Aegeus Society For Aegean Prehistory


1 November 2019

Like a Duck to Water – Birds and Liquids in the Aegean Bronze Age

Julia Binnberg Annual of the British School at Athens 114 (2019): 41-78

This study examines the relationships between birds and liquids in the Minoan, Cycladic and Mycenaean cultures. Objects under investigation are bird-shaped vessels, bird figurines attached to vessels, and some special pouring vessels decorated with painted bird motifs, which are listed in an accompanying catalogue. Analysis of this material demonstrates that images of both doves and waterbirds were consistently linked to liquid-containing vessels, but there are significant chronological and regional variations regarding the preference for bird species. Another aspect fluctuating with period and place is the type of contact created between liquid and bird motif. Three categories dividable into three or two subtypes can be recognised, which mainly differ from each other by the degree of proximity that is established between the fluid and bird motif. It is argued that these differences reflect variations in the perception of birds regarding their relationship to liquids. While a direct and active participation of birds in the flow of liquids such as water and milk is observable in many Cretan and Cycladic objects, the artefacts from the Greek Mainland show a different pattern, whereby less direct contact combined with a stylised rendering suggests that the bird motif was accorded a more passive role by symbolising the positive effect of the flow of water. These findings contribute to recent scholarly debates on human–animal relationships and ontologies in the Aegean Bronze Age.


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