Online Review: Book

The Chora of Metaponto 2: Archaeozoology at Pantanello and Five Other Sites

László Bartosiewicz, ed.

117.1

Reviewed by Michael MacKinnon

With studies by Sándor Bökönyi and Erika Gál. Pp. xxii + 122, figs. 126, tables 36. University of Texas Press, Austin 2010. $75. ISBN 978-0-292-72134-0 (cloth).


Increasingly in the discipline of classical archaeology, archaeozoological/zooarchaeological evidence has crept out from relative obscurity, where earlier versions of reports were frequently short, uninspiring appendices and lists of animals represented at sites, to a present environment in which many reports are now showcased with greater prominence. Increasingly, reports today contribute broader, detailed discussions of how animals factor among numerous natural and cultural components of life at a site (e.g., environment, diet, economics, ritual, social aspects, trade, identity). Zooarchaeological data collected across sites, which themselves span larger expanses of time, form an invaluable means with which to reconstruct more extensive syntheses of temporal and spatial patterns of animal use and of environmental settings. The Chora of Metaponto 2 represents one of the earliest of such synthetic, diachronic, zooarchaeological investigations of the ancient rural economy in the context of classical archaeology in South Italy. It is the result of a progressive multidisciplinary and collaborative archaeological initiative within the Metaponto project (under the direction of Joseph Coleman Carter and colleagues), where excavations were carried out from 1974 to 1991. The current volume predominantly represents the work of Bökönyi, who was an influential figure in the formative years of zooarchaeological practice in archaeology, especially classical archaeology, from the 1960s into the 1990s. Bökönyi's analysis of the Metaponto faunal material was essentially complete in 1989, but it required subsequent editing, annotating, and supplementation by his younger colleague Bartosiewicz and his students—Gál, Nyerges, and Biller—upon Bökönyi's premature death in 1994.

The volume is logically organized. Carter provides a general introduction to the project goals and methodologies, as well as to the sites excavated, situating these spatially and temporally and summarizing their chief features. Bartosiewicz subsequently introduces the work of Bökönyi and provides a fitting tribute to his career and impact on the archaeological and zooarchaeological community in this introductory chapter. Six sites (Pantanello, Termitito, Incoronata, Metaponto Sanctuary, Sant'Angelo Grieco, and San Biago) furnished the faunal material under investigation, which ranged in date from the Late Neolithic (third millennium B.C.E.) to the late third/fourth century C.E. Most of the bones, however, came from excavations of the Pantanello complex, notably from a series of Late Neolithic rubbish pits, and from various ritual and fill deposits dating to Greek and Roman times (sixth century B.C.E.–third century C.E.).

Chapters 1 and 2 present Bökönyi's findings. The text first considers environmental changes through an investigation of wild fauna and their development, especially regarding favored habitats of different species and how cultural, climatic, and environmental changes led to the extirpation of various wild fauna (e.g., aurochs) from the area through time. The contribution of wild fauna to cultural aspects forms a second line of investigation. Within this component are discussions of issues such as hunting tactics, size estimates of game animals, and curious findings, such as the presence of black vulture bones in fourth–third-century B.C.E. levels at the Pantanello sanctuary and cut tortoiseshell pieces. Lastly, Bökönyi provides an extensive assessment of the domestic animals, chronicling subjects such as size and breed variation and age and sex ratios of domesticates and how these relate to exploitation patterns, health and welfare of animals, and carcass butchery techniques, among other topics. Results reveal shifting dynamics among husbandry schemes for the inhabitants of Metaponto, with Bronze Age pastoralism switching over to more sedentary agriculture in Roman times, to be followed by a reemergence of pastoralism as a prominent mode of husbandry at the end of the Roman empire. Greek and Roman periods, moreover, witness significant size and breed changes among livestock, with examples of tall cattle and horses in particular, possibly attributable to imports of improved eastern breeds.

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 are written by Gál, who undertook complementary studies on the Metaponto materials to place alongside Bökönyi's work. Chapter 3 discusses taphonomic aspects, particularly skeletal-part representation and breakage patterns caused by human agents. She concludes that most of the carcasses, regardless of period, seem to have been processed and consumed on-site, as opposed to marked import or export of skeletal parts. Avian remains are discussed in chapter 4. Despite the small sample size (61, by NISP [number of identified specimens] count), some interesting aspects are noted, such as a marked increase in domestic fowl in Roman contexts, as well as the presence of black vulture and crow in association with the Pantanello sanctuary assemblage, for which the author provides comparative data from other sites. Chapter 5 provides a catalogue of 31 bone artifacts from the site, comprised largely of miscellaneous bone points, tools, inlay, and hinge fragments, but with two rather impressive items—a lyre made from a tortoise carapace, and a Late Neolithic antler piece that had been polished, drilled, and hafted, presumably to be used as a hammering implement.

The volume concludes with an appendix of bone measurements. This is a welcome—indeed essential—addition for comparative zooarchaeological metric analyses among sites. Charts and graphs throughout the volume are straightforward and informative, allowing for quick access of key concepts and data. Illustrations are also clear and effective. Some might find it redundant to include both a photograph and a line drawing of some specimens, but as this is not commonly done, such a practice might lead to subsequent debate as to which visual means is more effective in zooarchaeological publication.

Overall, the volume's biggest strengths center on the presentation of extensive diachronic data on animal use in a format that highlights the value and potential of such interpretations in our larger understanding of the physical and cultural surroundings of life in southern Italy. This will appeal to a wide audience curious to establish a larger context for archaeological and historical reconstructions of the region.

Notwithstanding this important achievement, however, there are some concerns. First among these relates to a need for more explanation in methodology, especially with regard to how samples were quantified, how age classes were assessed, how ribs were classified to species, and which criteria were used to distinguish closely related taxa (e.g., sheep vs. goat), among other issues. Such criticisms may seem minimal, but without this information it becomes difficult to correlate data across sites, specifically those outside the study area.

Secondly, Bartosiewicz does acknowledge that the manuscript, with only minor updates, is essentially that which Bökönyi produced before his death in 1994. Understandably, therefore, aspects of the work may seem a bit dated, especially in light of zooarchaeological advancements in Italian and classical archaeology since 1994 (e.g., M. MacKinnon, Production and Consumption of Animals in Roman Italy: Integrating the Zooarchaeological and Textual Evidence. JRA Suppl. 54 [Portsmouth, R.I. 2004]). When placed within this framework, Bökönyi's findings are not particularly new or revolutionary, even if they do add greater texture to cultural reconstructions for ancient Metaponto. Bartosiewicz does a good job at editing Bökönyi's text, inserting some cautionary footnotes for rather bold, and perhaps less substantiated, claims Bökönyi makes, some of which have been explored and refined by other scholars since 1994. Topics associated with environmental reconstruction, biogeography, demographics of animal husbandry, and comparisons of animal size (all arguably more “processual” in nature) typically dominated zooarchaeological agendas during Bökönyi's career. Consequently, these issues take center stage in his analysis of the Metaponto samples. Since that time, greater strides have been initiated in aspects such as social identity, spatial assessment of bones, ritual use of animals, and other somewhat "post-processual" items of research. Incorporating more discussion along these fronts would have added greater depth to assessments, while not detracting from the focus Bökönyi gives to other topics.

A third shortcoming of the volume concerns the use of zooarchaeological evidence from other sites. Often, these derive from sites in central and eastern Europe, obviously places familiar to the authors, and of interest, but spatially removed from the Mediterranean, even if peripherally linked. While it may certainly have been the case that rather limited comparative data were available from ancient Italian and Greek sites prior to 1994, a more thorough collection and presentation of this information (both pre- and post-1994) would provide a sounder base from which to interpret the patterns displayed at Metaponto.

Finally, I was surprised to see no mention of fish bones, which leads to questions about their absence (recovery issues? preservation issues? analysis issues?). Although none of the sites considered sits directly on the Ionian coast, each is currently in the range of 5–10 km from the sea.

Postmortem publications present their own challenges. In that light, this volume forms a wonderful tribute to Bökönyi's initiatives to help advance zooarchaeological work in classical archaeology. His student, Bartosiewicz, is faced with the challenge of letting Bökönyi's words speak posthumously but nonetheless updating aspects to reflect a contemporary world while not detracting from Bökönyi's original message. This is a fine line to tread, with problems of its own: where to repeat concepts for emphasis, where to disagree diplomatically, where to supplement without exposing shortcomings in the original text and analysis, where to offer proper tribute to one's mentor. In an age when significant temporal gaps can exist between excavation fieldwork and the eventual publication of such work, such concerns may resonate more strongly for our community.

Michael MacKinnon
Department of Anthropology
University of Winnipeg
Winnipeg R3B 2E9
Canada
m.mackinnon@uwinnipeg.ca

DOI: 
10.3764/ajaonline1171.MacKinnon

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