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Das Prähistorische Olynth: Ausgrabungen in der Toumba Agios Mamas 1994–1996. Die Spätbronseseitliche Handgemachte Keramik der Schichten 13 bis 1

July 2009 (113.3)

Book Review

Das Prähistorische Olynth: Ausgrabungen in der Toumba Agios Mamas 1994–1996. Die Spätbronseseitliche Handgemachte Keramik der Schichten 13 bis 1

By Barbara Horejs. Pp. 407, figs. 185, pls. 152, CD-ROM 1. Marie Leidorf, Rahden 2007. €79.80. ISBN 978-3-89646-592-4 (cloth).

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As has been recently well summarized by Andreou, Fotiadis, and Kotsakis (“The Palatial Bronze Age of the Southern and Central Greek Mainland,” in T. Cullen, ed., Aegean Prehistory: A Review [Boston 2001] 259–328), the Bronze Age northern Aegean periphery receives just a fraction of scholarly attention compared with the southern Aegean. A series of volumes on Kastanas by Hänsel and his collaborators (Kastanas: Ausgrabungen in einem Siedlungshügel der Bronze und Eisenzeit Makedoniens 1975–1979 [Berlin and Kiel 1983–2002]) was arguably the most significant contribution since the landmark publication of Prehistoric Macedonia: An Archaeological Reconnaissance of Greek Macedonia (West of the Struma) in the Neolithic, Bronze, and Early Iron Ages by Heurtley in 1939 (Cambridge). The volume under review represents the beginning of a new series dealing with the results of Hänsel’s follow-up excavation of the toumba of Agios Mamas, situated on the coast of Chalkidiki, not far from the site of ancient Olynthos. It is currently the only site in Macedonia with a continuous, complete stratigraphic sequence from the Middle Bronze Age down to the Early Iron Age.

This first volume, by Horejs, deals with Late Bronze Age handmade pottery and stems from her Ph.D. dissertation, submitted in 2004 to the Freie Universität in Berlin. Roughly 40,000 sherds (10,678 diagnostic were catalogued) from 2,423 complexes (excavation units) form the basis of the typological, statistical, and chronological analysis. Symptomatic of the entire volume is the broad scope of comparative material and its accompanying discussion. Whether examining the history of research, wares and shapes, or decorative motives, Horejs shows an exceptional grasp of material studies reaching from the southern Aegean to the Danube in the north and from Albania to Troy. In doing so, the author does a great service to colleagues attempting to bring together both the Balkan and Aegean evidence. The volume is full of clear definitions, exact numbers, distribution maps, graphs that plot ratios and frequencies of occurrence (perhaps a few too many), as well as typological pottery charts. Each chapter has an extensive Greek summary.

The excavator divided the stratigraphic sequence into 18 horizons (Bauhorizonte), which cover the Early Bronze Age/Middle Bronze Age transition (18), Middle Bronze Age (17–14), Late Bronze Age (13–2), and Early Iron Age (1+0). Since individual horizons were not excavated at the same scale, Hänsel developed a coefficient to recalculate the amount of finds (sherds) and calibrate them according to the excavated volume for each horizon. The differing degrees of retrieved finds are best exemplified by figure 180 (299).

Each ware category is defined by a combination of hardness, porosity, fracture, color, surface treatment, and tempering. Given the character of handmade pottery, a certain fluctuation is observable, leading Horejs to speak of Warengruppen, which she further combines into Gattungen, labeled Coarse Ware, Fine Ware, Incrusted Ware, Minyan-Imitating Ware, and Matt-Painted Ware. My only objection is the postulation of more than 50 wares, since I am not sure whether these can be reduplicated and readily recognized at other sites by other researchers. The author’s distinction of so many wares plays some role in chronological issues but does not lead to conclusions regarding workshops or similar structures. Unsurprisingly, the tendencies leading to definition of three pottery phases are largely visible on the level of the more general Gattungen.

The core of the book is dedicated for the most part to the typology of shapes. The author introduces a well-structured system of shapes, types, and variants but laudably tries to avoid complicated nomenclature. The chapter on Minyan-imitating pottery also includes fragments of wheelmade True Gray Minyan Ware. In absence of petrography or neutron activation analysis, it is currently impossible to say whether the wheelmade fragments were originally imported or made locally. Nevertheless, Olynthos occupies an important position in mediating these late Middle Bronze Age influences from central Greece to the north. The next chapter, on matt-painted pottery, constitutes possibly the most important contribution of the volume. In addition to presenting the Olynthian material, it systematically and analytically summarizes the evidence for Late Bronze Age matt-painted pottery from Macedonia and Thessaly, going further by dividing it into eight regional groups. This leads to a new thesis concerning the origin of this Late Bronze Age ware, which Horejs sees as a continuation of Middle Bronze Age matt-painted pottery spreading step-by-step from central Greece to the north. I would also like to highlight the discussion of encrusted wares (74–80), which suggests a major gap in the state of research and publication in much of the western Balkans. As for typological studies, the discussion of wishbone bowls and handles (103–8), globular kantharoi and their decoration (119–25), as well as pyraunoi (148–53)should be pointed out. The book concludes with summarizing chapters and a discussion of Chalkidiki’s relations to neighboring regions. Also notable is a huge bibliography with more than 500 entries in a dozen different languages.

A principal problem with Agios Mamas is the high grade of pottery fragmentation. It is admirable how much information Horejs could still extract from the corpus. The high fragmentation is caused partly by the nature of the local handmade pottery but is certainly also a result of various deposit and site formation processes. Given these factors, and the low typological differentiation of the pot shapes, it is unclear what the original context of the fragments/pots might have been and how much the sherds moved around before their final deposition.

Despite an overall effort toward maximum objectivity and statistical accuracy, there are some small discrepancies. It is not always clear, for example, when one is dealing with all catalogued sherds, when it is just rims, bases, and handles, or when it is just sherds from clearly stratified contexts. What is also quite palpably missed is at least some information about the proportion of the Mycenaean pottery, currently being prepared for publication by Jung. No meaningful interpretation of the upper Late Bronze Age levels can be made without it. In addition, many of the graphs depicting the so-called relative frequencies of occurrence within the whole stratification are calculated through the coefficient mentioned above. On the one hand, it gives a nice idea of how their hypothetical frequency changed over time; on the other hand, it deprives one of a direct sense of what the ratio of different shapes within individual horizons was like. One is not offered a summary—graphical or verbal—of the exact ratio of cups, pots, jars, or jugs (or their types and variants) within a given horizon. Nevertheless, the analysis by Horejs and Hänsel does show three distinct periods in the Late Bronze Age sequence: Olynthos III (horizons 13–9), IV (horizons 8–5), and V (horizons 4–1), which can be nicely distinguished even by the pottery alone (314–18). In that case, I believe, one would be better served by comparing the simple percentages of given shapes/wares horizon by horizon, or at least period by period as defined in the volume. An accompanying chronological chart of shapes would also be useful.

This is not a book on the Late Bronze Age at Agios Mamas in general. Horejs concentrates on pottery only, with relatively little reference to its functional and cultural context. This is not because she is unfamiliar with these subjects (see B. Horejs, “Transition from Middle to Late Bronze Age in Central Macedonia and Its Synchronism with the ‘Helladic World,’” in F. Felten, W. Gauss, and R. Smetana, eds., Middle Helladic Pottery and Synchronisms [Vienna 2007] 183–200; “Macedonia: Mediator or Buffer Zone Between Cultural Spheres?,” in I. Galanaki, H. Tomas, Y. Galanakis, and R. Laffineur, eds., Between the Aegean and Baltic Seas: Prehistory Across Borders. Aegaeum 27 [2007] 293–306) but because of a somewhat rigid publication concept for the whole series, which should be borne in mind when reading the book. We face here a German-style dissertation at its best—no doubt about that—with all its positives and negatives. Despite some of the expressed reservations, the volume is indispensable reading for anyone interested in the second-millennium northern Aegean and southern Balkans; the author is to be congratulated on the result.

Peter Pavúk
Department of Archaeology
Program in Classical Archaeology
Comenius University
Gondova 2
81801 Bratislava

Book Review of Das Prähistorische Olynth: Ausgrabungen in der Toumba Agios Mamas 1994–1996, by Barbara Horejs

Reviewed by Peter Pavúk

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

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1133.Pavuk

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