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Kavousi IIB: The Late Minoan IIIC Settlement at Vronda: The Buildings on the Periphery

July 2015 (119.3)

Book Review

Kavousi IIB: The Late Minoan IIIC Settlement at Vronda: The Buildings on the Periphery

By Leslie Preston Day and Kevin T. Glowacki (Prehistory Monographs 39). Pp. xxxii + 195, figs. 136, b&w pls. 30, charts 70, tables 28. INSTAP Academic Press, Philadelphia 2012. $80. ISBN 978-1-931534-69-7 (cloth).

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Between 1983 and 1992, cleaning and excavations were conducted by Geraldine Gesell, Day, and William Coulson at Vronda, Kavousi, Crete, a site first investigated by Harriet Boyd in 1901. After a first volume of final publication by Day, Klein, and Turner (Kavousi IIA: The Late Minoan IIIC Settlement at Vronda. The Buildings on the Summit [Philadelphia 2009]), Kavousi IIB describes the Late Minoan (LM) IIIC buildings located on the slopes of the ridge, namely Building Complex E, I-O-N, and L-M, a pottery kiln, and areas excavated on the periphery not belonging to these buildings. Building F, a Venetian house on the southern side, is also presented. For each, a report on the history of excavations and a very detailed description of the stratigraphy, architectural remains, and assemblage (pottery, objects, and faunal remains) are provided. The text is followed by an appendix on archaeomagnetic results, a bibliography, an index, 28 tables summarizing the faunal remains by area, and 70 charts quantifying the pottery in the different deposits according to ware groups and recognizable coarse fabrics. In addition, the volume is well illustrated, with 136 figures and plates, including state plans of the site and different buildings, phase plans for each building, numerous drawings of sections and of the most relevant pottery and objects recovered, and black-and-white photographs of notable contexts and artifacts. In the case of Building Complex I-O-N, distribution plans of collapsed roofing clay and pottery and stone tool types are also given.

This volume amends some conclusions proposed in preliminary reports. It is now clear that the entire Building Complex E was constructed and used for habitation within LM IIIC, and thus not during the Protogeometric period (2–3). An error in dating the pottery from Room E1 was caused by the intrusion of some Geometric material from Grave 37, built above. Likewise, on the basis of joins between sherds found in Rooms E1 and E2, it was originally suggested that Building E was a single unit with a second story. Further study has now shown that the vessels likely fell in after the roof terrace and walls collapsed into the two rooms (21). In general at Vronda, apart from Building B, there is no convincing evidence for second stories. Although originally thought to be a street because of the cobble paving, Room E2 is now interpreted as an open courtyard.

The kiln is located on the outer southwestern edge of the settlement and constitutes thus far the earliest circular updraft type excavated on the island, preserving the stocking channel, combustion chamber, and part of its grate (perforated floor). The type of fuel used in the firing process remains unknown. Surprisingly little pottery was found in association with it, but included in the assemblage were fragments of jugs, pithoid jars, and, especially, cooking dishes. According to the authors, this might account for the popularity of the cooking-dish shape at Vronda; it is also suggested that the fragments recovered were used as kiln supports to separate pots during the firing process, or they may indicate use of the kiln for food preparation in addition to the firing of pottery (53). The coarse fabrics belong almost exclusively to LM IIIC, and the burned pieces chiefly represent two types well attested at the site and maybe locally made. No evidence for a potter’s workshop, however, was noted in the immediate vicinity of the kiln.

In general, efforts to reconstruct the LM IIIC settlement were made difficult because of the reuse of the area for burial during the Late Geometric–Early Orientalizing periods, modern domestic and agricultural activity, and severe erosion that affected the slopes. The houses were progressively constructed throughout LM IIIC and abandoned at the end of the period. The normal stratigraphy is quite consistent across the site: the buildings rested on a massive fill of cobbles that was brought in to level the irregular bedrock and contained large quantities of broken pottery from earlier periods, including Early Minoan, Middle Minoan IB–II, and Middle Minoan–LM IA, but no undisturbed Prepalatial or Neopalatial strata or occupation surfaces were recognized during the excavation. Above this fill, a hard-packed soil yielded deposits of material interpreted as domestic. In many cases (e.g., Rooms E1 and E2), hearths consist of a localized patch of harder reddish clay projecting slightly above the floor level.

A close examination of wall bonding and abutment allowed the excavators to recognize successive architectural phases during which the houses were expanded, generally following the site’s topography and conforming to the terrain. The observable stages of construction and architectural modifications probably reflect the change in composition of the co-residential group and the negotiation over time of use and meaning of the buildings or rooms. Repetition of artifact assemblages (pottery and stone tool kits) combined with immovable, built features (bins, benches, stands, platforms, and most notably ovens and hearths) shows an expansion by progressive agglutination of residential units of two to three rooms, each of which would represent a nuclear family. By way of contrast, no clear evidence was found, in the abandonment phase, for shared cooking installations or storage facilities in these co-residential building complexes, including, in the case of Complex Building I-O-N, up to 14 rooms and seven residential units that Glowacki calls “households.” Although each residential unit seems to be self-sufficient, the entire complex of contiguous rooms should then be understood as a “multi-household cluster” of a closely related social group, most likely an extended family. In this case it would be interesting to consider the possibility for the occasional gathering of this group in a communal room that could for instance be the most easily accessible and/or largest hearth room of the complex building. These hearth rooms, covering a maximum area of 30.23 m² (Room N3), were generally multifunctional (lighting, heating, cooking) and yielded stone tools, a variety of cooking and storage vessels, and much fine pottery for drinking and eating.

The architectural study proposed in Kavousi IIB is both tidy and smart. Yet some remarks can be made regarding room communication. In Building Complex E, no communication is indicated between Room E3 and the rooms to the south and north, although these three rooms share the same orientation and floor level. Large bedrock boulders, visible on the state plan (fig. 4), are, however, incorporated at the eastern end of the north and south walls of Room E3. Thus, one can wonder if original off-center doorways were not intentionally blocked at some point in the history of the building, as happened in Building N between Rooms N2 and N3. In Building O, no doorway is preserved between Rooms O2 and O1, and an opening above the extant level of their shared wall, as attested in Building C (see Day et al. 2009), is assumed. In this case, for reasons of clarity, such a possibility should perhaps have been indicated on the restored block plan (fig. 111).

Concerning the pottery, similarities are noted with the material from the nearby site of Chalasmenos (e.g., cooking jar with knobbed decoration [E3 P5]; a fine monochrome or blob-decorated cup [L1 P5]) that invite consideration of Vronda in a regional context of production and exchange. Interestingly, a coarse kalathos with horned projections on the rim (L1 P2, wrongly labelled L1 P5 on pl. 27), similar to examples from the Shrine and Rooms B3 (see Day et al. 2009), E2 (P18), and N3 (P7)—from where a hut urn was also recovered—came from Room L1 in Building L and could indicate that some religious activity may have been practiced in the houses. More broadly, the relationship between Tholos Tomb VIII—located immediately west of Room L2 and yielding material dated to the Subminoan–Protogeometric B periods—and Buildings L and M needs to be clarified.

In general, this publication will be extremely useful for specialists of Late Bronze Age material culture and scholars interested in the formation of social groups. They will find in Kavousi IIB a large range of material nicely presented and stimulating discussions on the archaeology of household activities for this formative period in the Aegean, at the threshold of the Iron Age.

Florence Gaignerot-Driessen
Department of History and Geography
University of Picardie–Jules Verne

Book Review of Kavousi IIB: The Late Minoan IIIC Settlement at Vronda: The Buildings on the Periphery, by Leslie Preston Day and Kevin T. Glowacki

Reviewed by Florence Gaignerot-Driessen

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 119, No. 3 (July 2015)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1193.GaignerotDriessen

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