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Spondylus in Prehistory

New data and approaches

Contributions to the archaeology of shell technologies

Edited by

Fotis Ifantidis
Marianna Nikolaidou

BAR International Series 2216

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Spondylus in Prehistory: New data and approaches. Contributions to the archaeology of shell

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F. Ifantidis & M. Nikolaidou (eds.), Spondylus in Prehistory: New Data & Approaches – Contributions to the Archaeology of Shell Technologies

C hapter 7

Spondylus gaederopus IN AEGEAN PREHISTORY:


Tatiana Theodoropoulou

Spondylus gaederopus artifacts are a common find in prehistoric sites, both coastal and inland, in Northern Greece. This paper
discusses the choice to use this raw material, its distribution in Northern Aegean sites, as well as the variability observed in the
transformation into objects. A review of shapes and possible uses is given. The existing repertoire points to a pronounced preference
of Spondylus shells for the manufacture of ornaments, with a more limited use for functional objects. This trend points to a special
attribute given to this marine raw material, bringing together natural properties and symbolic values shaped to social items within
Northern Aegean communities.

Introduction the tropical seas. It is distributed throughout a large portion of

the Mediterranean, the Atlantic Ocean, near Gibraltar, includ-
Both coastal and inland prehistoric sites from Northern Greece ing Madeira, the Azores, the Canaries, and the Cape Verde
have produced numerous Spondylus remains. Although whole Islands (Fischer et al. 1987: 492). In the Greek seas, it has
Spondylus valves and fragments without any secondary modi- been recorded in the Saronic, Laconic, Messenian, Thermaic,
fication are usual finds, artifacts made from Spondylus out- Euboean, Patraic, and Corinthian gulfs, the Peloponnese, the
number any other group of shell artifacts, thus implying a Cyclades, the Dodecanese, Crete, Astakos, Kymi (Eastern
focused exploitation of this shell in Greek prehistory. Spondy- Euboea), and the Chalkidiki peninsula (Delamotte & Vardala-
lus artifacts often feature among the most prestigious objects Theodorou 1994: 250). Its abundance in the Aegean, in close
found in Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements in Northern distance to most prehistoric sites from Northern Greece, sug-
Aegean, from Western Macedonia to Aegean Thrace1 (Karali gests that Spondylus valves found in this region would have
1999b; Miller 2003; Nikolaidou 2003; Pappa & Veropoulidou, been collected from these coasts3. Despite the close distance
this volume; Theodoropoulou 2007) (Fig. 1). This paper re- of most settlements to the sea, its occurrence also in a number
traces the routes of metamorphosis of Spondylus, from extrac- of inland sites allows suggesting that small-scale expeditions
tion of the raw material indigenous to the Aegean coasts, its or exchanges of marine shells would have taken place in pre-
transport to the settlements, and subsequent transformation to historic Northern Greece4, a practice dating back to the Upper
a variety of cultural shapes. Palaeolithic in neighboring Epirus5. Such regional transports
would of course not be comparable in scale to broader, interre-
Fishing for Spondylus
jects by the anterior edge of the right valve. Left (upper) valve with con-
The exploitation of raw materials generally involves an ability spicuous “ears”, hinge with two large teeth on each side (isodont), mantle
to locate the source of these materials and transport them to a edge free, with eye spots (Lamprell 1987; for more details on the palaeo-
place of transformation and production. Within this chain of biology of the species, see also Hladilová, this volume). Five species are
known in the Mediterranean.
events, the presence of artifacts made from Spondylus gaed-
eropus cannot be seen independently from the environment of 3 This is not such a straightforward conclusion for the origin of Spondylus
artifacts from Northern Balkan sites. Although both the Aegean and the
acquisition, the route from a natural to a cultural environment, Black Sea were likely alternatives for their origin, comparison of 18O/16O
to be finally incorporated as finished products within a given values of archaeological specimens with modern ones suggested the Ae-
human community. gean as being a more likely source (Shackleton & Renfrew 1970).
4 In some sites, Spondylus shells might have travelled a total direct dis-
Spondylus gaederopus (Linnaeus 1758), the sole genus of the tance of 100km (for instance, 80-120km from the Aegean to Dispilio),
although more common distance for N. Greece Neolithic sites is around
bivalve family Spondylidae2, is a commonly found shell in 25km (for example, Sitagroi). For a number of sites, namely those on the
western part of the studied area, it has been suggested that Spondylus was
obtained from the Adriatic Sea instead (for a review, see Ifantidis 2006a:
1  Following a natural and cultural border, dividing Northern from Central 69), yet if this was the case, the covered distance would be even greater.
Greece (see also, Andreou et al. 1996). 5 For a discussion on the circulation of shell artifacts (not Spondylus) in
2  Shells with unequal valves, with long or short spines on the ribs and Upper Palaeolithic sites from Epirus (Boila, Katritsa, Klithi), see Kotja-
widely spaced umboes of unequal size. Attached to rocks and other ob- bopoulou & Adam (2004).
Spondylus in Prehistory: New Data & Approaches – Contributions to the Archaeology of Shell Technologies

Figure 1. Map of Northern Greece with sites mentioned in the text

gional networks involving the transport of raw or transformed dylus and other shells would be collected directly by members
Spondylus gaederopus from the Aegean coasts across Balkan of inland communities, during expeditions destined for this or
regions up to Central Europe, which has been put forward as other long-distance activities (direct access, Torrence 1986).
evidence of long-distance exchange (Dimitrijević & Tripković In this case, one assumes knowledge of fishing grounds/beach
2006; Renfrew 1973; Séfériadès 1995a, 1995b, 2000; Todor- shores and methods of procurement, what Taborin (2004: 70)
ova 2000). calls “the collective memory built upon repetition”. b) marine
raw materials would be part of exchanges or trade between
Nevertheless, the symbolic value of the circulation of Spondy- coastal and inland communities (down the line exchange, Ren-
lus, and generally marine raw materials, even within a small- frew et al. 1965, 1968), possibly through a more complex net-
scale transport network in Northern Greece is underlined by work of itinerants middlemen (Perlès 1990)7. In the latter case,
a number of observations: although the presence of marine the question of transport of raw Spondylus or finished artifacts
shells used as raw materials is a common practice in coastal rises (see, for instance, Müller 1997), with subsequent social
sites and also found in inland sites, on the other hand, the use implications regarding the choice of a group to exchange/trade
of freshwater shells is only limited within a local scale of in- raw materials or finished items, the degree of specialization of
land communities, thus indicating a differential value of ma- artisan production as well as surplus of either raw or worked
rine and freshwater materials respectively (Theodoropoulou Spondylus within a community (Theodoropoulou 2007: 487).
2007: 487). In this case, it is the very nature of the material
rather than its distant origin which is put forward (on the super- Local or distant communities involved with the procurement
natural value attributed to long-distance materials and worked of live Spondylus gaederopus would have to take into con-
items, see Paulsen 1974; Séfériadès 2000). The presence of sideration the biological characteristics of the animal. The
marine specimens in inland sites is occasionally accompanied Spondylus mollusc lives on rocky, coral or detritic bottoms of
by marine food debris, thus implying a more complex concep- the sublittoral zone from 1m to about 50m depth, permanently
tual approach of the marine environment as a whole (Theodo- cemented to hard surfaces by its right valve. It prefers exposed
ropoulou 2007: 488, Theodoropoulou, in press). positions on vertical rocks with slow but steadily moving cur-
rents (Delamotte & Vardala-Theodorou 1994: 250; Fischer
With respect to the presence of marine shells in inland sites, et al. 1987: 492; Katsanevakis et al. 2008). The species is
several possible transport scenarios can be addressed6: a) Spon-
7 According to some scholars (Séfériadès 2000), this type of trade can be
6 Based on the general discussion on transport of raw materials in prehis- assumed in Neolithic communities even within distances shorter than
tory, namely obsidian. 50km.

Tatiana Theodoropoulou – Spondylus gaederopus in Aegean Prehistory: Deciphering Shapes from Northern Greece

often accompanied by the sponge Crambe crambe that cov- Why Spondylus?
ers the upper valve and camouflages its shell. The encoding
of the ecological information on Spondylus reveals the pos- Proximity to the source or, to a regional network of exchanges,
sible methods of procurement. Modern and ethnographic data partly explains the presence of numerous Spondylus remains
on fishing of Spondylus include the use of rakes, trawls and in most prehistoric sites in Northern Greece. But why Spon-
dredges (Fischer et al. 1987: 492; Katsanevakis et al. 2008). dylus as a raw material rather than some other shell species?
In very shallow waters they can be gathered by hand or with
small rakes. In somewhat deeper water, long-handled rakes or Although focus is usually put on the Spondylus shell, one
oyster tongs are used to reach the beds. In some areas a dredge should also review the possible uses of the flesh within an
is used. Harvesting of Spondylus in deeper waters may also be archaeological study of Spondylus fragments. Like most
achieved by diving from boats and detaching the camouflaged molluscs from the Greek seas, Spondylus is edible and suit-
molluscs from their bed with the aid of a knife or pointed tool able for human consumption, although its nutritional value
(Lever 1963; Sims et al. 1990). This fishing method usually is questioned, as it contains important quantities of uric acid
involves time, skill and personal investment, which might add (Katsanevakis et al. 2008). Modern harvesting by commercial
social meanings and symbolisms to the fishing activity, the divers primarily involves the exploitation of its succulent ad-
persons involved, as well as the value of the fished shell (for ductor muscle, occasionally sold in local markets (Fischer et
example, Malinowski 1922: 366-375). Coastal populations al. 1987: 492). Spondylus is considered a delicacy in some
would have probably been familiar with the aforementioned areas and for this same reason it is given the name “royal oys-
methods, and it is likely that these latter would have been per- ter” (Katsanevakis et al. 2008)9. Yet, although unworked frag-
meated with both social and symbolic values. On the other ments of Spondylus gaederopus are commonly found in many
hand, such a skilled activity might have been equally, if not Aegean sites, their exploitation for dietary purposes is rarely
more, valued by distant groups, thus transmitted to the object. brought forward (Becker 1996; Prummel 2000; Theodoropou-
In both cases, the individual or collective organization of the lou 2007: 441; Veropoulidou, this volume).
activity would be subject to practical and social/symbolic con-
siderations (Theodoropoulou 2007: 487). What is then that makes Spondylus a better candidate for the
use of its shell as raw material? In the case of shells the materi-
Although the described methods are likely to have been used al per se might offer a good explanation for its choice. Accord-
by prehistoric divers, acquisition of dead Spondylus valves ing to Taborin (2004: 67), “nature has given to humans shells
found shored on the beach is also possible by both coastal as natural jewels, an available source, constantly renewed,
and inland groups (on the uses of beach-worn shells in Ae- diversified and colored, offering species of multiple sizes and
gean Prehistory, see Theodoropoulou, forth.). The discrimina- shapes”. Indeed, shell shape and structure provided ancient
tion between fresh and water-worn specimens is possible on a populations a valuable raw material for the manufacture of
macroscopic level (worn exterior and interior surface, abraded ornaments and tools. Among shells, Spondylus gaederopus is
edges, erosion, natural holes, encrustation, see also Claassen one of the most praised raw materials from prehistoric times
1998: 54-77), although it is sometimes extremely difficult to onwards. Its size can range from 40 to 150mm, making Spon-
distinguish the aforementioned traces, especially on worked dylus one of the well-sized shells from the Mediterranean
specimens. Fossil Spondylus-bearing geological deposits are and one of the few shell shapes not limiting transformation
also present in Greece and might have been exploited in some to minimal interventions. This observation explains in part
areas8. Macroscopic examination as well as chemical analy- the most diversified repertoire of shapes among shell objects,
sis (87Sr/86Sr ratio, Shackleton & Elderfield 1990) are some sometimes only created from Spondylus specimens. More-
of the methods proposed to discriminate a recent from a fos- over, thanks to its natural properties (hard, dense, light), it is
sil Spondylus specimen (for a review of these methods, see an excellent surface to work on. The shell offers a unique col-
Douka, this volume), both methods not without drawbacks. ored surface. The left valve is colored from brownish to violet
Yet, it has been suggested that fresh valves would have been and purple, whereas the right valve is usually white10.
preferred, being less friable and breakable than beach-worn
and fossil specimens (Miller 2003). The suggested preference Additional working of Spondylus shells by man leads to par-
seems to imply a direct link between the collector and the arti- tial or more important transformation of the raw material. The
san, in some cases being the same person (either sedentary or colored surface may be darkened by heating or deliberately
itinerant), yet this cannot be proved. On the other hand, more removed by friction (Leight 2002). Sometimes, a deliberate
symbolic attributes might be added to the aforementioned grey/black color is achieved by burning of the shell11. Further
technological choice of a certain raw material, namely fresh artificial coloring of shells is possible12. Other attributes that
vs. beach-worn, also transmitted to the final object (Theodo- allow archaeologists to identify worked Spondylus objects as
ropoulou 2007: 488).
9  A similar highly valued consumption has been suggested for Andean so-
cieties (Glowacki 2005; Hastorf 2003).
10 On the combination of white/red on Spondylus, see Chapman (2002).
Also, Cambell (1983); Mester (1989); Trubitt (2003).
11 This is the case of a single fragment of a Spondylus gaederopus annulet
8  Although the genus Spondylus is known since the Jurassic period, from Promachon-Topolniča (Theodoropoulou 2007: 497).
Spondylus gaederopus is a recent species. 12 Colored examples are only known from Crete (Evans 1921: fig. 21).

Spondylus in Prehistory: New Data & Approaches – Contributions to the Archaeology of Shell Technologies

such, usually involve the degree of working, grounding down quirement for identifying a perforated test as a bead or pen-
the surface, as well as their reduced dimensions as compared dant is that the hole be properly placed for stringing (Francis
to the original valve size. Gouging, percussion or hammering, 1991). Within this category, both naturally holed and artifi-
abrasion or scratching, chipping, cutting or sawing, drilling or cially perforated examples can be included. On the other hand,
grinding, polishing, are the most commonly used techniques the utilitarian function of these objects can vary according to
(see below; Bocquenet 1998; Francis 1991; Karali 1999b: 27; the way they were used: pendants suspended by a string, beads
Miller 1997: 115; Taborin 1993: 52-55). attached to a string forming a necklace to be worn around the
neck or a hairband, beads forming wrist- or ankle-bracelets
The choice of the material as well as the selection of one or attached to a string, buttons and beads on different parts of
more methods of working and the degree of transformation the body including the head and the shoulders, as well as for
would be pointed out by cognitive parameters, such as the the decoration of garments and tissues, belts, basketry, use of
technical skill of the craftsman, the technological level of a beads as money (Borello & Micheli 2004; Leigh 2002; Lever
given human community, the desired object, as well as by less 1963; Nikolaidou 2003; Novella 1995: 83; Velázquez et al.,
tangible motivations, such as the perception of the material as this volume; Woodford 1908).
such13, the encoded message of both raw material and finished
object through a complex network of aesthetics and symbol- Pendants usually are unique, non-repetitive pieces of adorn-
isms (Claassen 1998: 203-209; Nikolaidou 2003; Theodoro- ment within a site. Pendants are defined as finished artifacts
poulou 2007: 522). In the case of Spondylus, one should not with a suspension trimming (perforations, grooves, notches)
forget that, although a marine shell may be preferred over a that is off-center, to be able to wear the ornament as a pendant
freshwater one within an inland community as “speaking to a on a string (Lammers 2007: 61). The valve may be given a
fascination with the distant” (Nikolaidou 2003)14, yet its very rough shape to form a pendant, usually keeping the valve’s
marine origin, different from the natural environment of man, original dimensions (typical single-holed valve from Limen-
symbolically linked with water and the sea, involving an effort aria and double-holed valve from Kitrini Limni-Megalo Nisi
and skill for its acquisition, would wrap it up with a remote Galanis: Theodoropoulou 2007: 532, 458 v. 2). It seems that all
identity, even within coastal Aegean communities15. types of Spondylus were collected for pendants: fresh-caught,
water-worn and fossil tests, with water-worn being the most
From Shells to Shaped Objects: Some Examples from usual one. Shapes vary from semi-circular, oval or discoid
Prehistoric Northern Greece (Avgi: Theodoropoulou, study in progress; Dimitra: Karali
1997; Promachon-Topolniča: Theodoropoulou 2007: 401 v. 2;
Deciphering the use of the finished artifact can be equally in- Rodochori Cave: Rodden 1964; Servia: Mould et al. 2000;)
triguing and complex as decoding the meanings behind the to triangular (Dimitra: Karali 1997), rectangular, cross-shaped
transformation of a raw material. The unique or multi-dimen- or other (Dikili Tash: Karali-Yannakopoulou 1992; Dispilio:
sional repertoire of shapes and uses related to a single raw ma- Ifantidis 2006a: 114; Kryoneri: Theodoropoulou 2007: 286 v.
terial, such as Spondylus gaederopus, may involve different 2; Makriyalos: Pappa & Veropoulidou, this volume; Megalo
levels of perception of this latter. The archaeological record Nisi Galanis: Theodoropoulou 2007: 504; Olynthos: Mylonas
from Northern Greece points to a rather diversified exploita- 1929; Poliochni: Bernabò Brea 1964: Tabl. xxxvi; Promachon-
tion of Spondylus as raw material for the manufacture of a Topolniča: Theodoropoulou 2007: 504; Sitagroi: Miller 2003)
range of objects, namely ornaments. (Fig. 2). In most cases, the desired shape is achieved by rough
cutting, then abrasion. In other instances fragments of dam-
In the following, the most frequent types of artifacts from aged annulets were modified into holed elongated pendants
Neolithic Greece made of Spondylus gaederopus are present- (Ifantidis 2006a: 74; Pappa & Veropoulidou, this volume).
ed. This is not in any case an exhaustive listing of artifacts but The surface could be either left intact, as in the case of Kryo-
rather a general panorama of shapes and types found in North- neri (Theodoropoulou 2007: 504), or, most often get a more
ern Aegean, with the aim of comprehending the role of this or less intense abrasion; sometimes the natural growth lines of
shell in prehistoric craftsmanship, possibly indicating some the shell are intentionally preserved. Perforation is obtained
standardization in the choice and transformation of this raw by drilling or cutting, usually on the weaker edge of the shell,
material to a finished object. which is near the posterior margin of the valve. In the case of
multiple holes (for instance, Makriyalos: Pappa & Veropouli-
Beads, buttons, pendants dou, this volume), they are most usually spotted on the same
The valves of Spondylus provide an excellent raw material side of the object; nevertheless, rectangular or elongated tests
for the manufacture of beads and pendants. The minimum re- are given one hole on each side, which makes their applica-
tion on clothes or other surfaces also possible. The shape of
the holes is usually round, but other types have also been re-
13 On the comparison of Spondylus with marble, see Chapman (2002). corded (for instance, Promachon-Topolniča: Theodoropoulou
14 The value of marine shells increases with distance from the coast in dif- 2007: 504, 403 v. 2). Some of the specimens show use wear
ferent cultures (see examples in Trubitt 2003). on the inside of the hole indicating rubbing against a thread,
15 The study of kula exchange in the Trobriand Islands (Papua New Guinea) a string or a fabric (Ifantidis 2006a: 95; personal observations
provides evidence for highly valued marine shell objects within these
island societies (for a review, see Trubitt 2003). On the perception of
on Koukonisi, Limenaria, Megalo Nisi Galanis, as well as
seascapes by prehistoric coastal and inland communities, see Theodoro- ornament or tool from Mikro Vouni: Theodoropoulou 2007:
poulou, in press. 505). In rare cases, namely at Dikili Tash, the thread would
Tatiana Theodoropoulou – Spondylus gaederopus in Aegean Prehistory: Deciphering Shapes from Northern Greece

Figure 2. Pendants from: a. Servia b. Dispilio c. Poliochni d, f. Avgi Figure 3. Beads from: a, d. Dispilio b. Sitagroi c. Avgi e. Sitagroi.
e. Sitagroi g. Promachon h. Kryoneri i. Limenaria Buttons from: f. Makriyalos g. Avgi.

be attached with the help of notches on the inner surface of this volume), 25 in Dispilio (Ifantidis 2006a), 15 in Megalo
the valves (Karali-Yannakopoulou 1992). Finally, a number of Nisi Galanis (Theodoropoulou 2007: 505), while only a hand-
Spondylus gaederopus specimens from prehistoric Northern ful in Kastri and Skala Sotiros (Karali 1999a, 1999b, 1999c),
Greece bear traces of preliminary working (abrasion, cutting, Nea Nikomedeia (Karali-Yannakopoulou 1993), Poliochni
polishing), to note some: Kryoneri, Limenaria, Mikro Vouni, (Bernabò Brea 1964), Promachon-Topolniča (Theodoropou-
Toumba (Veropoulidou 2002; Theodoropoulou 2007: 505). It lou 2007: 505), Servia (Mould et al. 2000).
is likely that these shell fragments were also destined for the
manufacture of pendants. Other ornamental elements made of Spondylus gaederopus
are also known from this geographical area, given different
Beads of Spondylus gaederopus are a common find in prehis- names, such as “buckles” and “buttons”, depending on the
toric sites from Northern Greece, although it is often difficult shape of the object and type of perforation (Avgi: Theodoro-
to conclude on the raw material they were made of based on poulou, study in progress; Dimitra: Karali 1997; Makriyalos:
macroscopic examination, since these objects are often heav- Pappa & Veropoulidou, this volume; Kitrini Limni-Megalo
ily modified and natural relief of the shell is removed. Beads Nisi Galanis: Theodoropoulou 2007: 458 v. 2; for an unfin-
are defined as polished ornaments with a roughly central per- ished item from Promachon-Topolniča, see Theodoropoulou
foration, with a symmetry along the perforation’s longitudinal 2007: 403 v. 2) (Fig. 3f-g). The term “button” covers circular
axis (Lammers 2007: 61). Bead manufacture would undergo or oval objects, flattened on one side, with a longitudinally
a standardized operational sequence, including chipping the holed conical upper part. “Buckles” are discoid or oval arti-
shell fragment into smaller pieces to give it a rough shape facts with multiple perforations at each side. Although found
and reduce it to the desired size, perforating the specimen by in smaller quantities than the bead-shaped objects, they seem
drilling, and sometimes polishing the outer surface (Francis to have had similar uses, namely by being attached to a sur-
1991; Malinowski 1922: 371-372; Miller 2003; Tsuneki 1989; face or suspended by a string. A somewhat distinct group of
Woodford 1908). Ethnographic record provides evidence of artifacts are the so called “earrings”, small and fine Spondylus
heating beads on hot stones to turn them a different or deeper objects, incised in the median zone, bearing no hole (Makri-
color (Leigh 2002). The shapes of beads from the studied area yalos: Pappa & Veropoulidou, this volume). Their use remains
vary: cylindrical, elongated cylindrical, discoid, barrel-shaped, enigmatic, although they are also likely to have been attached
rectangular or star-shaped (Fig. 3a-e). They are usually found to a surface by a string.
together in various quantities: 180 in Sitagroi (Miller 2003),
74 in Dimitra (Karali 1997), 42 in Dikili Tash (Karali-Yan- Annulets
nakopoulou 1992), more than 38 in Avgi (Theodoropoulou, This term groups together artifacts in the shape of bangles, of
study in progress), 34 in Makriyalos (Pappa & Veropoulidou, medium to large dimensions. Both valves of Spondylus pro-
Spondylus in Prehistory: New Data & Approaches – Contributions to the Archaeology of Shell Technologies

Figure 4. Annulets from: a. Dikili Tash b. Sitagroi c. Dispilio Figure 5. Various objects from: a. Dispilio b, d. Mikro Vouni
d. Promachon e. Kryoneri c. Limenaria e. Dikili Tash f. Ayios Mamas

vide a suitable raw material for the manufacture of bangles, Whole objects are not common (for example, 4 in Dikili Tash:
although the study of annulets from a number of Neolithic Karali-Yannakopoulou 1992; 1 in Dispilio: Ifantidis 2006a:
sites from Greece indicates a certain preference for the left 75; 1 in Kryoneri: Theodoropoulou 2007: 286 v. 2; 1 in Makri-
valve, thinner and easier to ground16. This preference has been yalos: Pappa & Veropoulidou, this volume), yet the numer-
linked to either a standardized operational sequence, the skill ous elliptical fragments usually allow to suggest the presence
of the craftsman or to aesthetic implications (Miller 2003; of whole annulets (more than 155 in Sitagroi: Miller 2003;
Nikolaidou 2003)17. The procedure involved grounding of the Nikolaidou 2003; Shackleton 2003; 85 in Dikili Tash: Karali-
outer curved surface of the shell on a stone until a ring was Yannakopoulou 1992; 51 in Dispilio: Ifantidis 2006a: 73; 30
produced, then giving the inner edges their rough shape, fi- in Dimitra: Karali 1997; 28 in Stauroupoli: Karali 2002, 2004;
nally refining the outer surface by further grounding (Shackle- less than 10 items, usually 1-3 in other sites: Avgi: Stratouli
ton 2003). Most of the Spondylus annulets do not show a high 2004; Theodoropoulou, under study; Kitrini Limni: Fotiadis
degree of polishing. This does not seem to be due to an unfin- & Hondroyanni-Metoki 1993; Theodoropoulou 2007: 458,
ished chaîne opératoire. It would rather be argued that it was a v. 2; Kryoneri: Malamidou 1997; Theodoropoulou 2007: 286
deliberate choice to leave the growth lines of the shell visible, v. 2; Limenaria: Theodoropoulou 2007; Nea Nikomedeia:
thus producing a visual effect. One single annulet from Kryo- Karali-Yannakopoulou 1993; Olynthos: Mylonas 1929: 81;
neri is notched on the outer surface, thus producing a “wavy” Paradeisos: Reese 1987; Promachon-Topolniča: Theodo-
ornament (Malamidou 1997; Theodoropoulou 2007: 286 v. 2). ropoulou 2007: 403 v. 2; Servia: Mould et al. 2000; Vassi-
lika: Grammenos 1997; Thermi: Pappa et al. 2000) (Fig. 4).
In some cases, the annulets were kept the colors of the origi- In some cases, the presence of holes on both edges of these
nal shell, ranging from orange-reddish to violet, whereas, in fragments imply that they would have been attached to each
other instances, the specimens have been deliberately burned, other (in groups of two, three, or more) to form a complete
thus producing a grayish to blackish color (Karali 1999b: 164; circle. Alternatively, these holes would serve to repair and re-
Theodoropoulou 2007: 497)18. use broken annulets (Sitagroi). The size of the original valve
seems to be a clearer factor for the choice of a piece of shell
rather than another. For instance, the mean inner diameter of
Dispilio Spondylus annulets is 6.2-7cm (Ifantidis 2006a: 74),
16 For comparison, see Spondylus hook-shaped objects shaped from right
valves, below.
6.5-8.7cm at Sitagroi (Nikolaidou 2003), 6.3-7cm/7-9.5cm at
Dikili Tash (Karali-Yannakopoulou 1992), whereas less than
17 On the deliberate choice of right/left valves, see also Siklósi & Csengeri,
this volume. 6cm at Makriyalos (Pappa & Veropoulidou, this volume) and
18 On the deliberate burning of Thessalian Spondylus bracelets leading to 1.2cm in Promachon-Topolniča (Theodoropoulou 2007: 403
disuse, see Halstead (1993). v. 2). The reconstructed size of annulets has been put for-
Tatiana Theodoropoulou – Spondylus gaederopus in Aegean Prehistory: Deciphering Shapes from Northern Greece

ward as indication for their use: they could have been worn point whether this is the result of a thread or a wooden element
as “rings” or “bracelets”, on the wrist or ankle of younger or being attached to the hole. The holed valve from Limenaria
older members of the community (depending on their diam- (Theodoropoulou 2007: 320) is another interesting example
eter), suspended as pendants, used as decorative implements (Fig. 2i). Although its use as pendant is not impossible, both
on the body or woven onto garments (Marangou 1991; Miller the location of the perforation and the weight of this artifact
1997: 217; Nikolaidou 2003). bring to mind other possible functions, for instance as a loom-
or fishing weight, or a belt hook. Going a step further, the
Belts and hooks, spools and plates Spondylus pendant with incised upper surface from Poliochni
The fascinating repertoire of Spondylus artifacts from North- (Bernabò Brea 1964: Tabl. xxxvi) might be destined for a use
ern Greece seems to always balance between the spheres of as seal, possibly also worn by its owner (Fig. 2c).
utilitarian and symbolic, and these are not always easily dis-
sociated, especially when shapes go beyond the typical social Finally, the archaeological analysis of Spondylus shells should
ornaments (based on a distinction by Trubitt 2003). not be limited to finished artifacts or partly modified speci-
mens. Moving from shaped objects back to shell shape, Spon-
One of the most prestigious and discussed shapes has been dylus valves per se offer a natural tool, ready to use. Their
recovered from the Late Neolithic layers of Dispilio lakeside shape makes it easy to handle from the hinge, whereas their
settlement (Ifantidis, this volume). These are hook-shaped stone-like structure offers a resistant tool, suitable for heavy
objects made from whole, large Spondylus right valves, with handling. With minimum or without any modification they
vivid red colors (Fig. 5). Although similar artifacts have been can be used in several activities, namely as plates or recipients
found in few Neolithic sites in Greece (in Thessaly, in Franch- (on a burial find from Kastri: Karali 1999a; on 4 valves from
thi Cave, in Alepotrypa Cave in the Peloponnese; for an over- Stauroupoli and 1 from Dikili Tash interpreted as recipients:
view, see Ifantidis 2006a: 101-104 and 2006b) and in Cen- Karali-Yannakopoulou 1992, 2002), as scraping tools (scrap-
tral and Western Europe (Séfériadès 1995b; Todorova 2000), ers or burnishers) (Charpentier et al. 2004; van der Leeuw
the Dispilio assemblage is the most numerous to present day, 1993), cutting tools (knifes) (Toth & Woods 1989; Spondylus
comprising eight objects. The manufacture centers of both the valves from Ayios Mamas: Becker 1996; irregular Spondylus
Dispilio objects and similar artifacts from Europe remain un- fragments with use wear from Kryoneri, Limenaria and Mi-
clear, with both an Aegean and a Central European origin be- kro Vouni: Theodoropoulou 20007: 526), or percussion tools
ing suggested in relevant literature (Ifantidis 2006b). (axes) (on a broken conical “axe head” with use wear from
Dikili Tash: Jones O’Day & Keegan 2001; Karali-Yanna-
The functional use of these objects is not less complex. Due to kopoulou 1992; Lammers 2007: 80) (Fig. 5c-f). Identifying
their distinct shape and important size (the whole ones mea- these uses is not always straightforward, as they do not display
suring more than 11cm long and weighing 140gr.; Ifantidis regular break patterns and are difficult to identify amongst
2006a: 101), they have formerly received several interpreta- food debris. For this reason, both macroscopic and micro-
tions, ranging from a use as fishhooks to more symbolic ones, scopic examination of edge damages has to be conducted in
namely as imitating the heads of shepherd’s crooks, as sym- order to define, among other, the types of motion conducted
bols of wealthy farmers and, gradually, of any authority (Pa- by the user, the types of worked surfaces, as well as any inten-
pathanasopoulos 1996). Current research suggests that “these tional retouch of the tools (Lammers 2007: 80). Nevertheless,
objects had the ornamental function of impressive belt buckles the distinction between practical technologies that respond to
or other dress implements” (Ifantidis 2006b), a function im- basic problems of survival and human maintenance, and pres-
plied from analogous Spondylus burial finds in Europe (the so- tige technologies that address social meanings, as defined by
called “winged Spondylus” found in cemetery contexts near Hayden (1998), may not always apply to Spondylus items. A
the waist of the deceased, Séfériadès 1995b). Use-wear analy- more detailed contextual approach might provide an insight
sis seems to support the aforementioned hypothesis. Beyond into the social uses of these unshaped, yet functional and
their functional use, the importance of these objects would lie meaningful objects.
on the impressive visual effect due to their impressive size,
weight, and coloration. Attempts to repair them with perfora- Conclusions
tions further suggest a deliberate effort to maintain these ob-
jects within a community as functional and symbolic items. The above repertoire is far from being a final list of Spon-
dylus objects from prehistoric Northern Greece; as are the
The objects described above could be ascribed to a group of possible uses during the life of these artifacts. Using a single
Spondylus artifacts which might combine a functional and a raw material, a multiplicity of techniques, shapes and uses
decorational use. Another unique object comes from Mikro was achieved. Yet, within a conceivably sketchy picture, there
Vouni (Theodoropoulou 2007: 378-379 v. 2). The right valve seems to be emerging a recurrent pattern across distant com-
of Spondylus gaederopus has been given a concave elongated munities and different environments. A closer look points to
shape (dimensions: 5.7 to 3.5cm), following the natural curves a pronounced preference of Spondylus gaederopus for the
of the valves, with a round hole (8mm) at the hinge (Fig. 5b). manufacture of body ornaments, and a more singular use for
The shape of this artifact reminds spoons or burnishers (Lam- a variety of more functional objects. It is difficult to draw the
mers 2007: 91), but its use as pendant cannot be ruled out. line between the technological, functional, aesthetic and social
Although the perforation bears use wear, it is not clear at this motivations of this choice. Whether these ornaments and ob-

Spondylus in Prehistory: New Data & Approaches – Contributions to the Archaeology of Shell Technologies

jects encoded a high symbolic meaning and fulfilled a social Acknowledgements

identification linked to the raw material itself rather than to the
form, it is a fascinating yet unclear subject. One would have I wish to thank the editors for inviting me to contribute to
to decipher the symbolisms behind the choice of this marine this volume. Special thanks to F. Ifantidis for tolerating re-
material, close and yet remote from Aegean prehistoric com- peated delays in submitting the manuscript. Parts of this paper
munities. There might lie the key to understanding the choice are based on work conducted during my PhD thesis (unpub-
to transform a marine shell into a social object. In reality, the lished). I am grateful to all excavators who have entrusted me
social body may not seek highly diverse coding systems but with the study of shell assemblages from Northern Greece, in
rather a corporeal bonding to the physical seascape. particular D. Malamidou for Kryoneri, D. Malamidou and S.
Papadopoulos, for Limenaria, Ch. Ziota and M. Fotiadis for
Summing up, the story of Spondylus is far more complex than Megalo Nisi Galanis, D. Matsas for Mikro Vouni, Ch. Kouk-
a simple chain of technological events leading from a marine ouli-Chrysanthaki for Promachon-Topolniča. For other data
raw material to a functional use of an object. For, as it has from Northern Aegean, any errors and omissions of published
been pointed out, every item detached from the natural envi- sites or projects in progress are the author’s sole responsibil-
ronment and incorporated in the cultural process is meant to ity.
bear social and symbolic meanings, from the moment of pro-
curement of the raw material to the discard of the finished ob-
ject and beyond. Archaeological research may decipher some
steps of this chain, yet rarely will the full perception of matter
and object as messengers of a cultural language be revealed.

Tatiana Theodoropoulou – Spondylus gaederopus in Aegean Prehistory: Deciphering Shapes from Northern Greece


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