By Constantinos Paschalidis. With a contribution by P.J.P. McGeorge. BAR-IS 1917. Pp. 106, figs. 101, pls. 9, table 1, plan 1. Archaeopress, Oxford 2009. £31. ISBN 978-1-4073-0400-7 (paper).
Excavations of tombs in the Late Minoan (LM) III cemetery at Plakalona, located a few kilometers north of the east Cretan village of Tourloti, have been conducted episodically (but quite frequently) and often illicitly for more than a century. Whether legally sanctioned or not, these excavations have typically been poorly recorded, if documented at all, and have remained unpublished aside from a few laconic and usually unillustrated summaries, as the brief introduction to this slim volume makes abundantly clear (3–4). The purpose of the present study is to publish what is known about the excavation and finds from two tombs cleared in 1984 by two different members of the Greek Antiquities Service (Tsipopoulou and Papadakis), as well as to present six of a group of seven vases allegedly found at the site in the late 1950s or early 1960s and handed over shortly thereafter to the Archaeological Museum in Ayios Nikolaos by a resident of the town of Siteia (Fygetakis). Unfortunately, the volume under review provides nothing but references to the skeletal reports of other tombs cleared at the cemetery in 1900, the 1930s, 1990, and 2006, and it fails to include a map of the region, a plan of the cemetery, or even a photograph to illustrate the cemetery’s environmental setting.
The focus of Paschalidis’ study is thus the objects recovered in 1984 from two tombs. One tomb was certainly looted and is currently represented by just two restorable LM IIIA vases. (The remainder of the finds, comprising a clay spindlewhorl, 12 inventoried sherds, and two groups of human bone from secondary burials, could not be located in the Siteia Archaeological Museum). A second, possibly looted but somewhat more richly furnished, is represented by six LM IIIB–C vases, two whorls of stone and terracotta, and a faience bead. In addition, the study includes the six vases presented to the Greek Antiquities Service a couple of decades earlier, said to have been recovered from an unknown number of tombs in the same cemetery and now transferred to the Siteia Archaeological Museum from Ayios Nikolaos. A trio of trefoil-mouthed jugs in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens (29, 83–4 [figs. 43–7]), which lack any secure provenance but were confiscated at Athens in 1970 from a citizen of Siteia by the Department of Illegal Antiquities of the Greek police, have been included because of their close resemblance to one of the vases from the earlier, certainly looted tomb. Finally, an interesting collection of burnt human bone, constituting the evidence for the double cremation of a young adult male and a child from the later of the two excavated tombs, is assessed in a contribution by McGeorge. Unfortunately, no excavation diary, plans, or photographs of this particular tomb survive, and the excavator is no longer alive, so the details of this intriguing cremation burial’s discovery remain unknown. Indeed, the excavator himself failed to report the cremation in his brief summary of the tomb’s clearance (N. Papadakis, “Tourloti Siteias,” ArchDelt 39B’  306), so the association of the fragmentary ash urn and burnt bones that it contained with this particular tomb depends on an entry made in the Siteia Archaeological Museum’s accession book (10).
The vases and small objects published here are handsomely illustrated in a series of color photographs (pls. 1b–2b, 4a–c) supplemented by both black-and-white photographs and line drawings (figs. 3–42, 48–53). The recovered bones of the two cremated bodies are likewise superbly illustrated (figs. 72–99, supplemented by figs. A, B in text). The objects are carefully described, classified, and dated, with extensive citations of pertinent comparanda. Although the total number of objects included is comparatively small, their typological and chronological ranges suggest that the Plakalona cemetery is closely comparable to such better-known LM III chamber tomb cemeteries in east Crete as Gra Lygia, Myrsini, Mochlos, and Pharmakokephalo-Sklavoi.
Individual finds of interest include a textile impression on the shoulder of one of the LM IIIA vases from the earlier tomb (the nature of the weave, however, receives no comment [7–8, fig. 7]); the only known Minoan occurrence of an incised faience cylindrical bead type that has been found widely distributed elsewhere in the Aegean (18–19, fig. 29, pl. 4c [middle]); the rare depiction of a fish in an underwater setting on the shoulder of a small LM IIIB–early IIIC stirrup jar (11–12, figs. 12–14); and a poorly preserved but elaborately decorated stirrup jar of advanced LM IIIC date (30–1, figs. 48–53, pls. 4a, b). This last piece is the focus of an extended discussion of east Cretan stirrup jars decorated in what Paschalidis, following Vlachopoulos, terms the Minoan Close Octopus Style (32–6). One of the pieces handed over by Fygetakis and thus lacking a secure excavation context, this vase is attributed to the same painter as the artist recognized by Vlachopoulos (“Pseudostomos amphoreas tou Polypodikou Rythmou sto Mouseio tes Pylou,” ArchEph 134  247–56) as responsible for two well-known stirrup jars from Mouliana Tholos B and for a third vase—reportedly from Siteia—that is now in the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. Paschalidis proposes that this artist be christened the Xanthoudidis Master, after the distinguished excavator of Mouliana Tholos B, a painter whose work he considers to be related to that of the somewhat earlier Petras-Piskokephalo Group Master, a painter of larnakes and at least one stirrup jar originally identified by Kanta (The Late Minoan III Period in Crete: A Survey of Sites, Pottery and Their Distribution. SIMA 58 [Göteborg 1980]) but not given an official name until 1997 by Tsipopoulou and Vagnetti (“Workshop Attributions for Some Late Minoan III East Cretan Larnakes,” in R. Laffineur and P.P. Betancourt, eds., TEXNH: Craftsmen, Craftswomen and Carftsmanship in the Aegean Bronze Age. Aegaeum 16 [Liège 1997] 473–79).
Thanks to Paschalidis’ study, an important LM III cemetery has finally begun to receive the attention it merits. Unfortunately, the author’s concern for objects and comparanda is not matched by an equivalent interest in the topography of the cemetery or the architecture, distribution, and overall history of its tombs. In view of the steep price of this volume, one might legitimately have expected more.
Jeremy B. Rutter
Department of Classics
Hanover, New Hampshire 03755