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The Emergence and Development of a Round Building Tradition in the Aegean and Crete, MAA 2009

The Emergence and Development of a Round Building Tradition in the Aegean and Crete, MAA 2009

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Published by: ArchaeoinAction on Nov 03, 2010
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 Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 89-113Copyright © 2009 MAAPrinted in Greece. All rights reserved.
Evyenia Yiannouli
University of Peloponnese, Department of History, Archaeology and Cultural Resource Management 24 100 Kalamata, Greece
Received: 6/2/2008Accepted: 25/11/2008
Corresponding author: eyiannou@uop.gr
This paper examines the emergence of the non-submerged type of round building inthe settlements of prehistoric Aegean, including Crete. It complements our earlier dis-cussion of the Minoan evidence that concentrated on the properties of architectural formand the cultural semantics of its perishable structure. This work explores the commoncharacteristics that this particular architectural genre acquires in the prehistoric com-munities of the Greek mainland, the Aegean islands and Crete, along with the featuresthat seem to demarcate distinct chronological and geographical groupings. More spe-cifically, the systematic co-occurrence of features warrant, in our view, the identificationof a hitherto unidentified round building type, detected in the iconography of MinoanCrete. It is the Minoan evidence par excellence that presents the greatest diversity of ar-chitectural variants, contexts and apparently function. On a more general level, the tra-dition of a round building type is inferred on the basis of the persistent adoption of aparticular architectural form, along with the local adaptation of certain peculiarities thatimpinge on its cultural semantics. Our treatment of the material defines a conspectus oftopics for further research, posing a frame for the historical understanding of a general building shape that in the Aegean may often, but not always, preserve the form andcontents of a typical settlement house.
round buildings, Aegean, Neolithic, Bronze Age, iconography, architecturalreferent.
Round buildings of non-funerarycharacter are architecturally distinct, butdefy direct assessment of their specific,cultural significance. Their generallyflimsy structure and very small numbers(compared to other architectural types inthe Aegean) might explain an overallapprehension to deal with theseconstructions as a distinct and peculiarclass of evidence.This paper aims to explore theemergence of the non-submerged type ofround building as a distinct architecturalgenre. We shall delineate the systematicco-occurrence of features that reasonablywarrant the identification of a round building type in the prehistoric Aegeanand especially in Crete. This discussioncomplements our earlier treatment of theMinoan evidence that concentrated onarchitectural structure and the persistingconservatism of its perishable form in aparticularly sophisticated environment,along with other contextual,iconographic and scriptural evidence(Yiannouli 2006b). We proposed thatperishable structure resulted not as atechnical failure but as a cultural choicewhose semantics “revolve around thenotion of ‘earth’ in many and varyingmanners, including building structureand features, content, context andiconography” (Yiannouli 2006b, 49-50).Our understanding of the Aegeanevidence posits the non-submerged typeof round building within a broad, yetspecific, archaeological pattern. A closerinspection of the published materialreveals that architectural andstratigraphic correlations delineatecertain trends that hold good for theAegean as well as for Cyprus (Yiannouli2006a).a) Round buildings are founded inthe stereo of sites, indicating incipientsettlement. b) They emerge as part of a tripartitesequence (or one of three different waysthrough which incipient habitation or anincipient habitation horizon isarchaeologically identified) in the formof (i) pits/bothroi, (ii) pit-houses ofperishable structure with or withoutpits/bothroi, (iii) non-submerged roundhouses, usually on stone foundation,with or without pits/bothroi.c) The complete sequence isevidenced in very few sites in theAegean and Cyprus (EH I Eutresis,Aceramic Syllourokampos, ChalcolithicLemba-Lakkous, cf. also the peculiarcase of the Aceramic and Chalkolithicphases of Kissonerga-Mosphilia,Yiannouli 2006a, 31-2, 34, n. 1). In allother sites, incipient habitation takes theform of either (i) or (ii) or (iii) or (i) / (iii)or (ii) / (iii), (Yiannouli 2006a, figs 1-6).d) The above architectural cumstratigraphic type of evidence is notconfined in the incipient Neolithic butcharacterizes initial site occupationthroughout the Neolithic and thesubsequent Early Bronze Ages in boththe Aegean as well as in Cyprus. Anytype of evolution that may beoccasionally discerned occurs in theform of structural evolution from pit-houses to ground-surface round houses(i.e. stages (ii) / (iii) in stratigraphicsuccession, cf. Neolithic ISyllourokampos, Neolithic II KalavassosB, Chalcolithic Lemba-Lakkous, Erimi,Kissonerga-Mosphilia or EH I Eutresis,Yiannouli 2006a, 32-34) rather than withregard to any particular time period.
The proposition that pit-housearchitecture and incipient settlement arerelated has already been affirmed for theearliest architecture in the kebarian andthe natufian levels, i.e. at the origin ofincipient settlement, over a vast area,from Palestine, Turkey, Iraq, Iran andthe Zagros (Aurenche 1981, 185-188 fig.16; Aurenche and Kozlowski 1999, 46-49)to as far as Japan in the east (Renfrewand Bahn 1991, 304-305) and as far asPortugal in the west (Da Silva andSoares 1982). Relevant analogies between the Old and the New Worldshave been drawn (Rocek 1998).Although differing in perspectives andconclusions, scholars have tried toreason about the common features(neolithization/sedentism,elliptical/round buildings, differentabsolute dates) in relation to therespective settlement or regionalsequences that they initiate (Rocek 1998;Flannery 2002).The earliest Aegean pit-housearchitecture is now attributed to theneolithization horizon, conforming tothe above picture (sites on Kythnos andIkaria, also Thrace in the north, Sampson2006, 35-47, 52 with earlier literature,discussion on pp. 106-110). Ourparticular understanding of the Aegeanmaterial, however, as already outlined,and the fact that the emergence of round building architecture needs to beassessed in terms of common as well asspecific characteristics led us to regardits local, idiosyncratic features as equallyseminal in the construction of its culturalsemantics. This means that the historicalunderstanding of specific examples maynot be sufficiently conveyed in the formof generalized propositions on accountof their general formal similarities.Conversely, it is unrealistic to think thata historical type of understanding mayever occur without assessing it within acomparative frame of relevant evidencepertinent to archaeology: namely,architectural form and stratigraphy, use,settlement context, chronology andgeographical and chronologicaldistribution or other regularities that, inthe Aegean at least, seem to fall within atripartite constant: conservative form,generally perishable structure, smallnumbers.In view of the above, the Aegeanseems to encompass a cultural frame thatis compact, yet sufficiently diversified, inorder to explore some of the intrinsicproperties of the non-submerged type ofround building, or our stage (iii) type ofincipient settlement occupation, alongwith the emergence and thedevelopment of this architecturaltradition as a whole. Given that therelevant material is very fragmentaryand rather neglected, the currentdiscussion aims at defining a frame forinvestigation based on its pertinentproperties.
The Neolithic Evidence
The earliest attestation of the non-submerged round buildings in theAegean occurs in the course of the 5
 millennium. There are only six or sevensuch examples from island or frominland habitation sites, mostly near thecourse of rivers. Their chronology,however, spans the entirety of theperiod, from the MN at Ay. Petros,Sporades (Efstratiou 1985, 14, 20, 51,plans IX:a, XX:b,c, plate 13:a), andperhaps Ayioryitika in Arcadia (Petrakis

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