Middle Palaeolithic Occupation and Technology in Northwestern Greece: The Evidence from Open-Air Sites. by Dimitra Papagianni.
Archaeopress / British Archaeological Reports International Series 882: 2000; xi + 218 pages; 176 figures / 151 tables; ISBN 1-84171-149-7.

         Readers of a certain age may remember a series of articles considering the Palaeolithic occupation of northwest Greece, originally presented in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society in the 1960s by the late Eric Higgs . In survey work and excavations undertaken at the sites of Asprochaliko, Kastritsa and Kokkinopolis, Higgs and his colleagues pioneered both a new landscape-based approach to Palaeolithic archaeology ('Palaeoeconomy') and kick started a research programme into the Palaeolithic archaeology of this country that would continue through a number of survey and excavation projects conducted by English, American and Greek archaeologists. The research initiated by Eric Higgs was completed by Geoff Bailey and colleagues in the excavations at the site of Klithi, a specialised Upper Palaeolithic ibex hunting site located in the mountains of north west Greece. It is one of the real lasting legacies of this project that is has brought about such an able generation of Greek archaeologists to carry forward the Palaeolithic archaeology of Greece. When the excavations at Klithi started it was very difficult for Greek archaeologists to get any training in Palaeolithic archaeology in Greece, and the Klithi Project acted as a sort of greenhouse nurturing a generation of younger Greek archaeologists with an interest in Palaeolithic archaeology, as is clear from the contributing authors to the final report of the Klithi Project (Bailey 1997). Dimitra Papagianni is one of this new generation who received their training in Palaeolithic archaeology at Klithi.

         Papagianni has taken up a real challenge to making sense of a diversity of archaeological surface materials. In Greece, like many countries, archaeological remains collected from surface survey are overlooked in relation to assemblages from excavated caves and rock shelters. Whilst surface assemblages may indicate the presence of hominids, they are also thought to be partial collections without adequate integrity. In particular, collected assemblages from open air contexts are particularly vulnerable to the effects of time averaging both in terms of the super positioning of archaeological remains resulting from many episodes of human behaviour that might have been quite different in character. Likewise they may be subject to a multiplicity of different post-depositional processes, and collection biases. In simple terms such assemblages will lack the resolution necessary for behavioural interpretations. The real irony of this scepticism is that Palaeolithic archaeology is now largely concerned with the ways in which hominid societies adapted to their broader environmental context through time and in space. To achieve this end we need to make sense of archaeological remains from hominid activities in all contexts, and this means getting to grips with material from surface surveys.

         This volume presents Papagianni's recently completed, PhD thesis on the Middle Palaeolithic occupation of northwest Greece. It is a synthetic and an analytical work. As synthesis, Papagianni presents a detailed summary of the archaeological research history of this region, decade by decade from the 1960s to the present, as well as an up to date assessment of the climatic and environmental history of the area (chapter 2) as well as a clear summary of current approaches to the Middle Palaeolithic of northwest Greece emphasising the key role played by the site of Asprochaliko (chapter 3). More significantly, it presents in a common format the typological and technological data from a number of sites whose assemblages were collected as part of four different research projects (chapters 6 to 9). As a work of analysis, it aims to make sense of the archaeological remains collected from a number of open air sites located by field survey with the lithic assemblages published following the major excavations at the rockshelter site of Asprochaliko.

         Before any such comparison, however, the comparability and potential biases in survey data need addressing. One of the problems of comparing surface survey data from different projects is that the assemblages may be collected according to particular project requirements and by a number of individuals leading to clear differences that are a product of recovery procedures rather than reflecting differently deposited assemblages. Papagianni tackles this potential bias very well through comparing the average size distribution of the assemblages between survey projects and surface collected material and excavated material. The Higgs surveys of the 1960s collected lithics down to a smaller size than recent Nikopolis survey by Runnels and van Andel in the 1990s. Both projects failed to collect the smallest pieces recovered from sieved excavated deposits. Likewise both projects collected a higher proportion of retouched and whole pieces than ordinary debitage.

         The site of Asprochaliko, with its long sequence of stratified deposits has formed the cornerstone for an understanding of the Middle Palaeolithic of northwest Greece especially with regard to change through time. It has been used to suggest a major technological change from a basal Mousterian, containing a Levallois-Mousterian type industry, through to the Upper Mousterian levels containing a Micro-Mousterian lithic industry made on very individual 'Asprochaliko flakes' (Papaconstantinou & Vassilopoulou 1997). Within the Levallois-Mousterian assemblages various types of knapping have been observed including radial, unipolar and bipolar, and convergent forms. Likewise, there has been some debate as to whether these knapping groups represent deliberate strategies from the beginning or whether there is a progression that may be observed from one type (unipolar or bipolar) through to a second type (radial) within the same nodule. This is the pattern with which the lithic assemblages from the open-air sites must be compared.

         To achieve this Papagianni has studied and compared assemblages from surveys in Corfu, the coastal sites of Epirus, the Louros Valley (in which Asprochaliko is situated) and the excavated open-air site of Kokkinopolis. Comparisons are based on the nature of the reduction method used, the sizes of the debitage products, the typological character of the retouched pieces and the nature and degree of their retouching, and, finally, the state of patination of the assemblages. In total Papagianni presents data from 19 different open-air sites. As might be expected, the technological and typological comparisons of these sites do not reveal detailed regional patterns at a fine geographical or chronological scale. But they do provide an opportunity to make broad regional and perhaps chronological comparisons. In this line, Papagianni identifies a number of broad differences between her sites: sites from the Ionian coastal plain have a greater number of elongated pieces and larger pieces. The sites in the Louros Valley typically contain smaller pieces. The sites on Corfu are more similar to those in the Louros Valley than those on the coastal plain, and the two excavated assemblages from Kokkinopolis fit into both groups. From the perspective of the reduction methods employed, Papagianni shows that it is a possibility that Middle Palaeolithic knappers on the coastal plain might have started reducing their raw material resources through unipolar or bipolar reduction strategies and then later transformed these same nodules into radially worked cores. This is unlikely to have been the case in the Louros Valley where there is no clear size gradient between larger unipolar and bipolar cores and smaller radial ones - a feature also noted by Gowlett and Carter (1997) in the examination of the basal Mousterian assemblages at Asprochaliko.

         After the depth of detail presented in the technological comparisons of these open-air sites, and the reliance on the technological data to determine the interpretations offered, Papagianni's discussion of the geographical location and broader settlement patterns seems brief, and less thought through. She suggests that Middle Palaolithic hominids probably occupied a region from Albania in the North to perhaps the Western Pelopennese to the South. The common association between Mousterian industries and red beds (such as at Kokkinopolis) suggests a preferential location of settlement close to small lakes and marsh areas with perhaps an emphasis upon a broad spectra of food resources for the diet. Moreover, the absence of an even spread of sites across the suitable landscape areas, suggests to Papagianni that Middle Palaeolihtic hominids maintained a mental map of their landscape and moved between 'reference sites', with occasional breaks at 'stop-over sites' (p82). Variations in the pattern of settlement came about as functional responses to cyclical patterns of climatic change. Despite this suggested model, Papagianni makes no mention of those sites that she considers to be reference sites and those that are stop overs and how this difference has been determined. By way of comparison the pattern for the Upper Palaeolihtic is seen to show the exploitation of new parts of the landscape (uplands?), with sites dedicated to specialised hunting (ibex at Klithi, red deer at Kastritsa?) and with greater distances between the sites indicating greater mobility and strategic planning for anatomically modern humans. Whilst this is a pattern that has been commonly presented for other regions in Europe (Northern Spain, Pyrenean France for example). The absence of real supporting information here, however, suggests that Papagianni is reading this difference into her data.

         Along with the publications on the excavated assemblages from Asprochaliko, this volume must represent the starting point for all future studies of the Middle Palaeolithic of Greece. Papagianni has brought together the data for a number of diverse sites in a common format that will make future regional comparisons within Greece and in the broader region possible. This is no small achievement, and is one that many regions would benefit from. Hopefully it will form the basis of future archaeological work, and the opportunity to explore more systematically the nature of Middle Palaeolithic settlement in northwest Greece and elsewhere.

Anthony Sinclair
School of Archaeology,
Classics and Oriental Studies,
University of Liverpool

Review Submitted: February 2003

Bailey, G.N. (ed.) 1997. Klithi: Palaeolithic Settlement and Quaternary Landscapes in Northwest Greece. (2 vols). Cambridge: McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research.
Gowlett, J. & Carter P. 1997. The basal Mousterian of Asprochaliko Rockshelter, Louros Valley. In G.N. Bailey (ed.) Klithi: Palaeolithic Settlement and Quaternary Landscapes in Northwest Greece. Volume 2: Klithi in its local and regional setting. Cambridge: McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research. Pp 441-457.
Papaconstantinou, V. & Vassilopoulou, D. 1997. The Middle Palaeolihtic industries of Epirus. In G.N. Bailey (ed.) Klithi: Palaeolithic Settlement and Quaternary Landscapes in Northwest Greece. Volume 2: Klithi in its local and regional setting. Cambridge: McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research. Pp 459-480.

The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.

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