You are here

The Black Sea: Past, Present and Future: Proceedings of the International, Interdisciplinary Conference, Istanbul, 14–16 October 2004

The Black Sea: Past, Present and Future: Proceedings of the International, Interdisciplinary Conference, Istanbul, 14–16 October 2004

By Gülden Erkut and Stephen Mitchell (British Institute of Archaeology at Ankara Monograph 42). Pp. 172, figs. 99, tables 17. British Institute at Ankara, London 2007. $60. ISBN 978-1-898249-21-4 (cloth).

Reviewed by

This book is a result of a conference organized by the British Academy Black Sea Initiative of the British Institute at Ankara and the City Planning Department of the Istanbul Technical University in 2004. The volume includes 16 of the more than 50 papers and posters presented at the conference. The contributions cover the Upper Paleolithic period to the present day, that is, ca. 32,000 years. The editors have sensibly divided the volume into five parts: (1) “The Earliest History”; (2) “Settlement, Acculturation and Exchange in the First Millennium B.C.E.”; (3) “Black Sea Interconnections from Medieval to Modern Times”; (4) “Social and Economic Change in the Turkish Black Sea Region”; and (5) “The Future of the Past in the Black Sea Region.” Of these, the first two are of particular interest to archaeologists.

In the first chapter, Yanko-Hombach discusses the so-called Noah’s Flood hypothesis of Ryan and Pitman, who suggested that the Black Sea was a freshwater lake approximately 140 m below the present level until about 8,000–7,000 years b.p. (calibrated), when the Mediterranean Sea forced its way through the Bosporus, rapidly filling up this lake and forcing a large-scale change in settlement patterns that resulted in the early Neolithic farmers moving into the interior of Europe (e.g., W.B.F. Ryan and W.C. Pitman, Noah’s Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About the Event that Changed History [New York 1998]). Through new research, Yanko-Hombach and her team reach the conclusion that a gradual process involving six transgression-regression stages during the last 10,000 years brought the Black Sea to its present level. Moreover, the Bosporus may not have been the only connection between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the Sapanka Lake and the Sakarya River being alternatives.

The second paper, by Dolukhanov, is a report on archaeological surveys from 2003 and 2004 in northern Armenia, which suggest that this area was quite densely settled with Achaeulean and Mousterian sites of early hominids (skeletal remains of Homo erectus had earlier been found at one site) and Neanderthals. The Neanderthals were numerous in the Caucasus, as attested both by skeletal remains and by Mousterian industries, until ca. 28,000 years b.p. (calibrated). Since there is no clear indication of authentic Upper Paleolithic sites, the immigration of modern humans into the area seems to have begun in the Late Glacial phase. This last wave of immigration was characterized by the spread of agricultural Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites.

The second part opens with an interesting contribution by Summerer on the archaeology of the southern coast of the Black Sea in the first millennium B.C.E., a period and region that, for various reasons, has been seriously lacking in archaeological studies, particularly by comparison with the northern and western coasts. The study concentrates on the hinterland of Amisus, where the archaeological finds offer insight into the early relationship between Greeks and local people. Greek vases have been found here, and particularly noteworthy is the adoption of the Greek roof-tile technique attested at six Iron Age settlements in the Halys River bend. Revetment plaques with guilloche, meander, and lotus-palmette patterns found at Akalan are similar to plaques found in Amisus, leading Summerer to the conclusion that this tile technique was introduced to the interior by Greeks living on the coast.

Solovyov contributes to the volume with an article on the initial stage of the Greek settlements on the northern Pontic coast in the seventh century B.C.E. The four main sites for the earliest Greek finds are (so far) the large Scythian inland site at Nemirov between the Dniester and the Bug rivers, Histria, Berezan, and Taganrog—that is, sites near the mouth of the large rivers where Greek sailors and tradesmen met with the nomads of the steppe and forest steppe. The finds are virtually identical at all four sites and clearly reflect eastern Greek interest in this area. Solovyov sees the finds as indicating seasonal meetings between the local nomads and the Greek sailors. Not until the early sixth century B.C.E. did these trading posts develop into permanent settlements with mixed populations—Histria and Berezan being the earliest permanently settled sites.

Evidence for acculturation as a result of a much later colonization is presented by Posamentir in his interpretation of the Late Classical gravestones from Chersonesos on the Crimea. The stelae have short inscriptions and depict few objects (apart from two standard rosettes), which relate to the age, sex, and social status of the deceased. Each gravestone commemorates only one person, male (Greek names) or female (often local names). The men’s stelae have a horizontal lintel, the women’s are crowned by a pediment, and, normally, the children’s are crowned by anthemia. The most common object on female gravestones is a sash. Male objects include a staff signifying old age, sword and sword belt, and strigils and aryballoi. Bases for the stelae often have both a cutting, in which to insert the stele, and a much smaller hole, undoubtedly in which to fasten a small anthropomorphic object. Many of these have been recovered. Stelae without the smaller hole have a sculpted naiskos on the front of the base in which the anthropomorphic object could be placed. Posamentir concludes that the specific traits of these stelae, particularly the depiction of objects—never persons—may derive from a local tradition witnessed on Cimmerian gravestones. This may seem a bit far-fetched, but his interpretation of the uniformity of the stelae as an indication of the strongly democratic social context in which they were produced is entirely convincing.

The last chapter of part 2 offers an example of what gives this book its charm. In this chapter, we move to an entirely different topic: the trade in pickled fish, which we know from written sources was one of the most important goods from the Black Sea to be traded to the Greek world. But this account is based on analogies with modern harvesting of the small fish called hamsi (of the Engraulidae family), which as late as the 1930s were being caught in large quantities using casting nets similar to nets used by the fishermen of antiquity.

The last parts of the volume cover themes mainly concerning the northern part of Turkey up to the present time. However, this should not deter the archaeological reader, who should find the diverse contributions informative and thought provoking.

Lise Hannestad
Department of Classical Archaeology
Aarhus University
8000 Aarhus

Book Review of The Black Sea: Past, Present and Future, by Gülden Erkut and Stephen Mitchell

Reviewed by Graham Philip

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 115, No. 1 (January 2011)

Published online at

DOI: 10.3764/ajaonline1151.Hannestad

Add new comment

Plain text

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.