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Kavousi IIA: The Late Minoan IIIC Settlement at Vronda. The Buildings on the Summit

Kavousi IIA: The Late Minoan IIIC Settlement at Vronda. The Buildings on the Summit

Edited by Geraldine C. Gesell and Leslie Preston Day. With contributions by Heidi Dierckx, Kimberly Flint-Hamilton, Geraldine C. Gesell, David S. Reese, and Lynn Snyder (Prehistory Monographs 26). Pp. xl + 366, figs. 108, pls. 25, charts 60, tables 40, plans 14. INSTAP Academic Press, Philadelphia 2009. $80. ISBN 978-1-931534-51-2 (cloth).

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The sites in the Kavousi area (eastern Crete) were first explored in 1900 by Harriet Boyd (Hawes). The Kavousi Project started in 1978 and was conceived as a multidisciplinary regional study focusing on the Early Iron Age mountain sites above the modern village of Kavousi. One of these sites, Vronda was considered particularly interesting, since its predominantly single-period (Late Minoan [LM] IIIC) occupation made it a prime candidate to study the social organization of a 12th-century settlement. Work began in 1981 with the clearing of the tombs inventoried by Boyd and continued in 1983 and 1984, when earlier excavated buildings were cleaned. New excavation of the settlement was undertaken from 1987 to 1990 and in 1992. It appeared that the site had also been used as a cemetery in the Geometric period and some remains of earlier periods (Early Minoan [EM] II–III, Middle Minoan [MM] I–II, MM III–LM IA) were recovered as well.

After Kavousi I: The Archaeological Survey of the Kavousi Region (D. Haggis [Philadelphia 2005]), this volume is the second in the series of final reports for the Kavousi Project, and the first part of the first volume presenting the results of the excavations on Vronda. It focuses on the buildings located on the summit, while the buildings on the slopes and on the periphery (Buildings E, I-O-N, L-M, and the Kiln), specialist analyses, and conclusions on the LM IIIC settlement are reserved for two forthcoming parts (Kavousi IIB and Kavousi IIC). A second and a third volume will deal with the LM IIIC shrine (Building G) and the Late Geometric cremation cemetery at Vronda.

The preface of the volume presents the goals of the Kavousi Project, the history of the excavations on Vronda, and the publication plan for the results. An introduction gives a more detailed history of the excavation and its methodology, a history and chronology of the settlement, and a presentation of the catalogues of archaeological material. The volume is then organized in five chapters, presenting four LM IIIC complexes of buildings (A-B, C-D, J-K, Q), along with one earlier (Building P) and one later (Building Q) structure in their immediate surroundings. Each chapter begins with an excavation history, the stratigraphy of the buildings, and a discussion of the distribution of objects and pottery recovered. Then each building is described room by room in accordance with architecture and features, stratigraphy, pottery and objects, and faunal remains. A pottery and objects catalogue is also offered. Finally comes the history and function of each building complex. An appendix by Mook at the end of the volume presents the Kavousi coarse ware fabrics. The text is abundantly illustrated by tables of the faunal remains and marine shells from the different buildings, charts showing pottery room by room or space by space, 108 figures, and 25 plates. The figures are clearly organized following the order of the chapters: for each building complex, there is a state plan, a LM IIIC plan, sections, drawings of all the catalogued material, and phase plans. The same goes for the plates, which contain black-and-white photographs of the site, and some of the material, organized room by room.

The volume is important for increasing our knowledge about domestic architecture and social organization during the LM IIIC period. The excavation of Building C-D in particular revealed an architectural complex devoted to domestic activities that grew and expanded over time and appears to have been abandoned in the LM IIIC period. Evidence for the existence of specific areas used to store and prepare food that was consumed in the larger room is convincingly presented by Klein. A basic pattern for the domestic unit is also recognized (a larger rectangular room with central hearth and benches lining the walls in association with a smaller room along the same terrace). One room (Room D1), however, yielded three animal figurines, probably for display on a platform, which suggests additional activities related to household cult. In the Late Geometric period, four graves were placed within Building C-D, followed by one Early Orientalizing cremation burial.

Building A-B stands out throughout the history of the LM IIIC settlement at Vronda because of its extraordinary structure and unusual contents. First of all, it is the largest single building on the site, and Room A1 is the largest room of the settlement. While in other building complexes, any additional construction seems to have been domestic, the additions to Building A-B do not replicate the domestic features of the preexisting house. They seem rather to involve new functions or increased storage space. The long, narrow architecture of Rooms B1/2 and B3 may in fact echo earlier, palatial-type magazines. The very large pithoi found in these rooms and in Room B7, along with their lack of doorways, clearly indicate that they were storerooms where a surplus of goods was being controlled. This leads Day to interpret the building as either a community storage or redistribution center or the dwelling of an elite individual or group. Considering its architecture, its location, the presence of drinking and eating vessels, and the fact that one room may have been decorated with a cattle skull plaque and paired agrimi horn cores, it is suggested that Building A-B could be a prototype of the later andreion. A similar interpretation was also proposed for the megarons at nearby (and contemporary) Chalasmenos.

Although the rigorous fractal structure of the chapters greatly facilitates comprehension, it is also the cause of some repetition: the history of excavation, for example, is presented in the preface, in the introduction, and again with more details for each building. As the first volume about the Vronda excavation, it is understandable that Kavousi IIA is more descriptive than interpretative. Some intriguing suggestions proposed for Buildings A-B and C-D would benefit from further exploration, however. For instance, is Building A-B a ruler’s dwelling, a community storage center, or a proto-andreion? In general, the segmented presentation of the information, both where the present volume and the publication plan are concerned, is extremely convenient but hampers a synthetic, diachronic, and regional understanding of the site. It would be interesting to consider the buildings on the summit, the tholos tombs uncovered nearby by Boyd, and the so-called shrine (Building G) together and also to determine which criteria were used to select some LM IIIC rooms during the Geometric period for burial activities. In this regard, parallels with other sites in the Mirabello Bay (e.g., Vrokastro, Anavlochos, Dreros) could be revealing.

These concerns notwithstanding, Kavousi IIA offers useful and detailed information not only for archaeologists focusing on the LM IIIC period on Crete but also more widely for scholars interested in the process of city-state formation in the Greek world. The abundance of the data and the quality of the illustrations provided in this volume deserve to be underlined.

Florence Gaignerot
Institute of Art and Archaeology
Paris-Sorbonne University (Paris IV)
Paris 75006

Book Review of Kavousi IIA: The Late Minoan IIIC Settlement at Vronda. The Buildings on the Summit, edited by Geraldine C. Gesell and Leslie Preston Day

Reviewed by Florence Gaignerot

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 115, No. 2 (April 2011)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1152.Gaignerot

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