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Fouilles exécutées à Malia: Les abords Nord-Est du palais I. Les recherches et l’histoire du secteur

Fouilles exécutées à Malia: Les abords Nord-Est du palais I. Les recherches et l’histoire du secteur

Edited by Pascal Darcque (ÉtCrét 35). Pp. 202, figs. 21, b&w pls. 124, plans 19. École Française d’Athènes, Athens 2014. €92. ISBN 978-2-86958-259-0 (paper).

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The 35th volume of Études Crétoises is devoted to the publication of the area northeast of the palace of Malia, the “abords Nord-Est du palais,” where fieldwork was directed by Pascal Darcque and Claude Baurain (1981–1985, 1992). The aim of the volume—first of an announced series—is both to reconstruct, adopting a global and systemic perspective, the history of the site and to contribute to the comprehension of the life cycle of the palace and of Malia as a whole. Architecture is the main focus of a contextual approach, which draws attention to the changing patterns of the building layouts and the related social practices through time. The stratigraphic perspective, strengthened by the interdisciplinary approach, constitutes the connecting thread and grants objectivity to the narrative.

Description and explanation are perfectly balanced in the text and even in the rich series of plans, which constitute a superb core of illustrations. The first chapter (Darcque) is devoted to the history of research, starting with the discovery of the palace’s north facade and the early excavations of the northeast entrance by Fernand Chapouthier and Pierre Demargne. By introducing the systematic excavations, the author illustrates the adopted methods (founded on Wheeler’s grid-square) as well as instruments and techniques of the research, including topography and geophysical investigations.

In the next chapter (Darcque et al.) the authors present the data grouped in 20 “niveaux,” according to a bottom-up order, proceeding from the deepest and most ancient to the most superficial and recent evidence. With the term “niveaux,” the authors intend to identify unitary phases: structures and contexts connected by synchronous stratigraphic relationships are grouped into the same niveau. Within each niveau, a systematic presentation includes the description of the archaeological evidence, a list of materials, and explanatory paragraphs focusing on both chronology and function. The adopted order is helpful and is well suited for a clear scientific communication. The reviewer regrets that the stratigraphic relationships on which the proposed sequence is founded are not communicated as clearly; stratigraphic units (SUs) are not described in terms of geoarchaeological aspects, and their illustration in places is ambiguous (see pl. 9b, unclear from a depositional viewpoint). What is possibly missing for the reader is more information about the use of basic concepts such as the SU. Do SUs correspond to unitary actions or single events in the past, as we would expect from an analysis based on the principles set by Harris (Principles of Archaeological Stratigraphy [London 1979])? Or should we recognize a pure convention useful for collection and classification?

The 20 niveaux cover a period from mid-Prepalatial well into modern times; building activities and permanent occupation concern exclusively the late Middle (MBA) and early Late Bronze Age (LBA).

Prepalatial occupation (Niveaux 1–2: Early Minoan [EM] IIA–B) is only indirectly documented by pottery redeposited for leveling the area in Middle Minoan (MM) II. Niveaux 3–7 give, however, only scanty evidence of MM II remains to the north of the palace and shed more light on an independent quarter farther to the east. Imported pottery, evidence of craft activities such as weaving, stone- and horn-working, as well as remains of rooms with specialized functions prompt the authors to search for parallels in Quartier Mu. The evidence seems, however, only partially comparable: the textile instruments do not match the number of weights from Quartier Mu, while some evidence that is significant there, such as metalworking, is missing here. Sealing activities evidenced by instruments in both places might, however, point to similar practices of control on production and circulation of goods.

During MM II, the authors identify two successive destructions, the latest followed by abandonment of the area northeast of the palace. Intensive occupation indeed involved the area northeast of the palace only in the LBA (Niveaux 8–11), beginning with activities early in Late Minoan (LM) IA and continuing with rebuilding episodes, which have permitted the authors to propose a new Neopalatial ceramic sequence. In LM IA (early), the palace seems to have been monumentalized through the addition of a complex access to the northeast entrance. The built area—framed by screen walls and including a raised walkway from the northeast, a basin or shallow sunken area encompassed by cobble pavements, a porch, and a small building—represents a coherent system made up of single units well rooted in the Protopalatial tradition. For some of these we might find parallels in the circulatory patterns of other palaces, such as the system with “Bastione” and “vasca” at the edge of the western court at Phaistos (MM IB–II). The Bastione has been interpreted by Carinci and La Rosa (“Revisioni festie II, Parte prima: Il c.d. Bastione ovest,” CretAnt 10 [2009] 147–206) as a special building for the completion of ritual acts by people approaching the palace, an explanation that is not very different from that put forward at Malia for LM Building 10. Like the Bastione at Phaistos, Building 10 at Malia also appears to have been rebuilt during several phases, thus showing its substantial function in the long term. According to the authors, the system was completed, to the south of the entrance, by a stairway serving the upper floor.

In LM IA (advanced) (Niveaux 10–11), the entrance undergoes transformation, possibly as a result of the changing relationships between the palace and its environment: a cobbled space or court is created along the northern facade, delimiting, with a new building, a northeast-oriented passageway. This layout was affected by a destruction at a date possibly coinciding with the Thera volcanic event (see M. Devolder, “Le quartier Nu (Malia, Crète): L’occupation néopalatiale,” BCH 136–137 [2012–2013] 72). A pottery group sealed under the destruction layer of Building 10 at that time indicates the special ritual function of the structure; also, the small dimensions, status as an independent building, and presence of benches along the inner walls are all features that might indeed support the hypothesis of ritual use and even religious cult.

Further reshaping, including the filling of the sunken area, new passageways, and a rebuilding of Building 10, is dated to LM IB (not excluding LM IA [late]; cf. Devolder [2012–2103] 67–8). Later evidence of destruction by fire may be related to the final disruption of the Minoan palaces at the end of LM IB. The uppermost niveaux represent only scanty occupation; a thick layer, dating possibly to LM IIIA, is interpreted as the result of water runoff.

The third chapter (Darcque with Oberlin) is devoted to the discussion of a few ¹⁴C dates, a couple of them relevant for supporting the low dates in the long-standing debate on the chronology of the Aegean LBA. In the concluding section (Darcque and Van de Moortel), the authors go through the main steps of the research in a successful attempt to integrate the data into the wider framework of the history of the palace and the settlement of Malia.

After stressing both the scantiness of Neolithic evidence and the ambiguities of findings before EM IIA, the authors emphasize the importance of the Prepalatial data from the northeast area of the palace for defining the eastern limit of the EM II occupation of Malia. They seem to disregard, however, the perspective adopted by those who connect the monumental origin of the court-centered building to EM IIB antecedents. By contrast, they support the foundation of the palace as a revolutionary event, to be dated either to EM III–MM I or MM IA–MM IB (depending on the chronology of the well-known foundation deposit, IV 7). The decrease of evidence in the late Prepalatial period might indicate a substantial drop and even abandonment of Malia, as suggested by Poursat (e.g., “Malia: Palace, State, City,” in O. Krzyszkowska, ed., Malia: Palace, State, City, in Cretan Offerings. Studies in Honour of Peter Warren [London 2010] 259–60), but also a general shifting and reorganization dependent on the inception of the building project at the palace site. As for MM II, by commenting further on the eastern quarter, the authors stress the impressive cultural uniformity connecting the different parts of Malia, a phenomenon that involves pottery style, distribution of craft activities, circulation of external goods, and modes of administration. Sharing of material cultures and social practices does not mean, in the authors’ opinion, heterarchic organization; by contrast, the idea of a centrality of the palace is strongly supported. The sharp discontinuity recorded at the end of the Protopalatial period constitutes an important link to the history of Malia at large.

As for the Neopalatial period, the authors emphasize the sequence of shaping and reshaping activities and transformation of the northeast entrance, resulting in a gradual restriction of the circulation according to the needs of control and protection of the palace access. LM IB occupation is finally noted, on the one hand for connecting the local history to the dramatic events concerning the end of palaces and, on the other hand, for ruling out the hypothesis of a final destruction of the palace in LM IA.

In sum, the reader will fully appreciate this book, which, for the combined approach to architecture, ceramic, and stratigraphy, the systematic organization, the far-reaching control of a full range of historical problems, and—last but not least—a generous concern for an efficacious and easy communication, may definitely be considered a milestone in the history of research at Malia.

Elisabetta Borgna
Department of Humanities and Cultural Heritage
University of Udine

Book Review of Fouilles exécutées à Malia: Les abords Nord-Est du palais I. Les recherches et l’histoire du secteur, edited by Pascal Darcque

Reviewed by Elisabetta Borgna

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 120, No. 4 (October 2016)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1204.Borgna

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