BMCR 2021.11.39

Athens and Attica in prehistory: proceedings of the International Conference, Athens, 27-31 May 2015

, , , , , Athens and Attica in prehistory: proceedings of the International Conference, Athens, 27-31 May 2015. Oxford: Archaeopress Archaeology, 2020. Pp. 698. ISBN 9781789696714 $130.00.

Table of Contents

The primary purpose of the volume is providing an updated synthesis of prehistory in Attica from the Upper Palaeolithic through to the end of the Late Bronze Age. It originates from a large conference organized by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, the Goulandris Museum, and the Ephorate of Antiquities of East Attica (2015). As noted in the volume’s introduction, our understanding of this region in prehistory has been rather fragmented and up until now, also outdated; consequently the archaeology of the region has had less of an impact on scholarship relative to other areas, and particularly in comparison with the plentiful literature on later Attica. On the other hand, construction work for major infrastructure projects (Attiki Odos, Metro, Olympic facilities, etc.) in the last three decades has brought to light a wealth of new evidence, which has not been synthesized to date. The book also seeks to integrate such relatively recent archaeological work with a century’s worth of previously published research, to explore the environmental dimensions of prehistoric habitation (such as geology, geomorphology, natural resources), and to gain a better understanding of chronology, land use, settlement patterns, economy, sociopolitical dynamics, funerary practices, interregional connections and the nature of the Bronze Age/Iron Age transition. The intention to move beyond a dry presentation of finds and explore intraregional dynamics/micro-regions within Attica (dubbed a ‘regional approach’) is also expressed. In the latter direction the editors cite difficulties in ‘the definition of each period that necessitate a synchronic examination of data from different regions’ as the reason for ultimately arranging the papers chronologically. The book is organized in a hybrid thematic/chronological style in actuality, although the thematic sections (Topography, Palaeoenvironment, Neighbors and Interactions) bookend the majority of the content, which is arranged chronologically (Upper Palaeolithic/Mesolithic and Neolithic Era; Final Neolithic/Early Bronze Age Transition; Early Bronze Age; Middle and Late Bronze Age). While the named thematic sections touch upon some areas of interest identified in the introduction, most themes are tackled through the content of individual contributions in the chronological sections. There is no synthesis due to the number of papers included and the length of the book, as well as the complexity of the new material. This lacuna somewhat undermines the main premise of the volume, i.e. producing a long-awaited synthesis.

However, Eleni Andrikou’s informative introductory chapter in the first section of the volume summarizes the new evidence. The gazetteer of prehistoric sites to date and the corresponding color distribution maps arranged by period (Maps I-IV) are also valuable as synthetic material in that they enrich earlier regional topographic studies[1] and visually integrat old and new data. The papers themselves also cumulatively provide a rich, up-to-date exposition of Attic prehistory. Andrikou’s second paper contextualizes Thorikos within the newly emerging map of the Lavreotiki peninsula: of particular interest are the Lambrika and Zapani-Veniza sites, which produced EH I and II evidence of silver processing and (in the latter site) Mycenaean warrior assemblages and a paved road.

In the Palaeoenvironment section, Dimitrios Vandarakis et al. and Kosmas Pavlopoulos et al. trace the stunning transformation of the southern Athenian basin from a lagoon (6000-2500 BC) into a brackish swamp and then into a landscape claimed by human activity, as well as the relative sea level changes of the region from antiquity to the present day. In the same section, Odysseas Kakavakis and Irini Skiadaresi explore the interface between environment and human activity in the prehistoric wetlands of Phaleron.

The papers by Georgios Steinhauer, Anastasia Rammou and Panagiota Zouvelou, Zoe Zgouleta, Stella Raftopoulou and Iraklis Tsonos, Pelli Fotiadi and Maria Syrigou, and Mairy Giamalidi et al. present mostly new Neolithic sites, including settlements with well built-houses (Pallini, Gyalou-Spata), ‘squares’ and wells (Pallini), workshop assemblages (Loutros-Pallini, Nea Makri, Laimos-Vouliagmeni), a rare tomb (Loutros-Pallini), imported ground tools (Gyalou-Spata), ritualistic assemblages (Gyalou-Spata, Laimos-Vouliagmeni), and specialized pottery (Kalyvia-Thorikos, Laimos-Vouliagmeni). A lithic production site (Schisto Cave) dating to the late Upper Pleistocene is also examined (Antigoni Papadea et al.). Alexandra Mari, Dimitrios Palaiologos and Maria Stefanopoulou, and Stella Katsarou et al. adopt a locoregional perspective, focusing on cave finds and new evidence from northern Attica. A surprising amount of Neolithic farmsteads are reported in the latter part of the region, including Stamata where a Final Neolithic complex with a built enclosure was brought to light. The general picture of the Attic Neolithic is one of local variation, craft specialization, and a distinctive settlement pattern that recedes by the end of the Middle Neolithic.

While Palaiologos and Stefanopoulou also discuss some notable new Early Bronze Age sites in their overview of northern Attica, the transition to the Bronze Age is explicitly tackled in the fourth section of the volume. Several papers in this section deal with built structures or various aspects of the material or osteological assemblages of specific sites (Thorikos: Margarita Nazou; Merenda: Olga Kakavogianni, Kleio Dimitriou, Ioanna Spiliotakopoulou; Tsepi: Maria Pantelidou-Gofa, Eleanna Prevedorou, Panagiotis Pomonis, Dimitris Koufovasilis; the Athenian Acropolis: Vasiliki Eleni Dimitriou). Zoi Tsirtsoni’s stellar laboratory write-up sheds light on two distinct subphases of the transition through radiocarbon dating (Neolithic/Chalcolithic aka ‘Attica-Kephala culture’ and a so-called Proto-Bronze phase). Two further papers (Myrto Georgakopoulou et al., and Maria Kayafa) examine metallurgy in southeastern Attica, including the important new sites of Zapani and Lambrika. Despite the abundance of new metallurgical evidence from southeastern Attica, the amount of silver produced based on letharge quantities is estimated to have been fairly small. However, a great deal of new information on local technological preferences and the chaîne opératoire is furnished by these new excavations and studies.

The section on the later Early Bronze Age consists of short reports on new sites (Koropi: Maria Mexi at al.; Moschato: Stella Chrysoulaki et al.; Asteria-Glyfada: Konstantina Kaza-Papageorgiou; Nea Kifissia: Theodora Georgousopoulou; Aigaleo: Eleni Asimakou and Aikaterini Paschali; Gerakas: Anna Plassara; Megara: Panagiota Augerinou and Athina Maniki; Plato’s Academy, Athens: Theodore Eliopoulos). In addition, Kerasia Douni examines ceramic production in the region, Maria Syrigou looks at obsidian technology in two different coastal areas of Attica, and Andreas Kapetanios focuses on the palaeoenvironmental record in Kato Souli, Marathon (the latter paper could have also found its place in the second section of the volume since its main focus is an understanding of the dynamic between environmental conditions and human settlement). Key takeaways from this section are Attica’s important and technologically diverse ceramic production, diversified farming and animal consumption practices (including cynophagy), localized irrigation works (e.g. Marathon), complex social behaviors (e.g. deliberate destruction of pottery, communal feasting, and the use of seals—cf. Kaza-Papageorgiou’s paper in the ensuing section of the book), involvement in silver and lead processing, and its connectedness with other parts of the mainland (Argolid, Boeotia, Corinthia), Euboea, the Saronic gulf (Aigina, Methana, Poros), and the Cyclades (pottery, lithics). In the latter direction, new Cycladic-style finds (e.g. figurines, frying pans, and palettes) among the presented finds reaffirm its pivotal role in the early prehistoric Aegean.

The next section of the volume presents new excavation data that help flesh out settlement, funerary and economic practices in Middle Helladic and Mycenaean times. For instance, there are discussions of a Middle Bronze settlement at Kantza-Pallini (Athina-Maria Romanidou); finds and human remains from Mycenaean cemeteries at Kolikrepi-Spata, Glyka Nera, and Fourezi (Maria Stathi and Maria Psallida; Anastasia Papathanasiou et al.; Irene Vrettou); a substantial Mycenaean settlement and ceramic workshop at Kontopigado-Alimos (Konstantina Kaza-Papageorgiou, Eleftheria Kardamaki); and a Submycenaean cemetery south of the Acropolis (Eugenia Tsalkou). Other contributions synthesize evidence from older excavations: the Middle Helladic, Late Helladic and Submycenaean Acropolis and surrounding area (Gianna Venieri, Constantinos Paschalidis, Irini Dimitriadou); the tumuli at Vranas-Marathon (Maria Pantelidou-Gofa et al.); the settlement and funerary landscape of Thorikos (Robert Laffineur, Nikolas Papadimitriou); the Menidi tholos tomb (Eleni Konstantinidi-Syvridi and Vasiliki Pliatsika); and the Vravron cemetery (Thanasis Papadopoulos and Litsa Kontorli-Papadopoulou). A few other papers focus on general topics, such as the ceramic traditions of Attica and their link to cultural identity (Philippa-Touchais and Anthi Balitsari), political organization and settlement patterns (Nikolas Papadimitriou and Michael Cosmopoulos; Tobias Krapf), traffic networks (Sylvian Fachard and Alex Knodell), the nature and degree of Minoan cultural influence in Attica (Naya Polychronakou-Sgouritsa and Evangelos Kakavogiannis; this paper is related to the last section of the book as well), and the end of the Bronze Age in the region (Florian Rupenstein).

The final section abandons chronological exposition in favor of the theme of interregional interaction. Maria Kosma (posthumously), Kalliopi Sarri, Laetitia Phialon and Eleni Salavoura discuss Attica’s Euboean, Boeotian and Salaminian links in select prehistoric periods, whereas Eleni Konsolaki-Giannopoulou, Walter Gauss, Evi Gorogianni et al. and Triantafyllia Kattoula investigate associations with Troezen, Aegina, Kea and Salamos across time. A further contribution by Theodoros Zygouris looks further, examining the region’s participation in Baltic trade networks in the Mycenaean era. This part of the book provides a clear narrative structure that cohesively binds these papers together by promoting and addressing a specific research question.

Overall the papers are well written, theoretically informed and/or scientifically oriented, and frequently the outcome of multi-author collaborations. The collection is well edited, reaches both Greek- and English-speaking audiences through its bilingual style, and is lavishly illustrated with maps, drawings and photographs, many of which are printed in color. Athens and Attica in Prehistory emerges as a seminal work by producing ample evidence on hitherto unknown or barely known eras in the region, bringing new and important sites into focus, and exploring societal, political, economic, ideological and environmental facets through a variety of sophisticated, inter-related studies. The book also serves as a source of general insight on Attic prehistory, helping to contextualize later habitation. In sum, it is a truly impressive work and a welcome contribution to Aegean and Greek archaeology that fills a major gap in scholarship.


[1] E.g. K. Syriopoulos, H Προϊστορία της Στερεάς Ελλάδας, 1968; R. Hope-Simpson and O.T.P.K. Dickinson, A Gazeteer of Aegean Civilisation in the Bronze Age, Vol. I: The Mainland and Islands, 1979; M. Pantelidou-Gofa, Η Νεολιθική Αττική, 1997; S. Privitera, Principi, Pelasgi e pescatori: L’Attica nella Tarda Età del Bronzo, 2013.