Paper abstract

Darkness revisited. About the notion of `disappearance´ in the archaeology of Early Greece

De Polignac Francois

As everyone knows, the notion of “Dark Ages” has been for long associated with ideas of decay, depopulation and regression, induced by the poor quantity or quality of the available archaeological evidence. At the heart of this vision lays the idea that, while the non-existence of archeological remains can not be interpreted as negative evidence, the disappearance of previously existing archeological data can be interpreted as such, and its reappearance as positive evidence. Even the recent reappraisal of the “Dark Ages” does not formally contradict this postulate, since it largely relies on increasing discoveries and a considerable growth of high quality finds.
The present paper will present two cases of disappearance of evidence which, at the turn of the Geometric and Early Archaic periods, can or must be considered as purely apparent, hiding a real continuity. One of them is, to reuse the title of a paper published by James Whitley a few years ago, “the strange case of the disappearance of the rich female graves” in 7th century Athens. While distinctly female funerary rituals and assemblages are well attested in Athens during the Early Iron Age, they disappear during the whole 7th century. Though introducing the concepts of gender and hierarchy in his study, James Whitley, concluding that female graves had really disappeared, did not push his analysis to its ultimate consequences. Indeed, the disappearance of a distinctly female symbolic expression must not be necessarily equated to an exclusion of women from the recognizable funerary practices: here status or position might in fact cancel the sexual differences, giving high ranked women the same gender than men.
The second case is the “strange disappearance of bronze tripod cauldrons” during a large part of the 7th century. The series of Geometric tripods are well known, mainly thanks to the discoveries of many metallic fragments in Olympia; later monumental tripods, from the late 7th cent. onwards, are known but mainly thanks to their basis and supporting columns, the metallic parts having usually disappeared. In between, one finds the well known series of oriental or orientalizing cauldrons with protomes. This situation has sometimes been presented as the result of the “orientalizing” fashion in Early Archaic Greece: for a time, the traditional tripod cauldron would have been substituted by the orientalizing cauldrons. Though, the disappearance of the traditional tripod seems more apparent than real, and result -quite paradoxically- from the technical prowess which allowed their monumentality.

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