BMCR 2023.05.20

Ayia Irini: area B

, Ayia Irini: area B. Keos, 12. Atlanta: Lockwood Press, 2021. Pp. xvii, 398. ISBN 9781948488570.



The volume Keos XII, published by Natalie Abell, deals with excavation section “Area B” of the prehistoric settlement of Ayia Irini on the Greek Cycladic island of Kea. The American archaeologist John Caskey led the excavations here in the 1960s and 1970s, and together with his team he uncovered large parts of an extremely important prehistoric settlement. In the twelve volumes of the Kea publication series that have now appeared and numerous other contributions, including some by the author herself, considerable parts of the research results and the finds from Ayia Irini have been published.

Abell deserves high praise for the meticulous care with which she presents the excavations, dating back almost 60 years, in a comprehensive way. She has also undertaken the most commendable task of continuing the publication project initially pursued by Aliki Bikaki (†2011) until 2008, setting her own priorities and bringing it to an excellent conclusion. Keos XII is an important contribution to the history and development of the settlement of Ayia Irini and the Aegean Bronze Age in general.

Keos XII is essentially divided into three parts: the stratigraphic evaluation of the Bronze Age settlement phases including a detailed catalogue of finds (chapters II–III, pp. 27–165), a detailed analysis of Early, Middle and Late Bronze Age pottery (chapters IV–VII, pp. 166–227) and the concluding review (chapter VIII, pp. 227–238). In this final section, which is also very readable for non-pottery specialists, Abell skilfully places Area B and Ayia Irini in a wider Aegean context.

Keos XII, published by a new publishing house, Lockwood Press, follows the general layout of the previous Keos volumes published by Philipp von Zabern. The appearance of the text is rather dense (narrow spacing and small font size) and, in the reviewer’s opinion, not particularly conducive to reading. Therefore, given the importance of Ayia Irini as one of the key sites in Aegean prehistory, the reviewer would appreciate if the layout of future Keos publications would be a bit more generous.

The Introduction (pp. 1–26) briefly discusses the history and excavation of the settlement of Ayia Irini and sets the agenda. The terminology used is discussed, as are the formation processes and the strategy for the preservation of the finds. The aim of the work is a comprehensive presentation of the finds from Area B and “a diachronic analysis of how residents of Ayia Irini participated in and were affected by developments in the broader Aegean” (p. 8).

A considerable challenge the author faces, and copes with well, is the fact that clearly a large number of ceramic finds were sorted out, i.e. discarded, before the final study. To make matters worse, at Ayia Irini even contexts that are only seemingly related have been assembled into a “new context”, and the existing records only allow a partial reconstruction of the original contexts: “In a sense, the excavators ‘wrote the final report’ on the spot according to their perception of the ‘reality’ of the site at that time. […] The excavators imposed their own authorial style on the data, erasing to a certain extent the traces of the archaeological process (e.g., the original excavation units), as well as tangible evidence for taphonomic processes” (Gorogianni 2009–2010, p. 113; see also J. Davis in his foreword of Schofield 2011, p. VIII).

Thanks to detailed descriptions, plans and sectional drawings (figs. 7–15, 19–26; for location of sections see colour plate 5), in which the sequence of the units is reproduced, Abell succeeds in making the individual sections of the excavation clear. The representation of the excavation process in a matrix (figs. 16–18) is particularly helpful. However, in the reviewer’s opinion, some stratigraphic relations are not possible as presented, or would have required a different type of graphic display: An excavation unit cannot be older and at the same time identical with another unit, as for example in Fig. 16. Here unit 29 is older than unit 31, but both are also shown as identical with unit 93.

Section II “Stratigraphy, Architecture, and Pottery” (pp. 27–145) contains detailed documentation of the 758 catalogued finds, mostly pottery. The finds are illustrated in very high quality drawings (figs. 26–52) and black and white plates (pls. 21–47). The catalogue is organised according to spatial units (rooms) and contexts. Within these, the finds are organised according to presumed provenance. In the description of each object, the ware group is given, the designation of which follows the established Keos system (Appendix III, pp. 247–249). In addition, Abell also refers to macroscopic fabric groups defined by her together with J. Hilditch (pp. 148–152; pp. 250–264 Appendix IV). This is an extremely important innovation in the description of the pottery from Ayia Irini. It contrasts the classification by ware groups, which often followed stylistic criteria, with an independent proxy. The macroscopic fabric group provides information about the visually perceived composition of the clay and thus allows first preliminary conclusions to be drawn about the origin of the vessel. This becomes even more important when additional in-depth scientific investigations are carried out. In the case of Keos XII, the significant number of about 150 pieces were examined petrographically and about 80 chemically with wave-dispersive X-ray fluorescence (WD-XRF). For a tabulated summary of wares, petrographic and macro fabric groups, as well as the proposed regions of origin, see pp. 158–164 with Table 3.2.

The concise Section III “Ceramic Fabrics and Forming Methods” (pp. 147–164) is another important conceptual innovation of the Keos publication series; Section III is to be used together with Appendices IV–VII (pp. 250–323). In addition to a description of the local geology of Keos, section III gives an overview of the macroscopic and petrographic fabric groups. The preliminary results of the WD-XRF chemical investigation are considered in the concluding discussion in Chapter VIII. Eight broadly defined macroscopic fabric groups with a number of subgroups are introduced. Local pottery belongs to the “RBM” (Red-Brown Metamorphic) group and the abundant imports are described in the remaining seven fabric groups. In the following part on petrographic analyses, a distinction is made between the local fabric (PFG 1) and the local (region) fabric (PFG 2). It is interesting to note that PFG 2 is very similar to PFG 1, but some differences point to a different production area, either somewhere on Kea, the northwestern Cyclades, southeastern Attica or southern Euboea, which are geologically very similar to each other. The remaining petrographic fabric groups (PFG 3–14) are imports from a range of regions. Even if an exact place of origin cannot be given for a number of petrographic groups or subgroups, the most likely origins would be closely neighbouring regions. The amount of imports from distant regions, e.g. an assumed southeastern Aegean origin of PFG 8C seems relatively limited by comparison. It is to be hoped that the continuation of the important analytical programs at Ayia Irini and at other sites will clarify the places of origin of some of the petrographic groups.

Particular attention is paid to the different forming methods, whereby Abell distinguishes four categories on the basis of macroscopic observations: handmade, coil-built, wheelmade, or wheel-coiled. Abell’s observations are given particular weight by her own experience in hand-building and wheel-throwing of pottery.

Ceramic workshops, kilns or pottery waste seem to be missing in the settlement of Ayia Irini, in contrast to Kolonna on Aegina, where two potter’s kilns were found in addition to pottery waste of Middle Bronze Age matt-painted pottery. Therefore it is even more interesting that remains of six Minoan type potter’s wheel disks were found at Ayia Irini, mostly in layers of period V (see also Georgiou 1986, 36–39, pls. 10, 19).

A detailed ceramic analysis by period is given in sections IV–VII (pp. 165–226). Here Abell not only discusses the finds from Area B but also attempts to develop the extent of published or preserved Bronze Age pottery from other excavation areas for Kea periods III–VII. This is a highly meritorious effort and allows Abell to consider the Bronze Age pottery of Ayia Irini holistically. The structure of sections IV–VII follows a consistent and very well considered scheme. First, an overview of the local and imported pottery of the corresponding settlement period is given, followed by a discussion of synchronisms with other sites, fabrics and manufacturing methods. Several very informative charts and tables display the proportion of ware groups, imported pottery and synchronisms with other sites. Each section concludes with an analysis of the imported ceramic samples and a short summary. In addition to Abell’s important clarification that period IV began after the start of the MBA elsewhere (p. 173, 178), comparison to Kolonna on Aegina is instructive. Based on the synchronous settlement phases of Kolonna III and IX, it seems as if a considerable gap in time may have existed between periods III and IV on Kea. This gap is also indicated in the comparative chronological chart p. 4 fig. 3.

The wealth of detailed information in the catalogue and in the evaluation of the individual periods (sections III–VII) is remarkable and the smallest changes are described with meticulous precision. Therefore, in the reviewer’s opinion, it is somehow regrettable that overview diagrams are missing, which would have lent even more weight to what is described so well by Abell; For example, diagrams showing the relationship between locally produced and imported ceramics broken down by period, summarised ware groups (e.g., painted, unpainted, cooking), the relation of macroscopic and petrographic fabric groups or changes in forming methods over time.

Section VIII (pp. 227–238) discusses Area B and the settlement of Ayia Irini in the wider Aegean context. This section, as already emphasised, is especially useful and important. Particularly illuminating to the reviewer was the correlation of Ayia Irini as a transhipment site with the existence of a ritual structure as early as period IV (p. 230). Also the concise section on the diachronic perspective regarding processes of Minoanization (pp. 232–235) is an important contribution to this discussion.

A comprehensive assessment of the relationship between the Bronze Age settlement of Ayia Irini and the rest of the island is naturally not possible in the absence of conclusively published finds and/or sites — similar to the case of the settlement of Kolonna on the island of Aegina. However, a short commentary on the current research situation on Keos would have been desirable in the opinion of the reviewer, e.g., a reference to Georgiou 1993, and in particular to p. 359 should have been made.

The references and the index are very extensive (pp. 329–360). The fact that the final publications on Pevkakia Magoula (Maran 1992, Christmann 1996) and on cultural change in mainland Greece (Maran 1998) are not mentioned is, however, regrettable. The settlement of Pevkakia Magoula, located in the bay of Volos, has an impressive Early and Middle Bronze Age stratigraphic sequence. The studies of J. Maran and E. Christmann repeatedly refer to Ayia Irini and deal with the relative chronological classification of phases II–VI (see, e.g. Christmann 1996, 295–297; Maran 1992, 360–363; Maran 1998, 140–143).

Abell deserves much credit for having made the most of the available material. The concept of the Keos series has especially been expanded by the detailed discussion of ceramic fabric groups and forming methods included in this volume. The well-founded and well-written holistic approach makes Keos XII a very important publication and contribution for Ayia Irini and the Aegean Bronze Age.



Christmann, E. 1996. Die deutschen Ausgrabungen auf der Pevkakia-Magula in Thessalien. 2. Die frühe Bronzezeit. Beiträge zur ur- und frühgeschichtlichen Archäologie des Mittelmeer-Kulturraumes 29. Bonn: Habelt.

Georgiou, H.S. 1986. Ayia Irini. Specialized Domestic and Industrial Pottery. Keos VI. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern.

Georgiou, H.S. 1993. “A sea approach to trade in the Aegean Bronze Age.” In Wace and Blegen. Pottery as Evidence for Trade in the Aegean Bronze Age 1939-1989. Proceedings of the International Conference held at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, December 2-3, 1989, edited by C.W. Zerner, P. Zerner and J. Winder, 353–64. Amsterdam. J.C. Gieben.

Gorogianni, E. 2009–2010. “Site in Transition: John L. Caskey, Ayia Irini and Archaeological Practice in Greek Archaeology.” Aegean Archaeology 10:105–20.

Maran, J. 1992. Die Deutschen Ausgrabungen auf der Pevkakia-Magula in Thessalien III. Die Mittlere Bronzezeit. Beiträge zur ur- und frühgeschichtlichen Archäologie des Mittelmeer-Kulturraumes 30-31. Bonn: Rudolf Habelt.

Maran, J. 1998. Kulturwandel auf dem griechischen Festland und den Kykladen im späten 3. Jahrtausend v. Chr. Studien zu den kulturellen Verhältnissen in Südosteuropa und dem zentralen sowie östlichen Mittelmeerraum in der späten Kupfer- und frühen Bronzezeit. Universitätsforschungen zur prähistorischen Archäologie 53. Bonn: Habelt.

Schofield, E. 2011. Ayia Irini: The Western Sector. Keos X. Mainz am Rhein: Philipp von Zabern.