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Communities, Landscapes, and Interaction in Neolithic Greece

Communities, Landscapes, and Interaction in Neolithic Greece

Edited by Apostolos Sarris, Evita Kalogiropoulou, Tuna Kalayci, and Evagelia Karimali (International Monographs in Prehistory, Archaeological Series 20). Pp. xxxii + 480. Berghahn, New York 2017. $39. ISBN 9781879621473 (paper).

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This edited volume brings together international scholars working on a wide range of topics and perspectives relating to the Greek Neolithic. The variable archaeological record and the localized trajectories characteristic of this period are celebrated by collaborative and multidisciplinary contributions that touch on many, but not all, regions of Greece. The volume provides an updated account of Neolithic research in Greece and outlines successfully the multitude of methodological and theoretical underpinnings that currently shape its agenda. Timely publication of this book furthers the effort for synthesis in Greek prehistory by offering a thematic overview of the Neolithic, useful for any scholar with an interest in this geographic area.

The 30 chapters are organized in interrelated and overlapping sections around the topics of (1) intersite and intrasite spatial organization, settlement patterns, and the intersecting role of the environment in Neolithic lifeways; (2) the dynamic construction of Neolithic landscapes and their interactive role in subsistence strategies; and (3) the relationship between material culture and interactions between humans and sites shaping and shaped by the landscape. The common ground for these different engagements is a social microarchaeological approach that departs from normative viewpoints in the study of the Greek Neolithic in favor of a bottom-up inquiry discussed by Kalogiropoulou and Sarris (ch. 1) that prioritizes local scales of material and spatial articulations.

The strands of this inquiry revolve around the interactions of human spatiality and materiality with the landscape and the environment. The issues of variability in architecture and subsistence strategies, the differential impact of Neolithic habitation in the landscape, and the forms of social complexity present during the Neolithic are studied through a multitude of analytical perspectives that include settlement patterns and spatial organization, land use strategies, architecture and building techniques, and intersite networks, and through different artifactual categories, such as pottery, lithics, architectural remains, and ecofactual data. The lack of internal chronological or thematic organization within each section makes the navigation of the book rather sluggish, while also difficult to review in a coherent manner.

The first section of the book begins with a review of Neolithization in Greece by Reingruber (ch. 2), who dismisses older binary views on this topic for an interpretation informed by a fluid and actively evolving acculturation process in the Aegean since the Mesolithic. The remaining chapters of this section present site-specific, local, and regional accounts through different perspectives and analytical categories. The contributions by Sarris and Alram-Stern and their colleagues (chs. 3 and 9) stand out for the application of noninvasive geospatial technologies in the reconstruction of inter- and intrasite settlement patterns in their environmental contexts. Both studies, focused on eastern Thessaly and Visviki Magoula, respectively, challenge the uniqueness of the concentric spatial layouts of Late Neolithic (LN) Dimini and Palioskala.

The combined use of stratigraphic excavation, site-based survey techniques, and artifactual and ecofactual data informs the chapters on Koutroulou Magoula and Alepotrypa Cave/Diros (chs. 6 and 8). Hamilakis and colleagues present the architecture and spatial organization of Middle Neolithic (MN) Koutroulou Magoula, complemented by the results of geophysical survey, and they assess the information provided by pottery and chipped stone industries and by petrographic, macrobotanical, and phytolithic data for the reconstruction of landscape use and intersite networking. Parkinson and colleagues discuss the history of Alepotrypa Cave and its environs during the Neolithic through pedestrian and geophysical survey and by reexamining micromorphological and phytolithic data from older excavation contexts. Chapter 5 (Malamidou and colleagues) integrates architectural, artifactual, and archaeobotanological remains for the fine-grained study of a cluster of LN buildings from Dikili Tash, also providing important insight on the exploitation of woodland resources.

Pappa and colleagues (ch. 4), Coleman and colleagues (ch. 7), and Renard and Cavanagh (ch. 10) focus on Vasilika Kyparissi, Halai, and Kouphovouno, respectively, and contextualize their architecture, spatial layouts, and economic aspects in their socioeconomic landscapes. The results from the recently resumed excavation at Vasilika Kyparissi (ch. 4) deserve special notice because of the central role attributed to this site for the understanding of settlement typology and architectural variability in Neolithic central Macedonia (Greece) since the 1980s.

The last three chapters of this section employ different analytical categories to attempt regional synthesis. Kloukinas (ch. 11) delivers an agency-based perspective on Neolithic dwellings from Macedonia, assessing inter- and intrasite variations in their construction practices and technologies, while Psimogiannou (ch. 13) “retraces” the Final Neolithic (FN) in central and southern Greece through the evidence afforded by cemeteries and sites characterized by the abundance or the exclusive presence of pits. Finally, Alušík (ch. 12) presents his own take on communal works (e.g., ditches and enclosures) from selected Neolithic sites, understood in these cases as being defensive in nature.

The chapters of the second section can be roughly divided into two groups. The first explores by empirical or technological means the dynamics of landscape and settlement patterns. Kalogiropoulou (ch. 14) surveys the observed landscape preferences of LN–FN settlements in the Cyclades and northern Sporades; she redefines insularity as a dynamic component of these communities through a particularistic approach that highlights the variability of their settlement patterns, architecture, and potential for connectivity and identity building. Tankosić and Katsianis (ch. 15) use a GIS framework to incorporate diverse spatial data (excavated sites and field survey results) in their study of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age settlement patterns in southern Euboea. Finally, Beck, Sakellariou, and Koutsoumba (ch. 17) revisit Franchthi Cave and present the findings of seafloor and subseafloor geological-geophysical survey conducted in the Bay of Kiladha concerning the potential habitation of the cave in the Pleistocene to early Holocene periods.

The second group includes papers that use ecofactual data to study aspects of socioeconomic organization, and particularly the entanglements between humans, animals, and the environment. Koromila and colleagues (ch. 18) examine archaeobotanical, phytolithic, and faunal data in micromorphological samples of animal dung from MN Koutroulou Magoula. They deliver valuable information on feeding and grazing strategies for domesticated animals and evidence for small-scale mobility patterns. Cavanagh and colleagues (ch. 19) discuss archaeobotanical and faunal remains coupled with isotope analysis at MN–LN Kouphovouno to study human and animal consumption patterns and to trace variations in feeding and husbandry practices. Kazantzis (ch. 20) researches intrasite use of space at LN Promachon-Topolnica through the distribution of faunal remains and examines the dietary and symbolic value of different animal species. Stratouli and Metaxas (ch. 16) address Drakaina Cave in Kephalonia in terms of its potential to have served as a dynamic landscape marker and a symbolic locale in which manufacturing activity (abundance of projectile points) blended with cosmological beliefs, collectively negotiated identities, and insular connectivity.

The chapter by Efstratiou (ch. 21) on social interaction in prehistoric societies introduces the third section of the book and poses important questions that transcend the volume’s focus. Drawing from recent Marxist work, Efstratiou contemplates the dialectics of historically situated social phenomena and uses examples from the Neolithic archaeological record to discuss the interconnectedness of social relations and processes. Most of the remaining chapters are dominated by site-specific and regional studies from northern Greece focused on pottery, lithic tools, and figurines and discuss how these industries are engaged in local, regional, and supraregional networks. The one exception is Smith’s examination (ch. 26) of the limited FN burial data from the Argolic Gulf from a perspective that incorporates prosocial behavior in the construction of local networks and common identities.

Urem-Kotsou and colleagues (ch. 22) undertake morphological, stylistic, and petrological analysis of pottery from recently excavated Early Neolithic (EN)–MN sites in central and western Macedonia. The authors provide a succinct ceramic sequence for these periods, which until recently were underrepresented in scholarship, and they discuss how local and regional networks with neighboring Thessalian sites affect the technology and decoration of this ceramic production. Pentedeka (ch. 23) employs chemical and petrographic analysis of MN–LN Thessalian fine and coarse pottery to reconstruct regional networking and its localized variations, as well as to identify potential production and distribution centers on the basis of pottery fabric groups.

Mastrogiannopoulou and Bonga (chs. 24 and 25) discuss decorated pottery. The former interprets the persistent presence of MN–LN I painted pottery at Sarakenos Cave as a result of conscious conservatism materialized in deposition during commensality episodes. The latter examines decorated pottery from a peculiar structure located at the center of Mavropigi-Filotsairi, one of the earliest EN sites in northern Greece, and attempts a brief comparison with the neighboring areas to discuss spatial trajectories of Neolithization. Alram-Stern (ch. 27) presents an assemblage of 18 anthropomorphic figurines from FN Aegina-Kolonna. The figurines, some of which are typologically unique in the Aegean, are interpreted as the result of local traditions and traits circulating through regional networks, highlighting the active constitution of connectivity.

The last three chapters adopt a sociotechnological outlook on ground and chipped stone industries in northern Greece. Bekiaris and colleagues (ch. 28) explore the procurement of raw materials, technological details of manufacture, and patterns of consumption of ground stone tools from MN–LN Avgi to discuss how this material fits with expressions of territoriality, manufacturing traditions, local networking, and invested aesthetic values. Kakavakis (ch. 29) employs chipped stone tool industries to study interactions among northern Greek communities during the Neolithic, following an agency-based line of inquiry. Dogiama (ch. 30) shows how active the social landscape was at Revenia Korinos during the EN. Focusing on chipped stone tools made from imported obsidian and honey and brown flint, the author underlines the capacity of EN households not only to participate in supraregional exchange networks but also to command highly skilled work and specific technical knowledge.

A concluding chapter to contextualize all these diverse contributions would have been helpful. Nonetheless, the great variety of themes and approaches characteristic of current Neolithic research in Greece is eloquently represented in the volume. As a final note, the numerous maps, colored plates, drawings, figures, tables, and the references organized separately for each chapter make up for the absence of an index and provide helpful visualizations and stimuli for further reading.

Paschalis Zafeiriadis
Norwegian Institute at Athens

Book Review of Communities, Landscapes, and Interaction in Neolithic Greece, edited by Apostolos Sarris, Evita Kalogiropoulou, Tuna Kalayci, and Evagelia Karimali

Reviewed by Paschalis Zafeiriadis

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 123, No. 4 (October 2019)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1234.Zafeiriadis

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