Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Elizabeth Courtney Banks, The Settlement and Architecture of Lerna IV. Lerna: results of excavations conducted by the American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 6. Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2013. Pp. xx, 484. ISBN 9780876613061. $150.00.

Reviewed by Vassilis Petrakis, National Hellenic Research Foundation (vpetrakisrm@yahoo.gr)

Version at BMCR home site

[The volume's contents are given at the end of this review.]

This is the sixth volume in the series of final reports on the excavations of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens' excavations (1952-1958) at Lerna, a site located on a low mound near the village of Myloi in the Argolid. This volume publishes the architecture and stratigraphy of the fourth settlement (Lerna IV), which dates to the Early Helladic (hereafter EH) III period. Since the publication of J.L. Caskey's seminal 1960 article, 1 Lerna has been a protagonist in discussions about the EH II/III 'transition' (the passage from Lerna III to Lerna IV in terms of the site's history) and its historical implications, often exercising 'paradigmatic pressure' upon our understanding of this crucial period. Caskey interpreted the destruction of the Lerna III settlement as typical of a broader horizon of invasion of new 'ethnic' elements in the southern Greek Mainland, a viewpoint recent overviews have shown to be misleadingly oversimplified. 2

Banks' publication should be consulted alongside Rutter's monumental analysis of the Lerna IV pottery. 3 It is clear throughout the book that Rutter and Banks have collaborated quite closely: Rutter's ceramic analysis has defined the tripartite phasing of the Lerna IV settlement (IV.1, IV.2 and IV.3), which is fundamental to the whole presentation, and references to Rutter's pottery groups are ubiquitous throughout the analysis of the various contexts and in the final discussion (pp.33-367 and 395). We may use Rutter's and Banks' publications as two parts of a single synthesis. With this publication, the only Lerna IV material that remains unpublished is the small finds, which will be treated by Banks in a separate volume, 4 but are nonetheless considered in the concluding discussion (pp.343-367).

This volume is very conveniently organized into nine chapters, followed by five Appendixes. Chapter 1 provides essential guidance on how to use the book alongside other presentations of the Lerna material. Chapter 2 is also necessary reading: various types of buildings (apsidal, rectilinear and a few disputable cases of other curvilinear constructions) and other features (hearths, ovens and so-called 'bothroi') are defined, described and discussed in detail, enabling the reader to access the actual presentation of the evidence. The suggested typological distinctions of building ground-plans (pp.12-17) will be particularly appreciated and ‒one hopes‒ may lead to the establishment of a common terminology in studies of Helladic architecture. The discussion of 'bothroi' (of which over 200 have been assigned to Lerna IV) is particularly commendable, and Banks argues persuasively for their possibly diverse nature and functions (pp.20-22). In Chapters 4 to 7, the material is presented by sector (Main Area, Area D, and the various early 'test' trenches) and by settlement phase (a proper stratigraphic assignment is more ambiguous for the remains presented in Chapter 8). The concluding discussion (Chapter 9) is also divided in phases and includes a brief discussion of plant remains (the latter based on identifications by Maria Hopf, pp.364-367). All Appendixes provide essential information referring to Chapters 4- 8: a tabular presentation of architectural features, concordances of pottery lots and groups to context and page numbers, a full catalogue of the Lerna IV bothroi with commentary, a note on the few burials associated with the settlement and a revision of the faunal assemblages (the latter by David Reese).

Banks sees Lerna IV as a relatively small settlement compared to the Lerna III town, although she commendably refrains from speculation on population size, admitting that only a small part of the site has been explored (p.344). She also follows Rutter in suggesting the 'mixed' nature of the Lerna IV culture ("a Lerna-Tiryns-Aigina/Kolonna symbiosis" featuring an "Anatolian-derived drinking behavior": pp.354, 358). 5 Lerna IV settlers lived the average Bronze Age life, with subsistence based primarily on farming and herding, while specialized crafts (ceramic production, obsidian working and perhaps metallurgy) were also practiced (Melian obsidian and copper were imported to the site). Conclusive evidence for intra-site differentiation (hierarchical or heterarchical) is quite scarce (a scarcity typical of EH III-Middle Helladic settlements, Kolonna on Aigina being the well-known exception). It seems probable that the settlement expanded in size to cover almost the entire mound by the end of phase IV.3 (p.361). Banks sees in this expansion evidence for a further arrival of newcomers at Lerna (there is no evident cultural change until the end of Lerna V).

Two features of this publication in particular stand out: Banks' interpretation of the tumulus upon the 'House of the Tiles' (Chapter 3: pp.23-31) and Reese's revision of the Lerna IV faunal identifications (Appendix V: pp.421-467). Although these certainly do not form the bulk of this volume, both mark major advances in our understanding of the site, therefore justifying a more extensive discussion.

The circular shield-shaped tumulus had long been considered the first EH III construction on the site. Made of the mixed debris of the 'House of the Tiles' (ash, brick, tile, charcoal and stone), it had been traditionally interpreted as an expression of reverence and awe towards the 'House' by the new settlers of Lerna IV. 6 Banks' suggestion that the tumulus was actually the latest EH II construction at Lerna introduces a fascinating new perspective on this monument. 7 Her approach is influenced by Forsén's concept of "ritual tumuli" (i.e., mounds not intended to mark or accommodate burials). 8 Given the lack of pottery associated with the construction of the monument (p.29), 9 Banks advances two indirect arguments for the association of the tumulus with Lerna III. On the one hand, she emphasizes the similarity between the Lerna tumulus and the Thebes Museum and Olympia tumuli (pp.29-30), which are not especially close, 10 although these monuments do demonstrate that mounds (funerary or not) were already constructed during EH II. On the other hand, she argues that "[t]he neatness of the tumulus and the careful selection of the encircling stones and paving slabs are totally consistent with the Lerna III psyche" but not with the Lerna IV settlers who "were not a tidy lot" (p.30): the investment of expertise and care can vary among different kinds of contemporary constructions (cf. the elaborate Early Mycenaean funerary architecture versus the unremarkable contemporary dwellings).

Despite the reservations expressed above, this reviewer is convinced that Banks' date must be correct. Her most compelling argument, however, is her closing comment on the treatment of the tumulus in the Lerna IV period (p.31). The best way to associate the tumulus with Lerna III is to dissociate it from Lerna IV. In this respect, stratigraphic evidence can be quite indicative: there is no Lerna IV building phase during which the tumulus was truly 'revered'. Although the central area of the mound was not built over until phase IV.3, there is building activity cutting through its periphery early in phase IV.1 (Building W-21 on pp.66-68, plans 4, 8 and fig.14). Assigning the mound to an incipient Lerna IV phase raises the question why the tumulus was not retained intact, but was built over almost immediately. It is clear that the tumulus makes far better sense as a final EH II construction, which Lerna IV settlers apparently felt no need to respect. At first, it must have been considered impractical to demolish the tumulus in its entirety, since there was plenty of space around, and in fact the central area of the tumulus remained largely undisturbed through IV.1-IV.2. But things apparently changed with the expansion of settlement in phase IV.3 (plan 23): there was just no space to spare any longer. As Banks eloquently observes, Lerna IV settlers "encroached upon what was not for them 'sacred ground'" anyway (p.31). 11

In Appendix V, David Reese has undertaken a major revision of Gejvall's identifications of animal remains from Lerna, published as Lerna I. 12 Reese shows how selective Gejvall's analysis was and reconsiders many of his original identifications and interpretations. 13 Highlights are his revision of Gejvall's identification of cut-marks and burned bones (pp.461-2) ‒these include evidence for the consumption of dogs in Lerna IV and V‒ and the identification of some of Gejvall's Lerna IV donkey bones as horse (p. 455).

Excavation photographs (mostly by Caskey himself) are on the whole excellent. Their inclusion within the text, alongside clear and lucid plans and sections, enhance considerably the user-friendliness of the volume. Overall, the outstanding quality in presentation, discussion and production will make this volume an extremely valuable addition to every library with even a peripheral interest in Aegean prehistory.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgements [v-vii]
Table of Contents [ix]
List of Illustrations [xi-xiv]
List of Tables [xv]
Abbreviations [xvii-xx]
Chapter 1: Introduction and Organization [1-5]
Chapter 2: Architectural Overview [7-22]
Chapter 3: The House of the Tiles Tumulus [23-31]
Chapter 4: The Settlements in the Main Area: Lerna IV.1 [33-110]
Chapter 5: The Settlements in the Main Area: Lerna IV.2 [111-160]
Chapter 6: The Settlements in the Main Area: Lerna IV.3 [161-311]
Chapter 7: The Settlements in Area D [313-334]
Chapter 8: The Settlements in the Minor Trenches [335-341]
Chapter 9: Concluding Discussion [343-367]
I. Walls and Buildings [371-381]
II. Pottery Lots and Rutter Pottery Groups [383-395]
III. Bothros Catalogue and Commentary [397-417]
IV. Burials [419-420]
V. The Fauna (by David S. Reese) [421-467]
References [469-480]
Index [481-484]


1.   J. Caskey. "The Early Helladic period in the Argolid." Hesperia 29 (1960): 285-303.
2.   J. Forsén. The Twilight of the Early Helladics. A Study of the Disturbances in East-Central and Southern Greece Towards the End of the Early Bronze Age (SIMA Pocket Book 116). Jonsered 1992. See also D.J. Pullen. "The Early Bronze Age in Greece" in The Cambridge Companion to the Bronze Age Aegean, edited by C.W. Shelmerdine, Cambridge 2008, pp.19-46 (at pp.36-41); E. Weiberg and M. Finné. "Mind or matter? People-environment interactions and the demise of Early Helladic II society in the northeastern Peloponnese." AJA 117 (2013): 1-31.
3.   J.B. Rutter. The pottery of Lerna IV (Lerna. A Preclassical site in the Argolid III). Princeton 1995 (with an Introduction by Banks, pp.1-10).
4.   In preparation (along with other EH and Middle Helladic small finds) based on her 1967 doctoral dissertation at the University of Cincinnati under Caskey's supervision.
5.   Rutter (supra n.3); id.. "The Anatolian roots of Early Helladic III drinking behavior." in The Aegean in the Neolithic, Chalcolithic and the Early Bronze Age, edited by H. Erkanal, H. Hauptmann, V. Şahoğlu and R. Tuncel, Ankara 2008, pp.461-481.
6.   J.L. Caskey. "Excavations at Lerna, 1955." Hesperia 25 (1956): 147-173 (at pp.164-165); id.. "Lerna in the Early Bronze Age." AJA 72 (1968): 313-316 (at p.314).
7.   M.H. Wiencke's "Lerna", in The Oxford Handbook of the Bronze Age Aegean (ca. 3000-1000 BC), edited by E.H. Cline, Oxford 2010, pp.660-670 (at p.664).
8.   Forsén (supra n.2), pp.234, 255, but see also the critical remarks on the meaningfulness of the concept by E. Weiberg. Thinking the Bronze Age. Life and Death in Early Helladic Greece, Boreas 29, Uppsala 2007, pp.155-185. Unfortunately, Banks could not take into account the papers by V.L. Aravantinos, K. Psaraki and S. Müller Celka published in Ancestral Landscapes. Burial mounds in the Copper and Bronze Ages (Central and Eastern Europe - Balkans - Adriatic - Aegean, 4th-2nd millennium BC), edited by E. Borgna and S. Müller Celka, TMO 58. Lyon 2011, pp.401-428. The manuscript of the work reviewed here was submitted in December 2009 (p.vii).
9.   Cf. Rutter (supra n.3), p.645.
10.   The recently excavated Thebes Museum tumulus was constructed over the ruins of a large apsidal building (cf. the construction of the Lerna tumulus over and from the 'House of the Tiles' debris), but it marked a mass burial, which the Lerna monument certainly did not; the Olympia tumulus was apparently not a burial mound and was paved with flat stones just like the Lerna tumulus, but was not constructed over the ruins of any building. Their similarity to the Lerna tumulus is not sufficiently close to be considered a "compelling" (p.30) argument for dating the latter to EH II as well. For references see supra n.8.
11.   "a cultural trait that under the new circumstances had outlived its use" (Weiberg and Finné 2013, supra n.2, at p.27).
12.   N.-G. Gejvall The Fauna (Lerna. A Preclassical site in the Argolid I). Princeton: American School of Classical Studies at Athens 1969.
13.   See also D.S. Reese. "Faunal remains from Late Helladic Lerna (Argolid, Greece)." Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 8 (2008): 5-25; id.. "Faunal remains from Early Helladic II Lerna (Argolid, Greece)." Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 13 (2013): 289-320.

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