Saturday, January 26, 2013

2013.01.53

Giannis Z. Tzifopoulos (ed.), Μεθώνη Πιερίας I: Επιγραφές, χαράγματα και εμπορικά σύμβολα στη γεωμετρική και αρχαϊκή κεραμική από το "Υπόγειο". Thessaloniki: Centre for the Greek Language, 2012. Pp. 560. ISBN 9789607779519. Contributors: Matthaios Bessios and Antonis Kotsonas

Reviewed by Stefanos Gimatzidis, Austrian Academy of Sciences (stefanos.gimatzidis@oeaw.ac.at)

Version at BMCR home site

This book presents the inscriptions and other incised or painted marks on the pottery from a pit excavated by the Greek Archaeological Service at Methone, Pieria. Pieria is a region in Macedonia, where an excavation boom has taken place over the past thirty years, i.e. after the spectacular discoveries in 1977 at Vergina that have "given rise in certain quarters to a 'nationalist archaeology', closely linked to nationalist history".1

In the first chapter Tzifopoulos (a philologist), who is the editor of the volume, presents a historical overview of the ancient colony. At the beginning it is difficult to understand his references about the mythological relationship between Pieria and some southern regions like Boeotia (pp. 17–19). However, one gets an idea of what is going to come after reading his unsubstantiated speculations that the Euboeans who colonized Methone did not meet Thracians there, but rather Macedonians who had allegedly already expelled the former (pp. 20–21). There is not any real evidence for this view, which is based solely on the vague and later information of Thucydides about the mythological past of the Macedonians. According to Thucydides, the Macedonians expelled at some time the people of Pieres from their land. Even if we suppose that this is a historical fact, it is still impossible to say where and when this took place. Instead, there is certainly more value in the fact that according to the Greek collective memory Methone used to be a Thracian settlement, which is, however, overlooked.2

In the next chapter, Bessios (an archaeologist working for the local department of the Archaeological Service) presents his excavation. The pit was dug on the top of the east hill, just to the east of the Agora of the ancient city. 3

One of the major problems of this book is the interpretation of the stratigraphy. According to Bessios there were three phases of fill deposit. Nevertheless, a short look at the section drawing (pp. 49) and a careful reading of the new and old information about it shows that the depositional history of the pit is quite different. The section drawing, the description of the deposit and the statement that numerous sherds from the so-called 'phase I' join together with others from 'phase II' clearly illustrate that these must both be regarded as a single phase. Bessios' effort to discern one archaeological phase from another by means of pottery is once again a clear violation of basic archaeological principles. Be that as it may, the sherds from the so-called phase II actually date to the same time as the ones of phase I (see pp. 109–110 [no. 95–97] and pp. 169, 171 [no. 90, 91]). On the other hand, what Bessios regards as a later single phase III, must obviously represent at least two depositional periods due, among other reasons, to the construction of two walls.

Bessios' interpretations of the pit's function do not make use of ordinary archaeological arguments.. Initially he thought that the pit was a multi-stored basement, 11 metres deep, with a continuous stairway that was built after the introduction into the region of a higher form of technology. In this book he presents a new theory according to which the Euboeans did not actually finish the construction of their planned multi-stored basement. For this reason the name ʻΥπόγειο' now appears in quotation marks (pp. 46–51).

In the following chapter Kotsonas (an archaeologist) analyzes the 191 sherds from the pit, which have inscriptions and other marks. Following the footsteps of Bessios he overlooks the significance of the finds as part of closed contexts and does not really comprehend the difference between absolute and relative chronology (pp. 122 and n. 707). It is really difficult to follow his remarks on typology, which derive from recent studies in Macedonia. He does not seem to realize that classification of wares is one thing and ceramic typology another, and there are major methodological problems in the definition of his ceramic groups ("Gattunge" [sic]), wares and shapes/types (pp. 117– 121).4

His belief that the pottery production of each settlement in Macedonia as well as in the Aegean was distinctive and had its own fabric, which he thinks he has discovered by studying the 191 sherds from the pit in Methone, is most naïve. His claim that a slightly different fabric must have been produced by immigrant potters is equally naïve (pp. 126–128). The truth is that by "local" one can refer to the pottery production of Pieria or central/west Macedonia etc. and not to that of Methone, Sindos, Vergina etc. Kotsonas' description of the properties of the Gray Wares of Aeolia ("κεραμική τεφρόχρωμου ρυθμού [!]") as if there was a single gray fabric in the Northeast Aegean (pp. 179) is awkward. Yet he attributes a common Aeolian drinking vase to the production of Antissa simply because he judges it similar to another vase with known provenance from that site on Lesvos, which he happened to have seen in some collection (pp. 183)!

Similar peculiarities and inaccuracies are also very common in the typological analysis, which must be treated with caution. If one forgets the awkward attribution of some common linear decorated skyphoi and a monochrome handle (!) to the same potter (pp. 129–130) one is really surprised by the fact that Kotsonas ignores the fact that the hanging horns which appear on the hydria no. 43 are the hallmark of the Macedonian Protogeometric and Subprotogeometric pottery and instead looks for parallels for them on Crete (pp. 142). By discussing the jug with cutaway neck he includes – as usual – an overview of the history of the shape by repeating more specialist work.What he does not comprehend is that the name "hydria" that appears in a Greek summary of the German publication of the handmade pottery of Kastanas as a translation for the jug with cutaway is only a typo. Unfortunately he continues to discuss this as an alternative term for the jug (pp. 144–145). After all this one is not surprised by the typological comparison of a late 8th-century jug with similar shapes of the Middle and Late Helladic period from Aghios Mamas (pp. 140) or that a very common gray burnished ware, which was produced almost everywhere from south Albania to East Macedonia, is thought by Kotsonas to have been exclusively produced in Methone or perhaps in another place in the Thermaic golf (pp. 149). A distinctive category of Late Geometric amphorae, which was presented for the first time a few years ago in a symposium on Thasos and recognized as early Milesian trade amphorae,5 are regarded as "Methonean" (pp. 150–154). Chemical analyses of similar finds from other sites, which are in progress, will further highlight their origin. On the occasion of the few fragments of the clearly wheel-made North Aegean trade amphorae of type II from the pit, Kotsonas repeats old information and overlooks, once again, the recent scholarship on their typo- chronological development by means of well-stratified material; he also takes them for handmade.Kotsonas proposes a new name, "Thermaic amphorae" (pp. 155), a rather unfortunate choice for North Aegean trade amphorae because it overlooks the fact that the only piece from an amphora of this category with a known origin was found in a kiln in Torone (where the longest series of their earlier types has also been found) and the only chemical analysis of another piece showed Trojan origin.6 More problematic is the attribution of the trade with these amphorae to the Macedonians (pp. 161; 233–235): Macedonians crossed the river Axios and thus reached the regions of the Thermaic Golf and Chalcidice, where these amphorae were produced, only two or three centuries after these vessels had already stopped being produced.

Kotsonas' citations are imprecise. Most of his distribution maps copy earlier works without clearly stating the original source and without adding any significant or real new information. In several cases the information added is actually irrelevant (n. 146) or false (n. 144). The same is true for the distribution of the Subprotogemetric North Aegean trade amphora of type II. In this case after some peculiar comments on his source he lists several new entries, almost all of them belonging to other ceramic categories. (see n. 539).7

Kotsonas believes that distribution maps of fine wares are indicators of trade and human mobility (pp. 124; 164–165) and export of Euboean pottery equates Euboean colonization (pp. 232). Moreover, he regards the variability in the origin of the imported pots as an indicator of the nationality of their users and thus concludes that not only Euboeans but also other Greeks settled in Methone (pp. 228–240). More than that he believes that definition of the imports and local imitations of pottery can highlight their potter's identity (imported pottery equates trade, local imitations equate imported potters…) (pp. 132; 236).

Instead of the anxious repetition of old information (often without stating the source), one would expect clear stratigraphic indications, trustworthy descriptions and drawings that are not available. The latter are usually so inaccurate that one sometimes thinks that they depict another vase than the one in the accompanying photo (see i.e. pp. 354, no. 10).8

Finally, the chapter is missing a synthetic analysis and interpretation of the inscribed pottery in its context (pp. 219– 240).

In the following chapter Tzifopoulos discusses the inscriptions and other marks on the sherds of Methone. The attribution of an inscription on an Aeolian drinking vase to the Aeolic alphabet is contradicted by Richard Janko, who convincingly shows that this is in Euboean script.9 Tzifopoulos' effort to show that some other quite fragmentary inscriptions in Methone could be of non-Euboean origin (pp. 311–312) is equally unpersuasive.

The frankest part of the book is without doubt the epilogue signed by all three authors. I shall quote here, in translation, only a few sentences: "waves of colonizers settled at Methone with the full consent of the locals" (who according to their theories were Macedonians) (pp. 324–325); "pottery as well as inscriptions attest that Eretrians lived side by side in Methone not only with the locals (Macedonians) but also with Greeks from other regions. The role of the locals was not diminished but improved after the settlement of the colonizers" (pp. 325)… "The finds reject old views…and prove that…Macedonia was an integral part of the united Aegean world of the Panhellenes" (pp. 327). The conclusion of the book – based mostly on misinterpretation ofpottery distribution – is that Macedonians not only traded in the 8th century as far as Pithekoussai together with other Greeks (as Kotsonas implies), but they also received settlers from many regions of Greece as friends and civilizers during the 8th century BC in Methone. The authors imply that this is a strong argument for the identity of Macedonians. It becomes thus clear that while an intensive discussion on the manipulation of archaeology for nationalist and colonialist purposes is going on globally, the good old Balkan nationalism is still haunting North Greek archaeology.



Notes:


1.   J.K. Papadopoulos, The Early Iron Age Cemetery at Torone (Los Angeles 2005) 9.
2.   See M. Tiverios, Greek Colonisation of the Northern Aegean. In: G.R. Tsetskhladze (ed.), Greek Colonisation: An Account of Greek Colonies and other Settlements Overseas, 2. Mnemosyne Suppl. 193 (Leiden/Boston 2008) 18.
3.   In this book Bessios avoids referring to the extensive use of a bulldozer for the excavation of the pit – as he did in his preliminary reports – that resulted in the loss of its upper levels and destroyed once and for all the archaeological landscape by removing the earth around it.
4.   For similar comments see A.L. D'Agata, Review of Antonis Kotsonas, The Archaeology of Tomb A1K1 of Orthi Petra in Eleutherna: The Early Iron Age pottery. Gnomon 83, 2011, 337–341.
5.   S. Gimatzidis, Πρώιμοι ελληνικοί εμπορικοί αμφορείς. In: Thasos. Métropole et colonies. Symposium International à la mémoire de Marina Sgourou, 21–22 septembre 2006, Musée Archéologique de Thasos et „Καλογερικό" de Thasos (forthcoming).
6.   S. Gimatzidis, Die Stadt Sindos. Eine Siedlung von der späten Bronze- bis zur Klassischen Zeit am Thermaischen Golf in Makedonien. Prähist. Arch. Südosteuropa 26 (Rahden/Westf. 2010) 262–264, fig. 82; 375– 376.
7.   Cf. supra.
8.   Furthermore, there are significant grammatical shortcomings such as "επιπεδούμενος ώμος" (instead of "επίπεδος") [pp. 141; 142], "Ο ώμος...φέρει...ομάδες γραμμώσεων..." (instead of "γραμμών") [pp. 135], "...τα αγγεία... παρουσιάζουν ελαφρά, αμελή τροπίδωση" [pp. 129], to mention only a few.
9.   See R. Janko, From Gordion and Gabii to Eretria and Methone: the rise of the Greek alphabet. In: A. J. Strauss Clay/Rengakos/Y. Tzifopoulos, Panhellenes at Methone: graphê in Late Geometric and Protoarchaic Methone, Macedonia (ca 700 BCE) (forthcoming). I owe many thanks to Prof. Richard Janko for his kindness in letting me refer to his unpublished manuscript.

6 comments:

  1. This review may offer substantial criticism on methodological weaknesses and mistakes in the publication of the archaeological material in this volume. It fails, however,to comment on the significance of the archaeological material for a wider BMCR audience...What is the bigger picture here aside from the identity of early Macedonia? Moreover,if the reviewer is right, one wonders whether the publications of the Center for the Greek Language are peer-reviewed...

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  2. Dr. Gimatzidis makes some substantial points about the presentation of these extraordinary discoveries (as important as "Nestor's cup" from Pithekoussai) from the sealed deposits in what I would interpret as a very deep well, the sides of which kept collapsing until it was soon filled in. The significance of these finds for early trade and the history of early writing (including the textualization of the Homeric epics) is of course very great. As usually happens with such discoveries, it will take time for their implications to become fully apparent, and one must inevitably expect revisions to the initial picture. In fact the editors deserve to be warmly congratulated on bringing out this material so rapidly and in so thorough a manner that their conclusions are open to the level of inspection and reevaluation that we see here. Be it noted that Professors Clay, Rengakos and Tzifopoulos have in their forthcoming volume undertaken to bring together scholarly reactions to these discoveries, including some which were critical on certain points.

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  3. I am sorry to say this reads more like a personal attack rather than a proper review. I find it difficult to believe that the volume contains nothing of value; more to the point, that this excavation, and the publication at hand, operate on a nationalist agenda, especially since the reviewer has failed, as far as I can tell, to substantiate his claims. Is there anywhere in the book some statement or assertion connecting those elusive Thracians, Macedonians, Euboeans etc with ethnic groups currently associated with the region or Northern Greece at large? Has the reviewer any substantial evidence that the central state has in any way encouraged this particular project or made use of its outcome in any inappropriate manner? The fact that Vergina has become the nationalist circus that it has does not mean that all other materials from Macedonia ought to remain unpublished. What I can verify, however, is that the reviewer’s complaints about the book’s “significant grammatical shortcomings” (see his n. 8) are ALL unfounded. The phrases he cites are written in good Greek language, somewhat technical perhaps, but not in any case incorrect. Is the reviewer (whom I do not know in person) a native Greek speaker? Or perhaps a member of the Greek diaspora? I must say that I find the reviewer’s attempt to Orientalise the objects of his critique (they don’t know how to dig; they don’t know their pottery; they can’t read their own stratigraphy drawings) rather disturbing. I hope I’m mistaken, but in any case I found this review rather unconvincing, to say the least.

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    Replies
    1. Stefanos GimatzidisFebruary 6, 2013 at 5:25 AM

      Thank you so much for your comment. Last year the state financed project of Methone was celebrated at a very special occasion and presented to an audience in Athens. The Minister of Education made the introduction: “The archaeological and linguistic research has proven that the Macedonian language is an ancient Greek dialect. This is a very important conclusion of huge historic and archaeological importance as well as of great national interest. In a period of deep crisis for our country, which is not only financial, but has other components too, I think that such discoveries have a great significance. When we all believe that a grey cloud is moving above our country, it is very important to derive the self-confidence we all need from our culture, history and language” (http://www.diamantopoulou.gr/portal/index.php/blog/item/295). For the rest you can check the relevant literature on pottery and excavation methods (I am sorry but I cannot respond to vague and generalized complaints; I think I was more specific in my review and I am really looking forward for a debate on its substance). There is also a lot recently published on archaeological ethics. Regarding the grammatical shortcomings I strongly insist on my view and I recommend you to check the dictionary of Triantafyllides.

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    2. Indeed, Diamantopoulou’s statements were both nationalist and racist, which may have prejudiced your reading of the book. However, I still find the authors’ ambition to contribute to the study of the Greek language, literacy and its contexts, the diffusion of alphabets etc quite legitimate. As Prof. Janko states in his comment above, these are extraordinary discoveries and this book makes a substantial contribution to our understanding of early writing among other things. Yes, the writing in question happens to be Greek and the site happens to be in Northern Greece. If these were finds from Pithekoussai no one would even think of branding this same publication a nationalist project. To my mind, your piece still reads like a vociferous retort, and your rather offensive suggestion that I should brush up my archaeological ethics or check the “dictionary of Triantafyllides” seems to confirm this. I have no intention on continuing this discussion; I suspect, however, that the contributors to this volume will have much to say in defence of their work, and I look forward to hearing from them in due course.

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  4. It would be nice if Mr. Plantzos can tell what an “αμελής τροπίδωση“ must to do to become “επιμελής“.

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