By Kalliope Sarri (Philosophisch-Historische Klasse 135). Pp. 479, b&w figs. 78, color figs. 10, charts 51, tables 8, plans 12. Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Munich 2010. €144. ISBN 978-3-7696-0123-7 (cloth).
More than a century after the German excavations at Orchomenos, Sarri’s volume fills a serious gap in the publication of the finds from this important site. The first volume in the series appeared in 1907 and was a comprehensive publication of the results (H. Bulle, ed., Orchomenos [Munich]). In 1931, Kunze published the Neolithic (Orchomenos II: Die neolithische Keramik [Munich]) and in 1934, the Early Bronze Age finds (Orchomenos III: Die Keramik der frühen Bronzezeit [Munich]). In 1983, Mountjoy published the Mycenaean finds (Orchomenos V: Mycenaean Pottery from Orchomenos, Eutresis and Other Boeotian Sites [Munich]). The present volume is the long-awaited analytical publication of the architecture and ceramic finds of the Middle Bronze Age period (metal finds, which were scarce, and stone finds are not included).
The book is organized in four sections. In the first section, the author provides an introduction to the geology, geography, climate, and vegetation of the region, especially in relation to the Copais basin, with special note on the effects that human activity has had on the landscape and environment of the area. Here, the author also presents an overview of Middle Helladic (MH) habitation in Boeotia, including a brief discussion of the main sites and ceramic wares of the region during the Middle Bronze Age.
In the second section, after a review of the history of research and excavation at the site, the author reconstructs the stratigraphic sequence on the basis of the surviving excavation notebooks, notes, unpublished photographs, and drawings. This section is the result of meticulous and painstaking work, hindered by the fact that in the century that has passed since excavation, a number of excavation records have disappeared, including all original excavation plans and numerous photographs of finds. The problems were compounded by inconsistencies in the surviving records, from vague or incomplete cross-references between find numbers and strata to discrepancies in the numbers of the trenches between the original excavation and the final report of the 1907 publication. All these made the reconstruction of stratigraphic groups and the identification of the provenance of many finds extremely difficult, if not impossible. It is a testament to the author’s skill and patience that she has been able to reconstruct the stratigraphy in such detail on the basis of incomplete records.
The third section is the core of the book and includes an in-depth description and analysis of the ceramic finds. Following a thorough review of past and current scholarship on MH pottery, the author details the classification system that she used for the ceramic analysis and the reasons she chose it. She points out that in recent publications, there has been a tendency to use changing definitions of wares and ceramic groups, which makes comparison with already published material difficult. To avoid confusion, she uses well-established and widely recognized categories: Minyan (gray, yellow, brown, red); imported (fine matte-painted Aeginetan, red-slipped and polished, Minoan); other painted wares; coarse (burnished, white-slipped, incised); and matte-painted (bichrome, coarse Aeginetan, matte-painted Cycladic). Within each category, she separates smaller groups on the basis of a specific combination of technical and morphological features. For example, Minyan pottery is divided into a fine and a coarse group, and the fine Minyan group is further divided into: gray (A), brown (B), red (C), and yellow (D). Within each group, smaller subgroups are identified (e.g., A1–A8 for fine gray), primarily on the basis of variations in the surface color and secondarily in the baking and inclusions in the fabric and the surface treatment. At first sight, this may appear a bit arbitrary and lacking uniform standards; for example, the difference between subgroups A1 and A5 is based on the color of the surface (gray in A1, grayish brown in A5), but the difference between subgroups A1 and A6 is the softness of the fabric (hard in A1, soft in A6). In reality, however, this scheme provides user-friendly and easily understood definitions of these groups and allows comparisons with the pottery from other sites. As far as imports are concerned, these include coarse pots incised with herring-bone patterns (the so-called Adriatic Ware), probably from the southwest Peloponnese; Δ1β Ware from central Greece; the occasional Cycladic incised duck vase; and some matte-painted and coarse vessels. Aeginetan matte-painted pottery appears in smaller numbers here than in southern Greece. Among the imports, there is one Middle Minoan IA sherd and some sherds with possible parallels in Anatolia. Discussion of ceramic wares is followed by a rigorous description of the shapes—first open and then closed. The discussion of each shape brings together such detailed information as morphology, function, frequency and preservation, technical features, dimensions, fabrics, decoration, typology, provenance, and duration of use. Here the author also cross-references shapes with the ceramic wares and subgroups defined previously.
The final section summarizes the results of the study in terms of the chronology and extent of the MH settlement, as well as the architecture, burials, and pottery. The author suggests that the MH settlement was organized in insulae consisting of rectangular rooms, rather than freestanding rectangular houses. The earliest phase (blue) is scantily preserved and seems to date to the early MH; the middle phase (yellow) is the best preserved, with a number of MH houses emanating toward the terraces; the last phase (orange) preserves scanty remains and seems to date to late MH/early Late Helladic (LH) I. As far as burials are concerned, the author argues convincingly that the cist graves at the site did not constitute intramural burials, but were lowered from higher levels at some point during the final MH or early LH I. On the basis of this interpretation, she goes on to suggest that the MH settlement was abandoned at the end of the MH and that the area was subsequently used as a cemetery with tumuli. Regarding pottery, the development of the MH ceramic assemblage seems to parallel the developments in other MH sites of the Greek mainland. What is significant is the confirmation that Orchomenos was a major production center of Minyan Ware on the basis of the sheer volume of Minyan ceramics.
The ceramic analysis is supplemented by 51 charts containing statistical data with frequencies of wares and shapes. The stratigraphy is visually rendered in 12 color plans, which make it easy for the reader to discern architectural features. Excellent black-and-white drawings and seven color plates containing the most diagnostic vases and sherds illustrate the pottery catalogue. Where the catalogue is concerned, catalogued pieces are neatly arranged on the left pages of the book with the corresponding drawings of the catalogued sherd on the right page (as a minor note, cross-referencing pieces mentioned in the discussion with catalogue items would have been a bit easier if the catalogued pieces had been numbered sequentially).
All in all, this book is a significant contribution to our knowledge of Middle Bronze Age Greece and will be indispensable to any study of Middle Helladic pottery. Sarri should be commended for undertaking and completing successfully the difficult task of publishing the finds from an old excavation and for producing a first-rate publication of this important and extensive material.
Michael B. Cosmopoulos
Department of Anthropology
University of Missouri–St. Louis
St. Louis, Missouri 63121