Version classiqueVersion mobile

Géoarchéologie des îles de la Méditerranée

Matthieu Ghilardi

Partie 5. Matières premières : exploitation et interactions / Exploitation and exchange of raw materials

Looking for the invisible: landscape change and ceramic manufacture during the Final Neolithic-Early Bronze Age at Phaistos (Crete, Greece)

Mentesana Roberta, Amato Vincenzo, Day Peter M., Ghilardi Matthieu, Kilikoglou Vassilis, Longo Fausto et Todaro Simona


The present landscape of the Mesara Plain, an intermountain basin located in Southern Crete, results from millennia of geological transformation. Human presence in the area had a strong impact on landscape change since the Final Neolithic (second half of the 4th millennium BC), when the first signs of land erosion and deforestation appeared. This phase has been considered in Crete as “transitional” due to emergence of new settlement patterns and material culture. The main site on the Plain is Phaistos, which is located on a hilltop near the Yerapotamos River. The site offers great potential for the examination of the Final Neolithic-Early Bronze Age transition in Crete, on account of the landscape and changes in the human occupation and manufacturing activity. Pottery manufacture of these transitional phases has been examined in detail, revealing a complex picture of continuity and change in raw material use. Similarly, our understanding of the landscape surrounding the site has been transformed with the discovery of the formation of a lake to the South of the hill site from the mid-3rd millennium. This paper presents collaborative research on landscape change and its influence on raw material availability for pottery manufacture in the area.

Texte intégral


1The present landscape of the Mesara Plain in Southern Crete results from millennia of geomorphological transformation due to the interaction between long and short term climatic variations, sea level changes, depositional and erosional processes, tectonic phases and, for the last millennia, land use change due to human impact (Amato et al., 2014). While the absence of radiocarbon dates for the earlier phases of human occupation of the island does not facilitate the comparison (Table 1), Watrous and co-workers have investigated the connection between landscape transformation and human presence in the Plain (Watrous et al., 2004). For example, the human presence in the area seems to have had a strong effect on landscape change since the end of the 4th millennium BC, when the first signs of soil erosion and deforestation appeared contemporary with the first stable occupation of the area (Pope, 2004). In most studies, survey data are used to interpret the development of human presence in the Plain (Bredaki and Longo, 2011; Shaw and Shaw, 1995; Watrous et al., 2004). On the other hand, scarce attention has been devoted to understanding interaction amongst communities and the changing availability of raw materials and other resources for craft activity, in particular ceramics. This theme is not new in archaeological approaches to ceramics: in the mid-1960s, Matson (1965) introduced the concept of “ceramic ecology” to indicate an approach that stresses the strong relationship between production processes and the surrounding environment. This model was extensively adopted in 1980s by scholars such as Arnold and Rice, who attempted to develop predictive models of ceramic change based on empirical laws. Built on his extensive ethnographic work, Arnold suggested a model of the exploitation of raw materials on the basis of distance: primary raw materials, such as clay, fuel and water, will be more likely to be collected near the site; while secondary materials, such as those used for slip and paints, were often obtained from more distant sources (Arnold, 1985). The unavailability or exhaustion of local resources, as well as the change in the transport system, are the only exceptions considered by Arnold to his “exploitable territory thresholds” model. Arnold has recently reconsidered the factors influencing raw material choices amongst potters (Arnold, 2000), but in the 1980s some viewed his model as deterministic in its consideration of the environment. Other approaches were developed which considered ceramic production as influenced by more “cultural” factors, such as religion, space perception, and symbolism (David et al., 1988; Hodder, 1982). Perhaps as a result of the clash of these two approaches, the issue of landscape change has been a rather neglected factor in the study of ceramic production for the last thirty years. Some proposed a third path, viewing ceramics from an interdisciplinary perspective, including environmental and cultural factors (van der Leeuw, 1984), and some research recently has foregrounded landscape as a factor in pottery production (Michelaki et al., 2012) influenced perhaps by new attitudes to landscape and taskscapes (Ingold, 2000). In light of the approach suggested by van der Leeuw and others, this paper explores issues of ceramic raw material sourcing, availability and choice over the Final Neolithic (FN) and Early Minoan (EM) phases, taking advantage of the most recent research on ceramic production and landscape transformation around the site of Phaistos.

Cretan Final Neolithic and Bronze Age phases

Approximate dates BC

Phaistos phases


ca. 3600-3300

Phase I


ca. 3300-3100/3000

Phase II


ca. 3100/3000-2900

Phase III


ca. 2900-2650

Phase IV

Table 1: Chronological chart of the phases discussed in the text, according to the archaeological phasing system generally adopted for the Aegean area (Schoep et al., 2012; Todaro, 2013).

Environment, resources and landscape change in the area of Phaistos

2The Cretan landscape is composed of high mountainous chains that divide the island into three main parts, along with gentle hills and wide alluvial plains. The South-Central part of the island includes the Mesara Plain crossed by the Yerapotamos River and is enclosed on the North and West by the Psiloritis Mts, on East by Dikti Mts and on the South by the Asterousia Range. Several hills, amongst those the Phaistos ridge, rise from the Plain. In considering raw materials available in the area for ceramic manufacture, geomorphology and landscape transformation need to be considered.

3The main tectonic phenomena in Crete took place in the pre-Neogene phases and resulted from the subduction of the African plate under the Eurasian plate. They are responsible for the formation of the Ophiolite series and the uplift of the Carbonate plateaux, which characterise the current South-Central Cretan geology (Figure 1; Bonneau et al., 1984). The Asterousia nappe is one of those Ophiolite series: low-medium grade metamorphic and basic igneous rocks, often altered, are common. The same geological formation occurs in the Northwest of the Mesara Plain. On the northern side, the carbonate plateaux physically divide the Mesara from the Heraklion basin. Flysch deposits can be found alternating with both the carbonate and the Ophiolite formations. At the end the Messinian epoch (ca. 7-5 Ma), within the Neogene period, the salinity crisis of the Mediterranean resulted in the regression of the sea level and Crete took a configuration similar to the present one. Since then, several sedimentary processes have occurred and are characterised by a sequence of marine and continental deposits. The ridge of Phaistos was shaped in the Messinian: calcareous marls with several microfossils, such as foraminifera and ostracods (Peterek and Schwarze, 2004; Cosentino et al., 2007; Faranda et al., 2008), and evaporites, such as gypsum, characterise the deposits of the hills. In contrast, continental deposits have few or no presence of microfossils and, generally, are less extended than marine deposits, because they have been more subject to erosion. The continental deposits of the Pleistocene are the most important for the aim of this paper. They are composed of a colluvium soil known as terra rossa according to the characteristic red colour. Terra rossa deposits were laid on the top of Late Pliocene deposits or can be arranged in karstic formation on the calcarenite plateaux (Caron et al., 2009; Siart et al., 2010). Nowadays, the preservation of terra rossa deposits in the Mesara is very limited due to deep soil erosion and intense human activity in the area; however, a few deposits are still visible in road sections and on the top of some plateaux such as those of the Mount Ida. Finally, during the Pleistocene and Holocene periods, fluvial and lacustrine erosion mixed and transported the lithology above described along the plain, shaping the Mesara as it is visible nowadays. The chronological and lithological succession created a variety of raw materials suitable for pottery manufacture: the calcareous marls, the flysch and the terra rossa clays can be mixed or used separately to make ceramics. An understanding of the formation of each deposit is extremely important in identifying the features of the clay rich material, their accessibility and location in the surroundings of the site. However, the lithology of the Mesara Plain is rather complex and does not always allow the determination of the exact location of raw material sources.

Figure 1: Geological map of South-Central Crete with the main sites cited in the text and the location of the clays sampled (modified after Wilson and Day, 1994).

4In addition, some studies have enforced the idea that in the Holocene, the landscape in the Mesara Plain did undergo substantial change which could have modified its appearance. One of the most debated issues is that of sea level change and the relationship with nearby human occupation. Gifford reconstructed a sea level of 6/7 m below present around 3000 BC, which became higher, progressively increasing to-2 m at the end of the 2nd millennium BC; the level then dropped around the 1st century BC, subsequently to rise again, reaching the present level (Shaw and Shaw, 1995). However, he admits that the reconstruction of the sea level changes is subject to complex variables (tectonic uplift, erosion of sediments, alluvial deposition). Recently, Fytrolakis et al. (2005) has argued that Aghia Triadha and Phaistos were both coastal sites in the Neolithic phases and that intense human presence in the area brought regression of the coastal line to the present one. Unfortunately, no radiocarbon dates corroborate this hypothesis. he recent work of Longo and Bredaki together the ANR DIKIDA research project have re-engaged with the issue of the landscape around Phaistos and human occupation over time (Bredaki and Longo, 2011; Ghilardi et al., 2012 and 2015; Amato et al., 2014). In order to reconstruct the paleogeographic configuration near Phaistos, seven cores from the area south of Phaistos were taken (Ghilardi et al., 2015. he study of the succession and the dating of the cores revealed the presence of a freshwater lake south of Phaistos from ca. 2500 to 1200/1100 cal. BC (Figure 2; Ghilardi et al., 2015). he lake’s area was reduced during 1200 to 800 cal. BC, probably corresponding to a dry climate, transforming the lake into a swamp. One of the cores revealed a deposit of terra rossa, dated ca. 3300-2900 cal. BC, below the lake deposit, suggesting that at the end of the 4th millennium, which would approximately corresponds to the FN IV phase, the lake was not present, or not at a high level at least. The paleogeographic configuration of the area near Phaistos in the Final Neolithic needs further research. However, if these recent studies are corroborated by further evidence, Phaistos would have dominated, at least since the 4th millennium, a large water-logged area surrounded by deciduous forest. Thereafter, the Early Bronze Age settlement changed the landscape of the area drastically to that we observe in the present day.

The Final Neolithic-Early Bronze Age human occupation and pottery production at Phaistos and in the Mesara region

5According to present evidence, South-Central Crete, including the Mesara Plain and the Asterousia Mountains, seems uninhabited before the latest phases of FN, and it is at the beginning of the Early Bronze Age (EB) that a substantial increase in the number of sites occurred (Todaro, 2013; Watrous et al., 2004). Phaistos, situated on a hill in the Mesara Plain, is the most important and long-lived settlement in the area. It is best known for the construction of a court-centred building, called a “palace” in the literature, at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC; however, the site has a longer life which lies, partly unexplored, underneath that later building. A recent re-examination of these earlier phases of the site revealed several phases of occupation from the FN III (Todaro, 2013). Although some changes can be observed in the use of the hill, the site is considered to have been a gathering place for neighbouring communities since its first occupation, which periodically hosted rituals involving a conspicuous quantity of food and drink (Todaro and Di Tonto, 2008; Todaro, 2013). Even outside the chronological range tackled in this paper, it is important to mention that a craft area, certainly involving pottery manufacture, has been identified on the western side of the hill from at least the EM II phase (Todaro, 2009). Aside from Phaistos, the site of Gortyn shows evidence of a FN occupation (Vagnetti, 1973), while the other FN materials in the Mesara come from surveys or are not linked to any certain stratigraphic sequence (for Kommos, see Betancourt, 1990; for Kamilari, see Vagnetti and Belli, 1978). Watrous et al. (2004) published a map of Late Neolithic (=LN) and LN-EM I sites identified during the Mesara survey. Unfortunately, the identification of deposits and sites belonging to the LN, FN and EM I phases, along with the lack of illustration of the materials retrieved, make it difficult to fully appreciate these survey data. What did emerge from these previous studies is that, in comparison to the FN, the numbers of sites dated to EM I seems to increase sharply in the area. Indeed several new sites, such as that of Ayia Triadha and those in the Ayiofarango valley were established in EM I. he majority of them seem to be of funerary character, linked with the introduction of the tholos tombs, while only a few seem to have had a domestic function (Todaro, 2003; Blackman and Branigan, 1977).

Figure 2: Borehole (Core 7) taken for the paleo-environmental study of the Mesara with the indication of the three main facies and the depth of the sampled material (modified after Ghilardi et al., 2012 and 2015). Ages were calibrated (2σ) using CALIB 7.1 software using IntCal13 calibration curve (Stuiver et Reimer, 1993; Reimer et al., 2013).

6The FN-EB phases have been considered by the literature as “transitional” due to the emergence of new settlements and novel material culture. The appearance of distinct ceramic wares at the beginning of the EB led scholars to consider this period as in contrast to the FN in terms of drinking practices (Hood, 1990; Hood and Cadogan, 2011) and ceramic technologies (Betancourt, 2008). Recently, a project on ceramics from the FN-EB phases at Phaistos by some of the authors (Mentesana, 2014; Mentesana et al., in press; Figure 3 for FN ceramics found at Phaistos), has taken an analytical approach to technological change during the FN-EB transition. In contrast to previous assumptions, it has revealed both continuity in technological choices over these phases and, instead of a distinct horizon of change, variation in different steps of manufacture at different junctures. Petrographic analysis suggests there were at least two broad fabric types used to make pottery over this time period. These are very different both in raw material manipulation processes and lithology. One of the two fabrics is densely packed with quartz, feldspar and biotite, with a coarse fraction of varied lithology, mainly metaquartzite, silt/sandstones, bioclastic limestone and basalt (Blue fabric, Figure 4A). The other (Yellow) is a composed of a very fine fraction with added large rounded inclusions, mainly low-medium grade metamorphic rocks but also sedimentary and basic igneous rock fragments (Figure 4B). Variants of the Yellow fabric have been identified also in the later Bronze Age contexts at the nearby sites of Aghia Triadha (Belfiore et al., 2007) and Kommos (Day and Kilikoglou, 2001; Day et al., 2011), suggesting a long-term adoption of this fabric for ceramic production. The characteristic coarse fraction of this fabric is compatible with the Ophiolite series in the foothills of the Asterousia Mountains, where probably both the clay and the inclusions were gathered. On the other hand, little is known about the possible source of the Blue fabric and no close match with later material could be found. In addition, these two fabrics are attested at the site since the first phase of occupation, but their occurrence changed over time: the Blue fabric is the main attested in the first phase (FN III), while it decreases in the subsequent phases; the Yellow fabric is rarely present in FN III, but from phase FN IV onward it becomes the main fabric present. To date, we do not have enough data from the surrounding sites to assess whether this shit in fabric from FN IV characterises only the site of Phaistos and therefore means a change in ceramic consumption preferences; or whether the same pattern involves a wider area, suggesting a change not only in ceramic consumption, but also in production strategies. However, despite the fact that the absence of radiocarbon dates from the site makes the comparison difficult, the FN and the EM I phases correspond to major changes also in the landscape of the Mesara in terms of soil erosion, deforestation, probably in sea level changes and the formation of the fresh-water lake. Therefore, two main questions arise from this study. First, whether the source(s) of the raw material used for the Blue fabric can be located near the site. Second, whether and how the changes in the landscape can be related to those observed in ceramic raw material sources over the 4th-3rd millennium at Phaistos.

Figure 3: Some of the most characteristic FN wares found at Phaistos. Figure 3A: Burnished ware (FN III); Figure 3B: Burnished ware (FN IV); Figure 3C: Red Slipped ware (FN IV); Figure 3D: Burnished and Granulated ware (FN IV). Not in scale. (Pictures courtesy of S. Todaro and of the Italian School of Archaeology in Athens).

Figure 4: Fresh-fracture images and microphotograph of a ceramic sample of the Blue (a) and Yellow (b) fabrics.

Materials and Methods

7Sampling was directed toward broadening our knowledge of the clay deposits available nearby the site of Phaistos, to supplement those already known in the South of the Plain. Clay samples were gathered, therefore, from the area to the North of the Phaistos hill. Specifically, Miocene grey clays were collected near the Zaros water factory (13/6), on the North slope of the Phaistos hill (13/5), near the village of Monochoro (13/1), where also a Flysch deposit was sampled (13/2). Colluvial terra rossa clay was found mainly in road sections, such those along the Timbaki-Moires road (13/3-4) and the earthworks for the Moires stadium construction (13/7-8). Of the latter, the upper and lower parts of the layer was sampled in order to examine variation in composition, granulometry and texture. Several samples from Core 7 made by previous field campaigns were taken (Figure 2; Amato et al., 2014; Ghilardi et al., 2015). The facies preceding the formation of the lake are characterized by a red colluvial clay (13/C7, 15/5) and are strikingly distinct from the grey lake clays (15/3, 15/4); while the clay sampled from the swamp facies (15/1-2) looks more similar to those of the lake. Figure 1 shows the location of the samples and the geological background of South-Central Crete (Table 2). Briquettes made from clay samples were fired in an electric kiln at a 250ºC/h ramp up to 750°C with a dwell time of 1 hr. Thin sections were made and examined under a polarising light microscope.


8All clay sampled showed good plasticity, with the exception of 13/5. The colours developed by the clay samples after firing are in accordance with that of the unfired clay (Figure 5 and Figure 7): those samples developing a beige/pink colour were grey and those resulting red were brown. Both these colour shades are present in the ceramics found at Phaistos: the majority of Neolithic ceramics develop reddish shades after firing, while beige/pink coloured shades are more common in the EM phases (Mentesana et al., in press). The colour change has been taken previously to indicate an important change in raw material use (Betancourt, 2008). However, colour alone cannot be considered a valid element in distinguishing raw materials. Petrographic examination of the samples has revealed a more varied array of raw materials (Figure 6). Samples 13/3-4 and 13/7-8 are very similar to each other in terms of lithic composition, but vary in texture. They are composed of a homogenously distributed fine fraction of quartz, feldspars, epidote and mica; while the coarse fraction is composed mainly of quartzite, chert, quartz arkose to wacke, siltstones and rarely altered basic igneous rock fragments and micritic mudstone. In contrast to the others, sample 13/4 has a larger and more abundant coarse fraction. Those samples which developed a beige/pink colour present more lithological variability. Sample 13/1 is characterised by a dense fine fraction, homogeneously distributed and composed of quartz, biotite mica, microfossils (foraminifera and ostracods), feldspars and calcimudstone. Sample 13/6 is densely composed of micrite, quartz and biotite and muscovite mica. Sample 13/5, the nearest to the Phaistos hill, is very fine and includes a sparse fine fraction of quartz and biotite mica. Sample 13/2 is the most strikingly different amongst the beige firing samples, as includes a coarse fraction of serpentinite, pyroxene and mica.

Table 2: List of geological samples.

Figure 5: Briquettes made from samples 13/1-8 before (a) and after (b) firing.

Figure 6: Microphotographs (XP) of the clay samples 13/1-8.

9Core 7 has been sampled in order to see any difference in composition amongst the different facies identified by Ghilardi et al. (2012; Figure 2; Figures 7-8). Samples 13/C7 and 15/5 belong to the terra rossa facies and their composition is similar to that of samples 13/7-8 and 3-4. In particular, sample 13/C7 contains also micritic calcimudstone and an altered igneous rock fragment. Sample 15/3 from the lake facies is densely packed with a fine fraction of quartz, microfossils (foraminifera), mica, feldspars and opaques; the coarse fraction is heterogeneously distributed, rare and includes shell fragments, meta-quartzite, siltstones and rare serpentinite. The interface between the terra rossa and the lake facies, 15/4, looks similar to previous sample, while with less presence of microfossils and shell fragments. On the other hand, the samples belonging to the swamp, 15/1-2 have a much finer texture than other samples: the fine fraction is composed of quartz, mica, quartzite and few to rare shell fragments.

Figure 7: Briquettes made from samples from Core 7, before (a) and after (b) firing.

Figure 8: Microphotographs (XP) of the clays from Core 7.

10The comparison of the fabrics from these deposits with the FN-EM I ceramic fabric from Phaistos brings interesting results. The terra rossa fabric samples have strong similarities with the Blue fabric (Figures 4A and 8). In particular, the terra rossa from the core, 13/C7, includes micrite and basalt inclusions which can be often found in ceramic samples of the Blue fabric. The variability in terms of texture and size distribution of the inclusions is also characteristic of ceramics in the Blue fabric and matches that encountered in the geological samples. No other match has been found between the fabric of the clays and of the ceramics.


11Of the deposits sampled, few find a match with the ceramic fabrics encountered at Phaistos. Future investigation could bring new insights, but here the discussion focuses on the consequences of the match between the Blue fabric and the terra rossa samples.

Different “local” sources or “local” productions?

12It was acknowledged by previous studies that the source of the raw material used for the Yellow fabric could be in the South of the Mesara, but there was uncertainty about the possible location of the raw material used in the Blue fabric. This study suggests that the Blue fabric is made of a terra rossa colluvium, identified close to the site of Phaistos. In particular, one of these sources seems to be available at the foot of the hill of Phaistos and dated to the end of the 4th millennium, contemporary to the first occupation of the settlement. he two fabrics, therefore, seem to be different in their technology, one finer in texture with added large grains while the other densely packed of lithic inclusions, and in the location or raw material gathering, one closer to the site than the other. The combined examination of ceramic and geological deposit fabrics allows us to identify a change in raw material catchment area over the phases from FN IV onwards: from the closer surroundings of Phaistos, to the foothill of the Asterousia Mts. (Figure 1). There are two main scenarios from this observation. On the one hand, new centres of ceramic production could have emerged in the foothills of the Asterousia which were using raw materials in that area, producing the Yellow fabric. At Phaistos, ceramics continued to be produced with the closer raw material available, the terra rossa. The FN IV phase might have marked this change. Alternatively, it might also be argued that Phaistos remained the main ceramic production centre across all the phases and different raw materials were used for different components of the ceramic repertoire. As Arnold (2000) stated recently, only regional study of ceramic production, in our case of other sites in the Plain over the same phases, could help distinguish the most likely scenario.

Technological change or landscape transformation?

13The terra rossa deposit to the South of Phaistos was visible in the 4th millennium, probably until the mid-3rd millennium, when it was covered by the lake, according to the date from the core sampled (Ghilardi et al., 2012). The examination of FN-EM I ceramics suggests that terra rossa started to be used in the FN III phase, but it decreased after-wards, until being very rarely present in the ceramics of the site. It might be questioned whether this decreased preference reflected a change in local availability of terra rossa on account of landscape change. Still today, terra rossa is not easy to find and potters were often loath to change their raw material sources (Day, 2004). However, this does not explain the simultaneous use of both the Blue and Yellow fabrics, which differ not only in their lithology but also in their technology. The detailed study of ceramics from Phaistos has also revealed that each one of these fabrics is associated with specific shapes, firing procedure and surface modification (Mentesana, 2014; Mentesana et al., in press). For example, the Blue fabric was used almost exclusively for the Burnished wares (Figure 3A-B), while the Yellow fabric for the Red Slipped and the Burnished and Granulated wares (Figure 3C-D). So rather than being the product of geomorphological change, the choice of different materials by different potters remains the most satisfactory explanation.

Looking for the invisible FN evidence below the surface

14The terra rossa from the core lies under 6 m of deposit and prompt consideration of how many raw material sources of the past in the Mesara Plain and similar environments, subjected to such geomorphological changes, might be difficult to trace. While clearly sometimes the only strategy available, the location of raw materials based on a surface investigation can be limited and misleading. In the present case we have enough information to trace different locations of ceramic raw materials, their change over time and their possible link either to landscape change or divergent technological choices.

Can ceramic analysis change our perspective on survey results?

15The results from this research prompt a more general question, concerning the resolution of survey data in environments such as the Mesara Plain and whether ceramic analysis can broaden our perspective. In the case of the Herakleion basin, where Knossos was considered an isolated site over the Neolithic phases, ceramic analysis revealed a wide spread human presence, suggesting a buried Neolithic landscape unsuspected by surface survey (Tomkins and Day, 2001; Tomkins et al., 2004). In the survey work on the Mesara, while Pope reports that EB sherds were found in some cases below 8 meters to the surface (Pope, 2004), it was concluded that the Early Bronze Age saw an increase of population in the Mesara (Watrous, 2004). However, the discovery of a FN-dated clay deposit at such a depth prompts the question whether the Neolithic presence in the Mesara has been underestimated.


16In conclusion, this paper has re-considers the benefit of considering change in the surrounding environment and landscape in studies of ceramic production studies. It has located in the Plain south of the site of Phaistos a probable raw material source for pottery production in the Neolithic period, with manufacture occurring on the hill site which hosted the later palace, or in its immediate environs. It was considered, however, that the shift observed to new raw material sources near the foothills of the Asterousia was not prompted solely by geomorphological change, but rather reflects the appearance of different groups of potters exploiting different technological choices and ceramic repertoires. While these shifts in raw material are visible in pottery recovered from the site of Phaistos, the raw materials and geomorphological succession in core within the Plain once more sounds caveats about the visibility of Neolithic settlement in surface survey. As thin section petrography becomes a more regular component of archaeological practice in Crete and the Aegean, we suggest that it will continue to reveal important information on past landscapes, such as those of the Neolithic period, often buried beneath several metres of later sediments.


17This research was conducted as part of the “Phaistos Project”, directed by F. Longo and M. Bredaki, a collaborative research project between the Italian School of Archaeology in Athens, the University of Salerno and the Greek Ephoria in Heraklion. Roberta Mentesana conducted the research also as part of the project entitled “The Final Neolithic-Early Bronze Age transition in Phaistos, Crete: an investigation of continuity and change in ceramic manufacture” within the framework of the NARNIA Project (New Archaeological Research Network for Integrating Approaches to ancient material studies). NARNIA is a Marie Curie Initial Training Network funded by the FP7 and the European Union (Grant agreement no.: 265010). The borehole (Core 7) drilled in the vicinity of ancient Phaistos is part of the ANR DIKIDA (2011-2014) directed by Daniela Lefevre-Novaro and Matthieu Ghilardi and all the laboratory works were funded by the Agence de Nationale de la Recherche (SHS-Espace et Territoire – 057084). We are grateful to the Herakleion Ephorate and the Conservation Directorate of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture for their permission to sample pottery referred to in this article. The late Professor Vincenzo La Rosa was instrumental in facilitating our research at Phaistos.



AMATO V., LONGO F., BREDAKI M., ROSSI A.,GHILARDI M., PSOMIADIS D., COLLEU M., SINIBALDI L., DELANGHE-SABATIER D., DEMORY F., PETIT C., «Geoarchaeological and Palaeoenvironmental Researches in the Area of Ancient Phaistos (Crete, Greece): Preliminary Results», in Touchais G., Laffineur R., Rougemont F., Physis. L’environnement naturel et la relation homme-milieu dans le monde égéen protohistorique, Actes de la 14ème rencontre égéenne internationale, Paris, INHA, 11-14 décembre 2012. Aegaeum 37, Leuven, Liège, Peeters, 2014, p. 129-140.

ARNOLD D.E., Ceramic Theory and Cultural Process, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1985.

ARNOLD D.E., «Does the standardization of ceramic pastes really mean specialization?», Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 7 (4), 2000, p. 333-375.

BELFIORE C.M., DAY P.M., HEIN A., KILIKOGLOU V., LA ROSA V., MAZZOLENI P., PEZZINO A., «Petrographic and Chemical Characterization of Pottery Production of the Late Minoan I Kiln At Haghia Triada, Crete», Archaeometry, 49 (4), 2007, p. 621-653.

BETANCOURT P.P., Kommos II, The Final Neolithic through the Middle Minoan III Pottery, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1990.

BETANCOURT P.P., The Bronze Age Begins: The Ceramics Revolution of Early Minoan I and the New Forms of Wealth that Transformed Prehistoric Society, Philadelphia, INSTAP Academic Press, 2008.

BLACKMAN D., BRANIGAN K., «An archaeological survey of the lower catchment of the Ayiofarango valley», Annual of the British School at Athens, 72, 1977, p. 14-84.

BONNEAU M., JONKERS H. A., MEULENKAMP J. E., Geological Map of Greece, 1:50.000. Tymbakion Sheet, IGME, Athens, 1984.

BREDAKI M., LONGO F., Progetto Festòs. Ricognizioni archeologiche di superficie: le campagne 2007-2009. Annuario della Scuola Archeologica Italiana ad Atene, LXXXVII, series III, 9, Tomo II, 2009, published in 2011, p. 935-978.

CARON V., BERNIER P., MAHIEUX G., «Record of Late Pleistocene (Oxygen Isotopic Stage 5) climate changes during episodes of karst development on the Northern coast of Crete: Sequence stratigraphic implications», Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 277 (3-4), 2009, p. 246-264.

COSENTINO D., GLIOZZI E., PIPPONZI G., «The late Messinian Lago-Mare episode in the Mediterranean Basin: Preliminary report on the occurrence of Paratethyan ostracod fauna from central Crete (Greece)», Geobios, 40 (3), 2007, p. 339-349.

DAVID N., STERNER, J., GAVUA K., «Why Pots are decorated?», Current Anthropology, 29, 1988, p. 365-389.

DAY P.M., «Marriage and mobility: tradition and the dynamics of pottery production in twentieth century East Crete», in Betancourt P.P., Davaras C., Hope Simpson R., Pseira VIII. The Archaeological Survey of Pseira Island Part I, Prehistory Monographs 11, Philadelphia, INSTAP Academic Press, 2004, p. 105-142.

DAY P.M., KILIKOGLOU V., «Analysis of Ceramics from the Kiln», in Shawn J.W, Van de Moortel A., Day P.M., Kilikoglou V., A Late IA Minoan Kiln in Southern Crete. Hesperia Supplements, 30, 2001, p. 111-133.

DAY P. M., RUTTER J. B., QUINN P. S., KILIKOGLOU V., «A world of goods: Transport jars and commodity exchange at the late Bronze Age harbor of Kommos, Crete.» Hesperia, 80, 2011, p. 511-558.

FARANDA C., CIPOLLARI P., COSENTINO D., GLIOZZI E., PIPPONZI G., «Late Miocene ostracod assemblages from eastern Mediterranean coral reef complexes (central Crete, Greece)», Revue de Micropaléontologie, 51 (4), 2008, p. 287-308.

FYTROLAKIS N., PETEREK A., SCHRÖDER B., «Initial Geoarchaeological investigations on the Holocene configuration near Phaistos/Agia Triada (Messara plain, Central Crete, Greece)», Zeitschriftfür Geomorphologie, 137, 2005, p. 111-123.

GHILARDI M., PSOMIADIS D., LONGO F., AMATO V., ROSSI A., DEMORY F., DELANGHE-SABATIER D., COLLEU M., SINIBALDI L., CARAYON N., GASSE F., «Palaeoenvironmental investigations in the vicinity of Ancient Phaistos (Crete, Greece): preliminary results». EGU Assembly, 22-27 April 2012, Vienna, Austria. GM 4.7. session: Late Quaternary environments and societies: progress in geoarchaeology, 2012.

GHILARDI M., COLLEU M., PSOMIADIS D., GASSE F., SINIBALDI L., DELANGHE-SABATIER D., ANDRIEU-PONEL V., RENARD M., LESPEZ L., FLEURY J., LONGO F., ROSSI A., AMATO V., «Étude paléoenvironnementale autour du site de Phaistos (plaine de Messara, Crète, Grèce): mise en évidence d’une phase de sédimentation lacustre pendant l’époque minoenne», in Lefèvre-Novaro D., Martzloff L., Ghilardi M., Géosciences, archéologie et histoire en Crète de l’Âge du Bronze récent à l’époque Archaïque, Actes du colloque DIKIDA, 15-18 Octobre 2013, Strasbourg, France, Aldo Ausilio Editore in Padova, 2015, p. 125-140.

HODDER I., Symbols in action: ethnoarchaeological studies of material culture, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1982.

HOOD S., «Settlers in Crete c. 3000 B.C.», Cretan Studies, 2, 1990, p. 150-158.

HOOD S., CADOGAN G., Knossos Excavations, 1957-1961: Early Minoan, British School at Athens Supplementary, 46, London, 2011.

INGOLD T., The perception of the environment: essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill, London, Routledge, 2000.

MATSON F. R., «Ceramic ecology: an approach to the study of the early cultures of the Near East.», in Matson F. R., Ceramics and man, Chicago, Aldine, 1965, p. 202-217.

MENTESANA R., «The Final Neolithic - Early Minoan transition in Phaistos, Crete: Continuity and change in pottery manufacture», in Kassianidou V., Dikomitou-Eliadou M., The NARNIA project: Integrating approaches to ancient material studies, Nicosia, 2014, p. 20-31.

MENTESANA R., DAY P.M., KILIKOGLOU V., TODARO S., «United in our Differences: the production and consumption of pottery at EMIB Phaistos, Crete», Journal of Archaeological Science Reports, in press. Available on line from 28th august 2015,

MICHELAKI K., HANCOCK R.G.V., BRAUN G.V., «Using provenance data to assess archaeological landscapes: an example from Calabria, Italy», Journal of Archaeological Science, 39, 2012, p. 234-246.

PETEREK A., SCHWARZE J., «Architecture and Late Pliocene to recent evolution of outer-arc basins of the Hellenic subduction zone (south-central Crete, Greece)», Journal of Geodynamics, 38 (1), 2004, p. 19-55.

POPE K., «Geoarchaeology of the Western Mesara», in Watrous V., Hadzi-Vallianou D., Blitzer H., The Plain of Phaistos: Cycles of Social Complexity in the Mesara Region of Crete, Monumenta Archaeologica, 23, Los Angeles, UCLA, 2004, p. 40-57.

REIMER P. J., BARD E., BAYLISS A., BECK J. W., BLACKWELL P. G., BRONK RAMSEY C., BUCK C. E., CHENG H., EDWARDS R. L., FRIEDRICH M., GROOTES P. M., GUILDERSON T. P., HAFLIDASON H., HAJDAS I., HATTÉ C., HEATON T. J., HOGG A. G., HUGHEN K. A., KAISER K. F., KROMER B., MANNING S. W., NIU M., REIMER R. W., RICHARDS D. A., SCOTT E. M., SOUTHON J. R., TURNEY C. S. M. AND VAN DER PLICHT J. «IntCal13 and MARINE13 radiocarbon age calibration curves 0–50,000 years cal. BP», Radiocarbon, 55-4, 2013, p. 1869-1887.

SCHOEP I., TOMKINS P., DRIESSEN I., Back to the Beginning for the Early and Middle Bronze Age on Crete, Oxford, Oxbow Book, 2012.

SHAW J. W., SHAW M.C., Kommos, I: The Kommos Region and Houses of the Minoan Town, Princeton, Princeton University, 1995.

SIART C., HECHT S., HOLZHAUER I., ALTHERR R., MEYER H. P., SCHUKRAFT G. PANAGIOTOPOULOS D., «Karst depressions as geoarchaeological archives: The palaeoenvironmental reconstruction of Zominthos (Central Crete), based on geophysical prospection, sedimentological investigations and GIS», Quaternary International, 216 (1-2), 2010, p. 75-92.

STUIVER M., REIMER P.J., «Radiocarbon calibration program CALIB REV7.1.0», Radiocarbon, 35, 1993, p. 215-230.

TODARO S., «Haghia Triada nel periodo Antico Minoico», Creta Antica, 4, 2003, p. 69-95.

TODARO S., «Pottery production in the prepalatial Mesara: the artisans’ quarter to the west of the palace at Phaistos», Creta Antica, 10/II, 2009, p. 333-352.

TODARO S., The Phaistos hills before the Palace: a contextual reappraisal, Monza, Polimetrica, 2013.

TODARO S., DI TONTO S., «The Neolithic Settlement of Phaistos revisited: evidence for ceremonial activity on the eve of the Bronze Age», in Isaakidou V., Tomkins P., Escaping the Labyrinth: New Perspectives on the Neolithic of Crete, Sheffield Studies in Aegean Archaeology, 8, Oxford, Oxbow book, 2008, p. 177-190.

TOMKINS P., DAY P.M., «Production and exchange of the earliest ceramic vessels in the Aegean: a view from Early Neolithic Knossos, Crete», Antiquity, 5, 2001, p. 259-260.

TOMKINS P., DAY P.M., KILIKOGLOU V., «Knossos and the earlier Neolithic landscape of the Herakleion basin», in Cadogan G., Hatzaki E., Vasilakis A., Knossos: Palace, City, State, London, British School at Athens, 2004, p. 51-59.

VAGNETTI L., «Tracce di due insediamenti neolitici nel territorio dell’antica Gortina», Antichità cretesi: Studi in onore di Doro Levi I, CronCatania, 12, 1973, p. 1-9.

VAGNETTI L., BELLI P., «Characters and problems of the Final Neolithic in Crete», SMEA, 19, 1978, p. 125-163.

VAN DER LEEUW S.E., «Dust to dust: a transformational view of the ceramic cycle», in Leeuw Van Der S.E., Pritchard A.C., The many dimension of pottery. Ceramics in Archaeology and Anthropology, Amsterdam, University of Amsterdam, 1984, p. 709-773.

WATROUS V., HADZI-VALLIANOU D., BLITZER H., The Plain of Phaistos: Cycles of Social Complexity in the Mesara Region of Crete, Monumenta Archaeologica 23, Los Angeles, UCLA, 2004.

WILSON D.E., DAY P.M., «Ceramic Regionalism in Prepalatial Central Crete: The Mesara Imports at EM I to EM IIA Knossos», Annual of the British Schools at Athens, 89, 1994, p. 1-87.

Table des illustrations

Légende Figure 1: Geological map of South-Central Crete with the main sites cited in the text and the location of the clays sampled (modified after Wilson and Day, 1994).
Fichier image/jpeg, 794k
Légende Figure 2: Borehole (Core 7) taken for the paleo-environmental study of the Mesara with the indication of the three main facies and the depth of the sampled material (modified after Ghilardi et al., 2012 and 2015). Ages were calibrated (2σ) using CALIB 7.1 software using IntCal13 calibration curve (Stuiver et Reimer, 1993; Reimer et al., 2013).
Fichier image/jpeg, 292k
Légende Figure 3: Some of the most characteristic FN wares found at Phaistos. Figure 3A: Burnished ware (FN III); Figure 3B: Burnished ware (FN IV); Figure 3C: Red Slipped ware (FN IV); Figure 3D: Burnished and Granulated ware (FN IV). Not in scale. (Pictures courtesy of S. Todaro and of the Italian School of Archaeology in Athens).
Fichier image/jpeg, 421k
Légende Figure 4: Fresh-fracture images and microphotograph of a ceramic sample of the Blue (a) and Yellow (b) fabrics.
Fichier image/jpeg, 801k
Légende Table 2: List of geological samples.
Fichier image/jpeg, 247k
Légende Figure 5: Briquettes made from samples 13/1-8 before (a) and after (b) firing.
Fichier image/jpeg, 163k
Légende Figure 6: Microphotographs (XP) of the clay samples 13/1-8.
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,1M
Légende Figure 7: Briquettes made from samples from Core 7, before (a) and after (b) firing.
Fichier image/jpeg, 119k
Légende Figure 8: Microphotographs (XP) of the clays from Core 7.
Fichier image/jpeg, 648k


Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield, Northgate House, West Street, Sheffield S1 4ET, U.K.,

University of Molise, Via F. De Sanctis - 86100 - Campobasso, Italy

Department of Archaeology, University of Sheffield, Northgate House, West Street, Sheffield S1 4ET, U.K.,

Institute of Materials Science, National Center for Scientific Research “Demokritos”, Athens 153 10, Greece

Phaistos Project (Director), University of Salerno, Via Giovanni Paolo II, 132 - 84084 - Fisciano (SA), Italy

Dipartimento di Scienze Umanistiche, Università di Catania, Via Biblioteca 4, 95124 Catania, Italy

© CNRS Éditions, 2016

Licence OpenEdition Books

Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search