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Contacto cultural entre el Mediterráneo y el Atlántico (siglos XII–VIII ane): La precolonización a debate

July 2010 (114.3)

Book Review

Contacto cultural entre el Mediterráneo y el Atlántico (siglos XII–VIII ane): La precolonización a debate

Edited by S. Celestino, N. Rafel, and X.-L. Armada (Serie Arqueológica 11). Pp. 626, figs. 299. Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid 2008. Price not available. ISBN 978-84-00-08689-3 (paper).

Reviewed by

In 1956, when Miquel Tarradell introduced the notion of pre-colonization (discontinuous contact and temple construction) as a logical step preceding the foundation of the first Phoenician cities in the Atlantic and central Mediterranean shores—which he thought could explain the gap between the old dates attested by the written sources and the much later ones offered by the archaeological data—there was virtually no archaeological material that could witness the existence of such precocious connections. Fifty years later, a great amount of new data has completely reversed the situation. This volume, which brings together almost all the information attesting inter-Mediterranean and Atlantic relations in the second to early first millennia B.C.E.—with long, updated inventories and comments on finds from different areas from the Italian peninsula to Portugal—is decidedly welcome.

The volume under review is a big book, with more than 600 pages in large format and rather small print. It contains 24 contributions, of which more than half (15 papers) are in Spanish, four in Italian, one in English, one in Portuguese, and one in French—a multiplicity of languages that will make it less accessible to undergraduates. This linguistic bias is a reflection of the geographical one: in spite of its title, the volume is mainly focused on the Iberian peninsula (11 papers). Surprisingly, not one is devoted to recent finds at Huelva (Calle Méndez-Núñez/Plaza de las Monjas), which are constantly referenced in the book and certainly deserved one contribution. However, some areas are treated in several papers, which causes repetition (certain pottery vases are discussed and reproduced up to three times). It is also regrettable that some texts have not been closely edited, so typing mistakes and erroneous references to images are frequently present. There are also a few instances in which language usage could have been substantially improved. This might lead to misunderstandings, particularly for nonnative Spanish readers.

Since there is insufficient space to discuss all 24 papers, this review focuses on the main issues discussed in the volume, with allusions to specific contributions. In the brief opening chapter, the three coeditors put forward, as the main point for discussion, the meaning of “pre-colonization” as both a chronological and sociological concept—that is, one concerning the social mechanisms of this particular colonial expansion and the diachronic interaction between indigenous populations and colonizers.

Theoretical reflection on these matters is undertaken by Alvar, Domínguez, and Ruiz-Gálvez. Drawing on previous contributions, Alvar defines this particular form of colonial contact as characterized by the lack of any form of political or economic control by the “colonizers” over the “indigenous” populations. Consequently, he thinks that it should rather be termed “non-hegemonic,” which nevertheless does not imply that exchange was made on egalitarian terms, nor that this kind of interaction necessarily precedes hegemonic forms of contact. In rather similar terms, Domínguez understands that the development of city-states is the distinctive trait of colonization, as opposed to interaction mainly based on exchange. As for the mechanism of precolonial trade, while Alvar holds that only metropolitan aristocracies could afford the risks involved in such activities, Ruiz-Gálvez thinks that the “petty chiefs” of the decentralized Dark Ages carried it out and that this was partly made possible by the expansion of alphabetic writing systems.

Two papers (Torres Ortiz and Brandherm) provide an accurate compilation of relevant ¹⁴C dates, as well as their implications for the chronology of Greek Geometric pottery, the development of contacts before Phoenician colonization, and the foundation dates of the earliest colonial towns in the West. Most contributors agree that, after a period of Mycenaean agency (14th–13th centuries B.C.E.), Cypriot and Levantine sailors played a major role (12th–10th centuries B.C.E.), fluidly taken up later by the Phoenicians and eventually leading to the foundation of their cities. Nevertheless, there is no proof that eastern Mediterranean sailors ever reached the Iberian peninsula before the Phoenician era, though the intermediate role of the central Mediterranean area (esp. Sardinia) is frequently claimed (in particular by Lo Schiavo). Escacena, however, holds that all contact with the Iberian peninsula was broken during the 12th and 11th centuries B.C.E. and that Phoenician colonization, starting in the late 10th century B.C.E., was a radically new process.

Despite the coeditors’ wishes, actual reflection on the relations between autochthonous communities and colonizers does not generally go beyond the acknowledgement that the former were not just passive subjects but rather had an active role in interaction. This is a recurrent concept, though no details are generally given about its actual historical content. This is partly because of relatively poor knowledge about late second- to early first-millennium indigenous societies, particularly in southern Spain (contrasting positions about this appear in Escacena’s and Ruiz Mata and Gómez-Toscano’s papers). Yet it would be unfair to ignore several promising ideas. Among these, I mention the cohabitation proposed by Ruiz-Gálvez for the Iberian peninsula and by Bernardini for Sardinia, as well as the system of small coastal sites in the Balearic Islands with metallurgical and trading functions recognized by Guerrero. Also, with regard to metallurgy, Armada, Rafel, and Montero’s insight into the adoption of new techniques for the production of prestige bronze items and the local mixing of different craft traditions. And with regard to the definition of elite identities, I note the penetrating analysis by Perea and Ambruster on the shifting role of gold production and technological change under colonial influence.

Concluding remarks by the coeditors are rendered both in Spanish and English. They adequately summarize the contents of the volume and the different authors’ positions about the main issues under discussion, but by no means do they constitute a synthesis on the present state of pre-colonization. This remains to be accomplished; it certainly deserves a comprehensive analytic book that avoids the expected absences and discursive fragmentation of an article collection, such as the volume under review. Toward such a goal, the present volume would be invaluable.

Joan Sanmartí
Department of Prehistory, Ancient History, and Archaeology
Institute for Catalan Studies (IEC)
University of Barcelona
08001 Barcelona

Book Review of Contacto cultural entre el Mediterráneo y el Atlántico (siglos XII–VIII ane): La precolonización a debate, edited by S. Celestino, N. Rafel, and X.-L. Armada

Reviewed by Joan Sanmartí

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 114, No. 3 (July 2010)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1143.Sanmarti

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