Tuesday, October 2, 2018


Konstantina Aktypi, The Mycenaean Cemetery at Agios Vasileios, Chalandritsa, in Achaea. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2017. Pp. xii, 296. ISBN 9781784916978. £42.00​.

Reviewed by Christina Aamodt, Thessaloniki (caamont@gmail.com)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The region of Achaea in the northwestern part of the Peloponnese in Greece has emerged as a particularly interesting area during the Late Bronze Age, the result of consistent excavation and research conducted over the past 30 years. The region was, until a few years ago, considered a part of the "periphery" of the Mycenaean world, in other words, as belonging to the fringe of the sphere of influence exercised by major administrative centers. The archaeological evidence, however, reveals that Achaea's role in the development of a distinctive local culture, the so-called "Western Mainland koine", was a dynamic one even from the beginning of the Mycenaean period.1 The culture that emerged in the area, encompassing also the Ionian islands, displays strong local cultural traits and reflects a cohesive cultural identity that survived the collapse of the Mycenaean palaces at the end of Late Helladic IIIB period.

This publication concerns the examination of the material uncovered at the Mycenaean chamber tomb cemetery of Agios Vasileios at Chalandritsa. Excavations at the site began in 1928 but were disrupted by World War II and were resumed only much later, in 1989. From 1989 until 2001, the excavations revealed 29 chamber tombs in addition to the original four uncovered by Kyparissis from 1928 to 1930; it is possible that further research may uncover still more tombs. The site has been repeatedly looted, but enough material was retrieved to show that it was characteristic of the local culture. The aim of the publication is to present the material found in the cemetery and hence enrich our knowledge of culture and society in Mycenaean Achaea.

Chalandritsa is situated on the southwestern foot of Mt. Panachaikon in the region of Pharai, close to the plain. The site lies on the intersection of the coastal plain and the mountainous hinterland. The area is rich in archaeological sites from the Middle Bronze Age to Roman times. The cemetery of Agios Vasileios at Chalandritsa covers an area of 1.3 hectares, with the chamber tombs cut into the soft limestone and arranged in at least three rows, indicating that it must have been quite extensive. From the examination of the finds, which consist mostly of pottery, it is concluded that the cemetery was in use from Late Helladic IIIA1 to Late Helladic IIIC late; Late Helladic IIIB is, however, not well represented.

The book consists of nine main chapters, some of them further divided in sub-chapters (22 in total), in addition to a preface, an epilogue and an extensive bibliography, and complemented by maps, sections of the tombs and drawings of the pottery. Moreover, it is very well illustrated with color photographs. The publication is supplemented by the contribution of two more authors, Olivia A. Jones and Vivian Staikou, who examined the human remains and the small finds of stone and shell, respectively. Overall, the book provides a very good presentation of the excavations and it is well edited with no obvious spelling mistakes.

First, Chapter A presents a catalogue of the ancient sites located in the area under examination—the region of Chalandritsa-Katarraktis—then describes the topography of the area, with some general remarks on the geographical features of the Mycenaean sites of western and eastern Achaia that also characterize the location of the site at Stavros, the settlement associated with the cemetery of Agios Vasileios. A brief description of the settlement and the cemetery follows, as well as a brief account of the history of the excavations at the site of Agios Vasileios from 1928 to 2001. Finally, a short reference to the history of Chalandritsa from the Medieval period up to the present day is provided.

Chapter B comprises a catalogue of the tombs and their finds from the excavations conducted in 1961 by Efthimios Mastrokostas, with some fragmentary material collected before that date from the general area of Chalandritsa. The latter was registered in the catalogue of the Ephorate without any further information regarding their exact provenance or context.

Chapter C presents the tombs (Tombs 1, 2, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20) discovered during the 1989 excavation season along with their finds, mostly ceramic vessels dating from Late Helladic IIIA1 to Late Helladic IIIC.

Chapters D and E concern the excavations conducted in 1991 (Tomb 24), 1993 (Tombs 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 21, 22, 23, 26, 27, 28, 29, 36 and 37), 1994 (Tombs 30 or 31 and 39), 1995 (Tombs 40), 1999–2000 (tomb not numbered) and 2001 (Tombs 43, 44 and 45) and provide a description of the tombs and their finds, again mostly ceramic vessels dating from Late Helladic IIIA1 to Late Helladic IIIC.

In Chapter F, Staikou examines the small finds, primarily of stone and some of shell, which were collected from the surface area of the cemetery, as well as from disturbed contexts of the entrances (dromoi) and chambers of the tombs. The lithic assemblage consists of blades, cores and flakes dating mostly to the Bronze Age, as well as a small number of ground stone tools. The chert used for the chipped stone tools has a local provenance and is similar to that collected from the Mycenaean settlement of Stavros.

The examination of the osteological material from the cemetery, generally well preserved, constituted the doctoral thesis of Jones, and therefore only a part of it is examined by her here in Chapter G (Tombs 1, 16, 17, 19, 20, 24, 26, 40, 43 and 44). Mycenaean burials in chamber tombs usually comprise multiple interments, secondary treatment of the skeletal remains and re-use of the tomb; as a consequence, bone assemblages are commingled and fragmented, and thus the examination of the material can be challenging. The study included in this publication, given its preliminary character, focused only on providing the Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI), sex estimation (where possible), and age of the human remains, concluding with an attempt to reconstruct the burial process. The evidence from the funerary record of the cemetery of Agios Vasileios is overall in accordance with the general pattern of the Mycenaean burial process, from the interment itself to post-mortem treatment. The demographic analysis indicates that infants and children are under-represented, as can be observed in most Mycenaean cemeteries (due, however, to a number of reasons, not all of them associated with deliberate choices on the part of Mycenaean communities). Finally, the ratio between female and male burials is almost equal in the cemetery, an observation that is in conflict with previous research suggesting that male burials predominated in the Late Bronze Age. Lawrence Angel was the first to remark on a disparity between male and female burials during the Mycenaean period, with male burial prevailing,2 later corroborated by William Cavanagh and Christopher Mee.3 The debate is on-going, with some evidence pointing to a male predominance and other to equal representation.4 Future research will hopefully clarify the matter.

Chapter H provides a detailed account of the pottery and finds uncovered in the tombs and their dromoi, organized by chronological period. The pottery assemblage features most of the typical and well-known Mycenaean shapes, such as the stirrup jar, the piriform jar, the jug with cut-away neck, the alabastron, the amphoriskos, the four-handled amphora and the duck vase, of which the last two are very popular shapes in Achaea. Some of the vessels belong to the so-called "Achaean style" that displays the characteristics of a dynamic local pottery production found at other sites of western Achaea.

The book is a detailed and coherent presentation of the tombs, the skeletal remains and the finds excavated at the cemetery of Agios Vasileios, the largest uncovered so far in the region of Pharai. The value of the publication lies on the fact that it enriches our knowledge concerning the archaeology of the region—particularly of western Achaea to which Chalandritsa belonged—not only geographically but also culturally.5 The authors attempt to reconstruct the practices and ideologies of the particular community as reflected in the treatment of the dead and in the choice of the material culture accompanying them. As such, it is an important addition to the effort to synthesize and reconstruct the culture of Mycenaean Achaea. The last decades have brought to light an abundance of new data that highlight the significance of this region. Far from being isolated, Achaea was an important part of the Mycenaean world with a distinctive culture and a dynamic presence in the trade networks with the Ionian islands and Italy to the west and the eastern Peloponnese and Central Greece to the east. In LH IIIC the area of western Achaea emerged as the center of the western mainland koine and the local character of its culture becomes even more prominent. The site of Chalandritsa in the northwestern part of the Peloponnese reflects these processes and the affinity with western Achaea. The pottery assemblage from the tombs indicates its close relation particularly with the area of Elis and the Ionian islands, while its central location at the passage towards the Peloponnesian hinterland facilitated the exchange with this area as well. Chalandritsa, therefore, emerges as a significant site in the area. The excavation of its settlement at the site of Stavros will undoubtedly corroborate its significance and will clarify the nature of its involvement on the trade routes between hinterland and coastland.


1.   For the examination of the culture termed as such, see for example Moschos, I. 2009. "Evidence of social re-organization and reconstruction in Late Helladic IIIC Achaea and modes of contacts and exchange via the Ionian and Adriatic Sea". In E. Borgna and P. Cassola Guida (eds.) Dall'Egeo all'Adriatico. Organizzazioni sociali, modi di scambio e interazione in età postpalaziale (XII-XI sec. a.C.). From the Aegean to the Adriatic. Social Organizations, Modes of Exchange and Interaction in the Post-palatial Times (12th to 11th c. B.C.) Seminario internazionale, 1-2 Dicembre 2006/International workshop, 1-2 December 2006, CISM Piazza Galibaldi 18, Udine, Roma: Quasar, pp. 345-414, with further references.
2.   Bisel, S. C. and J. L. Angel. 1985. "Health and Nutrition in Mycenaean Greece: a study in human skeletal remains". In Wilkie, N. C. and W. D. E. Coulson (eds.) Contributions to Aegean Archaeology. Studies in honor of William A. McDonald. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, pp. 197-210.
3.   Cavanagh, W. G. and C. Mee. 1998. A Private Place: Death in Prehistoric Greece. Jonsered: Paul Astroms Forlag, especially pp. 127–128.
4.   See for example Schepartz, L. A., S. Miller-Antonio and J. M. A. Murphy. 2009. "Differential health among the Mycenaeans of Messenia: status, sex, and dental health at Pylos". In Schepartz, L. A., S. C. Fox and C. Bourbou (eds.) New Directions in the Skeletal Biology of Greece. Hesperia Supplement 43, pp. 155-174, especially p. 165.
5.   For a discussion of the cultural differences and influences between western and eastern Achaea see Petropoulos, M. 2016. "Achaia: Eastern and Western". In Papadopoulou-Chrysikopoulou, E., V. Chrysikopoulos and G. Christakopoulou (eds.) Achaios. Studies presented to Professor Thanasis I. Papadopoulos. Oxford: Archaeopress, pp. 219-231. ​

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