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Report | Petsas House, Mycenae. The Excavation of a 14th Century BCE Residential and Industrial Complex

Persistent identifier: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:SheltonK.Petsas_House_Mycenae.2018


This book manuscript is the final publication of my archaeological excavation of ‘Petsas House’ at the Late Bronze Age site of Mycenae in Greece, conducted under the aegis of the Archaeological Society of Athens, which will present this unique 14th c. BCE architectural complex that was, at the same time, residence, warehouse, and industrial installation, within the extra-palatial settlement of Mycenae. The monograph will appear as a volume in the Excavations of Mycenae series published by the Archaeological Society of Athens and will include all the factual details of the excavation process and the architecture uncovered, together with the stratigraphic context and spatial association of the finds and features of interest to scholars, as well as the analysis of the results and their implications for the understanding of the site of Mycenae during the height of the palatial period, the socio-political and economic relationship of the settlement to the palatial citadel, and the broader context of pottery production within the Late Bronze Age Aegean. This publication is essential for the full understanding of the archaeological project, its tangible results, and the knowledge that will be disseminated about this important, yet little understood, period of Mycenaean history, with some of the earliest evidence for state-level society, settlement features, and industry. Thus, my study will analyze the development of domestic space, the relationship of the settlement population to those who inhabit and control the palatial citadel, and the nature and technology of Mycenaean ceramic production during the Late Helladic (LH) IIIA period (14th c. BCE).


The building complex known as ‘Petsas House’, located to the NW of and outside the palatial citadel of Mycenae, was first investigated in 1950 and 1951 by Papadimitriou and Petsas but never published, whereas, the current program was undertaken (2000-2013) to complete the work of the early excavators for publication and to expand the excavation for a better understanding of the complex, its pottery, and the settlement of Mycenae during the Late Helladic (LH) IIIA 2 period. Well established at this point, through systematic recovery of archaeological evidence and the analysis of finds, both old and new, is the use of the building for habitation, as well as ceramic production and storage, and the date and cause of its destruction late in the LH IIIA 2 period (c. 1320 BCE) due to an earthquake and localized fires.

My project at Petsas House consists of eleven seasons of excavation, and through 2018, eight seasons of museum study. The fieldwork revealed not only a multi-story building but also thousands of artifacts in contexts that identified living, working, and storage spaces along with clear evidence for the destruction of the building and a clean-up/rescue effort following the disaster. The finds are predominantly ceramic: fineware, coarseware, and cookware vessels, more than 10,000, and figurines (human, animal, objects). Significant find assemblages also include substantial figural wall paintings that demonstrate high-status domestic architecture, extensive faunal remains that provide evidence for the diet and provisioning of the residents, and clay tablets inscribed in the Linear B script (earliest written Greek), which illustrate a direct connection between craft production and the palatial administration. The finds recovered from the excavation and their scholarly interpretation provide a unique perspective on the assemblage of materials that together present a holistic narrative of this place in this period, both of wide-ranging importance in the study of the prehistoric Aegean.

During my semester in residence at the Center for Hellenic Studies (spring 2018), and with the assistance of its many resources, including the intellectual/scholarly interaction it promotes, substantial progress was made on the manuscript. The book consists of three primary sections: the architecture itself with evidence for the mode and date of construction; the industrial production of pottery with foci on technology, stylistic chronology, and volume/content functional reconstruction; and on the extensive and unparalleled ‘well deposit’ that provides evidence for the destruction of the complex as well as a 3D snapshot of the multi-faceted life of the building’s inhabitants (human and animal) and their socio-economic position in Mycenaean culture. All of this is founded on an account of the excavation itself and the analyses of the archaeological contexts, first among these being the discovery of the site and the initial excavation during only a few months in 1950 and 1951. This part of the monograph was completed at CHS where the fellowship allowed for the intensive re-examination of handwritten documents from the 1950s in comparison to the material remains cataloged in the Mycenae Museum where very little, if any, original documentation survived. These first-hand accounts by the excavator also were compared to the site and finds from the current project which enabled a direct engagement between the early research and the excavation that grew out of it so many decades later. I was able to finally locate many of the previously unidentified excavation units so that not only the full stratigraphy of the site can be understood, but also artifacts that belong together (or were parts of the same object) could be reunited and analyzed together as associated materials.

The history of the excavation and its implications for the recovery of information has been fully written and substantial progress was then made on the architectural presentation and analysis that includes catalogs of finds along with their importance for identifying the room function and related activities. From this analysis, it is clear that the building was used for multiple functions and by various stakeholders to incorporate domestic, industrial, and economic activities within the multi- storied and functionally organized structure. This allows for better understanding of the complex socio-economic systems in place during the Late Bronze Age Mediterranean and the role that a palatial citadel like Mycenae and its wider settlement played in these systems.

One of the significant results of the work accomplished at CHS is the realization that this book project is larger than can be presented in a single work and will need to appear in a multi- volume publication, the first being Volume I, on the excavation, the architecture, and the evidence for its construction and especially destruction, as evidenced through the extensive well deposit that was formed through the clearing of destruction debris. This manuscript is close to completion.

This publication is the culmination of my research on prehistoric settlements and domestic architecture, and on Mycenaean ceramics and the regional impact of Mycenae and other nearby centers during the Pre-palatial and Palatial periods. The excavation of Petsas House in the settlement of Mycenae has led to a new understanding of the settlement status at a major center and its relationship to the palatial administration during a period of socio-political development. It is my professional responsibility to disseminate my research, but it is also my pleasure to share with my discipline and colleagues (and hopefully beyond) the results of my research that will have a lasting impact on our understanding of Late Bronze Age Greece.

The book will be significant to scholars in the field of Mycenaean studies for the access to unique material in significant and unparalleled contexts. For scholars and students of Aegean prehistory and related fields, this study will open up further dialogue on the ascendant palatial culture of the Greek Mainland and its relation to the socio-economic systems of the Late Bronze Age, locally, regionally, and internationally.


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I. Papademetriou and F. Petsas, “Ανασκαφαί εν Μυκήναις,” Prakt 1950, 203–233; Prakt 1951, 192–196.

K. Shelton, “A new Linear B tablet from Petsas House, Mycenae,” Minos 37-38 (2002-2003), 2005, 387-396.

K. Shelton, “Drinking, toasting, consumption and libation: Late Helladic IIIA pottery and a cup for every occasion,” in DAIS. The Aegean Feast, ed. L. Hitchcock and R. Laffineur, Aegaeum 29, Liège and Austin 2009a, 221-228.

K. Shelton, “The figurines from Petsas House and other find-spots at Mycenae,” in Encounters with Mycenaean figures and figurine: Papers presented at a seminar at the Swedish Institute at Athens, 27-29 April 2001, ed. A-L. Schallin, ActaAth-8o, 20, Stockholm 2009b, 55-60.

K. Shelton, “Bringing down the house: changing construction techniques in LH IIIA 2 and IIIB Mycenae,” in Δώρον. Τιμητικός τόμος για τον Σπύρο Ιακωβίδη. (A volume in honor of Spyros Iakovides), ed. D. Danielidou, Σειρά Μονογραφιών 6, Athens 2009c, 635-646.

K. Shelton, “Citadel and settlement: a developing economy at Mycenae, the case of Petsas House,” in Political Economies of the Aegean Bronze Age. Papers from the Langford Conference, 22-24 February 2007, Florida State University, ed. D. Pullen, Oxford 2010, 184-204.

K. Shelton, “Pottery and Petsas House: Recent Research on LH IIIA 2 Mycenae,” Mycenaeans up to date: the archaeology of the NE Peloponnese – current concepts and new directions. Athens, 10-14 November. Acta Instituti Atheniensis Regni Sueciae, 4.56, 2015a, 27-36.

K. Shelton, “LH IIIA Frescoes from Petsas House, Mycenae: splatters, patterns, and scenes,” Mycenaean Wall Painting in Context: New Discoveries and Old Finds Reconsidered. Athens, 11-13 February. eds. H. Brecoulaki, J.L. Davis, and S. Stocker. National Hellenic Research Foundation 2015b, 126-143.

I. Tournavitou, “The social and economic position of artisans in the Mycenaean world,” in Trade and Production in Premonetary Greece: production and the Craftsman (SIMA-PB 143), eds. C. Gillis, C. Risberg, and B. Sjöberg, Jonsered 1997, 29-41.

About Kim Shelton

Kim Shelton (PhD University of Pennsylvania) is Associate Professor of Classics and the Graduate Group in Ancient History and Mediterranean Archaeology, and Director of the Nemea Center for Classical Archaeology at the University of California, Berkeley. She is an Aegean prehistorian with interests in domestic architecture, ceramic production and economy, and religious ritual. She is the author of several publications on Mycenaean pottery, figurines, cemeteries, the Tsountas House Area of the Cult Center, and her excavation at Petsas House, Mycenae. She also has on-going excavations at the panhellenic Sanctuary of Zeus in Nemea and, in a new collaboration with the Korinthian Ephorate of Antiquities, at the Mycenaean cemetery of Aidonia, where the TAPHOS project is preserving cultural heritage through the excavation of partly looted and unlooted chamber tombs together with public outreach and education. At CHS, she will be working on the final publication of the Petsas House excavation.

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