You are here

Vravron: The Mycenaean Cemetery

July 2016 (120.3)

Book Review

Vravron: The Mycenaean Cemetery

By Thanasis I. Papadopoulos and Litsa Kontorli-Papadopoulou (SIMA 142). Pp. xiv + 284, figs. 325, b&w pls. 100, color pls. 4. Åströms Förlag, Uppsala 2014. €76. ISBN 978-91-7081-255-2 (cloth).

Reviewed by

This volume is the publication of six different excavations that were conducted by Valerios Stais in 1895, by D. Theocharis and I. Papadimitriou in 1955–1956, by Nikos Verdelis in 1965, by Petros Themelis in 1972–1973, and by O. Kakovoyanni in 1984 (xxi). It presents both the cemetery and the acropolis of Vravron, including the site’s history, the various tombs, and their contents, in a straightforward and well-illustrated manner. The book is clearly organized, and the chapters generally benefit from the inclusion of maps, plans, drawings, and color photographs at the end of the publication. The authors discuss tomb architecture, burial customs, and the associated material objects (pottery, figurines, metals, and miscellaneous objects), and they compare this material to what has been discovered at other cemetery sites in the region.

In the first chapter, the 37 tombs (25 chamber tombs, four cist graves, two pit graves, and six lacking description) that comprise the cemetery are presented in as much detail as made possible by the original excavation notes, diaries, and records (7). Frequently, entries include statements to the effect that no further evidence was available to the authors relating to the specific location of tombs, their contents, and any distinct architectural features of the tombs (20, 41). The authors also specify the instances when associated material could not be located in the museum in which it was stored (14, 36). These are issues that impact every excavation and subsequent publication project, and in this volume they are treated with refreshing honesty and transparency.

Following this chapter, the architectural features of the mortuary contexts are discussed as groups, with the limited information from the original excavations used for support, as opposed to a detailed discussion of individual tombs. This approach, which results from the information that was initially recorded, manages to make the most of the available evidence.

As is commonly the case with excavation volumes, a detailed discussion of the ceramic material, with clear illustrations and photographs, comprises the majority of the evidence and therefore the publication itself. A total of 473 vessels were recovered, and the vast majority were either completely preserved or their shapes were identified based on available evidence (123). Overall, the pottery was locally produced and does not differ from typical Mycenaean shapes, motifs, or production techniques (123). There are a few examples of imports from the Argolid, Crete, and the Cyclades (124). The examples are grouped into closed and open shapes, and then specific forms are discussed within these categories. The associated grave goods are discussed in the subsequent chapters, beginning with the 21 figurines that were discovered over the course of excavations. This chapter would have been stronger had it included specific details about at least a few of the examples. Instead, it presents a general overview and supports the interpretation that female figurines, most of which were discovered in infant or child burials, represent guiding or guarding divinities (149). Metal and miscellaneous objects are treated in slightly more detail, but, again, these chapters would have benefited from a detailed discussion of specific examples. Clay, stone, bone, and glass objects comprise the miscellaneous objects chapter, and while there is not enough material in terms of quantity to warrant separate chapters for each category, a detailed discussion of the significant quantity of glass paste plaques and stylized beads would have increased our understanding of these categories. Additionally, a more detailed discussion of these objects, particularly the glass paste plaques, could have shed light on various trade networks, as much of the raw material seems to have originated outside of the region. These chapters would also have been stronger if a few of the numerous photographs from the section of plates had been included with the text, as was done with line drawings in the chapter on pottery.

This volume is not revolutionary in the conclusions that it presents, and in fact it makes a strong case for the cemetery at Vravron conforming to general patterns seen in other Mycenaean cemeteries, such as Perati and Alyke-Voula. It does contribute, however, a more comprehensive understanding of Vravron from the Middle Helladic through the Late Helladic IIIB period, which somewhat balances the emphasis on the archaic and early classical sanctuary of Artemis Vravronia in other publications.

The real strength of the book is that it demonstrates the potential for archaeological publication in the face of significant difficulties. Made clear in the preface is the fact that the current economic situation in Greece is having a serious impact on, among other things, archaeological activities, including publication. For example, the study of this material was completed in 2006 and the manuscript submitted to the Greek Archaeological Society as required. Only after four years, however, were the authors informed that the society could not publish the volume due to financial reasons (xxi), and it was then submitted and published elsewhere. This book also further demonstrates what can be accomplished by revisiting the documentary and material evidence left behind by myriad excavations that have not fully, or in some cases ever, published their findings. There should be more of these volumes, and this one should serve as a reminder that the more significant the gap between excavation and publication, the more information potentially can be lost. 

Katie Lantzas
Chestnut Hill College

Book Review of Vravron: The Mycenaean Cemetery, by Thanasis I. Papadopoulos and Litsa Kontorli-Papadopoulou

Reviewed by Katie Lantzas

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

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1203.Lantzas

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.