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Deutschen Ausgrabungen auf der Argissa-Magula in Thessalien. Vol. 2, Die Argissa-Magula, das frühe und das beginnende mittlere Neolithikum im lichte transägäischer Bezeihungen

July 2009 (113.3)

Book Review

Deutschen Ausgrabungen auf der Argissa-Magula in Thessalien. Vol. 2, Die Argissa-Magula, das frühe und das beginnende mittlere Neolithikum im lichte transägäischer Bezeihungen

By Agathe Reingruber. Pp. 702, figs. 121, b&w pls. 40, color pls. 6, chronological chart 1, tables 99, diagrams 7, maps 2. Rudolf Habelt, Bonn 2008. €98. ISBN 978-3-7749-3553-2 (cloth).

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The transition from the Epipaleolithic to the Neolithic economy in the wide geographic region from the Zagros-Taurus mountain ranges through the oasis of Barada (Damascus) to Palestine and Sinai has been a much-debated issue since the 1950s. Moreover, interdisciplinary projects undertaken in Jordan (e.g., ‘Ain Ghazal), southeastern Anatolia (e.g., Hallan Çemi, Çayönü, Göbekli Tepe, Nevalı Çori, Körtik Tepe, Mezraa-Teleilat), and central Anatolia (e.g., Aşıklı Höyük, Musular, Tepecik-Çiftlik, and Pınarbaşı) since the 1980s led to a review of the main features of the “Neolithic package” as introduced by Kenyon and Braidwood in the 1950s and 1960s. This review focused on the investigation of the Epipaleolithic substratum in the above-mentioned areas and of the synchronous—or not—appearance of features considered characteristic of the Neolithic period, such as permanent settlement, domestication of plants and animals, art, and symbolism. The old theory for the existence of a core area of Neolithization, that of the Fertile Crescent, was then rejected, as paleobotanical and paleozoological analyses demonstrated an independent process of domestication in other landscapes. However, the theory of an introduction of the “Neolithic package” to Cyprus, western Anatolia, and the Aegean—based on limited previous, and some recently discovered, data—remains a matter of debate (C. Lichter, ed., How Did Farming Reach Europe? Anatolian-European Relations from the Second Half of the 7th Through the First Half of the 6th Millennium BC: Proceedings of the International Workshop, Istanbul, 20–22 May 2004 [Istanbul 2005]).

Discussions about the existence of a Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (PPN) in the Aegean started in 1956 with the recognition of a PPN layer at Argissa-Magula by Milojčić, director of the excavations in Thessaly of the Institute for Prehistory and Protohistory at the University of Heidelberg (1953–1958, 1967–1973, 1976–1977). This “scientific sensation” was reinforced by the identification of PPN layers at Sesklo (1956–1957), Soufli Magula (1958), Achilleion (1961), and Gendiki (1962) by Theocharis. Thus, the two pioneering researchers of Neolithic Thessaly were able to create a complete chronological chart for the Greek Neolithic and offer evidence of a PPN for mainland Greece that could have been a product either of interconnections with Anatolia (Milojčić) or of an autochthonous process (Theocharis). Data from Knossos (1957) and the Franchthi Cave (1967) then added to the PPN landscape of Greece. The publications of the PPN material from Sesklo by Theocharis (1958), from Argissa by Milojčić (1962), and from the aforementioned Thessalian sites raised severe criticism by Nandris (Man 5 [1970] 192–213), Gimbutas (JFA 1 [1974] 277–302), Bloedow (MeditArch 4 [1991] 1–43), and Coleman (Hesperia 61 [1992] 265–89), since data were derived from small trenches and also included some pottery (ch. 2.1). More recently, Perlès, in her significant synthesis, The Early Neolithic in Greece: The First Farming Communities in Europe (Cambridge 2001), also criticized the nature and origin of the PPN.

In 1958, Hauptmann, with Schachermeyer, studied the material from this level at Argissa-Magula and identified 120 sherds within it. Almost 50 years after the first publication of the PPN Argissa by Milojčić, Hauptmann motivated Reingruber to commence a review of the Early Neolithic levels of Argissa, since the chronological division of the Thessalian Early Neolithic proposed by Milojčić did not convince him.

Reingruber, a young scholar from the Department of Prehistory and Protohistory and Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of Heidelberg, has undertaken a thorough study of Early Neolithic levels at Argissa-Magula within the framework of a Ph.D. thesis; her aim is to revise both the existence of a PPN and the fine chronology of Thessalian Early Neolithic pottery (ch. 2.2). With an Aegean, Balkan, and Anatolian background and a confidence with Neolithic bone and lithic technologies and verification of radiocarbon datings, Reingruber carried out a multidimensional and diachronic study of Argissa (ch. 3). In addition, she examined all excavated and published Mesolithic (ch. 1), PPN (ch. 2), and Early Neolithic sites in mainland Greece, Crete, the Aegean islands, and Thrace (ch. 4), as well as contemporary Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites from littoral and inland western Anatolia (ch. 5), which have been termed as such within the chronological framework of Anatolia (maps 1–2, table 73). It is the first time in both the Aegean and Anatolian bibliography that such a multidimensional and comparative analysis has been accomplished for the earliest stages of the Neolithic. Her approach includes paleoenvironmental data, radiocarbon datings, architecture, mortuary evidence, pottery, lithic and bone technologies, figurines and other small finds, and paleobotanical and paleozoological data.

The detailed narrative is supported by well-selected illustrations and tables, all produced by the author herself. In the tables, data derived from almost every settlement are summarized, while many include the comparative analysis of similar categories of data deriving from different sites and/or landscapes, which facilitates the understanding and transmission of these data. The core Argissa material is illustrated in six high-quality color plates and 40 plates with drawings produced by the author (685–702). Moreover, two tables summarize the types of Early Neolithic pottery from Argissa, making it possible to compare with pottery from the other sites discussed.

In chapter 1, the author provides the first full catalogue and critical overview of Mesolithic sites from the Aegean and western Anatolia. This corpus is unfortunately based on half a dozen sites (cf. N. Galanidou and C. Perlès, eds., The Greek Mesolithic Problems and Perspectives [London 2003]). As a result, Reingruber sets up a Mesolithic substratum in specific coastal areas of eastern mainland Greece, which could have played an important role either in autochthonous development or in the adoption of a partially imported “Neolithic package.”

In chapter 2, the study of the archaeological evidence from Argissa and elsewhere does not demonstrate the existence of a PPN on mainland Greece. Only Knossos level X, dating ca. 6600 B.C.E., could be considered an episode in an observable process of Neolithization from the Levant and Cyprus to Crete. However, this process did not lead to the lasting establishment of an agricultural society on the island. Reingruber concludes that there was a common development for Greece and western Anatolia, influenced by central and eastern Anatolia (chs. 5, 6). This seems further supported by new, still partially unpublished evidence from the Marmara region (Aktopraklık), the İzmir region (Ulucak, Yeşilova Höyük, and Ege Gübre Yerleşimi), and the Lake District in southwestern Anatolia/Pidisia (Bademağacı) dating to the seventh millennium B.C.E. It seems, however, that the existence of a PPN, as defined by Milojčić and Theocharis, did not exist in the Aegean (chs. 3.5.5, 6.7.4). This has been an invention rather than a fact, comparable with the PPN at Hacılar invented by Mellaart.

Concerning Early Neolithic chronology, which according to Milojčić included four subphases, namely Präkeramikum, Frühkeramikum, Protosesklo, and Vorsesklo, Reingruber proposes a new subdivision into Early Neolithic I–III, based on a detailed study of pottery and small finds (e.g., figurines, lithics) from Argissa and other sites (chs. 4–6). Early Neolithic I in Thessaly (6400–6200 B.C.E.) is characterized by limited architecture, rarity of finds, and absence of burials. The most flourishing phases of the Early Neolithic seem to be Early Neolithic II and III (6200–6000 B.C.E.), as indicated by the erection of new settlements in Thessaly and beyond (chs. 4.3, 4.5). Black-topped, black-polished, and early painted pottery—well-structured forms with high rims and ring bases—are characteristic of the ceramic production (ch. 3.5.3), while earstuds, figurines, and stamp seals connect mainland Greece with western Anatolia (ch. 6.7.6), not through land but, rather, through sea routes (ch. 5.4). Coastal settlements in Macedonia and Thrace are quite prosperous, whereas the southern part of mainland Greece seems to have been more densely inhabited ca. 6000 B.C.E. (chs. 4.5, 4.6).

In chapter 7, Reingruber evaluates the available models for the Neolithization of Greece, discards the model for autochthonous development, and argues for an introduction of most features of the “Neolithic package” by immigrants, merchants, or mobile sailors. Finally, chapter 8 summarizes the main results of her multidimensional approach to the impressively rich Early Neolithic corpus. These results are also given in English and Greek for better dissemination.

Reingruber’s book is the most recent, complete, clear, balanced, and substantial contribution to our understanding of the Aegean and Anatolian Early Neolithic, and it represents an important milestone in general studies of this period in Europe and the Near East. The volume is dedicated to the memory of Milojčić and Theocharis, who, as innovative spirits of their time, would have welcomed verification of their old finds in the Aegean as well as the substantial reevaluation of the PPN in Anatolia.

Ourania Kouka
Department of History and Archaeology
University of Cyprus
P.O. Box 20537
1678 Nicosia

Book Review of Deutschen Ausgrabungen auf der Argissa-Magula in Thessalien. Vol. 2, Die Argissa-Magula, das frühe und das beginnende mittlere Neolithikum im lichte transägäischer Bezeihungen, by Agathe Reingruber

Reviewed by Ourania Kouka

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 113, No. 3 (July 2009)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1133.Kouka

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