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The Mycenaean Cemetery at Pylona on Rhodes

The Mycenaean Cemetery at Pylona on Rhodes

By Efi Karantzali (BAR-IS 988). Pp. 251, figs. 42, pls. 51, maps 2. Archeopress, Oxford 2001. £45. ISBN 1-84171-273-6 (paper).

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The island of Rhodes is widely recognized as one of the most important eastern centers of Mycenaean civilization, especially during the difficult period from the end of LH IIIB into LH IIIC. Mycenaean presence on the island is known mostly from numerous surface finds and cemeteries, some of which were excavated, but usually long ago, and understandably, according to old-fashioned standards. Fortunately, the cemetery Aspropilia, lying on the outskirts of the modern village of Pylona in southeastern Rhodes, was excavated recently (1993–1996), and the results are now published.

Karantzali supplies readers with a thorough presentation of all six tombs and their contents in logical order, starting with their descriptions (14–21). All peculiarities are carefully noted and discussed: Chamber B of Tomb 5 is placed 1.4 m above the dromos’ floor, side-chambers appear in two tombs (Tombs 2 and 5), a type of bench is in the dromos of Tomb 2, and “biers” appear in five tombs. The descriptions of find groups and their relations are also satisfying and easy to follow, thanks to computer-generated plans showing every find, including its inventory number, in a miniature but detailed drawing. It was also a good idea to include a “Chronological Catalogue of Finds” (21–2) that lists all the vases from every tomb and chamber.

The presentation of pottery, bronzes, jewellery, spindle whorls, and a bone comb (24–77) is meticulous, trustworthy, and precise. Readers are supplied with all necessary data, and every find is accompanied by lists, sometimes very long, of comparanda. Among the especially interesting finds are a jug and two piriform jars, with fragments of calcined cloth that served to close the vessels still stuck to them (38, 46) (other fragments of calcined textiles were found on three skulls and were interpreted as remnants of shrouds or cloth [86, 98]), a conical rhyton with an applied bucranium (35), and a well-preserved terracotta chariot with parasol (50–2). One of Karantzali’s interesting observations is her interpretation of the small faience beads from Tomb 1 as the decoration of a shroud or funeral garment (73).

The value of the publication is heightened by the results from scientific analyses of clay from pottery samples (Ponting and Karantzali, 105–13), textile remains (de Wild, 114–16), and glass beads and a sword (Mangou, 117–18). The results are important: they reveal four clay sources for the pottery found in Aspropilia (Argolid, two Rhodian [one local], and one unidentified), and that the glass beads were made of Egyptian glass-paste.

This publication also contains, adhering to the most modern standards, a full presentation of the human bones and an analysis of health, pathology, demography, and social structure (McGeorge, 82–104). This chapter, extremely important for understanding local Mycenaean society and burial customs, would have been even more interesting had the bones been better preserved.

The closing chapter discusses the role of the Dodecannese in Mycenaean civilization (78–81) and offers readers a wider perspective in which Aspropilia can be located. The chapter is interesting and thoughtful, although understandably brief for such a vast topic (it even covers the Ahhiyawa question with the suggestion that the name referred to Mycenaeans from eastern Aegean areas).

Although admirable, this publication has some weaknesses. All vertical measurements are relative to local points (e.g., the preserved ceiling of a chamber or the roof beam of an unfinished modern house), and altitudes are not related to sea level or a site benchmark. This makes understanding the spatial aspects of Aspropilia difficult if not impossible. “Dromoi fills” are mentioned but are not shown on cross-section drawings. The author describes “burial fills” for all chambers (their depth must be calculated by the reader), but it is not clear what she means because the information concerning the levels on which offerings were found is missing (with the exception of a few displaced goods).

There is no single chapter that analyzes and summarizes all aspects of burial customs. Instead, there are two separate sections, each offering a fragmentary picture: “Comments on Burial Habits” (22–3) is placed before the description of the offerings and the analysis of the bones, and “Burial Customs” (98–9) is inserted in the chapter on bones. Neither deals with such important problems as social status or structure, the correlation of offerings with age or sex of the deceased, or the orientation of the bodies. In the chapters on individual finds, the author comments that feeding-bottles are associated with children (44) and spindle whorls with women (76), but there is no thorough discussion of such correlations. Nor is there a discussion of secondary burial, a common practice known for some time (see W. Cavanagh, “A Mycenaean Second Burial Custom?,” BICS 25 [1978] 171–72). Side-Chamber B in Tomb 2 included finds that indicated a primary older burial and later secondary ones (16). It may be telling that the bibliography (119–29) contains only a few studies on the archaeology of death or on Mycenaean burial habits.

Some of Karantzali’s interpretations need more discussion. For instance, Chamber B in Tomb 5 is suggested to be later than Side-Chamber A, though it contained the earliest vases found in the tomb (19–20). The same chamber also contained the burials of at least seven individuals, “who belonged, evidently, to the same family clan” (22). Since the chamber was in use from early LH IIIA2 to middle LH IIIC (a period of at least 250 years), the number of burials is not large enough to assume a continuity of ownership.

Regardless of these minor flaws, the publication of the Aspropilia cemetery is valuable and is a “must have” for students interested in Mycenaean burial habits, the Dodecannese, the role of Rhodes in the eastern Aegean, and the Mycenaean history of material culture.

Kazimierz Lewartowski
Instytut Archeologii
Uniwersytet Warszawski
Krakowskie Przedmieście 26/28
00-927 Warszawa

Book Review of The Mycenaean Cemetery at Pylona on Rhodes, by Efi Karantzali

Reviewed by Kazimierz Lewartowski

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 110, No. 4 (October 2006)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1104.Lewartowski

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