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Mochlos III: The Late Hellenistic Settlement. The Beam-Press Complex

April 2016 (120.2)

Book Review

Mochlos III: The Late Hellenistic Settlement. The Beam-Press Complex

By Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, edited by Jeffrey S. Soles and Costis Davaras (Prehistory Monographs 48). Pp. xx + 143, figs. 45, b&w pls. 14, color pls. 4, tables 7. INSTAP Academic Press, Philadelphia 2014. $80. ISBN 978-1-931534-78-9 (cloth).

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This volume contains a final report on the first of several Late Hellenistic buildings excavated on the small island of Mochlos in northeast Crete by a Greek-American team in 1989–1994, 2005–2006, 2009–2010, and 2012. The Hellenistic settlement on Mochlos, lasting less than a century, was short-lived in comparison with nearly 1,800 years of Bronze Age occupation; nevertheless, the Hellenistic remains are extensive and denote a flourishing settlement within the circuit wall. The Beam-Press Complex, excavated in 1991–1992 outside the circuit wall on the southern slopes of the island, was chosen for publication because of its relatively good preservation and its interesting installations, suggesting industrial activity that incidentally informs the geopolitical status of this little island.

The volume is a collaborative effort between Vogeikoff-Brogan and various experts, making this a strong, in-depth publication of one small site. In this respect, it differs from earlier Mochlos volumes in concentrating on one building in its entirety. Excavation of the site was complicated by the structures excavated being located directly above the much earlier Minoan remains, which were sometimes reused by the Hellenistic settlers. Much Minoan pottery was found in fill. Moreover, the earliest excavations in 1909 had “swept away” (1) Graeco-Roman walls without recording their locations. The volume is organized into five chapters, the first dealing with the architecture and stratigraphy, followed by three chapters devoted to the artifacts found: pottery (ch. 2); stone implements (ch. 3); and objects made of ceramic, glass, metal, and shell (ch. 4). Finally, chapter 5 summarizes the relationship of the complex to the Late Hellenistic settlement at Mochlos and the settlement’s political relationship with Hierapytna.

One of the strongest chapters is the first, which pulls together all of the architectural, stratigraphical, and artifactual evidence for the eight rooms of the Beam-Press Complex, and presents, where possible, analysis of room function (which Vogeikoff-Brogan calls “household analysis” (5), although she makes it clear that the site is nonresidential). This chapter is thorough and clear: the finds are listed for all contexts, without privileging the floor deposits, and the analysis is perceptive and sensible. A very minor omission is discussion of the door widths, though they are meticulously recorded; Room 6, containing the beam press, has a relatively narrow doorway (0.80 m) for an entry not only to the whole three-room complex but to a room into which large bags of olives must be carried.

Chapter 2 deals with the pottery. The study is based on only 128 vessels but confirms the important identification of Eastern Crete Cream Ware (ECCW), used also at Myrtos Pyrgos in the south of Crete and probably made near ancient Hieropytna. Few eating and drinking vessels are documented, the majority of vessels being transport amphoras, of which 11 were ECCW, 12 were Koan, and only 2 were Rhodian. Cooking ware was also well represented, with three types of chytrai, several lopades, and some lids. Vogeikoff-Brogan notes the large size of most of these (25–30 cm rim diam.) and rightly associates it with the “industrial character” (43) of the Beam-Press Complex.

In chapter 3, Carter deals with the stone implements found in the complex. This is a welcome chapter, as it covers not only the known Hellenistic hopper mills but also the nonspecialized stone hand tools, rarely given attention in Hellenistic scholarship but here thoroughly documented. This chapter is a methodological benchmark and will be useful to all who study stone tools. Carter himself finds it problematic that much of the material is residual and may not reflect activity in the complex. Whereas Vogeikoff-Brogan in chapter 1 had assumed that some of the stone tools were reused Minoan, Carter is more cautious, saying that reuse was “not inconceivable” (49). He also investigates the raw resources available—local, nonlocal, and for the Hellenistic period off-island, that is, andesite from either the Saronic Gulf or the Dodecanese.

Chapter 4 is short, for the simple reason that it deals with the few finds other than pottery and stone. However, nothing is neglected: roof tiles, a water pipe, loomweights (few and scattered), two figurines, and a small number of glass fragments and metal items. The “figurines” comprise a genuine figurine that is “probably a child” (65) but is reminiscent of an Egyptian Pataikos figure, and a plastic vase featuring a satyr. An interesting observation is that some of the loomweights were Bronze Age, reused in the Late Hellenistic period.

The last chapter considers the important issue, in light of the evidence provided by the Beam-Press Complex and its contents, of the geopolitical and economic situation of Mochlos in the Late Hellenistic period. Crucial to this issue is the dominant use of ECCW, the clay source for which petrographic analysis suggests was not far from Hieropytna on the south coast, a powerful city expanding its influence at this time. Hieropytna was likely to be the ECCW production center, and thus Mochlos was probably under its sovereignty and influence; historically, there was no other candidate on the north coast. Vogeikoff-Brogan convincingly suggests Mochlos acted as harborage and coastal station for Hieropytna, collecting harbor fees and levies to increase Hieropytna’s income.

This chapter also tackles the topic of olive cultivation and pressing at Mochlos, entailing a clever reconstruction, based on extensive research, of the way the beam press was used in Room 6. The reconstruction is persuasive even if it involved blocking the doorway to Room 5. The chapter concludes with a discussion of wine production at Hierapytna in this period, based on the premise that the ECCW transport amphoras found at Mochlos originally carried wine from there (and indeed they had wine traces in the residue, as an appendix describes). This is an important contribution to the debate concerning the possibility of Cretan wine production before the Roman conquest in 67 B.C.E.

Six appendices enrich and confirm the information already provided in the chapters. Appendix A is the fullest, where Boileau and Whitbread provide details of the petrographic analysis of transport amphoras from three sites: Knossos, Mochlos, and Myrtos Pyrgos. Of the 81 samples, four were identified as Cretan and seven as imported. All samples from Mochlos except one were identified as ECCW, as were nearly all from Myrtos Pyrgos. There is valuable information here for anyone studying Cretan pottery. Likewise, the information given by Nodarou in appendix B on the petrographic analysis of the cookware from Mochlos is valuable for comparison with other sites. Surprisingly, the three different shape types of chytrai, as well as the lopas and lids, were all of the same homogeneous fabric, differing only in matrix color and porosity, due to manufacturing technique rather than fabric source. The fabric (a “recipe” of rock and minerals [105]) was consistent with the geology of Gournia/Kalo Choria, on the north coast to the west of Mochlos, thus not local to Mochlos. This chapter contains a useful summary of the characteristics of an ideal cooking vessel. Appendix C, by Koh, discusses the archaeochemical analysis of the residues extracted from sherds of two amphoras and one cooking pot from the Beam-Press Complex, using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. Traces of tartaric acid, indicative of wine, were found in the amphoras (both ECCW, confirming local wine production) and traces of cholesterol in the cooking pot. Three shorter appendices deal efficiently with the animal bones (Mylona), the marine invertebrates and land snails (Reese), and the olive remains (Margaritis).

This volume reports on a small and short-lived site with such thoroughness that it will not only be of great interest specifically to the study of Cretan archaeology but also can serve as a model for a site report anywhere. Apart from the in-depth analyses contained in the main chapters, which incidentally cover often-neglected objects such as stone and shell, Vogeikoff-Brogan has taken the opportunity to use scientific approaches to confirm her conclusions, most importantly to establish the existence of a new class of pottery.

Heather Jackson
Centre for Classics and Archaeology
School of Historical and Philosophical Studies
The University of Melbourne

Book Review of Mochlos III: The Late Hellenistic Settlement. The Beam-Press Complex, by Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, edited by Jeffrey S. Soles and Costis Davaras

Reviewed by Heather Jackson

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 120, No. 2 (April 2016)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1202.Jackson

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