Book Review: The Aegean Bronze Age

The Aegean Bronze Age, by Oliver Dickinson

It should be noted at the outset that I greatly prefer the historical approach to the archaeological approach when it comes to providing insight on the past.  To be sure, I have a personal bias in favor of texts, which while they must be understood and properly interpreted, can provide the mindset of people, as opposed to physical remains which give an illusion of objectivity when they still require proper interpretation and have to deal with the problem of selectivity in survival.  To be sure, this particular writer does a good job at soberly presenting the evidence and not going overboard in his conclusions and providing plenty of hedges and cautious efforts to understand ancient Greek and Cretan material culture, and that is to be appreciated.  If I prefer the narratives of historians to the speculations of archaeologists, there is something to be said for knowing that material remains survive from a largely illiterate age whose very limited writings (in indecipherable Linear A and all too scanty and limited Linear B), at least I can and do enjoy what this book has to offer and I can recommend it to those who want to know about this particular time period.

This book is more than 300 pages long and is divided into 9 very unequally sized chapters.  The book begins with a list of illustrations, preface, and acknowledgements, as well as a list of abbreviations and introduction.  After that the author spends some time talking about the chronology and terminology of the archaeology of the Aegean by looking at Crete, the Hellenic periods, and the Cyclades as separate regions with their own relative chronology (1).  This leads to a brief discussion of the natural environment and resources available to the people who inhabited Greece (2).  This leads to a discussion of the very scarce evidence we have about the first human populations of the area (3) as well as a considerably longer discussion about the settlement and economic information we have from various digs in the area (4).  After that the bulk of the book is spent in looking at arts and crafts from the area that have endured, namely pottery, non-ceramic vessels and furniture, architecture, frescoes, figures, jewelry and ornaments, seals, writing, weapons and armor (5).  After that there is a discussion of the burial customs of the age from surviving tombs (6) as well as the matter of trade, exchange, and overseas contact that we find from the surviving material remains (7).  The book then ends with a discussion of religion (8), a conclusion (9), as well as a bibliography and index.

What kind of things survive from the past?  What aspects of our own material culture will endure?  Will our digital writings endure in any fashion where they would be able to be read and understood?  What will people think of our surviving stadiums and speculate on the absence of walls around our cities as being evidence that we were not concerned about security?  When I look at the ruins of the past I try to imagine what people lived like then and whether they knew or expected that the places where they lived would be abandoned later on.  The author notes that some of the areas in Crete that have been excavated have a long history of many generations burying people in the same places, while some Greek sites only show people there for a generation or two.  To live and die in ghost towns is a rather poignant matter, and there can be deep ties that people make to the land in which they live, even if they do not leave enough behind for us to understand them very well as is the case here.  And if there is a wide gulf between the Aegean Bronze Age and our own time, at least a study of the age can help us understand how it was that people have long made a good living if hardly an amazing one in such an area.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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