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Ayios Stephanos: Excavations at a Bronze Age and Medieval Settlement in Southern Laconia

Ayios Stephanos: Excavations at a Bronze Age and Medieval Settlement in Southern Laconia

By W.D. Taylour and R. Janko (BSA Suppl. 44). Pp. xxvii + 708, figs. 223, pls. 60, charts 15, tables 136, plans 41, maps 2, CD-ROM 1. The British School at Athens, Athens 2008. $300. ISBN 978-0-904887-587 (cloth).


This is a long-awaited book on the excavations of the important settlement at Ayios Stephanos in southern Laconia. Ayios Stephanos was a major Bronze Age (BA) harbor town with an important gateway community actively involved in the exchange network between Minoan Crete and mainland Greece. Evidence exists for short reoccupation in Medieval times. Fourteen chapters and nine appendices, complemented by a vast number of figures, plates, charts, maps, and plans, present in the most coherent way the evidence from the excavations carried out by the late Lord William Taylour at the site. Although some reference is made to the 1959–1962 seasons, this book covers only 1973–1977.

The introduction by Janko presents in a lively way the history of excavations at the site, the problems encountered in the process of publication, and the structure and conventions of the volume. Janko shouldered the burden of bringing the excavations to publication after Taylour's death. It must have required an immense investment of time and effort on his part, which makes his accomplishment all the more praiseworthy, as his main scholarly work is altogether different. Gathering the contributions of the various specialists has taken many years, and the integrative burden has also fallen to the editor.

Chapters 1 and 2 discuss the evidence for BA architecture and settlement and BA intramural burials, respectively. The stratified sequence of architectural remains provides a clear understanding of construction activity and building techniques employed at Ayios Stephanos throughout the Bronze Age. The study of BA burials informs burial traditions in southern Laconia and provides one of the few well-documented corpora of BA child burials.

The prehistoric ceramic finds, presented in chapters on Early Helladic (EH) pottery (ch. 4), Middle Helladic (MH) pottery (ch. 5 ), and Late Helladic (LH) pottery (ch. 6) form a complete corpus of pottery covering EH I–LH IIIC, with a break at the end of the Early Bronze Age. The authors of the individual chapters are to be praised for their detailed analyses of typological forms and fabric, even in the case of nonstratified contexts, and for the thorough comparative studies they carried out for each chronological period. MacGillivray does not detect any local variations in the EH pottery forms from the site and correctly assumes that the local community was in “close contact with the centres of EH society” (176). Following a meticulous charting of the evidence, Zerner demonstrates the close relationship between MH and Minoan ceramics at the site and concludes that Laconia throughout most of the Middle Bronze Age did not belong to the same cultural sphere as the northeastern Peloponnese. Mountjoy's thorough study of Mycenaean ceramics, combined with her exemplary work (Regional Mycenaean Decorated Pottery [Rahden 1999]), provides an important LH pottery sequence for Laconia.

The individual studies on pottery forms and fabric are complemented by statistical ware analysis of EH pottery deposits (appx. 1),
petrographic and chemical analysis of MH and LH I–II pottery (appx. 2), and the reevaluation of the data from the Perlman and Asaro analyses of LH I–III sherds from the 1963 excavation (appx. 3).

Bronze Age small finds are systematically discussed in chapters on EH small finds (ch. 8), MH small finds (ch. 9), and LH small finds (ch. 10). The analysis is thorough and supports the dating of pottery finds and architectural remains. Of particular interest is the Linear A inscription that, when associated with the MH pottery data, provides another important piece of evidence for close contacts between southern Laconia and Minoan Crete.

The data obtained from the nondestructive analysis of MH and LH crucibles (appx. 4) and the results of the X-ray fluorescence analysis on MH and LH bronze objects (appx. 5) offer incentive for further comparisons of the metallurgical processes used at Ayios Stephanos during the different phases of MH I with those employed in MH III–LH IIA (appx. 4, CD-125). The study of flaked and ground stone (appx. 6) is instructive and enhances the publication of associated material from the Laconia Survey, providing fresh data for the investigation of the lithics industry in BA Laconia.

Chapters 3, 7, and 11 discuss the medieval occupation (architecture, stratigraphy, and burials); the pottery; and the Roman, medieval, and modern small finds, tiles, and coins, respectively. The information compiled is an essential and welcome addition to the few existing publications on medieval archaeology in the Peloponnese.

Chapter 12 includes a lively discussion of the human and other organic remains, complemented by bone mineral analyses of selected skeletons (appx. 7) and the thorough and comparative study of mammalian and reptilian remains (appx. 8). The data provide valuable diachronic insights into life and death circumstances at Ayios Stephanos concerning such issues as pathological conditions, demography, and infant deaths. These are the most complete anthropological and zooarchaeological analyses presently available for prehistoric Laconia. Although the samples are undersized (CD-186), the data from radiocarbon dating in appendix 9, when compared with data from other samples, yield evidence related to the longer duration of MH I at the settlement, the custom of using (and indeed reusing) old timber in constructions, and the placing of LH I/IIA at the site within the low Aegean chronology framework.

Chapter 13 by Bintliff provides a detailed account of the regional geography and geology and a cumulative survey of sites in the Helos region. It is unfortunate that Bintliff was not able to revisit the region and reanalyze its settlement history, since the citation of updated references to recent archaeological work would have given another direction to the analysis of the data, especially in terms of settlement hierarchy and the role of funerary monuments, such as the tholos tomb at Ayios Efstratios and the chamber tombs at Peristeri.

Chapter 14 provides the summary and historical conclusions. The presentation of the facts for the diachronic history of Ayios Stephanos reconstructs in the clearest way the settlement development. However, I am not convinced at all by the hypothesis for the Minoan character of the now-submerged town at Pavlopetri and of the chamber tombs at Epidaurus Limera. The Minoan colony on Kythera, close to both sites, would have affected—to a certain extent—their material culture, but there is no firm evidence to support the hypothesis of a Minoan colony at either site.

Nevertheless, Janko has undertaken the Herculean task of bringing together and presenting the results of the excavations at Ayios Stephanos. The splendid presentation of the volume, the vast amount of data, and the analysis of the data make waiting for the publication worthwhile. The reasons behind the lack of recent bibliographical references and the omission—here and there—of recent discoveries have already been underlined by the editor himself (9). These minor shortcomings must be overlooked, given the mass of excavation data and the circumstances under which this volume was brought to publication. Overall, the evidence is presented in the most exemplary way, complemented by well-drafted maps, plans, and sections; clear figures and plates; and detailed charts and tables.

Certainly this is a book of great quality, highly recommended for all libraries and scholars interested in the history and archaeology of Laconia and the Peloponnese. The editor is to be warmly congratulated for his astonishing effort.

Chrysanthi Gallou
Department of Archaeology
University of Nottingham
Nottingham NG7 2RD
United Kingdom

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1142.Gallou

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