Good evening all together! My name is Susanne Prillwitz and my talk deals with the reconstruction of the potter’s wheel on the Greek mainland during the Bronze Age The use of the potter’s wheel or Rotative Kinetic Energy on the Greek mainland since the Early Bronze Age has been proved by the examination of products What we are missing on the Greek mainland, in comparison with the Aegean islands, Crete, Anatolia, the Levant and Egypt, are finds of the actual rotary instruments, their physical qualities in terms of material, dimensions, morphology, construction and mechanical properties My talk focuses on the Late Bronze Age, or better to say, the transition from the Middle Bronze Age to the Late Bronze Age in the NE-Peloponnese, when the socio-political and cultural transformations created what we called ‘Mycenaean’ I will use the term “wheel-made” pottery covering all technological traditions where Rotative Kinetic Energy was used, no matter at which step of the chaîne opératoire At least 132 elements of rotary instruments of Minoan type from Crete and beyond the island of Crete are known to date, and are mostly well published Freely rotating ceramic discs, type 3C according to Evelys typology, cover the time span roughly from 2000-1100 BC A good third of the devices was found within workshop contexts, or together with further evidence of potting activities The type 3C wheel-head is the most common find with 85 examples Their diameter ranges between 25 and 75 cm, but lies commonly around 30 to 45 cm The distribution of Minoan wheel-heads is quite clear The majority was found on the island of Crete at palatial and non-palatial sites Only 10 examples of wheel-heads were discovered on the islands of the Cyclades, one was found in Kolonna on the island of Aegina, and finally one is known from Mycenae, but neither well studied nor from a known context Apart from Mycenae, where contexts earlier than MH IIIB are largely missing or not published, all these places show strong relationships to Crete during the Middle Bronze Age Besides that one Bronze Age wheel-head from Mycenae, there are only very few and partly uncertain potter’s wheels of later date recorded on the Greek mainland Potential wheel-heads of Hellenistic date are published with each one specimen from the Agora in Athens and from Elis. Their appearance bears some similarities with the known Cretan wheel-heads but their use still needs to be studied together with an experimental reconstruction Furthermore, there are 5 unpublished objects which are mentioned in excavation reports or other short notes from Phari, Anavyssos, Eretria and Demetrias They are described in most cases as clay discs, but usually without further information, four of them are at least from workshop contexts They date between the late 6th century and the Hellenistic period To sum up, there are the one Minoan wheel-head from Mycenae and seven potential wheel-heads until the 1st century BC, compared to more than hundred Bronze Age examples from Crete and the islands The lack of found potter’s wheels cannot be explained by a lack of excavated potter’s workshops 23 kilns and one potential workshop without attested kiln have been found on the mainland dating to the Bronze Age No rotary device was reported from any of these workshops To be fair, I have to add that excavations at the major Bronze Age production sites in central Greece, like for instance Lefkandi, have not yielded pottery workshops or kilns yet 5 of these kilns have been excavated prior to WW II, but the majority was discovered from the 1970ies onwards, but the publications also vary greatly in detail To give one example which I studied within the frame of my PhD: The Mycenaean post-palatial workshop on the Lower Citadel of Tiryns is so far the most recently excavated one in the NE-Peloponnese Most likely, the rooms and open spaces around the kiln had served as work space, but there are no clear traces of any other installations related to the production One fragment of a ceramic disc was found in one of the pits in the open area south of the kiln, where also production waste was found, but it could not be relocated in the storerooms yet
According to the old documentation it has a diameter of approx. 25 cm, is around 1 cm thick and the fabric belongs to a subgroup of cooking fabrics It may have served as a bat, but definitely not as a wheel-head Also the excavated part of the Early Iron Age potter’s district in Tiryns, with remains of three kilns and masses of production waste, didn’t yield any clear potter’s wheels but further fragments of potential bats Eleni Hasaki furthermore catalogued 93 workshops in Greece based on kiln finds dating from the Submycenaean to the Classical period, and there are many more later ones, but the number of potential wheels, as I just showed, seems ridiculous We should remember: about 1/3 of Minoan wheel-heads was found within contexts of production We see potters at wheels in action in Greek iconography from the Archaic and Classical period The relative proportions, although not 100% naturalistic, suggest that these wheel constructions differed significantly from the Minoan one and also from the Hellenistic discs Vidale estimated diameters between 60 and 200 cm, mostly around 100 cm And the painter of the Corinthian tablet maybe even indicated that the wheel-head is composed of beams, likewise the seating of his stool Size and indicated constructive elements could support a hypothesis of wooden wheel-heads We cannot conclude from these later depictions that Late Bronze Age potter’s wheels in the NE-Peloponnese looked the same, but they clearly indicate a tradition different from Bronze Age Crete Potter’s wheels were recognised by archaeologists in all other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean! Unidentified potter’s wheels waiting in the storerooms cannot be the only reason for the gap on the Greek mainland In my view, the most tempting explanation is that the wheels on the mainland followed a different tradition To approach this topic further, I need to summarise shortly the recent research on the use of the potter’s wheel in the Bronze Age Aegean based on the examination of pottery The aim is to illuminate the circumstances under which the major shift towards a substantial production of wheel-made pottery took place in the NE-Peloponnese at the beginning of the Late Bronze Age when Mycenaean pottery emerged One of the key questions thereby is whether Peloponnesian potters adopted the Minoan wheel, or in other words, if there was only one type of wheel in the Late Bronze Age, like it has been suggested by Ina Berg The earliest evidence of wheel-made pottery on the mainland comes from EH IIb contexts in Lefkandi, Pefkakia and other sites in central Greece, and is clearly related to a small pottery assemblage inspired by western Anatolian origin In most cases the new tool was not widely adopted but locally practiced by small communities of potters Hand-forming techniques still dominated and only Lefkandi stands out with higher proportions of wheel-coiled pots In the subsequent period the proportion of wheel-made pots increases at different sites in central Greece, and the wheel is used for different types of pottery The increasing use of the wheel until the Middle Bronze Age corresponds furthermore to the use of fine, most likely levigated clays At the end of the Early Bronze Age, the first small assemblage of wheel-made pots can be found in the NE-Peloponnese It is already known from central Greece, but foreign to the Peloponnese and comprises wheel-made grey burnished goblets and cups But also hand-made versions of this new pottery existed and the use of the wheel remained marginal with only 3% of the local production in the case of Lerna Although Maria Choleva has pointed out good arguments for a local or regional production of this wheel-made pottery, chemical analysis still has to verify or falsify this hypothesis In the Middle Bronze Age and until the beginning of the Late Bronze Age, the NE-Peloponnese maintains strong connections to the central mainland, visible notably in the wheel-made so-called Grey Minyan pottery, which is imported from central Greece and imitated locally Whether this local and usually called Argive Minyan pottery was produced in hand-made and wheel-made versions, is still a matter of dispute The same question concerns pottery of local Argive tradition While Gullög Nordquist described the Argive Grey Minyan and matt-painted local wares in
Asine as handmade, Søren Dietz attested wheel-made pots among both groups According to Lindsay Spencer the EH III to MH II material in Asine comprises only 4-6% wheel-made pots, which are likely imports Carol Zerner assumed that the early MH pottery in Lerna is not necessarily wheel-made Up to now, the picture remains unclear if the wheel was adopted in the local potting traditions of the NE-Peloponnese during the Middle Helladic Period Also Cretan influence is discernible on the Peloponnese during the Middle Bronze Age in form of so-called “Minoanising” pottery Potting with help of the wheel occurred on Crete between the 19th and 17th century BC and increased steadily A parallel development with clearly Crete-derived technological potting tradition and use of the wheel was observed at Kastri on Kythera, an island located southeast of the Peloponnese, which is said to be the “ultimate example of the foundation of a Cretan colony” “Lustrous Decorated” represents the major group of “Minoanising” pottery and is characterised by a sand-tempered fine calcareous clay base, iron-rich clay paints and a firing technology which will produce a dark shiny decoration on a light-coloured ceramic body But it also bears few non-Cretan features, showing mainland, Cycladic and Aeginetan influence This strikingly homogenous group of pottery is present at a number of sites on the Peloponnese but not further north on the mainland Evangelia Kiriatzi brought together several arguments which make the Argolid, in particular Lerna, the most plausible place of production, although Kythera cannot be ruled out with certainty The homogeneity of the “Minoanising” pottery lead Kiriatzi to suggest that mobile potters from Kythera settled seasonally at mainland sites If that was the case, they brought most likely their “own” traditional wheel So again, the Argolid is possibly a place where the wheel became employed through foreign influence But technology and appearance of “Minoanising” pottery stand in sharp contrast to the potting traditions in the NE-Peloponnese, particularly the matt-painted pottery, usually manganese-based paint, or the burnished grey and light coloured pots, whether hand-made or wheel-made Is it possible that local potters adopted these new Crete-derived technologies? At the transition to the Late Bronze Age a far-reaching transformation of the socio-political structure took place in the NE-Peloponnese, most obvious in the rich Shaft Graves of Mycenae The pottery from the graves reflects well the already described local traditions and foreign contacts and influences from the central Greek mainland and Crete, as well as from Aegina and the Cyclades A huge variety of pottery is present in the Argolid at this time, as is also reflected in the classification system. At the same time potters at Lerna still or again (?) seem to emulate contemporary Cretan shapes and decorations, most likely transmitted via Kythera But now, more clearly than ever before, a new group of ‘Argive’ pottery is formed which becomes the starting point for the indigenous Mycenaean pottery In terms of technology it still bears almost everything from Crete But what about the wheel itself? Mycenaean table ware on the Peloponnese is almost exclusively wheel-made and the change in the Argolid from dominantly hand-made to predominantly wheel-made pottery seems to have taken place rather rapidly To illustrate how the transmission may have taken place, I tried to reconstruct different models of adoption: A community of practice using the Minoan type of wheel (klick) is teaching apprentices from the local community from scratch This would most likely imply that they use their own wheel and this would result in archaeological finds of wheel-heads like in Crete Also the appropriation of the Minoan wheel by experienced potters would show the same pattern of found tools (klick) Since this seems not to be the case and the one wheel-head from Mycenae may not be representative, we should consider another scenario: A local type of wheel could be involved in the process of transmission (klick) Whether this local type of wheel remained unchanged or not, we cannot say by now (klick)
But since no potter’s workshop on the Greek mainland in the Bronze Age yielded finds of rotary devices, the instruments had to be made of wood, unfired clay or the like (klick) Following Carl Knappett and Sander van der Leeuw, this last model implies a peer to peer transmission of knowledge instead of a vertical transmission and would emphasise the strong influence of traditions from central Greece at least on a small potters community in the NE-Peloponnese The question of peer to peer interaction between different communities of practice made me think of one aspect related to the construction of the wheel, which is the posture or working position Would a trained potter change the wheel by choice? It has been stated often: the learning of potting techniques with Rotative Kinetic Energy cannot be the result of copying wheel-made vessels It requires direct contact between the crafts people and social and political networks which allow or even support this transmission of technology The posture of a potter is intimately connected with the physical properties of the wheel construction, its dimensions, weight and height besides, of course, traditional habits I would describe the posture as the foundation for all gestures This seems even more relevant when bimanual gestures are required because of our body’s symmetry So, when talking about technical skills and body movement we cannot disconnect gestures from postures, as Tim Ingold described in the context of the art of writing (I quote) “there can be no inscription without incorporation without, in other words, the building of habitual patterns of posture and gesture into the bodily modus operandi of the skilled practitioner” (end of quote) Motor skills in potting on the wheel are developed during a long time of apprenticeship Hence, to change the tool will force the potter to adjust the posture, for instance because of a different height or diameter, and this will have an immediate effect on the execution of gestures Potting is said to be a rather conservative craft, and the traditions of practice are closely related to certain social groups and therefore show different spatial distributions Ethnographic studies suggest that this general tendency does not concern all elements in the chain of pottery production to the same degree Potters show more flexibility, for instance, in the processing of raw materials, the decoration of pots or firing techniques, than in shaping techniques Notably “rough out operations”, where gestures and the teacher-apprentice-relationship play a prominent role, do coincide much stronger with social groups and their distribution The wheel constructions themselves could be seen as part of this ‘system’. For example, traditional potters in Greece today still work in the same asymmetric posture next to the wheel, no matter if the wheel is propelled in the traditional way by foot or by an electric motor In experimental studies potters are usually deliberately forced to execute practices which differ from their habits, including the use of unknown tools In one experiment to reconstruct the use of the Minoan type 3C ‘flywheel’ in the LM potter’s pit in Mochlos, the potter was asked to work in a standing position, upright in front of the wheel and turn the wheel-head by hand The potter’s ‘native’ technique was not mentioned here, but presumably he was used to work like traditional Greek potters, sitting next to a kick-wheel in a asymmetric position The learning process during this experiment was described as “both physically and mentally frustrating” But this reconstruction of use is only one, other set-ups still need to be tested in future To conclude: I hope I could show that the NE-Peloponnese is a region influenced by various and quite different potting traditions which happen to overlap there during the Middle Bronze Age This could be described in a “receiving” character of the region Although wheel techniques were not invented there, they came to full employment with the development of Mycenaean pottery Despite all obvious influence of Cretan technology and style on the early Mycenaean pottery,
based on the presented observations, I could imagine that the producers of the early Mycenaean pottery in the NE-Peloponnese (and on the entire mainland) rejected the Minoan type of wheel and stuck to their own traditions of presumably wooden wheel construction, originating in central Greece This scenario is based on the one hand on the lack of physically found rotary instruments and on the other hand the hypothesis that potters would probably not change the wheel construction by choice Instead, it appears more plausible that a potter would be able to reproduce vessels of foreign designs on the known and well familiar wheel The reconstructed scenario does not solve all problems and even raises further questions about who these potters were, where they came from and how the different communities of practice may have interacted But hopefully, future research will let us know more Because my hypothesis is based on many previous studies, I added a list with the most relevant publications related to my question Thank you for your attention – I am looking forward to the discussion!