Reviewed by Stratos Nanoglou
Βιβλιοθήκη της εν Αθήναις Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας 275. Pp. 204, figs. 58, b&w pls. 31. Archaeological Society at Athens, Athens 2012. €90. ISBN 978-960-8145-91-7 (paper).
Toumba (or Magoula) Balomenou at Chaeronea (Boeotia) has been a steady reference in studies of Neolithic Greece, even though so little has been published about the site throughout the years. The name Chaeronea even features in the characterization of a pottery ware, supposedly the distinctive trait of the Middle Neolithic in the area. The well-known figurine (Σ67) and the perhaps even wider recognizable house model (Σ20) from Georgios Soteriades' old excavations, carried out in the first decade of the 20th century, have extended Chaeronea's fame considerably. Consequently, the first book-length publication of excavations conducted at the site is by all means a joyful event, especially at a time when work in southern-central Greece seems to be increasing, at least as seen in the continuing triennial Archaeological Meeting of Thessaly and Central Greece.
The initial project concerned the publication of the excavations conducted by Soteriades. Since documentation of the work done then was problematic, it was decided to dig a few small trenches to check stratigraphy and thus place the already recovered material in chronological order. The trenches that uncovered Neolithic layers were dug in 1986, and the book is largely an extensive report on that excavation season.
In the first chapter, Tzavella-Evjen sums up Soteriades' findings and attempts to place them in space and time. This proves to be an impossible task, with the exception of the most generic information, and, accordingly, Soteriades' extremely vague descriptions of buildings and walls remain the sole documentation of his work. This is particularly unfortunate for our knowledge of the architecture of the site, because the 1986 season uncovered only a few partial features, namely two stone-paved benches, a pit, hearths (mentioned only in the general discussion ), and building materials (daub and "tiles").
In the next chapter, the author gives a trench-by-trench (α–δ) and a phase-by-phase (I–III) description of the material unearthed in 1986, attempting to associate the old findings by Soteriades with the new ones. This chapter is primarily descriptive, with very sparse interpretive comments. Several editorial mishaps make it difficult to follow the text in some cases. For example, level ±1.55 is shown in a plan (fig. 22) and in two sections (figs. 7, 15a), yet it is impossible to determine which section is the east and which is the west. This is enhanced by an apparent inconsistency between the general plan in figure 6 and the accompanying text: in the plan, trench α is said to be 2 x 6.25 m, whereas in the text, 2 x 1 m. Each layer description is followed by a list of the finds—first the pottery, then clay objects, stone tools, bone tools, bones, and botanical samples. There are a lot of charts that accompany this chapter, mostly showing the percentage of specific pottery categories or plant remains, the latter grouped under cereals, legumes, or by-products/wild species and coming from an older report by Sarpaki ("Toumba Balomenou, Chaeronia: Plant Remains from the Early and Middle Neolithic Levels," in H. Kroll and R. Pasternak, eds., Res archaeobotanicae: International Workgroup for Palaeoethnobotany. Proceedings of the 9th Symposium Kiel 1992 [Kiel 1995] 281–300).
All this information is drawn together and discussed in the next chapter, which starts with architectural remains and continues with pottery and clay, stone, and bone objects. As one might expect, pottery covers the most pages. It is divided into plain, monochrome, and painted pottery. While there are comments on the fabric and the shapes of each category, there is no actual typology, which is rather odd, considering that the aim was to place the unstratified pottery in chronological order. Only a percentage of the pottery is described in detail, and even less is illustrated (with no accompanying scale; and some drawings do not differentiate between the interior and the exterior). Painted pottery occurs in all phases, with an increasing percentage from the beginning of the sequence to phase III2 and a slight falloff in phase III3. The presence of variegated ware, especially in phase I, and the single reference to Urfirnis in phase III3 are also noteworthy. It would be interesting to compare this with other sites, but references to contemporary assemblages are restricted to rather dated studies, whereas important and not so recent contributions are absent (e.g., K. Vitelli, Franchthi Neolithic Pottery. Vol. 1, Classification and Ceramic Phases 1 and 2 [Indianapolis, Ind. 1993]). The sections on figurines and other clay and stone objects follow the same principles.
Three 14C dates for phases II and III, although not forming a long sequence, place the main bulk of the material in the first half of the sixth millennium B.C.E. Awkwardly, the three dates are different from the ones that have been circulating for some time now (A. Christidou, "Neolithic Boiotia," Ph.D. diss., University of Colorado ), although again within that same timespan. A further date mentioned for phase I, placing its beginning at ±6900 B.C.E., is offered with no further details, other than it comes from plant remains (98). Taking into consideration the material presented, that date seems rather untenable, and I would suggest that an initial occupation of the site at ca. 6000 B.C.E. would be the safest assertion on present evidence. A concordance to the late Early Neolithic for phase I and to the Middle Neolithic for phases II and III seems justified.
The book ends with a page and a half of conclusions, a selective catalogue of the finds, and three appendices with reports on ground stone (Adam), petrographic and chemical analysis of a potsherd (Hatzilazaridou), and chipped stone (Perlès). A summary in English concludes the text.
As stated above, the project was designed to provide a controlling sample for the old excavations, rather than to explore the site afresh. Inevitably this has conditioned its possible outcomes. Our picture of the site remains patchy, and on that account its interpretation as a seasonal inhabitation offered by the author (99) is not warranted, despite the noted absence of winter fruits in the botanical remains (Sarpaki 1995). Notwithstanding this rather inconclusive picture, the book is a welcome addition to our limited record of publications on the Neolithic period of this area. I would not recommend it to people without special interest in the region—not least for its rather high price—but it certainly takes steps to situate Chaeronea away from a mythical era of exploration and into a modern state of research.
Stanford Archaeology Center and Department of Anthropology
Stanford, California 94305