b), with two-storey houses, lasted long enough for floors to be re-laid in houses and for some depth of refuse to accumulate outside. The evidence for phase 1b is extensive due to large destruction deposits and suggests that dining areas were located on the upper floors, with storage (in unbaked clay bins) and cooking facilities downstairs. A single ivory button attests to contacts abroad. Handmade Burnished Ware may be imported rather than locally made (308) and is largely limited to phase 1. In phase 1a it takes the form of carinated cups (which are later imitated on the wheel) and a deep, bucket-shaped jar; from phase 1b comes an unburnished convex cylindrical cup, an import from Italy, 150 and 218).

After this first settlement burned down, remains were leveled and the second settlement (phases 2a and 2b) was built on top of the ruins; this second settlement was laid out in a more orderly grid-like fashion with square units measuring ca. 5 m each. Most pictorial pottery is associated with this phase, as are bone tools and intramural burials of various ages and both genders, below the floors of occupied rooms, apparently a new invention which also appears at the site of Kynos on the North Euboean Gulf.6 The number of pictorial sherds attests to a lively pictorial vase painting tradition at Lefkandi and the many cups and decorated craters attest to convivial drinking. Despite general similarities with other pictorial pottery from this phase on the Greek mainland, and especially close parallels with material from Kalapodi in Central Greece,7 originality is evident in, e.g., scenes of goats mating and griffins feeding their young in a nest. The frequent depictions of warriors suggest the self-image of the Lefkandiot drinkers; the importance of hunting is suggested by the many antler tools. In addition, there is evidence for metal working in the form of crucible fragments and molds. An iron knife from a 2a context is one of the earliest examples from the Aegean, and probably imported from Cyprus (284, 290).

In a revision of the preliminary reports, ceramic phase 2b loses some of its defining characteristics in this publication since what initially were thought to be phase 2b contexts were reassigned to phases 2a and 3a, with the consequence, for example, that White Ware, which initially was thought to appear first in 2b, now makes its first appearance in 2a (it is common in 3a); the increase in conical bowls in phase 2b, as posited in the preliminary report, is now negated (167). The authors emphasize that the revisions are a matter of nomenclature more than of a revised chronology and that the divisions between 2a and 2b, and between 2b and 3a, are largely arbitrary. It is suggested that it is significant that the only restorable crater fragments from the 2b phase are made of White Ware (172), but this is not further explained. Notably absent from the Lefkandi LH IIIC repertoire is the Shallow Angular Bowl, common at Mycenae, whereas conical bowls and trays are common, attesting to Lefkandi’s links with the islands with the east, central, and southern Aegean (223-4). This tendency to look eastward and southward to the islands and coasts of the Aegean is further underscored by the presence of a rare type of male figurine (259) which has a close parallel at Phylakopi on Melos. Since clear signs of destruction are lacking, this settlement was evidently abandoned.

Phase 3, the last of the Bronze Age settlements, has little evidence of occupation, whether due to a depopulation or to later erosion of the remains. Building standards and pottery had deteriorated in every aspect. Phase 3 deep bowls lack markedly narrow reserved zones between the handles; since these are found in the early tombs of the Skoubris cemetery and are among the latest LH IIIC at various sites in the Argolid, Attica, and on Naxos (230-231), their absence at Xeropolis may suggest an abandonment of part of the settlement. There are no signs of destruction of this settlement.

In general, the site is thoroughly domestic: many stone tools are associated with food preparation and craft activities, including metal working and household level textile industry. SS suggest that the increase of population in the beginning of the LH IIIC phase, the solid but unpretentious buildings, the neglect of the earlier fortification wall, dispersed ownership of valuable items and dispersed practice of specialized crafts, and private burial are indicative of a decentralized but relatively prosperous community (309).


The long inception period of the book means that part of what is presented here is now ‘old news,’ though it shook the world of Aegean archaeology when first presented in the preliminary reports of 1968 and 1971. The present volume, dedicated to P and in some ways a tribute to him (the authors have not changed the plates prepared by P even if this caused some inconvenience due to changed volume format of BSA, and faithfully report P’s hypotheses), does however more than simply add detail to the earlier publications. Its thorough re-investigation of the stratigraphical and ceramic evidence results in some slight revisions, and it ties all evidence together, placing the site and the material into the broader context of Central Greece, the Euboean Gulf, and the Aegean at the end of the Late Bronze Age in the light of new research.

The authors are honest about the shortcomings of the publication, most of which are caused by or at least related to the long delay with which the volume appeared. For example, the authors express their frustration with the inheritance of a confusion numbering system (or rather several different systems) or the fact that numbers of finds can often not be placed accurately on the plans. Perhaps unavoidably, since excavation took place some four decades ago and some information has since been irretrievably lost (e.g. some finds could not be safely identified in the Eretria Museum due to the disintegration of labels and envelopes), the publication may in some respects seem to be lacking in the view of current expected standards. Apart from the appendix on shells by R, it does not give information on organic remains since studies were not carried out or completed; nor is there any mention of scientific dating techniques (despite the presence of e.g. “burnt remains of fallen ceiling beams,” 23); pottery colors are not analyzed against the Munsell color charts as is standard practice nowadays (color descriptions are however given and admittedly make for a more readable and perhaps not much less objective account). There is no use in contemplating what might have been done differently, and, as this volume proves again and again, despite these shortcomings the evidence for the LH IIIC settlement at Xeropolis is of enormous importance. In fact, the authors are to be commended for bringing this volume to press without further ado.

Although the medium of CD-Rom, which could have allowed for searchable databases or extra (color?) visual material, is not fully exploited, it is understandable why statistics and concordances, which are only interesting for those who embark upon an in-depth study of the site and its pottery, are put on CD so that the book itself remains readable and not too bulky (the CD shaves 121 pages off the book). It is however not entirely clear to me why, when the specialist chapters on Pictorial Pottery, Figurines, and Small Finds are included in the book, those on the Burials and the Shells are delegated to appendices on the CD. Possibly the idea is that the latter two are either already published in much the same form (the burials) or less relevant for understanding of the site (the shells) or too technical; nevertheless this choice seems to reveal a somewhat old-fashioned approach to excavation publication in which stratigraphy and pottery are emphasized at the expense of other evidence. In line with this, no attempt is made to integrate the evidence from the two appendices on burials and shells into the total picture of life at the site.

The volume is handsomely produced. Some of the photos are however slightly out-of-focus or otherwise unclear: e.g. plate 15 B, plate 73 no. 21, plate 85. On plate 58 the scale is oddly placed on the sherd rather than next to it; this is however less disturbing than the fact that on most of the 15 plates of pictorial pottery no scale is given at all, and it even appears that sherds on the same plate are shown at different scales (“scale various” is a standard part of the caption for these plates). In a manuscript of this length typographical and other minor editing errors (few on the syntax level) are almost unavoidable and I noticed some dozen or so, none too confusing; they detract in no way from the value of the book as a whole. Where there is a discrepancy between a reference in a footnote and a bibliographical entry, the bibliography is correct (e.g. p. 247 note 127: Jacob-Felsch 1989 vs. p. 314: Jacob-Felsch 1987).

In conclusion, this is an invaluable book about a site whose importance can hardly be overestimated. Lefkandi IV will undoubtedly become a standard reference book for all scholars working on LH IIIC material.


1. M.R. Popham, L.H. Sackett and P.G. Themelis, Lefkandi I. The Iron Age. BSA Suppl. 11, London 1980.

2. M.R. Popham and L.H. Sackett, Excavations at Lefkandi, Euboea 1964-66. A Preliminary Report. London 1968; M.R. Popham and E. Milburn, “Late Helladic IIIC Pottery of Xeropolis (Lefkandi), a Summary,” BSA 66, 1971, 333-352. A report on the intramurial burials appeared in 1991: J.H. Musgrave and M. Popham, “The Late Helladic IIIC Intramural Burials at Lefkandi, Euboea,” BSA 86, 1991, 273-291.

3. R.W.V. Catling and I. Lemos, Lefkandi II.1. The Protogeometric Building at Toumba: The Pottery. BSA Suppl. 22, London 1990; M.R. Popham, P.G. Calligas and L.H. Sackett, Lefkandi II.2. The Protogeometric Building at Toumba: The Excavation, Architecture and Finds. BSA Suppl. 23, London 1993; M.R. Popham and I.S. Lemos, Lefkandi III: The Toumba Cemetery. The Excavations of 1981, 1984, 1986 and 1992-4. BSA Suppl. 29, London 1996.

4. Only the Mycenaean material is discussed extensively in this publication.

5. Although this must be at least partially due to LH IIIC widespread and intensive building activity, accompanied by leveling of previous remains, it is in accord with patterns detected elsewhere along the Euboean Gulf, where sites flourished before and after the acme of the Mycenaean palaces. See e.g. A. Van de Moortel and E. Zahou, “2004 Excavations at Mitrou, East Lokris,” Aegean Archaeology 7, 2006, 39-48; M. Kramer-Hajos, Mycenaean East Lokris (βαρ ισ forthcoming.

6. See e.g. Dakoronia, Ph. in: ArchDelt 40 (1985) B1 Athens 1990, 173-174, ArchDelt 41 (1986) B1, Athens 1990, 68-69.

7. See also M. Jacob-Felsch, “Die spätmykenische bis protogeometrische Keramik,” in R.C.S. Felsch (ed.), Kalapodi: Ergebnisse der Ausgrabungen im heiligtum der Artemis und des Apollon von Hyampolis in der antiken Phocis I, 87, Mainz 1996.