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Fouilles exécutées à Malia. Le Quartier Mu IV. La poterie du minoen moyen IIII: Production et utilisation

July 2007 (111.3)

Book Review

Fouilles exécutées à Malia. Le Quartier Mu IV. La poterie du minoen moyen IIII: Production et utilisation

By Jean-Claude Poursat and Carl Knappett (ÉtCrét 33). Pp. 316, figs. 41, pls. 76, tables 3. École Française d’Athènes, De Boccard, Paris 2006. €120. ISBN 2-86958-179-3 (paper).

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The fourth volume of the Quartier Mu series is dedicated to the pottery assemblages from the final destruction of Buildings A–B and D–E, all dated to MM II. The volume offers a thorough representation of one of the best-preserved periods at Malia, with valuable information on ceramic production and technology that is becoming increasingly customary in Cretan pottery studies. The first chapter focuses on petrographic analysis and pottery-forming techniques, which contribute an innovative side to this attractive book. The analysis of 150 samples allows the identification of eight fabric groups, three of which are local, four nonlocal, and one of uncertain origin (10–29). The fabrics are surprisingly not described in French: Knappett opted in this case for English, which admittedly agrees well with the British literature and terminology but generates confusion in reading.

As for the pottery-forming technique (30–5), the effort to reconstruct a complete technological picture for each catalogued vessel, summarized in table 1 (94–9), is admirable. Storage and transport vessels are made with a coil-building technique (IIa-b), whereas the tableware is produced mostly by wheel-throwing (Ia) and wheel-fashioning (Ib) techniques. Nonetheless, some uncertainties remain in distinguishing different stages of pottery technologies, such as the four methods identified by Roux and Courty (“Identification of Wheel-fashioning Methods: Technological Analysis of 4th–3rd Millennium B.C. Oriental Ceramics,” JAS 25 [1998] 747–63) and the differences between the latter and the coil-building IIa technique (avec lissage à l’aide d’énergie cinétique rotative).

The second chapter is divided in three parts: the shapes (39–99), the correlation between shapes and pottery technologies (fabric, pottery forming, surface treatment [100–3]), and the typological observations (103–12). The third chapter is devoted to the analysis of decorative patterns, for which Knappett and Poursat distinguish three main categories: incised, relief, and painted (113–37). The classification is based on 1,346 entire vessels, divided in six categories. Information related to fabrics, surface treatment and decoration, manufacturing practices, as well as further comparanda are supplied for each shape. The typology is based on complete vessels only and lacks statistical evaluation of the sherd evidence (ca. 20,000 pieces). Hence, it was possible to draw a spatial distribution for only the complete vessels. The alphabetic index of shapes with corresponding English terms is useful (287–90).

Some remarks should be made about the second chapter. The amphoroid jar (jarre à col 3 [46, 56]) should more aptly be termed an amphoriskos; its collocation in figure 3 with the other jars creates confusion. Other perplexities are in the class of cuves (49–51). The indication of “bis” (50), used in other sections of the volume (47, 71, 75), is not completely clear, for small letters are applied to indicate variants. Types 3b and 4a-b are not in figure 6 but are discussed in separate sections and figures (67–9, 82). Many examples of type 1 tripod cooking pots are without legs; did they constitute a different type? In the same class, types 4 and 4b are distinguished, but type 4a does not appear (58). Large, beaked jugs (cruches 2b) lack drawings in figure 14 (61–2). Vase numbers 669–72, 674–75 are merely considered as oenochoés (68), but they show significant morphological differences, indicating at least another three types. Plats (53–4), assiettes et soucoupes (80–1), and plateaux (86–7) are described in three different parts, but they could have been entered under a single class, as they have similar fabrics and display only small morphological variants. The lids are defined as a separate category (91–3), but they could just as well have been entered under the category of les recipients utilitaires.

The first part of the book ends with a discussion concerning the system of pottery production (139–52). Despite a pure stylistic approach in identifying ateliers, an integrated study between petrographic investigations and pottery distribution and technology is adopted. The analysis of tableware production helps in distinguishing two workshop groups (unité de production) that worked respectively with local fabric groups A-B and C (150). At a second level of analysis, following the ethnographical works of Sinopoli and Costin, the authors identify two main modes de production—administrated and centralized—but they also note the existence of a “gradation continue” in between, hence the introduction of the phrase “mode de production ‘partiellement administré’” (152).

Thanks to its extraordinary state of preservation, Quartier Mu offers a valuable attempt to identify the function of vessels through a detailed reconstruction of the find contexts (157–84), supported by clear plans of all magazines of Buildings A–B and useful tables and distribution plans, all presented in the second part of the book. Despite the impressive effort to include all possible information, the real aim of this section does not offer any conclusive answer (187–91). The authors did carefully identify strict functions for each type but, in the end, had to admit the existence of only three main functional categories (storage, food preparation, consumption).

The final part of the book addresses three issues. The Quartier Mu pottery assemblages eloquently document the MM II phase at Malia (193–94). Poursat and Knappett also demonstrate that: (1) the destruction level is equivalent to Myrtos-Pyrgos III, Knossos MM IIB, and Andreou’s “Mallia Town Group”; (2) a previous level of occupation corresponds to MM IB and Myrtos-Pyrgos II c-d; (3) there are no grounds for dividing MM II at Malia in two phases; and (4) there are no elements to prolong the Quartier Mu horizon into MM III. As for the reconstruction of Malia’s influence at regional and intraregional levels (195–97), it must be pointed out that the constructed picture also leaves open the possibility of emulation and regionalized production beyond any political control. Finally, the archaeological evidence suggests a different function for Buildings A–B (197–200): B is seen as “la demeure d’un haut personnage ... qui serait en même temps le ‘mâitre’ du Bâtiment A” (199), who was monitoring the production of the goods manufactured in the workshops and redistributing food for occasional consumption (200).

A user-friendly catalogue is organized by types, which in turn are divided by fabrics (291–44). It also includes the vessels from the ateliers published in the previous volume (ÉtCrét 32 [1996]). In contrast, the appendix (247–79), listing clay and stone objects, is limited to Buildings A–B and D–E. The book has well-organized black-and-white illustrations, with a good selection of clear drawings, also for the sherds. Three color plates with thin sections (67–9) and another four with eight distribution maps of the main ceramic types (72–5) complete this primary publication.

The bibliography stops at 2001, with only one exception (Knappett 2004). The absence of references to the work by Knappett and Schoep on the contemporaneous occupation of Quartier Nu (“Le Quartier Nu [Malia, Crète]. L’occupation du Minoen Moyen II,” BCH 127 [2003] 49–86), as well as to other works by Schoep on Protopalatial Malia (“Social and Political Organization on Crete in the Proto-Palatial Period: The Case of Middle Minoan II Malia,” JMA 15 [2002] 101–32; “Assessing the Role of Architecture in Conspicuous Consumption in the Middle Minoan I–II Periods,” OJA 23 [2004] 243–69), is regrettable.

The book focuses on pottery production and technology, but it misses the opportunity to draw a historical and political picture in which Quartier Mu must have played a strategic role. What was the position of this “semiofficial” building in relation to both the “palace” and the other quarters of the settlement? Since it seems that administration, craft specialization, locations of ceremonial/religious activity, and features of monumental architecture were repeated in different areas of the town, this study had the chance to give a definitive contribution to the interpretation of Malia—Schoep has repeatedly spoken about a “heterarchical social landscape” reflecting the activity of different groups or factions.

Although not fully satisfying in its conclusions, Quartier Mu IV is a primary publication and, with its well-illustrated matter, is an indispensable resource for students. In face of the lack of other good MM II contexts, we owe a great debt of gratitude to the authors for having produced a useful dating tool for the Malia area in this period. This is a book that excavators and Minoan pottery specialists will certainly want to have on their shelves for consultation.

Luca Girella
Via Carducci 13
San Giovanni la Punta (Catania)
95037 Italy

Book Review of Fouilles exécutées à Malia. Le Quartier Mu IV. La poterie du minoen moyen II: Production et utilisation, by Jean-Claude Poursat and Carl Knappett

Reviewed by Luca Girella

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 111, No. 4 (July 2007)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1113.Girella

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