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Lerna, A Preclassical Site in the Argolid. Vol. 6, The Settlement and Architecture of Lerna IV

July 2014 (118.3)

Book Review

Lerna, A Preclassical Site in the Argolid. Vol. 6, The Settlement and Architecture of Lerna IV

By Elizabeth C. Banks. Pp. xx + 484, figs. 117, tables 19, plans 47. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens, Princeton, N.J. 2013. $150. ISBN 978-0-87661-306-1 (cloth).

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This volume deals with the settlement and architecture of the final period of the Early Bronze Age (EBA) within the settlement of Lerna by the Gulf of Argos. The author herself participated in the excavations by John L. Caskey in the 1950s (preliminary reports were published in Hesperia from 1954 to 1959). After publishing “The Early and Middle Helladic Small Objects from Lerna” (Ph.D. diss., University of Cincinnati [1967]), she was assigned the Fourth Settlement (i.e., Lerna IV), a responsibility later shared with Jeremy Rutter. The volume reviewed here is thus the long-awaited study to complement the 1995 publication of the pottery (J.B. Rutter, Lerna: A Preclassical Site in the Argolid. Vol. 3, The Pottery of Lerna IV [Princeton 1995]).

Since almost 20 years separate the two volumes on Early Helladic (EH) III Lerna, a most important issue was to have the present publication tie into the pottery publication (a short overview of the stratigraphic basis for the phasing of pottery was published by Banks in Rutter [1995] 3–10). This was clearly not an easy task, but it has been very well accomplished by way of a number of tables and concordances (appx. 1–3) as well as through clear statements throughout the text, wherever necessary, aligning the new publication with the stratigraphic and architectural terminology used for the pottery.

The volume is made up of nine chapters and five appendices, with the bulk of the text included in chapters 4–6, devoted to the three subphases within the Fourth Settlement: Lerna IV.1, IV.2, and IV.3. These are preceded by a short introduction (ch. 1) and a very useful architectural overview of the structure and form of the buildings as well as of hearths, ovens, and bothroi (ch. 2). The enigmatic tumulus, constructed to seal the burnt remains of the EH II House of the Tiles, is treated in chapter 3. Its inclusion in the present volume is dependent on the interpretation by Caskey, who believed that it was constructed by EH III newcomers. In view of the modern state of research, as conceded by Banks, the tumulus should rather be seen as the end of the EH II sequence of events, and the treatment in the present volume should be complemented by data published by Wiencke (Lerna: A Preclassical Site in the Argolid. Vol. 4, The Architecture, Stratification and Pottery of Lerna III [Princeton 2000]).

The material from Lerna phases IV.1 and IV.2 give detailed views of life at the mound during a generation or two, following the construction of the tumulus (if there was a gap in habitation, it is considered by Banks to have been “a brief one” [33]). Especially noteworthy are the several identified activity areas, such as a “bin-hearth-oven complex” (57–61) and “the northeast activity area” (82–9), as well as the apparent spatial compartmentalization of the mound into areas defined by partly different traditions/practices, in terms of the form of the buildings and the finds in relation to them. Among the buildings, the trapezoidal Building W-52 (early phase IV.2 [114–22]) is one structure that stands out, furnishing a rich pottery deposit including drinking cups and likely ceremonial vessels as well as a possible foundation bothros with two newborn piglets.

Similarly interesting is the long sequence of larger apsidal structures in the center of the excavated area, such as the posthole Building W-1 (early phase IV.1 [37–42]), the pisé-walled Building W-36 (phase IV.1–2 [89–96]), and the successive Structures W-86 and W-90 (phase IV.3 [165–82]). The mound was apparently much more densely inhabited in phase IV.3 (ch. 6) than in the preceding periods. Although this subphase was the longest of the three and has produced the most material—the buildings constantly being rebuilt and repaired—a greater homogeneity is also evident. This fact is probably the result of a large-scale reorganization of the whole area in early phase IV.3, creating a more formally structured area with less room for the observable multivocality of the earlier subphases.

The treatment of the excavated remains is completed by the shorter chapters 7 and 8, outlining the finds from areas outside the main excavation area, thus “Area D” and “Minor Trenches.” The phase IV.3 “bone yard,” tentatively interpreted as a center for skin preparation (325–28), is a conspicuous find from these areas. In combination, these chapters help to emphasize that the settled area continued beyond the main excavated parts of the mound (a large part of the population perhaps living and working beyond the mound [36]).

In all, the presentation, including the catalogue—following the excellent tradition of Lerna publications in including all finds by context—provides a wealth of material for future analyses. The comprehensive appendix on the fauna by Reese (421–67) updates and expands on the identifications by Gejvall. Stationary features such as hearths, ovens, and possible “fire-boxes” are usefully and meticulously published throughout the volume. Attention given to the identification of possible areas for metallurgical practices, food preparation, and storage provide many valuable insights into the doings and workings of an EH III settlement through time. Detailed consideration is given also to the bothroi, and the designation of a large part of them as originally “cooking/warming pits” (21) goes against the common interpretation of them as being primarily for food storage.

The concluding discussions (ch. 9) give much food for thought about the EH II–III transitional period, something that remains a hot topic. This interest is still largely due to Caskey’s seminal article (“The Early Helladic Period in the Argolid,” Hesperia 29 [1960] 285–303) outlining an invasion of new people taking up residence on the Lernean mound. Although the invasion theory is abandoned, the idea of “newcomers” remains very much current in this 2013 publication. The posthole Building W-1 and, by affinity, the succeeding apsidal buildings in the sequence are designated as houses of the village headman, or chieftain. Although that may be true, this reviewer feels somewhat uncomfortable with how this designation is left without much scrutiny and seems to color so many of the general interpretations put forward in this otherwise most impressive and well-organized volume. It is a volume that certainly further reinforces the reputation of Lerna as a key source to Early Helladic lifeways.

Erika Weiberg
Department of Archaeology and Ancient History
Uppsala University
751 26 Uppsala

Book Review of Lerna, A Preclassical Site in the Argolid. Vol. 6, The Settlement and Architecture of Lerna IV, by Elizabeth C. Banks

Reviewed by Erika Weiberg

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 3 (July 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1183.Weiberg

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