BMCR 2020.10.41

Pottery technologies and sociocultural connections between the Aegean and Anatolia during the 3rd Millenium BC

, , Pottery technologies and sociocultural connections between the Aegean and Anatolia during the 3rd millennium BC. Orea, 10. München: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2018. Pp. 318. ISBN 9783700181279 €129,00.

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

This volume is an ambitious and eminently successful interregional collaboration linking two neighboring zones—the western and eastern Aegean—that are often treated separately, not least because of modern political boundaries. In the 3rdmillennium BC, currents of new material cultures and technologies move across the entire Aegean region to create the Early Bronze Age (EBA). Thanks to advances in archaeometry and pottery studies, this volume and its contributors are able to paint a region-wide picture of connectivity and development emerging as the EBA proceeds. The volume covers the periods Early Helladic (EH) I-II/Early Bronze 1-2 (c. 3000-2300 BC). A wealth of archaeometric methods, from X-ray fluorescence (XRF) and neutron activation analysis (NAA) to petrographic and geological analyses are presented here alongside contextual information. The volume will be useful to the field of the Aegean Early Bronze Age, the Early Bronze Eastern Mediterranean more generally, and to specialists in archaeometry and ceramics. Data sets and color illustrations are particularly valuable.

The stated goal of the volume is to find patterns in the production and distribution of pottery that can be interpreted as social and economic trends in the larger Aegean region during EH I-II. In an introduction, the editors (Alram-Stern and Horejs) explain their hope to not only bring together studies from all sides of the Aegean but also to facilitate the process of making technical studies available to those who would engage in ‘socio-cultural follow-up interpretations’ (p. 9). Known trends such as the proliferation of elaborate dining and drinking pottery are brought into sharper focus and importation of pottery from around the region highlights increasing connectivity. It is sometimes difficult for conference proceedings to provide content that closely follows a particular theme while including while achieving even coverage that represents the archaeological record as a whole. In this volume, the contributions are somewhat skewed towards the western Aegean and there are some notable absences, such as Troy. Nevertheless, as pottery from Early Helladic Troy and major Aegean sites such as Thebes have been abundantly published, in some cases by the same authors involved here (Psaraki et al. 2008; Pernicka et al. 2016), it is good to see smaller sites, new discoveries, and other areas being brought into the conversation. In fact, after more than three decades of archaeometric studies on Early Helladic pottery, we are now reaping the rewards of having an extensive sample as well as integrated interpretation.

The second chapter (Horejs, Japp, and Mommsen) examines the early 3rd millennium BC pottery production around Pergamon. This study is embedded in a survey of geology and prehistoric sites in the area of Pergamon, the Bakırçay Valley. NAA testing revealed multiple workshops using localized clay sources to produce for local consumption with very little exchange evident. This trend extends to other commodities such as obsidian, a common trade item which seems to have bypassed the Bakırçay Valley. The authors thus conclude that the Bakırçay Valley was unusually isolated in this period.

The third chapter (Peloschek) looks at the regional Early Helladic phenomenon of pottery tempered with crushed marble. Examining the corpus at Çukuriçi Höyük, the indications of a petrographic study are that contact with the Cyclades had been established by Early Helladic I, not through imported pottery (which is rare) but through a common technology of tempering with crushed marble. Examining this shared technology reveals a common interpretive conundrum. As sites lying in geological zones without local marble deposits lack marble-tempered ware (such as Liman Tepe, p.72), the use of marble temper may be opportunistic. However, other Anatolian sites such as Iasos with abundant local marble also lack marble tempered ceramics. It is thus unclear if marble tempering was related to culturally transmitted technologies, and thus of use as common cultural marker, or whether the technology was being passed through different unrelated communities through trade.

The fourth chapter (Rocklinger and Horejs) takes an assemblage-based and functional approach at Çukuriçi Höyük. A detailed macroscopic examination combined with shape and decoration come together to make a case study of Room 6, the best-preserved of Phase III, dating to EB I (p.93). Based on correspondences between ware and shape, indicating an intimate knowledge of clay and temper properties, the authors propose that pottery production was a specialized craft already in the EB I at Çukuriçi Höyük. While the work would be strengthened with petrography to determine local clay source exploitation, the nature of the ceramics are such that the important variables can be seen macroscopically. This is an excellent case of combining context, assemblage, technology, and function.

The Konya Plain is the subject of the fifth chapter (Gait, Müller, Kiriatzi, and Baird), adding a valuable comparanda from the Anatolian plateau beyond the western Anatolian riverlands. The Konya Plain Survey (KPS) covered an area of c. 1100 square km (p.106). In this preliminary report, results of petrography and wavelength dispersive X-ray fluorescence (WD-XRF) on 58 sherds from six sites is presented. The majority of the sherds match local geology but present variation in tempers and oxidation that require further study. Six sherds, on the other hand, appear to be Cappadocian Metallic Ware, establishing a connection to the East.

The sixth chapter (Kouka and Menelaou) looks at pottery production at Heraion on Samos in the second half of the 3rdmillennium BC. This is a particularly valuable contribution given Samos’s pivotal location in the Aegean. The authors reevaluate decades of excavation results in Heraion Levels I-V (beautifully illustrated by color-coded plans) and reconsider which pottery shapes are truly local and which are non-local. Synchronization with Greece, the Cyclades, and the Anatolian coast are considered, as well as technological changes that can be as meaningful as changes in vessel shape.

Moving to the Greek mainland, the seventh chapter (Burke, Day, Alram-Stern, Demakopoulou, and Hein) takes a longer approach to pottery from the Neolithic through EH II at Midea and Tiryns. Using petrography, several distinctive local fabrics are identified, including one that was in use from the Neolithic and appears also at Late Bronze Tiryns and Hellenistic Nemea and neighboring Corinth. As multiple local clays are available in the Argolid, the choice of this particular source paste over such a long period is remarkable. The Argolid is well known from the Late Bronze Age as a major source of ceramic production; this study suggests that it was already a center of production for dining wares in the EH period, with different sites (even in close proximity) having distinctive technical variations on the regional theme. The eighth chapter (Alram-Stern) takes a closer look at EH II Midea in the Argolid, specifically at a sample from the acropolis where dining pottery dominated the assemblage. While mostly local, ten percent of the assemblage matched the fabrics of the Corinthian plain, suggesting a close social relationship between the two areas. Solid statistical and petrographic work support these conclusions.

The ninth chapter (Berger) looks at EH pottery from Aegina in its regional context. Drawing on previous studies of clay sources and EH pottery on Aegina using SEM, XRD, and petrography, this study is able to focus on EH II Kolonna and find a distinct local phase that experiences significant change in the transition to EH III. The tenth chapter (Muller-Celka, Kiriatzi, Charalambidou, and Müller) focuses on EH II-III Euboean pottery from the site of Eretria. A study of the EH IIB pottery using WD-XRF and petrography reveal both distinctive local production and significant amounts of imports, especially coarse wares as opposed to dining wares.

The eleventh chapter (Rambach) finds EH II pottery densely packed in a well near Romanos in the Pylia. This remarkable deposit is among the most valuable contributions of this volume, providing data on a poorly known phase in the important region of Messenia. Abundant color photos, plans, and line drawings make for an exemplary publication. A thorough cross-section of local pottery, including previously unknown shapes, are presented, although the emphasis is on dining wares, some of which were unbroken and possibly deposited in the disused well after major feasts. The twelfth chapter (Kordatzaki-Kiriatzi-Rambach) presents the petrographic, chemical, and refiring analysis from the Romanos Pylias site, including the well as well as other domestic contexts. Imports were generally rare; the local industry was mostly consistent in paste and slip choice for certain shapes, though some variation could be detected, suggesting multiple production units supplying the consumption units represented in these excavations.

The thirteenth chapter (Pentedeka, Morgan, Sotiriou) examine the EH pottery from Kephalonia and Ithaca off the coast of western Greece. The EH pottery examined here shows primarily local origins but also a remarkably sophisticated knowledge of clay and mineral characteristics used to create a workable paste out of generally unsuitable natural resources on Ithaka (Kephalonia does have some good clays available). Petrography and prospecting for local raw materials result in a robust analysis here and provide the first such study done on EH materials from these islands. While vessel shapes such as sauceboats indicate connections to the broader regional EH horizons, the paste preparation shows strong continuity from earlier periods.

Finally, the fourteenth chapter (Papadatos and Nodarou) brings in Prepalatial Crete, reviewing archaeometric studies from sites across the island throughout EM I-III. Patterns are observed similar to those on Kephalonia and Ithaka, where older traditions of clay choice and paste preparation specific to different parts of Crete are used to make new shapes and wares throughout the 3rd millennium BC. An intensive network of pottery trade also exists, but petrographic analysis can readily source objects to their Cretan subregion of origin. The authors suggest that the evidence for paste recipe continuity and other technical features shows that new horizons on Crete, such as Vasiliki Ware, were not the result of major migrations and population replacement. They also suggest that consumer preference was driving the changing aesthetic factors of the pottery being produced at this time, an interesting idea that could be further developed.


Pernicka, Ernst, Sinan Unlusoy, and Stephan W. E. Blum (eds.). 2016. Early Bronze Age Troy: Chronology, Cultural Development, and Interregional Contacts. Proceedings of an International Conference held at the University of Tubingen May 8-10, 2009. Studia Troica 8. Verlag Dr. Rudolf Habelt GMBH, Bonn.
Psaraki, Kyriaki, Evangelia Kiriatzi, Vassilis Aravantinos, and Jill Hilditch. 2008. “Early Helladic II Pottery from Thebes: An integrated typological, technological and provenance study” in Y. Facorellis, N. Zacharias, K. Polikreti (eds.) Proceedings of the 4th Symposium of the Hellenic Society for Archaeometry, National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens 28-31 May 2003. BAR International Series 1746, Oxford 2008: Archaeopress, 263-268.

Authors and titles

“Pottery Technologies in the Aegean and Anatolia During the 3rd Millennium BC: An Introduction”, Eva Alram-Stern and Barbara Horejs
“Early Bronze Age Pottery Workshops Around Pergamon: A Model for Pottery Production in the 3rd Millennium BC”, Barbara Horejs, Sarah Japp, and Hans Mommsen
“Marble-Tempered Ware in 3rd Millennium BC Anatolia”, Lisa Peloschek
“Function and Technology: A Pottery Assemblage from an Early Bronze Age House at Çukuriçi Höyük”, Maria Röcklinger and Barbara Horejs
“Examining the Dynamics of Early Bronze Age Pottery Production and Distribution in the Konya Plain of South Central Anatolia, Turkey”, John Gait, Noémi S. Muller, Evangelia Kiriatzi, and Douglas Baird
“Settlement and Society in the Early Bronze Age Heraion: Exploring Stratigraphy, Architecture and Ceramic Innovation After Mid-3rd Millennium BC”, Ourania Kouka and Sergios Menlaou
“Crafting and Consumption Choices: Neolithic – Early Helladic II Ceramic Production and Distribution, Midea and Tiryns, Mainland Greece”, Clare Burke, Peter Day, Eva Alram-Stern, Katie Demakopoulou, and Anno Hein
“Early Helladic II Pottery from Midea in the Argolid: Forms and Fabrics Pointing to Special Use and Import”, Eva Alram-Stern
“Social Change – Cultural Change – Technological Change: Archaeological Studies and Scientific Analyses of Early Aeginetan Pottery”, Lydia Berger
“Early Helladic II-III Pottery Groups from Eretria (Euboea)”, Sylvie Müller-Celka, Evangelia Kiriatzi, Xenia Charalambidou, and Noémi S. Muller