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Exchange Networks and Local Transformations: Interaction and Local Change in Europe and the Mediterranean from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age

Exchange Networks and Local Transformations: Interaction and Local Change in Europe and the Mediterranean from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age

Edited by Maria Emanuela Alberti and Serena Sabatini. Pp. xi + 179, figs. 71. Oxbow Books, Oxford 2013. $76. ISBN 978-1-84217-485-2 (paper).

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Alberti and Sabatini organize the work of 13 scholars to evaluate and clarify exchange networks and cultural and historical transformations in the European and Mediterranean Bronze Age and Early Iron Age. There is an underlying assumption that “people ... always moved” and “invariably carried with them the means of sustenance, objects, goods, ideas, and narratives, likely to be exchanged with other people” (1). At the heart of this volume is a discussion of how various societies and cultures negotiated among these external and local objects, goods, ideas, and narratives and their own needs for a culturally constructed symbolic expression of identity and power. All authors in the volume argue that material culture has an impact beyond the artifacts left behind through the means of exchange. Human interactions have an impact and leave traces, even where material objects are not present at particular sites. Thus, the authors see as critical the study of nonmaterial culture as well as material culture to highlight “social, cultural, economic, and technological transformations” (2). Two conceptual frameworks are interwoven throughout the articles: transculturality and hybridization, both notions that stem from the tradition of postcolonial studies. Material culture is used as a marker for both conceptual frameworks.

The importance of metal trade as an indicator of transculturality is a theme woven through many of the articles, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly. Kristiansen outlines the social mechanisms that facilitated the movement of goods—particularly metals. Critical were maritime technologies, migrations and colonization, and the multidirectional movement and trade of very small groups and families, especially during the Late Bronze Age (LBA) and Early Iron Age (EIA). Arguing that the metal trade was of great importance and probably controlled by palace authorities, Papadimitriou and Kriga concentrate on the emergence of peripheral (or “secondary”) states, rather than on the centralized “great powers.” Maritime technologies created new opportunities for economic and social interconnectedness, which were mutual in their transformative power and were especially significant for the peripheries and semiperipheries during periods of political decentralization. For example, Middle Bronze Age (MBA) poverty and decline was overcome, it is argued, by increasing Minoan influence and the resulting internal competition for status and wealth. The destruction of palace centers at the end of the first part of the LBA dramatically changed the nature of exchange systems, from palace-led to flexible and long-lasting autonomous networks that integrated many smaller routes of communication into a major East–West sea route (with metals remaining a driving force in trade).

Iaia describes the material transformations that point to an emerging class of Villanovan warrior elites in south Etruria. Deftly handling the archaeological evidence from male burials and protourban settlements and settlement patterns, the author considers the “ideological dimension(s)” (102) related to power and prestige. Linking this evidence to a more general context of ritual and belief, and as a lovely example of transculturality in action, he argues that the Villanovans blended traditional customs with new and imported proficiencies (particularly with respect to metalwork) and concepts to identify, quite clearly, membership in elite groups, which “triggered a wide-ranging change in the way social membership was expressed in rituals” (114). Lai also argues effectively for powerful links between trade and social change in the area of Sàrrala on Sardinia. The author identifies several building and settlement phases (though the absolute chronology of these remains disputed). Imported building materials and other artifacts (particularly metal) point to long-distance trade—strongly linked to social change there.

Bergerbrant touches on aspects of both transculturality and hybridization in her discussion of the introduction of the sword on Lolland. Swords, and the materials used to make them, are at the heart of this article on the nature and meaning of European migrations and movement. She is interested in what the objects meant in the original space and what they came to mean and how they came to be utilized in their new spaces. Her analysis underlines the transcultural complexity of meaning for all ritual objects. Transculturality, not metal per se, informs Sabatini’s analysis. She examines northern European burial practices, especially three types of culturally significant burial urns: house urns, face urns, and face/door urns. The evidence allows for a nimble discussion of the meaning of the interplay between cultural exchanges and local cultural phenomenon. The author urges us to recognize deep complexities in the relationship between material culture and identity.

Several articles are concerned with the directionality of trade—who influenced whom and by what routes? Alberti provides a preliminary reconstruction of the impact of trade systems on Bronze Age historical developments and identifies the principle circuits and routes from the Near East to the Aegean. The MBA was the “crucial moment” (36) in the history of interactions and structure of societies in the Aegean, a region with very definite geographical and climatic constraints and localized resources. The article provides a succinct, yet rich, description of Aegean trade routes and their impact on Bronze Age economies through an analysis of the cultural/material assemblages. Likewise, Iacono argues for a multidirectional exchange of cultural information and artifacts at the end of the Mycenaean era. He particularly challenges the assumption that all influence went from East (“civilized”) to West (“uncivilized”), claiming that the western peripheries of the Mycenaean core had an important effect on postpalatial developments (60).

Other articles analyze cultural exchange as evidence of foreign cultural control and dominance or lack thereof. Vitale and Vitale examine the “Serraglio” settlement on Kos to determine whether there was a Minoan presence at that site (a question driven in part by the still-unsettled historical problem of the “Minoan thalassocracy”). Their conclusions are compelling (e.g., that despite the existence of Minoanizing features, there was not evidence to believe that the Minoans controlled Kos or settled the Serraglio). The evidence in this well-illustrated and well-argued paper does not quite, however, settle the Minoan thalassocracy question. Meanwhile, Cazzella and Recchia consider possible Sicilian involvement in the resettlement of Malta during the Bronze Age. Their argument represents an evolution in their thinking about the material record on Malta. Here, they effectively argue that Sicily was involved in organizing exchange activities and a “real exchange system” (88) in the central Mediterranean until the crisis of the Mycenaean palace collapse.

In their analysis of EIA Etruria, Fulminante and Stoddart identify powerful indigenous forces at work in state development. “Network model” (117) analysis allows them to identify differing scales of interactions. Neither “orientalist” nor “occidentalist” (117), they identify powerful local impulses, coupled with interactions with the wider Mediterranean, as critical to understanding the major transformations taking place in these regions. Kneisel, like Sabatini, considers face urns and burial customs along the Baltic coast. Studying the ornamentation on these urns and the presence of amber at local sites allows for a nuanced understanding of trade in the region. Significantly, the author is able to link certain kinds of trade and manufacture to specific regions but also argues that an analysis of style (e.g., the ornamentation on lids and the location of these) can help scholars map established routes of communication (164). Kreiter, SzöllÅ‘si, Bajnóczi, Havancsák, Tóth, and Szakmány concentrate on understanding a pottery technology (the use of graphite in Celtic wares). Their careful scientific analysis allows the authors to pinpoint the origin of some graphites, but primarily the article pulls together earlier analyses of trade patterns and leaves us questioning the relationship between graphite and its addition to pottery in prehistory: was it socially or functionally important? Or both?

The articles are well reasoned and well argued, and the entire corpus demands a reconsideration of established theories about social organizations and, particularly, the core-periphery model. Trading cultures were not just mutually dependent but rather evidenced sociocultural entanglements with one another. The volume also effectively challenges the geographic and scholarly separation of Europe from the Mediterranean and will be useful for scholars and students studying trade in those regions.

Cynthia Kosso
Department of History
Northern Arizona University
Flagstaff, Arizona 86011-6023

Book Review of Exchange Networks and Local Transformations: Interaction and Local Change in Europe and the Mediterranean from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, edited by Maria Emanuela Alberti and Serena Sabatini

Reviewed by Cynthia Kosso

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 118, No. 4 (October 2014)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1184.Kosso

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