BMCR 2018.02.42

Italo-Mycenaean Pottery: The Archaeological and Archaeometric Dimensions. Incunabula graeca, 103

, , , , Italo-Mycenaean Pottery: The Archaeological and Archaeometric Dimensions. Incunabula graeca, 103. Roma: CNR - Istituto di studi sul Mediterraneo antico, 2014. 588; 12 p. of plates. ISBN 9788887345209. £80.00 (pb).

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

In this volume, the authors compile and synthesize the results produced from over three decades of archaeological and archaeometric research on Aegean and Aegean-type pottery recovered from Italy. This includes both a consolidation and reexamination of older data previously dispersed through various publications—many of which were produced by the authors of the current volume—as well as new data from more recent excavations. The term Italo-Mycenaean is here used to specify the Aegean-type pottery that was produced throughout Italy during the Mycenaean period, and which reflects the typology and style of Mycenaean Greece and LM III Crete. The corpus assessed in this volume represents a comprehensive study of the known Aegean-type ceramic finds from Italy.

The material analyzed comes from 103 sites on the Italian mainland, and in quantity constitutes approximately twenty percent of the Mycenaean and Italo-Mycenaean ceramics circulated throughout the central Mediterranean.1 Chapter 1 situates the analysis of the following sections within the context of ongoing debates current to the field of Mediterranean Bronze Age archaeology, particularly the nature of Mycenaean presence in Italy and the role of indigenous potters and local styles in the development of Italo-Mycenaean wares. These overarching themes and project goals are reiterated throughout the volume, and effectively integrate the data and analytical results of the remaining five chapters.

Following the introduction is an overview of the chronology and material covered by the current research. Chapter 2 is comprised of a ‘Gazetteer’ of the sites from which the ceramic material was recovered. Organized according to geographic region, this catalogue provides a succinct description of each site represented in the study, including location, extant chronological periods (in accordance with both local and Aegean systems), an overview of the material recovered and analyzed, a description of the local lithology, and a select bibliography. As noted by the authors (22), the site entries in the gazetteer are produced exclusively from direct consultation of primary excavation reports and publications, which was undoubtedly a laborious—though fruitful—exercise. In addition to the volume’s contributions to the study of Bronze Age Italian ceramics, this catalogue provides a valuable reference guide for all scholars of prehistoric Italy.

The catalogue of sites is followed by a synthesis of new evidence for the synchronization of Italian and Aegean chronology in Chapter 3. Building upon their earlier work, the authors generate a continuous Mycenaean ceramic sequence across sites boasting strong stratigraphic continuity.2 The publication of comprehensive stratigraphic material from sites such as Rocavecchia provides valuable contextual information for correlating chronologies from MBI/LHI to RB2/LH IIIC early/advanced. This discussion outlines many of the important chronologically significant finds, and situates them within each site’s stratigraphy. The inclusion of metal finds also strengthens the chronological links drawn; however, as noted by the authors, the substantial inter-site variability of craft industries across the Italian peninsula complicates these correlations (66). This chapter also includes a discussion of handmade burnished ware (or impasto ware) and wheel-made grey wares found at Cretan and mainland Greek sites (Kommos, Chania, Tiryns, and Dimini). Though not exhaustive, the finds discussed in this chapter center on the data that are particularly relevant for the construction of a unified Italo-Aegean chronology.

The bulk of the volume is contained within Chapter 4 (101–362), which presents the results of the archaeometric ceramic analyses. The three primary methods used are atomic absorption spectrometry (AAS), instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA), and inductively coupled plasma emission spectroscopy (ICP-ES), with complementary sourcing of coarser wares using petrography. These shifts in technique correspond to successive project phases, and the resulting limitations in data interpretation and resampling are readily addressed by the authors (107–8). The overview of methods found in this section is supplemented by a more technical discussion provided in the appendix, with the raw data presented in a series of databases. The appendix also outlines the important results of the collaborative program aimed at establishing comparability in INAA and ICP-ES results across three prominent laboratories (the Analytical Chemistry Department at Turin, the Helmholtz Institut für Strahlen u. Kernphysik at the Universität Bonn, and the Fitch Laboratory of the British School at Athens) conducted between 2003–2005. This study builds upon previous work on inter-laboratory comparability to facilitate the attribution of regional or even site-level provenance of ceramic materials according to different archaeometric methods.3 The results of the chemical analysis are followed by an examination of the technological aspects of ceramic manufacture, decoration, and firing in both the Aegean and Italy. Chapter 5 begins with a survey of the firing practices of Italy from the Middle to Final Bronze Age, and concludes with the results of experimental firing tests of Aegean-type pottery (393–401, pl. 11–2). The technical data of the preceding chapter is built upon to address particular topics around communities of production in Italy and the role and influence of Aegean potters. The authors expound on the findings summarized at the end of the chapter in the subsequent conclusion.

The final section of the book (Chapter 6) provides a discussion and interpretation of the results. The distribution maps presented in the conclusion provide illustrative representations of the distribution of Mycenaean imports and Italo-Mycenaean vessels across different chronological periods, indicating the regional distribution of samples selected for analysis, as well as additional dimensions such as the quantity of vessels studied and the likely sources for imported wares. The authors also note the impact of the limited number of sites sampled on the results, particularly the exaggeration of the Peloponnese as a source of LHI-II imports due to the large number of samples taken from Vivara and Lipari (414). The discussion outlines the authors’ interpretations of the trading ventures that resulted in the deposition of Aegean imports in Italy, and which led to the development of Italo-Mycenaean pottery production. Reconstructed trade relationships are explored chronologically, as well as in reference to the diachronic importance of different local resources in Italy, including sulphur, alum, and metal ores.

As outlined in the introduction, the goal of the volume is to understand the development of Italo-Mycenaean wares. In the final discussion the authors draw together the evidence of the preceding chapters to successfully demonstrate the role of local potters in the production of Italo-Mycenaean wares. In observance of techniques employed through the preparation, forming, and firing stages, convincing connections are drawn between local styles and the extant Italo-Mycenaean forms, including distinct differences between the latter and Aegean styles, as well as the co-occurrence of both Italo-Mycenaean wares and Aegean imports with local traditional wares. Similarly, grey ware and dolia show foreign techniques employed for the production of vessels catering to local tastes. This regional variation in production style and consumption tastes is one of the most striking finds of this research, extending across both imports and locally produced wares.

A particularly valuable contribution is the taxonomic system for locally produced Aegean-type vessels in Italy (426–34). Loosely arranged according to Furumark’s system of Late Helladic ceramic morphology, the system outlined in this volume includes subcategorization according to both formal and decorative variation, with the expectation of the system’s extension in accordance with the publication of new finds. The typology is supplemented by illustrations of each shape’s profile. Additional tables outline the presence of Mycenaean and Minoan decorative motifs across Italian sites. This taxonomy will allow for greater standardization —and comparability—in the classification of Italo-Mycenaean finds in future publications, which is particularly necessary given the significant regional variation in local pottery making in Italy demonstrated by the authors (453–60).

While each of the authors have independently made indispensable contributions to the study of Italo-Mycenaean wares, the current volume represents the profitability of knowledge synergy. The breadth of data assembled here will provide many benefits to scholars of the ancient Mediterranean. Individuals studying Mycenaean and Italo-Mycenaean pottery will appreciate the substantial corpus discussed in this text, while Italian prehistorians will find the gazetteer of sites and the associated bibliography enormously beneficial. The results of the chemical analyses, published in full in the appendix, encourage continued and related research, and expands the extant data set for future sourcing studies. Furthermore, the concluding ‘wish-list’ for continued research presents a clear path for future work, particularly with respect to the opportunities afforded by expanding chemical databases and more refined analytical methods. The strong correspondence between local popular shapes and Italo-Mycenaean forms, as well as the regional clustering of technique and decorative motifs, effectively shows the varying nature of indigenous and Aegean interaction, and confirms the important role native potters played in technology transfer. This important contribution furthers not only our understanding of the complexity of Italo-Mycenaean relations through the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, but helps to elucidate the backdrop of central Mediterranean interaction through the transition from the second to the first millennium.

Authors and titles

Chapter 1. The Project and its Development, R.E. Jones, S.T. Levi, M. Bettelli, L. Vagnetti
Chapter 2. Gazetteer of Sites, L. Vagnetti, M. Bettelli, S.T. Levi, L. Alberti
Chapter 3. Building a Comparative Chronology between Italy and the Aegean in the Late Bronze Age, M. Bettelli, L. Alberti
Chapter 4. Characterisation and Provenance, R.E. Jones, S.T. Levi (with contributions by M. Bettelli, P.M. Day, D. Pantano, J.A. Riley, Y. Goren, M. Sonnino, J.Ll. Williams)
Chapter 5. Technological Investigations, S.T. Levi, R.E. Jones (with contributions by V. Cannavò, C. Moffa, E. Photos-Jones, A. Vanzetti et al.)
Chapter 6. Discussion and Perspectives, R.E. Jones, M. Bettelli, S.T. Levi, L. Vagnetti
Databases (AAS; INAA; ICP-ES; Petrographic-mineralogical data; XRF, SEM-EDAX)
Appendix, R.E. Jones
Abbreviations and Bibliography


1. This data was compiled as part of the Dedalo Project developed at the Istituto di Studi sulle Civiltà dell’Egeo e del Vicino Oriente (CNR-ICEVO) in Rome (now part of the new Istituto di Studi sul Mediterraneo Antico).

2. Alberti, L., and M. Bettelli. 2005. “Contextual Problems of Mycenaean Pottery in Italy” in Emporia: Aegeans in the Central and Eastern Mediterranean, edited by R. Laffineur and E. Greco, 547–57. Aegaeum 25. Liége: University of Liége.

3. Hein, A., A. Tsolakidou, I. Iliopoulos, H. Mommsen, J. Buxeda i Garrigós, G. Montana, and V. Kilikoglou. “Standardisation of Elemental Analytical Techniques Applied to Provenance Studies of Archaeological Ceramics: An Inter-laboratory Calibration Study” Analyst 127(4):542–53; and Tsolakidiou, A., and V. Kilikoglou. 2002. “Comparative Analysis of Ancient Ceramics by Neutron Activation Analysis, Inductively Coupled Plasma-Optical-Emission Spectrometry, Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectrometry, and X-Ray Fluorescence.” Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry 374:566–72.