Online Review: Book

Flexible Stones: Ground Stone Tools from Franchthi Cave

By Anna Stroulia (Excavations at Franchthi Cave, Greece 14). Pp. 242, figs. 30, maps 2, CD-ROM 1. Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis 2010. $49. ISBN 978-0-253-22178-0 (paper).


This monograph, accompanied by a CD-ROM that contains illustrations (photographs and drawings of the artifacts), describes the ground-stone assemblages from the pre-Neolithic and Neolithic strata at Franchthi Cave, Greece. The pre-Neolithic sample is important because, as the author notes in her concluding chapter, there is practically no information about ground stones in the Aegean before the Neolithic. However, this sample is far too small to provide meaningful patterns. The bulk of the material comes from the Neolithic layers at the site, dated 7130–3790 B.C.E., and particularly from the Middle Neolithic (6090–5490 B.C.E.) (27). For this larger data sample, the author presents a detailed analysis. She first divides the tools into two major categories based on the manner in which they were presumably used. Active tools were the mobile element of the complex set, whereby passive stones were presumably the immobile elements. Each category is then subdivided on the basis of the morphology of the artifacts and the presumed manner of their use: "passive open," "passive with cavity," and "passive miscellanea." The active tools are divided into a larger number of subgroups, such as "active cutting edge," "active discoidal/rectangular/square/globular," "active used with ends," and "active miscellanea." Each of the two major categories is treated separately in great detail, with specific analyses for each subcategory encompassing aspects of raw material distribution, use and technology of the artifacts' manufacture, spatial distribution in the cave and in the open area in front of it (which are often difficult to distinguish), and chronological patterning. Much of the interpretation of these data relies on ethnographic reports.

The monograph presents a detailed database of the ground-stone assemblage. Some of the data allow for the formulation of interesting ideas about bigger issues pertaining to human occupation in the pre-Neolithic and Neolithic periods in the region. Interpretations touch on the existence of long-term exchange networks in the Aegean region (based on the fact that andesite had been imported to the site as raw material or finished tools during both the pre-Neolithic and Neolithic periods); the lack of craft specialization involved in the manufacture of ground-stone items; social relations and the possibility that taboos along gender lines are reflected in the spatial segregation of artifacts made by specific techniques; and the possible uses of the artifacts both economically and symbolically. For example, the author notes that in the Neolithic assemblage, there is no evidence for large cutting-edge tools that would have been used to fell trees, possibly because of the open environment of the site, yet there are small cutting tools that would have been used for woodworking. She also argues that the morphometrics of small passive tools suggest that they were not used for grinding grain, although the items could have been used to shape other objects and materials (stone, bone, shell, and wood). Finally, the interpretations concern settlement patterns and how they change through time, integrating the results of analyses of other types of finds from the site. The detailed observations and scope of topics that the author engages through study of the ground-stone component come together to create a comprehensive and impressively thorough report.

Having said that, it is important to recognize where there is still much to be done. Many of the basic premises are not rigorously founded. For example, Stroulia uses her own typological list because she feels it is more objective than other typologies used to classify ground-stone tools. In fact, her typology also incorporates implicit assumptions about the purposes of the artifacts, the processes of manufacture, and the processes of their usage. One might argue that such is the nature of typology. Fair enough. The problem here is that the assumed function has no analytical basis (e.g., residue or use-wear analyses). Still, that the type "active cutting edge" was used to cut material is accepted as a fact of the archaeological record as the discussion progresses. Thus, behaviors related to environmental management (e.g., tree felling) or economic practices (e.g., grinding of nongrain materials in the small passive tools) are discussed on this basis, overlooking the circularity of the argument and its speculative nature. Under the spell of the riches of ethnographic data, it is often too easy to forget that analogies do not create a prehistoric reality, but serve to set the framework of possibilities for its interpretation. In this case, it is useful to treat offered interpretations of the ground-stone tool assemblage as a set of hypotheses that can—and need to—be tested empirically by additional research. This is perhaps what the author alludes to when she says that she ended the research with more questions than she began with.

Despite some drawbacks, this volume provides an important service to prehistoric research in the Aegean by drawing attention to a class of finds to which only lip service is too often paid (cf. E. Hovers, "The Groundstone Industry," in A. de-Groot and D. Ariel, eds., Excavations at the City of David. Qedem 35 [Jerusalem 1996] 171–203). This volume will serve others who encounter ground-stone tools and who will now have a baseline from which to continue inquiry into this intriguing category of artifacts.

Erella Hovers
Institute of Archaeology
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
91905 Jerusalem

Book Review of Flexible Stones: Ground Stone Tools from Franchthi Cave, by Anna Stroulia

Reviewed by Erella Hovers

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 115, No. 4 (October 2011)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1154.Hovers

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