Online Review: Book

Mastos in the Berbati Valley: An Intensive Archaeological Survey

Paul D. Scotton


Edited by Michael Lindblom and Berit Wells (SkrAth 4°, 54). Pp. 189, figs. 128, pls. 2, tables 7. Swedish Institute at Athens, Athens 2011. $159.50. ISBN 978-91-7916-058-6 (cloth).

The Swedish investigations in the Berbati Valley began in 1934 with a one-day survey to identify possible sites for excavation. The following year, two tombs were excavated, a Mycenaean chamber tomb (which proved to have been robbed) by Erik Holmberg and a tholos tomb by Axel W. Persson. Persson and Åke Åkerström began excavations on the Mastos in 1936, specifically on the eastern slopes in the area that has come to be known as the Potter's Quarter. This work continued in 1937, and that same year on the south slope, Gösta Säflund found an Early Helladic (EH) through Middle Helladic (MH) settlement. After an additional season in 1938, all work ceased because of World War II and was not resumed until 1953, the last full season of excavations. A brief season in 1959 brought the excavations on the Mastos to an end. Preliminary reports appeared in AA (A.W. Persson, "Peloponnes," AA [1936] 138–41; Å. Åkerström, "Peloponnes: Berbati," AA [1938] 552–54, 557). The most significant publications from the excavations are those of Åkerström on pottery production, from 1940, 1952, 1968, and 1987, cited in full in the book's bibliography.

Lindblom undertook an intensive survey of the valley from 1988 to 1990 and excavated a Classical- and Hellenistic-period farm, Pyrgoudi, in 1995 and 1997. The results of the survey and spot excavation revealed a valley that vacillated between relative isolation from and significant interaction with adjacent areas to the south to the Argive Plain or north to the Corinthia. Best known, however, is that to the northwest toward Mycenae along the Mycenaean-period road. The excavators saw the road as the primary route used to assert Mycenaean influence over the valley beginning in Late Helladic (LH) IIIA (ca. 1400 B.C.E.) and again to facilitate the resettlement of the Berbati after the end of the Mycenaean period.

With the much broader data set available for the valley as a whole, the editors of this volume recognized the need to better integrate the Mastos with the valley and accordingly set out both to publish the old excavation material from the Mastos and to conduct a more thorough investigation of the entire site. The latter led to an intensive survey conducted in 1999. This volume publishes select data, analyses, and findings derived almost entirely from ceramics gathered during the survey. It does so quite well. It also raises two significant questions that one can only hope will lead to further excavations on the Mastos.

After an introduction by Wells and Lindblom and a discussion of the survey by Savini (nicely supported by several digital terrain models), the ceramics are presented chronologically in six chapters with the petrographic analysis in a seventh. The Neolithic period is well represented on the Mastos in the form of a Final Neolithic village estimated to have been about 2 ha in size and with particularly dense concentrations of ceramics on the east and south sides. In the EH period, the ceramics are most densely concentrated in the same areas. But particularly noteworthy for this period is the settlement excavated by Säflund and that the site continued to be occupied in EH III, whereas currently no other sites of this date are known in the valley. The EH III period ended in what the excavator identified as a large fire marked by a destruction layer 0.20–0.30 m thick, which lay between EH III and MH levels. The MH period produced the densest concentrations on the south and southeast sides of the hill. In addition to various Argive wares, Aeginetan gold mica wares appear in the form of matte-painted, plain, and kitchen wares, although in small numbers. Also present are Minoanizing imported vessels. There are, however, notable absences of some imported wares (e.g., mainland polychrome, True Gray Minyan, Aeginetan solidly painted and burnished and bichrome, Fine Orange, and Cycladic and Minoan vessels). These absences provide a cautionary note to considering the Mastos to be firmly linked to broad extraregional trade.

At the start of the LH period, the settlement on the Mastos appears to have been the only one in the Berbati. Widespread expansion began in LH IIIA. This expansion is coordinate with both the ties to Mycenae and the production of a surplus of ceramics apparently for trade, with an emphasis on small, open shapes. What had been a MH graveyard on the Mastos became in LH II the site of the Potters' Quarter and remained in use until LH IIIA1. Although the kiln then went out of use, there is good evidence in the form of wasters that production continued up to LH IIIB but in another kiln yet to be found. Based on the ceramic densities found during the survey, Klintberg believes the likely site to have been on the lower slopes on the west and southwest of the Mastos. Extensive terraces across the hill are the dominant architectural feature, but they, as well as the settlement, were abandoned in LH IIIB2. There is to date no evidence of habitation on the Mastos during LH IIIC, although the valley remained occupied.

There is a significant lacuna in the archaeological record of the Berbati that is only broken with surety by a few Early and Middle Geometric graves. Resettlement occurs roughly ca. 750 B.C.E. and from the northeast. The number of finds on the Mastos from the Archaic through the Hellenistic periods is small and fairly evenly distributed. The authors find the small number of vessels and the scatter of roof tiles to be consistent with a small farm (122). Finds from the Late Antique period are similar in number but limited to the north and southwest sides of the hill.

The period from the eighth through the 11th centuries C.E. shows little habitation in the Berbati Valley, but there was a strong presence during the Medieval period, particulary in the 12th and 13th centuries. On the Mastos, the concentrations of ceramics were most dense at the crown and upper north and west slopes. Although the concentrations were somewhat less on the upper east and south slopes, the authors are likely correct to suggest that this pattern may be the result of erosion from the summit, for during this period, the summit was fortified and included two bastions (136–37). The ceramics show parallels with Corinthian wares in all types (i.e., glazed, matte-painted, undecorated coarse, coarse, and cooking wares). It is not clear to this reviewer whether this is indicative of Corinth as the dominant source of ceramics on the Mastos at this time or that Corinthian ceramics from this period are particularly well documented and published.

The longest chapter is Whitbread's petrographic analysis of the ceramics produced and used in the Berbati Valley. This is a second look at the same materials published previously by Whitbread et al. ("Temporal Patterns in Ceramic Production in the Berbati Valley, Greece," JFA 32 [2007] 177–93). But whereas the first publication focused on chronological developments, this chapter focuses more on the fabrics and archaeological materials: 241 samples were analyzed and 218 are presented. They are divided into seven groups and subdivided into a total of 26 classes. Many are clearly from the valley, and others have geological similarities to fabrics from the Corinthia and Argolid. Others still, those with substantial volcanic inclusions, are likely to be imports. The archaeological evidence recorded is presented by fabric class and includes the shape, ware, function, and the site where the fragment was found. The presentation of the physical characteristics of the classes is easily as important and more complete.

This volume, although relatively small, is an important contribution to the study of the ceramics of the Mastos and the Berbati Valley. The objects are well presented in discussion, photographs, and drawings. The photographs of the petrographic samples alone secure the volume's value as a sourcebook, certainly for anyone undertaking fabric analysis of ceramics in the Berbati Valley and surrounding regions. The photographs of architectural features, however, do come up short, the most common problem being the size of the photograph as printed (i.e., so small as to render the feature cited without sufficient detail or definition). This volume, perhaps unintentionally, also points the way toward future excavations. Two stand out in my mind: the yet-to-be-found LH IIIB kiln along with whatever attendant structures there may be with it and the medieval settlement on the summit. The former may offer insight as to why the first kiln was abandoned, and the latter would certainly expand our knowledge of a period that by density of finds may be the most important in the valley since the Mycenaean period and before modern times.

Paul D. Scotton
Department of Comparative World Literature and Classics
California State University, Long Beach
Long Beach, California 90840-2404

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1163.Scotton

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