Exploring Ceramic Technology and Aegean Interactions at Prehistoric Samos, East Aegean
During my three-month stay at the British School at Athens, as a Fitch Bursary 2019-2020 holder, I had the great opportunity to engage with the academically and socially vibrant community of the Fitch Laboratory and interact with colleagues working on various projects.
The project I worked on focused on the petrographic analysis of ceramic thin sections from the Late Neolithic-Chalcolithic site of Kastro-Tigani, which is situated in southeast coastal Samos (area of modern Pythagoreion), in the East Aegean region. As it is a common practice in petrographic studies, the analysis involved the full and detailed description of the clay pastes and identification of other technological features. The results were compared with those from previous petrographic analyses of pottery from the Chalcolithic-Early Bronze Age settlement of Heraion, excavated by the University of Cyprus (under the direction of Assoc. Prof. Ourania Kouka) and studied as part of my PhD research. The pottery from Tigani was excavated on behalf of the German Archaeological Institute in the 1930s and 1960s, and its complete typology was published in 1988. The hill of Tigani on the southeast coast of Samos is located only 7km away from the Heraion settlement and has the earliest traces of prehistoric settlement yet discovered on the island. The samples represent all phases from Tigani (I-IV) and Heraion (Phase 6, Bauphase 1), and a special focus was placed on phases Tigani III-IV and Heraion 6 as they provide good chronological correlation (Final Neolithic/Chalcolithic period).
One of the main aims of my work at the Fitch was to characterise the ceramic fabrics of the Tigani material and to reconstruct the technological choices that led to the establishment of the local potting tradition of southern Samos from the 6th to 4th millennia BC (with an emphasis on the 4th mill. BC). By integrating the material from Chalcolithic Heraion with the material from Kastro-Tigani, I aimed to examine the changing relations and technological dialectics of the potting communities of the two neighbouring sites and also to test the hypothesis of assumed limited connectivity between such early and long-lived Aegean island settlements. It should be emphasised here that similar analytical projects of prehistoric sites of the East Aegean are sparse, but attempts are being made in recent years in the western Anatolian littoral and the offshore Greek islands.
Results from the petrographic analysis showed some correlations between Heraion and Kastro-Tigani, covering mostly coarse utilitarian ware vessels, which suggests shared practice by the different potting communities synchronically and diachronically. Some minor technological differences were identified which perhaps indicate the exploitation and use of different, but geologically similar, raw material sources. This was further attested by refiring tests in controlled oxidising conditions for one hour, at temperatures of 1000°C which the aimed to generate a basic optical distinction between different clay compositions. In addition to assessing the local production at Tigani and Heraion, a few loner fabrics have also been identified from both sites which suggest an off-island provenance in the central and southeast Aegean in the Chalcolithic period.
Another aspect of my work at the Fitch Laboratory concerned the processing of the raw data results from WD-XRF analysis (samples prepared by Ms Zoe Zgouleta and analysis carried out by Dr Noémi Müller ) of 62 samples from both sites that covered all chronological phases from Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age III. This is currently in progress and hopefully it will enable us to distinguish more clearly the local from the off-island ceramic products. Although at a preliminary stage, some important observations and identification of fabric groups made with petrography were well confirmed by chemical analysis. The thin section reference collection was also advised, particularly those belonging to Whitbread’s Transport Amphorae project (Samos, Chios, Lesbos, Rhodes) published in 1995.
Finally, my research in Athens also included the preliminary grouping of ceramic thin sections from Middle Bronze Age Heraion, a hitherto undocumented period at the site. The pottery assemblage derives from the area of the Sacred Road and well-stratified deposits from successive architectural phases.
This pilot project shed important light in the shifting Aegean connections during the 2nd millennium, a period of intense interregional mobility and the beginnings of the Minoanisation phenomenon. A first identification of suspected imports has been made macroscopically by Dr Ourania Kouka and I, with connections from as far as mainland Greece, the Cyclades, Crete, and East Aegean/western Anatolia.
I would like to thank colleagues at the Fitch, and the BSA in general, for welcoming me during my stay at Athens and for making the work there a pleasant process. This three-month award enabled me to complete aspects of my research project, which aims to place Samos and the East Aegean region in a broader Aegean-Anatolian perspective during prehistory and develop a better understanding of how changes and continuities in the ceramic production and consumption at the sites in question reflect changing sociocultural and technological dynamics.