Wednesday, May 18, 2011


William A. Parkinson, Michael L. Galaty (ed.), Archaic State Interaction: The Eastern Mediterranean in the Bronze Age. School for Advanced Research Advanced Seminar Series. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press, 2010. Pp. xii, 318. ISBN 9781934691205. $34.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Joanna S. Smith, Princeton University (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

Table of Contents and Preview

The papers in this volume were originally presented and discussed in the context of a seminar organized by the editors at the School for Advanced Research from March 11–15, 2007 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Readers of this book will find themselves engaged in the topics, discussions, and points of agreement and disagreement that took place in the seminar.

Parkinson and Galaty's introduction comments on theoretical approaches to social interaction, and situates the papers in the volume with respect to these bodies of theory. The primary aim was to develop a model for social interaction that may be used in discussing social groups, especially those that form state societies, of different forms of political and economic organization and their relationships at different geographic and temporal scales. Two other main tenets of the seminar were to move toward an emphasis on studies of social interaction, which the organizers perceive have been overshadowed by studies of social evolution, and to address the ways in which world-systems theory has been – or has not been – embraced by those who study interaction among pre-modern societies. The usefulness of this body of theory for large geographical areas and over wide chronological spans of time is discussed in relationship to other bodies of theory such as peer-polity interaction and the dual processual model at regional and local scales of analysis.

It is important to study the mechanisms that form social groups, referenced in the volume as "integration," in order to be able to study the ways in which they interacted. Hence, the need to move away from social evolution is perhaps overstated by the editors. Nevertheless, the call for a more nuanced approach that is, in their words, "theoretically eclectic" is welcome. Their multi-scalar approach, at the macro, medium, and local scales, closely follows the scales defined by David Clarke in the 1977 volume, Spatial Archaeology, an important body of scholarship that, together with approaches such as contextual archaeology with its focus on interrelationships, is an odd omission in the theoretical discussion and bibliography. Couched as an essay in anthropological archaeology, a multi-scalar structure that takes into account temporal, geographical, social, economic, political, and – in a few essays – ideological and gender differences is one that is useful for any scholar who makes use of material culture in an attempt to understand social interaction, whether in the ancient eastern Mediterranean or among social groups from other periods and places.

"Interaction amidst Diversity: An Introduction to the Eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age" by Michael L. Galaty, William A Parkinson, John F. Cherry, Eric H. Cline, P. Nick Kardulias, Robert Schon, Susan Sherratt, Helena Thomas, and David Wengrow, serves to introduce the geographical, chronological, and socio-political scope of the book to an audience unfamiliar with the Bronze Age eastern Mediterranean. In spite of some awkward wording such as, "the Minoan states first and the Mycenaean states later may have aspired to semiperipheral core status," this is a chapter that could be assigned to undergraduate students. For readers unfamiliar with this specific regional and chronological field of study, it is important to point out that while there are studies in the book that refer to Egypt, the Balkans, and other areas outside of the Aegean that touch on the eastern Mediterranean, these areas are rarely treated in great detail. The volume's focus is Greece in the Bronze Age, a field of study usually referred to as Aegean prehistory. Pan-Aegean as defined in the volume comprises only Crete, the islands, and the mainland of Greece. True to the title of the volume, the emphasis in the discussion is on states and the formation of states, mainly the Minoan and Mycenaean states of Greece during the Bronze Age.

"World-Systems Applications for Understanding the Bronze Age in the Eastern Mediterranean" by P. Nick Kardulias embraces world-systems approaches. The chapter offers a useful overview of world-systems theory as put forward by Immanuel Wallerstein in 1974 and as revised by subsequent scholars. The aim is to shift the focus of discussion to world-systems analysis, which allows for the use of a greater range of theories and expands the study of world-systems beyond state level societies and situations with dominance by a core. Kardulias emphasizes peripheries rather than core states and the mechanisms of interaction or, in his terms, negotiation through which innovation and conflict took place. He sees this as a way to understand the ways in which people – and in the case of this volume, people in the Aegean – determined their level of involvement in networks of exchange. This generalist approach focusing on what the organizers termed the Macro scale highlights patterns of similarity that require further investigation from regional and local perspectives.

Sherratt's chapter, "The Aegean and the Wider World: Some Thoughts on a World-Systems Perspective" also prefers not to use the term world-systems theory but rather, a world-systems approach or perspective, acknowledging that in its original form as a theory it is inapplicable in a pre-modern context. She offers an important historical complement to the overview offered by Kardulias and brings out key problems such as what constitutes a core and a periphery. Sherratt emphasizes the importance of diversity among peoples, resources, and structures for world-systems studies. She highlights areas where our knowledge is slim, such as the island of Rhodes, and she writes from the Macro perspective, the focus of which is explicitly the Aegean. Her thought-provoking sweep of the "Aegean as a Product of Interaction" clearly sparked some discussion in the seminar since some of its specific points are contradicted in other essays. Even though some of her statements seem overstated, such as the role of silver in drawing the Aegean into a wider eastern Mediterranean economy, this kind of big picture view demonstrates the value of a world-systems approach for highlighting problems that may be fruitful directions for continued research into the specific mechanisms and points of interaction among peoples.

"Sorting Out Crete's Prepalatial Off-Island Interactions" by John F. Cherry addresses the origins of state society on Crete, a question that remained open after his earlier studies of peer-polity interaction (as in Peer Polity Interaction and Socio-Political Change, 1986). He points to how an area that forms a periphery for a core state, such as Egypt, develops into a new core as a result of its regional and long-distance interactions. He outlines connections between Crete and the rest of the Aegean, musters the slight evidence for objects and raw materials from outside the Aegean during the Early Minoan II period, and demonstrates that it is only in the Middle Minoan IA period that there is the first "unambiguous connection" with Egypt and the Near East. He takes a minimalist view of the evidence for interaction and concludes that contacts with the east were important but did not form the only impetus for Cretan state formation. He questions whether these imports had the same meanings in Crete as they did in their regions of origin. It is not clear whether the ships and sailors that made these contacts possible were viewed from the same point of view on Crete as in the Levant and Egypt during the same period.

Wengrow's chapter, "The Voyages of Europa: Ritual and Trade in the Eastern Mediterranean circa 2300–1850 BC", addresses the same period covered by Cherry, but from the perspective of Byblos and, to a lesser extent, Egypt. Unlike Cherry, Wengrow states that people on Crete were already well familiar with Egyptian scarabs by the Middle Minoan IA period. He proposes that Egyptian or Egyptian-inspired objects on Crete are unlikely to have been important primarily as prestige goods. He offers instead a gendered perspective on early exotic imports on Crete. The Egyptian material there relates to the protection of the female body in an Egyptian context. The carriage of this material to Crete via Byblos is contextualized well with a useful and detailed discussion of the Montet Jar. At Byblos and in other areas along the Lebanese coast Egyptian items tied to women are found with markers specific to males in contexts plausibly associated with maritime rituals. It is unclear what aspects of the female or maritime associations were relevant in Cretan contexts, but Wengrow argues for ritual significance that allowed Cretans to control a changing world when faced with contacts with foreign people. This chapter raises a number of important questions about the nature of interaction among groups who do not dominate from a core of power.

"Bronze Age Interactions between the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean Revisited: Mainstream, Periphery, or Margin?" by Eric H. Cline is a skeptical and cautionary contribution against using theory to fill gaps when historical or artifactual evidence is lacking. Nevertheless, he considers the multi-scalar perspective and aspects of world-systems approaches, such as the contested periphery, to be useful. This chapter revisits Cline's earlier work, especially Sailing the Wine Dark Sea (1994), in which he catalogued and examined patterns among Near Eastern and Egyptian artifacts found in Greece. He takes issue with approaches that decontextualize these objects, leading to statistically impossible numbers such as 0.5 imports per year. Taking a maximalist view of Minoan and Mycenaean involvement in eastern Mediterranean interaction, he sees their contacts with Egypt and the Near East as periodic, interrupted by military, economic, and climatic situations. He supports the idea that imports in the Aegean Sea region should be studied in terms of groups that might have resulted from episodes of contact rather than simply as individual objects. There is still great value in an approach used previously by Cline as in Sailing the Wine Dark Sea – and mentioned throughout this volume – that asks whether an object, or group of objects, that originated elsewhere was used in the same way in a new context. This concept was central to earlier models of exchange (e.g., by Timothy Earle in Contexts for Prehistoric Exchange (1982) and Vance Watrous, The Role of the Near East in the Rise of the Cretan Palaces in The Function of the Minoan Palaces (1987)).

In "The World Beyond the Northern Margin: The Bronze Age Aegean and the East Adriatic Coast", Helena Tomas offers a useful overview of the eastern Adriatic in the Bronze Age and highlights patterns of interaction with the Aegean, particularly mainland Greece. Most evidence for interaction suggests that the eastern Adriatic was on the margin of an Aegean world-system and that connections with the Balkans were overland rather than via sea routes. She, Cline, Kardulias, and Sherratt point to Andrew Sherratt's use of the "margin" to refer to areas outside any direct influence of a core (in What Would a Bronze-Age World System Look Like? Relations between Temperate Europe and the Mediterranean in Later Prehistory, Journal of European Archaeology, 1993). The only exception to this pattern is the Cetina culture, pottery typical of which comes from Early Helladic III period contexts in mainland Greece. Tomas points to the presence of Cetina pottery at several sites in Greece, including the House of the Tiles at Lerna, and notes that the metal trade was the likely motivator for these contacts. While the overall picture of contacts is slim, this contribution to the volume is important especially given that all the other contributions look to the east. Just as peoples of the Aegean maintained control over their degree of interaction with places further to the east, people to the west may have maintained a similar level of control over their connections with Greece during the Bronze Age.

"Think Locally, Act Globally: Mycenaean Elites and the Late Bronze Age World-System" by Robert Schon, compares patterns of connection with the Near East in the earlier Mycenaean period, of the Middle Helladic III–Late Helladic II period, with that from the later Mycenaean period, of the Late Helladic III period. This excellent paper demonstrates that there was a shift in the meaning and value of importe d items from luxuries to commodities when power structures changed in the later Mycenaean period. While those who held power in the Mycenaean world were dependent on imports for the manipulation of power, that dependency was not determined by core centers of power in the Near East and Egypt. Schon discusses the values ascribed to imports in the early Mycenaean period as inalienable and suggests how these were used to forge and maintain relationships. In the later Mycenaean period those who governed from palaces used these same types of objects and locally made objects of exotic materials or technologies to control access to symbols of power. He describes the Mycenaean system as anarchical, meaning that no one center dominated over another. Each palace center drew somewhat differently on symbols derived from imported goods; the divergent pathways from luxury to commodity remain to be elucidated.

The chapters in this volume each work toward a common goal of using a greater range of theoretical approaches in order to address social interaction in the Aegean world and its relationship with the wider eastern Mediterranean. In so doing the chapters are almost necessarily contradictory given that some authors take minimalist and others maximalist views of the evidence. Furthermore, the picture will seem different whether it is viewed from a Macro, Medium, or Local perspective. While this direction may seem frustrating to some readers of this volume, the willingness of the editors to allow for contradictory views is a positive step toward enriching the field of Aegean prehistory. There is no one "correct" approach and there is no one magical formula that will elucidate the complexities of all social relations anywhere at any time. Several need to be taken in order to ask questions and address problems, each of which will lead to new questions and new ideas. A reasoned and explicit statement about the approaches taken is always a valuable part of any study and in reading these essays, it is clear that the editors and authors have thought carefully about their approaches to the evidence and its evaluation. It is hoped that such clearly stated eclecticism will continue to form part of the study of state societies in the eastern Mediterranean Bronze Age.

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