Verdan, Samuel -Theurillat, Thierry - Kenzelmann Pfyffer, Anne (ed.): Early Iron Age Pottery: A Quantitative Approach. Proceedings of the International Round Table organized by the Swiss School of Archaeology in Greece (Athens 2008). 172 pages; illustrated throughout in black and white, ISBN 9781407308210, £35.00
(British Archaeological Reports/Archaeopress, Oxford 2011 (nov.)
Compte rendu par Lieve Donnellan

Nombre de mots : 2041 mots
Publié en ligne le 2012-05-21
Citation: Histara les comptes rendus (ISSN 2100-0700).
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          This first book on quantification of Greek Iron Age pottery is the result of a round table, held at the Swiss School of Archaeology in Athens, in 2008. Although that statistics are commonly used in archaeology, Greek Iron Age pottery is usually approached in a rather conservative stylistic and typo-chronological manner. Formal classifications of pottery - for the Iron Age mostly fine painted pottery - have its importance, of course, but a significant part of the Early Iron Age pottery is unpainted, coarse ware, or too fragmentary to be included in a publication on painted pottery. Quantitative approaches, therefore, allow addressing this significant body of excavation data, and it is this approach that is advocated in the volume presented by Verdan et al.


          By means of 14 case-studies of key-sites for the EIA in the Greek world, different approaches to and problems of common quantification methods are explored. The papers in the book are grouped in three different sections: a first group comprises all studies of cult contexts, the second of settlement contexts and the last, a more heterogeneous group, discusses the quantification of pottery from burials and systematic field survey. The book concludes with a section on general guidelines for quantification, and a multilingual glossary for the most common pottery shapes.


          In a brief introduction, the choice of the chronological framework and geographical area is highlighted and supplemented with a very brief summary of the history of quantitative approaches to Greek EIA pottery. Next Catherine Morgan opens the case studies addressing the specific problems of the material from the Isthmia excavations. She focusses on the fragmentary state of the assemblage, and breakage patterns. A long-term approach to quantification may reveal changes in ritual practice through time.


          Subsequently, Michael Kerschner illustrates the research problems of the Austrian excavations of the Ephesan Artemision. Kerschner addresses questions like what a diagnostic sherd is, and he stresses the importance of a combination of rim EVE’s with all diagnostic info available. The quantification of the material of the Artemision has shown that a considerable amount of sherds belonged to cooking pots, meaning that cooking food, rather than preparing the meat on spits, was an important part of the cult practice.


          Preliminary results of the LH IIIc - EIA at Kalapodi are communicated in the next paper, by Ivonne Kaiser, Laura-Concetta Rizzotto and Sara Strack. Applying the usual methods (counting, weighing, EVE’s and MNI’s), they try to grasp diachronic changes in the cult practices. The fragmentary state of the vessels could indicate, according to them, that they were intentionally broken after use. The quantification of the material suggests  that there was continuity in cult practice between LH IIIc - EIA. After MG/LG, quantification of the material shows and the frequency of certain forms in comparison to others demonstrates that the focus of the cult practice shifted from eating and drinking to drinking alone.


          The next contribution, again on the German excavations at Kalapodi, by Sara Strack, concludes that more research is needed to understand all the drawbacks and advantages of each quantification method. Moreover, as Strack rightly states, as long as the full size of the assemblage remains unknown, the representativity of the samples used in the studies remains unclear.


          Recent excavations of the so-called “black layer” under the Peloponeion at Olympia are discussed by Birgitta Eder. Systematic excavation of a small part of the layer, left untouched during the early explorations, is crucial to understand the EIA chronology and cult practice at Olympia. The vessel forms present indicate that cooking was not a part of the ritual, in contrast to what has been shown for Kalapodi, but that the cult practice focused on drinking.


          The next part of the book, which discusses quantification methods for settlement contexts, opens with the study and methods of Jean-Marc Luce, of the material from the area of the pillar of the Rhodians at Delphi. Before being incorporated in the sanctuary, the area was inhabited, as is testified by several levels of domestic architecture. In quantifying the material from the excavations, Luce pleads for the use of bellies to correct the figures obtained by MNI, using lips. Luce warns that vessel forms do not necessarily reflect function: a drinking vessel can easily be used to contain food. Remarkably, Luce doesn’t notice much differences in the frequency of the vessel types of the area of the period when it was a habitation context and from when it was incorporated in the sanctuary.


           The only paper to apply an alternative technique to quantify the excavation material is written by David Mitchell and Irene Lemos. They use Kernel’s density estimation to obtain a more meaningful chronological profile of pit 13 at Xeropolis (Lefkandi). The method, increasingly applied, uses a continuous axis instead of a bar for the representation of the data. The advantage is that both the information of dated sherds and approximately dated sherds can be included. Moreover, a prediction can be made on what to expect in other contemporary deposits.


          Next, Vicky Vlachou discusses the pottery retrieved from some selected contexts of the recent excavations at Oropos. The method used is the calculation of MNI’s. According to Vlachou’s estimations, the majority of the vessels was made up by skyphoi and monochrome cups.


          The study of the material from recent excavations at Sindos (Macedonia) is presented by Stefanos Gimatzidis. Although Euboean imports and imitations could be identified, he stresses the overall hybrid character of the assemblage, and the active role of local potters in the selection and reproduction of foreign examples.


          Jean-Sébastien Gros studies a specific type of cooking stand from Xombourgo (Tenos). The stand was possibly used for the preparation of funerary meals. Gros rejects EVE’s as a method, because of the irregularity of the diameter of the EIA vessels. As Gros’ contribution demonstrates, the lack of standardisation is a significant problem for the EIA material, and especially for handmade wares.


          As Luce did for Delphi, Emanuela Santaniella, pleads for the use of belly fragments to establish the MNI. Studying the “pottery workshop pit” at Gortyn, quantification by types has allowed to obtain a detailed profile of production and use of the pit. 


          Funerary contexts are discussed by the third group of papers of the book. The quantifications made by Antonis Kotsonas reassess the common suppositions regarding funerary habits in Crete in the EIA. It is usually claimed that the tombs were family tombs, but Kotsonas states that social groups , other than the family, used the tombs; the sharp rise in the number of urns during the seventh century can hardly be explained by an increase in the overall population.


          Xenia Charambidou presents the first results (publication in preparation) of the material of the necropolis of Tsikalario (Naxos). In contrast to the other analysis presented in this book, Charalambidou’s material comes from older excavations. This makes the task sometimes more difficult, but nevertheless important, because differences in the use of vessel types between the different necropoleis (Plithos, South necropolis) of Naxos could become clear.


          The last paper addresses quantification of data obtained through survey. As Vladimir Stissi shows, EIA pottery seems more invisible than pottery of other periods. It was especially hazardous to locate EIA sites outside central places in the areas of Halos (Thessaly) and Tanagra (Boeotia).


          Less than offering a specific quantitative method to EIA pottery, as the title suggests, the authors of the book propose their own approaches to quantification on EIA sites. This book is certainly not a manual for quantification in Greek (IA) Archaeology. By presenting different research questions and problems in selecting appropriate techniques, the book invites scholars to reflect on their own methods for the study of large bodies of ceramics. EIA pottery is a relative marginal niche in Greek ceramics, and as the case-studies show, quantification contributes importantly to understanding and detecting changing approaches in the use of certain vessel types and related practices, as cult practice, attitudes towards discarding, production and consumption. Moreover, regional differences, for example in cult practices, become clear after the comparison of frequency of certain vessel types, like the absence of cooking ware at Olympia, and, on the contrary, the focus on cooking in the EIA at Kalapodi.


         Apart from Mitchell and Lemos, who use Kernel’s density estimation, the methods adopted by the authors are the familiar ones: the calculations of EVE’s and MNI’s. Verdan, moreover, concludes the book with a small summary of these methods, which indeed constitute the easier-accessible tool for quantification. Regarding methodology, the book is thus less innovative. Verdan states in the introduction that the goal of the workshop was to present a Greek EIA counterpart of the 1998 Bibracte workshop (Arcelin, Patrice - Truffeau-Libre, Marie (eds.): La Quantification des Céramiques. Conditions et protocole. Actes de la Table Ronde du Centre Archéologique Européen du Mont Beuvray, Glux-en-Glenne, 7-9 Avril 1998 (Collection Bibracte 2), Glux-en-Glenne 1998). The present volume follows indeed largely the idea and structure of the Bibracte workshop, but unlike the Bibracte volume, no protocol is proposed, as the participants of the Athens’ workshop objected to the idea, as Verdan states (p.7). The present book is, by consequence, less conclusive, and the reader needs to engage actively in the processing of the information and in formulating a conclusion. As quantification methods are discussed already elsewhere, for example in the Bibracte protocol, this lack of conclusion is less exigent on the methodological level. It can be regretted that exactly the specificities of Greek EIA pottery, which the book seeks to address, have not been discussed in a more comprehensive manner.


           Verdan provides, at the end of the book, a small multilingual list for the most common pottery shapes. This is a very useful tool, and it can only be hoped that other scholars will adopt this terminology in a systematic way.  The current heterogeneity in terminology, as remarked by several  authors of the book, does not contribute to the understanding and comparison of assemblages. A last note on the overall editing: BAR never offers colour figures, which, in this case, complicates the reading of the tables. Indeed, Mitchell and Lemos refer to a “green line” (p. 79), which obviously doesn’t exist, and which has been missed by the editor. On p. 70 in the contribution of Luce, there is another small mistake: the word “rouge” is doubled.




Samuel Verdan, Introduction (p. 7-10)


Catherine Morgan, Isthmia and beyond. How can quantification help the analysis of EIA sanctuary deposits? (p. 11-18)


Michael Kerschner, Approaching aspects of cult practice and ethnicity in Early Iron Age Ephesos using quantitative analysis of a Protogeometric deposit from the Artemision (p. 19-27)


Ivonne Kaiser, Laura-Concetta Rizzotto and Sara Strack, Development of a ceramic cultic assemblage: Analyzing pottery from Late Helladic IIIC through Late Geometric Kalapodi (p. 29-44)


Sara Strack, ’Erfahrungsbericht’ of application of different quantitative methods at Kalapodi (p. 45-60)


Birgitta Eder, The Early Iron Age sanctuary at Olympia: counting sherds from the Pelopion excavations (1987-1996) (p. 61-65)


Jean-Marc Luce, L’aire du pilier des Rhodiens à Delphes: Essai de quantification du mobilier (p. 67-75)


David A. Mitchell and Irene S. Lemos, A new approach in ceramic statistical analyses: Pit 13 on Xeropolis at Lefkandi (p. 77-88)


Vicky Vlachou, Households and workshops at Early Iron Age Oropos: A quantitative approach of the fine, wheel-made pottery (p. 89-96)


Stefanos Gimatzidis, Counting sherds at Sindos: Pottery consumption and construction of identities in the Iron Age (p. 97-110)


Jean-Sébastien Gros, Analyse quantitative du mobilier céramique des fouilles de Xombourgo à Ténos et le cas des supports de cuisson (p. 111-117)


Emanuela Santaniello, Defining a typology of pottery from Gortyn: The material from a pottery workshop pit (p. 119-127)


Antonis Kotsonas, Quantification of ceramics from Early Iron Age tombs (p. 129-138)


Xenia Charalambidou, Quantitative analysis of the pottery from the Early Iron Age necropolis of Tsikalario on Naxos (p. 139-147)


Vladimir Stissi, Finding the Early Iron Age in field survey: Two case studies from Boeotia and Magnesia (149-162)


Samuel Verdan, Pottery quantification: Some guidelines (p. 165-171)


Appendix : glossary (p. 172)