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KE-RA-ME-JA: Studies Presented to Cynthia W. Shelmerdine

July 2016 (120.3)

Book Review

KE-RA-ME-JA: Studies Presented to Cynthia W. Shelmerdine

Edited by Dimitri Nakassis, Joann Gulizio, and Sarah A. James (Prehistory Monographs 46). Pp. xx + 314, figs. 31, tables 23. INSTAP Academic Press, Philadelphia 2014. $80. ISBN 978-1-931534-76-5 (cloth).

Reviewed by

Cynthia Shelmerdine is one of the foremost Aegeanists of our time. The wide-reaching influence of her research is clearly evident in the Festschrift under review, which contains 24 papers by former students and colleagues. The papers are ordered into five sections—KE-RA-ME-JA: Ceramic Studies; TA-RA-SI-JA: Industry and Craft Specialization; I-JE-RE-JA: Religion and Iconography; TI-MI-TI-JA: Pylos and Messenia; WA-NA-KA-TE-RA: Writing and Administration—the titles and themes of which are intended to reflect the research interests of the honorand. There is also a chronological bibliography listing Shelmerdine’s publications from 1969 to the present and a succinct but interesting biography written by Susan Shelmerdine.

In the first paper of the first section, Dickinson revisits the origins of the Late Helladic (LH) I pottery style. He considers in detail the relationship between LH I and Kytheran pottery in light of new material, concluding that the ultimate origins of LH I can still not be clarified. In the next paper, Shelton reviews the diverse shapes and decoration of the LH IIIA2 kylikes found in Petsas House at Mycenae, which she relates to a more general discussion of the functional and symbolic use of the kylix in this period. Galaty also looks at kylikes in his account of inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) analysis and the interesting results that can be obtained in relation to the details of pottery production and patterns of consumption at Pylos in the LH III period. Deger-Jalkotzy provides an overview of burial customs, pottery, and metal objects from the Elateia-Alonaki cemetery and discusses their wider significance for our understanding of the Sub-Mycenaean period. Rutter reviews recent research on the distribution of Canaanite transport amphoras and considers their significance for the reconstruction of patterns of exchange and trade in the Late Bronze Age.

In the next section, Parkinson and Pullen discuss the organization of craft production and specialization; on the basis of a comparison between the production of pottery and of obsidian blades, they argue that the extent to which different crafts were controlled by the palaces was dependent on their value as prestige goods to the palatial economy. Palaima analyzes Tablet Vn 130 from Pylos and proposes that it records the production of perfume at a site away from the palace, which, he suggests, may have been controlled by the qa-si-re-u. Nosch explores the metaphorical links between weaving, music, singing, and plotting in epic poetry and suggests that these links go back to the Bronze Age and may be recognized in both textual and iconographical evidence. Schon discusses chariots as examples of craftsmanship that manifest palatial ideology at Pylos. He also downplays a narrow interpretation of craft specialization and an exclusive relationship with the palace, arguing that craftsmen were hired for part-time work or on short-term contracts as needed.

In the third section, Giulizio and Nakassis contribute to a long-standing debate in Minoan religion on whether there was a single great goddess or several goddesses and gods by arguing that, in contrast to the iconographical evidence, the Knossos tablets allow for the identification of different divinities whose names can also in some cases be identified as Minoan rather than Greek. Crowley proposes that the ovals and dots on five gold signet rings are representations of beehives and bees, an identification that points to the ritual importance of bees and supports the textual and archaeological evidence for the importance of apiculture in the Bronze Age Aegean. Bendall discusses possible textual evidence from Pylos for the export of perfumed oil as offerings; she speculates that the oil recorded on FR 1202 and 1204 as dedications to the “Lady of Aswia” and to the “Divine Mother” may refer to shrines in Anatolia rather than in Messenia because the amounts are exceptionally large and both deities have Anatolian connections. Lupack focuses on the offerings of perfumed oil recorded in the FR series of which the recipient is the wanax. She argues that the wanax in question was not a particular reigning ruler but rather the ancestral wanax who may have been important to Mycenaean religion at Pylos and Mycenae, where the refurbishment of Grave Circle A at Mycenae in the LH IIIB period is also indicative of the importance of the ancestors to the Mycenaeans. García reviews the different interpretations that have been put forward for the significance of the snakes that occur in the tablets found in Thebes. With reference to the terracotta snakes found in the Cult Center at Mycenae, he argues that the plural might refer to groups of snakes with a guardian function.

In the fourth section, Boyd provides a detailed presentation of burials around Nichoria from the beginning of the Mycenaean period to the end of the Palatial period with a focus on the location of burials in the landscape and funerary practice in relation to change and continuity. Change over time is also highlighted by Murphy, whose re-examination of Blegen’s excavation notebooks relating to burials around the palace of Pylos underlies her contention that, in contrast to what was the case in the Early Mycenaean period, burials did not have an ideological significance in the LH IIIB–IIIC period. Nikoloudis provides a detailed discussion of the references to ka-ma lands in the Linear B tablets. She suggests that they were land holdings belonging to the damos but cultivated under the supervision of palatial officials in order to produce food that was given as rations to the palace workers. Stocker and Davis describe the reorganization of the storerooms containing material from Blegen’s excavations in the basement of the Hora Museum that led to the identification of material that had remained unpublished, some of which, such as wall painting fragments, is of great significance and is likely to change our views considerably on many aspects of the palace and can also shed light on the prepalatial and post-destruction history of the site.

In the final section of the volume, Perna provides a detailed overview of the development of early writing on Crete. He proposes that Linear A and Cretan Hieroglyphic originated in different cultural environments and represent the coexistence of two separate populations with different cultural identities. Hirschfeld analyzes the signs on pottery found at Ashkelon that have previously been identified as examples of Cypro-Minoan script. In contrast to earlier interpretations she concludes that they cannot be regarded as secure evidence for the adoption of the Cypro-Minoan writing system. Bennet and Halstead investigate the discrepancy between the information in Linear B and the palatial economy as inferred from the archaeological record. They emphasize the selectivity of the information recorded by the palace administration and posit that exchange and gift giving may have been more important than redistribution.

García Ramón provides a detailed linguistic argument for identifying o-po-re-i on a tablet from Thebes as being the dative of a man’s name since it must be considered to have the same structure as me-to-re-i, which also occurs in the tablets from Thebes and has been accepted as a man’s name. Both names contain ὄρος, which can also be recognised in the place name me-to-re-ja(-de), which is found on another Theban tablet. Firth investigates the tablets from the East-West Corridor Archive in order to ascertain the number of sheep and elucidate the composition and management of wool flocks at Knossos. His arguments are substantiated by comparison with a flock of Soay sheep on Hirta in the St. Kilda archipelago and by osteological evidence from Nichoria. The last paper, by Thomas, looks at Nilsson’s view of the relationship between Homer and the Mycenaean period and their aftermath. With regard to breadth of knowledge and interest in both literary and material evidence, she suggests that Nilsson and Shelmerdine are kindred spirits.

All in all, this is a rich and varied volume, even if it could perhaps be considered a bit heavy on the Linear B side. All the papers are well argued and interesting, and many present new perspectives that point the way to future research. Most of the papers explicitly refer to or take their inspiration from Shelmerdine’s work, and several also pay tribute by emulating her interdisciplinary approach. As might be expected, Pylos and Messenia take center stage, but other parts of the mainland, as well as Crete and the eastern Mediterranean, are also dealt with. The organization of the book is coherent and well thought out, the section themes are well chosen, and the papers within each of the sections mesh well with each other. Cynthia Shelmerdine’s work represents an inspiration to many of us for many reasons, and this book is a fitting tribute to a scholar who has had such great impact on Mycenaean archaeology.

Helene Whittaker
Department of Historical Studies
University of Gothenburg

Book Review of KE-RA-ME-JA: Studies Presented to Cynthia W. Shelmerdine, edited by Dimitri Nakassis, Joann Gulizio, and Sarah A. James

Reviewed by Helène Whittaker

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 120, No. 3 (July 2016)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1203.Whittaker

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