Rillenkarren at Vayia: Geomorphology and a New Class of Early Bronze Age Fortified Settlement in Southern Greece

By Tartaron, Thomas F.; Pullen, Daniel J. et al. | Antiquity, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Rillenkarren at Vayia: Geomorphology and a New Class of Early Bronze Age Fortified Settlement in Southern Greece


Tartaron, Thomas F., Pullen, Daniel J., Noller, Jay S., Antiquity


Introduction

The investigation of two newly discovered fortified sites, Vayia and Vassa in southern Greece, contributes to a number of important issues in archaeology in general and Aegean prehistory in particular. Surveys in regions dominated by karstic limestone lithology often encounter substantial stone-built structures with limited artefactual evidence for their date. The investigation of Vayia, employing a methodology that closely integrates archaeology and geomorphology, points to ways that surface remains in karstic landscapes may be more readily dated, even with limited associated artefactual material.

Vayia and Vassa belong to the Early Bronze II (EB II) phase of the Early Bronze Age (EBM of Greece and the Aegean (Figures 1 and 2), a time of increasing social complexity, seen in the emergence of chiefdoms, intense interregional interaction characterised by a burgeoning 'international spirit' (Renfrew 1972:451-5) and increased competition as demonstrated in the appearance of fortifications at many sites. Exotic items with presumably high social value, including bronze daggers and tools, metal jewellery, fine drinking and pouring vessels of metal and ceramic and marble vessels and figurines, circulated among the coasts and islands of the Aegean Sea. The relatively undifferentiated pattern of small farmsteads and hamlets in the preceding EB I period was transformed by a striking expansion of settlement and the appearance of large settlements, particularly at coastal locations well situated for maritime activity (Figure 1; Broodbank 2000: 279-87; Konsola 1986; Pullen 2003). At many of these larger centres, truly monumental constructions appeared in the final two to three centuries of EB II. Monumental 'corridor houses' with long passages flanking the internal rooms are found on the Greek mainland and on the island of Aegina (Figure 3). These houses have been variously interpreted as palaces, administrative centres, residences of prominent families or lineages or even hotels or meeting halls for traders (Felten 1986; Pullen 1986; Shaw 1987; Wiencke 1989; Weingarten 1997; Nilsson 2004). In later EB II, enclosures and fortification walls surrounded some major settlements as well as smaller farmsteads or hamlets (Figure 3). There is considerable variability in their construction: some were little more than thin lines of field stones, while others incorporated elaborate semicircular or horseshoe-shaped bastions, double rings of fortification walls and other defensive features (Figure 4). The new threat that prompted increasing investment in defence has not been adequately explained, nor whether the decrease in number of mainland settlements of the subsequent EB III period is to be attributed to this threat, but evidence for warfare at some level can be inferred from the large number of copper and bronze daggers and spearpoints, sling-stones around the fortification walls at a few sites, and the arrival of the menacing longboat in the Cycladic Islands (Branigan 1999; Doumas 1990). It is to this vigorous and apparently turbulent world that Vayia and Vassa belong.

[FIGURES 1-4 OMITTED]

Vayia

The site of Vayia was discovered in the late 1990s by means of a GIS-based probability model that has been described elsewhere (Rothaus et al. 2003; Tartaron et al. 2003), and investigated in 2002 by the Eastern Korinthia Archaeological Survey (Tartaron et al. in press) through intensive surface survey, mapping and documentation of the architectural remains. Artefacts and features are spread over approximately 3ha on the top of a long ridge that extends north into the Saronic Gulf, overlooking natural harbours to the east and west (Figures 5 and 6). The western harbour, Lychnari, was sheltered and well suited to Bronze Age maritime activity. Vayia's rugged terrain may be characterised as a karstic limestone landscape, with associated erosional features and thin, stony soil preserved amidst widespread exposures of bedrock.

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