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Sofia Voutsaki, Sevi Triantaphyllou, Eleni Milka, Carol Zerner

In this paper we will combine different sets of data and different methods in order to
understand the relation between subsistence, economy and society in Middle Helladic
Lerna (2100 – 1700 BC). The following methods will be used:
• Analysis of the human remains (including the examination of health and oral
status, as well as dental microwear and stable isotopes analysis) in order to
examine dietary variation
• A contextual analysis of the mortuary data in order to examine differentiation
among age, gender,and kin groups, but also change through time.
• An analysis of differentiation between households, by exploring the
distribution of economic and social activities across the settlement and
through time.
The aim of this integrated analysis is to detect differentiation within the community,
and to correlate differentiation in different spheres (diet, housing, treatment at death).
However, an attempt will be made to go one step further, and to understand the
nature of this differentiation, i.e. the nature of social relations in the MH period. The
main questions to be addressed are: What was the relation between diet and social
differentiation in MH Lerna? What was the role of food and agricultural resources in
social exchanges in the MH period?

Diet, social differentiation, domestic economy, Lerna, Middle Bronze Age.


The main question we want to address in this paper is the relation between diet and
social differentiation. In recent years, various analytical methods have been
introduced in order to establish variation in health and diet between people in the past:
analysis of human remains in terms of pathologies and dental health, stable isotopes
analysis, dental microwear analysis and others. The results of these analyses,
however, are hardly ever1 correlated with other aspects of the evidence, e.g. the
mortuary treatment or offerings accompanying the deceased in his / her grave. What is
more, analyses of dietary variation are based on the assumption that the consumption
of certain foodstuffs, e.g. animal protein, imply higher social status, and conversely
that higher status arises from differential economic potential. In Aegean archaeology
in particular, these assumptions are almost engrained in social interpretations, because
of the heavy influence by economically deterministic models such as Renfrew’s
systemic model2 and Halstead’s ‘social storage’ model.3 The proposition that social
status arises from differential productive potential by means of surplus accumulation
has been criticized on theoretical grounds,4 but nevertheless remains highly
In this paper, we would like to examine the relationship between social differentiation
and diet in one specific community, Lerna, during a period of drastic social change,
the MH period (Table 1). Our aim is to reconstruct the social organisation of MH
Lerna, as well as processes of change through the MH period and the transition to the
LH period. This will be achieved by employing different analytical methods, and by
integrating different types of data (funerary,5 skeletal,6 as well as the evidence from

Exceptions can be found in Schepartz et al. 2009.
Renfrew 1972.
Cf. Halstead 1981.
See several papers in Barrett and Halstead 2004; see also Christakis 2008, 122 for a
different argument.
The analysis of the mortuary data is carried out by E. Milka.
The re-examination of the human remains from MH Lerna has been carried out by S.


houses and domestic assemblages7) in order to explore differentiation in different

spheres of life and in death.8

Phase Absolute dates9

MH I 2100 – 1900 BC
MH II 1900 – 1800 BC
MH III 1800 – 1700 BC
LH I 1700 – 1600 BC
Table 1. Chronological diagramme.

The evidence will be examined in two chronological phases, which are fairly distinct
in terms of social and historical developments. During the early phases of the MH
period the southern mainland slowly recovers from a major crisis which swept the
entire region at the end of the Early Bronze Age. The MH I – MH II phases are still
characterized by depopulation, a certain social regression, cultural introvertedness,
relative poverty and material austerity. In contrast, the later phases (MH III – LH I)
witness population growth, increasing prosperity, receptivity to external stimuli,
effervescent material production as well as intensification of social change. This
division is of course schematic; in fact, as we will see below, the first indications of
change can be found sporadically already during the MH II period.
Concentrating on Lerna presents both advantages and advantages. Lerna may be
considered the type site of the MH period, since Caskey’s excavations 10 helped
elucidating the chronological sequence in the southern mainland, but the MH layers

This analysis is carrried out by S. Voutsaki and C. Zerner.
The analysis has been carried out as part of a 5-year multidisciplinary project, the
Middle Helladic Argolid Project, financed by the Netherlands Organization for
Scientific Research (NWO) and the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. For the
aims and methods of the project, see Voutsaki 2005; Voutsaki forthcoming, or visit the
website of the project:
The absolute dates, though approximate, are based on radiocarbon analyses carried
out as part of the Middle Helladic Argolid Project. On Lerna: Voutsaki et al. 2009a;
Voutsaki et al. forthcoming. On Asine: Voutsaki et al. 2010. On Aspis, Argos:
Voutsaki et al. 2008.
Caskey 1954; 1955; 1956; 1957; 1958.


are still largely unpublished.11 While plant remains and animal bones were collected, 12
the methods of recovery together with the state of preservation and documentation do
not allow us to form an adequate picture of subsistence patterns during the period. 13 In
terms of its skeletal assemblage, however, MH Lerna with a sample of 209 skeletons
is one of the best documented sites of the prehistoric Aegean. While Angel’s
pioneering research14 on anthropometrics and craniometrics had as main aim to
establish the provenance of the inhabitants of MH Lerna15, the recent re-examination
of the human remains offers plenty of scope for an exploration of their health status
and diet.16 In particular, the correlation of the macroscopic investigation of oral
pathologies with new analytical methods, such as stable isotope and dental microwear
analysis, has shed light on different aspects of diet. In addition, the analysis of
variation between sex and/or age groups in the different phases of the MH period has
given us invaluable insights to gender roles, age divisions, and the position of
subadults in MH Lerna. Furthermore, the graves belonging to the MH occupation of
the site are very well documented,17 and therefore the correlation of skeletal and
mortuary data allow us to observe differentiation from different angles. Finally, MH
Lerna offers another important advantage: groups of graves can be examined in
connection with the house in the ruins of which they are cut. 18 To conclude, MH
Banks 1967; Blackburn 1970; Zerner 1978.
Hopf 1962; Gejvall 1969.
For the Mycenaean period, see now Reese 2008.
Angel 1971.
Triantaphyllou, in press.
For preliminary reports of the re-examination of Lerna’s human remains, see
Triantaphyllou in Voutsaki et al. 2004, 33-36; 2005, 95-102; 2006, 63-64 and
Triantaphyllou, forthcoming. For the results of the stable isotope analysis see
Triantaphyllou et al. 2007.
Blackburn 1970; Milka in Voutsaki et al. 2005, 36-37; 2006, 106-107; 2007, 64-68.
It is generally thought that graves in MH times were placed under the floor of
houses still in use (Cavanagh & Mee 1998, 24), or among the ruins of abandoned
houses (Hägg & Hägg 1973, passim; Nordquist 1987, 91; Dietz 1991, 275, 285;
Maran 1995, passim). Milka’s analysis of grave contexts in MH Lerna has revealed
that graves in Lerna are as a rule cut among house debris already since MH II (Milka
in Voutsaki et al. 2006, 107-108; Milka in press).


Lerna, despite its problems and limitations, still provides an ideal opportunity to
explore the relation between diet and social differentiation and the role of agricultural
surplus in processes of change.

1. The early phases: MH I – MH II period19

1.1. Age and gender
Our discussion will start with the mortuary and skeletal evidence, and in particular
with the two main dimensions which structure social life: age and gender.
All age groups are represented among the MH I – II graves (Figure 1). This suggests
that in this period, being buried among houses represents the norm and is not reserved
for specific age groups, e.g. children or infants.20 However, some differentiation can
be observed: Only neonates are buried in houses still in use, while adults and sub-
adults are interred into destroyed and ruined houses.21 In addition, burial jars were
only used for sub-adults, primarily neonates, while cists were mainly used for adult
burials.22 Finally, the few offerings23 found are more often associated with juvenile
and adult burials.24 The macroscopic investigation of oral pathology and in particular
the overall distribution of calculus versus caries rates between adults and sub-adults
(Figure 2) suggests that the sub-adult segment of the population consistently

We should clarify that our analysis is based on the revised dating of most (but not
all) graves by Carol Zerner. If the date of a grave has not been revised, we use the
date given by Blackburn 1970. The information on houses is based on the preliminary
reports and on information provided once more by Carol Zerner.
On this point see also the detailed study by Ingvarsson-Sundström 2008;
Ingvarsson-Sundström & Nordquist 2005, 156-174; Pomadère in press.
Milka in Voutsaki et al. 2006, 107; Milka in press.
As noticed already by Blackburn 1970, 285; Nordquist 1979, 20; Voutsaki 2004,
353; Milka in Voutsaki et al. 2007, 65.
E.g. C-F, MH II, 16 Ler, juvenile female: two vessels, terracotta whorl, obsidian
flake; BA 1, MH II, 33 Ler, young adult male: vessel, bronze chisel, animal bones.
Milka, forthcoming.


consumed soft and processed foodstuffs which predispose the development of

cariotic lesions in the teeth.25
If we look at the proportional representation of gender categories (Figure 3), slightly
more men then women are buried in MH I – II Lerna. Differentiation throughout the
period is expressed in body position: as a rule, men were buried on the right side and
women on the left, though exceptions exist.26 The contextual analysis has revealed
some subtle differentiation in burial offerings. For example, tools were primarily
found in 30-50 years old male burials, while ornaments in juvenile female burials. 27
However, it should be stressed that we are dealing with only a few cases.
If we now turn to health status, the osteological analysis focused on two broad
pathological categories: a. levels of mechanical load, i.e. osteoarthritis, vertebral
arthritis, trauma, musculo-skeletal markers, resulting from heavy manual work, and b.
stress factors, i.e. non-specific infections, anaemia, enamel hypoplasia, resulting from
nutritional problems during the developmental years and exposure to pathogenic
agents during lifetime. The distribution of these conditions is not even between the
two sexes (Figure 4). Both sexes demonstrate skeletal changes related to the musculo-
skeletal system throughout the MH period though no clear, or consistent patterns can
be discerned. However, stress factors (metabolic disturbances and enamel hypoplasia
defects) appear to have affected women more frequently than men, especially during
the MH I–II phases. Women in MH I-II show a slightly higher incidence of lesions
related to physical workload, while the opposite can be observed in the MH III-LH I
periods. Finally, men show consistently slightly higher incidence of non-specific
infections, which may suggest more frequent exposure to pathogenic agents, possibly
due to external contacts. Therefore, it can be argued that a sexual division of labour,
but also subtle differences between sexes existed already in MH I – II.
The evidence for differences in diet between men and women is not fully conclusive
for this period. It is important to point out here that the different methods employed
reveal different aspects of diet: The macroscopic investigation of dental lesions
informs us about the chemistry of the oral environment, stable isotope analysis about
the relative proportion of the type of protein intake and dental microwear analysis
E.g. a kind of gruel, as proposed recently by Sundström-Ingvarsson for the Asine
As noticed already by Nordquist 1979, 17; see also Ruppenstein, in press.
Milka in Voutsaki et al. 2007, 65-66.


about the texture of the food consumed. The distribution of dental lesions shows
slightly higher rates of calculus and low rates of caries, which suggests consumption
of animal protein by both sexes (Figure 5). The stable isotope analysis (Figure 6)
indicates that men and women consumed a similar proportion of animal and plant
based proteins though diet among men is perhaps slightly more varied.28 However,
dental microwear analysis shows that women consumed softer and more processed
foodstuffs (though it should be stressed that only the MH II sample was adequate for
statistical analysis).
To conclude: in general terms, men and women shared the same diet during MH I - II,
but some slight differences exist with regard to the texture of the foodstuffs and the
type of the protein intake.

1.2. Differentiation in mortuary treatment

Having examined age and gender, we will now turn to differentiation in mortuary
treatment. The discussion will proceed in two stages: we will first discuss
differentiation between individual burials, and then between groups of graves.

1.2.1. Differentiation between individuals

Differences in grave size or construction are minimal in MH I – II, and there are very
few graves with a more diverse set of offerings. There is no correlation between grave
type, grave construction and quantity or diversity of offerings, i.e. burials in cists are
not necessarily accompanied by more, or more diverse offerings. Only one (MH II)
grave stands out in this period: J 4B, a prime adult (30-40 years) male skeleton29
buried in extended position (which is unusual for this period) in a cist accompanied by
four vessels, one of which imported from Crete, and a bronze razor blade or knife.
Although the skeleton is very poorly preserved,30 the high degree of musculo-skeletal
markers suggest that this man engaged in heavy physical work.
We can reverse the argument and look at the few skeletons (five MH I / II out of a
total of 209 skeletons) that show no evidence for mechanical load and may have
Two men (D 1, 20 Ler: MH II, pit, no offerings; D18, 48 Ler: MH II, pit, no
offerings) seem to have consumed more plant protein.
217 Ler.
As far as it can be established because of the poor preservation, this skeleton does
not seem to be exceptional in terms of health or oral status.


engaged less with heavy manual work (Table 2). Unfortunately, only three of these
skeletons, all female, were sufficiently preserved, and their dating is not always
secure.31 Nevertheless, none of these burials is exceptional in terms of grave
construction or offerings, nor do they cluster in a specific area.

Period Adults
Male Female Uncertain
2 2 1
‘MH’ 3
Table 2. Skeletons showing no evidence for mechanical load

We can also examine skeletons showing no signs of dietary or environmental stress

(Table 3). Eight out of 29 MH I – II skeletons (out of a total of 209) show no
indications of stress. Once more, low levels of stress do not correlate with burial
treatment, grave type or grave offerings.

Period Sub-adults Adults

Table 3. 1
Male Female
Skeletons 7 (2 neonate-
1 0
showing no MH I – MH II birth)
signs of
MH III – LH I 21
dietary or TOTAL 29
environmental stress
To sum up: In MH I – II differentiation between individual burials in terms of
mortuary treatment is minimal, and does not correlate with diet, pathologies and stress

1.2.2. Differentiation per group

Examining differentiation between individual burials is not sufficient, as the
contextual analysis of the mortuary data has revealed differentiation between grave

These three skeletons belonged to four females: BC 5, 77 Ler MH I, date not
revised; M 1, 59 Ler: ‘MH’; J 2, 211 Ler: ‘MH’.


groups.32 Before we present these observations, we first need to explain how groups
have been defined. Some of the graves in Lerna were located close together clustering
in, or around free-standing houses. Only the dense groups in which graves were
placed in the same location over a period of time and were related to particular
houses, have been assigned to groups (Figure 7).33 In other words, burial groups have
been defined by spatial proximity, by connection with a house and by persistence
through time.
The analysis has revealed that while differentiation between individual burials is
minimal, there is some differentiation between grave groups. Early cists cluster in
group B (Figure 8), while burial jars, used for sub-adult burials, cluster in the
adjacent groups B and A (Figure 9). Groups B and A also have the highest density of
vases and of imported pottery among the offerings, but also the highest proportion of
non-ceramic offerings found in the graves (Figures 10 and 11).34 Finally, partly
removed, or disarticulated burials as well as double, or multiple burials concentrate in
the same area (Figure 12).
To conclude: Groups B and A stand out in most aspects, though it should be kept in
minds that differentiation is never really pronounced. It is interesting that both areas
occupy the most prominent part of the settlement excavated so far, near to the House
of Tiles tumulus.35
It is worth looking more closely at the sequence in grave group B,36 which, as we have
seen, stands out both in terms of the quantity of offerings and the complexity of the
mortuary treatment. During the transitional EH III/MH I period two apsidal houses,
House 68A and House 99E, were built next to each other. No graves were associated
with them. The two houses were replaced in MH I by the complex consisting of

Milka in Voutsaki et al. 2007, 67.
Assigning graves to groups was only possible in the eastern half of the excavated
area for which Carol Zerner provided us detailed plans showing the relation between
houses and graves in each phase. Seven groups have been defined in this way.
However, no items which could be considered valuable’, i.e. made of semi-precious
stone, bronze, or silver, have been found in those graves.
The LH I shaft graves will also be opened in the same area.
Milka, in press.


apsidal House 98A, rooms 44 and 45 and a courtyard. Only one grave37 may have
been opened in the courtyard while the house complex was still in use.
After the destruction of the house complex by fire during the MH II period, its debris
was heaped up and a number of graves38 were opened upon the debris (Figure 13).
Interestingly, graves cluster upon previous storage / cooking areas and generally
follow the orientation of pre-existed walls. The area was used exclusively for burials
from the middle part of the MH II period until the transition to the MH III period.
In the transition from the MH II to the MH III period, House 100 was erected on top
of the earlier graves. No tombs contemporary with the house were found, but tombs
dating to the late MH III period39 were opened upon the ruins after the house was
destroyed (Figure 14). Graves follow again the orientation of the walls, but the use of
the rooms upon which they were opened is unclear.
The last building activity in this area is represented by rooms 3 and 5 built during the
transitional MH III/LH I period west of the earlier graves. Although a couple of
graves (which cannot be dated accurately) may have been contemporary with these
two rooms, most of the associated tombs40 postdate the rooms, i.e. belong to the LH I
period (Figure 15). Once more, graves usually follow the orientation of walls. Here,
as with House 100, the specific use of the rooms is unknown. During the LH I-LH IIA
period shaft grave 2 was opened in the same area cutting down the debris of the MH I
House 98A, but also the ne corner of the House of the Tiles.
Many interesting observations can be made on this sequence: First of all, we see a
certain continuity in the positioning of the houses throughout the period. While their
precise location of the houses shifts slightly, their orientation remains unchanged
throughout the period. This may imply a certain fixity of the domestic group which
seems to occupy the same plot of land through time.41 Second, we see from MH II
onwards a cyclical alternation between houses and graves cut into the debris of the
BE 28: pit, neonate.
BE 22, BE 23, BE 24, BE 25, BE 26, BE 27, BE 29, BE 31.
BE 5, BE 9, BE 10, BE 11, BE 12, BE 15?, BE 17, BE 19?, BE 20.
BE 2, BE 3, BE 4, BE 6, BE 7, BE 8, BE 13, BE 14, BE 16.
Georgousopoulou (2004, 207-213) has observed a similar phenomenon in
neighbouring Asine, which she explains as expressing claims on land. Interestingly,
our comparative analysis of the Lerna and Asine data reveal that this phenomenon is
much more pronounced in Lerna.


destroyed and or abandoned houses.42 The fact that those graves follow more or less
the orientation of the house, and that they sometimes cluster in cooking or storage
areas implies that the memory of the house lay-out and the function of its parts
lingered for decades after its destruction and abandonment. These practices stress
even more the persistence of the kin group through time and its fixity in space. We
can suggest that they thereby express a concern with descent and with transmission of
property across the generations.43 This may explain why group B is characterized by a
higher concentration of secondary treatment and double or multiple burials. Finally, it
may not be a coincidence that shaft grave 2 was opened in this area.44
It is time to examine more closely the evidence from houses, especially in group B 45
where some interesting developments can be observed. The two EH/MH - MH I
apsidal houses 68A and 99E are typical examples for this early period: one- or two-
roomed, with evidence for cooking and storage inside the houses, and for basic
manufacturing activities both inside the houses and in the narrow lane between them.
Both houses were rebuilt at least once before they were replaced in late MH I by the
complex of House 98 A and rooms 44 and 45.46 This complex differs from earlier (and
contemporary) free-standing houses: It occupies a larger plot, and is demarcated with
an enclosure. It consists of an ordinary, rather small apsidal house with its own
storage facilities, a courtyard with a hearth and two auxiliary rooms used mainly for
storage (Figure 16). The complex as a whole has impressive storage capacity, and,
most importantly, it contained a large number of imported Minoan jars.47 It has
therefore already been interpreted as ‘the chief’s house’ in an attempt to detect
aggrandizing faction leaders already in the earlier MH phases.48 However, the
Successive episodes of house construction, house destruction and abandonment and
grave construction have also been observed in areas DE and D in Lerna. The other
areas have not as yet been revised by C. Zerner.
Voutsaki, forthcoming b.
Shaft grave 1 was, of course, cut into the tumulus erected over the House of Tiles.
Located in area BE in the excavation.
Caskey 1956, 159. For a more detailed analysis, see Voutsaki forthcoming b.
According to C. Zerner, this period represents the peak of Minoan imports in Lerna.
It is unfortunately impossible to study the distribution of Minoan imports across the
settlement, as the ceramic material has not been kept in its entirety.
Wright 2001; Wright 2004, 70ff.


analysis of the house remains from Lerna by Carol Zerner has revealed that House
Complex 98A is not unique; at least two other complexes existed,49 though both are
partly preserved and inadequately documented.
In terms of small finds, the usual assemblage of tools and small finds50 implying basic
manufacturing activities was recovered from the house - though nothing that could be
termed valuable. It should be stressed that the complex was destroyed in a violent fire
and had been covered by accumulated debris which sealed its contents. Elsewhere in
MH II Lerna metal tools, simple ornaments, or bronze pins have been found.51 No
valuable or exceptional finds were found in the graves that were opened into its ruins
in late MH II (Table 4).52

Grave Offerings
BE 24 Terracotta whorl
BE 25 One vessel
BE 29 One vessel
BE 30 (5 skeletons) Four vessels (two of which imported), two pestles, bone awl,
bone pin, terracotta whorl, terracotta pierced disc
BE 31 Bone pin, chert saw
Table 4. Graves with offerings cut into the ruins of house complex 98A

House 100, erected in this area at the transition to MH III, is unfortunately only partly
preserved, and no intact domestic assemblage has been found in it.53
Therefore, House Complex 98A provides evidence for the accumulation of surplus,
which must have helped establishing external contacts and bringing in imports into
this household. However, agricultural surplus in this case does not seem to lay the
basis for the manufacture of valuables, the employment of craft specialists, or the
consumption of valuables. To put it simply, surplus does not seem to be translated to a
wealth differential in MH II Lerna. The absence of differentiation among MH I – II

These are apsidal house BI with room BS in area D, and apsidal house 55 with
rooms AR, AM in area DE.
I.e. stone tools, obsidian and chert tools, bone pins, bone tools, clay whorls, etc.
Banks 1967, passim.
BE 22, BE 23, BE 24, BE 25, BE 26, BE 27, BE 29, BE 30, BE 31.
Carol Zerner, personal communication.


graves corroborates this conclusion (with the notable exception of J 4B, as we have
seen above).
We can extend the argument further by returning once more to the skeletal evidence:
If we look at the distribution of individuals who do not preserve skeletal signs of
nutritional or environmental stress, group B burials do not stand out. Apparently, the
surplus accumulated in this household was not translated to a more varied or richer

1.3. Preliminary conclusions on MH I – II

Let us attempt some conclusions on social structure during the MH I – II period:
During the early phases of the MH period, differences between the members of the
community are not pronounced. The basic structuring principles of social relations
seem to have been age, gender and kinship relations. Infants and children are included
among the graves and receive similar treatment, but some subtle differences imply
that age divisions did matter. The evidence for gender differentiation is minimal,
though a sexual division of labour may have existed already in these early phases.
The importance of kinship and descent was manifested by the clustering of graves, the
shared features within burial groups and their persistence through time. The
alternation between houses and graves in the same location express also a concern
with descent and with the transmission of property across generations. Individual
status is not emphasized in the mortuary sphere, and there is no correlation between
treatment at death and diet or health during life. Interestingly, there are subtle
differences between grave groups in treatment and offerings, but not in terms of
health status or diet. In addition, there is differentiation between households in terms
of storage capacity, surplus and presence of imports. However, this differentiation
does not seem to be translated into a wealth differential by means of the employment
of craft specialists, the production or consumption of valuables, or the consumption of
more meat and/or dairy products.

2. MH III - LH I
It is well-known that the mainland societies undergo a gradual though profound
transformation during the transition to the LH period: Conspicuous consumption in


the mortuary sphere signals the emergence of social differentiation, but also increased
emphasis on descent and more pronounced age and gender divisions. These internal
changes cannot of course be understood independently of the mainland’s closer
integration to the Aegean world. Let us examine how these wider changes affect
social relations within the Lerna community.
2.1. Age and gender
We start once more with age divisions in the mortuary sphere. In the later period, a
much stricter differentiation between age groups can be observed: Among the burials
in the settlement area (Figure 1) there is a prevalence of sub-adult individuals,
especially in LH I. In contrast, adults predominate in the extramural cemetery in
Myloi,54 which comes into use in MH III/LH I.55 Within Lerna itself, grave group G
(Figure 7), now becomes reserved for sub-adult burials.56 Specific forms and
practices are used exclusively by certain age categories:57 for instance, only adults are
buried in brick cists, or are placed in extended position.58 The very limited evidence
we have from the shaft graves59 may also imply that shaft graves were used
(primarily?) for adults.60 In general, age differentiation in mortuary treatment becomes
more pronounced in this period than it was in MH I – MH II.
Distribution of dental lesions between adults and sub-adults (Figure 2) is consistent
with the consumption of cariogenic foodstuff by the sub-adult inhabitants of Lerna as
observed already for MH I- II.

Dietz & Divari-Valakou 1990, 45-62; Dietz 1991, 147-148.
The introduction of formal cemeteries is a phenomenon attested across the entire
southern mainland in this period.
Milka, forthcoming.
Milka in Voutsaki et. al. 2007, 65.
The only exception might have been the burial in grave DC 2, where a two years old
infant (148 Ler) was perhaps buried extended on its back and was accompanied by
rich offerings (Blackburn 1970, 174).
Only few foot bones of an adult we re recovered from shaft grave 2.
As indeed was the case in Grave Circle B of Mycenae where male adult burials
predominate; Angel 1972, Triantaphyllou in Voutsaki et al. 2006, 90-91,
Triantaphyllou, forthcoming. For a discussion on gender differentiation in Mycenae,
see Voutsaki 2004; Voutsaki, in press.


If we examine gender, strangely enough more men than women seem to be buried in
Lerna in MH III times61 (Table 5, Figure 3). This pattern is difficult to explain,
especially as we have no comparative information on the Myloi burials.

MH III 13 male 10 female

MH III/LH I 6 male 1 female
LH I 2 male 3 female
MH III/LH I-LH I 16 male 6 female
Table 5. Proportion of male and fermale burials in MH III – LH I

Men and women are still buried on different sides, but differentiation in the burial
offerings becomes now clearer, as weapons62 are only found in male graves, while
neither ornaments nor pins are found in single male burials.63
Differences in the health status of men and women, and thereby indications for a
sexual division of labour continue (Figure 4). Men show slightly higher levels of
musculoskeletal markers and non-specific infectious lesions than women. This
suggests that they engaged in heavier physical work and were more exposed to
pathogenic agents, probably via outside contacts. It should be noted here that levels of
stress factors and infections decline in this period across the entire Lerna population
(Figure 7). This could be attributed either to local factors, i.e. perhaps to a
demographic decline in Lerna and thereby to a less congregated community, or to a
general rise in the standards of living during the more prosperous MH III – LH I
The stable isotope analysis points to a slight difference between men and women
(Figure 6), with men having a more varied diet than women and a slightly higher
consumption of animal protein. Three men in specific have higher animal protein
levels, but as we see in Table 6, they are not distinguished in any other way.
1 Ler A1 YA (28.7) MH III cist bone awl, obsidian
82 Ler BD 3 MA (40-50) LH I, or later pit no offerings
115 Ler BE 11 MA (40-50) MH III brick cist no offerings
Table 6. Late male burials with higher animal protein levels

The LH I sample is too small to allow statistical observations.
Such as arrowheads or sling pellets; no metal weapons have been in Lerna graves.
Voutsaki 2004, 356; Milka in Voutsaki et al. 2007, 65.


To conclude, differentiation along age divisions becomes more pronounced in this

period, while gender differentiation in treatment at death and in diet becomes only
marginally more emphasized.

2.2. Differentiation, ‘status’or ‘wealth’

The appearance of the two shaft graves implies the emergence of status differences as
a new principle ordering social life.64 Unfortunately, the shaft graves were robbed and
human remains have been purposefully removed, perhaps at a later stage (?).65 A few
other single burials in Lerna and two in neighbouring Myloi (Table 7) receive some
more offerings, though neither the quantity nor the quality of offerings in MH III –
LH I Lerna is impressive.
Gr No Date Grave Skel Age/gender Treat- Offerings
type no ment
D5 MH III / Cist 24 Ler Child (5.5y) Disturbed 3 vases
DC 2 LH I Cist 148 Ler Infant (2y) Primary 6 vases,
faience bead
DE 21 LH I Cist 167 Ler Infant (2.5- - Two vases,
3y) silver band,
paste and
stone beads.
pierced disc
BC 3 LH I Very Few Adult? Secondary Four vases,
large bones, - skeleton bronze
cist not removed bodkin,
studied from the bronze pin

Gr No Date Grave Age/gender Treatment Offerings
V MH III / Cist ? Primary Four vases,
LH I terracotta whorl
VII LH I Cist Adult Primary. Second Four vases,
burial in the grave bronze knife,
Voutsaki 1997; Voutsaki 2010b, 603-604.
Blackburn 1970, 168-173. See also Lindblom 2007 for a recent discussion on the
nature of the assemblage found inside the shaft graves.


bronze razor
Table 7. MH III – LH I graves with more offerings in Lerna and Myloi

The relative poverty of Lerna becomes even more striking, if compared with
neighbouring Argos,66 Asine,67 and of course Mycenae.68 Although the picture is
distorted because of the robbed shaft graves, in other sites (in the Argolid at least)
there is a general increase in the wealth deposited with the dead, even below the level
of the elites.69
Having said that, there are now more consistent correlations between different facets
of mortuary treatment; e.g. extended skeletons are usually found in larger cists, and
contain more offerings. The notion of personal status differences is now emerging.
However, mortuary treatment still does not correlate with health status. For instance,
the number of skeletons missing stress lesions increases in this period, but none of the
burials interred in larger graves or accompanied by richer offerings belong to this
category (Table 8).

MH I – MH II Total 8
Sub-adults Adults
14 (7 7
Male Female
5 2
Total 21

The question is, however, whether personal status is still embedded in (burial, or kin)
group status. We turn to this question below.

2.3. Differentiation between grave groups

Protonotariou-Deilaki 1980; Voutsaki et al. 2009b; Sarri & Voutsaki in press.
Dietz 1980; Milka 2006; Milka n.d.; Voutsaki et al. in press.
Schliemann 1878; Mylonas 1973; Alden 2000.
See Voutsaki 2009 for shifts in the political significance of sites in the Argolid
during the MH and LH period.


Group B still stands out for the density of removed/ disarticulated skeletons, and
double or multiple burials (Figure 17). Although the distribution of burial offerings
(vases, imports and non-ceramic objects) is more even across the grave groups than
was the case in MH I – II, group B retains the highest density (Figure 17). However,
objects of higher value, i.e. silver, bronze, semi-precious stones, paste, do not cluster
in group B, but are now thinly spread across the settlement.
However, if we examine the distribution of skeletons missing stress lesions (total: 29)
Group B skeletons (6, but 3 are neonates) not exceptional (Figure 18).
We can therefore conclude that there is differentiation between grave groups in the
distribution of offerings or the complexity of treatment, but there is no correlation
between mortuary ‘wealth’, complexity of mortuary treatment and health status.

2.4. Preliminary conclusions on MH III – LH I

During the MH III-LH I period gender and especially age divisions become more
pronounced. While personal status is emerging as a new criterion of social
categorization, it is still embedded in kinship.70 Indeed in this period kin relations are
emphasized not only with the continuing association between houses and graves or
the shared features and practices within clusters, but also with the re-use of tombs and
the secondary treatment of the body.
Differences in mortuary treatment –whether at the level of the individual burial, or
that of the group- do not correlate with health status.

General conclusions
Let us return to the questions we raised in the Introduction.
i. What was the relation between diet and social differentiation?
The examination of MH data has disproved the tacit assumption underlying most
discussions of dietary variation in archaeology: differentiation (between individuals,
between households, between kin groups) does not seem to correlate with health
status and pathologies. It should be emphasized that this is not the case even in the
later period, when differentiation becomes more pronounced. However, here we need
to keep in mind the limitations of the Lerna case, as we have no evidence from the

For a fuller discussion, see Voutsaki 2010a.


shaft graves, nor any osteological information for the Myloi cemetery, which most
probably was one of the extramural cemeteries of Lerna.71
ii. What was the role of agricultural surplus in processes of change?
We have seen that in certain periods, notably in early MH II, we have evidence for
differentiation between households (so far only in Lerna) in terms of storage capacity,
agricultural surplus and the acquisition of imports – though not in terms of the
production or consumption of valuables. Therefore, agricultural surplus is not
translated into wealth differential in this case – and Halstead’s social storage
hypothesis is disproved by the MH data. And so is Renfrew’s gradualist model:
whatever processes of differentiation were at play in MH II, they were aborted soon
afterwards. Surplus did not lead to increased craft production, nor to social
We would like to finish with a methodological remark: in this paper we tried to
integrate different types of evidence and different analytical techniques. We tried to
go beyond juxtaposing them; we attempted to interweave them in order to resolve
specific archaeological questions.

It has been argued elsewhere that Lerna declines in importance in MH III – LH I
(Voutsaki 2009).


We would like to thank the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research) for its
generous funding of the project; the University of Groningen for providing matching
funding and INSTAP for additional Research Grants. We would like to express our
thanks to the successive Ephors of the 4th Ephorate of Classical and Prehistoric
Antiquities, Mrs Zoi Aslamatzidou and Mrs Anna Banaka, the Department of
Conservation, Greek Ministry of Culture, the American School of Classical Studies,
and Dr M. Wiencke, Dr C. Zerner and Dr E. Banks for granting us permission to
study and sample the Lerna skeletons. We would also like to acknowledge the
assistance of the staff at the 4th Ephorate, particularly Dr Alkistis Papadimitriou and
Mrs Evangelia Pappi. The personnel in the Museum of Argos have been extremely
helpful throughout our stay in Argos; we thank them all.


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