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Jan Driessen

3. Origins of the Mycenaean Lustrous Dark-on-Light Pottery Technology

Philip P. Betancourt, Susan C. Ferrence, Vili Apostolakou, Thomas M. Brogan, Eleni Nodarou et Florence S.C. Hsu

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1The fine ware pottery of Mycenaean Greece was important as an essential commodity for everyday life, but it also represented a technological achievement. The vases were made from a dense, lustrous material that was both attractive to the eye and pleasant to the touch. The finest Mycenaean pottery could be used both locally as a suitable prestige item for fine dining and internationally as a successful export to societies that could not produce such a material themselves.

2Until the late stages of the Middle Bronze Age, such a ceramic material could not be produced anywhere in the southern Aegean. The origins of the technology have not been clear in the past, but recent excavations in Southeast Crete have uncovered new evidence for the earliest stages of this interesting pottery. It seems to have been invented somewhere in the region of modern Ierapetra in a ceramic workshop whose location has not yet been discovered. By MM IIIA, it was being manufactured in several interrelated production centers in the local area, and by LMIA it had spread across Crete and beyond. The Mycenaean potters would then refine the technology by firing the vessels in updraft kilns (a distinct technological improvement over the cross-draft kilns of Minoan Crete), and they produced a fine tableware that circulated from Italy to the Near East.

3Several classes of ceramics were manufactured in Southern Crete during MM II (Betancourt 1985: 90- 101). Kamares Ware, the most time-consuming style in terms of production, was painted with an overall coat of dark-firing slip before added decorations were applied in various colors: white, reddish yellow, red, and crimson. Other vessels were ornamented more simply with dark-firing slips. These vessels were either covered with a monochrome color, provided with bands and simple decorations, or left plain and unpainted. Vases were sometimes burnished by rubbing the surface with a hard, smooth tool to compress the surface and to make it more compact.

4A new class of ceramics, quite different from the other types, was developed by MM III. It is best known from two sites: Myrtos-Pyrgos (Cadogan 1977-1978; Oddo 2014; 2015; Hatzaki 2015) and Bramiana (unpublished; under study by the authors of this article). The decoration was applied in a reddish-brown slip over a pale colored surface (pink in the Munsell nomenclature). Motifs included traditional ones like spirals, bands, and floral decorations as well as new designs like the tortoise-shell ripple, a popular decoration consisting of wavy lines with blurred edges applied in a series (Figs 3.1, 3.2). One of the most dramatic aspects of the new pottery was its surface. The fabric was dense, hard, and as smooth as silk, contrasting strongly with the Cretan pottery of MM IIB and the traditional ceramics still being manufactured in MM IIIA. Its satiny feel on the fingertips and lips made it an ideal material for drinking vessels and other shapes used for fine dining.

5The date of this ceramic type comes from vases found as isolated imports at nearby sites, especially in the Mesara, the adjacent region to the west of Myrtos-Pyrgos and Bramiana. At Kommos and Haghia Triada, the style first appears as imports in MM IIIA (Betancourt 1990: figs 61, no.1799, 62, no. 1815; for the date, see Betancourt 2013: 146 and Girella 2013: 132). These earliest examples are not products of the local Mesara workshops. The style is not known from Kommos as a local production until LM IA when the ornament had already been changed by the addition of many new motifs, and the surface was not as smooth as in the MM III examples (for LM IA pieces, see Van de Moortel 2001: 64 and 63, fig. 38, no. 62; Rutter & Van de Moortel 2006: 1126, 1127. 1131, 1134, 1139).

6The complexity of MM II and LM I pottery technology is well known from a long series of technical analyses (Oberlies & Koppen 1953; Bimsen 1956; Hofman 1962; Maniatis & Tite 1975; Tite & Maniatis 1975; Maniatis, Simopoulos & Kostikas 1981; Noll 1982; Swann, Betancourt & Floyd 1995; for summaries and additional bibliography, see Noble 1988: 89-90; Evely 2000: 298-300). The changes to ceramic production that were made in MM III in Southeast Crete involved modifications that were both stylistic and technological. They included specific decisions in regard to choice of materials, preparation of the clays to be used for both the body of the vessel and its decorative slip, techniques of vessel manufacture, and firing technology.

7The clay that was chosen was derived from the deposits of marl that are common in Southeast Crete. This marl is very fine in texture and high in calcium carbonate. Mössbauer analysis has shown that a high calcium carbonate percentage improves the quality of the resulting fired clays in specific ways (Maniatis, Simopoulos & Kostikas 1981). Two of the results are important for this type of pottery. First, the carbonate creates a stable period of particle vitrification as the temperature is increased in the kiln, resulting in a longer firing stage, and thus aiding in the successful production of dense fabrics. In addition, the calcium unites with the iron in the clay to form pale-colored compounds, resulting in fabrics that are paler than they would be otherwise, providing good contrasts with the darker surface ornament.

8Vessels were formed on the potter’s wheel, and they were painted with an iron-rich slip that was watered down (in comparison with the Kamares Ware slips) to make the resulting decoration less opaque than in MM IIB. The ornament was sometimes applied with a bird’s feather (Ray Porter, perso. com., based on experiments), especially for the tortoise shell ripple motif (Figs 3.1, 3.2). The entire surface was then polished with a soft tool (like leather) instead of being burnished with a harder material like a smooth stone. The process compressed the surface and flattened the microscopic clay platelets. The result was a continuously smooth and silky surface that lacks the surficial marks generated by burnishing.

9The vase was fired in a three-stage firing system, which concluded with an oxygen-rich atmosphere yielding a reddish-brown to brown surface in the iron-rich slip rather than the black color preferred in MM IIB (for the three-stage firing, see Noble 1988: 79-81); the firing temperature also seems to have been slightly higher than in the MM II period (Floyd 1995). The color of the ornamental slip varied considerably on a single vessel, ranging from pale pink to rich reddish brown, depending on the thickness of the slip.

10The new pottery style was very successful. By MM Ill to LM IA, it was distributed to many sites in Crete. Examples have been recorded from the following locations:

  • Alonaki, Iuktas (Karetsou 2013: fig. 7.21)
  • Archanes (Walberg 2011: 685, fig. 12c)
  • Bramiana (this article, Figs 3.1, 3.2: a)
  • Chryssi Island (unpublished; Thomas Brogan, pers. com.)
  • Galatas (Rethemiotakis & Christakis 2011: 214, fig. 11)
  • Gournia (Hawes et alii 2014: 37, fig. 16: 12)
  • Haghia Triada (Girella 2013: 132)
  • Knossos (Warren 1991: 326; Macdonald 2013: 27, fig. 2.6, no. 2002d)
  • Kommos (Betancourt 1990: fig. 61, no. 1799)
  • Mochlos (Thomas Brogan, pers. com.)
  • Myrtos-Pyrgos (Oddo 2014; 2015; Hatzaki 2015)
  • Palaikastro (Bosanquet & Dawkins 1923: 24, fig. 14)
  • Papadiokampos (Thomas Brogan, pers. com.)
  • Pelekita Cave (this article, Fig. 3.2: b)
  • Priniatikos Pyrgos (Betancourt 1983: 18, fig. 6, no. 23)
  • Zakros (Platon & Gerontakou 2013: 205, fig. 18, no.18 left)
  • Zominthos (Traunmilller 2011: 104, fig. 12, lower image).

11It is not surprising that this fine technique of producing pottery would have spread to the mainland of Greece by LH I and LH IIA (Rutter 2015: 217-222). The results of the technology were very successful. The vessels produced in this way were more desirable for fine dining and drinking than earlier vessels, and even if the copies did not achieve the outstandingly lustrous effects of the original MM III to LM IA southeast Cretan products, they were still more desirable than many of the materials they replaced. The lustrous dark-on-light pottery provided the Mycenaeans with one of the staples of their economy.

Fig. 3.1. The fragmentary base of an in-and-out bowl from Bramiana, no. BR 10. date: MM III-LM IA (drawing by L. Bonga, F.S.C. Hsu, P. Betancourt. Scale 1: 3)

Fig. 3.2. Vessels from MM III-LM IA. a, In-and-out bowl from Bramiana, no. BR 6. b, Cup from the Pelekita Cave, no. PC 61. c, In-and-out bowl from Priniatikos Pyrgos, no. Penn MS 4489. d, Cup from Priniatikos Pyrgos, no. Penn MS 4482.m (drawings by L. Bonga (a, b) and P. Betancourt (c, d). Scale 1: 3)

Bibliographie

References

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Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 3.1. The fragmentary base of an in-and-out bowl from Bramiana, no. BR 10. date: MM III-LM IA (drawing by L. Bonga, F.S.C. Hsu, P. Betancourt. Scale 1: 3)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6542/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 73k
Légende Fig. 3.2. Vessels from MM III-LM IA. a, In-and-out bowl from Bramiana, no. BR 6. b, Cup from the Pelekita Cave, no. PC 61. c, In-and-out bowl from Priniatikos Pyrgos, no. Penn MS 4489. d, Cup from Priniatikos Pyrgos, no. Penn MS 4482.m (drawings by L. Bonga (a, b) and P. Betancourt (c, d). Scale 1: 3)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pucl/docannexe/image/6542/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 50k

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