Saturday, November 8, 2014

Differences Between Mycenaean Pottery and the Central Mediterranean Pottery

Mycenaean pottery has been used as a marker in ancient Italian history and archaeology to map the culture spread and interactions around the Aegean and Central Mediterranean.  As evidence of trade and exchange, Mycenaean pottery appears in local contexts that belong to a completely different pottery tradition.[1]  Examples of these differences can be seen in the way that the pottery was made.  Mycenaean pottery was wheel-made from levigated clay, painted decoration, and fired in high-temperature kilns.  The local pottery, or impasto, was hand-made from heavily tempered clay, had burnished surfaces, and were either left plain or decorated with incised patterns and fired at low temperatures.[2]  Through studies of the pottery found in the central Mediterranean area, it has been found that the Mycenaean pottery is the distinction between locally made Aegean-type pottery and that which was imported and traded.[3]

To further the evidence that Mycenaean pottery and the central Mediterranean pottery were actually different, there has been a new method of analysis developed in the last ten years called physico-chemical analysis.  This new analysis has managed to integrate some of the more traditional methodological tools that were being used by archaeologists.  The research started out with just a few limited sites being used to trial the validity of the process, and after a time it has now grown into a large database that includes data from several dozen sites.  As Vagnetti stated, one major result of the application of physico-chemical methods to the study of Mycenaean pottery from the central Mediterranean has been the distinction between it and the locally made Aegean-type pottery.[4]

The research analysis into the differing types of pottery is important because of just how large and diverse the nature of evidence regarding the Mycenaean pottery in the Central Mediterranean is.  There has been evidence of Mycenaean pottery in 78 different sites.[5]  This shows that Mycenaean pottery is common.  It is known over several centuries, through the duration of the Mycenaean civilisation, and its distribution covers a large part of southern Italy, Sicily, Sardinia and the minor islands.[6]  The spatial distribution of both the Mycenaean and the Aegean-type pottery found in the central Mediterranean varies considerably during different phases.[7]  There is also Mycenaean pottery found in local settlement ruins and cemeteries, and it is a larger percentage than normally would be expected to be found in these areas as well.[8]

Vagnetti spends a lot of time examining Broglio di Trebisacce in detail because he finds it logical to examine a site where pottery has been examined archaeometrically as well as by more traditional methods.[9]  Some of the reasons that Vagnetti discusses Broglio di Trebisacce is because there are only two case studies to choose from, and the other one is Vivara.  Vivara is an early site where all the fine ware of Mycenaean and Aegean-type is imported and archaeometric research that has been performed on the impasto materials has yet to be published.[10]  Further to this, Broglio is also the more appropriate example because its life spans a fairly long period, starting in the Middle Bronze Age and continuing through to the Late and Final Bronze Age and Iron Age, which also overlaps with the early Greek Colonial period.[11]  Another reason for studying Broglio di Trebisacce is that there has been a large-scale systematic survey that has outlined the regional patterns of the settlements in the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age, and the reports from the excavations done from 1979AD-1985AD are published and available.[12]

The site of Broglio also provides information showing that there was a relationship with the Aegean mostly through the pottery.  Mycenaean pottery appears in the early phase of LH IIIA and continues through LH IIIC.[13]  Also, apart from limited numbers of Mycenaean pottery shards from the Aegean, there is a significant local production of pottery in Mycenaean technology and style, and this has been identified via the archaeometrical and archaeological studies.[14]  Further, when the locally made Mycenaean pottery is compared with the changes in the Aegean pottery over time, the changes in the two styles are concurrent to each other decoratively, and thus shows that there was continuing contact between the two areas.[15]  Lastly, there were other pottery fabric technologies that were common to the Aegean that are present at Broglio di Trebisacce and other regional sites.[16]  The most desirable features for a site like this, however, are missing.  These features are namely production sites, kilns, and the ability to reconstruct production processes from the consumed objects.[17]

Vagnetti draws from studying Broglio di Trebisacce the conclusion that local production of Mycenaean pottery to begin with implied some movement of specialised craftsmen from the Aegean to peripheral areas, perhaps seasonally.[18]  Vagnetti also believes that this implies that there were different workshops in existence in different locations.[19]  Lastly, the production of the large containers and the introduction of ceramic technology from the Aegean was most likely in relation to the new-found storage needs from agriculture, which was also affected by the Aegean connection.  These claims are supported by the introduction of Dolia, and is believed to be in relation to storing olive oil or wine.[20]


Vagnetti, L.  (1999).  'Mycenaean pottery in the Central Mediterranean: imports and local production in their context', in Crielaard, J. ed., The Complex Past of Pottery. Production, Circulation and Consumption of Mycenaean and Greek Pottery.  Pp. 137-61.

[1] Vagnetti, L.  ‘Mycenaean Pottery in the Central Mediterranean’, p. 137
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid, p. 138
[4] Ibid
[5] Ibid, p. 140
[6] Ibid, p. 137
[7] Ibid, p. 138
[8] Ibid, pp. 141-142
[9] Ibid, p. 142
[10] Ibid, p. 143
[11] Ibid
[12] Ibid
[13] Ibid
[14] Ibid
[15] Ibid, p. 144
[16] Ibid
[17] Ibid, pp. 145-148
[18] Ibid, p. 148
[19] Ibid
[20] Ibid, p. 149

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