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The Prehistory of the Paximadi Peninsula, Euboea
October 2016 (120.4)
The Prehistory of the Paximadi Peninsula, Euboea
By Tracey Cullen, Lauren E. Talalay, Donald R. Keller, Lia Karimali, and William R. Farrand (Prehistory Monographs 40). Pp. xxvi + 161, figs. 37, b&w pls. 47, tables 22. INSTAP Academic Press, Philadelphia 2013. $70. ISBN 978-1-931534-70-3 (cloth).
This monograph focuses on work carried out on the extreme southwestern tip of Euboea, in the ancient political region of the Karystia. Euboea is a huge island (3,684 km²), characterized by topographic, environmental, and political diversity; the arid Paximadi peninsula comprises just a tiny 22 km² microcosm of this landmass (less than 0.5% of the total). The volume presents the prehistoric material from two projects that were part of the Southern Euboea Exploration Project (SEEP) some years ago: a survey of the peninsula in 1986 and 1988, and a salvage excavation at the Final Neolithic site of Plakari in 1979.
SEEP could perhaps be characterized as an ongoing process, rather than a discrete project. Interest in southernmost Euboea was triggered by the historical and archaeological researches of the late Malcolm Wallace (to whose memory the book is dedicated) and by Donald Keller’s survey around the Bay of Karystos in 1979–1981. SEEP, however, was not formally established by Wallace and Keller until 1984, and it led to a variety of fieldwork endeavors (helpfully mapped in fig. 2): the Paximadi survey itself (1986, 1988), a survey of the eastern part of the Bay (1989, 1990, 1993), and the Kampos survey (2006–2008). Work in the area, moreover, has continued, with an excavation at the Final Neolithic–Early Bronze Age Aghia Triada Cave, at a Late Geometric site at Plakari, and, most significantly, the the ongoing survey of the Katsoriano Plain (under the direction of Zarko Tankosic of the Norwegian Institute at Athens), which is providing invaluable data with which to compare the results from the Paximadi survey, immediately to its south.
Like most survey monographs, this book begins with a general discussion (chs. 1–2) that covers the topography, geology, and climate of the local region, its notices by early travelers, and past and present archaeological work. It moves on quickly to the rescue excavation at Plakari, which produced limited evidence of structures and artifacts dating to the Final Neolithic (FN) period, perhaps continuing into the first phase of the Early Bronze Age (EBA). But the core of the book concerns the results from the survey of the Paximadi peninsula. This was conducted employing the relatively intensive methods of the “new wave” surveys in the 1980s, but without any systematic recording of off-site artifact densities. The project identified a number of artifact concentrations, initially termed findspots, some of which were treated as sites, following mapping and further controlled surface collection of artifacts. The monograph presents nine sites and 11 findspots (44–6; table 8), all of which, remarkably, date to FN–EBA (only). Three of these sites—Kazara, Aghia Pelagia, and Akri Rozos—are presented in considerable detail, while the remaining prehistoric places are represented in an appendix, with catalogues of finds. The numerous plates and line drawings provide us with an admirably detailed account of the prehistoric finds from the Paximadi peninsula.
The long concluding chapter 6 (“The Paximadi Peninsula in Broader Perspective”) attempts to summarize and contextualize the results of the survey, underscoring just how different this southern portion of the island is from the central and northern areas. The earliest evidence of habitation in the Karystia is found in the Late Neolithic Agia Triada cave, but the peninsula came to be more widely occupied only in the FN and earliest EBA periods, with a settlement pattern that indicates a clear orientation to the sea. This was the time (late fifth to late third millennia B.C.E.) that witnessed the first permanent agro-pastoral settlement on many islands of the Aegean, and the evidence from southern Euboea published here fits well within that broader picture. As can be seen from the detailed synthesis of ceramic and lithic data presented in chapter 5, stylistic and technological similarities clearly link the FN of this part of Euboea with contemporary sites in eastern Attica and the northwestern Cyclades—what Renfrew (The Emergence of Civilisation: The Cyclades and the Aegean in the Third Millennium BC [London 1972] 75–6) long ago termed the “Attic-Kephala Culture.”
Strangely, however, both the current survey of the Katsoriano Plain and the Paximadi survey have produced no evidence for Late Bronze Age material (and only one Middle Bronze Age site is known from the whole of the Karystia, at Agios Nikolaos). The Linear B tablets from Thebes mention ka-ru-to, and there is plenty of evidence for Mycenaean activity just across the Euboean Gulf, at sites such as Thorikos and Lavrion. Yet all of the survey investigations in southern Euboea, past and present, have produced no more than a handful of sherds from this period. This remains a puzzling lacuna and one that the present volume was not able to resolve; it does not seem to be the result of visibility problems or differential preservation.
Those who use this book, mainly Aegean prehistorians, will be grateful that the interesting data it contains have finally been published. At the same time, they may wonder whether the quantity and quality of those data (just 20 sites or findspots, all dating to FN–EBA) are sufficient to merit monographic treatment: could most of the significant information perhaps have been presented in the form of a long article, in a journal such as Hesperia or the AJA? It is, of course, the Institute for Aegean Prehistory, and the specialized Academic Press it supports, that has made possible the lavish publication of what, despite the volume’s title, is in fact a rather limited set of evidence. But this raises a further matter of future concern. We are informed (44) that the 20 sites or findspots treated in this volume represent only a small proportion of the 162 locations found by survey on the Paximadi peninsula; and to this may be added all of the sites, both prehistoric and nonprehistoric, located in all the other areas around the Bay of Karystos that have been surveyed over the years. It would have been very helpful had the volume included some basic listing or map to provide a sense of the scope of the data that remain to be addressed in the future. How will these be studied and published, and by whom, and how? One of the authors of the monograph under review passed away several years ago, and others have recently retired. The evidence collected under the auspices of SEEP, with the investment of much time and effort now some years ago, is rapidly becoming legacy data, and a plan is needed to bring them into the public domain. As several plates in this volume dramatically illustrate, southern Euboea has changed beyond all recognition over the past several decades as a result of building development. SEEP began its efforts just in time to capture the archaeological record of this fascinating area before it was damaged forever, and so full publication of all its results is a matter of some importance.
John F. Cherry
Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World
Book Review of The Prehistory of the Paximadi Peninsula, Euboea, by Tracey Cullen, Lauren E. Talalay, Donald R. Keller, Lia Karimali, and William R. Farrand
Reviewed by John F. Cherry
American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 120, No. 4 (October 2016)
Published online at www.ajaonline.org/book-review/3290