Thursday, December 3, 2015


Dimitri Nakassis, Joann Gulizio, Sarah A. James (ed.), KE-RA-ME-JA: Studies presented to Cynthia W. Shelmerdine. Prehistory Monographs, 46. Philadelphia: INSTAP Academic Press, 2014. Pp. xx, 314. ISBN 9781623033576. $80.00.

Reviewed by Vassilis Petrakis, Research Associate at the National Hellenic Research Foundation (

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

If, to quote Pia de Fidio's eloquent phrase, an "interdisciplinary approach is…part of the genetic code of Mycenaean studies",1 Cynthia Shelmerdine is one of the discipline's brightest offsprings, fulfilling a substantial part of John Chadwick's wishful definition of the ideal Mycenologist as a scholar able to integrate archaeological, philological, epigraphic, and anthropological data.2 Throughout her long and highly productive career, she has demonstrated admirable expertise in two formidable fields: the study of Late Helladic (hereafter LH) or Mycenaean pottery and contemporary Linear B epigraphy and textual interpretation. The title of this honorary volume, ke-ra-me-ja (kerameia, feminine of kerameus 'potter', although in fact attested as a personal name in a Knossos personnel Linear B tablet) has therefore been an excellent choice. Following a brief Preface, a short biographical note, a list of works up to 2013 and a helpful list of abbreviations (xi-xx),all 24 contributions are neatly divided into five thematic sections; the editors have chosen feminine Mycenaean Greek forms that represent different aspects of Shelmerdine's scholarly person, as the primary section titles.

All contributors are highly accomplished colleagues or former students, and the critical precondition of a Festschrift is herein fully achieved: the quality of the contributions (and editorship) matches the scholarly status of the honoree.

The first four papers, comprising the section entitled "ke-ra-me-ja: Ceramic Studies" honor Shelmerdine's expertise in Mycenaean pottery. Oliver Dickinson (3-15) discusses the influence of Kytheran Late Minoan IA in the formation of the LH I style, eventually favoring the Argolid as the formative region (13). Kim Shelton (17-32) presents evidence on the uses of LH IIIA2 kylikes produced and stored at Petsas House at Mycenae. The Pylos kylikes are also the focus of Michael Galaty's chapter (33-40), where the centralization of their production by the palace is argued to be motivated by the elite connotations (e.g. through their use in palace-sponsored feasts) of the finer examples. This is certainly an intriguing possibility, even if difficulties in assigning provenance and the lack of sufficient analyses from other Messenian sites may render it somewhat premature. Sigrid Deger-Jalkotzy (41-52) provides a valuable overview of the Submycenaean phase at the cemetery of Elateia in Phokis, supporting its chronological independence (a matter where the Tiryns evidence, once fully available, will be crucial).3 Jeremy Rutter (53-69) offers us a comprehensive review of the distribution of Canaanite transport amphorae in the Aegean, exploring diachronic changes (affected by an early 14th century BC weakening of Knossos) and emphasizing the pivotal role of the Argolid centers as consumers of such jars during the 13th century. One eagerly awaits the addition of reliable information about the place of manufacture; given the multiple life-cycles of transport containers, the impact of residue analysis data can be anticipated to be less meaningful.

The second section, "ta-ra-si-ja: Industry and Craft Specialization",4 includes four studies on Aegean Bronze Age industrial production, highlighting Pylian evidence. This is an area where Shelmerdine's excellent study The Perfume Industry of Mycenaean Pylos (1985) has made a lasting impact. William Parkinson and Daniel Pullen (73-81) focus on how specialized craftsmanship (exemplified here by obsidian blade and pottery production) was integrated into the palatial economic spheres. They reasonably emphasize how regionally diverse prepalatial patterns generated divergences among palace systems (79). Thomas Palaima (83-90) scrutinizes a single document associated with the Pylian perfumed oil industry, PY Vn 130, well argued to be associated with Un 267 (both documents assigned to Pylos Hand 1). Nosch (91-101) explores linguistic and technological evidence pertaining to the conceptual links between weaving, sewing, devising plots, and musical performance, focusing on Homeric vocabulary of textile production. Robert Schon (103-111) discusses chariot production at Pylos, emphasizing that there are various degrees of attachment of specialist workers to the palace.

The third section, "i-je-re-ja: Religion and Iconography",5 is devoted to studies of Aegean religion and iconography. Two of the editors, Joann Gulizio and Dimitri Nakassis, critically assess the evidence supporting the monotheistic or polytheistic models of 'Minoan' religions, focusing rigorously on possible 'Minoan' theonyms in the Knossos Linear B tablets (115-128). Janice Crowley (129-139) discusses certain problematic designs on gold signet rings and supports their identification as beehives or swarms of bees, confirming that relevant scenes are set outdoors, even if the religious significance of these insects is not discussed.6 Lisa Bendall (141-162) explores the evidence for the exotic, non-Aegean associations of certain perfumed oil divine recipients (namely the 'Aswian' ('Aššuwan?) Potnia' and the 'Divine Mother' mentioned in the Pylos Fr tablets), suggesting that perfumed oil was also shipped abroad from Pylos. The possibility is interesting, although Pylos does not appear as an active participant to the oil trade traffic suggested by the movement of transport stirrup jars throughout the 13th century BC. The next two chapters advance textual interpretations that also seek support in archaeological evidence.

Susan Lupack (163-177) discusses the hypothesis that the wanax that appears as a recipient of perfumed oil in the Pylos Fr tablets is not the mortal ruler of Pylos, but a divine figure, possibly a deified ancestral king. She seeks confirmation for the reverence of ancestors in the 13th century BC monumental rearrangement of Grave Circle A at Mycenae, originally containing 17th-16th century BC burials, although this is unparalleled elsewhere in the Aegean (including Pylos, for which see also Murphy's contribution in the volume). The entire debate around whether the dative wa-na-ka-te refers to the king or a deity, however, needs to consider the probability that the kind of 'lordship' expressed by Mycenaean wanax might already conflate the human and divine categories, just like the Homeric ἄναξ does. Carlos Varias García (179-188) reviews the interpretations of the dative plural e-pe-to-i that appears on wine records from the Odos Pelopidou deposit at Thebes. He favors its interpretation as erpetoihi 'to the Snakes' (a religious recipient) and also associates the find with the terracotta figurines of snakes from the Mycenae Cult Centre, which is another unique find.

The fourth section, "ti-mi-ti-ja: Pylos and Messenia",7 celebrates Shelmerdine's contribution to our knowledge of Messenian prehistory, through her participation to the Nichoria excavations, the Pylos Regional Archaeological Project, and the current Iklaina Archaeological Project. Two of the chapters focus on mortuary data. Michael Boyd (191-208) offers a valuable diachronic survey of the burial grounds around the Nichoria settlement. His contextualization of the evidence within the broader developments in the southern Greek Mainland throughout the LH period is highly welcome; another highlight is his suggestion that the UMME tholos (M2 in his numbering) was constructed before the LH IIIA2 period (the date established in its final publication) and perhaps as early as LH IIA (201). If so, its construction becomes dissociated from the expansion of Englianos into eastern Messenia (what would become the 'Further Province'). Joanne Murphy (209-221) presents us a valuable overview of the Englianos tombs, based on her recent reanalysis of the evidence. An important conclusion is the confirmation that the LH IIIB elites employed power strategies that showed little interest in mortuary display. Stavroula Nikoloudis (222- 237) reviews Pylian evidence for a special type of landholding, mentioned in the tablets as ka-ma, which she argues to be parts of dāmos land reserved for intensive cultivation, presumably through palatial intervention and for some mutual benefit. Sharon Stocker and Jack Davis (239-248) present the main contributions of the Hora Apotheke Reorganization Project (abbreviated HARP) that was originally intended merely "to repack finds" (239) from Blegen's excavations at the so-called Palace of Nestor. This swiftly grew into a major project, with the results from recent re-analyses of faunal remains, human skeletal material, wall-paintings and small finds adding considerable insights offered into the prepalatial, palatial and post-palatial history of Englianos (all aptly summarized with full references).

Last but not least, a fifth section, aptly titled "wa-na-ka-te-ra: Writing and Administration",8 deals with various topics of literate administrative activity in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean. Massimo Perna (251-259) takes us to late Prepalatial and Protopalatial Crete, where the so-called 'Cretan Hieroglyphic' and Linear A were put into administrative use. He examines a series of thorny problems, including the emergence of writing in Crete (and, effectively, the Aegean) and the uses and co-existence of Cretan Hieroglyphic and Linear A on the island, which he associates with different ethnic or linguistic communities. Nicolle Hirschfeld (261-269) critically assesses the identification of pot-marks on Red Lustrous Wheelmade pottery (possibly produced in Cyprus) and on the handles of amphorae from the Philistine site of Ashkelon (Israel) as Cypro-Minoan signs. In doing so, she justifiably advocates careful and heuristically useful agnosticism, stressing how little we know about local and peripheral scripts and other marking systems in the ancient Mediterranean (268).9 John Bennet and Paul Halstead (271-282) assess the nature of 'redistribution' in Mycenaean palatial economies, beginning with the crucial observation that palatial records were highly eclectic in their coverage, leaving a substantial part of the economy effectively unrecorded or seldom recorded. Focusing on the scarce Pylian occurrences of o-no 'payment vel sim.', their thoughtful essay breaks some new ground in attempting to trace evidence for exchange (even in its guise as gift-giving) taking place alongside the better documented (and hence overstated) redistributive mobilization of goods and resources. José Luis García Ramón (283-292) offers a compelling analysis of two compound anthroponyms (me-to-re* and o-po-re*) and one toponym (me-to-re-ja*) from the Thebes Odos Pelopidou tablets, with *oros 'mountain' as their second component. Richard Firth (293-304) studies the population statistics of the sheep flocks recorded on the D- tablets from the East-West Corridor in the East Wing of the Knossos palace. He focuses especially on animals recorded as younger, old or missing (according to pertinent abbreviations accompanying the sheep 'ideograms' on the records) and attempts to calculate the natural sheep mortality. Firth also demonstrates how his results can be used to aid the reconstruction of problematic or fragmentary documents (300).

Carol Thomas (305-312) brings the volume to a close with her overview of the debate over the associations between Homer and the Mycenaean world, focusing on the contributions and impact of the 1933 synthesis Homer and Mycenae by Martin Nilsson. Cynthia Shelmerdine's multidisciplinary work is justifiably praised as sharing the same "kindred spirit" as Nilsson's (310).

Editorial standards match the high quality of the individual contributions. The only complaint worth mentioning is the lack of indexes (a subject index and a special index of Linear B sign-groups might have been useful). This cannot possibly obscure the volume's outstanding scholarly qualities, which should earn it a prominent place in all libraries with a serious interest in Aegean prehistory.


1.   P. de Fidio "Centralisation and its limits in the Mycenaean palatial systems" in S. Voutsaki and J.T. Killen (eds.) Economy and Politics in the Mycenaean Palace States, Cambridge 2001, 15-24, at p.15.
2.   J. Chadwick "Linear B: Past, present and future" in S. Deger-Jalkotzy, S. Hiller and O. Panagl (eds) Floreant Studia Mycenaea, volume I, Wien 1999, 29-38, at p.36.
3.   Cf. also the critical attitude of J.K. Papadopoulos, B.N. Damiata and J.M. Marston "Once more with feeling: Jeremy Rutter's plea for the abandonment of the term Submycenaean revisited" in W. Gauss, M. Lindblom, R.A.K. Smith and J.C. Wright (eds.) Our Cups Are Full: Pottery and Society in the Aegean Bronze Age, Oxford 2011, 187-202.
4.   ta-ra-si-ja (talansia) is generally understood as a system of distribution or allocation of raw material by the palace to specialist workers anticipating the requisition of the finished product.
5.   i-je-re-ja (hiereia) 'priestess'.
6.   See also V. Petrakis "The religious significance of insects in the Aegean Bronze Age: Three notes" in G. Touchais, R. Laffineur, F. Rougemont (eds.) Physis. L'environnement naturel et la relation home-milieu dans le monde égéen protohistorique, Aegaeum 37, Liège-Austin 2014, 525-529, at pp.527-529.
7.   ti-mi-ti-ja is an ethnic adjective derived from *ti-mi-to a-ko, probably the Bronze Age name of the site of Nichoria in Messenia.
8.   wa-na-ka-te-ra (wanaktera) 'pertaining to the wanax'.
9.   See also S. Sherratt "Late Cypriot writing in context" in P. Steele (ed.) Syllabic Writing on Cyprus and its Context, Cambridge 2013, 77-105.

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