Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Costis Davaras, Philip P. Betancourt, Hagia Photia Cemetery II: The Pottery. Prehistory monographs, 34. Philadelphia: INSTAP Academic Press, 2012. Pp. xix, 164; 21 p. of figs, 70 p. of plates. ISBN 9781931534635. $80.00.

Reviewed by Jo Day, University College Dublin (joanna.day@ucd.ie)

Version at BMCR home site

[The table of contents is listed at the end of the review.]

This is the second volume in a proposed series of three that present the results of the excavation of the cemetery at Hagia Photia, in eastern Crete. The first volume published the tomb groups and architecture of this important Early Bronze Age site,1 and included a selection of the ceramics found in the graves. This volume focuses exclusively on the ceramics from the tombs, presenting a detailed catalogue and analysis of shapes, fabrics, and craftsmanship in the third millennium BC. The principal authors, Costis Davaras and Philip Betancourt, are two of the foremost scholars in Cretan archaeology today and their substantial knowledge of the Aegean Bronze Age enriches this publication.

There are two main divisions within the publication: Part 1, 'The Pottery', features an Introduction and a catalogue of Cycladic style and Cretan style ceramics from the site; Part II is entitled 'Discussions and Conclusions'. A substantial multi-authored appendix presents the petrographic and chemical analysis of the pottery. At the back of the book are twenty-one pages of figures, predominantly line drawings of vessel profiles, and 65 plates of black and white photographs of the ceramics. A further five colour plates illustrate the main fabric groups identified in the Appendix. A concordance lists the museum and catalogue numbers for the ceramics under discussion and a useful reference list includes the standard titles expected in such a ceramic study, although the most recent publication is from 2009.

The cemetery at Hagia Photia contains about 300 tombs, ranging from simple pits to more elaborate shaft graves with side chambers, some of which contained at least 10 individuals. Most of the tombs can be dated to the Early Minoan I period, ca. 3100-2650 BC, and it is presumed that they held the remains of the inhabitants of a sizeable town located somewhere in the vicinity. The most noteworthy feature of the cemetery, however, is the preponderance of Cycladic- style material culture, referred to in this volume as "Cycladicizing", as well as much rarer examples of actual "Cycladic" material. Tombs and their contents demonstrate a close relationship with the Cycladic islands to the north, which led to early hypotheses that Hagia Photia was a Cycladic colony on Crete. In particular, the ceramics show a close affinity with the Kampos Group of Early Cycladic I, chronologically equivalent to Early Minoan IB. Finds of obsidian and metal at EM I sites show that contact with the Cyclades was not uncommon at this time, and other sites on Crete also feature Kampos Group shapes (e.g., Petras Kephala, Poros-Katsambas, Gournes), but the material from Hagia Photia comprises the largest such assemblage. This detailed presentation of the ceramics is therefore to be welcomed.

Following a two-page general introduction, the volume progresses straight to the catalogue of 1448 pieces of Cycladic- style pottery. This is organised by vessel shape; the entry on each shape commences with a brief introduction, including comparanda or parallels from beyond Hagia Photia, followed by the individual catalogue entries. The standardised format makes it easy to search for information throughout the publication, and each individual catalogue entry includes some or all of: catalogue number, museum number, illustration number, tomb context, shape, dimensions, surface colour with Munsell references, detail of decoration, and bibliography. The catalogue of Cretan pottery contains only 81 entries, the majority of which (73) are dated to EM I, with eight LM III pieces reflecting later re-use of the cemetery. One other jug is identified as Anatolian in origin. The organisation of the Cretan pottery catalogue varies from the preceding one on Cycladic style material, with ceramic styles as the primary grouping, which are then divided according to shape, e.g., Lebena Style includes cup and pyxis shapes.

A full list of all the shapes and styles discussed in the volume would be inappropriate here, but some brief points of interest follow. Firstly it should be noted that the ceramics are predominantly from a single stylistic period, EM IB,with little evidence for any chronological development. This means that the assemblage is a valuable resource for untangling Final Neolithic – Early Minoan chronology, bridging the gap between the recently identified EM IA (e.g. at Petras Kephala) and the long-established EM IIA periods. Pyxides of various shapes, as well as pyxis lids without vessels, are the most numerous type of ceramic vessel recovered from the tombs. Another very common shape is the bowl with tab handle (234 examples recovered), apparently rarely found outside this site. The twelve frying pans from the site have tab handles too as opposed to the more common pronged version of the (later) Keros-Syros group, but the authors refrain from suggesting their own interpretations of these enigmatic vessels. Only 36 chalices were recovered, of both the shallower Cycladic type and the more conical Minoan style, a surprisingly low number from a cemetery containing so many graves. Certain ceramic vessel types appear only once: a spoon, and a tripod cooking pot, the latter of interest because of the lack of tripod legs in EM I ceramic assemblages, although this find perhaps implies that the pattern may simply be due to the current predominance of funerary rather than domestic find contexts. Jugs represent only 2% of the total number of vessels; this low figure combined with the few chalices and the emphasis on closed vessels, such as pyxides and bottles, suggests a rather different funerary ritual from those typical of contemporary east Crete. The authors extrapolate from the practices represented by the assemblage that "A majority of people who were buried in the cemetery were not Minoans." (p.113).

A programme of petrographic and chemical analysis was undertaken by P.M. Day, A. Hein, L. Joyner, V. Kilikoglou, E. Kiriatzi, A. Tsolakidou, and D.E. Wilson, alongside the macroscopic and morphological study, and is presented in the Appendix. Thin section petrography was carried out on samples from the six main ware groups identified in the assemblage (red/brown burnished; dark gray burnished; fine gray burnished; dark-on-light painted; red slipped; dark burnished and incised) and across a variety of shapes. Instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA) was carried out on 27 samples from both ceramic traditions. Detailed results of both sets of analyses are presented. Petrography identified nine fabric groups, which combined with the results of INAA, can be divided into material with local, Cretan, and Cycladic origins. The Cycladic-style ceramics were made in two low-fired calcite tempered fabrics, with additional grog and organic temper, and are local to the Siteia region. Only the bottle, a distinctly Cycladic shape, may have been made in the Cyclades and imported to Crete. Locally manufactured Minoan-style pottery was supplemented by imports from elsewhere on the island.

The availability of petrographic and chemical comparanda from other east Cretan sites such as Kalo Chorio and Petras, as well as Kampos assemblages from Poros-Katsambas and Ano Kouphonisi (in the Cyclades) enabled the authors to move beyond analysis of a single site and to draw some interesting conclusions about Early Bronze Age I ceramic and craft tradition on a wider scale. The Cycladicizing ceramic material from Hagia Photia is attributed to three production centres, defined as "one or more workshops that made ceramics in a specific style, with a particular technology and decorative system" (p. 95). These centres "could have consisted of a single workshop, a group of closely related workshops, or a more loosely related series of places sharing similar technologies and styles" (pp.95-96). A production centre is not to be confused with stylistic or ware groupings, the most common ways of categorising the ceramics of EM Crete. Based on technological and decorative similarities, bowls with tab handles, frying pans, and some spool pyxides are grouped as coming from Production Center One. This centre may have had links with the northeast Aegean, and exhibits many parallels with material from Chios. Production Center Two most likely was located in eastern Crete and provided the majority of ceramics for the cemetery, which have a lustrous red or reddish brown surface. The third production centre made only bottles and bird-shaped vessels; it may well have been located in the Cyclades and the vessels imported to Crete. Distinguishing the diverse origins of the ceramics at Hagia Photia deepens our understanding of the roles of pottery, craftsmanship and exchange networks in EBA I communities, but one must hope that adding "production centres" to the already elaborate system of ceramic classification will be beneficial rather than confusing, and that the term will be used only where adequate scientific data supports it.

The funerary nature of the ceramics is highlighted in the General Discussion section. The assemblage as a whole does not represent the range of vessels required by a settlement, and is probably a combination of those used in funerary ceremonies or later visits to the cemetery, and those deposited with the dead. Many of the vessels were apparently unused prior to being placed in the grave. The reported deliberate breakage of small numbers of vessels on the stones used to seal the graves suggests a ritualised role for at least some of them, and the promise to discuss this further in Volume III will be eagerly awaited. The authors conclude that the ceramics formed part of a package of artefacts deliberately chosen by the inhabitants of Hagia Photia to assert a non-Cretan identity – i.e. that they were a Cycladic community living in Crete (p. 113). Archaeologists are well aware of the dangers of equating pots with people and seeking identities in material culture, but the authors make a persuasive case in this instance, and there can be little doubt that, at least in their funerary practices, these people were different from their contemporaries on Crete.

Analysis shows that not all tombs contained pottery, and that the majority only had 1-5 vessels. A link between high status individuals and grave goods of any type is difficult to identify, but quantity rather than quality may have been the distinguishing factor. Unfortunately, lists of individual tomb assemblages are lacking in this volume, making it impossible for a reader to explore these subtle distinctions. Another flaw is the discrepancy between the ceramic catalogue and the Appendix: the petrographic results discuss "Dark-on-Light" ware, which elsewhere in the volume is referred to as "Hagios Onouphrios". Both names refer to a pottery style with dark (brown or red) paint on a buff ground, and both occur here as a result of authorial preference. It is a pity that one term could not have been agreed upon for the sake of consistency within the volume. The many illustrations of vessels are useful comparanda, although it is somewhat of a shame that more plates were not printed in colour. Some minor typos were noted throughout, a few of which are mentioned here: Plate 8 is labelled "Figure 8" in the heading; p. 34 features the erroneous "and it persist at little later"; p. 80 "oppose vertical handles" should read "opposed"; p. 107 has "the tomb was closed on in a previous period".

Minor problems aside, this book will be indispensable to specialists working with the ceramics of Early Minoan I–II Crete and Early Cycladic cultures, as well as to anyone with an interest in craft production and the movement of goods and ideas. It does need to be read in tandem with volume I, however, which provides detailed information on the cemetery itself and on the find contexts of the individual ceramic vessels.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Catalog of Cycladic Style Pottery
3. Catalog of Cretan Pottery
4. General Discussion; App. A. Petrographic and Chemical Analysis of Pottery, by P.M. Day, A. Hein, L. Joyner, V. Kilikoglou, E. Kiriatzi, A. Tsolakidou, and D.E. Wilson


1.   C. Davaras and P. Betancourt (2004) The Hagia Photia Cemetery I: The Tomb Groups and Architecture. Philadelphia: INSTAP Academic Press.

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