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Archeologia a Camarina: Ceramiche e utensili in età ellenistica

July 2021 (125.3)

Book Review

Archeologia a Camarina: Ceramiche e utensili in età ellenistica

By Paolo Masci. Rome: Gangemi Editore 2020. Pp. 160. €26. ISBN 978-88-492-3891-4 (paper).

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This short and low-cost monograph documents a unified fill found at Kamarina in southeastern Sicily, a region from which little Hellenistic material has been published. Masci presents the fill found in a 5.8 m deep cistern that was excavated in 1961–62 by Paola Pelagatti, who provides the introduction for this monograph. The cistern was filled with pottery apparently deposited at one time, since similar fragments were found throughout the deposit. He assigns a date of ca. 350–250 BCE to all but 29 residual sherds. Of the 411 fragmentary vessels presented from the main period of the fill, 381 are wheelmade fine and plain wares. Except for a few examples, the pottery shares a unified pale red fabric that indicates it was locally made (although, unfortunately, no archaeometric analysis is provided). Oddly, no unguentaria were found. The pottery clearly seems to have derived from domestic sources, although Masci notes (10) that Pelagatti has suggested that the large number of fine plates (n = 64) in the upper levels may have come from a kapeleion

There can be little doubt that this monograph adds greatly to our knowledge of Early Hellenistic ceramics in Sicily. The majority of the catalogued fragments are well illustrated with drawings, or by black-and-white or color photographs. The text is well edited, and the notes provide a full record of comparanda found at other sites. The text analyzes the classes of ceramics in depth. 

Masci follows Jean-Paul Morel’s monumental analysis of Italic forms in his discussion and catalogue of the 142 fragments of Hellenistic fine wares; he then subdivides the forms into types based mainly on rim variations. The largest portion of the monograph is devoted to 253 examples of plain wares, classes of pottery that have been little published at Hellenistic Sicilian sites. These are presented in four standard functional categories: dispensing, table, preparatory, and cooking. Many of the plain shapes are classified after the forms defined by Lorenza Grasso at Caracausi, a rural site near Lentini of the late fourth century BCE; again Masci creates subtypes based mainly on rim types. Interestingly, the ceramic fabrics of the plain pottery sherds have greater diversity than those of the fine wares, at least visually, suggesting that they were made at several sites. The majority, however, have the local reddish fabric. The assemblage he presents is almost identical to that of the (as yet unpublished) late third-century fills at Morgantina, suggesting that these functional shapes were long-lived in eastern Sicily and part of a regional industry. 

One problem with the type of formal analysis used here is that it often seems somewhat subjective, leading the reader to wonder if all the subforms actually exist, or if the variations were simply products of different potters (or different days?). This is particularly problematic in the less elegant plain pottery. For example, are the plain pitchers with cylindrical necks (cat. nos. 153–66) and concave necks (cat. nos. 167–74) truly variants or actually the same shape, especially since they often share the same rim types? 

The text concludes with consideration of 25 fragments of transport amphoras, followed by various other objects. The amphoras are all products of the western Mediterranean, which, in a deposit in a coastal city, may have implications for influence on Sicilian ceramics from the eastern Mediterranean, since exported pottery seems frequently to have traveled with amphoras. The final chapter includes a ceramic grain measure, a few plain lids, and supports for cooking vases, all of which might have been included with the plain pottery.

While this will be a very useful source for scholars of the period, the monograph might have been improved by adding an analysis fitting the contents of this fill into the history of Early Hellenistic ceramics during the apogee of the Syracusan monarchy. The absence of an archaeometric analysis prevents comparison with the recent publication of technical studies on the pottery of the period found at Syracuse and Morgantina. Only 10 overpainted vases were found in this large fill, which appears to come from domestic sources in Kamarina, and which dates to the period of greatest popularity for this class of decoration. Does this paucity have any implications concerning this type of decoration, which has mainly been found on vases found in tombs in Sicily? 

The biggest problem with this study is the lack of any discussion about the date of the fill. Since apparently no coins were found in the cistern, the dating of the ceramics is based on the comparative pottery chronology of eastern Sicily between 350 and 250 BCE. The only real discussion of the date of closure is offered by Pelagatti (7) in her preface. She suggests that the cistern was filled after the capture of Kamarina by the Romans in 258 BCE, probably as a result of cleanup activities during a subsequent reoccupation “after a few decades.” An obvious question, of course, is whether the new inhabitants added any of their own broken pottery to the cistern. This issue is important because Sicilian ceramic chronology between 350 and 250 BCE is largely a subjective construct based on a large number of tomb groups (dated relatively by their excavators) and a limited amount of material found at Gela dated before 283. The assemblage from the cistern is quite similar to that of the numerous (approximately 20) fills of the second half of the third century at Morgantina; parallels to those are noted, but implications of the similarity are not discussed.

One final oddity is the designation of the plates as “Campana A,” appearing in quotation marks in the text because Masci says (27) that they appear to be local imitations of Campanian ware. The obvious problem is that Campana A developed in the later third century and did not become a common export until the second century. The plates are paralleled in the third century fills at Morgantina, and parallels are also found in Syracuse; why must the Kamarina plates illustrate Campanian influence?

Shelley Stone
California State University, Bakersfield (Emeritus)

Book Review of Archeologia a Camarina: Ceramiche e utensili in età ellenistica, by Paolo Masci
Reviewed by Shelley Stone
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 125, No. 3 (July 2021)
Published online at
DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1253.Stone

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