Friday, December 8, 2017


Stella Demesticha, A. Bernard Knapp (ed.), Maritime Transport Containers in the Bronze-Iron Age Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean. Studies in Mediterranean archaeology and literature, PB 183. Uppsala: Åströms förlag, 2016. Pp. ix, 241. ISBN 9789170812118. €60.00.

Reviewed by Raymond L. Capra, Brooklyn College (

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and Titles are listed at the end of the review.]

The prefatory comments to this collection of twelve papers on Maritime Transport Containers (MTCs) note that it arose from a session at the 21st annual meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists in Glasgow, Scotland, and the majority of the papers in the volume were first presented there. In the preface the editors note that it is the aim of the present volume to aid in the systematic study of MTCs (a more fitting name for the ceramic commonly known as the Canaanite jar) from the Early Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age, and while later periods are better studied, the development of these ceramics and their function in early maritime exchange is often overlooked. This is familiar territory for Demesticha and Knapp, as their recent 2016 volume Mediterranean Connections: Maritime Transport Containers and Seaborne Trade in the Bronze and Early Iron Ages demonstrates, and the purpose of this volume is successful in providing both general discussions of the MTC and the thorny issues of nomenclature, as well as case studies of specific sites.

The introductory chapter by Demesticha and Knapp discusses the emergence and development of MTCs in the early third millennium through the early Iron Age. First engaged is the complicated definition of an MTC; those of the Bronze Age are, previous to the seventh century BC, the precursors to the Iron Age amphora as a medium for the transport of liquids. For a ceramic vessel to be an MTC denotes mass-produced wares for transport by sea with some standardized capacity. This chapter gives a brief diachronic overview and also addresses their function. The authors note that such containers developed along with the increase in maritime exchange in the third millennium BC. As an introduction to the collection this chapter works wonderfully for those that follow.

Peter M. Day and David E. Wilson discuss the emergence of the collared jar in the Aegean as the first MTC in the region. This is a form that has an immediate widespread distribution after its initial appearance. Following an examination of the ceramics from various sites from the gulf of Euboea through the Cyclades to Crete, they suggest that wine was the high- value liquid transported to the port centers along this route. The rapid dispersal of the container and its contents indicates more than the movement of goods, as the distribution of wine in this period (specifically EB II) was part of a greater cultural phenomenon. Accordingly the jars emerge in the same environment as specialized drinking vessels.

One of the earliest ceramics that may be termed an amphora is from the Middle Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean, as Cydrisse Cateloy notes in her chapter on the capacity studies of the 'Levantine amphora,' the term she uses in lieu of the problematic 'Canaanite jar.' After the discussion of terminology, the capacities of 50 Levantine amphorae from the Middle to Late Bronze Age are examined from which it is evident that "groups of capacity" existed (p. 48). That is to say, there is relatively clear evidence for standardization. Comparison with more examples together with an eye toward provenance indicates the commercial purpose of the vessels and reveals a tendency to decreased volume in later periods when trade was flourishing.

Tatiana Pedrazzi continues the connection between morphological study and its implications for understanding trade with a paper on two types of 'Canaanite jars' present in the Late Bronze Age. One form, the angular-shouldered, fell out of use before the Early Iron Age while the 'bellied' type continued to be used. Pedrazzi notes that the different shapes likely indicate different trade networks. This is an example of how such a study can elucidate the nuances of trade, as the jars moved goods from the Levant to Greece, Cyprus, and southern Anatolia. Chris Monroe's chapter discusses the standardization of Canaanite jars and the practice of labeling these containers. That the contents of these 'low value' commodities were labeled indicates a need for this information, "because the nature of the contained goods was not outwardly obvious" (p. 88) Standardization in ceramic size existed in this period, but was not directly correlated to specific goods as in later centuries.

Michal Artzy considers the ceramics excavated from the Late Bronze anchorage of Tell Abu Hawam (Haifa Bay, Israel). Thin section petrography reveals the origin of a large group of Canaanite jar sherds, the Carmel ridge, which is the same as 100 such jars from the Uluburun shipwreck. These were likely produced explicitly for maritime transport. Other ceramics came from further afield, in particular Cyprus. The finds indicate that the site of Tell Abu Hawam was an important site for the exchange between Ugarit and the greater Mediterranean world.

Robert Martin's paper is a diachronic overview of MTCs, with particular focus on their morphological development from the Middle Bronze Age to the Early Iron Age. Though not a comprehensive study, as only a few ceramic types are investigated, the conclusions it brings forth are important indicators of trade throughout these periods. Some of the shapes were certainly influenced by ship transport, and certainly there was some degree of standardization in their production. Furthermore, Martin notes the evidence for the growth and diminishment of international trade networks that such a study can provide.

Transport Stirrup Jars (TSJs) are discussed by Halford Haskell. The TSJ is significant as it was seemingly designed for overseas shipment from Crete. As Crete was the origin of these jars, this study begins in the Minoan period. The distribution of the TSJs, from Sardinia to Cyprus and the Levant, indicates a wide network of trade with Crete and the mainland in the center. Often these ceramics were decorated, some with octopus motifs. Haskell remarks that this decoration was a form of marketing, as it outwardly proclaimed information about its origin and its contents.

The following chapter by Elina Kardamaki, Peter Day, Marta Tenconi, Joseph Maran, and Alkestis Papadimitriou is closely connected with the previous one, as it also discusses the TSJ, here with a particular focus on the trade of Tiryns. The majority of the jars from Tiryns were from Crete, both from the west and one area in central Crete, the western Mesara. This was determined through petrography and is presented with color photographs, which allows the non-specialist a glimpse of this scientific analysis. These ceramics may indicate a particular relationship and exchange between Tiryns and Ayia Triada during the final palatial period, whereas previous analyses had stressed the relationship with Chania.

Paula Waiman-Barak and Ayelet Gilboa discuss an Early Iron Age Phoenician site, Tell Kesian in Israel. While it is now seven kilometers inland, Tell Kesian was closer to the sea in the Bronze Age and thus a site of much trade from the Late Bronze into the Iron Age. The bulk of the paper is dedicated to an analysis of shape, in particular the carinated jars that show some indication of standardization in their capacity, and to the analysis of the petro-fabric of 51 vessels. From these, eight groups were identified, thus allowing for identification of the origin of the fabrics. The authors focus on the "local/regional groups" (p. 175). The petro-fabrics are shown in excellent color photos with six images for each: the vessel or fragment, photomicrographs of a fresh break, photomicrographs of the surface treatment, and then three thin sections magnified 40 times, 100 times, and 200 times. This is an excellent presentation in providing the reader a solid understanding of the materials they are discussing, as the origins of the diverse trade vessels at Tell Keisan underscore the site as a part of a network of early Iron Age Phoenician trade.

Catherine Pratt's paper examines the distribution of Corinthian and Athenian amphorae in Sicily during the early Archaic period (ca 750-600 BC) in order to assess the involvement of the two city states in the burgeoning trade networks of this period. Her study illustrates the early activity of Athenian commerce with Sicily and thus challenges the assumed supremacy of Corinth in early Archaic maritime trade.

The final chapter of the volume is Mark Lawall's paper on the use of MTCs during the 9th through 7th centuries. The discussion begins with some brief remarks on MTCs, the possible goods contained and traded, and the information the containers themselves provide. After considering these aspects of MTCs in general, he moves on to survey the use of these containers in the Aegean. Lawall brings together many of the issues considered in the preceding chapters, as well as some caveats to consider when investigating the aspects of ancient trade, among them the hazard of considering standardization of ceramics from a modern perspective of precision. In his conclusion he stresses that MTCs should be studied from a number of perspectives, both as the objects themselves and in relation to contexts of trade and distribution.

The overall impression the reader takes away is an improved understanding of the origin and development of MTCs in this transitional period of Mediterranean exchange and trade. The different contexts for these containers discussed by the contributors highlight various implications of trade in the Bronze and Early Iron Ages, even for the casual archaeologist. The volume is extremely well edited and published. An index facilitates the cohesiveness of the volume for scholars of this period, for whom the volume is most directed.

Authors and Titles

Stella Demesticha and A. Bernard Knapp, "Introduction: Maritime Transport Containers in the Bronze and Iron Age Aegean and eastern Mediterranean"
Peter M. Day and David E. Wilson, "Dawn of the amphora: the emergence of Maritime Transport Containers in the Early Bronze Age Aegean"
Cydrisse Cateloy, "Trade and capacity studies in the eastern Mediterranean: the first Levantine trade amphorae"
Tatiana Pedrazzi, "Canaanite jars and the maritime trade network in the northern Levant during the transition from the Late Bronze to the Early Iron Age"
Chris M. Monroe, "Measure for 'measure': connecting text to material through Late Bronze Age shipping jars"
Michal Artzy, "Distributers and shippers: Cyprus and the Late Bronze II Tell Abu Hawam anchorage"
Robert Martin, "The development of Canaanite and Phoenician style Maritime Transport Containers and their role in reconstructing maritime exchange networks"
Halford W. Haskell, "Seaborne from the beginning: Transport Stirrup Jars"
E. Kardamaki, P.M. Day, M. Tenconi, J. Maran and A. Papadimitriou, "Transport Stirrup Jars in Late Mycenaean Tiryns: Maritime Transport Containers and commodity movement in political context"
Paula Waiman-Barak and Ayelet Gilboa, "Maritime Transport Containers: the view from Phoenician Tell Keisan (Israel) in the Early Iron Age"
Catherine E. Pratt, "Greek commodities moving west: comparing Corinthian and Athenian amphorae in early Archaic Sicily"
Mark Lawall, "Maritime Transport Containers of the Bronze and Early Iron Age as viewed from later periods"

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