Tuesday, December 8, 2015


Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan, Mochlos III: The Late Hellenistic Settlement: The Beam-Press Complex. Prehistory monographs, 48. Philadelphia: INSTAP Academic Press, 2014. Pp. xx, 143 p.; 9 p. of tables, 38 p. of figures, 18 p. of plates. ISBN 9781931534789. $80.00.

Reviewed by Jane Francis, Concordia University (jane.francis@concordia.ca)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The island of Mochlos in north-east Crete has been the subject of intensive archaeological research since the early 20th century, with renewed excavations from the late 1980s onward. While the site dates mainly to the Bronze Age, excavations have also revealed a Late Hellenistic re-occupation phase of the late second/early first century BC. The volume under review is the first of the Mochlos publications to address this later phase, but it also provides vital information for Hellenistic Crete, a period with little concentrated scholarship, in the eastern part of the island, where research has tended to focus on Minoan sites.

The "Introduction" (by Natalia Vogeikoff-Brogan) presents the scope of the research contained in the volume, beginning with its goals. The Beam-Press Complex contains eight rooms, one with a beam press and another industrial room of unknown function; such industrial structures are nearly unknown from Hellenistic Crete. The author raises a number of issues to be addressed through the study of the complex and its archaeological data: the relationship between Mochlos and the polis of Hierapytna to the south; the importance of vessels made from East Cretan Cream Ware (ECCW), a ceramic ware made near Hierapytna but found at Mochlos; the function of ECCW transport amphoras within the Press-Beam complex as indications of trade between Hierapytna and Mochlos; the use of the press in the complex for either (or both) olive oil or wine and the possibility of surplus production at Mochlos. The author finishes with a brief description of successive chapters and a brief statement on future research, which will address the date at which Hellenistic Mochlos was abandoned. These goals are well achieved throughout this volume.

The first chapter, "Architecture, Stratigraphy, and Household Analysis," describes the layout of the Press-Beam Complex (by N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, with contributions by Amanda Kelly, Evi Margaritis, Dimitra Mylona, Maria Ntinou, and David S. Reese). The building is divided into two "units," East and West, and each room numbered 1 to 8; these are not presented in numerical order but rather in the order in which they were excavated, which is initially confusing. Large amounts of Minoan pottery were recovered and are thought to have come from floor packing; this structure lies on top of a ceremonial LM IB building. The Press-Beam complex has rubble walls with some re-used Minoan ashlar blocks, and ceramic tiles covered the roof. The rest of this chapter proceeds by room, including areas exterior to the structure, and offers a description of each space and its finds (pottery and ceramic artifacts, rocks and minerals, faunal remains). Of particular note is Room 1, which contained a paved area with a raised border and an ashlar block with a U-shaped cutting built into the wall above. This may have been a second press, although the efficiency of such an arrangement is questioned. Room 3 preserves a stone-built "bin" in one corner. The beam press itself is in Room 6 and consists of a rectangular platform with a back support to the south. The precise arrangement of the wooden beam of the press is unknown. The floor of Room 4 preserved the remains of burnt olive pits and a small hearth in one corner. This room also contained the top of a Minoan pillar belonging to a LM IB pillar crypt below. This pillar may have supported a central beam in the first phase of construction and was then replaced when the floor level was subsequently raised.

Chapter 2 (by N. Vokeigoff-Brogan) analyzes the pottery recovered from the Beam-Press excavations. This material is organized first by function category (food service, wine service, drinking, pouring for wine, pouring for oil, storage, food preparation, cooking, and lighting), and then by specific shape. Only 128 vessels were recovered and few full profiles were available. Levels were dated by known shapes and imported amphorae. A note on local ceramic fabrics indicates that many of the Mochlos vessels were made of ECCW from the Hierapytna area, while the typical Mirabello Bay fabric was used for cooking pottery. The only ceramics produced at Mochlos seem to be the roof tiles. Of note is the lack of numerous drinking vessels, which supports the non-domestic nature of the Press-Beam Complex. The amphoras have proven particularly informative, with large numbers of them made of the ECCW fabric, confirmed petrographically. One amphora is comparable to a Knossian vessel, two to Rhodian amphoras, and a dozen to products of Koan workshops. Two ceramic lamps survive, one made from ECCW and the other a Knidian export.

The third chapter presents the "Stone Implements" (by Tristan Carter). This is a complex body of material, given that many individual pieces have Neo- and Proto-Palatial parallels but were found in a late Hellenistic context. The author introduces several caveats: some of this material may be residual; a prehistoric date does not rule out Hellenistic re-use; and some tools with prehistoric comparanda may have been made later, based on ongoing technologies. The catalogue follows, organized by type and according to a system established for previous Mochlos publications. Of particular note is a press bed found in Room 6, used in the removal of olive oil or grape juice. An analysis of the raw materials reveals disparate sources: local, East Crete, and elsewhere on the island; three andesite examples are foreign.

Chapter four ("Ceramic, Glass, Metal, and Shell Objects," by N. Vogeikoff-Brogan, with contributions by A. Kelly and D. S. Reese) analyzes a varied group of artifacts. Among these are the roof tiles, both pan and cover tiles made mostly in ceramic fabrics identified geologically as local. A fragment of a water pipe was excavated in Room 2, but its context suggests a secondary usage. Twenty loomweights of different weights and shapes indicate non-weaving sources; one example is lead. Another weight is dated to the Bronze Age and assumed to have been re-used in the Hellenistic era, much like some of the stone implements. Two figurines survive, one of which is a plastic amphora shaped like a seated satyr, similar to vases of Bes or Bes-Silenus. A few glass fragments are preserved from vessels; a Syro-Palestinian bowl is like an example from Knossos. Only one shell was recovered, a triton shell. A small number of metal artifacts include nails, the weight, a pyxis lid, and a lead sheet with incised marks. Materials are lead, copper, and iron.

In the last full chapter, Vogeikoff-Brogan tackles the relationship between Mochlos and the polis of Hierapytna, to the south ("The Late Hellenistic Settlement at Mochlos and the Political and Economic Sovereignty of Hierapytna"). Here, the author places the Beam-Press Complex in the broader context of Hellenistic Mochlos, where it lies outside the settlement walls. This area of Mochlos had not been occupied since the LM IIIB period, and from the late 2nd century BC it acquired large amounts of ECCW produced in the Hierapytna area. The predominance of this ware may suggest a political and economic relationship with Hierapytna, one that may have been based around that city's northward expansion and the use of Mochlos as its north-coast harbour; the author concludes that Mochlos would have been better suited for the collection of transit and harbour fees rather than as a trading port, due to its inconvenient landward location. The Beam-Press Complex may have further provided Mochlos with a means of exploitation, although its precise role within the community remains far from certain. This industrial structure seems to indicate olive oil production for surplus, beyond basic household requirements, a conclusion well supported by comparisons with contemporary Cretan press buildings (e.g., at Praisos, Eleutherna). The author debates possible reconstructions of the Mochlos press, and considers the mechanics and scope of the site's olive exploitation in light of current theories and chronologies. She also examines the potential use of this press for crushing grapes and reflects on the role of Mochlos in the burgeoning late Hellenistic exportation of Cretan wine, which here is based on the probable flexibility of the press itself as well as finds of ECCW transport amphoras. This is a crucial issue for the archaeology of post-Minoan Crete and for the island's Hellenistic and Roman economy, as little is still known about the island's pre-Roman wine industry. For some time, epigraphic and ceramic evidence has been suggesting an earlier chronology for this enterprise, and the Mochlos complex and its amphoras, particularly those petrographically identified as originating from Hierapytna, contribute to an ongoing refinement of this picture.

The remainder of this volume is taken up with appendices, references, and plates. Six appendices present the results of scientific testing, with catalogues of samples. The first appendix contains the petrographic analysis on amphoras (by Marie-Claude Boileau, Ian Whitbread), with results divided largely into Cretan and imported fabrics. The second appendix provides petrographic data for cooking vessels (by Eleni Nodarou). The third is an archaeochemical analysis of a small sample of a cooking pot and amphoras (by Andrew Koh), and the fourth focuses on the analysis of the animal bones (by D. Mylona). The last two appendices address marine invertebrates and land snails (by D.S. Reese) and the remains of olives (by E. Margaritis), respectively. The plates and figures at the end are abundant and clear, both for the artifacts and the architecture, and contribute greatly to the text.

Given the overall excellence of this volume, criticisms are few and very minor. The emphasis on ECCW is to be expected, but one might have liked to see more about the non-East Cretan wares, especially imports, given Mochlos' identification as a harbour of Hierapytna. Similarly, other classes of artifacts, like the loomweights and figurines, are presented in Chapter 4 without further contextual interpretation.

The publication of this book marks an important point in the scholarship on post-Minoan Crete. It provides well-organized, detailed, and compelling evidence for agricultural production and trade in the Hellenistic period, and thus allows further strands of economic and political history to be drawn together across the island. The inclusion of Bronze Age evidence from a Hellenistic context alerts researchers to the potentially overlooked issue of artifact re-use and its significance for later periods. The ceramic analysis, including fabric studies, supports and enhances the function of the architecture and its broader place within Hellenistic East Crete. This research provides us with a credible reconstruction of the Hellenistic Cretan olive oil industry and the early phases of Cretan wine production and export. These are not insignificant conclusions, and the publication of this volume both augments our knowledge about late Hellenistic Crete and also serves as a template for future studies of contemporary structures and sites.

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