Kythera Island Project

Prehistoric Pottery

Principal Investigators:
Cyprian Broodbank (UCL)
Evangelia Kiriatzi (Fitch Laboratory, BSA)


KIP's analysis of the survey pottery both works off and expands the information from the 1960s excavations at Kastri, which formed the initial basis on which to ground the fabric-based approach (see table for the approximate chronological lifespan of each fabric). Its primary aims, in addition to dating individual sherds and overall sites, are to establish basic site functions, examine patterns of technological change relating to pottery production in the landscape, and establish the pottery's cultural affiliations.

Coarse ware chronology chart for Prehistoric Kythera.
Coarse ware chronology chart for prehistoric Kythera.

The earliest pottery recovered from the survey may be of Late Neolithic (5th millennium BC) date, but quantities are tiny and the sherds of low diagnosticity. This hampers the effort to combine the ceramic data with the large lithic sites of apparently comparable date. The first regularly occurring pottery phase is that of the Chert fabric, which is dated on the basis of associated shapes and decoration to the Final Neolithic and Early Bronze I periods (ca. 4200-2700 BC). In Early Bronze II this is replaced by the Orange Micaceous fabric, used as a major coarseware that is widely distributed across the island, despite the fact that it originates, in geological terms, in a discrete part of northern Kythera beyond KIP's survey boundaries (thereby indicating quite specialised systems of production and circulation at this early date). For a variety of reasons, it seems likely that some of this pottery tradition continued to be produced up until the end of the Early Bronze Age. Both these fabrics and phases broadly match the material from the Kastri excavations, though with lower levels of imports, and in terms of their shapes form part of a wider style zone embracing the Peloponnese and adjacent regions.

Second Palace Period tract pottery distribution
Distribution of tract pottery of Second Palace Period date. This only includes securely dated sherds and does not include material from site collections.

At Kastri, the claimed arrival of settlers from Crete correlates with pottery that is recognisably Cretan in shape and style, but also in terms of technological details of fabric and manufacture. This 'First Minoanising' pottery, as we term it, is made in a new Sand-tempered fabric, which we have now demonstrated to have been locally manufactured, probably in the vicinity of Kastri, using pale Neogene clays and sand for tempering in a manner that is quite different from the indigenous pottery tradition. At Kastri it dates from later Early Minoan II to Middle Minoan IA. Many examples of such pottery have been found on the survey, although apparently dating slightly later than the earliest Kastri excavation material of this type. Of course, the distribution of such material across the landscape is of the very highest interest for the investigation of the expansion dynamics of this intrusive tradition, which now seems likely to have overlapped for some time with the latest Orange Micaceous material.

The next phase in KIP's period classification (and also the Kastri excavations) is the First Palace (or Protopalatial) period. The pottery of this phase sees continued development of the Sand-tempered tradition, but also the start of another Neogene clay fabric, this time tempered with angular mudstone grits. This phase is relatively poorly evidenced in the survey material, with only a handful of sites, several of which are close to Kastri, and it is also one of the phases that was most rarely encountered in the Kastri excavations. From the available evidence, the pottery of this phase seems to follow exclusively Cretan models.

First Minoanising and Second Palace diagnostic pottery
Diagnostic prehistoric pottery:
(above) Sherds from Site 102 with fabric and technological features diagnostic of MMIA.
(below) Fragments of tripod cooking pot legs from Site 092, diagnostic of: a) First Palace (bottom right) and b) Second Palace Period (the rest) on the basis of their different fabrics.
Photography by E. Kiriatzi 2001.

The Second Palace (Neopalatial) pottery of Kythera sees the gradual cessation of Sand-tempered material, and the progressive eclipse of Mudstone-tempered fabric by a distinctive Red Micaceous fabric (similar to the early Orange Micaceous), such that whilst these are both present in earlier Second Palace levels at Kastri, the latter is dominant in later (Late Minoan IB) ones. Second Palace pottery is incredibly widely distributed across the survey area, and identifies over one hundred sites of such date. The survey pottery closely resembles that of Kastri, which itself continues to follow Cretan type. The range of vessel shapes on the survey sites (large storage, cooking and consumption), together with other criteria such as site size, the presence of food-processing tools and associated tombs argues that most of them are small farmsteads. It is noticeable that the proportions of fine pottery are much lower at such sites than in the large coastal community at Kastri. As with the earlier Orange Micaceous pottery, this widespread pattern provokes questions concerning the production and distribution mechanisms, and in this case the ample sample available from a large number of sites, combined with the potential for micro-analysis of the details of form and decoration, will allow a level of fine-grained analysis that is unprecedented for prehistoric survey pottery in the Aegean.

The latest prehistoric pottery dates to the Third Palace period, and in the case of one site, slightly later. Initially, this was a low visibility period in terms of ability to recognise the associated pottery, save for a small number of distinctive kylix stems. Gradual work on the associated material revealed that the majority coarseware pottery of this date broadly continues the Second Palace traditions, with subtle distinctions in terms of shapes, harder firing, and slightly different temper mixes. This area is one in which our understanding is still in the process of development; although the number of sites compared to the previous boom is certainly genuinely lower, the degree of the drop-off has yet to be established.

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