Online Review: Book

Ανασκαφές Μυκηνών ΙΙ: Το "Εργαστήριο" των Μυκηνών

By Despoina Danielidou (Βιβλιοθήκη της εν Αθήναις Αρχαιολογικής Εταιρείας 258). Pp. 446, figs. 204, b&w pls. 89, color pls. 4, tables 27, plan 1, maps 3. Αθήναις Αρχαιολογική Εταιρεία, Athens 2008. €80. ISBN 978-960-8145-72-6 (paper).


This is a comprehensive excavation report of the so-called workshop at Mycenae. This building complex, located on the north slope of the acropolis of Mycenae, was discovered when the site was cleared to make space for the new museum and excavated in a quick rescue campaign in the summer of 1979. Of course, most rescue operations do not receive a publication of their own, but this is Mycenae, and it is of immense value that all information on the workshop is brought together here. Nevertheless, the report raises as many questions as it answers. Its subtitle—"The 'Workshop' at Mycenae"—hints at the most important of these: the function of the building. During excavation, it was thought to be a workshop, owing to the large amounts of pottery recovered as well as the presence of 10 lumps of coloring material, and it appeared under this designation in the literature. The absence of corridors and open courtyards, both features associated with private dwellings, further suggests that the building functioned not (solely or primarily) as a residence (236). This is, however, the extent of the evidence for the function of the complex, and when referring to the building, the author cautiously puts "workshop" in quotation marks throughout. Although she admits it is likely that the building served some special use as a workshop (237), she refuses to speculate further on the possible function(s) of the areas in the complex, and there is no attempt to bring to life the workshop and the possible activities taking place within it.

This is undoubtedly partially because of the particular difficulties the author encountered in preparing this book. Some of these are the usual difficulties in publishing work carried out decades earlier, but they are in this case compounded by other factors, partly caused by the time constraints under which the excavation was carried out: the building was excavated incompletely and is now inaccessible; sherds from floor deposits or other special contexts were not separated from sherds from higher fill; and in the daily excavation notebooks (kept by students), measurements, levels, and wall and object numbers are frequently missing or mixed up, findspots not recorded, and photographs unidentified. Presentation of the architectural remains is therefore incomplete and leaves many questions unanswered (12). Even the issue of whether certain wall-enclosed areas were rooms is in some cases uncertain (with walls likely dating to different periods), which explains why the author uses the more neutral term "areas." All in all, the author has done a fine piece of detective work, teasing out details from photographs and notebooks to reconstruct stratigraphy, although given the level of insecurity, the measurements presented often seem overly precise. For example, was Wall 7 really found at exactly 0.50 m below ground level, 0.60 m above the floor of Area H, and preserved to a height of 0.70 m above bedrock (109)?

The main purpose of the volume is the presentation and analysis of the large amounts of interesting pottery (12–13), which is both intrinsically worthy of study (246) and has the potential to provide some answers as to the stratigraphy and building history of the complex (19). Since, however, the pottery was not collected stratigraphically (246), the building history is limited to the observation that the complex was inhabited between Late Helladic (LH) IIIA2 and LH IIIC Middle, with fireless destructions occurring at the end of LH IIIA2 and LH IIIB2 (260–61). Oddly, given the volume's aim, no information about the clay is provided beyond (sometimes) a color description of the fabric; for example, percentage, type, and size of inclusions are never given. Generally, the treatment of pottery suffers from similar shortcomings as the treatment of the architectural remains; although here the raw data are abundant, there is no interpretation beyond the most basic chronological analysis. Thus, the author's statement that study of the decoration of the pottery will certainly increase our knowledge about Mycenaean pottery falls a bit flat (246).

The amounts of pottery, as well as the variety in shapes and decorative motifs, are impressive. The quantities of other materials are by contrast strikingly small (258–59). The reader is left to speculate about possible reasons for this imbalance. How does this, for example, compare with the nearby Petsas House, where large quantities of pottery were stored in the basement, possibly for commercial purposes (I. Papadimitriou and P. Petsas, "Ἀνασκαφαί ἐν Μυκήναις," Prakt [1950] 203–33; "Ἀνασκαφή ἐν Μυκήναις," Prakt [1951] 192–96)?

The presentation of the finds could have been clearer. All finds from each area are compiled in long lists, with some finds receiving elaborate descriptions and others none at all. The usefulness of long listings of small ceramics and other finds without illustrations, measurements, dates, or interpretative analysis is doubtful; much could have been presented more clearly and succinctly in the form of tables. A numbered catalogue of the most important finds would have made the find lists more readable and would have facilitated cross-referencing. The organization of the finds is explained on page 19 (unpainted sherds, painted sherds, figurines, complete vessels, and nonceramic small finds) but not always kept; a (now disintegrated) lead vessel from Area K-Λ is listed among the complete vessels rather than among metal finds (144), and a murex shell inexplicably precedes the figurines (149). The complete vases are treated separately from the sherds, even though findspots as well as shapes overlap, probably with the understanding that the complete vases represent destruction deposits rather than fill. The vast quantities of sherds are further organized by shape. A scarcity of subheadings makes these long lists harder to navigate than necessary. Here, too, there are little inconsistencies: why do skyphoi receive a subheading in italic font, whereas none of the other shapes do?

The tables on pages 265–80 are useful in determining which shapes prevail in certain areas. The original excavation photographs (invariably lacking a scale and orientation arrow) are below par, but the photographs of pottery are excellent (although printed Greek text can be seen bleeding through on pls. 48β and 48γ). It is commendable that all photographs of individual sherds, and all drawings of sherds and vessels, are shown at the same scale (photographs of complete vessels lack a cm scale). Drawings of sherd profiles are unfortunately lacking.

The two-part division of the book, with the first 210 pages devoted to a description of the building and finds and the last 27 pages to a briefer thematic analysis of architecture and finds and a synopsis of the history of the building, reflects the volume's implicit aim, suitable for an excavation report: to describe, rather than to interpret, what was unearthed in 1979. An extensive English summary at the end of the book, essentially a literal translation of the Greek text excluding the lists of individual finds and comprising over 50 pages, is useful.

In summary, this is a traditional excavation account, with a strong emphasis on description. The approach and questions raised are conservative; conclusions are cautious. Its great value lies in the primary data it presents; as such, it will be invaluable for any serious student of Mycenae.

Margaretha Kramer-Hajos
Department of Classical Studies
Indiana University
Bloomington, Indiana 47405

Book Review of Ανασκαφές Μυκηνών ΙΙ: Το "Εργαστήριο" των Μυκηνών, by Despoina Danielidou

Reviewed by Margaretha Kramer-Hajos

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 115, No. 1 (January 2011)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1151.KramerHajos

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