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Obsidian in the Aegean

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 October 2013

Extract

Obsidian to the Greeks was no more than a semi-precious stone, black and shiny, suitable for mirrors or exotic ornaments. But to their predecessors in the Aegean through five millenia it was an important raw material for the manufacture of tools and weapons. Sharper and more abundant than flint, more easily worked and cheaper than copper, it was not displaced entirely even by the use of bronze, which was always an expensive material, there being no source of tin in the Aegean. Only when knowledge of iron-working was brought to the Aegean coasts did obsidian fall from its position as an important raw material to that of a curiosity.

Huge quantities of obsidian are to be found lying about the surface of most prehistoric sites in south Greece—any farmer or shepherd will tell of the ‘little razors’ to be found on his land. But its occurrence in nature is very unusual since it is found exclusively in regions of recent volcanic activity, and then only when certain conditions exist, such as a high silica content in the lava of the volcano. Every single piece found in mainland Greece had to be imported from overseas, a process implying competent geological knowledge, skill in sailing and navigation, and perhaps social organization, to a considerable degree. It is the earliest trade in the world for which we have concrete evidence.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Council, British School at Athens 1965

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References

1 We are indebted to Dr. S. R. Nockolds of the Department of Mineralogy and Petrology, Cambridge, for permission to use the Department's spectroscope, to Mr. R. Allen for much assistance in its use, and to the Council of St. John's College for a grant towards our work.

2 He is indebted to the British School at Athens for the Studentship which made it possible for him to work in Greece in 1963, and to the Ministry of Education of the Greek Government for a Scholarship during 1964.

3 This work, and the securing of specimens, was greatly facilitated by the Greek Archaeological Service and its Director, the late Dr. J. Papadimitriou, as well as the Ephors Dr. S. Alexiou, Dr. Ph. Petsas, Dr. D. Theocares, Dr. N. Zapheiropoulos, and also by Professor S. Marinatos, Miss K. Romiopoulou and Mr. Ch. Doumas. We also gratefully acknowledge the receipt of specimens or of useful information from: Professor D. Berciu, Professor Bernabò Brea, Mrs. K. Bolton, Dr. G. Bushnell, Professor J. L. Caskey, Professor J. Cauvin, Miss M. Cra'ster, Mr. R. Deshayes, Professor J. D. Evans, Mr. D. H. French, Dr. I. M. Yeroulanos, Dr. G. Georgiev, Mr. D. Hardy, Dr. H. Hauptmann, Mr. M. S. F. Hood, Dr. R. Hope Simpson, Professor S. Kansu, Dr. E. Kunze, Professor D. Levi, Professor V. Milojčić, Dr. R. G. Newton, Dr. G. Pasquarè, Mr. A. Renfrew, Mr. R. J. Rodden, Mr. R. Saidah, Miss V. Seton-Williams, Dr. F. H. Stubbings, Dr. N. Taylor, Mr. P. Warren, the Revd. Dr. V. G. Kenna and those mentioned below. Without their help it would not have been possible to undertake this research.

4 One from Abydos in the Troad, two from Morali near Manisa, and seven from Boz Dagh near the site of ancient Myndos.

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29 Nor is there any evidence for sources in Bulgaria or Jugoslavia.

30 I am most grateful for the hospitality and assistance which I received in Melos from Mr. Z. Vaos, the writer of several articles on the history of the island.

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42 Cann and Renfrew, op. cit.

44 See note 10 above. Op. cit. n. 5, 154.

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49 NN Square A2, Level 1; NN Square A2, Level 3. Cf. Rodden, R. J. in Proc. Prehistoric Society xxviii (1962).Google Scholar

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53 Heurtley, op. cit. 22 and 200.

54 Several pieces of obsidian were found at Boz Dagh (Bean, G. E. and Cook, J. M., ‘The Halicarnassus Peninsula’, BSA 1 (1955) 108)Google Scholar, and it was reported at Kiliktepe near Miletus (Hogarth, D. G., ‘Hellenic Settlement in Asia Minor’, CAH ii (1926) 55).Google Scholar It is rare at Troy (Blegen, C. W., Caskey, J. L., Rawson, M., and Sperling, J., Troy, i (1950) 46 and 211Google Scholar; ii (1951) 8, 108, and 227; iii (1953) 25), and only one other piece is known in the Troad from a mound east of Abydos. At Pendik on the Sea of Marmara a blade of non-Melian appearance was found which may be of Carpathian origin (Kansu, S. A., ‘Marmara bölgesi ve Trakya de prehistoriki iskân tarihi bakimadan arastirmalar’, Türk Tarih Kurumu, Belleten (1963) 674 and 691, fig. 27).Google Scholar

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62 PM II. 14.

63 The large block containing some prominent phenocrysts figured in PM I. 170 may also be of this material.

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65 Heraklion Museum No. 1008. Information kindly supplied by Peter Warren together with the photograph for Plate 63d.

66 Platon, N., ‘Excavations at Kato Zakro, Part II’, ILN March 7 1964, 352, fig. 11.Google Scholar

67 PM I. 87 and 412.

68 BSA viii. 22.

69 Taylour, W. D., The Mycenaeans (1964), 149.Google Scholar

70 Castiglioni, O. Cornaggia, Fussi, F., and D'Agnolo, M., ‘Indagini sulla provenienza dell'ossidiana in uso nelle industrie preistoriche italiane’, I and II, Atti della Società Italiana di Scienze Naturali e del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale in Milano (1962 and 1963).Google Scholar The idea was first put forward by Peet, T. E. (The Stone and Bronze Ages in Italy (1909) 150Google Scholar) and repeated by Evans, (PM I. 155).Google Scholar

71 Other finds are: a M.M. bowl fragment from Knossos, (PM I. 86, fig. 5c and 178, fig. 127e)Google Scholar; a fragment of a ewer of M.M. III date with relief spirals (PM I. 412 and II. 56); a lump of the raw material from the NW. Quarter of the Palace at Knossos, found under a M.M. II floor (PM I. 87 and II. 56); a lump of L.M. date from Tylissos (Hatzidakis, , AE 1912, 219Google Scholar, no. 19 and fig. 25, 2); several lumps from Hood's Royal Road excavations at Knossos; a small piece from Pseira (Analysis no. 68); and a seal from Mochlos (Warren, P., ‘Two Sealstones from Mochlos’, Kretika Khronika, 1964).Google Scholar

72 PM I. 87 and 178, fig. 127f.

73 But it may have been used for seals, of which three have been preserved: one in the Ashmolean Museum (K. 160), one in the collection of Dr. V. G. Kenna and one in a private collection in Basle.

74 Hatzidakis, I., “Τύλισος ΜινωϊκήAE 1912, 217, fig. 27.Google Scholar

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78 Some commentators, such as Schramm, A., s.v. ‘Obsidian’, RE xviii. 2, 1745Google Scholar, have claimed ἀνθράκιον (De Lapidibus 33) as obsidian, but Theophrastus states firmly that it is found in Arcadian Orchomenos and in Chios, so that another stone must be meant.

79 Wainwright, G. A., ‘Obsidian’, Ancient Egypt (1927) 88.Google Scholar

80 Kunze, E., ‘Die Ausgrabungen in Olympia 1952–8’, AD 1960, 131.Google Scholar

81 Walters, op. cit., nos. 450, 759, and 2625.

82 Bosanquet, op. cit. 218.

83 Hutchinson, R. W., Prehistoric Crete (1962) 91.Google Scholar

61
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