Paper abstract

Changing cultural landscapes of the Early Iron Age Aegean

Wallace Saro

The work of Coulson, Day and Gesell at the Kavousi sites in Crete forms a significant point of reference for discussion of society at this period in the island and well beyond. Building on Coulson’s experience in the Messenia Survey, the Kavousi project was driven by the notion of examining a whole settlement system in its wider environment, rather than an individual site. Another important aspect of Coulson’s research was its interregionally wide-ranging character, exploring different regional landscape settings and cultural adaptations to them; pottery, too, was studied over a remarkably broad geographical and chronological range. In this paper I follow two similar strands of approach, arguing that problem-focused, geographically wide-ranging archaeological inquiry, aimed at producing complex historical analysis, remains needed to drive forward Aegean Iron Age research. I focus on the multiple insights which landscape-orientated studies can give us into Iron Age society to date, looking at how we can move beyond economy-focused analysis to explore many other aspects of human interaction with and modification of the natural environment. The very deep-rooted cultural and social change occurring at the end of the Bronze Age affected the whole Aegean, promoting spatial readjustment on an immense scale. However, this is still poorly theorised at regional level for mainland Greece, often oversimplified in terms of ‘disturbance’, ‘migration’ or ‘desertion’ affecting large regions. Building on the better-developed understanding of cultural landscape change at this period which now exists for the southern Aegean, achieved through the results of the Kavousi project and its offshoots, among many others, I contrast patterns of change in the central and north Aegean. Issues covered are the role of settlement defence and the provisions able to be made for it in different types of landscape; the implications of spatial change for subsistence and communications infrastructure; the importance of coastal positioning to economic and political relations, the effect of community size on the nature of spatial adaptations; the social, symbolic and historical criteria behind the siting of cult locations, and their relationship to settlement; and the social implications of a second major horizon of change in the Aegean cultural landscape occurring by the eighth century BC. I also discuss the visual and experiential qualities of the new cultural landscapes, so far little considered in archaeological analyses. My conclusions show that while we are only beginning to illuminate regional pictures, with much more work needing to be done on intensive survey and targeted excavation, complex and striking patterns of spatial reorientation can be identified in many regions. Close comparative analysis of these can help greatly in understanding the nature of social and political change in this period.

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