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Of Odysseys and Oddities: Scales and Modes of Interaction Between Prehistoric Aegean Societies and Their Neighbours

Of Odysseys and Oddities: Scales and Modes of Interaction Between Prehistoric Aegean Societies and Their Neighbours

Edited by Barry P.C. Molloy (Sheffield Studies in Aegean Archaeology 10). Pp. vii + 460. Oxbow, Oxford 2016. £38.00. ISBN 978-1-78570-231-0 (paper).

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The Aegean has long formed the testing ground for the study of connectivity in antiquity because of the abundance of material remains and the wealth of published information. The aim of this book is to situate the prehistoric Aegean in an increasing number of studies focusing on scales and modes of interaction, connectivity, mobility, and migration. It does that by assembling 16 papers presented in the 2013 Sheffield Aegean Round Table.

The theoretical background of this volume is presented in chapter 1, where Molloy contextualizes the contributions and categorizes the chapters in broad themes, including networks of interaction, ancient cosmologies, and human movement and mobility, as well as epistemological advances in the studies of intercultural interaction. This important introduction is informative and detailed, though some aspects warrant criticism. On one hand, the consideration of a wide spectrum of theoretical discussions provides a useful guideline to readers, while on the other, the degree to which the chapters incorporate these theories is not as extensive as suggested. Moreover, the intention of chapter 1 to find commonalities among the contributions provides a good summary, yet the discussion fails to highlight the wealth of information in and significance of the papers. To its credit, the book contains an array of synthetic case studies from all parts of the Aegean, and the contributors represent international educational and research institutions.

Legarra Herrero (ch. 2) critically examines long-standing associations between elites and interregional interaction and accessibility to nonlocal products. He uses the case of Middle Bronze Age Crete to argue for more complex interactions among social agents in the Mediterranean.

Chapter 3, in which Halstead first outlines the epistemological impact of culture-historical studies before 14C in the earlier Neolithic of Greece and subsequently provides a more nuanced study of artifact exchange via a wider range of socioeconomic agencies, is a significant contribution.

Çilingiroğlu (ch. 4) examines the widespread occurrence of impressed pottery as a proxy for connectivity within the Neolithic Aegean and eastern Mediterranean. She contextualizes the dispersal of this decoration type using Braudel’s (The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Phillip II [London 1972] 105–8) “slow-motion shipping” model to argue that unorganized, spontaneous, yet continuous seafaring likely laid foundations for connectivity in the Mediterranean. Similarly, Milić (ch. 5) argues that obsidian circulated in western Anatolia and Macedonia for centuries in a more “eccentric” rather than “systemic” manner (115).

Urem-Kotsou (ch. 6) explores connectivity in the Neolithic Balkans with emphasis on trade in salt. She examines evidence for large-scale production of salt (e.g., remains of briquetage, the process of extracting salt from seawater in ceramic vessels) with widespread distribution of material culture styles and luxury materials to highlight a geographic coincidence that may suggest that salt circulated along with those materials.

Horejs (ch. 7) discusses aspects of connectivity on the Anatolian Aegean coast in the seventh millennium B.C.E., comparing and contrasting the material culture found at Çukuriçi Höyük and contemporaneous sites within 150 km to the north.

Chapter 8, by Heyd and colleagues, who compare changing patterns of settlement location, scale, and complexity in Thrace in the third millennium B.C.E., is an important contribution. This chapter has a broad scope and engages with an impressive amount of material, much of it unpublished. Despite the significance of this contribution, however, parts of the chapter warrant criticism, in particular the introduction of third-millennium Thrace into theories of colonization by describing it as a “colony idea in its very beginnings” (194). This interpretation, which correlates nonlocal material with the presence of foreigners, could have been made more robust by including consideration of the alternative modes and scales of mobility that are the general themes of the book.

Kouka (ch. 9) attempts to associate similarities in the built environment with economic networking in the Aegean Early Bronze Age, with a particular focus on apsidal bastions. Similar to chapter 8, the correlation proposed between the architectural commonalities of several sites would have benefited from a more detailed theoretical discussion as well as additional material evidence.

Chapters 10 and 11 provide a useful overview of recent developments in trade and metrology in the southern Aegean. Rahmstorf (ch. 10) examines interregional commonalities among sealings and weights to reconstruct scales and modes of interaction in the Aegean and western Anatolia during the third millennium B.C.E. Similarly, Alberti (ch. 11) uses evidence from different weighing systems in the southern Aegean from the Early Bronze to the Early Iron Age to reconstruct historically contingent spheres of economic interaction.

Dawson (ch. 12) explores the meaning of connectivity and the sense of place to study place making and interaction in the Bronze Age. This chapter presents only the theoretical background and research questions, while promising that spatial analysis is in progress.

Molloy (ch. 13) examines artifacts of mixed heritage in the Aegean in the 13th- to 11th-century crisis years. Emphasis is placed on military contact as a mode of interaction. Boyd (ch. 14) focuses on cultural identities in the Mycenaean world through the lens of burial practices to consider critically the term “Mycenaean” and identify more localized patterns of interaction that are often excluded from broad-scale narratives.

Chapter 15 is one of the most rigorous and analytical papers; Mac Sweeny uses textual evidence to scrutinize long-standing interpretations of the Early Iron Age Anatolian–Aegean migration. She proposes that human movement was more dynamic and fluid, contrary to commonly accepted narratives that emphasize theories of migration and isolation. In the final chapter, Papadopoulos examines early urbanization in Epirus and southern Albania in the fourth century B.C.E to explore the relationship of this understudied area with the trajectory of interaction in the Greek world.

Overall, this volume is an important contribution to Aegean archaeology and the growing literature on mobility and interaction. Other than the issues highlighted about chapter 1, minor problems include a discrepancy between the description of the book on the back cover (17 studies) and the contents (16 studies), and the lack of scale and detail in some figures (e.g., figs. 7.3, 8.1, 8.9). These remarks should not be taken as an unfavorable assessment of this work, which is a valuable resource with up-to-date material studies of the prehistoric Aegean that deserves a wide audience and inclusion in archaeological libraries.

Georgia M. Andreou
Department of Classics
Cornell University

Book Review of Of Odysseys and Oddities: Scales and Modes of Interaction Between Prehistoric Aegean Societies and Their Neighbours, edited by Barry P.C. Molloy

Reviewed by Georgia M. Andreou

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 121, No. 4 (October 2017)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1214.Andreou

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