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Socializing Geoarchaeology:
Insights from Bourdieu’s Theory
of Practice Applied to Neolithic
and Bronze Age Crete
Simon Jusseret*
Aspirant du F.R.S.–FNRS, Université catholique de Louvain, Aegean
Interdisciplinary Studies research group (AegIS–CEMA–INCAL), Collège
Erasme, Place Blaise Pascal 1, 1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium

Because the history of human life is about ways of inhabiting the world, geoarchaeology should
play a central role in the archaeological program and cannot be reduced to a mere subspecialty
of archaeology with its own autonomous theories and concerns. Hence there is a pressing need
for theorizing; geoarchaeology cannot ignore nearly five decades of theoretical debates in
archaeology. This contribution endeavors to demonstrate the benefits that may be achieved
by practically applying social theories to the interpretation of geoarchaeological results. Pierre
Bourdieu’s theory of practice inspired a generation of post-processual archaeologists, yet the
avenues of interpretation that this opened up have barely been explored in approaches in the
Earth sciences to the human past. It is suggested that the work of Bourdieu offers the possibility
to sidestep recurrent issues of scale and incompatibilities of resolution between archaeologi-
cal and geological dating. The argument is sustained by an alternative reading of geoarchaeo-
logical results coming from Neolithic and Bronze Age Crete. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

The century preceding the 1960s has famously been described by Colin Renfrew
as the long sleep of archaeological theory (Johnson, 2006: 118–119). Traditionally
defined as a subdiscipline of archaeology (although this position will here be chal-
lenged), geoarchaeology does not seem to have followed the same trajectory. One
could even say that the combination of the words “geoarchaeology” and “theory”
would have appeared rather odd until recent years (although see discussions in Bell,
2004; Hassan, 2004; Wilkinson, 2004; Brown, 2008). Part of the explanation may
reside in the fact that, traditionally, geoarchaeologists are recognized as Earth sci-
entists. In some cases, this apparently makes geoarchaeologists able to occupy a priv-
ileged position, away from the “philosophical tussles” of archaeologists (Jing, 2007: 11).
In recent years geoarchaeologists and environmental archaeologists have been
urged to bring social science theory into their discipline (e.g., Bradley, 1993;

*Corresponding author; E-mail:

Geoarchaeology: An International Journal, Vol. 25, No. 6, 675–708 (2010 )

© 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Published online in Wiley Online Library ( DOI:10.1002/gea.20329
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Wilkinson & Stevens, 2003: 263; Bell, 2004; Boivin, 2004; Walsh, 2004). As the reviews
of Bell (2004), Hassan (2004), and Wilkinson (2004) make clear, one should, however,
be wary not to overlook earlier, significant efforts to link humans and their environ-
ment in socially informed models. One could mention the concept of site catchment
analysis (Vita-Finzi & Higgs, 1970). This, according to Hassan (2004: 312), represents
one of the first attempts to “develop a theory of landscape archaeology on the basis
of the spatial range of subsistence activities by a specific group of people, a pre-
cursor to more recent attempts to consider landscapes as a function of the percep-
tions and practices of human groups.” Butzer’s (1982) use of Clarke’s (1968) model
of sociocultural systems also represents an important input in this perspective.
Coming from scholars/scientists sensitive to “post-processual issues” in archaeol-
ogy, one should perhaps understand the aforementioned call as a legitimate ques-
tioning of scientific practices and the mapping of subjects that are “normalized”
(Hassan, 2004: 325). The latter issue, in particular, represents an important challenge
addressed at so-called “processual approaches” like site catchment analysis or sys-
temic thinking (see reaction in Fleming, 2006).
In this contribution it will be argued that geoarchaeology should not represent a
subspecialty of archaeology but should play a central role in the archaeological pro-
gram, “because the history of human life is about ways of inhabiting the world”
(Barrett, 1999: 29–30). Geoarchaeology would hence be understood as a particular
approach, exploiting methods and theories from earth sciences and archaeology in
order to understand the human past. In this perspective, developing a “geoarchaeo-
logical theory” could perhaps and first of all benefit from the lessons of nearly five
decades of theoretical debates in archaeology. For example, while it is now widely
admitted by archaeologists that method and theory are closely related issues
(Johnson, 1999: 2), theory is rarely made explicit in geoarchaeological accounts.
Method is more often than not reduced to a procedure aiming at collecting objective
data. This situation explains why there is still much more interest in developing the
“Materials and Methods” sections of geoarchaeological studies than effectively con-
sidering the way geoarchaeological data could be brought into historical recon-
structions. The focus on data collection leads to geoarchaeological analyses crammed
with tables, diagrams, and results of analytical procedures and conclusions of tan-
gential relevance to the understanding of the human past. One could argue that this
issue is merely a question of nuance. There is indeed no unique and commonly agreed
definition of geoarchaeology. Therefore, the existence of multiple perspectives is
unavoidable (see discussions in Goldberg & Macphail, 2006; Rapp & Hill, 2006; Butzer,
2008). But approaches that fail to integrate social dimensions with the geological
world undoubtedly run the risk of constructing internalist histories, where change
is described (and not explained) within rigidly disciplinary categories (Hugues, 1986;
see also Owoc, 2004).
These points will here be illustrated by proposing an alternative reading of geoar-
chaeological results coming from Neolithic and Bronze Age Crete. This reading arises
out of a consideration of Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice (2000). More or less
directly, it has inspired a generation of processual and post-processual archaeolo-
gists working on social dynamics (Barrett, 1994; Dobres & Robb, 2000a; Relaki, 2003;


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Tomkins, 2004; Beck et al., 2007), landscape analysis (Ashmore & Knapp, 1999;
Barrett, 1999), and material culture studies (Jones, 2007; Boivin, 2008). Archaeologists
have long exploited the embodied condition of humanity as a useful way of explor-
ing past ways of being in the world. This explains their interest in body-centred the-
ories such as that proposed by Pierre Bourdieu (e.g., Gosden, 1994; Hodder & Hutson,
2003: 106–124; Boivin, 2008; see also Thomas, 1996; Barrett & Ko, 2009, for illustra-
tions of this Heideggerian stance in prehistoric archaeology). Generally speaking,
environmental archaeologists and geoarchaeologists remained somewhat on the
margins of this debate (although see Evans, 2003; Denham, 2008; Denham & Haberle,
2008). French sociological theory, it must be said, enjoys a favorable position in
archaeological theory. For this reason, its use has sometimes been criticized as a
fashion more than a necessity (Dobres & Robb, 2000b: 10; Walsh, 2008). This paper
will not be concerned with demonstrating that Bourdieu’s theory of practice repre-
sents the only valid means of interpreting the archaeological record from a geoar-
chaeological perspective. Bourdieu’s sociology indeed has limitations one should
not overlook. The dualism of structure:agency, resolved by Bourdieu through the
deployment of the notion of habitus (see below), still embodies a form of deter-
minism (Lallement, 1993: 128–130, 200–201; see also Jenkins, 2002, for a comprehen-
sive overview of the difficulties related to Bourdieu’s work). The theory of practice
indeed does not satisfactorily account for the fact that human agents are only part
of the mechanisms through which social structures persist. Adaptivity (the capac-
ity of structures to renew and transform themselves) and openness (the ability of
structures to trap new resources—human or natural—in order to avoid fragmenta-
tion) are two other mechanisms of structural persistency highlighted by Bintliff
(2004: 190). Nevertheless, bearing in mind the previous remark, the theory of prac-
tice is believed to be a useful, but certainly not unique, way of tackling methodolog-
ical issues in geoarchaeology. This contribution therefore seeks to demonstrate the
benefits one could get by practically applying social theories to the interpretation of
geoarchaeological results. The problem of bridging scales (Stein, 1993; Owoc, 2004)
and the frequently incompatible resolution between archaeological and geological
dating (Krahtopoulou, 2000; Halstead, 2008: 239) will be discussed in this context.

The dawn of the 20th century initiated more than a hundred years of intensive
excavations on the island of Crete. Following the excavations at Knossos by Sir
Arthur Evans, archaeological research mainly focused on the Bronze Age period,
attracted by the eye-catching discoveries of the so-called Minoan civilisation.
Nevertheless, besides the early discoveries at the tell of Knossos by Evans and
Mackenzie, significant excavations carried out in the beginning of the 20th century
participated in shedding further light on the Neolithic of Crete. The excavations of
the Skales cave by Bosanquet and of the “but-and-ben” structure at Magasa (eastern
Crete) were in this sense remarkable. In the 1930s, the Pendleburys and Money-
Coutts excavated several caves that yielded Neolithic material, including the Trapeza
burial cave on the Lasithi plateau. Neolithic material was also discovered under the


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Bronze Age “palaces” of Phaistos and Malia (Tomkins, 2000: 79). Although a com-
prehensive summary of Neolithic research on Crete lies beyond the scope of this
article (see Tomkins, 2000, and contributions in Isaakidou & Tomkins, 2008a, for
further references), two postwar achievements deserve special mention. The mul-
tiplication of intensive surveys, particularly in mountainous regions, contributed
significantly to the comprehension of the Final Neolithic/Early Bronze Age popula-
tion dynamics beyond the coastal plains (e.g., Hood, Warren, & Cadogan, 1964;
Blackman & Branigan, 1975, 1977; Watrous, 1982; Watrous et al., 1993; Branigan,
1998). At Knossos, new excavations were carried out by Hood and subsequently by
John Evans (1964, 1968). One of the most important results of this renewed phase
of excavation was the discovery of an unsuspected initial aceramic layer at the base of
the Knossos mound (Isaakidou & Tomkins, 2008b: 1). In recent years, reanalysis and
publication of excavated material from Knossos, Phaistos, and other sites in Crete
took place. Surface surveys still occupy a prominent position in archaeological
research on Crete (e.g., Greco et al., 2002; Moody et al., 2003; Hayden et al., 2004;
Betancourt, Davaras, & Hope Simpson, 2004, 2005; Haggis et al., 2005). A recent and
comprehensive analysis of the archaeological surveys carried out on Crete has
recently been proposed by Gkiasta (2008). The body of work previously sketched
has actively participated in breaking down the once crisp boundary separating the
Cretan Neolithic and Bronze Age. The division is more of historiographic than his-
toric importance (Tomkins, 2010). However, where human–environment interac-
tions are concerned, such maturity is still far from being realized. Neolithic
human–environment interactions are still largely understood in functionalist terms,
such as subsistence (Halstead, 2008) and security concerns (Nowicki, 2008) (although
see Tomkins, 2009, in press). A similar observation has been made with regard to the
transition from Bronze Age to Iron Age (Wallace, 2007: 249). Contrasting with this
picture, and largely thanks to a rich iconography, Minoan human–environment inter-
actions tend to be comprehended in more symbolic terms (Herva, 2006a, 2006b).


Sediment cores taken in the coastal and archaeologically rich areas of Malia and
Kalo Chorio have recovered sedimentary sequences respectively spanning the last
eight (Dalongeville et al., 2001) and fifteen (Zacharias et al., 2009) millennia. This
high-resolution record therefore offers the possibility of revising Neolithic and Minoan
environmental interpretations on a common and local basis (Figures 1, 2, 3). At
Malia, this has been done on the basis of six published cores (Dalongeville et al.,
2001; Lespez et al., 2001, 2004). Dominey-Howes carried out earlier, unpublished
investigations (Dominey-Howes, 1997). Only one core, Carottage 6, has been radio-
carbon dated and submitted to further laboratory analyses. At Kalo Chorio, sedi-
mentary sequences from two cores and six excavated trenches have been described
(Pavlopoulos et al., 2007). The depositional units identified by the authors of these
studies are presented in the next section. Although the scientific approach pursued
in this work is clearly essential to geoarchaeological research (also Boivin, 2004: 165),


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Figure 1. Map of Crete showing the main locations discussed in the text.

Figure 2. Location of the cores taken (a) in the marsh of Malia (Carottage 6) and (b) in the coastal plain
of Kalo Chorio (C2).

it seems to be less successful when it comes to interpreting how the investigated sed-
imentary bodies integrated with the lives of past people.
For example, the study carried out at Malia seems to have been mainly aimed at
finding an ancient harbor in an area now occupied by a coastal marsh (Figure 2). The
term “marsh” is here adopted because of its traditional use in archaeological and
environmental literature. It will be used throughout this article to designate the present-
day coastal depression covered by giant reeds lying west of the archaeological site
of Malia. Hence, this term is not applicable to past depositional environments recorded
in the depression, nor does it indicate underwater conditions of sedimentation.
Evidence for the Minoan eruption of Thera was also sought in the marsh of Malia
(Lespez et al., 2004: 439). A sandy level picked up in Carottage 6 (Unit 3, Figure 3)
was in this way suspected to be the consequence of a tsunami following the explosion
of the volcano. However, the coarse resolution of the dating prevented definitive


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Figure 3. Stratigraphy of Carottage 6 at Malia and C2 at Kalo Chorio (modified after Dalongeville et al.,
2001, and Pavlopoulos et al., 2007).

conclusions being reached (Dalongeville et al., 2001: 80). By the same token, a char-
coal concentration dated to 2580–2290 cal. yr B.C. (Ly–7118; Lespez et al. 2004: 443,
Table I) (EM IIA-B; Manning, 1995; see Table I for further references to the Cretan
chronological system and corresponding abbreviations) left the authors with a ques-
tion mark, as this date does not correspond to any well-known catastrophic event
(Dalongeville et al., 2001: 83; Figure 3).
At Kalo Chorio, human–environment interactions are barely mentioned by the
authors (Pavlopoulos et al., 2007). The main objective of the study was to recon-
struct the last 6000 years of environmental history.
In both cases the researchers suggest that a better understanding of human–
environment interactions could only be reached through more comprehensive doc-
umentation of the corresponding study areas. Although more data would indeed be
advantageous, this amounts to a premature postponement of interpretation. Indeed,
the analytical resolution reached by the two studies is already sufficient, provided
an appropriate theoretical framework is adopted. Once and for all, it has to be
acknowledged that a scientific protocol alone has never been able to produce a his-
torical object. Historical entities can only arise out of a continuous debate between
disciplines, including those traditionally referred to as nonscientific (Burnouf &
Chouquer, 2008; Chouquer, 2008).


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Table I. Chronological table for Neolithic and Bronze Age Crete.

Phase Absolute Date Range

Initial Neolithic (IN) ca. 7000–6500/6400 B.C.

Early Neolithic (EN) ca. 6500/6400–6000/5900 B.C.
Middle Neolithic (MN) ca. 6000/5900–5500/5300 B.C.
Late Neolithic I (LN I) ca. 5500/5300–4900 B.C.
Late Neolithic II (LN II) ca. 4900–4500 B.C.
Final Neolithic IA (FN IA) ca. 4500–4200 B.C.
Final Neolithic IA (FN IB) ca. 4200–ca. 3900 B.C.
Final Neolithic II (FN II) ca. 3900–ca. 3600 B.C.
Final Neolithic IIII (FN III) ca. 3600–ca. 3300 B.C.
Final Neolithic IV (FN IV) ca. 3300–ca. 3100/3000 B.C.
Early Minoan (EM) I–III ca. 3100/3000–2000 B.C.
Middle Minoan (MM) I–III ca. 2000–1600 B.C.
Late Minoan (LM) I–III ca. 1600–1100 B.C.
Modified after Tomkins, (in press).

A step toward a better integration of these sediments (here understood as an inte-

gral part of the archaeological record) into historical reconstructions has been offered
by Barrett (1994) and Evans (2003), the latter partly inspired by the first. Both rely-
ing on the sociology of Bourdieu, they understand the archaeological record as both
the outcome and the material conditions of past social practices. Therefore, it is
seen not so much as the record of something, but as the material conditions struc-
turing past existences and the reproduction of the conditions that brought them into
being. Taking the second part of this proposition at face value would perhaps be
going a step too far if one wishes to avoid a slippery path toward an anthropocen-
tric understanding of the material world. There is a world existing alongside human
beings. Humans and their environment are indeed recognized as co-evolutionary
(McGlade, 1995). As noted above, Bourdieu’s sociology is not concerned with the ways
structures remain outside of their reproduction by social agents. If an understanding
of the environment as part of the structural conditions enabling and constraining
human life is desired, there is therefore a need to reformulate Barrett’s (1994) and
Evans’ (2003) conception of the material record. If one wants to rescue the envi-
ronment from leaping into a pure social construct, then the proposition of Barrett
(1994) and Evans (2003) should be comprehended as an invitation to explore when,
how, and why social practices participate in the reproduction of environmental struc-
tures. For sure, the environment and its material record have the capacity to remain
well beyond the human life span. The mechanisms of this persistence, however,
need to be examined and not taken for granted. Binford and Schiffer taught us to see
transformation as a necessary condition for things to remain (Olivier, 2004: 39–40).
Earth scientists and other environmental specialists represent prime actors in the
identification of transformations by “natural” agencies (Schiffer’s n-transforms).
Bourdieu’s sociology, adapted through the works of Barrett (1994) and Evans (2003),
reminds us that human beings have this capacity to reproduce through their actions


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(not necessarily conscious) the structures enabling and constraining their lives. To
take one example cited by Olivier (2004: 123–124), it is because people decide
to repeat the burial of their dead close to one another that a graveyard can persist
and act as a structural condition of human life. It is thanks to the transformation
introduced by each new burial that a graveyard continues its life as a structure for
human practices. Using the term introduced by Bintliff (2004, see above), a grave-
yard as a structure persists thanks to its capacity to adapt itself through multiple
transformations. Environmental scientists would certainly agree that it is also
the adaptability of environmental systems that makes them durable. Literature is
replete with discussions pertaining to the mechanisms through which rivers have the
capacity to adapt to changes (see, for example, Blum & Törnqvist, 2000). However,
if Bourdieu is right, the structural conditions imposed by the environment can also
be maintained by human practices, deliberately or not. A key issue for socio-
environmental research would therefore be to evaluate the nature of these practices
and the circumstances in which they arise. Marriner and Morhange (2006) provide
a recent example of how people can, through the deliberate removal of sediments,
reproduce the constraints imposed by the enclosure and silting up of a coastal water
body. It is through repeated dredging practices that a harbor can be functionally
maintained and at the same time continue framing human lives (accommodation
space being artificially created and allowing further silting up). A major point of
interest in Barrett’s (1994) and Evans’ (2003) writings resides in their call for under-
standing the material record differently. Olivier (2004, 2008) summarizes the point
well when he suggests that archaeology should focus not only on phenomena at the
moment of their creation in the past, but also on their duration. This is done by
observing how they transmit through time by transforming themselves. Knowing
how and why an archaeological phenomenon occurred at a certain moment in time
is certainly important. But this focus on contingency should certainly go hand in
hand with an examination of how “contingent details” insert themselves in broader
structures and participate (or not) in their transmission through time (Gould, 1999).
For example, a lot of ink has been spilled over the causes of prehistoric alluviation
episodes in the Mediterranean (Vita-Finzi, 1969; Pope & van Andel, 1984; van Andel,
Zangger, & Demitrack, 1990; Bintliff, 1992, 2000b; Lewin, Macklin, & Woodward, 1995;
Macklin & Woodward, 2009). Will further sedimentological evidence or new tech-
nologies make us able to throw more light on this issue? Or should we allow the
resistance of the material record to lead us to develop different forms of enquiry?
In the next sections, the perspective debated above will be extended to geoar-
chaeological research by exploring the ways in which sediments and related depo-
sitional environments come to structure past social practices. The case studies of
Malia and Kalo Chorio will help illustrate the ways in which social practices can (or
not) participate in the maintenance of environmental phenomena as structural con-
ditions of human life.
First, the Holocene sedimentary sequence at Kalo Chorio and Malia (as described
by Dalongeville et al., 2001; Lespez et al., 2001, 2004; Pavlopoulos et al., 2007) is suc-
cinctly presented. Second, a comparison of the sediments deposited at Kalo Chorio and
at Malia during the Neolithic and Bronze Age will be carried out. This comparison


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leads to an alternative interpretation of the material record based on Bourdieu’s the-

ory of practice (2000) and the application of the concept of site catchment analysis
(Vita-Finzi & Higgs, 1970).


Kalo Chorio
The sequence has been subdivided by Pavlopoulous et al. (2007) into six deposi-
tional units. Approximate top and bottom elevations of the units are given in meters
msl and read from Pavlopoulos et al. (2007: 224, Figure 4). Six radiocarbon dates
provide the chronological framework of the study. They were calibrated using the
INTCAL98 data set (Stuiver et al., 1998). Where chronological interpolation is made
by Pavlopoulos et al. (2007), dates are referred to as estimated and presented as his-
torical dates. Radiocarbon analyses were recently completed by 18 OSL dates
(Zacharias et al., 2009).
Unit A (⫹2/⫺1.5 m msl) represents the youngest unit and is described as topsoil
with remains of human activity. It is described as “dry brown/olive brown clay and
sand or silty sand with small pebbles” (Pavlopoulos et al., 2007: 223). Unit B
(⫹0.5/–3 m msl; between 390–190 cal. yr B.C. [ISTRO T6C1] and 3350–3020 cal. yr B.C.
[ISTRO T6C3A]) is a “gray-dark gray sand or silty sand/clay with some pebbles”
(Pavlopoulos et al., 2007: 223). It is interpreted as “overbank deposits of the river with
influence of brackish and sea storm water” (Pavlopoulous et al., 2007: 223–224). Unit
C (⫺2/–4 m msl; 3050–3550 B.C. [estimated]) corresponds to “conglomerate streambed
deposits” and is “related to the possible flow of the river” (Pavlopoulos et al., 2007: 224).
Unit D (⫺3.5/⫺8.5 m msl; between 3550 B.C. [estimated] and 4360–4240 cal. yr B.C.
[ISTRO T2C2A]) is a “gray-dark gray silt/silty sand” and its depositional environment
is interpreted as a “possible swamp with stagnant fresh water” (Pavlopoulos et al.,
2007: 224). Unit E–F–G (⫺5.5/min. ⫺10.5 m msl; earlier than 4360–4240 cal. yr B.C.
[ISTRO T2C2A]) is interpreted as “fluvio-torrential streambed and overbanking
deposits” (Pavlopoulos et al., 2007: 224).

The Holocene sedimentary sequence at Malia is subdivided into five depositional
units (Dalongeville et al., 2001; Lespez et al., 2001, 2004). They have been described
solely on the basis of Carottage 6. Since variations in the lithological descriptions of
the units occur within and between publications, the present account relies on the
most recent synthesis and interpretation of Lespez et al. (2004: 448, Figure 6) for
the sake of consistency. Twelve radiocarbon dates are available for this core, of
which 11 are detailed in Lespez et al. (2004). They were calibrated according to the
INTCAL98 data set (Stuiver & Braziunas, 1993; Stuiver et al., 1998; Lespez, personal
communication, 2009). Dalongeville et al. (2001) mention one more date, for which
no information is provided (dated material, laboratory, calibration method) and


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which has therefore not been used in the present article. Chronological variations
also occur between publications. It is not always clear if calibrated ages are B.C. or
A.D. (compare Dalongeville et al., 2001: 78; Lespez et al. 2004: 443, Table I). The sum-
mary presented below relies on detailed data from Lespez et al. (2004: 443, Table I).
Probable transcription mistakes are here indicated by a question mark and corrected
by reference to results from Dalongeville et al. (2001: 78). Where chronological inter-
polation is made by Lespez et al. (2004), dates are here referred to as estimated and
presented as historical dates. Dalongeville et al. (2001: 77) consider that the eleva-
tion of the marsh corresponds to the average level of standard high tide, equated to
0 m msl. The 1:5000 topographical map of the Hellenic Military Geographical Service,
however, indicates that this is an approximation. For this reason, the elevations of
the units given below were calculated using the depths provided by the authors
(Lespez et al., 2004) and considering an elevation of Carottage 6 close to ⫹1 m msl,
according to the local topographical map.
Unit 5 (⫹1/⫺1.2 m msl; after 40 cal. yr B.C.–320 cal. yr A.D. [Ly-7113]) is the
youngest unit and is interpreted as a “middle sand” deposited on “the inner part of
[a] beach ridge” (Lespez et al., 2004: 448, Figure 6). Unit 4 (⫺1.2/⫺2.2 m msl; between
190 cal. yr B.C. [?, Dalongeville et al., 2001: 78]–410 cal. yr A.D. [Ly-7115] and 40 cal
yr BC–320 cal. yr A.D. [Ly-7113] ) is “an organic sandy clay with plant remains.” It is
made of “terrestrial sediments” where marine influences increase in the upper part
of the unit (Lespez et al., 2004: 448, Figure 6). Unit 3 (⫺2.2/⫺2.6 m msl; between
1740–1510 cal. yr B.C. [Ly-7116] and 190 cal. yr B.C. [?, Dalongeville et al., 2001: 78]
–410 cal. yr A.D. [Ly-7115]) is a “clayey sand . . . derived from a marine inundation
in a marshy environment, [p]robably a brief event, undated precisely” (Lespez et al.,
2004: 448, Figure 6). Unit 2 (⫺2.6/⫺5.3 m msl; between 5200 B.C. [estimated] and
1740–1510 cal. yr B.C. [Ly-7116]) corresponds to an “organic sandy clay with peaty
layers and plant remains” deposited in a “freshwater environment.” The authors sug-
gest more precisely a “marsh covered by reed vegetation” with “[s]ignificant coarse
fluviatile incomes” (Lespez et al., 2004: 448, Figure 6). Unit 1 (⫺5.3/⫺6.2 m msl;
6420–6050 cal. yr B.C. [Ly-7122] and 5200 B.C. [estimated]) is a “dark brown clay,”
corresponding to a “[t]errestrial sediment [deposited] in a marshy environment”
(Lespez et al., 2004: 448, Figure 6).

A Reconsideration of the Sedimentary Evidence at Malia and Kalo Chorio
The previously described Unit D at Kalo Chorio and Unit 2 at Malia correspond
to fine sediments that were deposited in environments characterized by a high water
table (grayish color described in both units, peaty horizons described in Unit 2 at
Malia). They are capped by deposits pointing to higher-energy depositional envi-
ronments (top of Unit 2 at Malia and Unit C at Kalo Chorio) (Figure 3). The above
mentioned environmental shift is, however, not contemporary at the two locations.
At Kalo Chorio, luminescence dating suggests the deposition of Unit C around
4000 B.C. (Zacharias et al., 2009). At Malia, the coarser sediments of the top of Unit


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2 point to an increased runoff between 2580–2290 cal. yr B.C. (Ly-7118) and 1740–1510
cal. yr B.C. (Ly-7116) (Lespez et al., 2001: 623, 2004: 443, Table I). The charcoal con-
centration mentioned above and dated to 2580–2290 cal. yr B.C. (Ly-7118) formed part
of these sediments. The proposed dates for the top of Unit 2 apparently correlate with
a flash-flood and mudflow horizon described in several other locations on Crete. It
is dated from MM I to LM III (ca. 2000–1250 B.C.; Moody, 2000; see also Grove &
Rackham, 2001: 306, Table 16.ii).
The evidence supporting the conclusion of Moody (2000) consists in coarse,
unsorted (cobbles, boulders) channel deposits containing Minoan pottery sherds.
Termini ante quem are given by varied sources. At the section of Mournies (western
Crete), Roman to Turkish pottery litters the surface above the channel deposits. In the
Frangokastello plain (southwestern Crete), the channel deposits bearing MM III to LM
I pottery are capped by a sedimentary layer containing Greco-Roman and Byzantine
sherds. It itself buries a 15th century chapel and is covered by a 250-year-old carob
tree (see also Nemec & Postma, 1993). Close to Angouseliana (western Crete), the
deposits containing Minoan pottery are capped by a layer containing Late Roman
and Byzantine sherds. The latter deposit is itself covered by a 16th- to 17th-century
chapel. The absence of any non-Minoan pottery in the channel deposits further sug-
gests a Bronze Age deposition. A similar unsorted channel sediment containing Middle
to Late Minoan pottery has been recently described in an archaeological trench located
in the valley east of the Minoan site of Sissi (ca. 4 km east of Malia; Driessen et al., 2009).
The chronology provided above is completed by a research carried out in the area of
Kavousi (eastern end of the Gulf of Mirabello). In this area, an alluvial deposit con-
taining Neopalatial (MM IIIA–LM IB) pottery has been radiocarbon dated to 1407–1209
B.C. (Haggis et al., 2005: 14–15). The dating of the top of Unit 2 at Malia and of other
deposits on Crete (Kavousi excepted) indicates that it also overlaps with an impor-
tant alluviation episode in the southern Argolid. It has been dated to the late 3rd mil-
lennium B.C. (Early Helladic II; van Andel, Zangger, & Demitrack, 1990).
Together with palynological evidence from western Crete (Moody, Rackham, &
Rapp, 1996) and a comparison with minor glacial advances in the Alps, Cretan flood
deposits have been related to a climatic shift (ca. 2000–1250 B.C.) toward greater
weather unpredictability (Moody, 2000). In a later publication, however, Moody sug-
gests that the correlation between alpine glacial advances and periods of extreme
weather in the Aegean requires further clarification (Moody & Rackham, 2004: 6). The
results obtained by Moody have been more recently sustained by Macklin et al. (2010).
Macklin et al. (2010) document a major phase of aggradation in the Anapodaris gorge
(southern Crete) between ca. 1400 and 1000 B.C. (3.40 ⫾ 0.30 ka [ANOSL9] and 3.00
⫾ 0.21 ka [ANOSL8], according to the authors’ OSL ages). Macklin et al. (2010: 49)
correlate the event with cooler conditions in the North Atlantic, a period of strength-
ening of the Siberian High, overall low sea surface temperature in the Aegean, and
large-scale flooding and river sedimentation episodes throughout the Mediterranean.
The second half of the 2nd millennium B.C. corresponds to a period of abrupt climate
change documented worldwide (Kaniewski et al., 2008). However, this period of cli-
matic instability could not be evidenced in western Crete by the study of Bottema and
Sarpaki (2003). The contrasting palynological results obtained by Moody, Rackham,


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and Rapp (1996) and Bottema and Sarpaki (2003) for the same region of Crete demon-
strate that broad climatic patterns do not necessarily account for local variability.
In Crete, detailed proxy records of Holocene climate change are still scarce and lim-
ited to the western (Moody, Rackham, & Rapp, 1996; Bottema & Sarpaki, 2003) and
southern (Macklin et al., 2010) parts of the island. For this reason, these studies rep-
resent only a first step toward a deeper understanding of Holocene environmental
variability on Crete. A better grip on the corresponding driving mechanisms will be
partly achieved through the examination of new, well-dated, Holocene sedimentary suc-
cessions, especially in the eastern part of the island. The rich archaeological record of
Crete should also represent an important basis for developing new interpretive strate-
gies enhancing our understanding of Holocene environmental variability.
The environmental results presented above can in this sense be linked to the
archaeological evidence of Bronze Age Crete. The two Middle and Late Minoan cross-
channel terraces excavated on the islet of Pseira, off the northeast coast of Crete,
can make sense within the climatic reconstruction proposed by Moody (2000).
Perhaps less evidently, Moody (2000: 59) suggests that Middle to Late Bronze Age cli-
matic instability on Crete could be involved in “a new approach to subsistence, as
well as a serious revamping of belief systems and ritual in an effort to control the per-
ceived chaos.” The author sustains her hypothesis by pointing to the development
of food stores in Minoan “palaces” and “villas” and the simultaneous proliferation of
ritual sites. Inferred consequences of the eruption of Thera on the Minoan society
(Driessen & Macdonald, 1997) should also be placed in this environmental context.
First human presence in the vicinity of the marsh of Malia is hinted at by the iden-
tification of cereal pollen in the base of the core (Müller-Celka, personal communi-
cation, 2009). Dated to no later than the second half of the 7th millennium B.C., it may
suggest an occupation of the Malia Plain as early as the EN (Tomkins, 2008: 29).
Considering this possibly very long history of Neolithic occupation, the EM char-
coal evidence is problematic. Because charcoal is obviously reworked, its dating
only provides a terminus post quem for the deposition of the coarser sediment in
which it has been described. However, plant material observed directly on top of
these coarse sediments gave a date of 2395–2040 cal. yr B.C. (Ly-7117) (Lespez et al.,
2004: 443, Table I). Although it is not known whether this material has been eroded
or not, its date is later than that of the underlying charcoal material. Moreover, since
these charcoal fragments are embedded within a relatively coarse sedimentary
matrix, it is likely that they were not significantly transported. The contrary would
have reduced the fragments to fine, non-datable material. These observations are
consistent with the idea that the charcoal indeed provides a date for the sediment
in which it has been described, that is, the EM period. It is in this sense perhaps sig-
nificant that this charcoal concentration seems to be broadly contemporary with
the construction in EM IIB of the first of a series of court buildings on the nearby site
of the later palace. Perhaps more importantly, it also coincides with the emergence of
Malia as a nucleated settlement focus for the surrounding plain and the beginning
of urbanism in the region (Driessen, 2007; Schoep, 2007; Whitelaw, forthcoming). Any
interpretation would in any case have to consider the changing, more energetic, con-
ditions of deposition shown by the top of Unit 2. More than a progressive shift of


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sedimentary environment, this process also changed the conditions of existence of

past people. This is not to say that such a shift drove human decisions and actions.
Rather, it set new material conditions of existence, partly responsible for the creation
of what Bourdieu called habitus.
Habitus is defined as the systems of durable dispositions which structure, and in
turn tend to be reproduced by, social practices (Bourdieu, 2000: 256). The definition
of habitus proposed by Bourdieu remains somewhat unclear: What are exactly
durable dispositions, and how can they structure social practices? It is worth noting
in this context that one point on which readers of Bourdieu seem to generally agree
is the lack of clarity surrounding the definition of habitus (Pickel, 2005: 438). Because
habitus will be used as a key concept in the remainder of this paper, however, it
appears important to provide at least workable elements of definition in the con-
text of this study. One should, however, not lose sight of the fact that if habitus is a
useful notion in archaeology, it is perhaps not so much because of its potential sta-
tus of ready-made conceptual tool but because “the issues that it raises must be
addressed before archaeology can contribute more fully to the historical under-
standing of the study of humanity” (Barrett, 2005: 133).

The Notion of Habitus

Before addressing the question of why geoarchaeology could benefit from the
notion of habitus, it is worth mentioning that although popularized by the writings
of Bourdieu, the concept has a long history. It appears in a variety of settings in the
works of Hegel, Husserl, Weber, Durkheim, and Mauss (Jenkins, 2002: 74). Bourdieu
deployed the notion of habitus as a way of overcoming the dualisms nature:culture
and structure:agency (Barrett, 2005: 134). Primarily, habitus stresses the embodied
character of human beings and refers to “a habitual or typical condition, state or
appearance, particularly of the body” (Jenkins, 2002: 74). The human body, therefore,
represents the substrate upon which the “durable dispositions” of Bourdieu’s habi-
tus are grounded. This, however, does not mean that the habitus should be reduced
to a set of properties characterizing individuals (e.g., typical modes of thinking, feel-
ing, wanting, doing, and interacting in a particular social system; Pickel, 2005: 443).
Habitus may in fact be best conceived of as an emerging property or as a process
offering “a conceptual linkage between cultural, social, psychological and biological
dimensions of reality” (Pickel, 2005: 439). As Bourdieu’s (2000: 256, see above) def-
inition makes clear, habitus “only exists in, through and because of the practices of
actors and their interaction with each other and with the rest of their environment”
(Jenkins, 2002: 75). A strict acceptance of this definition may leave too little room
for passively acquired bodily dispositions. However, habitus, through its mobilization
in Bourdieu’s theory of practice, is believed to be of central relevance to a geoarchae-
ological debate aiming at overcoming dualisms such as nature:culture, mind:body,
and structure:agency. Habitus understands human beings as inseparable biological
and social entities (“biopsychosocial systems,” using Pickel’s [2005] expression).
Drawing on the work of Sewell (2005), it can moreover be said that habitus
(schemas in Sewell’s terms) and material resources (those that can be studied by


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geoarchaeologists) together constitute the structures framing human lives. Habitus

being grounded in the materiality of the body, habitus and material resources are not
exclusive concepts. Habitus and material resources define and actualize each other.
However, whereas material resources are defined by the specificities of place, time,
and quantity, habitus can be transposed to cultural contexts beyond those for which
it was originally learned. Structures are therefore emerging, multiple, and inter-
secting (Beck et al., 2007: 834–835). It is hence believed that habitus provides a con-
ceptual means to comprehend how environmental (geological) changes can impact
upon human societies at different temporal and spatial scales (from local, daily activ-
ities to large-scale, long-term transformations).
It is also worth noting that the bodily dispositions of habitus seem to find inter-
esting parallels in experimental results provided by neurosciences (Bintliff, 2003,
2005, 2009). Of course, Bourdieu himself did not miss establishing these links. In his
Méditations pascaliennes (1997), Bourdieu explicitely refers to the work of French
neurobiologist Jean-Pierre Changeux. The durable transformations of the body
related to learning (that is, habitus) are grounded in the strengthening or weaken-
ing of synaptic connections.
As a summary, Bourdieu’s habitus is believed to capture the inescapable duality
of human condition in a far less abstract way than implied by the use of notions such
as environmental and social contexts. Because habitus provides a link between bio-
logical dispositions and the surrounding world, it recognizes that human modes de vie
can be impacted at different time scales by processes ranging from daily experience
to impalpable geological phenomena. Social practices represent an important (but by
no means unique) medium allowing long-term structures to persist. Habitus acknowl-
edges that conscious choice may not necessarily be the dominant motive of this repro-
duction (contra the Gibsonian understanding of agency, as reported by Bintliff, 2004).
Habitus may finally represent a useful term in a debate aiming at integrating social
and natural processes in a co-evolutionary sense (McGlade, 1995). Concepts such as
“response,” “adaptation,” or “impact” could in this way be enriched by Bourdieu’s
habitus. Habitus would allow them to be traced at different spatial and temporal
scales. In this perspective, the insights offered by Bourdieu’s theory of practice in
understanding socio-natural systems can be connected to those of the French Annales
school (Bintliff, 1991; Knapp, 1992), time perspectivism (Bailey, 2007, for a recent
overview), and nonlinear dynamic theory (e.g., van der Leeuw & McGlade 1997).
Before these insights can be tested against the case studies of Malia and Kalo
Chorio, further elements of interpretation pertaining to the charcoal concentration
at the top of Unit 2 at Malia can be gained. These elements of interpretation are
obtained through the application of a simple model of agricultural catchment.

Further Insights from Catchment Analysis at Malia

The charcoal concentration at the top of Unit 2 at Malia may be interpreted as the
outcome of changing attitudes toward the earth. The size of the debris and the species
represented by this charcoal are not known (Lespez, personal communication, 2009).
Therefore, an origin by natural fires cannot be ruled out. In this case, however, more


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frequent charcoal signals would be expected in the sedimentary record of the marsh
of Malia. Natural fires are indeed more common than exceptional in the Mediterranean
landscape (Grove & Rackham, 2001: 217–240). Vegetation change could also explain
the charcoal signal. It could indeed have brought more flammable essences in the
direct vicinity of the marsh. However, the FN to EM palynological record of
the marsh does not seem to sustain this hypothesis. Together with the appearance
of plants suggesting human intervention (e.g., melon), it indicates a remarkable
increase in tamarisks, known for their low flammability (Dimitrakopoulos &
Papaioannou, 2001). Hence it is here proposed to relate the charcoal concentration
to the introduction of new agricultural techniques, to the creation of a new sedi-
mentary substrate in the marsh of Malia (creating new plots amenable to agricul-
ture), or to a combination of both.
Correlations between the cores at Malia are difficult because of their low density
in the study area and the important variability of the sedimentary facies. One should
therefore be wary of making overly general depictions of these changes. Charcoal
has, moreover, only been described in Carottage 6 (eastern branch of the present-
day marsh’s drainage system; Figure 2), strengthening the fragmented picture of the
landscape surrounding the area now occupied by the marsh. Cores taken in the west-
ern drainage system of the present-day marsh (Figure 2) did not yield any evidence
for any such changes associated with charcoal. This observation can be developed
further by applying a simple model of agricultural catchment to the Minoan town of
Although difficulties pertaining to the use of site catchments have been acknowl-
edged (e.g., Bailey, 2005), these tools have proven to be heuristically helpful to
approach Neolithic and Bronze Age economies in Crete (e.g., Whitelaw, 2004a;
Isaakidou, 2008). In their simplest application, where only staple grain crops are
considered, their main limitation resides in the difficulty of estimating three key
variables: (1) the habitation density, (2) the amount of grain required per person and
per year, and (3) the annual crop yield. These points are here briefly discussed before
considering their application in the context of Prepalatial (EM I–MM IA) Malia.
(1) Estimates for settlement density are to some extent tailored to the nature of the
archaeological record. Excavated Minoan settlements such as Myrtos Fournou Korifi
(south Crete; Warren, 1972) or Gournia (east Crete, Gulf of Mirabello; Soles, 1979) pro-
vide an ideal basis for assessing the occupation of space on the basis of favored models
of social organization, such as the nuclear family (Whitelaw, forthcoming). The suit-
ability of Myrtos Fournou Korifi and Gournia can partly be explained by their limited
reoccupation. The good preservation of the archaeological remains also makes possi-
ble the detailed analysis of the architecture and associated finds (Whitelaw, 1983, 2001,
2007). The results of such studies are particularly meaningful thanks to the complete
(Myrtos Fournou Korifi) or nearly complete (Gournia) exploration of the settlements.
The high level of detail characterizing the excavation reports of Warren (1972) and
Boyd Hawes (see references in Soles, 1979) also facilitates later interpretations.
Generally speaking, the richness of the Minoan architectural record renders it partic-
ularly amenable to such analyses. The use of the figures obtained can, however, be
problematic, notably for the definition of the size of a community (Relaki, 2003: 91–101;


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Sollars, 2005). Population estimates on the basis of house sizes have nevertheless pro-
vided important insights pertaining to the nature of the Minoan social organization and
the trajectories followed by Minoan sites (Whitelaw, 2004b; Driessen, in press).
Where pottery scatters are considered, population density estimates are more
variable and are defined by authors on a more or less arbitrary basis. Isaakidou
(2008: 102–103), for example, calculates population densities at Neolithic–EM Knossos
on the basis of three densities (100, 200, and 300 inhabitants/ha). However, follow-
ing Broodbank (1992), the dimension of the settlement’s agricultural catchment is
defined on the basis of a density of 200 inhabitants/ha (Isaakidou, 2008: 102–103).
Trying to define period-sensitive densities, Whitelaw (forthcoming) proposes esti-
mates ranging from 200 to 400 inhabitants/ha for the Minoan towns of Knossos,
Phaistos, and Malia. Where the latter settlement is considered, a density of 400 inhab-
itants/ha is admitted for EM I–II. A density of 300 inhabitants/ha is adopted for
EM III–MM IA. Considering this variability, agricultural catchments for Prepalatial
Malia have here been calculated using 100 and 400 inhabitants/ha as boundary values.
(2) Where the amount of grain required per person and per year is considered, the
figure of 250 kg proposed by Isaakidou (2008: 102, with references) is here admitted
without further discussion.
(3) Finally, the question of the annual crop yield is intimately related to chosen
models of agricultural practices. On the basis of the work of Halstead (1981)
and others, Isaakidou (2008: 98–99) proposed the values of 1500 kg/ha for an intensive
system of cultivation (“garden” cultivation with hand tillage, manuring, weeding, and
watering, probably combined with small-scale herding). The figure of 1000 kg/ha has
been suggested for an extensive agricultural model. The latter is believed to be rep-
resentative of socially inegalitarian contexts associated with the later Bronze Age
palaces of southern Greece (tillage by ox-drawn ards, cereal/fallow agriculture).
The EM period sees the emergence of proto-urban, nucleated settlements in Crete
(Whitelaw, forthcoming). It is associated with large-scale works on the site of the later
palaces (Knossos: Tomkins, forthcoming; Whitelaw, forthcoming; Malia: Driessen,
2007; Schoep, 2007; but Whitelaw, forthcoming; Phaistos: Militello, forthcoming;
Todaro, forthcoming). Therefore, assuming the applicability of one of these two agri-
cultural models may be a highly debatable enterprise. For this reason, calculations
have here been made on the basis of both agricultural systems.
Tables II, III, and IV summarize the results obtained for Prepalatial Malia. Figure 4
provides a graphic representation of agricultural catchments where boundary values
are represented (bold figures in Tables III and IV). In this simplified assessment, fur-
ther hypotheses have been made.
First, space occupied by constructions has not been taken into account. Hence
catchments have been represented around a center corresponding to the core of the
town of Malia.
Second, soil fertility is considered homogeneous in every direction around the
town. Where difficulties related to cultivation on steep slopes are considered, this
can to some extent be considered as a not overly strong simplification. The plain of
Malia is indeed relatively flat and steep slopes are rather scarce in this area (see
Whitelaw, 2004a: 240).


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Table II. Populations of Prepalatial Malia.

No. of Inhabitants

Site Area (ha) 100/ha 200/ha 300/ha 400/ha

EM I–II 4 400 800 1200 1600

EM III–MM IA 5–7.3 500–730 1000–1460 1500–2190 2000–2920
Based on site areas proposed by Whitelaw (forthcoming) and calculated for densities of 100, 200, 300, and 400

Table III. Agricultural catchments at Prepalatial Malia.

Intensive Farming (1500 kg/ha)

kg of Grain/yr, Assuming a Basic Intake of

250 kg/(head.yr) and a Population Density of:
100/ha 200/ha 300/ha 400/ha Land (ha) Radius (m)

EM I–II 100,000 200,000 300,000 400,000 66.7–266.7 461–921

EM III–MM IA 125,000– 250,000– 375,000– 500,000–
1,825,000 365,000 547,500 730,000 83.3–486.7 515–1245
Calculated on the basis of an intensive farming system and by using 100 and 400 inhabitants/ha as boundary
values for population densities.

Table IV. Agricultural catchments at Prepalatial Malia.

Extensive Farming (1000 kg/ha)

kg of Grain/yr, Assuming a Basic Intake of

250 kg/(head.yr) and a Population Density of:

100/ha 200/ha 300/ha 400/ha Land (ha) Radius (m)

EM I–II 100,000 200,000 300,000 400,000 100–400 564–1128

EM III – MM IA 125,000– 250,000– 375,000– 500,000– 125–730 631–1524
1,825,000 365,000 547,500 730,000
Calculated on the basis of an extensive farming system and by using 100 and 400 inhabitants/ha as boundary
values for population densities.

Third, catchments encroaching on the sea have not been corrected in order to
account for the loss of land.
More sensitive estimates taking into account the incorporation of seafood and
tree crops in the Prepalatial diet could qualify the correction to be brought to the agri-
cultural catchments here presented. Although admittedly simplified and capable of
further refinement, the agricultural catchments presented for Prepalatial Malia can
prove to be heuristically useful in the context of this study. Figure 4 indicates that
already in EM I–II, the marsh occupies a position which potentially overlaps with the agri-
cultural catchment of the town of Malia, depending on preferred population density and
cultivation model. The observation of charcoal flecks dating no later than EM II, only in
the eastern drainage system of the marsh, may provide further information.


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Figure 4. Agricultural catchments at Prepalatial Malia, calculated on the basis of (a) an intensive and
(b) an extensive system of cultivation. For each period, catchments have been calculated on the basis of
a population density of 100 and 400 inhabitants/ha.

The charcoal evidence could in this sense, and according to the simplified agri-
cultural catchment model here proposed, be used to mark the position of the limits
of the agricultural zone worked during EM II. Hence, it may be suggested that the
western edge of the agricultural catchment of Malia fell somewhere around the east-
ern part of the marsh.
Alternatively, the charcoal evidence could be cited against a picture of homoge-
neous land use. The absence of charcoal in the western drainage system of the marsh
could suggest that the uniformity assumed by the definition of circular catchments
cannot account for the diversity of subsistence practices exploiting the landscape in
a more fragmented manner (see Johnston, 2005).


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Further environmental work is here clearly desired. Future research related to the
spatial organization of subsistence practices in Prepalatial Crete should also consider
the likely coexistence of intensive and extensive modes of cultivation, opening the
possibility for an exploration of more complex patterns of land use in and around
proto-urban towns.

Synthesis: Environmental and Social Changes at Kalo Chorio and Malia

Following the previous discussion, Prepalatial changes in agricultural practices
can be understood in terms of spatial extension, taking the form of a growing circle
of cultivated fields around an inhabited core. This, however, could arguably be con-
sidered as a poor account of how change was actually performed and experienced
by knowledgeable agents. Tomkins and Schoep (2010: 68) recently argued that con-
tinuity and change “are best understood, from the bottom up, as flowing from the
actions of people operating under specific conditions of existence (Day, Wilson, &
Kiriatzi, 1997; Barrett & Damilati, 2004; Tomkins, 2004: 39–41). One way of doing
this is to focus on lower-level analytical categories of practice, context and agency. . . .”
Following this embodied perspective, it is here proposed that it is also the property
of sediments to accumulate and to form deeply layered assemblages that can help
people cope with change. Sediments can form the material substrate of a wide range
of practices pertaining to subsistence activities. In places such as coastal lowlands
and valleys where the conditions of deposition are quickly shifting, this property is
considerably enhanced (Sturt, 2006). Accumulation may simultaneously conceal and
make apparent. The material properties of newly deposited layers constitute the
basis for potentially different forms of meaning to be created, involving potentially
different forms of engagement with the earth. By dwelling in their environment—that
is, by being immersed in their lifeworld as an inescapable condition of existence
(Ingold, 2000: 153)—people can incorporate in their life the continuous coming into
being of the world. Dwelling in the world hence opens up the possibility of being
attuned to the rhythms of growth of sedimentary bodies, making their layered char-
acter more apparent (Lefebvre, 1992).
It is therefore suggested that the changing relations between people and the earth
at EM Malia can be usefully expressed through the notions of layering and net-
working (Knappett, 2006). These two terms, close to Chapman’s (2000) accumula-
tion and enchainment, represent fundamental modes through which agency exists
beyond the limits of the human body. Hence they represent basic social practices into
which any form of understanding of the world is grounded. Engaging with sets of accu-
mulated (or layered) material is a way to make conspicuous “layerings that
accumulate memory at places and in regard to people and objects” (Gamble, 2007: 122).
These layers, in turn, provide the material basis for reproducing the durable, sedi-
mented dispositions of Bourdieu’s habitus. By digging, plowing, uprooting plants, or
tapping groundwater from a shallow aquifer (cf. the sedimentary facies of Unit 2 at
Malia and Unit D at Kalo Chorio) by the excavation of pits or ditches, EM people gen-
erated the possibility of being confronted with the stratified material residues of the
past. These can take the form of plant debris, coarse sediments deposited during


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heavy rains, and charcoal fragments (Unit 2; Dalongeville et al., 2001: 80). It is thus
through the layering of mineral and organic remains that associations with the past
could potentially be made, environmental change experienced, meaning of place
created, and habitus reproduced. Similar lines of interpretation can be proposed at
the nearby site of Sissi (ca. 4 km east of Malia), where ongoing geoarchaeological
researches have recognized traces of Final Neolithic/Early Minoan to Late Minoan
human activities in a coastal valley. They seem to have been focused first around aban-
doned river channel fills. This environment most probably provided early inhabi-
tants of the nearby Kephali hill (see Driessen et al., 2009) with important natural
resources (water, plants). In the course of the Bronze Age, these deposits were cov-
ered by a hybrid sedimentary unit made of fluvial sediments, charcoal fragments, Final
Neolithic/Early Minoan to Late Minoan pottery sherds, root penetrations, and vegeta-
tion remains. The latter facies has been interpreted as the result of gardening activi-
ties carried out in a flood plain environment. At Sissi, as at Malia, human engagement
with the soil brought to light a wide array of materials helping establish links with
people and other places (Sturt, 2006).
A place, such as the marsh of Malia, comes into focus through its relation with
other places, creating a network of relationships captured in the notion of landscape
(Thomas, 2001). Changes pertaining to the material conditions of subsistence prac-
tices could consequently be linked by people to those affecting other spheres of every-
day life. Changes affecting the built landscape on the Malia plain, on the site of the
proto-urban town and later palace, were thus part of a broader transformation affect-
ing the material basis of past existences. Although further environmental work is
clearly needed, it appears that this observation could be extended to changes
in the yearly pattern of rainfall distribution (Moody, 2000) and to an important alter-
ation of the vegetal landscape surrounding the marsh of Malia. The FN to EM period
on the Malia plain indeed witnesses the appearance of pollen from fig trees, melons,
and sedges, as well as the dramatic increase of tamarisks (Müller-Celka, personal
communication, 2009). The appearance of melon has been documented at about the
same moment in the core of Delphinos (western Crete). Since melon is a pronounced
insect pollinator, long-distance transport of pollen is unlikely. Early cultivation of
melon being reported from Egypt, the pollen of Delphinos is taken as evidence for con-
tacts with Egypt at that time (Bottema & Sarpaki, 2003: 745). Egyptian imports in
Crete become evident in EM II–III and are thought to have ensured the supply of pres-
tige goods and technologies essential to emerging elite groups (Tomkins & Schoep,
2010). While the notion of habitus has been criticized for its lack of clarity when it
comes to the question of how such bodily dipositions produce practices (Jenkins,
2002: 80), one may find in the fundamental processes of layering and networking (or
accumulation and enchainment) new avenues for a better understanding of how the
material world can orient practices and shape human identity (see also Gamble, 2007).
In the case of Knossos, Isaakidou (2008) suggested an increased reliance on exten-
sive cultivation in EM I–II. This contrasts with earlier modes of cultivation, proba-
bly focused on more intensive, horticultural techniques (also Halstead, 1981). For
Malia, it has been proposed here that the shift in agricultural practices suggested by
the charcoal concentration was related to the change in material conditions


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embodied by the infilling of the marsh. By allowing social practices to be structured

by time, Bourdieu’s theory offers the possibility of bridging the gap between coarse
geological and fine archaeological dating systems. It is indeed through day-to-day
experience implied by practices of subsistence activities that geological processes
would have been understood and could have shaped the durable dispositions encap-
sulated by the notion of habitus. In this scheme where time integrally participates
in the creation and reproduction of habitus, geological and human processes come
to be mutually implicated rather than causally related. Together with the aforemen-
tioned changes in the vegetal and built landscapes of Malia during the Early Bronze
Age, the charcoal concentration of Unit 2 may signal a fundamental shift in the way
structuring conditions embodied by the marsh of Malia are reproduced. For the first
time since possibly the EN, this reproduction is also driven by archaeologically vis-
ible human practices. It cannot be pure coincidence that this reproduction occurred
at a time when important social changes related to the emergence of the “palatial”
society are suspected. Personal and group habitus were subject to change accord-
ing to new social standards. Archaeology tells us that this change was also “per-
formed” by embodied actors evolving in new material landscapes (vegetation, built
environment). According to the alternative reading here proposed, geology also sug-
gests that the simultaneous shifts of geological substrate in the marsh of Malia could
have served as a basis for the bodily understanding of change through agricultural
practices. Radiocarbon dates suggest that the rapid lithological changes observed in
the upper part of Unit 2 and indicating higher-energy depositional conditions could
have occurred during a time span short enough to have enabled the perception of suc-
cession and duration based on accumulated personal or transgenerational group
memory (50–75 years, according to Hull, 2005: 360). In prehistoric societies such as
those of the Neolithic and Bronze Age of Crete, it is likely that unusual events and
processes helped the understanding of duration and change. It is hence proposed that
the reproduction of the marsh as a structuring condition of human life arose out
of the particular social circumstances embodied by the emergence of a palatial land-
scape. The marsh’s own geological dynamic could have provided an important basis
for establishing the temporal framework of this emergence.
As suggested earlier, a similar, but not contemporary, sequence of deposition
(from calm to higher-energy sedimentary conditions) has been described at Kalo
Chorio. Accurate correlation of the sediments of Malia and Kalo Chorio would
undoubtedly improve our appreciation of the timing of environmental changes.
A focus on correlation could equally confine the debate to one of cause-and-effect
aimed at defining the origin, spatial extent, and temporality of deposition episodes.
It is, however, clear that contemporaneity between (geo)archaeological phenomena
can only be established within certain margins of errors (Olivier, 2001). This makes
causal relations highly scale-dependent (Bailey, 2007). It is not the intention of this
paper to question the relevance of these studies. Such work represents the funda-
mental building blocks of more than 40 years of geoarchaeological research in
Neolithic and Bronze Age Mediterranean (Bintliff, 1992, 2000b; Macklin & Woodward,
2009, for useful overviews). But the recent work carried out by Krahtopoulou (2000)
in northern Greece has demonstrated the difficulty of correlating depositional events,


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even in adjacent valleys and using a remarkably high number of chronological mark-
ers. This is not to say that the task is impossible (which would largely be contra-
dicted by the results of the same research), but perhaps the issue of correlation can
be sidestepped by viewing the sedimentary records differently. In this way and in
Bourdieu’s terms, the sedimentary sequences at Malia and Kalo Chorio can be under-
stood as the embodiment of similar shifts in the material conditions of existence.
Although it is acknowledged that the sedimentary systems of Malia and Kalo
Chorio are not comparable directly in geological terms—a shallow, coastal depres-
sion filled by episodic sediment input at Malia against a better developed fluviatile
system at Kalo Chorio—it is believed that the sediments at both places have been
deposited under similar local environmental conditions. What is interesting is that
unlike at Malia, where charcoal is present in a single level, at Kalo Chorio, charcoal
flecks have been described at various levels of the Holocene sequence (Figure 3).
If these fragments are indeed related to human activities, as suggested by Pavlopoulos
et al. (2007: 228), this observation could serve as a warning against any extreme
form of environmental determinism. Activities related to the land apparently dif-
fered at the two places in their nature and timing, despite the broadly similar local
properties and evolution of the sediments. Bintliff (1996, 2000a) is probably right
when he blames extreme phenomenological approaches that tend to dismiss any
form of human ecology. Following Ingold (2000: 2–5), human beings are indeed rec-
ognized as organisms/persons, where the latter aspect cannot be distinguished from
the former and vice versa. The question here, however, is perhaps partly one of scale.
Since the Neolithic, fertile and (frequently) coastal valleys indeed seem to have been
preferentially targeted by early Cretan farmers (Strasser, 1996; Tomkins, 2008). At the
scale of millennia, such environments seem to have been part of Cretan communi-
ties’ habitus. At a smaller scale of investigation, this bias toward fertile lowlands
can be qualified by highlighting the differing ways through which these were inte-
grated in the lives of discrete social groups.
The concept of affordance developed by Gibson (1979) may here be useful. In
the present case, affordance expresses the way environments have the capacity to
suggest their use (for a discussion of the term, see Knappett, 2004, 2005). Where
charcoal evidence is considered, the (geo)archaeological records of Malia and Kalo
Chorio suggest that similar environments were vested with different affordances.
One could seek an explanation for this contrasting evidence by evoking the broader
landscapes in each area.
As Figure 2 illustrates, an issue of scale is perhaps at work. The coastal lowlands
now occupied by the marsh of Malia cover a far smaller area than the coastal plain
of Kalo Chorio. This difference of scale may have rendered the coastal lowlands of
Malia and Kalo Chorio more or less amenable to particular forms of agriculture. One
could, for example, suggest that a larger surface might encourage the creation of
larger plots. It could also foster the use of techniques one would traditionally asso-
ciate with extensive forms of agriculture (see above). It is also likely that access to
the best agricultural lands would be dependent on their spatial extension.
Beyond these areas filled by Holocene sediments, further contrasts between Malia
and Kalo Chorio can be highlighted. At Malia, the plain is composed of gently rolling


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hills bordered to the south by the Selena Mountains. At Kalo Chorio, a rugged land-
scape dissected by small valleys created opportunities only for agriculturally more mar-
ginal forms of settlement, for example, on top of local topographical highs (Figure 5).
Because the area of Kalo Chorio is mainly composed of strongly cemented Neogene
marls, sandstones, clays, and conglomerates, it is unlikely that the colonization of the
hinterland would favor major soil erosion or propensity to erosion (Hayden et al.,
2004: 44). Rather, more marginal forms of living would be created by the steep and
heavily dissected topography. It could also have arisen out of the possible competi-
tion for controlling inland water sources and pockets of lighter soil away from the
fertile corridor represented by the valley of the Istron river. Moreover, large-scale herd-
ing in the hinterland of Kalo Chorio was probably hampered by the topography. The
restricted distribution of particular minerals, such as granodioritic rocks (Hayden et al.,
2004: Figure 8), may have introduced further difficulties for inland communities.
The phenomenon of “marginal colonization” during the transition between the FN
and the EM period is well known and the issues it raises have been debated at length
elsewhere (security: Nowicki, 2002, 2008; site interaction and intervisibility: Tomkins
et al., 2004; subsistence: Halstead, 2008; Tomkins, 2008). Significantly, marginal colo-
nization on Crete has been related to a mid-Holocene climatic shift toward a more
extreme aridity, seasonality, and unpredictability characterizing the modern
Mediterranean climate (Tomkins, 2010; see also Roberts et al., 2001; Roberts & Reed,
2009). Marginal colonization in the area of Kalo Chorio raises the possibility that social
values different from those at work in Malia may have participated in the creation of
different dispositions toward the land. The contrasting settlement patterns during the
FN and EM periods in the plains of Malia and Kalo Chorio further illustrate this possi-
bility. Whereas only one Neolithic site is known from the plain of Malia, several have been
reported from the Kalo Chorio area (Figures 5, 6). At Malia, however, indirect evidence
(pollen in the base of the core dated to the EN) suggests that this observation is likely
to be the consequence of a recovery bias. In the area of Kalo Chorio, human presence
earlier than the FN is strongly suggested by the identification of pottery imports
from this area in EN to FN ceramic assemblages from Knossos (Tomkins, 2001, 2008;
Tomkins & Day, 2001; Tomkins, Day, & Kilikoglou, 2004). Combined macroscopic and
microscopic study of ceramic fabric points to the presence of one or more producing
groups resident in the Gulf of Mirabello. This is further supported by the identification
of two granodiorite axes in Neolithic levels at Knossos (Strasser, 2008). The first one
is dated to LN II, while the second is dated to FN I (Strasser, 2008, with chronology
adapted to the new system proposed by Tomkins, 2008). The nature of the stone indi-
cates a source located in the Gulf of Mirabello (Strasser, 2008: 157). These studies alto-
gether illustrate the important problem of archaeological visibility pertaining to the
Neolithic of Crete. Early settlement indeed seems to have favored areas close to fer-
tile soils and fresh water, currenly buried under several meters of middle to late
Holocene alluvial and coastal sediments (Tomkins, 2008: 38).
In this sense, the EM period marks a stage of increased archaeological visibil-
ity in the plain of Malia. Considering the above discussion, subsurface investiga-
tion of the marsh of Malia would represent an obvious strategy for bringing to
light new traces of Neolithic occupation. The first major occupation at Malia


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Figure 5. Distribution map of (a) FN, (b) EM I, and (c) EM IIA sites in the area of Kalo Chorio (modified
after Hayden, 2003).

seems to have been in EM IIA (Whitelaw, forthcoming). Under the later palace, the
earliest structures are dated to EM IIB (Whitelaw, forthcoming), but the presence
also of some EM I pottery (Tomkins, personal communication, 2009) hints at ear-
lier activity in the vicinity. Population growth at Malia seems only to take off later


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Figure 6. Distribution map of (a) Neolithic and (b) EM sites in the plain of Malia. Background map mod-
ified after Müller (1996).

on, at the end of the Early Bronze Age and at the start of the Middle Bronze Age
(Whitelaw, forthcoming). Setting aside the question of whether or not the EM IIB
buildings were organized around an open space, the predecessor of the central
court of the later (EM III/MM IA) palace, it is intriguing to note that their con-
struction seems to coincide with the first archaeologically visible traces of human
presence around the area now occupied by the marsh of Malia. By EM II at Malia,
material transformations may therefore be seen to be impacting different spheres


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of human life. In contrast with this picture, the area of Kalo Chorio remained set-
tled during the Bronze Age by small-scale communities. This suggests different
social conditions and hence potentially different attitudes toward the earth.
Mirroring the suggestions made by Isaakidou (2008) at Knossos, these differing atti-
tudes could indeed have formed an integral part of the strategies creating and
reproducing social inequalities.

It has been argued in this paper that the application of social science theory can be
of help to solve, or at least to sidestep, well-known methodological problems in geoar-
chaeology. Bourdieu’s habitus in this way makes the integration of geoarchaeological
results into historical reconstructions easier. Sediments are deposited by various
processes (Schiffer, 1987), but they are also an integral part of the human material
world and hence contribute to the structuring of past people’s lives. Earth scientists
and other specialists of past environments, through the development of new method-
ologies and techniques, will contribute to a more complete picture of the mechanisms
driving environmental (meta)stability and change. The theory of practice of Bourdieu
represents, it is believed, a helpful tool in order to understand more fully how struc-
tural conditions embodied by the environment (and of which sediments are only a
restricted component) can also, and in circumstances we should try to elucidate, be
maintained and transformed (consciously or not) through human practices. Habitus
has therefore been understood in this contribution as a useful tool to understand how
the material world can (consciously or not) impact human actions. Through the notion
of habitus, this article tried to explain how loose notions such as environmental and
social contexts can be collapsed into a model of human practices grounded in the
body. The fact that social practices only represent a facet of the mechanisms explain-
ing the transmission of structures through time raises several questions one cannot
ignore: When, how, and why did social practices participate in the transmission of the
material conditions imposed by the environment? What are the spatial and temporal
scales of this participation? By shifting the focus of enquiries from the moment in time
at which a (geo)archaeological phenomenon occurs to the mechanisms of transmis-
sion of this phenomenon through time, we open up a means of overcoming long-
standing issues of cause and effect. Because Bourdieu’s sociology is one of relations
between individuals, groups, and classes (Lallement, 1993: 129; classes are, however,
considered by Bourdieu as active products instead of neatly defined entities; Pinto,
2002: 126), its application to geoarchaeology allows the problem of scale to be recast
in a way that perhaps makes it easier to tackle. While the issue has been traditionally
framed as a problem of integrating different types of scientific data (Walsh, 1999: 5),
once viewed through the lens of Bourdieu’s theory of practice, the focus shifts to an
assessment of how sediments, traditionally considered as environmental proxies, may
have come to shape habitus at different social scales. By allowing social practices to
be structured by time, Bourdieu’s theory of practice also offers the possibility of bring-
ing together archaeological and geological time resolutions.


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The core of this article was initially delivered at the conference “Geoarchaeology 2009: Landscape to
Laboratory and Back Again,” held at the University of Sheffield (April 15–17, 2009). This event was organ-
ized by Gianna Ayala, Mark Bateman, and John Wainwright, whom I thank for the opportunity to test out
some of the ideas presented here. This article forms part of an ongoing PhD research supervised by Jan
Driessen and Cecile Baeteman. It largely benefited from critical comments and suggestions by Peter
Tomkins and Carl Knappett. I am most obliged to Matthew Johnson for having generously agreed to com-
ment on a late version of this paper. Laurent Lespez and Kosmas Pavlopoulos kindly shared essential
information related to their geomorphological work carried out at Malia and Kalo Chorio. Three anony-
mous referees are thanked for their constructive and stimulating comments, from which this article
greatly benefited. I finally thank John Wainwright, Jamie Woodward, and Gary Huckleberry for their edi-
torial handling and encouragement. None of these persons should, however, be held responsible for the
views expressed in this article.

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Received 3 September 2009

Accepted for publication 25 March 2010
Scientific editing by the guest editors