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Anna Philippa-Touchais

CYCLES OF COLLAPSE IN GREEK PREHISTORY: REASSESSING


SOCIAL CHANGE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE MIDDLE HELLADIC
AND THE EARLY IRON AGE
Introduction
In a recent volume in honour of C. Renfrew, bringing together a series of papers on social archaeology, J. Whitley has published an interesting paper, from which I have in fact borrowed part of my title (Whitley 2004). In this
paper Whitley raises the crucial question of
social evolution, which should not be equated with a linear progressive development from
simple social forms to complex ones. Social evolution is inescapably multi-linear and, according to the author, in Greece the advance of civilisation was not uninterrupted. On the basis of
this fact Whitley uses two examples from Greek
pre- protohistory, the House of Tiles at Lerna
and the Heron at Lekandi, representing as
essentially the same social models, to illustrate
how cycles of collapse mark processes diferent in each case towards new forms of complexity: in the irst case the palace states of LBA
and in the second the poleis of the later Iron
Age. On the basis of the above examples, he also

I would like to express my profound gratitude to


Prof. A. Snodgrass who, several years ago, initially through
his writings suggested me the idea to address this issue
and later, through discussion, encouraged me to continue
the study. In its original form, this paper was irst given at
a seminar in the University of Edinburgh (1998) and later
at the conference Lighten our darkness: cultural transformations at the beginning of the irst millennium BC
from the Alps to Anatolia organised by the University
of Birmingham (K. Wardle), January 2000.

maintains that the Greek EIA is the perfect analogue for the Early Helladic period.
hough I have some doubts as to how successful this parallelism is, mostly because of
the diferences in scale between the two examples (concerning the quantitative, qualitative
and contextual diferences of their parallels,
their systems complexity and the consequences resulting from their collapse), I fully agree
with the whole train of thought and the point
of view also argued by other scholars that in
prehistoric and historic Greece there are more
than one cyclical periods of complex societies
which seem to have reverted to simpler social
forms (Whitley 2004, 194; Bintlif 1982, 107). I
also agree that their comparison should help in
elucidating key points in our understanding of
social evolution and the emergence of political
complexity (Whitley 2004, 194).
In this paper I will attempt another parallelism which, in my opinion, also reveals the
non linear evolution and the sequence: collapse
of a complex system / appearance of a simpler
form - evolution / new complex system outcome. he comparison will concentrate on the
early Middle Helladic and the Early Iron Age,
periods which represent low complex systems
that might have prevailed respectively ater the
collapse of the proto-urban EH societies and
the LH palatial system.
his comparison is not a new one. Several scholars have already mentioned similarities
in the practices and/or the material culture of
these two periods. Most of them noticed a re-

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ANNA PHILIPPA-TOUCHAIS

semblance in their burial practices, namely in


the adoption of the single cist burial, the contracted position of the deceased, the scarcity of grave-goods, and the increasing number
of intramural burials (Desborough 1964, 37;
1972, 108, 266; Deshayes 1966, 240-242, 249250; Styrenius 1967, 161-163; Snodgrass 1971,
180-184, 186-187, 384; 2006, 161-162; Hooker
1977, 178-179; more recently Dickinson 1983;
Mee Cavanagh 1984, 45-64). Resemblances
in the architecture have also been noticed, particularly in the presence of small, unfortiied
settlements, the abandonment of monumental buildings and the appearance of long apsidal houses (Coldstream 1977, 304; Snodgrass
1971, 383-384; 2006, 162). he most complete
and accurate description of the similarities between these two periods was however given by
A. Snodgrass (Snodgrass 1971, 383-386; 2006),
who also stressed further correspondences in
the material culture of the two eras: in pottery,
the dark-on-light decoration with geometric
patterns, the scarcity of ine wares and the close
analogies in fabric and shapes of the coarser
hand-made and incised wares; a decline in metallurgy and the resort to more primitive easily accessible raw materials for implements, the
near disappearance of luxury artefacts, and inally the privation and isolation1 of both periods all manifestations of a general fall in population and in living standards.
It is noteworthy that most of the scholars
who noticed these similarities were particularly interested in EIA; consequently, they tried
to explain this phenomenon from the perspective of that era. Most of the given explanations
concerning the resemblance with or the possible reappearance of older practices in EIA revolve around the question of the cultural continuity (or discontinuity) between Bronze and
EIA. here have been two main explanatory
1. Although in the foreword of the second edition of
his Dark Age of Greece (Snodgrass 2000, xxxi), Snodgrass
stresses that there would have been less emphasis on isolation, but even greater on continuity from the past, especially from the pre-Mycenaean age.

tendencies. According to the irst, which stresses the innovative character of EIA and cultural
discontinuity with Late Bronze Age, the similarities are accidental (Desborough 1972, 275).
According to the second, which on the contrary
underlines continuity from the pre-Mycenaean
(Middle Helladic) times, the similarities constitute revivals of earlier (more primitive) practices caused by cultural reversion (Snodgrass
1971, 186-187, 385; more speciically on continuity see Snodgrass [1971] 2000, xxvi).
One of the main reasons why the approach
to this phenomenon has fallen out of favour is because both explanatory tendencies involve, more
or less, ethnic issues (Dickinson 1983, 67; Mee
Cavanagh 1984, 45-64). As we all know, the irst
interpretation, which seems the more outdated, links changes in the material culture of the
EIA with the appearance of new ethnic groups
(Desborough 1972, 106-111). According to the
second explanation the reappearance of older
(MH) practices in the EIA suggests the coming
to the forefront of the essentially Helladic element (the substratum), which during the Mycenaean times was in some way on the sidelines
(Deshayes 1966, 240-242, 249-250; Snodgrass
1971, 186-187, 385; 2006, 161, 169). Later however, Snodgrass reined his hypothesis, arguing
that the changes at the beginning of the EIA can
be seen as regressive adaptations or as the result
of a collective response either to new needs or to
changed conditions (Snodgrass 1987, 187-188).
Whatever the accuracy of this latter hypothesis,
I think that its perspective introduced notions
such as the profound change in circumstances
or the adaptive accommodation to unfavourable conditions that have advanced considerably the discussion on this topic.
My attempt to re-discuss the analogy between the Middle Helladic and the Early Iron
Age has a double aim: to shed new light on this
phenomenon from the perspective of both eras,
and try to reassess its signiicance in terms of
socio-political organisation. To do this, I shall
be concentrating on 1) a brief examination of
selected archaeological evidence, namely analy-

CYCLES OF COLLAPSE IN GREEK PREHISTORY

sis of MH and EIA habitation and burial space,


and 2) theoretical analysis concerning the speciic type of evidence.

The Evidence
he examination of the evidence from
both periods cannot be exhaustive in the frame
of the present paper. Regarding the architecture the analysis will concentrate on the layout
of settlements; as to burial practices, the examination will focus on the location of the tombs
in relation to houses, therefore on the existence
or not of organised cemeteries2. Underlying the
choice of these speciic data is the idea that they
most clearly relect social organisation, as we
will see in more detail below. Finally, only some
examples of MH and EIA settlements will be
examined, speciically those ofering evidence
that can illuminate our discussion.

1. he Evidence from the Middle Helladic


period
At Asine in the Argolid, the well-known
plan of the MH Lower Town of Kastraki, with
dense blocks of buildings separated by a narrow
street, belongs to the latest phases of the settlement, whereas during earlier MH phases houses were rarer and more dispersed on the slope
of the hill (Frdin Persson 1938, 68-74 [houses A-E], 88, 93-95; Nordquist 1987, 69-84). Remains of two MH buildings excavated on lower
part of the Barbouna slope, opposite to Kastraki, seem to belong to the late part of the period
as well (Nordquist 1987, 85-86).
A large number of tombs (more than 100)
of children and adults, dating to all MH phases, were found among the settlement remains of
2. A synthesis on MH graves, namely on their location within the settlement, in extramural cemeteries or in
burial plots -among the houses, adjacent to them or out in
the ields-, can be found in the valuable book by Cavanagh
Mee (Cavanagh Mee 1998, 23-26).

33

the Lower Town (Frdin Persson 1938, 115128; Nordquist 1987, 95-98, 128-134; 1996, 1938; Cavanagh Mee 1998, 24). In the Barbouna area, some burials have been found among
the building remains while some others seem to
constitute an extramural cemetery (Nordquist
1987, 98-99, 135-136). Excavations on the East
foot of the acropolis uncovered part of a tumulus containing 3 graves, with 17 others outside.
According to the excavator, the use of the tumulus started during the MH II, providing evidence for a MH cemetery used in parallel outside the habitation area (Dietz 1980; Nordquist
1987, 99-100, 134-135).
At Lerna, the layout of the early MH settlement is not well known; yet we know there
were several large, free standing houses, some
of apsidal plan (Zerner 1978). An impressive
number of over 200 burials of children and
adults, dating to all phases, have been found
among these houses (Blackburn 1970). No evidence for an organised MH cemetery has been
found as yet.
On the MH settlement of the Aspis hill
at Argos, three main phases of occupation
have been identiied3. he earliest one, known
only by fragmentary walls, was supposed to be
sparsely occupied. In the second phase the settlement becomes more densely inhabited with
houses of diferent plan and size; a solid enclosure was probably built at the beginning of this
phase, aimed at fortifying the settlement for the
irst time. In the inal phase, the settlement acquired a more coherent layout delimited by an
impressive and continuous series of rectangular
buildings around its edge, successive concentric
retaining walls, and very probably by an exterior circuit wall [Philippa-Touchais 2010; Philippa-Touchais Touchais 2006, 716-721; Whitley, AR 52 (2006), 31-33].
Within the SE sector of the settlement 13
tombs of children and adults came to light, dating mostly to the early Aspis phases (Philippa3. Aspis II, III and IV, dating respectively to MHI-II,
MHIIIA and MHIIIB-LHI (Touchais 1998, 76).

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ANNA PHILIPPA-TOUCHAIS

Touchais 2003). None of them dates to the inal MH Aspis phase, during which an extensive cemetery was in use at the foot of the hill
(Protonotariou-Deilaki 1980; Papadimitriou N.
2001, 20; Papadimitriou A. 2010). During recent work on the eastern sector of the settlement, which had been excavated at the beginning of the 20th c. (Vollgraf 1906), three new
burials came to light, dated very probably to
MHI-II or at the latest to MH IIIA. his discovery provides evidence that burials were not
concentrated in one sector of the settlement
but rather dispersed over several areas; it also
conirms that no burials date to the latest MH
occupation phase of the site (Morgan, AR 54,
2008, 25-27).
At Eutresis in Boeotia, according to the excavator, the MH occupation went through three
main architectural phases (Goldman 1931,
31-60)4. However, a more recent study, based
mainly on the re-examination of the architectural evidence, assumed the existence of at least
ive MH architectural phases (Philippa-Touchais
2006, 689-703; 2010). It seems that the earliest
MH settlement was rather sparsely inhabited,
whilst already from the second phase onwards
the settlement gradually acquires a densely organised plan with two distinctive quarters, each
one with speciic morphological characteristics
and very possibly diferent functions: a probable residential quarter on top of the hill, with
larger houses organised around a square, and
perhaps a more industrial quarter with smaller
houses containing ovens, vaulted pits and large
pithoi, laid out on both sides of a central street
(Philippa-Touchais 2006, 610; 2010).
Some 22 burials belonging to adults and
children were found inside or between the
houses, on deserted areas of the settlement or
on lanes (Goldman 1930, 221-226). As their
dating is unclear, it is diicult to reconstruct
their distribution through time. However, the
4. For a re-examination of the chronological phasing of Eutresis, based on the study of pottery, see Maran
1992, 302-309.

rather limited number of graves in comparison to the high number of houses suggests that
intramural was not the only burial practice, or
that it was not used throughout the period; an
organised cemetery must have existed nearby,
by the end of the period.
At Kirrha, located in the bay of Itea
(Phocis), ive MH phases were discerned by the
excavators on the magoula of Xeropigado (Dor
et al. 1960, 29-33). During the earlier phases
the remains were very fragmentary and without any apparent architectural cohesion, whereas during the later ones the settlement acquired
its deinite form (Dor et al. 1960, 35-42). According to a recent re-examination of the architectural evidence, the habitation area included oblong, freestanding houses and large open
enclosures, delimited by loosely constructed
walls, used probably as stockyards for livestock
(Philippa-Touchais 2010).
Fity-nine graves of adults and children
have been excavated inside the Bronze Age settlement, 40 of them dated to the MH (Dor et
al. 1960, 43-64, 115-124). In sector D, 17 MH
graves, dating mainly to the latest MH phase
according to the excavators (see also Dickinson 1983, 62), were apparently dispersed within the enclosures or in open areas. In sector A,
a group of six large cist graves5 containing valuable grave goods and attributed to the local
elite (Dor et al. 1960, 59-63) was clustered in an
open space, probably a passageway.

2. Evidence from the Early Iron Age


At Asine, remains of the EIA settlement
have been excavated in two areas: scanty vestiges in the Lower Town of Kastraki (Frdin
Persson 1938, 64, 81-82, 89-90, 312) and buildings better preserved to the east of Kastraki, in
the Karmaniola plot (Dietz 1982, 60-62; Wells
1983; see also Mazarakis Ainian 1997, 68-70,
5. Dating no later than LH II according to Dickinson
(Dickinson 1983, 62).

CYCLES OF COLLAPSE IN GREEK PREHISTORY

98; Lemos 2002, 136-138). It therefore appears


that the EIA settlement was not concentrated
within a speciic area, but rather was dispersed
in diferent areas. Architectural evidence suggests the coexistence of apsidal or oval and rectangular houses, freestanding and mostly varying in orientation.
In the Lower Town of Kastraki forty-six PG
graves (mostly of children) were found among
the scanty settlement remains (Frdin Persson 1938, 129-139, 144-145, 422-431), whereas
on the plain east of the acropolis (Karmaniola plot) eight PG burials of children and adults
were found among the remains of the houses
(Wells 1976; 1983, 31, 90, 122-123; Dietz 1982,
43-53; Mazarakis Ainian 1997, 70; 2007-2008,
377-378; Lemos 2002, 158-159).
he site of Asine presents a characteristic
example of a cemetery shiting over time. he
number of tombs per period found within the
architectural remains of the Lower Town is very
eloquent: 106 date to the MH, 11 to the LH and
46 to the PG period (Frdin Persson 1938,
142-145). hese numbers clearly show that in
MH most people were buried inside the settlement, in the LH a majority of burials took place
in the necropolis of Barbouna, with only a few
inside the town, whereas the relatively numerous burials of the PG period suggest that they
might correspond to one of the clusters of houses of the PG occupation.
At Tiryns, the EIA occupation evidence is
meagre. PG settlement remains have been located in the western part of the Lower Acropolis (probable construction of new isolated houses or reuse of rooms that had not been completely destroyed next to the rampart and near
the tunnels), as well as at several points around
the acropolis such as part of an apsidal house
and some circular and apsidal structures to
the west, outside the enceinte (Papadimitriou
1998, 120; Mazarakis Ainian 1997, 98). Due to
the fragmentary condition of the settlement remains, it is not possible to reconstruct the extent and organisation of the occupation. Yet the
evidence does suggest that the settlement of the

35

EIA must have consisted of small, dispersed


groups that gradually expanded through time
(Papadimitriou 1998, 125; 2006, 545; Lemos
2002, 139).
Forty-three PG graves with grave goods,
organised in small groups, have been excavated
all around the acropolis and directly adjacent
to the houses. he location of the graves next to
the settlement space seems to underline the independent character of the clusters of houses,
which can be interpreted as farms (Hgg 1974,
82-84; Papadimitriou 1998, 119-120, 125; 2003;
2006, 545; Lemos 2002, 159-160).
In Argos, EIA settlement remains have
been excavated in the central zone of the lower
town as well as in the southern and south-eastern areas, covering a more extensive perimeter
than in the previous SM period. Occupation
was therefore dispersed, with several nuclei of
habitation. Yet, the principal nuclei of the PG
occupation appear to be situated in the southern quarter of the modern town, at the foot of
the Larissa. here is nothing to indicate, however, the existence of an organised urban complex
or some early kind of synoikismos; all indications rather point to a set of scattered habitation
units, according to a scheme not very diferent
from that witnessed at Tiryns (Hgg 1974, 1830, 89; Touchais Divari-Valakou 1998, 14; Papadimitriou 2006, 545; Lemos 2002, 138).
In the PG period, groups of single inhumation burials, belonging to either children
or adults, have been found at several points
in the town, grouped around habitation quarters. True cemeteries appeared during Geometric times, in the northern, eastern and southern parts of the town, although burials within
the settlement continued (Courbin 1974; Hgg
1974; Foley 1988, 24-25, 39; Mazarakis Ainian
1997, 106-107; Touchais Divari-Valakou 1998,
14-15; Lemos 2002, 157-158). It is interesting
that the intramural inhumations include both
children and adults, since Argos was one of the
rare sites where there was no diferentiation either in the location or the type of child burial
(Snodgrass 1971, 153; Courbin 1974, 149).

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ANNA PHILIPPA-TOUCHAIS

In Mycenae, scanty PG settlement remains


have been identiied inside and around the citadel, whereas several graves of children and
adults discovered in the same area seem to conirm that the site was occupied during this period but probably on a smaller scale compared
with other PG sites in the Argolid (Hgg 1974,
66-67; Mazarakis Ainian 1997, 67-68; Lemos
2002, 160). Just ater the PG period, people
started to carry out burial in the surrounding
lower town.
At Corinth, according to the excavator
by the end of the PG period scattered inhabitation had already taken root in areas later to
be encircled by the fortiication walls (Williams II 1984, 11). By the LG period urban organization is taking root, seen archaeologically
in a new burial practice family burial plots,
in association with the houses in the centre of
the city, are being eliminated in favour of large
group burial grounds away from the urban areas (Williams II 1984, 19). he great change in
the burial patterns from family plots within the areas of inhabitation to group burials in
more isolated cemetery areas indicates interest in community organization, or at least in
the power of some authority who acts in terms
of priorities of the community over and above
those of the individual or family (Williams II
1984, 15; see also Mazarakis Ainian 1997, 319320; Morgan 1999, 471; Lemos 2002, 161).
In Athens, PG settlement remains were
very scanty and, as mentioned by Lemos (Lemos 2002, 135), in some extent, the history
of the site in this period can be reconstructed
through its cemeteries. It seems very probable,
however, that occupation was made up of clusters of scattered houses closely associated with
burial plots found around the Acropolis (Morris 1987, 62-65).
In the Athenian agora, through the known
shiting of burials in connection with the settlement space, one can follow the slow formation of the civic centre of the town. According
to Morris (1987, 62-69), in the SM and early
PG periods it is likely that child graves were

located close to the settlements, perhaps within


the groups of houses or even under the house
loors, while larger adult cemeteries were situated in reserved areas between the foci of settlement Around the end of the PG, child plots
began to disappear, and adult plots began to
replace them within the settlement areas. he
same pattern continued in MG and only in LG
more reserved cemeteries were coming into
being in areas which were still used for burials in the ith and fourth centuries BC. he removal of burials from the Agora area was not
accomplished before 700 BC (see also Whitley
1991, 61-64; Lemos 2002, 152-154; 2006, 512517; on the occupation of the agora by pottery
workshop, see Papadopoulos 2003).
At horikos, several EG-LG rectangular
houses have been excavated on the lower slopes
of Velatouri hill. It has been assumed that some
of them served as workshops for metalworking
(Mazarakis Ainian 1997, 254). A hundred and
ity PG and LG graves were laid out around
and above the houses; they were cist graves and
jar burials, mainly of children (Mussche 1974,
29; Mazarakis Ainian 1997, 147).
Excavations at Eretria give a fragmentary picture of the EIA settlement, although it
is clear that this was particularly extensive. he
oldest houses, dating to the MG II (2nd quarter of the eighth century), were found by the
harbour in the southern quarter, which was the
most densely inhabited. Most of the houses of
this period had curved foundations, which have
been attributed to apsidal or oval forms (Kahil
1983; Mazarakis Ainian 1997, 102-105; 2006).
Apart from a tomb of the mid-ninth century, all the other burials date to the eighth century and many of them have been found within
the extensive cemetery by the sea. Smaller burial grounds, with pithos-burials, cremations but
also inhumations, have been excavated all over
the inhabited area, next to the foundations of
the houses. It is worth noting that all these burials are of infants or children (Kahil 1983; Blandin 2000, 134-146; 2007a; 2007b, 195-113; Mazarakis Ainian 2007-2008, 373-376).

CYCLES OF COLLAPSE IN GREEK PREHISTORY

More evidence on EIA settlements with or


without intramural burials can be found in a
recent paper by A. Mazarakis Ainian (Mazarakis Ainian 2007-2008), addressing the question of burial amongst the living in EIA Greece.
Analysing settlement and burial in a whole series of EIA sites, from Epirus to Crete and Asia
Minor, the author observes a geographical diversity in the distribution of intramural burials: it seems that this practice was more prominent in East Central Greece, from hessaly
down to Attica and the NE Peloponnese (e.g.
Volos, Mitrou, Viglatouri in Euboea, Asine)
(Mazarakis Ainian 2007-2008, 385). But the
most interesting point in this paper, in my opinion, is the new approach to EIA intramural
burials, examined in connection with the settlement layout. he patterns emerging from this
settlement-burial connection, as well as Mazarakis suggested interpretation, will be discussed below.

Discussion
From the above brief examination of selected archaeological evidence, important similarities between the two periods under consideration do in fact emerge: at the beginning of
both periods the settlement layout seems rather loose, lacking uniformity and any apparent coherence, and is characterised by quite
strong variation in shape, size and orientation
of buildings; as regards burial practices, notably the location of graves, one observes signiicant numbers of individual burials inside settlements and very few organised cemeteries.
hese similarities have, in my opinion, a
common reference mark, which is the perception and use of space: the fact that there is no
clear spatial diferentiation between domestic,
burial and, in some cases, production areas indicates a low specialisation in the use of space
(see also Mazarakis Ainian 2007-2008, 387).
Besides, the coexistence of multifunctional areas suggests a strong interaction between them.

37

his perspective possibly advances our understanding of the pattern emerging from the evidence: intramural burials seem to it best into a
loosely organised settlement, which is not segmented into speciic sectors of use. On the other
hand it is not surprising that a strongly structured settlement may not contain intramural burials (Philippa-Touchais 2003). Mazarakis
study leads to a similar conclusion. he author
notes variation in the pattern of EIA settlements
related to the presence or absence of intramural burials: in communities organised in several small family clans, burials were accepted
within or in close proximity to the space of the
living, whereas in densely nucleated settlements
it appears that all burials were strictly excluded
(Mazarakis Ainian 2007-2008, 388-389). In MH
it is clear that the loose settlement pattern prevails during the early phases, while more highly structured or nucleated settlements linked to
organised cemeteries do not appear before the
second half of the period. In EIA this sequence
seems to follow a similar development; however,
the two patterns may also appear synchronically
(Mazarakis Ainian 2007-2008, 386-391).
Coming to the possible interpretation(s)
of the observed variation in the pattern of spatial organisation. Mazarakis Ainian (Mazarakis
Ainian 2007-2008, 389) very perceptively observes that the EIA nucleated settlements with
organised cemeteries, corresponding to more
coherent, closed and oten competitive communities, were unable to face new challenges
(and therefore failed to develop into poleis); on
the contrary, the loosely organised settlements
with intramural burials were more favourable to population growth and open to changes both in social and political spheres (and for
this they inally acquired polis status). However,
when turning to the causes of formation of these
diferent settlement/social models, less successfully, in my opinion, he argues that the loose
settlement pattern could be associated with
pastoral and thus unstable communities (apsidal houses), less attached to the land, and giving
little importance towards well-deined physical

38

ANNA PHILIPPA-TOUCHAIS

territorial boundaries (Mazarakis Ainian 20072008, 391, see also Gounaris 2007, and in this
volume). I think that an emphasis on the agropastoral not simply pastoral6 (Cherry 1988)
subsistence strategy might be quite accurate not
only for the beginning of the EIA but also for
that of the MH (Bintlif 1982). Although there
may be a connection between such an economy
system and a loose spatial organisation, I will
not agree, however, that the latter pattern might
be related to unstable communities giving little
importance towards well-deined physical territorial boundaries. On the contrary, as argued
by Wright (Wright 2004, 74) animal herding
may be understood as deining the outer geography of [transegalitarian and chiely] societies,
while agriculture deines the inner one and in
this manner is marked out a physical, political
economic, social and cosmic geography within
which the community operates7. In any case, it
seems clear that the subsistence strategy by itself constitutes one of the parameters of interpretation and does not enable us to reconstruct
complex processes such as social change or socio-political formation. herefore, questions related to these latter processes and which might
better elucidate the dynamics that caused, at the
beginning of both periods, the emphasis on the
prevailing spatial pattern, still remain open. My
tentative interpretation will have thus a more
social perspective.
It is not a new idea that there is a tight, dialectical connection between settlement layout
and social organisation. he form and layout
of buildings as the material expression of the
perception of space relect on the one hand social behaviour (codes of communication, symbols, concepts and rules), and on the other hand
social diferentiation (hierarchy, socio-political
stratiication, economic specialisation). Fur6. he production and consumption of animals is
an activity that binds animal husbandry and agriculture
(Halstead 1996, 21, 33-36).
7. See also the diagram (Wright 2004, 75) illustrating the economic and social activities that take place within such a landscape.

thermore, it has been repeatedly argued that


mortuary practices and mortuary ritual also relect at least to some degree structural complexity. Based on the analysis of MH settlement
and burial space, I have argued elsewhere that
the loose spatial organisation might correspond
to a social space authorising a multiplicity of
choices and decisions, and therefore to societies without strict communal rules and institutions, and very probably more open to heterogeneity (Philippa-Touchais 2003; 2006). his
apparent low level of formalisation and institutionalisation implies societies without complex
hierarchical forms of social organisation. In
addition, the lack of spatial segmentation into
speciic sectors of use might also suggest communities with little social diferentiation and
complexity societies with a more diferentiated social structure tend to use more segmented activity areas (Kent 1990, 128). On the other
hand, the study of mortuary practices, mainly
the absence of elaboration and wealth in graves
and grave goods a feature which is common
to the MH and EIA mortuary record led several scholars to stress the dominant role of kinship and descent in the discussion about social
structure and social relations of both periods
(Nordquist 1987, 45; Cavanagh Mee 1998, 34;
Voutsaki 1997, 41; 2005, 137; Morris 1987, 5254, 87-93; Whitley 1991, 64-67).
Consequently, on the basis of the review of
spatial features in the two periods under consideration, as well as the possible signiicance(s)
of these features, one can conclude that both the
early MH and the EIA are characterised by a low
degree of social complexity as well as kinship
and descent determining social relations. Coming to the socio-political system emerging from
the evidence (spatial and social) of both periods, I argue that it might be considered as simple (see also Dickinson 2006, 242), compared
with more complex systems where the architectural and social spaces are more standardised,
elaborate, restrictive and exclusive. his simple system might have similarities with Renfrews group-oriented chiefdoms (Renfrew

CYCLES OF COLLAPSE IN GREEK PREHISTORY

1974, 74-79 and most recently 2001), as well as


with societies related by a corporate solidarity
based on interdependence between subgroups
(Blanton et al. 1996, 6). he inclusive corporate strategy emphasizes staple food production, communal ritual and reduced consumption of prestige items; besides, the control of
power is rather shared across diferent groups
of society and not monopolised by prestigious
leaders (Blanton et al. 1996, more recently Feinman 2000, see also Parkinson Galaty 2007).
By simple I do not mean, however, a system that is devoid of any complexity. On the
contrary, even from the beginning of both periods elements of social diferentiation and competition can indeed be distinguished, mainly in
the context of exchange and consumption of
valuable goods. I believe therefore that varying types of power strategy may coexist to some
degree in the political dynamics of the presumed simple system, as of all social formations (Blanton et al. 1996, 2). In the same direction, Wright has recently maintained that,
in the atermath of the EBA collapse, societies
on the Greek mainland were at best transegalitarian (neither egalitarian nor politically
stratiied, Hayden 1995) and operated as multicentric economies (Wright 2004, 68). Yet, these
communities mask very powerful forces working to establish inequalities of wealth, resources
inluence and power. It is not surprising therefore that the role played by individuals trying
to diferentiate themselves from each other was
pivotal for the rise of socio-political complexity
(Wright 2004, 69-70). Coming to the EIA political organisation, recent views seem to outline
a nearly similar scheme. According to Whitley
what does seem clear is that the [EIA] political
organisation can hardly have been complex. A
society composed of household or kin groups
of more-or-less equal size its more comfortably with what American anthropologists have
termed a ranked society rather than a stratiied
one. hat is, there would certainly have been
inequalities of wealth and status, but such inequalities had not become a permanent fea-

39

ture of the social hierarchy. Hierarchies existed,


but shited constantly, and status was achieved
rather than being ascribed (Whitley 2001,
89). Finally, there is no doubt of the existence
of substantial variation between the two analogous socio-political systems, as there might
have been substantial regional variation within
the structural organisation of each one of them.
he fundamental changes at all levels
at the beginning of both periods might have
brought about a reconsideration of value systems and behaviour codes; thus they might
also be relected in the symbolic ield, namely
in art. I propose that the observed persistence
in geometric patterns on pottery of both periods might perhaps express the emerging ambiance of socio-political instability and ideological heterogeneity, where social relations and
identities were under a new negotiation. Ritual emphasising cosmological principles may
not be excluded either. But most probably the
emphasis on geometric patterns could be connected with the little concern with individual
prestige or wealth-based policies. In fact, it has
been proposed that igurative representations
and more speciically representations of preeminent persons are consistent with the individualising emphasis of the network strategy
(versus corporate) and its public gloriication
(Blanton et al. 1996, 8). he absence of igurative representations may also be associated with
Renfrews faceless and anonymous individuals in group-oriented chiefdoms (Renfrew
1974, 79). Finally, according to a more speculative assumption geometric patterns might express a kind of search for the lost order or the
lost equilibrium of a neater and more glorious
past. In that case the pictorial decoration, appearing in later phases of both periods, could
correspond to the regained order and symmetry or, paraphrasing Hodder, to the dominated
and tamed disorder (Hodder 1990, 39).
To return to the traditional question
the signiicance of the reappearance of older
(MH) practices during the EIA I feel that this
question is rather misleading and should be put

40

ANNA PHILIPPA-TOUCHAIS

diferently. It is essential to emphasise that the


discussion addressed here is not about practices characteristic of one speciic period reappearing in another, but rather about practices appearing/emerging under speciic conditions in (at least two) diferent periods, within a
deined area (the Aegean). hus, the issue may
well not be the cultural origin or ethnic identity
of the speciic practices or patterns, but rather
what they may relect in terms of the economic strategies, socio-political structures and social behaviour (the conditions) of both periods,
or even of other periods when similar patterns
may occur8. I therefore believe that, at the beginning of the MH and EIA, the formation of
a socio-political, economic and symbolic model of an analogous simple structure could not
be accidental. Without taking a deterministic
stand, yet bearing in mind that histories are repeated and polities alternate following cyclical
paths (or dynamic cycles, Marcus 1998, 92),
I argue that this formation could in fact result
from similar causes, that it could be a consequence of the collapse of the previous, more
complex systems the proto-urban EHII in one
case and the LH palatial in the other. hese presumed simple, probably corporate forms very
soon evolved towards more complex polities
through varied trajectories. For, as convincingly
argued by Whitley (Whitley 2004, 200), diferent processes as well as diferent starting points
must in large part result in diferent outcomes.
To sum up, I have tried to point out in this
paper that speciic settlement or burial patterns appearing with some emphasis at the beginning of both the MH and the EIA are by no
means to be exclusively associated with cultural features and even less with ethnic groupsbut rather with the emergence of analogue subsistence strategies, socio-political systems and
8. As I have mentioned elsewhere (Philippa-Touchais
2003), in proto Byzantine hessaloniki the abandonment
of the extramural cemeteries and the appearance of burials within the habitation space has been explained as resulting from social insecurity and the demise of the old institutions (Marki 2006, 47-48, 237-238).

ideologies. hese systems might be characterised by a rural economy, a low degree of social
complexity, a non-centralised political control,
and an emphasis on kinship and descent relations. I also proposed that it was probably the
collapse of the previous more complex systems
and the reversion to simpler ones that explain
to a great extent the phenomenon of structural similarities at the beginning of both periods.

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