Sunday, 11 February 2007

Busy Bunny

This is several hundred words short, but I really can't afford to faff about with it now. Every fibre of my being is screaming in indignation as I type that. I'm one of these people who has to do everything 110%, to the absolute possible best standard I'm capable of. So it's hard to stop and say, "That's enough," when it isn't either perfect or as near to perfect as I can humanly manage. But time and sense demand it in this case. I have three essays in this week, on top of my usual work, two on the same day, and one in French.

French? I don't even do French. Again, it was me thinking Sure, I can do a whole extra module. Translation: Must. Over. Achieve. At. All. Costs. No, to be fair, I do love the French language. I want to be able to read French literature easily, so I have a whole new wealth of culture at my fingertips. A modern language is a good and useful thing to have, especially when I love going to France so much. But I had no idea the course would be this intense. It's a lot of work, and it's very difficult. I'm in way above my ability level. I have a GCSE from two and a half years ago. Some people in my class are almost fluent. I did my wonderful sobbing-unexpectedly-in-public act on Wednesday, which absolutely baffled the poor teacher. We talked about my quitting. It would show up on my paper as a course incomplete. Plus I'm too bloody-minded and stubborn. I'm good at French. I may know fuck all, but I have a knack for languages, and I'll get there.

Anyway, here's my delightful essay on Greek archaeology. Now, does anyone know anything about Victorian poetry?

What are the typical characteristics of Protogeometric pottery? Why is pottery very important for our knowledge of the period?

Before examining the characteristics of Protogeometric pottery in detail, it will be helpful to consider its background. Folsom tells us that it was “widespread, being made in Attica, the Peloponnese, Boeotia, probably the Ionian Islands, the Cyclades, Rhodes, and Cos; it was also made in Thessaly and Macedonia;”[1] and also that it dates from 1050 – 900 B.C.[2] Around 1050 B.C., “there was a clear break from the preceding Mycenean with its curving lines and stylised floral decoration, towards formal geometric designs.”[3] It is interesting to consider why this may have been. Lane[4] and Lacy[5] argue that the change from Mycenean to Protogeometric pottery was caused mainly by the Peloponnesian war, in which the Dorian camp (including Sparta) invaded the Ionian camp (including Athens). Lacy claims that the earliest indicator of Protogeometric pottery that we have is the debris left by the invaders.[6]

Perhaps the most obvious characteristics of Protogeometric pottery are those relating to its decoration. Biers describes two systems of decoration: the “clay-ground technique,” in which dark designs were painted on light clay, and the “dark-ground technique,” in which the pot was covered in black glaze paint and the designs painted on in reserved bands.”[7] Folsom is more specific in that he claims that it was generally the larger pots which were light in background, and that the emphasis was first on the shoulder and the field between the handles, and later on the main body of the pot. [8] Folsom also goes into some detail on the kinds of patterns that appeared: “compass-drawn concentric circles or semi-circles with or without a central dot or solid core; lozenges (diamonds), chequers, hourglasses, swastikas, triangles, and vertical zig-zags in one or more horizontal bands, cross-hatched or solid designs,” and the occasional silhouette of a horse.[9]

The Protogeometric style also has its own characteristic shapes. Biers writes that there are fourteen different shapes of Protogeometric pottery, most of which are continuations of Mycenean forms. However, there are significant changes: “A few of the older shapes disappear, such as the stirrup jar and the remaining ones, such as the amphoras… are often taller and more slender.”[10] Biers writes of four different types of amphora, classified by the placement of their handles: from shoulder to neck, shoulder to lip, on the shoulder and on the belly. These amphoras held ashes in graves, since cremation had taken over from burial in Attica by this time. There was also the trefoil-mouthed oinochoai, lekythoi and hydriai.[11] Biers claims that the bowls and drinking cups of this time were unique to the Protogeometric period,[12] but Lacy claims that the cups were also found in Mycenean times. [13] It is difficult to judge, in this case, whose argument is the strongest, as neither provide the evidence on which they base their theory. However, as Biers was writing thirty years after Lacy, we can assume that he had access to more up-to-date evidence and a greater number of excavations from which to draw his conclusions.

It is important to consider that the features of Protogeometric pottery vary according to where the pots were made. Folsom goes into this in some detail, describing Laconian, Cycladic and East Greek Protogeometric pottery, with each having its “local variations.”[14] Laconian Protogeometric pottery tends to have a metallic sheen, and a pattern of cross-hatched triangles and narrow panels. The Laconians specialised in cups, oinochoai and small hydrai, usually with high conical feet and rims.[15] Cycladic Protogeometric pottery tends to be patterned with a “linking of grouped circles by bands of zig-zags or straight lines, and pendant concentric semi-circles.”[16] East Greek Protogeometric pottery, however, has an excess of latticing, but shares the linking of grouped circles.[17]

Scholars believe that the features of Protogeometric pottery strongly suggest advances in technology. For example, Biers believes that it may have been the adoption of a faster wheel which led to the taller, slender amphoras, and positively asserts that, at this time, the fast wheel, compass and multiple brush were introduced.[18] Folsom, too, writes that Protogeometric pots were “made by hand on a rapid wheel”[19] and that the circles and semi-circles were “compass-drawn.”[20] The “multiple brush” of which Biers speaks is described by Myers as “a pair of compasses fitted with a row of small brushes.”[21] Desborough believed that, because of these technical innovations being so central to Protogeometric pottery, it must have begun in Athens, the centre of such developments.[22] This contrasts with Skeat’s view, published nearly ten years earlier, that the style originated in Macedonia.[23] Eiteljorg, however, rejects completely the argument that Protogeometric pottery was reliant upon these advancements in technology. He argues that wheel speed did not affect the change from Mycenean to Protogeometric vase shapes, and the multiple brush could not have been used on these vase shapes at all.[24]

This discussion is an example of how vital pottery is to our knowledge of this period. Here the tools with which the pottery was made and decorated can help us to determine the location of the origin of the Protogeometric style. Papadopoulos, Vedder and Schreiber write that these tools, specifically the multiple-brush, have also greatly shaped “ideas about the movements of people and ideas of one country over another.”[25] Fragments of the pottery itself also do this, just as Lacy claims that we can determine the reason for the emergence of the Protogeometric style by examining the debris left by Dorian invaders.[26] Pottery is also a “primary time index” for archaeologists,[27] and it is possible, having dated pottery, to date other objects found in the same soil layer to a similar period. Additionally, pottery is both a work of art and a utility, so it gives us information both about the cultural and aesthetic movements of the time, and everyday life. It also enables us to track continuity and change throughout the period.

In conclusion, as Biers writes: “the Protogeometric is a sober style showing a close relationship between the potter and the painter: the painter always strove to emphasise the shape of the pot.”[28] The painted patterns are varied but simple, and Biers claims that, because of its simplicity, the Protogeometric style “evolved easily and quickly into the somewhat harsher and stiffer Geometric style.”[29] Folsom describes the Geometric style as “characterised by monotone dark browns and blacks against a lighter background almost completely covered by abstract geometric designs” and occasionally human or animal figures in silhouette.[30] It is obvious, then, that the Geometric retained many characteristics of the Protogeometric style, and so, in a sense, many Protogeometric characteristics survived their own period in ancient Greek pottery.


Biers, W. R. (1996) The Archaeology of Greece, Ithaca and London.
Eiteljorg, H. (1980) “The Fast Wheel, The Multiple-Brush Compass and Athens as Home of the Protogeometric Style,” AJA 84, 445-452.
Folsom, R. S. (1967) Handbook of Greek Pottery, London.
Lacy, A. D. (1967) Greek Pottery in the Bronze Age, London and Frome.
Lane, A. (1948) Greek Pottery, London.
Papadopoulos, K., Vedder, J. F. and Schreiber, T. (1998) “Drawing Circles: Experimental Archaeology and the Multiple Pivoted Brush,” AJA 102, 507-529.

[1] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 53
[2] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 27
[3] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 21
[4] Lane, Greek Pottery, p. 23
[5] Lacy, Greek Pottery in the Bronze Age, p. 286
[6] Ibid.
[7] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 106
[8] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 53
[9] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 53-4
[10] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 106
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Lacy, Greek Pottery in the Bronze Age, p. 171
[14] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 109-111
[15] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 109
[16] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 111
[17] Ibid.
[18] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 106
[19] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 54
[20] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 27
[21] Papadopoulos, Vedder and Schreiber AJA 102, p. 510, citing John Myres, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1910
[22] Papadopoulos, Vedder and Schreiber, AJA 102, p. 510, citing Desborough, Protogeometric Pottery, 1952
[23] Papadopoulos, Vedder and Schreiber, AJA 102, p. 510, citing Skeat, The Dorians in Archaeology, 1943
[24] Harrison Eiteljorg II, American Journal of Archaeology, p. 445
[25] Papadopoulos, Vedder and Schreiber, AJA 102, p. 510
[26] Lacy, Greek Pottery in the Bronze Age, p. 286
[27] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 16
[28] Biers, The Archaeology of Greece, p. 106
[29] Ibid.
[30] Folsom, Handbook of Greek Pottery, p. 21

1 comment:

G said...

I admire your energy, girl. Keep it up!