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January 2007 (111.1)
By Catherine Commenge-Pellerin, Liliane Courtois, Jean-Paul Demoule, and Christina Marangou. In collaboration with Zoï Tsirtsoni, and edited by René Treuil (BCH Suppl. 37). Pp. xxiv + 325, figs. 72, b&w pls. 143, color pls. 7, maps 3. École Française d'Athènes, Athens 2004. €70. ISBN 2-86958-183-1 (paper).
The long-awaited second volume of the French School at Athens’ archaeological activities at Dikili Tash in eastern Greek Macedonia appeared more than a decade after the first volume (1992), which dealt with the deep stratigraphic sequence of the mound deposits, its chronology, and the architectural, technological, and subsistence evidence. The new volume deals with what is considered, rightly or wrongly, to be the marrow of every prehistoric excavation: the complete study and presentation of the site’s Neolithic and Bronze Age pottery production accompanied by an exhaustive discussion of its typology and the cultural connotations within the wider Aegean-Balkan context.
Following the recent full publication of the nearby settlement of Sitagroi and the nearly completed presentation of the other two important foreign projects in western Greek Macedonia (Servia and Nea Nikomedeia), this book is a welcome inlay in the cultural mosaic of the still poorly known prehistory of northern Greece.
It was during World War I that Blegen and Welsch discovered the prehistoric mound of Dikili Tash at the edge of the swamp of Filippi, now drained, in eastern Greek Macedonia. Trial investigations were initiated at the mound during 1919–1921 by the French School at Athens and were followed 40 years later by an ambitious but ill-fated Greek-French archaeological project directed by Theochares and Deshayes, involving excavations in two separate sectors of the site and aiming to establish the chronological and cultural relationships between the Aegean world and its Balkan interior during the Neolithic and Bronze Age—an attractive theme among field archaeologists in those days.
The seemingly ceaseless archaeological interest in ceramic typology as a chronological, cultural, and ethnic marker in prehistory in general—particularly in the context of Anatolian-Balkan developments and regarding a key period such as the Neolithic–Bronze Age transition—has often resulted in archaeologists looking for deep mound deposits and long stratigraphic sequences. Dikili Tash, “Standing Rock” (named after a nearby Roman votive monument), is an impressive mound 12 m deep, situated in the fertile Filippi plain close to springs; it seemed the ideal place for a long research commitment.
French investigations were renewed at Dikili Tash in 1986 and were directed by Treuil, who is responsible for the present series of publications. He can be given the credit for putting together a team of experienced archaeologists, geologists, and geomorphologists, as well as a new generation of competent field researchers, all of whom have greatly contributed to the success of the excavations and to the study of the material that has appeared sparsely but consistently in a series of publications and articles to this day.
The complementary work of the French and Greek teams, exploring separate sectors of the mound and focusing on different occupation periods and stratigraphic sequences (the early [Dikili Tash I] and late [Dikili Tash II] phases of the Late Neolithic) should also not pass unnoticed. Among the targets set by the latest French project were a series of interdisciplinary studies intentionally focused on microscale levels of field analysis (household units) and on the spatial and contextual recording of findings and observations related to construction techniques. Particularly welcome was the intention of the excavators—unfortunately not fully realized since the dig has not yet reached the deepest levels of the 9 m Neolithic deposits—to document and understand the various locational, environmental, and cultural factors that dictated the founding of the first Neolithic settlement in the area. Such an understanding would have contributed nicely to the recently fashionable debate on the beginning of farming in this part of Europe. Considering the still unsettled issue of the missing early period of the Neolithic in northeastern Greece, it is unfortunate that the dig at Dikili Tash stopped short of reaching the deepest layers of the mound.
The volume at hand deals with the site’s pottery production, decoration, and technology of the early and late phases of the Late Neolithic period (the Middle Neolithic and Chalcolithic in Balkan terms). Included are the anthropomorphic and zoomorphic vases. A study of the former emphasizes their regional and cross-regional cultural implications within the Balkan context of the sixth and fifth millennia B.C.E. (chs. 1–3); a shorter section (ch. 4) presents the latter finds from the site’s Late Neolithic horizons, including their production, context, and interpretation.
The book begins with a concise introductory chapter by Courtois on the technology of the Middle and Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age ceramics of the site. The strong point of the book, however, is the formidable, almost exhaustive, 270-page study and presentation of the site’s Neolithic ceramic production, starting from its deepest Middle Neolithic layers (Commenge-Pellerin and Tsirtsoni) and followed by Late Neolithic (Chalcolithic) material (Demoule). Neolithic wares are meticulously described and categorized according to form, surface treatment, decoration, evolution, and stratigraphic provenience. The excellent drawings and photographs, some of them in color, presented at the end of the book satisfactorily document the pottery forms and decoration types discussed in the text.
There follows another analysis of the Middle and Late Neolithic pottery corpus: the spatial tracking of Dikili Tash ceramic traits of sites in the Drama plain, the adjacent areas of Greek Macedonia, Thrace, Thessaly, and in regions farther away (Albania, former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Romania). This is an ambitious task, especially since there are limits to cross-cultural associations and ensuing chronological references among settlements based on ceramic evidence and involving wide geographical regions. This is particularly evident in this part of Greece, where some sites have not been adequately excavated, and single-period regional surveys have not addressed issues of landscape archaeology, or, perhaps more significantly, do not have the backing of a reliable series of absolute AMS (Accelerator Mass Spectrometry) dating. Moreover, to line up pottery typologies from different periods and regions, even with the caveat that such are schematic, tends to create the aura of confidence, even self-contentment. Admittedly, it is difficult to avoid their instructive and referential character—but this is the extent of their value.
In this respect, however, the work of Commenge-Pellerin and Demoule on the pottery of Dikili Tash is balanced. It will definitely please those who search for specific ceramic traits spread across large geographical regions in the Neolithic Balkans (264, 266, tables). It also confronts the reservations of those who expect a full exposition of the agonizing research problems of the archaeology of the fifth and fourth millennia B.C.E. in this area. All these issues are plainly cited and commented upon by Demoule in several subchapters, with adequate references and comments. However, the limited discussion in the closing paragraphs of chapter 3 concerning the available data on absolute chronology is disappointing. The presentation of the enigmatic anthropomorphic and zoomorphic vases of Dikili Tash by Marangou, an experienced researcher on figurine material, is as complete and conclusive as any controversial subject can be. She conclusively explores forms, context, and possible function as utilitarian or cult objects in a symbolic cosmos.
The book, excellently published in the prestigious BCH series, is an indispensable resource for all prehistorians who work in southeastern Europe and beyond.
Department of Archaeology
University of Thessaloniki
540 06 Thessaloniki
Book Review of Dikili Tash. Village préhistorique de Macédoine Orientale. Vol. 1, by Catherine Commenge-Pellerin, Liliane Courtois, Jean-Paul Demoule, and Christina Marangou
Reviewed by Nikos Efstratiou
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 111, No. 1 (January 2007)
Published online at www.ajaonline.org/book-review/472