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Excavations at Sissi III

Jan Driessen
Charlotte Langohr
Quentin Letesson
et al.

9. Sissi: The Shell Assemblages

Preliminary results from Building CD and Building E

Rena Veropoulidou

Note de l’auteur

Hellenic Ministry of Education, Religious Affairs, Culture and Sports (Museum of Byzantine Culture, Thessaloniki)

Texte intégral

1. Introduction

1The study of the shell assemblage from the Kefali hill at Sissi commenced in 2009 and continued in the following two seasons (2010 and 2011). During the first study season, the shell sub-assemblages excavated in 2007-2008 were assessed, while the 2010 and 2011 study seasons prioritized the analysis of shells from Building E and Building CD, respectively. In total, 343 excavation units from Zones 1-6 have been studied, which have produced 4858 specimens of 68 different species of marine molluscs, crabs, sea-urchins and land snails.

2The present report discusses ca. 70% of the material studied thus far deriving from ca. 21% of all excavation units from uncontaminated deposits. It presents the nature of the Sissi shell assemblage from Buildings CD and E as a whole, then discusses the material from each building separately. Finally, a coarse spatial analysis is attempted with the aim to shedding light on issues, such as species selection, gathering practices and overall molluscan and shell use, including food consumption habits. Pending full morphological, typological and spatio-temporal analysis of the whole shell assemblage, the following discussion is preliminary.

2. Methods of recovery and material analysis2

  • 2 Detailed description of the methods of analysis and some preliminary results can be found in Sissi (...)
  • 3 It should be stressed that the study of material from heavy residue samples is expected to signific (...)

3The shell assemblage discussed here was recovered by hand collecting in the trench and dry-sieving during excavation3. Collection of shells was careful and rigorous, as indicated by the presence of small intact specimens, as well as of shell fragments smaller than 0.5 cm. The context of the material was accurately documented by trench supervisors. All shells were cleaned prior to analysis.

4Identification of taxon/species was accomplished using handbooks on the marine molluscs of the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea (Delamotte & Vardala-Theodorou 1994; Poppe & Goto 1991, 1993) and on terrestrial snails (Abbott 1989; Pfleger 1999), as well as through comparison with specimens from a reference collection of contemporary marine fauna from the area. Nomenclature follows the CLEMAN database (Check List on European Marine Molluscs).

5Each item was examined both macroscopically and at low-power magnification (x5, x10, x20) for its condition (i.e. wear, state of preservation) and presence of evidence for human processing (marks from mollusc extraction or other modification). The recording of relevant variables allowed detailed taphonomic analysis of the material. Worked shells and specimens with natural modifications were also observed with a hand-lens to identify processes of modification and methods of manufacture, as well as whether wear was related to use and/or post-depositional processes. These examples were identified to species level, while their plan and longitudinal sections and other additional features (e.g. perforations) were measured (length, width). Additionally, surface treatment (e.g. grinding), indications of working (e.g. cuts, perforations) and other marks on shells were recorded. Documentation of the material included digital photography of specimens.

6Quantification of specimens involved calculation of the Number of Identified Specimens (NISP), the Minimum Number of Individuals (MNI), the Number of Intact specimens (NI) and the Number of Fragments (NF). Recording of variables and subsequent analysis of collected data were undertaken using an especially designed database for shell analysis (Ostreadb) (Veropoulidou 2011a). Statistical analysis of the resulting datasets was conducted using SPSS. Presence, absence, fluctuations and relative abundance of different species were compared between deposits to explore spatial differences. The density of shells according to NISP and MNI per 1m3 of excavated soil has not been calculated yet, and thus statistically valid comparisons between Sissi and other sites must await the final publication of the material.

3. Composition of the shell assemblage from Buildings CD and E

7The shell assemblage discussed here derives from 241 excavation units (Table 9.1), ca. 35% of the total number of units excavated in Building CD (2007-2010) and ca. 60% of the total number of units excavated in Building E (2007-2010). These units are distributed in 67 deposits, 61 of which were considered by the excavators to be of LM III date; another two deposits date to EM (?) and four deposits to MM II. More specifically, shells come from 28 floor level deposits, 9 fill deposits, 22 destruction and tumble deposits, and 8 pits, thus representing a good crosssection of different types of depositional contexts.


8In total, the assemblage comprises 3574 shells (5.141 kg), of which 3173 are the remains of marine molluscs, sea-urchins and crabs (4.938 kg) (Table 9.2). Shells are moderately to highly worn as a result of both pre-and post-depositional processes. There are also 401 remains of land snails (0.203 kg), of which 39% of their total MNI (n = 157) are most likely to be modern intrusions (e. g. A. candidissima, E. vermiculata, R. decollata, Z. detrita) due to their pristine state of preservation, based on the assessment of their colour, translucency and absence of bleaching (cf. Peacock et al. 2005). The state of preservation (i.e. whitish, bleached colour) of the rest (60.8% of total MNI, n = 244) indicates that they are pre-modern (e.g. F. trizona rumelica, E. montana, Th. pisana). Based on their ecological requirements, some of pre-modern snail species could have used the settlement as their habitat, while the others could have been transported by the inhabitants along with materials from the coast (e. g. Th. pisana) or wooded areas (e. g. E. montana).

  • 4 Diversity is the relative importance of species present at the assemblage, while equitability is th (...)

9The marine shell assemblage demonstrates high taxonomic variation; there are 42 different marine species, of which 57% belongs to the class of Gastropods (24 species), 38% (16 species) to Bivalves and there is also one species of sea-urchin and one of crab (Table 9.2, Fig. 9.1). There are no remains of tusk-shells or cuttlefish. Species representation is comparable to that observed in other Bronze Age Cretan sites (e.g. Karali 1999; Reese 1995, 2011, in press; Shackleton 1972; Veropoulidou 2005; Veropoulidou & Vasilakis in press). The assemblage is characterized by a low diversity4 (H’= 0.036), due to the dominance of only five species out of the 42. Additionally, it shows very low equitability (V’= 0.01) as the number of individuals is distributed unequally across all identified species. Therefore, shell gatherers focused on the collection of few particular species, namely three congeneric species of limpets (P. caerulea, P. ulyssiponensis, P. lusitanica) that inhabit the same ecological niche and were probably gathered indiscriminately, one top-shell (M. turbinata) and a purple-shell (H. trunculus); these altogether make up 53% of the total MNI.



3.1. Gathering practices

  • 5 The exact characteristics of the coastal environment cannot be established exclusively on the basis (...)

10Locations of mollusc collection are inferred by the composition of species index and the environmental parameters of each species. All studied shells are marine Mediterranean species still encountered at the present rocky coastal environment of Kefali hill. Therefore, we can assume that the seascape has not undergone any significant changes in qualitative terms5 since the Bronze Age; the inhabitants of Kefali hill must have obtained the molluscs locally, not very far from the settlement.

11The majority of seashells of the assemblage (23 species, 86% of the total MNI) live on hard substrates; 75% of the total MNI come from shallow areas (e.g. Patella spp., M. turbinata, P. lividus), while the remaining 11% come from deeper areas (e.g. F. lignaria, P. striata, C. mediterraneus). Therefore, people exploited mainly easily accessible points, i.e. from the splash zone up to 1-2 m depth.

12Whether limpets (and most probably top-shells) were collected from dry and/or submerged spots can be extrapolated from metrical data of the height of limpets and the occurrence of specimens with chipped or damaged lip that results from the force to prise the molluscs off the rock, where they firmly attach during low tide (Buchanan 1988: 16-17). Metrical data show a great dispersion of sizes, but in average limpet shells are medium to large (Table 8.3), while the frequency of specimens with chipped or damaged lip is low (15.5%). Thus, limpets were mostly gathered during high tide or from areas below the low tide line, where they move for search of food and thus are easily spotted and detached, without damaging the shell. According to past ethnographic examples (Waselkov 1987: 96-97) and present practices (Luchesi 2006: 106-107), they can be detached from the rocks either with minimal or no equipment at all, i.e. with a stick, a kind of spatula (cf. Pollard 1994; Becker 2008; Forbes 1976: 134) or bare hands.



13The distribution of different in height limpets, and therefore amount of molluscan flesh, is uneven in Buildings CD and E (Fig. 9.2). Ca. 35% are specimens small in size in each case; the majority (56%) of limpets from Building CD are medium to large in size, while the majority (40%) of limpets from Building E are medium to small in size. This picture could emerge from the exploitation of different coastal regimes, but a scenario of gatherers of different age (cf. Bird & Bird Bliege 2000; Claassen 1991) is also plausible. These issues will be further explored after the analysis of the whole shell assemblage has been completed, but on present evidence we can observe high selectivity in the species gathered and the procurement only of limpets and top-shells which are fresh and thus suitable for food consumption.

14Gathering practices of a more opportunistic character, however, must have been followed at sandy areas, which provided 18 different species (14% of the total MNI) and a high occurrence (11%) of beach-and water-worn shells. From this environmental niche, the main species collected was purple-shell (11%, H. trunculus). The usual equipment for catching purple-shells is baited traps (Ruscillo 2005: 101-103) and fishing nets (Veropoulidou, field notes), where various species may interfere and become part of the prey. Other species which appear to have been occasionally collected from such habitats include crabs (C. pagurus) and two horn-shells (C. vulgatum, C. rupestre); these were probably collected with bare hands.

15The exploitation of deep sea habitats (<2.5m) appears to have been rare, as the small percentage of relevant specimens indicates (7% of the total MNI); there diving and/or the use of a boat and a dredge are usually needed (Waselkov 1987: 96-99). Off-shore gathering was pursued for the collection of particular species, such as Sp. gaederopus, C. mediterraneus and possibly large in size and fresh Charonia sp. (cf. tritonis) that might have been used in more “special” contexts (cf. Reese 1983, 1990, Veropoulidou 2011b).

3.2. Molluscan and shell consumption practices

16The vast majority of shells from Buildings CD and E belong to edible species (cf. Davidson 1981) and more or less were found in discrete groups, associated with occupation debris, while there are some groups associated with hearths and material culture related to food consumption. Taking into account the spatial distribution of remains and comparative data from other Minoan and Aegean sites (e. g. Reese 1995, 2011, in press; Shackleton 1972; Veropoulidou 2011a; Veropoulidou & Vasilakis in press), 13 different species (e.g. limpets, top-shell, sea-urchin, crab, Noah’s ark, and horn-shell) and at least the 84% of the total MNI may be safely assumed to represent remains of food consumption.

17As regards food preparation and consumption methods, relevant data are extrapolated from limpets and top-shells. The high occurrence of limpets (45%) with scorch marks and/or a recrystallysed and decolorized outer surface indicates that molluscs were roasted for a short period of time in the coals of the fire. On the other hand, the low occurrence of scorched top-shells implies that other cooking methods were also employed, such as boiling and/or steaming. There is also a small amount (5%) of top-shells, whose lip has been removed while trying to extract the mollusc, but it is difficult to discern whether the meat was raw or heavily cooked.

18As regards other molluscan remains, all three species associated with the manufacture of purple dye in the Aegean (H. trunculus, B. brandaris, St. haemostoma) are present in the assemblage and make up 11% of the total MNI. The vast majority of specimens has been collected alive, thus being suitable for dye production. Their fragmented state is consistent with purple-dye manufacture and it is comparable with what has been observed in other Bronze Age Cretan sites (Apostolakou 2008; Reese 1987, 1995, 2010, 2011, in press; Ruscillo 2000; Veropoulidou 2005). Their low numbers do not allow us to infer systematic production of dye on site, but rather the possibility of small scale in situ production (cf. Becker 2008; Veropoulidou 2011a; Veropoulidou et al. 2008), accompanied by subsequent removal of production waste. Another possibility is that dye was produced off-site and some crushed shells were brought to the settlement for secondary use, such as temper for ceramics (Rice 1987), while also possible is the use of burnt shell powder to produce white paint (Carannante 2011) and lime used in plaster features (Brysbaert 2007). These possibilities will be further explored in the future.

19The remaining 5% comprises shells that might have been collected by accident (e.g. grooved helmet, striped Venus, hairy ark), brought to the site alongside materials from the beach (seaweed, sand) or as curios for decorative (e. g. cowrie shell, cone) and other special purposes (e.g. trumpet triton). The presence of the latter species in some deposits, sometimes along with artefacts of evidently symbolic nature, may be viewed as a reference to the symbolic meaning of water and/or the seascapes and the tasks performed there (Veropoulidou forthcoming).

20The corpus of worked shells comprises only twelve examples, namely six perforated specimens (four with artificial and two with natural holes), five specimens possibly used as expedient tools and one specimen possibly used as a musical instrument. The rarity of perforated shells is of great interest, as several perforated specimens have been found at Neolithic Knossos (Veropoulidou in prep.) and other Bronze Age Cretan sites, such as Kommos (Reese 1995), Mochlos (Reese 2011), Palaikastro (Reese in press), but not in the neighbouring Quartier Mu at Malia (Karali, pers. com.). Artificial perforations are rather small (0.3-0.7 cm), jagged and uneven, indicating that they have been created with gouging, which can be performed with any pointed tool. It is interesting that the hole does not look completely finished, as the protruding jagged areas have not been smoothed off. Additionally, the area in and around the perforation has not acquired a rounder or smoother appearance, but the jagged edges have created natural furrows and resting places for the string, which exhibit minimal shine. Therefore, perforated shells must have been strung, but the low degree of wear poses difficulties in inferring whether the shells had been worn or just threaded through. As regards shells with natural perforations, one (C. mediterraneus, Room 5.5) exhibits use-wear around the perforation, namely a glassy polish, while the other (H. trunculus, Room 5.6) does not appear to have been strung or worn.


4. Building CD (Zone 4)

21On the top of the hill, a large building complex has been revealed, Building CD (Sissi I: 113-138; Sissi II: 83-141). The study of architecture and stratigraphy is advanced enough and has provided a list of fills, destruction and floor deposits for study (Table 9.1). The shell assemblage discussed here comes from 11 spaces, namely 4.5, 4.7-4.10, 4.13-4.18 (Fig. 9.3). There are two deposits in Room 4.5 and two deposits in Room 4.14 that date to MM II; other floor deposits are tentatively dated to LM III and destruction deposits are dated to LM IIIB.

22In total, the assemblage comprises 1392 shells (2.091 kg), of which 1214 are the remains of marine molluscs, crabs and sea-urchins (2.008 kg) (Tables 9.2 & 9.4). There are also 178 remains of ten different taxa of land snails (0.083 kg), of which 23% (n = 29) of the total MNI are considered to be modern intrusions due to their pristine condition of preservation, while the remaining (n = 96) are considered to be pre-modern.

23Marine remains are in a moderate state of preservation with most specimens being moderately worn. In floor deposits (Rooms 4.5, 4.7, 4.8, 4.14, 4.15), mostly scorched specimens, as well as limpets with a crystallised outer surface demonstrate a high degree of wear, namely the alteration of internal cohesion of the shell structure (cf. Claassen 1998: 61-66). In the same deposits, the ratio of intact to fragmented specimens is 1:2. The above are a result of pre-depositional processes, probably the cooking of molluscs in direct contact with fire and foot traffic, respectively. Land snails are a rare finding in floor deposits, as it is expected in roofed spaces. The only exception is the MM II floor deposit in Room 4.5 that demonstrates high taxonomic variation (5 different species) and concentration of specimens (MNI: 9, 7%); this accumulation of land snails suggests prolonged abandonment before next occupation.

24Marine shells from fill deposits (Rooms 4.8-4.10) demonstrate also a moderate degree of wear, as well as an equal ratio of fragmentation, while the remains of land snails are scarce, suggesting that filling up of these rooms must have been a single rapid event, a proposition also corroborated by the remarks of the excavator (Sissi II: 114). Conversely, the younger fill dated to MM II in Room 4.5 is characterised by a high taxonomic variation of land snails (5 species) and a high concentration of specimens (MNI: 21, 17%), thus implying that the deposit accumulated over a longer period of time.


25Finally, marine shells from destruction deposits demonstrate a higher degree of wear and the ratio of intact to fragments is 1:3, due to movements and pressure. These deposits also demonstrate high taxomonic variation of land snails and 50% (n = 63) of their total MNI (tumble in 4.7: 32 MNI; MM II fill in 4.5: 21 MNI; destruction on LM III floor in 4.14: 10 MNI). The above indicate a prolonged exposure of the material to the natural elements and subsequent disturbance before final burial.

26The marine assemblage demonstrates high taxonomic variation, with 35 different species (12 bivalves, 21 gastropods, 1 sea-urchin, and 1 crab). However, the assemblage is dominated by the remains of the three species of limpets and the top-shells, which make up 84% of total MNI (n = 551). They are found as discrete concentrations and display particular modifications, such as scorching and a crystallised surface from roasting, probably representing rubbish from several food consumption events. Other species occasionally consumed as food are crabs, sea-urchins and Noah’s arks. Combinations of these species are encountered in most deposits, and in all Rooms of the Building CD, though the amount excavated in each deposit fluctuates considerably (MNI from 4 to 291).

27The highest concentration (48% of total MNI, n = 266) of food remains (limpets, top-shells, crabs) was found in the latest fill deposit that covered the floor in Room 4.8. Most of the remains were associated with a hearth in the western part of the room, where also rodent bones and charred plant remains (Livarda, pers. comm.) were found along with a quern for plant processing (Tsoraki, this volume). The fragmentary state of the limpets and top-shells is probably the result of trampling and thus suggests heavy human traffic. In the same room, there is another accumulation of food remains (MNI = 22), which were found associated with the earlier pebble floor.

28Other significant accumulations of food remains were found in the floor deposit in Room 4.15 (MNI = 48), in the MM II fill deposit in Room 4.5 (MNI = 20), as well as in the fill deposits in Rooms 4.17, 4.18 and 4.9 (MNI = 50, 55 and 48 respectively). In the latter, soil samples from the outlet of a built drain produced charred remains of olives, barley, grapes, and lentils (A. Livarda, pers. comm.). Thus, at least in these rooms there is positive evidence for food preparation and/or consumption and subsequent discard.

29All three species of shells suitable for purple-dye extraction were found fragmented in most of the studied deposits, but as previously stated their low numbers do not allow us to infer systematic production of dye in Building CD.

30The remaining shells, collected either for decorative purposes (e.g. B. corneum, F. lignaria) or for more symbolic reasons (e.g. C. mediterraneus, Charonia sp.), were found distributed unevenly in studied deposits. Some specimens were found in the LM IIIB fill above the floor in Room 4.9 along with several artefacts, such as vessels, needles, stone tools, possibly fallen from above (Sissi I: 136-137), as well as in the fill in Room 4.18, where an open vessel with octopus decoration was also found (Sissi II: 134).

31Some Charonia sp. fragments were found in a niche between walls C1 and D11 (Sissi I: 133-134), possibly representing a ‘foundation’ deposit. Such deposits are not unknown in Bronze Age sites in Crete (Reese 1990, in press) and there are more examples from the Kefali hill (e.g. Sissi I: 160, in zone 6). Additionally, a Ch. tritonis individual, probably collected water worn, was found in the fill in Room 4.10; it is large in size (height: 20+cm, width: 15cm), in good condition and its three final whorls had been intentionally removed. Considering that it is open from both sides (upper part and aperture), it seems reasonable to suggest that it might have been used as a wind musical instrument (cf. Reese 1990). There is also an individual of the species C. rustica, which was collected beach-worn and bore a natural perforation due to wave and sand activity (destruction deposit of MM date in Room 4.14). The glossy shine in the periphery of the hole probably resulted from loose threading, implying its use as a pendant. Finally, a fragment of the species P. ulyssiponensis must have been used as an ‘expedient’ tool, as it is ground at the upper surface (subfloor in Room 4.13).

5. Building E (Zone 5)

32South of Building CD, another large building complex has been unearthed, Building E (Sissi I: 139-156; Sissi II: 143-162). The study of architecture and stratigraphy is quite advanced and has provided a list of fills, destruction and floor deposits for study (Table 9.1). The shell assemblage discussed here comes from 18 spaces, of which three are open (South Space, North Area, Room 5.10) while the rest are roofed rooms making up Building E (5.1-5.9, 5.11-5.16, Fig. 8.4). As regards open areas, shells were found in four pits in the South Space (FE011, FE013, FE014, FE015), one of possible EM date and another dated to LM IIIB. In the eastern part of the North Area there is one deposit possibly fallen from the southern façade of Building CD (Pit FE087), which dates to LM IIIA1/2 and in the western limit of the North Area there is another deposit that dates to LM I and is characterised by the presence of at least 84 conical cups. All other deposits are tentatively dated to LM III and some floor deposits (in Rooms 5.10-5.14) date to LM IIIA2 or early LM IIIB. It is worth mentioning a pit (FE081) in Room 5.10 that bears evidence of gradual filling from MM II to LM IIIA2.

33In total, the assemblage from this building comprises 2183 shells (3.051 kg), of which 1959 are the remains of marine molluscs, crabs and sea-urchins (2.930 kg) (Table 9.4). There are also 223 specimens of 14 different taxa of land snails (0.120 kg), of which 5.5% (n = 11) of the total MNI are considered to be modern intrusions due to their good condition of preservation. The remaining (MNI = 190) are considered to be pre-modern.

34Marine remains are in a moderate state of preservation, with most specimens being highly worn due to both pre- and post-depositional processes. Shells in floor deposits (Rooms 5.1-5.5, 5.8) are moderately worn and only scorched and fragmented limpets and top-shells, as well as limpets with a crystallised outer surface, demonstrate a higher degree of wear, as such examples are more amenable to dissolution of the shell structure. This has resulted from pre-depositional processes, probably the roasting of molluscs. In these deposits, the ratio of intact to fragmented shells is in average 1.2:1, suggesting moderate trampling.

35Land snails are rare in floor deposits, apart from few remains in four deposits [Room 5.4 (floor level I), Room 5.8 (FE040 and floor level II), Room 5.11 (floor level)], where land snails are pre-modern. It is interesting to note a deposit in Room 5.8 (floor level II), where along with high taxonomic variation (6 species), 17% of the total MNI of land snails (n = 34) has been found. Based on the ecological requirements of the species best represented in this assemblage (MNI = 25), namely C. virgata, Poiretia sp. and F. trizona rumelica that are xerophiles preferring chalky ground or short grass, it may be suggested that they inhabited this area after its abandonment and before its next occupation. The remaining snails must have been transported to the settlement along with materials from wooded areas and the coast (MNI = 7, E. Montana and Th. pisana, respectively). Another deposit worth mentioning is in Room 5.11, which displays medium taxonomic variation (4 species) and high concentration of land snails (20% of total MNI, n = 41). This accumulation of land snails suggests prolonged abandonment before final deposition.

36Marine shells from destruction deposits (Rooms 5.1-5.6 and 5.12-5.16) also display a moderate to high degree of wear, while the average ratio of intact to fragmented shells is 1.8:1 and the remains of land snails are scarce, indicating rapid deposition and lack of disturbance. Exceptions are the destruction deposits in Rooms 5.3 and 5.13, where high taxonomic variation of land snails (6 and 7 species, respectively) is accompanied by significant accumulations of specimens (MNI = 14, 23, respectively), thus implying a prolonged exposure on the surface before burial.


37The marine assemblage demonstrates high taxonomic variation consisting of 34 different species (11 bivalves, 21 gastropods, one sea-urchin and one crab) (Tables 9.2 & 9.4). The assemblage is characterised by the predomination of the three species of limpets and top-shells (77% of total MNI, n=922), which represent the remains of several meals. Scorched shells and limpets with crystallised surface suggest that molluscs were roasted before consumption. Only 4% of the total NISP might represent remains of food consumed raw. These species are encountered in most deposits and in all Rooms in Building E, but in different proportions (MNI from 12 to 281). There are also some remains of crabs, horn-shells, sea-urchins and Noah’s arks that seem to have been also consumed as food, though only occasionally.

  • 6 Note that 16 specimens are mentioned in the previous publication; in 2011 summer study season, anot (...)

38Shells are distributed unevenly in deposits; at least in eight deposits there were significant accumulations of shells (>5%, MNI= >50 out of the total 1180), mainly the remains of several food consumption events. A prominent example (19.5% of total MNI, n=230) of food remains (limpets, top-shells, crabs, horn-shells) was found in the intermediate floor deposit in Room 5.8 near a kernos, an upside-down mortar with a grinding tool and several conical cups (Sissi II: 150-151), a context that might relate to food preparation and/or consumption. Apart from the usual food remains, of particular interest is the concentration of 18 specimens of C. mediterraneus shells (Sissi II: 215)6, which have been gathered alive. Given that cone is a venomous mollusc, it might have been used for medical purposes or consumed as a ‘special’ food or ingredient. Additionally, there is a significant accumulation of shells (NISP = 17) that was probably used for decorative (e. g. F. lignaria) or ritual purposes (e.g. Charonia sp.).

39Another interesting accumulation of molluscan food debris was found in a LM IIIA2 or early LM IIIB1 destruction deposit in Room 5.12 (MNI: 6%, n = 76). In the same deposit, there was also a small amount of crushed purple-shells, a perforated P. caerulea individual, as well as a part of a trumpet triton, a cowrie shell, and some cones (NISP = 8). The latter could have been used for decorative purposes, and some of them were probably displayed or stored on the shelf that had fallen during the destruction (Sissi II: 149).

40Other meaningful accumulations of molluscan food debris were found in the destruction deposit in Room 5.3 (5% of total MNI, n = 57) along with a perforated P. caerulea individual and a concentration of decorative shells (NISP = 18), in the floor deposit in Room 5.6 (4% of total MNI, n = 52), as well as in the floor deposit (4% of total MNI, n = 51) and in the LM III A2 pit (FE081) in Room 5.10 (2% of total MNI, n = 25). The floor level in Room 5.10 was full of ceramics, ash and animal bones in large amounts, while the pit had been filled with bones, shells, drinking vessels and pottery (Sissi II: 154-155). The context of deposition allows us to suggest that shells represent the remains of one or several meals consumed along with animal meat. In the same context, there was also a fair number of shells (NISP = 12) suitable for decorative (e.g. C. rustica) or other ritual purposes (e.g. C. mediterraneus, Charonia sp.).

41The excavation of the LM IIIA2 or early LM IIIB destruction layers in Room 5.13 produced a significant amount of molluscan food remains; 3% (n=39) of the total MNI was found in the destruction layer of the lower floor and 4% (n=47) of the total MNI was found in the destruction layer of the upper floor. In the former, there was also a tripod cooking pot, a grindstone, grinders and several vessels that relate to food preparation (Sissi II: 152-153); thus the presence of a number of shells representing remains of consumption events supports the interpretation of this space by the excavator as a food preparation and/or consumption area. In the latter, the accumulation of molluscan food remains is accompanied by some shells for decorative purposes (NISP = 18, e.g. B. corneum, C. mediterraneus, F. lignaria), a P. caerulea individual probably used as an expedient tool, and objects of more ‘symbolic’ character, such as a painted larnax, a poppy rhyton and a snake tube (Sissi II: 152-153).

42At the open area north of Building E, the finds around and above the LM IIIA2-LM IIIB2 pit (FE087) provide significant evidence for the consumption of food, as an interesting amount of molluscan food remains (4% of total MNI, n = 51) along with fine drinking vessels, a seal stone, a fragment of a bull figurine and other artefacts were found. As previously noted, this deposit was probably dumped there after the clearance of a destruction event in Building CD.

43The last significant accumulation of molluscan food remains was found in the LM IIIA2 or early LM IIIB floor deposit in Room 5.11 (2% of total MNI, n=36). In this context, a concentration of decorative shells (NISP = 18), as well as the highest accumulation of crushed purple-shells (NISP=71, MNI=35) were also uncovered. Other interesting accumulations of crushed purple-shells were found in the LM I deposit of conical cups (MNI=25) at the open North Area and in the intermediate floor level in Room 5.8 (MNI=14).

44The remaining shells, collected for decorative (e.g. B. corneum, F. lignaria) or ritual purposes (e. g. C. mediterraneus, Ch. tritonis), were found distributed unevenly in the Rooms in Building E. There are also few shells that have been worked, such as three perforated individuals of the species P. caerulea, which were found in destruction fills in Rooms 5.2, 5.3 and 5.12. There is also one individual of the species C. mediterraneus (floor level in Room 5.05) and one of the species H. trunculus (destruction deposit in Room 5.06), which were collected during beach-combing as ready to use artefacts; the former bears a natural perforation due to beach rolling, while the latter bears a hole drilled by another H. trunculus (cf. Peharda & Morton 2006). Use-wear analysis suggests that all the above perforated specimens, apart from H. trunculus, must have been worn as pendants. Additionally, there are four examples that probably represent expedient tools, one P. ulyssiponensis with ground lip (destruction layer in Room 5.4), one P. caerulea with a flaked lip (destruction layer in Room 5.13) and two Sp. gaederopus, of which the ventral side of the valve is flaked (Pit FE011 in South Space) (cf. Veropoulidou 2011b).

6. Some preliminary remarks

45The vast majority of shells from Buildings CD and E were gathered from the sea-shore, where procurement methods are simple and do not require any significant effort or time investment. However, an array of variables (species ecological requirements, size, variety, presence of worn-shells) suggests that different methods were employed in each environmental niche and for the procurement of particular species. Moreover, the focus on only some species from the great variety offered indicates selectivity and might be taken as evidence of specialized gathering practices, at least as regards food procurement. These strategies are also attested at other sites in Bronze Age Crete and the Aegean (Veropoulidou 2011a; Veropoulidou & Vasilakis in press).

  • 7 It should be noted that this is contradicted by the widely held view that limpets, as other shell-f (...)

46The season of molluscan gathering has not been determined, but according to Greek ethnographic case studies (Forbes 1976) and the few relevant archaeological studies (Deith & Shackleton 1988) gathering of limpets and other marine molluscs is a year-round activity that may culminate in the summer7. It is not possible at this stage to provide a definite answer, but it is hoped that the completion of shell analysis and possibly the integration of results from the analysis of all environmental material will help clarify this matter. The scale of the activity is difficult to be discerned on the basis of only a sample, but present data suggest that gathering of molluscs was undertaken on a small scale and added variety to the diet and providing raw materials for both mundane and ritual activities.

47The lack of differences in patterns of consumption of molluscan food remains between the two buildings implies commonly shared food habits and dietary practices characterized by the same foodstuffs and ingredients in cuisine. Moreover, the fact that the particular species of shells, charred plant remains and animal bones were found mixed suggests that there were no discriminations between foodstuffs. Finally, the spatial distribution of molluscan food remains in both buildings suggests that molluscs were consumed as food in both domestic and more communal occasions, a pattern also observed at other Aegean sites (cf. Veropoulidou 2011a).

7. Acknowledgements

48I would like to thank Quentin Letesson and Maud Devolder for the detailed descriptions of Buildings CD and E respectively, as well as for always being available to provide data and helpful remarks. I also thank Simon Jusseret for the Cretan geoarchaeological references, Charlotte Langohr for her help in the organisation of the material in the apothiki, Irene Kritikopoulos and the students for their assistance with shell washing. Many thanks go to Valasia Isaakidou for editing the English text and to Nikos Valasiadis for processing the images. Last but not least, I would like to thank Jan Driessen for entrusting me with the study of the shells and for his excellent collaboration.


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2 Detailed description of the methods of analysis and some preliminary results can be found in Sissi II: 211-218.

3 It should be stressed that the study of material from heavy residue samples is expected to significantly revise the numbers of shells and possibly the proportions of species in both Buildings.

4 Diversity is the relative importance of species present at the assemblage, while equitability is the evenness with which the species are used (for calculating diversity and equitability see Reitz & Wing 1999: 233-235).

5 The exact characteristics of the coastal environment cannot be established exclusively on the basis of observations regarding the shell assemblage and there is not yet a published geoarchaeological study for the area. It is assumed that the general characteristics of the present seascape, i.e. a coast dominated by steep cliffs and mixed rocky, gravel and sandy substrates, have not changed dramatically.

6 Note that 16 specimens are mentioned in the previous publication; in 2011 summer study season, another bag with shells from the same deposit containing two more cones was found during re-organization of finds.

7 It should be noted that this is contradicted by the widely held view that limpets, as other shell-food, should be avoided from late spring to early autumn (Wright 2009).

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