Friday, March 23, 2018

A "Field Guide" to Migrants in the Late Bronze Age in the Aegean

The old adage that in antiquity the movements of pots did not equal the movements of people has clouded the discussion of what in the archaeological record constitutes evidence for medium- and long-distance commercial exchange between regions and what represents the cultural baggage of groups of people which moved permanently from one region to another, for whatever reason. Migrants as opposed to traders is a very thorny issue in the twilight of the Late Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean. On Wednesday, March 28th Dr. BartÅ‚omiej (Bartek) Lis, Marie SkÅ‚odowska-Curie Fellow at the Fitch Laboratory of the British School at Athens, will address aspects of this topic in his Institute Lecture entitled “Migrants in the 12th-century BC Aegean: A guide to identification”.

One of the hallmarks of the decades following the collapse of Mycenaean palaces is an increased human mobility. This phenomenon is directly implied by changes in particular settlements and broader settlement patterns at that time. Many sites were abandoned or significantly diminish in size, while others became (or continued to be) highly prosperous, like Tiryns or Lefkandi. Messenia provides an example of an entire region that appears to be heavily depopulated.

But how are we to identify this mobility – and migrants – in the archaeological record on a more individual level? Identification of foreigners, i.e. people coming from distant regions beyond the extent of the Mycenaean culture, appears to be least problematic, and several examples already discussed in the literature will be presented including Cypriots (or people very familiar with Cypriot practices) at Tiryns or population groups from Southern Italy spread all over the Mainland. Much less straightforward, to say the least, is the attempt to identify people arriving from an adjacent region within the same cultural milieu, and this issue will constitute the main focus of this lecture.

The way to approach this problem is – in Dr. Lis’ opinion – through technology involved in craft production, which might be considered as a special case of social practice. The advantage of technology for approaching mobility is that it is much less ambiguous than other aspects of material culture usually taken into consideration. Dr. Lis will focus on technology involved in pottery production – with an emphasis on Aeginetan pottery produced beyond the island along the Euboean Gulf – but the discussion will also involve other crafts as well as more mundane daily practices. Furthermore, he would also like to question an uncritical use of two terms - import and imitation – which quite often diverts us from the proper understanding of particular objects in their contexts and, in the cases presented in this lecture, from detecting possible presence of migrants. The analysis will lead not only to identification of migrants’ presence, but also – at least in one case – to isolation of their possible dwelling at the site of Lefkandi.

We look forward to seeing you on the 28th at 7:30 PM in the Library of the Institute. The lecture will be live-streamed (

David Rupp

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