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Life after the Palaces: A Household Archaeology Approach to Mainland Greece during Late Helladic IIIC


My dissertation examines the period after the collapse of the Mycenaean palatial system until the beginning of the Early Iron Age (1200–1050 BC). Traditionally identified as a ‘Dark Age,’ this period has been characterized as one of decline, stagnation, and relative egalitarianism in contrast with the palatial period. Recent research has begun to contradict these assumptions, demonstrating that international contacts continued in the post-palatial period and many communities continued to thrive. Drawing on the growing field of post-collapse literature and integrating elements of resilience and urban theory, my dissertation poses the following interrelated questions: Why do certain communities survive collapse? What made a resilient community? And what influenced the settlement pattern identified in the post-palatial period? I argue that the perception of abundance (whether in terms of resources, opportunities, information, or technologies) played an integral role in shaping the landscape of Greece.

I take the site of ancient Eleon, a community in Boeotia, Greece, that survived the post-palatial collapse, but ultimately failed prior to the Early Iron Age, as a case study. I consider four different aspects of households: household size, storage capacity, household industry, and ceramic consumption. At Eleon, storage space was provided mainly by fired ceramic containers such as pithoi, vats, and bathtubs and unfired clay bins known as kotselles. Storage seems to have been on the scale of yearly subsistence. Evidence for textile production included two types of loom weight; a spool loom weight that is probably of foreign origin, and a heavy loom weight possibly used in the specialized production of very thick textiles like rugs. Ceramic evidence also suggests foreign influence and perhaps even a foreign potting community at Eleon. This includes the appearance of foreign shapes such as the carinated cup and handmade burnished ware. There are also close stylistic ties with the site of Xeropolis (Lefkandi). The architecture at Eleon, however, shows close ties with palatial Thebes, including the use of fired ceramic rooftiles, colonnaded hearth rooms, and a ramp. Overall, the analysis of Eleon presents the picture of a small self-sufficient settlement with weak ties to its neighboring communities. Many of the developments at Eleon derived from its contacts with the coast, making the community vulnerable to any shift in regional networks.

But how does Eleon differ from sites such as Kynos, Xeropolis and Tiryns that ultimately survived into the Early Iron Age? My research demonstrates that, in contrast to Eleon, these communities produced evidence for robust storage practices and abundant textile manufacture. Their location on the coast facilitated external contacts, both within local networks, as well as allowed them to develop links with foreign networks of interaction. Such contacts allowed them primary access to new ideas and technologies, resulting in a more diverse and thereby more resilient community. This is reflected in the archaeological record, as these sites show early evidence for iron-working, the adoption of spool loom weights for weaving, and a variety of imported objects. While Eleon initially participated in this network of interaction, as demonstrated by close ceramic ties to Xeropolis in the early post-palatial period, changes to this network in LH IIIC Middle (c. 1150 BC) gradually resulted in the isolation of this inland settlement. It is likely that the contraction of the former palatial center at Thebes resulted in a diminished role for Eleon as a node between Thebes and the coast, and the inhabitants of Eleon left their homes seeking out more abundant opportunities, jobs, and resources elsewhere.

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