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Petras, Siteia: The Pre- and Proto-palatial Cemetery in Context. Acts of a Two-Day Conference Held at the Danish Institute at Athens, 14–15 February 2015

Petras, Siteia: The Pre- and Proto-palatial Cemetery in Context. Acts of a Two-Day Conference Held at the Danish Institute at Athens, 14–15 February 2015

Edited by Metaxia Tsipopoulou (Monographs of the Danish Institute at Athens 21). Pp. 446. The Danish Institute at Athens and Aarhus University Press, Aarhus 2017. Kr. 499.95. ISBN 978-87-7184-157-2 (cloth).

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This volume may at first appear to be the proceedings of a conference related to the excavation of the site, but in reality it is much more. As the editor makes clear in the preface, at its heart the book is an interim report of the first detailed excavation in decades of a well-preserved Pre- and Protopalatial Cretan cemetery. In addition, it includes several papers that consider more widely the rich funerary record of east Crete during these periods. Finally, it also aims to provide a wider examination of and debate about the Pre- and Protopalatial periods, a goal exemplified by a couple of papers at the end of the volume.

Therefore, the volume may appeal to a wider audience than one would expect by just looking at the title. Also, it does something extremely significant: together with recent monographs from the Sissi Archaeological Project (J. Driessen et al., Excavations at Sissi III: Preliminary Report on the 2011 Campaign. AEGIS 6 [Louvain 2013]), it establishes a new standard for the rapid publication of new data in the form of preliminary reports. This is a crucial change from the traditional ways archaeological data have been published in the Aegean—extremely slowly and through long-delayed final publications. This is the second report published on the Petras cemetery, and it presents material found prior to 2015. This volume and the first (M. Tsipopoulou, ed., Petras, Siteia: 25 Years of Excavations and Studies. Monographs of the Danish Institute at Athens 16 [Athens 2012]) should be praised for breaking from the stale mold, publishing a rich, multidisciplinary analysis of the data retrieved by the project. Furthermore, it demonstrates that sharing data openly, even when it is preliminary, stimulates rich and innovative discussions.

The volume includes 26 papers plus introductory matter. The contributions can be divided into three groups. A first group of 16 articles concerns the reports of the architecture and material from the excavation. A long opening chapter from the editor describing in detail the structure and chronology of the cemetery provides a clear context for the data presented in the next 15 contributions. These contain a wide range of data and analysis types, including, among others, iconography (Simandaraki-Grinshaw); studies of pottery (Tsipopoulou, Nodarou), stone artifacts (Relaki and Tsoraki, Dierckx), and sealstones (Krzyszkowska); archaeometallurgy (Giumlia-Mair et al.); zooarchaeology (Isaakidou); malacology (Theodoropoulou); and osteoarchaeology (Triantaphyllou). The opportunity to have a first look at the new data is extremely useful, particularly as it is mostly presented by specialists in high-quality studies. Authors indicate that many aspects of the presented data should be taken as preliminary, which is understandable, but there is much to be gained even from these first reports. Thanks to prompt publication, Petras is rapidly claiming a central place in the interpretation of the rich Pre- and Protopalatial funerary record.

The seven contributions in the second group present data from nearby funerary sites—such as Zakros (Platon), Myrtos-Pyrgos (Cadogan), and Sissi (Schoep et al.)—but also broader approaches to the funerary landscapes of east Crete (Papadatos) and human mobility analyses (Nikita et al.). The third group, the last four chapters, is a mixture of contributions that have in common a more general review of the Protopalatial period: a theoretical model to the study of cemeteries by Vavouranakis, a network analysis by Knappett and Ichim, the transcription of the final discussion in the workshop moderated by MacDonald, and the final remarks by Haggis. In an edited book centered around the publication of a site, these added contributions stand on their own as significant and provide insightful approaches for more encompassing debates. 

The only criticism of the volume offered here regards its editing and form of publication. Its price is high for a book that contains information that will be updated in the next few years. Also, the lack of an electronic version is regrettable. The book has more typos than one would expect, plus major errors such as the editing of the conclusions in Knappett and Ichim’s article as a separate discussion (410–11). Moreover, despite the price, the book includes only black-and-white illustrations, in many of which it is impossible to distinguish the information intended to be conveyed. The map of the site presented in the first chapter, for example, which is essential for understanding the cemetery and the following papers, is small, and the periodization of the features cannot be followed because of the shades of gray used. This is true for almost every illustration; in the case of the network analysis presented by Knappett and Ichim, for example, the poor quality of the illustrations makes it impossible to follow the main points of the article. The Petras volume would have benefited from following the model of the recent reports from the Sissi project, which are more oriented toward their electronic version, include many color illustrations, and are less expensive. The inclusion of discussions after each contribution in the Petras book is useful, but still better would be to make these recorded debates available electronically as podcasts.

The volume has a wide appeal, greater than a basic site interim report would warrant, and should be read by anyone interested in the Pre- and Protopalatial periods in Crete. The new data are welcome, particularly given the high quality of excavation and analysis, and there are numerous papers that offer new ideas and approaches to the study of the periods, making the volume relevant for many scholars and students. Despite some poor editorial choices, as mentioned above, the book should be considered a prime example of the value of quickly publicizing first results, and one can only hope that a third volume on the cemetery will follow.

Borja Legarra Herrero
Institute of Archaeology
University College London

Book Review of Petras, Siteia: The Pre- and Proto-palatial Cemetery in Context. Acts of a Two-Day Conference Held at the Danish Institute at Athens, 14–15 February 2015, edited by Metaxia Tsipopoulou

Reviewed by Borja Legarra Herrero

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 122, No. 1 (January 2018)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1221.herrero

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