Funerary contexts

In total, sixty-seven tombs from Thapsos have been published, including the nine enchytrismoi.14 Mycenaean pottery has been reported from twenty-two of these, as is indicated in Table 16.1 below. Such a figure could indicate that only a minority of the tombs contained Mycenaean pottery. However, the heavy disturbances in many of the funerary cellars, as well as the small number of Aegean vessels in most of the tombs, argues for caution in this respect. Little can be said about the spatial distribution of the tombs with Mycenaean pottery. Most tombs excavated by Orsi were situated in the large necropolis near the lighthouse in the north of the peninsula (Fig. 16.1). Although he also excavated some tombs in the south, we may assume that most of our tombs were located in the area near the lighthouse.15 Tomb A1 was also situated in this area.16 The tomb excavated in quadrant XXI/47, however, is situated in the necropolis at the centre of the island, while this was also the case

14 The figure of sixty-seven includes forty-two tombs enchytrismoi.

published by Orsi (1895), nine tombs from the 1951 15 Orsi 1895, 94.

campaign, five tombs from 1962, two tombs (XXI/47, 16 Voza 1973b, 31. A1) from the most recent campaigns and the nine tomb amphora stirrup jar piriform jar alabastron jug shallow cup stemmed cup deep bowl fragment total

1951-1 1951-2 1951-3 XXI/41 A1

tombs 19B2


Table 16.2

for the tombs excavated by Bernabo-Brea in 1962.17 It appears that Mycenaean pottery was not concentrated in a specific spatial group of tombs.

The descriptions of the tombs given by Orsi, in some cases, are very short. Nevertheless, it is clear that Mycenaean pottery has been found in tombs with a dromos,18 as well as with a so-called chimney entrance.19 Moreover, tombs with only one funeral chamber, as well as those with a vestibule have yielded Mycenaean material.20 Finally, the tombs with Mycenaean pottery vary in the number of niches attached to the funerary chamber;21 the same can be said for the size of the cellar and the elaborateness of its entrance.22 Among the tombs without Mycenaean pottery, the same characteristics can also be found. Our vessels, therefore, do not seem to be limited to a specific type of tomb.23 We may state that Mycenaean pottery, even though very limited in a quantitative sense, was relatively widely distributed in the necropolis of Thapsos.

17 Voza 1972, 195; Tusa 1983, 395.

19 For example tombs, 51, 53 and XXI/47.

20 Tombs 1 and XXI/47 possessed a vestibule, see Orsi 1895, 95-98; Voza 1972, 195.

21 Tomb XXI/47 possessed two niches, while tomb 48

possessed five of them. For all the other tombs with

Mycenaean finds no niches have been described. Whereas most of our tombs had a rather small funerary chamber, tomb 10 was particularly large. Tomb 28 possessed a monumental entrance consisting of posts cut out of the rock, see Orsi 1895, 113-116. The enchytrismoi did not contain any goods, see Voza 1973, 200.

Such a wide distribution is also apparent when we look at the quantities of Mycenaean pottery in each of the Thapsos tombs (Table 16.1). The large majority of tombs have yielded only one Mycenaean find, whereas only four tombs have produced two or three of our vessels. One funerary cellar constitutes an exception to this rule: tomb XXI/47 produced nine Mycenaean finds, which is three times the maximum of any other tomb. Tomb XXI/47 has been excavated recently and it may be that the more thorough methodology used by Voza in comparison with that of Orsi seventy-five years earlier is partly responsible for this large quantity of finds.24 Moreover, this tomb is situated at the centre of the island and had not been subject to the heavy erosion by the sea. Nevertheless, it would seem that there is a relative concentration of Mycenaean pottery in this tomb.

Table 16.2 shows the vessel types which occur in the funerary cellars at Thapsos. The only types which occur in substantial quantities in the tombs are piriform jars and alabastra. Together, these two classes of storage vessels constitute more than half of the total number of Mycenaean pots at the site. A limited range of other vessel types are also present, none of which occurs more than a few times in the tombs. Stylistically, these vessels range from LH IIIA1 to LH IIIA2-LH IIIB.25 There do not seem to be any concentrations of vessels from specific stylistical periods, which is in agreement with the idea that these tombs have been used for substantial periods of time.

The distribution of the Mycenaean vessel types is rather uniform. Many tombs have produced one, in some cases two, piriform jars, while the alabastra, likewise, are generally found in isolated, single examples. Neither of these vessel types appear to be concentrated in one tomb, although it is clear that tomb XXI/47 has produced more of these Mycenaean types than any other tomb. All other vessel types occur as single, isolated examples in a number of tombs. It is remarkable, however, that all three open dinner vessels - a shallow cup (cat. no. 35), a stemmed cup (cat. no. 36) and a deep bowl (cat. no. 37) - have been found in tomb XXI/47.26 It appears that this tomb did not just possess a larger quantity of Mycenaean pots of vessel types which also occur in other tombs; it produced a wider variety of Mycenaean pots as well.

Given the natural and man-caused destructions, it is difficult to classify the Thapsos tombs according to the wealth of their inventories and architecture. Orsi has indicated the number of burials for each tomb, mainly based on the presence of human skulls, which varied from one to forty-nine. Most tombs, however, produced less than twenty-five skeletons and the two that yielded forty-nine burials, tombs 10 and XXI/47, are exceptional. Both of these tombs have produced a wide variety of grave goods, such as bronze jewelry and local pictorial pottery in the case of tomb 10,27 and gold, a bronze sword and glass beads in the case of tomb XXI/47.28 Both tombs also contained Mycenaean pottery.

24 This tomb was excavated in 1970, see Voza 1973b, 34:

tomba D.

25 A small piriform jar (cat. no. 7) and a squat alabastron (cat. no. 25) can be assigned a LH IIIA1 date. Two small piriform jars (cat. nos. 1, 18) are classified as LH IIIA1-LH IIIA2. Eight piriform jars (cat. nos. 6, 8, 13, 19, 24, 33, 34, 38), two jugs (cat. nos. 12, 17), one straight-sided alabastron (cat. no. 29), one shallow cup (cat. no. 35) have a LH IIIA2 date. Five straight-sided alabastra (cat. no. 2, 5, 20, 26, 30), four piriform jars (cat. nos. 3, 9, 16, 32), a globular jug (cat. no. 4), a stirrup jar (cat. 15), a stemmed cup (cat. 36) and a deep bowl (cat. no. 37) have been assigned to LH IIIA2-LH IIIB. The remaining eight finds (cat. nos. 10, 11, 14, 21-23, 27, 28) have not been assigned a stylistical date.

26 Closed dinner vessels, e.g. jugs, have been found in single specimens in three tombs (cat. nos. 4, 12, 17), which is in accordance with the pattern for the storage vessels.

27 A local impasto jar has incised figures of animals, see Orsi 1895, 104, Tav. IV 14.

28 Voza 1973b, 34-40.

Fig. 16.2 Mycenaean and Cypriot vessels from Thapsos tomb XXI/47 (cat nos. 31, 35, 36) - After Leighton 1999, 171 fig. 90: nos. 2, 4, 5. 7, 8

These tombs indicate that the wealth of the funerary inventory is, at least to some degree, dependent on the sheer quantity of burials.

The presence of a dromos in front of a tomb cannot be considered an architectural feature indicative of status or wealth, since it seems to have been determined mainly by the location of the tombs.29 The presence of a vestibule in front of the actual burial chamber is rare, however, and may be indicative of a certain elaborateness of the funerary ritual.30 The same can be said of a number of niches in the main funeral chamber31 and of a certain monumentality in the tomb entrances through carved posts and lintels.32 Two tombs are described by Orsi as "exceptionally large".33 On these grounds, twelve tombs may be considered to be of elaborate architecture, which, in terms of effort expenditure, could indicate a special status for the group associated to these tombs.34 Of these twelve tombs, a minority of five (tombs 1, 10, 28, 48 and XXI/47) produced Mycenaean pottery. With the exception of XXI/47, each of these tombs yielded only a single specimen of such pottery. In terms of the presence of Mycenaean pottery, therefore, these tombs do not distinguish themselves from the others.

As far as the funerary inventories are concerned, there are a few classes of artifacts which may be considered special because of their scarcity in the tombs, in particular gold, bronze jewellery and weaponry, as well as glass beads (Table 16.1). Among the thirteen tombs possessing such special objects, eight (tombs 1, 2, 10, 14, 37, 51, 61 and XXI/47) also produced Mycenaean pottery. Most of these eight funerary cellars produced only one Mycenaean vessel; tomb 2, however, possessed three

29 Orsi 1895, 92-94; Tusa 1983, 395. Of course, the location of the tombs itself may be of importance for the symbolism of the burials. Chronology possibly plays a role in the location of the tombs as well.

30 Such a vestibule is present only at tombs 1, 6, 25, 31, and XXI/47, see Orsi 1895, Voza 1972, 195.

31 Such niches have been reported for tombs 25, 31, 33, 38, 48 and XXI/47, see Orsi 1895, Voza 1972, 195.

32 Tombs 23, 28 and 62 possess such a monumental entrance, Orsi 1895, 11-114, 134.

33 Tombs 10 and 25, see Orsi 1895, 104-105, 112.

34 Brown 1981, 29.

imported pots and tomb XXI/47, of course, produced nine such specimens. In terms of the presence of Mycenaean pottery, however, the tombs with rare objects in their funerary inventories do not stand out from others.

A few classes of ceramic objects in the Thapsos tombs may be considered to have possessed a high symbolical significance. This may have been the case for the elaborately decorated stemmed basins, which appear to have served a special role in funerary ceremonies since they have been found in most of the tombs at the site.35 Local pottery decorated with incised representations of animals occurred in only a limited number of tombs,36 of which the majority (tombs 10, A1 and XXI/47) yielded Mycenaean pottery as well. Only two tombs possessed pottery imported from Cyprus (Fig. 16.2),37 both of which also yielded Mycenaean pottery. In a few tombs, cups have been found which have their best parallels at Borg en-Nadur on Malta; a concentration of such vessels was found in tomb 64, in which three Mycenaean pots were also found.38 Even though it must be acknowledged that Mycenaean pottery is more abundant in the Thapsos tombs than Maltese or Cypriot vessels, it appears that these imported classes are associated with each other. In this respect it may be of importance that three of the four tombs with glass objects, which possibly were imported as well,39 also contained Mycenaean pots.40 It appears that the imported nature of the Mycenaean pots was of significance in their inclusion in the tombs at Thapsos.

On the basis of its architecture, as well as because of its inventory comprising metal, glass and imports, tomb XXI/47 can be considered the wealthiest by far. Even though, as stated above, this may be due to the number of burials in this funerary cellar, tomb 10, with an equal number of burials, cannot be considered nearly as wealthy. The fact that a relatively large quantity of Mycenaean pottery has been found in tomb XXI/47 indicates, firstly, that this material was considered suitable to be associated with a wealthy inventory. Secondly, in comparison with the scatter of Mycenaean pots in the other tombs, it suggests that Mycenaean vessels through variations in quantity and variety could actively be involved in strategies of display. The fact that Mycenaean open dinner vessels were concentrated in this tomb indicates that such vessels possessed a special significance in the funerary practices of Thapsos.

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