chapter  9
13 Pages

Skeuomorphic Pottery and Consumer Feedback Processes in the Ancient Mediterranean

WithJUSTIN ST. P. WALSH

Scholars working on the Bronze Age Mediterranean seem to have accepted some time ago that many pottery shapes follow metal prototypes. When Wright (2004: 137-145), for example, commented on the close relationship between Mycenaean ceramic cups and their metal counterparts, he indicated that the relationship was either obvious or settled fact, and there was no need for further justification. Admittedly, metal vessels have been found more frequently by archaeologists in this period than in later ones, a phenomenon that can probably be attributed to the tendency of Mycenaeans to bury their elite in easily identifiable monumental tombs, as well as to their frequent use of gold, silver and electrum vessels as grave goods in those tombs (as at Peristeria and Vapheio; Korres 1976, 1977, 1978). As a result, we know many of the shapes Mycenaeans used for metal vases, for example stemmed chalices with everted rims and short handles at the rim, in loops or with spool-like mouldings. Examples include the gold chalices from Grave V of Mycenae’s Grave Circle A (Athens NAM 656, published in Marinatos 1960 as no. 192 above), from the southern edges of the grave circle (NAM 957, Marinatos 1960 no. 189), or the so-called cup of Nestor (NAM 412, Marinatos 1960 no. 188) from Grave IV, or deep cups (kantharoi) with carinated sides and high-swung handles, for example NAM 440 (Marinatos 1960 no. 192 below). Numerous clay examples, such as British Museum 1912,0626.307 (Cat. A283) and 1912,0626.35 (Cat. A284), show how people in Greece copied formal elements from metal, going back to the Middle Helladic fabrics known as Grey Minyan Ware (Philippa-Touchais et al. 2010, especially the paper by Sarri 2010, with references). Even decorative motifs show some relationship between media: for example, the electrum cup found in Grave IV of Grave Circle A at Mycenae (Athens National Archaeological Museum [NAM] 390) has a single image inlaid in gold, without surrounding frame lines, of a container of flowering plants located centrally on the upper part of the cup’s bowl. The placement and lack of framing for this motif are echoed on ceramic ‘Ephyrean’ goblets and stemmed chalices. Perhaps even more compelling evidence for

skeuomorphism comes in the form of the vessels discussed by Wright (2004: 145): a set of silver cups found in a tomb at Dendra in Attica and another set from elsewhere at the same site that were of almost precisely the same shape but made of clay covered in tin.