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Transport Jars and Commodity Exchange in the Late Bronze Age Argolid: Tiryns and Midea

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The Bronze Age shipping economy

An EU team studied the chemistry and petrology of Mediterranean Bronze Age ceramic transport vessels. The analysis determined the origins and movements of the vessels, shedding new light on seaborne trade and the Bronze Age political economy.


Late Bronze Age cultures of the eastern Mediterranean participated in significant commodity trade with goods moved in ceramic ‘transport jars’ or amphora, the chemical and petrological study of which illuminates the period. The EU-funded COMEX project (Transport jars and commodity exchange in the Late Bronze Age Argolid: Tiryns and Midea) project performed such analyses. The team studied two types of jars at the coastal centre of Tiryns and the citadel at Midea. Transport stirrup jars (TSJs) illustrate links between Mycenaean culture of the Greek mainland and the Minoan world of Crete. Canaanite Amphora (CTA) – originated from the Levantine region (the Mediterranean’s eastern coast). The team tested previous hypotheses about the origins of imported vessels in the Mycenaean world and about commodity trade. Researchers chemically analysed 136 TSJs, 17 CTAs and 39 samples of other pottery types. A second analysis consisted of petrology, or mineralogical composition. Results of the latter tests, when compared with the cereDat database of Mediterranean ceramics, helped illuminate production technology. Thus, the team was able to group the vessels and identify their points of origin. Analysis of CTAs from Tiryns showed that the vessels were found only in the palace, suggesting restricted or privileged access to the jars’ contents. Results showed a range of origins from the coast of present-day Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Unlike earlier Canaanite jars found in Southern Crete, the vessels from Tiryns have greater link with the area around Tyre, which were to be become important centres for the Phoenicians. The TSJs were found to originate in Chania and the Mesara Plain in Crete, and the islands of Kos and Kythera. The Cretan imports, therefore, clearly continued after the fall of the Minoan Palace system. Surprisingly, jars manufactured in many Mycenaean centres were identified, including some that are Cretan in the style and technology, but made in the heartland of the Mycenaean Palaces, suggesting the movement of potters working for political elites. COMEX will therefore lead to a new understanding of literacy, administration and trade in the Mycenaean World at the end of the Bronze Age.


Bronze Age, transport jars, COMEX, commodity exchange, Argolid, Canaanite Amphora

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