You are here

Kavousi IIC: The Late Minoan IIIC Settlement at Vronda. Specialist Reports and Analyses

Kavousi IIC: The Late Minoan IIIC Settlement at Vronda. Specialist Reports and Analyses

Edited by Geraldine C. Gesell and Leslie Preston Day (Prehistory Monographs 52). Pp. xxx + 510. INSTAP Academic Press, Philadelphia 2016. $80. ISBN 978-1-931534-84-0 (cloth).

Reviewed by

Between 1981 and 1992, an American team conducted fieldwork at Kavousi, in East Crete, focusing on a cluster of sites in their microregional, historical, and ecological contexts. One of the sites the team excavated was Vronda, a Late Minoan (LM) IIIC (ca. 1170–1050 B.C.E.) hilltop village that grew larger than 0.5 ha and included 20–25 houses and a population of 100–150 people. The small size, defensible location, and brief occupation of Vronda are typical of the settlement pattern that emerged in Crete in the transition to the Early Iron Age. The site yielded only limited evidence for earlier and later activity, including Minoan domestic remains, Late Geometric and Protoarchaic burials, and Venetian to modern structures.

The publication series of the Kavousi project was launched in 2005, just over a decade after the end of fieldwork, with a volume on the surface survey of the area (D.C. Haggis, Kavousi I: The Archaeological Survey of the Kavousi Region [Philadelphia 2005]). Two more recent multiauthored volumes discuss the archaeology of Vronda contextually, with individual buildings as the units of analysis (L. Preston Day, N.L. Klein, and L.A. Turner, Kavousi IIA: The Late Minoan IIIC Settlement at Vronda. The Buildings on the Summit [Philadelphia 2009]; L. Preston Day and K.T. Glowacki, Kavousi IIB: The Late Minoan IIIC Settlement at Vronda. The Buildings on the Periphery [Philadelphia 2012]). This volume complements the set by approaching the same material according to artifact classes. Two forthcoming volumes, one on the LM IIIC shrine and another on the Late Geometric and Protoarchaic burials, will complete the publication of Vronda.

The volume in question is well organized and offers rigorous analyses but avoids theoretical considerations. It fittingly opens with a chapter on the architecture of most of the structures (excluding the LM IIIC shrine and pottery kiln), providing synthetic discussions of building materials (all “locally available” [7]), construction techniques and architectural features (“straightforward and functional with very few decorative embellishments” [9]), and individual buildings and their spatial arrangements. It also includes interesting discussions of space syntax analyses and of proxemics. With the exception of the special Building A-B (on which see below), the Vronda houses typically comprised two or three rooms at first but were expanded to house several coresident domestic groups.

The pottery chapter discusses the material by chronological period (prehistoric to modern), by ware (fine to coarse), and by shape, with drawings organized accordingly. Individual sections also treat the material under household assemblages and investigate the temporal and spatial distributions of different wares and fabrics. The comprehensive analysis reveals notable similarities in the ceramic assemblages of the different buildings at Vronda, with the exception of Building A-B, which yielded unusually high quantities of fine wares and pithoi. The chapter also treats the pre–LM IIIC material, which is limited but goes back to the Final Neolithic, and includes closed deposits. The post–LM IIIC pottery from settlement contexts is also limited and includes very few pieces identified as Sub-Minoan and Venetian to modern.

There are only 10 figurines from Vronda, and all are handmade, solid, and represent bovines or horses. Their reliable contexts and meticulous study enable the secure dating of the material and offer a welcome revision of the chronology of comparable finds from other Cretan sites. The chapter comes with a series of tables on the Vronda material and its closest comparisons.

Stone tools were found in abundance and in a variety of types and made from mostly locally available raw materials. Obsidian is largely missing, as it is in nearby Chalasmenos, which relates to discussions over the disuse of this material after prehistory. Nearly half of the stone tools derive from Building I-O-N, but this is probably because of the uneven preservation of the site.

Few other objects were recovered at Vronda, suggesting that the inhabitants removed metal and other items prior to abandonment. The few metal objects that were recovered probably date from later periods.

Taphonomy resulted in the poor preservation of faunal remains and the destruction of the bones of small and young animals. The relevant record is characterized by the predominance of ovicacaprids, the cooking of pig and cattle by pot boiling or on braziers, the occasional consumption of dog meat, the rarity of marine shells, and the intentional modification of cattle crania for probable use as wall hangings in Building A-B.

The plant remains from Vronda are poor in quality and preservation. They largely derive from the Late Geometric and Protoarchaic burials, and their discussion would perhaps have fitted better in the forthcoming volume on these contexts.

The final chapter offers a diachronic panorama of Vronda and fleshes out daily life, sociopolitical structure, and economy in the LM IIIC period. The prehistory of Vronda cannot be reconstructed in detail, but a building with administrative functions may have occupied the hilltop in the Protopalatial period. After a few centuries of abandonment, the LM IIIC village was established, its foundation and later abandonment probably relating to the movement of people from and to the neighboring site of Kavousi Kastro. Building A-B, which crowns the hilltop and stands out in terms of its architecture and other finds, is identified as the house of the leader of the community (rather than as a communal storage facility or as an andreion, two possibilities that are also explored). Nearby buildings are ascribed to people of higher status than those residing down the slopes.

The volume closes with four appendices on specialized topics, including the building of a traditional oven, radiocarbon dating (which yielded absolute dates that are higher than those typically assigned to LM IIIC and are not narrow enough to settle questions of chronology), and vessel capacity (which could be usefully compared with a study on Early Iron Age Knossos: N. Tsatsaki, Μετρολογική Προσέγγιση της Κεραμικής από την Κνωσό: Υπομινωική έως Ανατολίζουσα περίοδος [Rethymnon 2004]).

The work exhibits the superb quality that characterizes the publications of INSTAP Academic Press. It contains an impressive range of more than 200 illustrations (mostly drawings), including digital reconstructions of the site, and nearly 100 tables.

In conclusion, this volume, along with the Vronda series in general, represents an authoritative and comprehensive study of the archaeology of the site. It is a reference work for LM IIIC Crete and sets a model for final publications of Aegean settlement sites.

Antonis Kotsonas
Department of Classics
University of Cincinnati

Book Review of Kavousi IIC: The Late Minoan IIIC Settlement at Vronda: Specialist Reports and Analyses, edited by Geraldine C. Gesell and Leslie Preston Day

Reviewed by Antonis Kotsonas

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

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1221.kotsonas

Add new comment

Plain text

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