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Archaeometric Analyses of Euboean and Euboean Related Pottery: New Results and Their Interpretations. Proceedings of the Round Table Conference Held at the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Athens, 15 and 16 April 2011

July 2015 (119.3)

Book Review

Archaeometric Analyses of Euboean and Euboean Related Pottery: New Results and Their Interpretations. Proceedings of the Round Table Conference Held at the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Athens, 15 and 16 April 2011

Edited by Michael Kerschner and Irene S. Lemos (Ergänzungshefte zu den Jahresheften des Österreichischen Archäologischen Institutes in Wien 15). Pp. 199, figs. 157, tables 14, maps 4. Österreichisches Archäologisches Institut, Vienna 2014. €68. ISBN 978-3-900305-71-0 (paper).

Reviewed by

Some of the most important debates on Mediterranean trade and colonization in the Early Iron Age are centered on Euboean ceramics and their wide exportation from the Syro-Palestinian littoral to the Atlantic coast of Iberia. This volume makes an important contribution to the subject by offering the results of a major project of chemical analysis of Euboean and related pottery.

Early Greek pottery has attracted considerable analytical research since the 1980s, including works by Kerschner and Lemos, the editors of the present volume. The aim of this latest project is to identify and localize production centers of Euboean ceramics and to trace the export of their output. To this end, 141 pieces of Euboean and related pottery from 10 different sites were analyzed by Mommsen, a renowned specialist in neutron activation analysis, who has built a database of some 10,000 samples. Approximately 40 samples were taken from pottery from Lefkandi and Eretria; 11 to 14 from Oropos, Ephesos, and Al Mina; and 1 to 4 from Chalkis, Bojano/Capua, Cerveteri, Pontecagnano, and Veii. Two clay samples came from the Phylla clay bed near Lefkandi.

The range in the number of samples from each site is suggestive of varying research agendas. The project largely targeted the widely exported class of pendent semicircle (PSC) skyphoi. However, the material from Lefkandi and Eretria represents a broader ceramic repertory: fine and coarse wares; local productions and imports from Attica, Samos, and the Thermaic Gulf; and Late Bronze Age pieces in addition to Early Iron Age ones.

Mommsen explains that most of the material sampled was found to conform to the elemental pattern of the Phylla clay bed, conventionally named EuA (Eu stands for both Euboea and Euripus, the narrow strait that separates the central part of the island from the Greek mainland). The striking implication is that the fine ware pottery from Lefkandi, Eretria, Chalkis, and even Oropos across the strait can currently not be differentiated on analytical grounds. It is unclear whether this is because the elemental pattern of Phylla is found across a large area in the Euripus and central Euboea or because of the large-scale transport of the raw material. Significantly, the pattern EuA was found to characterize 233 preexisting samples in Mommsen’s database, which can now be localized to Euboea. This conclusion invites revisions in our understanding of interactions between this island and many Aegean sites from the early third to the late first millennium B.C.E.

The other chapters of the volume introduce the different sites covered, describe the sampling strategy developed for each, discuss the context and type of the individual pieces analyzed, and provide detailed catalogue entries and illustrations. The format of the different catalogues is not entirely consistent, and the lack of macroscopic fabric descriptions from some chapters is unfortunate, especially in the case of Euboean-style pieces that were shown to be of non-Euboean provenance.

The two chapters on Lefkandi suggest that the present analysis was part of a broader project of characterization of local wares. Lemos sampled a range of ceramics from domestic and burial contexts of the 12th to eighth centuries B.C.E. In an accompanying chapter, Whitbread offers detailed macroscopic descriptions of local Late Bronze and Early Iron Age fabric groups, also providing excellent photographs of ceramic sections. It would have been useful to know which sherds catalogued by Lemos belong to the different fabric groups identified by Whitbread. A closer integration of the two approaches would generate a very robust basis for the study of the pottery from Lefkandi.

In addition to the general project questions, Verdan, Kenzelmann Pfyffer, and Theurillat researched the provenance of the earliest (ninth-century B.C.E.) pottery from Eretria, and of the abundant Samian-type transport amphoras found at the site, as well as the possibility that different raw materials were used for two different styles produced locally in the early eighth century B.C.E. The analysis suggested that the amphoras were indeed from Samos, but the majority of the other pottery conformed to EuA. EuA also dominates the material from the single burial context sampled at Eretria (discussed by Psalti) and the pottery from Oropos (treated in the coauthored chapter by Mazarakis Ainian and Vlachou).

Most of the remaining chapters concern the PSC skyphoi. The analysis establishes that these vessels were not produced exclusively in Euboea but also in different sites of southern Aiolis to central Ionia and in central/southern Italy (chapters by Kerschner, Nasso, and d’Agostino). On the contrary, most of the Euboean-style material from Al Mina, including PSC skyphoi, was shown to be Euboean (chapters by Vacek and Kerschner). Likewise, numerous Euboean imports were identified in Ephesos throughout the Early Iron Age (Kerschner).

Vacek offers one of the most comprehensive studies in the volume. He reviews previous assumptions and debates on the provenance of Euboean-style vases from Al Mina, describes his own macroscopic groups, and sets this evidence against the findings of the analysis, which showed that most pieces conform to EuA. Based on these findings, he challenges previous arguments for the non-Euboean provenance and/or the local production of part of this material and discusses the limitations of macroscopic examination of fine wares.

Overall, the quality of the publication is very good, and the work of the editors is commendable. However, some spelling inconsistencies remain (krater/crater, Boiano/Bojano). Also, readers would benefit from some guidance in tracing the discussion of a few interesting samples (e.g., the samples from Chalkis and Phylla, which are treated in the chapter on Lefkandi; or those pieces from Eretria, which are catalogued in one chapter but discussed in another).

In conclusion, this volume is a major contribution to the study of Euboean and related ceramics of the Early Iron Age. The analysis raises as many stimulating questions as it answers and opens up several directions for future research. The editors report on a follow-up project on the wasters from a Late Geometric kiln at Oropos and suggest the need for analytical work on related pottery from Thessaly, Skyros, and the Cyclades. I would add to this list the Thermaic Gulf, where Euboean-style material abounds and imports are sometimes confused with local imitations (M. Bessios, I. Tzifopoulos, and Α. Kotsonas, Mεθώνη Πιερίας Ι: Επιγραφές, χαράγματα και εμπορικά σύμβολα στη γεωμετρική και αρχαϊκή κεραμική από τοΥπόγειοτης Μεθώνης Πιερίας στη Μακεδονία [Thessaloniki 2012] 128–34). Also, further chemical and petrographic analysis is currently being conducted on pottery from Eretria by a research team led by Sylvie Müller Celka and has been planned for Chalkis and Karystos by Xenia Charalambidou. These developments suggest the enduring interest in the archaeology of Early Iron Age Euboea. They also demonstrate, however, the value of analytical research in putting macroscopic and stylistic attributions of provenance to the test and its contribution not only to the building of more robust foundations for the study of ceramic production and distribution but also to the understanding of Aegean and Mediterranean interaction.

Antonis Kotsonas
Department of Classics
University of Cincinnati

Book Review of Archaeometric Analyses of Euboean and Euboean Related Pottery, edited by Michael Kerschner and Irene S. Lemos

Reviewed by Antonis Kotsonas

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

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1193.Kotsonas

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