BMCR 2019.05.50

The Mycenaean Cemetery at Achaia Clauss near Patras: People, Material Remains and Culture in Context

, , The Mycenaean Cemetery at Achaia Clauss near Patras: People, Material Remains and Culture in Context. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2018. xxiv, 510; 277 pp. of plates. ISBN 9781784919191 £90.00.

Table of Contents

Bronze Age Achaia, with its numerous cemeteries and settlements, has not received as much attention as other parts of the Mycenaean world, yet its importance, appreciated long ago by Emily Vermeule, cannot be underestimated. The region played a pivotal role in the westward movement of Greeks to the Italian peninsula and Sicily, both in the Bronze and Early Iron Age: after all, the first western Greeks were Mycenaeans, or, as they were known in Homer, “Achaians.”1 Moreover, Achaia never boasted a Mycenaean palatial center, and, as such, it offers a different paradigm of a non-canonical Mycenaean trajectory that continues to be understudied.

Against such a backdrop, the publication of an important cemetery in this region is cause for celebration. There is a good deal to commend this volume. It is a solid presentation and discussion of the Mycenaean cemetery at Achaia Clauss, near Patras, which was in continuous use from the Late Helladic (henceforth LH) IIIA1 period to the end of LH IIIC. The cemetery was excavated from 1988 to 1992 by Thanassis Papadopoulos (no relation to the reviewer) under the auspices of the Athens Archaeological Society. A total of 15 chamber tombs were located and excavated, adding considerably to those already known from the pre-World War II excavations at the site by Nikolaos Kyparissis, who excavated a dozen tombs. The present monograph is a revised and updated version of the author’s doctoral dissertation at the University of Ioannina, written under the supervision of Papadopoulos.

The volume begins with a Prologue by the excavator, Emeritus Professor Papadopoulos, followed by a Preface and Acknowledgements by Paschalidis, together with a chapter summary. Chapter 1, entitled “Mycenaean Period in Achaea” (the region appears as Achaia on the title page),2 is a brief, yet fairly comprehensive, survey of sites in Achaia, together with an even briefer and less comprehensive history of research. The focus is squarely on Mycenaean remains; earlier Bronze Age and later Early Iron Age material remains are not dealt with. Over a hundred sites in the region preserve Mycenaean material culture, located both on the coast and in the mountainous regions of the province. Paschalidis argues that the settlement associated with the cemetery is the neighboring hill-top of Mygdalia Petrotou, excavated since 2008 by Lena Papazoglou-Manioudaki and Paschalidis. This site appears to have been founded in the transitional phase from Middle Helladic III to LH I, and was inhabited continuously to the end of LH IIIC.

Chapter 2 provides a detailed description of the 15 tombs, beginning with their architecture, and the clustering and overall deposition of the finds within. For each tomb Paschalidis goes on to present the chronological sequence of the burials, and he also presents, wherever available, summary information of the age and gender of the deceased (for which, see below), and the grave-goods associated with each interred individual. The chapter is illustrated with black-and-white archival photographs of the graves, interspersed with a few color photos, together with good quality plans, elevations, and sections. The only thing that is really missing is a good topographical plan of the entire cemetery. The topographic sketch of the Achaia Clauss tombs in Figure 11 (p. 16) leaves a lot to be desired. The short Chapter 3 (pp. 124–128) deals with the general area of the graves, the nature of the bedrock into which they were cut, their manner of construction and any related structural problems, as well as the layout of the cemetery. Much of this discussion, which is vital, could have been incorporated into Chapter 2, either as an introduction or conclusion (or both).

Chapters 4 (“Catalogue of the Finds from the Cemetery”) and 5 (“The Finds from the Cemetery. Analysis”) present the cultural material, the grave-goods associated with the deceased. The former chapter is a complete catalogue of all the small finds; the latter presents a full analysis of the material, focusing on typology and comparanda, arranging the objects according to the material from which they were made: pottery, bronze, bone, stone. Both chapters are provided with excellent color photographs, and drawings of equally high quality (although not all of the material is drawn). Drawings of small finds other than pottery—weapons, implements, jewelry—are more limited, especially beads of semi-precious stone, glass/faïence, etc., as well as the more common terracotta spindlewhorls, beads, or buttons.

The analysis of the material in Chapter 5 begins with a full account of the shapes and decoration of the pottery, beginning with the closed shapes (stirrup jars, alabastra, amphorae, jugs, lekythoi, handless globular jars, piriform jars/krateriskoi, flasks, collar-necked jars/stamnoi, a feeding bottle, ring-shaped vases, and ending with the bird askoi), before analyzing the open shapes (cups, spouted mugs, multiple vases, kylikes [which are rare], dipper [rarer still], deep bowl or skyphos [equally rare], kalathoi, and the solitary tripod bowl). There are many items of interest here: among the closed shapes is the feeding bottle (pp. 401–402), which, as Paschalidis cogently argues, was an “invalid cup,” rather than a baby feeder, as it was found associated with an adult male.3 Among the open vessels is the idiosyncratic multiple or composite vessel or “quadruple kernos” E13 (Π 14043), decorated in an idiom very un-Mycenaean (it is moot, however, whether this is an open or closed vessel).

The analysis of the bronze objects begins with weapons (Naue II sword, one dagger, and spearheads), followed by tools (knives, a sickle and sickle-like knives, razors, tweezers, and needles [and fragments thereof]), and then various ornaments (rings and bronze vases). The knives of Achaia Clauss, whenever clearly associated with an individual, belonged with males, whereas in many other cemeteries in Bronze and Early Iron Age Greece they are found with both males and females.4 The bone objects include pins (whether fasteners for clothes or shrouds or hair pins) and a solitary comb. The only stone objects are a single whetstone and a small lump of stone pigment, a natural coloring substance. Other small finds, of various materials, are more ubiquitous (“spindlewhorls, beads, or button” of various types, seals [of stone or glass], beads [stone, including cornelian, and glass], and a terracotta figurine). This last category, together with all the small finds other than pottery, may have better been classified under clay or stone or glass, or even, together with various bronzes, as jewelry.

Chapter 6 discusses the funerary customs. It begins with primary inhumations, especially those on the floor of the chamber, followed by inhumations in pits, and, interestingly, the only cremation in the cemetery, that of a 30-year-old male. Various cleansing practices of the Mycenaean and post-Mycenaean period at Clauss are then discussed (including pyres and covering the dead with lime), followed by funerary offerings in primary burials, the positioning of the offerings and their relationship to gender, child burials, and, interestingly, four double burials of mothers and children, which add to the growing number of such tombs throughout the Greek world,5 followed by secondary burials or relocations. There follows an important and often overlooked occurrence, what Paschalidis refers to as the legal looting of the dead,6 described (p. 464) as a “random series of incidents, but an established process.” The final subheadings of this chapter include the reconstruction of the funerary ritual, the ceremony of burial, and after the funeral.

The circumscribed Chapter 7 is entitled “The People and Society of Clauss: Overview of the History of the Cemetery.” It deals with six chronological phases of the cemetery, and ends with an epilogue that discusses the years after the end of an era. For Aegean prehistorians, history ends not with the collapse of the Mycenaean palatial system in LH IIIB, but with the close of the LH IIIC period.

Chapter 8, entitled “Bioarchaeological Approach to the Human Remains from Clauss” is short, and divided into two parts, the first, on the only cremation in Tomb N (by McGeorge), the other on the bones from an ossuary found in alcove I in the excavations of 1991, and the human remains in Tombs Λ, Ma, Mb, and N excavated in 1992 (by Więckowski). How and why the bioarchaeological material was thus divided between two specialists is never adequately explained, and arguably the only serious shortcoming of this volume is the fact that the full account of the bioarchaeological remains by McGeorge, from all tombs (A–Θ and K), was not complete at the time of publication (to be published in a forthcoming monograph). This is to be regretted, as the population of the cemetery, the reason why the tombs were built in the first place, is not presented together with the tombs and their material furnishings, thus prioritizing objects over people. This said, Paschalidis was careful to provide critical details of some of the bioarchaeology, particularly gender and age at death, throughout various parts of the volume and this has greatly added to the discussion of burial customs and certain classes of material. The volume ends with tables of data presented and a bibliography.

As the primary publication (albeit partial, as it lacks the full account of the bioarchaeology) of archaeological data, this volume will quickly take its place as the repository and discussion of an important cemetery in the northwest Peloponnese, in a part of the Mycenaean world that never boasted a palatial center. The excellent illustrations will serve generations of scholars interested in various aspects of Mycenaean material culture.


1. E.T. Vermeule, “The Mycenaeans in Achaia,” AJA 64, 1960, 1–21 (an article curiously absent from Paschalidis’ volume); J.K. Papadopoulos, “Magna Achaea: Akhaian Late Geometric and Archaic Pottery in South Italy and Sicily,” Hesperia 70, 2001, 373–460; see especially 434–448 for the Bronze Age.

2. The spelling of Achaia/Achaea is not the only editorial and grammatical infelicity of the volume, which would have benefitted from a more careful editorial hand.

3. A topic fully discussed in Debby Sneed’s recent doctoral dissertation, The Life Cycle of Disability in Ancient Greece, University of California, Los Angeles, 2018.

4. In places as far afield as Athens and Epirus (Liatovouni), see A. Douzougli and J.K. Papadopoulos, “Liatovouni: A Molossian Cemetery and Settlement in Epirus,” Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts 125, 2010, 1–87; J.K. Papadopoulos and E.L. Smithson, Agora XXXVI. The Early Iron Age: The Cemeteries, Princeton, 2017; see especially 962–965.

5. For the phenomenon, see M.A. Liston and J.K. Papadopoulos, “The Rich Athenian Lady was Pregnant: The Anthropology of a Geometric Tomb Reconsidered,” Hesperia 73, 2004, 7–38.

6. A term coined by C. Paschalidis and P.J.P. McGeorge, “Life and Death in the Periphery of the Mycenaean World at the End of the Bronze Age: The Case of the Achaia Klauss Cemetery,” in E. Borgna and P. Càssola Guida (eds.), From the Aegean to the Adriatic: Social Organizations, Modes of Exchange and Interaction in Postpalatial Times (12 th to 11 th Century BC), Rome, 2009, 79–113.