Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


2 March 2011

Philip P. Betancourt (ed.), 2006. The Chrysokamino Metallurgy Workshop and its Territory [Hesperia Supplement 36], Princeton, New Jersey: American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Paperback, xxii & 462 p., 28x21.5 cm, ISBN: 978-0-87661-536-2

Reviewed by Myrto Georgakopoulou (Fitch Laboratory, British School at Athens)


The present monograph marks the first comprehensive publication of a systematically excavated prehistoric metal production workshop in the Aegean. Although other broadly contemporaneous slag heaps are known in this region, the site of Chrysokamino in north-eastern Crete represents a particularly interesting, in many ways distinctive, example. It is presently the only known relatively large copper smelting (production of metal from its ores) workshop on the island; there are no copper ores in its vicinity suggesting transportation of these raw materials by sea from long distances; smelting was carried out using intriguing perforated chimneys, with parallels at other sites beyond Crete, and bellows, so far unique for the Aegean Early Bronze Age; while finally an arsenical-nickel copper alloy was produced already in the smelting stage. The Chrysokamino Project was not, however, simply an archaeometallurgical project, and this volume fully reflects this. A survey of the broader territory was undertaken, incorporating a study of two other nearby prehistoric sites, a small farmstead and a cave, while a range of field and laboratory techniques and data were incorporated into building a landscape-integrated narrative of this rural part of northern Crete that focuses, but is not limited, to the Bronze Age periods. The book is divided into three parts followed by numerous appendices. The editorial work, as well as much of the writing, was undertaken by Philip Betancourt, with significant contributions by a long list of specialists.

Part I sets the background in two chapters. First, the topography of the ‘Chrysokamino territory’ is introduced, including a very interesting discussion of local toponyms. Earlier work in this region is summarised, highlighting problems and confusion with previous interpretations of the metallurgical workshop. In Chapter 2 a comprehensive treatment of the natural environment of the region is laid out in terms of climate, geology, and natural resources, all aspects considered in relation to the function of a metallurgical workshop in the area. The absence of copper ore in the region is convincingly argued, while the consideration of raw materials does not stop at the copper ore, as resources for clays, fluxes, lithics, and fuel, all important raw materials for smelting, are thoroughly considered. Furthermore, the discussion extends beyond the immediate needs of a metallurgical workshop to include those for building materials, pottery, and diet.

Part II deals with the excavation and study of the metallurgy workshop. It includes an outline of excavation methodology, a discussion of the excavated apsidal structure and the main types of finds recovered (e.g. pottery, stone tools, furnace chimney and bellow fragments, and slags). This part is tied with several of the appendices, which provide primarily relevant analytical data (e.g. Appendices A, B, C, D, E, F, M, N). Prior to excavation all that could be observed of the metallurgy workshop on the surface was essentially a deposit of slag and ceramic chimney fragments, as is the case with most known prehistoric Aegean smelting sites (e.g. Gale et al. 1985; Bassiakos & Philaniotou 2007). The remains of an apsidal structure were revealed in the southwest part of the site during excavation and Chapter 4 describes it and considers several interpretations for its purpose. The arguments against its direct use for metallurgical activities seem very convincing. An interesting proposal, based on the results of the analyses of organic residues from vases recovered, is its use as an apothecary for healing symptoms associated with the use of fire and/ or arsenical minerals.

Particularly important for resolving the chronology of the metallurgy workshop is the presentation of the pottery from the excavation, given separately for the slag pile and the apsidal building, with clear illustrations of all the sherds (Chapter 5). The majority of pottery dates to the EMIII-MMIA period, but fourteen sherds from the slag pile, representing 10-14 vessels are earlier, dating to the Final Neolithic (11 sherds), EMI-IIA (1 sherd), EMIIB (1 sherd), EMII-III (1 sherd). All of the pottery from the apsidal building is of EMIII-MMIA date, with the exception of a single Final Neolithic sherd (which based on the plan, however, appears to have been recovered at the edges or just outside the limits of the building). One EMII sherd is also catalogued under the apsidal building finds (No 73), however this is not discussed in the text and based on the trench number given (S-20) appears to be from the northernmost edge of the excavated area, clearly outside the building. This should probably therefore be added to the pre-EMIII sherds from the slag pile. Final Neolithic sherds were recovered from surface layers as well as deeper layers highlighting the inherent difficulties in untangling the exact chronology and stratigraphy of slag heaps when dealing with relatively shallow deposits without clear architectural features and with little pottery present. What is clear is that the apsidal building itself dates to the EMIII-MMIA period. The earlier pottery, it is argued in this chapter, is evidence that the metallurgical activities on the site also predate the apsidal building. Unfortunately, the lack of clear stratigraphy means that the extent of such earlier activities cannot be deduced, while the analytical examination of metallurgical remains from different passes (Appendix F) did not reveal any differences suggestive of technological changes. Beyond chronology, it is noteworthy that the majority of pottery is local to this region both in terms of typologies and fabrics.

Chapter 6 presents the stone tools, the majority made of limestone, probably recovered from the nearby Agriomandra beach. Undoubtedly, among the most impressive finds of the workshop are the characteristic perforated furnace chimney fragments, with similar (although not identical) finds in other Aegean EBA smelting sites (e.g. Bassiakos & Philaniotou 2007; Philaniotou et al. in press), and the bellow fragments, which represent the earliest example of such devices on Crete and probably throughout the Aegean. Their reconstruction and use is discussed in Chapters 7 and 8 respectively. An interesting observation that highlights the plethora of evidence incorporated in this project is the evidence for the use of chaff in the fabric of the chimney fragments connected to the harvest season, and that in turn to the presence of the strong northern winds (meltemia) at the end of summer, strengthening the proposal for the seasonality of the metallurgical activities. Further ceramics (including a single tuyere fragment), other metallurgical remains (e.g. slags, ore fragments, prills), and environmental data are given in Chapters 9 to 12.

Part II of the book concludes with two broader treatises. Muhly (Chapter 13) places Chrysokamino within the context of metallurgical innovations and traditions in the wider Aegean, the Balkans and the Near East, focusing on the introduction of metallurgy in the Aegean during the Late and Final Neolithic, as well as the earliest use and production of arsenical copper and tin bronze alloys. His critical review of the range of available evidence touches on many of the most challenging themes in the study of early metals in this region. In Chapter 14 Betancourt draws from all the previously presented evidence in proposing a model for the organization of the workshop as well as a reconstruction of the smelting process as undertaken at Chrysokamino. Various aspects are highlighted including the complexities associated with the importation of ore and other logistics of the metal production sequence, the absence of a clearly associated settlement, and the evidence for the smelters’ identity. There is, however, one point worth noting here that concerns this as well as many other chapters in the book and is relevant to the discussions on the origin of the ore. It is clear that ore is imported to Chrysokamino. However, the ease with which lead isotope data are often accepted as positively pointing to a source in the Cyclades is in contrast to the clear evidence for fluxing and overall mixing demonstrated by the technological study, particularly as it is proposed that fluxes may have been local. Would this mixing not affect the lead isotope signature and what does this picture mean about our ability to discriminate intra-Aegean sources on the basis of the current lead isotope database (Georgakopoulou in press)?

Part III of the book is devoted to a surface survey undertaken with the aim of placing the metallurgical workshop, nearby small habitation site, and burial cave within their natural and cultural landscape context, as well as to clarify numerous aspects relating to the diachronic habitation and/ or exploitation of the region’s resources. A multifaceted survey methodology specific to the needs of this project was developed and the results of the different approaches taken are presented in Chapters 15 to 17 and many of the appendices. A brief summary of the excavations at the primarily Late Minoan habitation site of Chrysokamino-Chomatas (the full results will be published separately) is included. These varied data are complemented by a report on the previously unpublished early 20th Century small-scale excavation by Edith Hall at the Theriospelio Cave (Chapter 18) and a very helpful succinct summary of Bronze Age settlement patterns in the Kavousi region drawn from the results of the intensive surface survey carried out by Donald Haggis between 1989-1991. His summary of the significant changes noted during the EMIII-MMIA period provide essential, easily comprehended background, in which the metallurgy workshop’s main period of activity can be evaluated even by the non-Aegean specialist. The next two chapters offer thought-provoking analyses on the territorial boundaries of the Chrysokamino farmstead through different periods (Chapter 20) and on the diverse surrounding land types and potential associated activities (Chapter 21). The final synthesis of the survey data (Chapter 22) focuses, but is not limited to the prehistoric periods concerned, and closes with a succinct commentary contrasting the nature and intensity of exploitation of the Chrysokamino territory diachronically.

The appendices occupy approximately one third of the volume and include mostly the analytical/ laboratory or other specialized studies. The metallurgical remains were studied from a range of different specialists applying a range of techniques, some only as small test case-studies. Some of the appendices are, however, more comprehensive treatises and could have been included within the main part of the volume, directly reflecting the, in any case, inherent integration of scientific data within the design, implementation and conclusions of the Chrysokamino Project.

By reading the present publication one often envies the diversity of evidence brought forward and incorporated in the Chrysokamino Project. At the start of the review I stressed, partly due to personal bias, the importance of the Chrysokamino metallurgy workshop within prehistoric Aegean metallurgy. I hope the review presented here illustrates that the rich contents of this volume far surpass this specialised field and that both scholars of early metallurgy in other parts of the world as well as Aegean prehistorians in general should find it a rewarding read.



Gale, N.H., Papastamataki, A., Stos-Gale, Z.A. & Leonis, K., 1985. ‘Copper sources and copper metallurgy in the Aegean Bronze Age’, in P.T. Craddock & M.J. Hughes (eds), Furnaces and Smelting Technology in Antiquity (London: The British Museum): 81-101.

Bassiakos, Y. & Philaniotou, Ο., 2007. ‘Early Copper Production on Kythnos: Archaeological Evidence and Analytical Approaches to the Reconstruction of the Metallurgical Process’, in P.M. Day & R.C.P. Doonan (eds), Metallurgy in the Early Bronze Age Aegean (Oxford: Oxbow Books): 19-56.

Georgakopoulou, M., in press. ‘Lead isotope analysis and metal production models for the Bronze Age Aegean’, in Y. Bassiakos (ed.), Prehistoric Metal Production in the Aegean: Material Evidence and Analysis (Heidelberg: Springer Verlag).

Philaniotou, O., Bassiakos, Y. & Georgakopoulou, M., in press. ‘Early Bronze Age Copper Smelting on Seriphos (Cyclades, Greece)’, in P.P. Betancourt & S.C. Ferrence (eds), Metallurgy: Understanding How, Learning Why. Studies in Honor of James D. Muhly (Philadelphia: INSTAP Academic Press).


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