Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


1 May 2020

Breaking with tradition? The adoption of the wheel-throwing technique at Protopalatial Phaistos: combining macroscopic analysis, experimental archaeology and contextual information

Ilaria Caloi Annuario della Scuola Archeologica di Atene e delle Missioni Italiane in Oriente 97 (2019): 9-25


In recent years, several studies have been undertaken on ceramic technology and there is now a general agreement among scholar about the introduction of the potter’s wheel in Minoan Crete in (M)iddle (M)inoan IB (1900 BC ca.), corresponding to the emergence of the First Palaces on the island. Most recent studies on ceramic technology of MM pottery from sites of northern and eastern Crete have revealed that since the introduction of the potter’s wheel in MM IB, the wheel-fashioning technique (a combination of hand-building and wheel) was the only forming technique used in Crete until the Late Bronze Age. On the contrary, in southern Crete and especially at the palatial site of Phaistos, recent studies have shown that the wheel-fashioning technique was not the only technique in use because in MM IIA (18th cent. BC), at the time of monumentalisation of the palatial site, the wheel-throwing technique was first adopted.

In this paper, first I briefly present the forming techniques attested at Phaistos in the first phases of the Protopalatial period, then, I focus on the MM IIA Phaistian classes of vases which appear to be manufactured through the wheel-throwing technique, comparing them with contemporary wheel-fashioned vases. More specifically, for the class of plain handleless cups, the most common drinking cup at Bronze Age Phaistos since Prepalatial times, I compare the MM IIA examples with experimental reproductions carried out by a professional potter. Finally, using macroscopic analysis in combination with experimental archaeology and requisite contextual information, I attempt to explain why the wheel-throwing technique is almost exclusively attested at Phaistos and in sites sharing its ceramic tradition, like Kommos and Ayia Triada. Since in the MM IIA phase the main palatial building of Phaistos (I .e . the South-western Building) went through an important renovation, I argue that new groups arrived at Phaistos in MM IIA, introducing a new forming technique that was able to break with the long-lasting ceramic tradition of the site – and of the island. Moreover, it will be argued that in MM IIA plain handleless cups were mass-produced on the potter’s wheel in order to be used in the context of communal feasts during the renovation of the main palatial building and the monumentalization of the entire site.


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