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Reconstruction of technological choice, social practice and networks of exchange from a ceramic perspective in the Middle Bronze Age Cyclades
Hilditch, Jillian Ruth
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Given the long history of research within the Aegean, the Middle Bronze Age (MBA) of the Cyclades is surprisingly poorly understood. This region is often considered within the context of other ‘worlds’, particularly in the quest to understand ‘Minoanisation’. Prominent Middle Cycladic sites such as Ayia Irini (Kea), Phylakopi (Melos) and Akrotiri (Thera) have played a dominant role towards informing the perceived Cycladic ‘response’ to growing Minoan influence within the Aegean sphere, often at the expense of considering the interactions between these important settlements. However, the recent 2000-2001 pillar pit excavations at Akrotiri have allowed a whole new phasing for the MBA ceramic deposits and offer great potential for characterising these neglected interactions. The ceramic material studied here, from Phases B and C of the MBA assemblage at Akrotiri, corresponds to the introduction of imported and ‘Minoanised’ material traits, both compositional and technological, to the local ceramic repertoire. This material is contextualised within previous research in the Cyclades, including Phylakopi, Ayia Irini and Mikre Vigla. Scale is considered an important theme and provides a key structure throughout this thesis. Three scales were defined for considering all aspects of the ceramic assemblage at Akrotiri: a) the potters at Akrotiri, the technological choices they make, the social practices they participate in and perpetuate and the character of the local ceramic production sequence (the micro-scale of individuals); b) the character and significance of the Akrotiri ceramic assemblage within the Cyclades (the meso-scale of group interaction); c) the role that Akrotiri played as a node within larger social and exchange networks throughout the Aegean (the macro-scale of community interactions). From a theoretical standpoint, four explanatory frameworks are employed to tackle and integrate these various scales: the chaîne opératoire, dynamic systems framework, network theory and communities of practice. In combination, these frameworks have the potential to bridge the structure-agency divide, by acknowledging the fundamentally social nature of artefact production and consumption, and to integrate recent considerations of human and non-human agency within dynamic processes. Ultimately, by considering the socially constituted processes that drive the learning and practice of a craft or technique, and how these processes contribute to and perpetuate communities of practice, archaeologists can begin to meaningfully characterise the contact between different groups of people in the past. Therefore, this technological study of the late Middle Cycladic ceramic assemblage of Akrotiri, integrates macroscopic, petrographic and QEMSCAN analyses to characterise and explore the interactions within and between the many communities of practice operating within the late MBA Cyclades. In addition, this methodology allows a better understanding of the choices the communities in the Cyclades were making in the lead up to ‘Minoanisation’ so we can approach these material phenomena from a more localised, site-based perspective rather than a traditional Creto-centric viewpoint.
PhD in Archaeology