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“Mirabello” fabric(s) forever: an analytical study of the granodiorite pottery of the Vrokastro area from the Final Neolithic period to Modern times

A Cretan Landscape through Time:
Priniatikos Pyrgos and Environs
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Barry P. C. Molloy
Chloë N. Duckworth
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A Cretan Landscape through Time: Priniakos Pyrgos and Environs
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Pottery deriving from the central and western Mirabello
area, a region stretching west from the isthmus of Ierapetra
to the foothills of the Lasithi Mountains, is easily
recognised macroscopically due to the presence of acid
igneous rocks, mainly granite and diorite, which give the
fabric a characteristic “salt and pepper” appearance, with
mixed black and white grains (Haggis and Mook 1993;
Haggis 2005, 169). It has been described many times since
the late 1970s, and in the 1990s it was given the name
“Mirabello fabric” (Day 1991, 91-101). Considering how
complicated the investigation of pottery provenance can be,
it is worth noting that this is one of the few, if not the only
case of a fabric being named after its place of origin.
The granodiorite fabric was first identified by G. Myer in
studies of Vasiliki and White-on-Dark wares (Myer in
Betancourt 1979; Betancourt 1984; Myer et al. 1995). Since
then, fabrics with granitic-dioritic inclusions have been
identified throughout Cretan prehistory from Early Neolithic
Knossos (Tomkins and Day 2001) and diachronically across
east Crete, and have been described macroscopically and
microscopically (for a bibliographic overview, see
Betancourt 2008, 30-31; for more case studies, cf. Day et
al. 2005; Nodarou 2007; 2010).
Α collaborative project on granodiorite resources has thus
been undertaken, aiming at: a) the detailed mapping of the
rock and mineral resources in the area and their geochemical
characterization (H. Dierckx and B. Tsikouras); b) macro-
scopic and microscopic characterisation of ceramics
deriving from the Vrokastro survey and manufactured in
granodiorite recipes (J. Moody, E. Nodarou, B. Tsikouras);
c) investigation of clay deposits and experimental pot
making (T. Georgotas and E. Nodarou).
More specifically, the aims of the pottery study within this
collaborative project are to investigate whether and to what
extent clay recipes containing granodiorite change over
time, to examine the distribution of Mirabello ceramics
within the study area, and to investigate the location of
granitic-dioritic outcrops. By establishing an array of
recipes and their chronological spans, it will be easier to
identify and date survey pottery in the Gulf of Mirabello
with granodiorite inclusions, and to study continuities and
discontinuities in the technology of manufacture in an area
producing pottery for millennia.
Potting activity in the area and macroscopic fabric study
The large number of potters wheels from Gournia2indicates
the presence of a pottery production centre at this coastal site
during the Protopalatial and possibly Neopalatial periods
(Fotou and Brown 2004, 267 note 264). The discovery of two
Bronze Age kiln structures and Classical and Byzantine
wasters at the site of Priniatikos Pyrgos (Hayden 2004, 63, 83;
Erickson 2010; Hayden and Tsipopoulou 2012) indicates that
there was more than one potting centre in the Mirabello region.
The Vrokastro Survey also found possible wasters and kiln
material at a mainly Early Minoan (EM) site in the Kalo
Chorio valley, and re-discovered the remains of a Roman kiln
in the western part of the Istron River valley (Hayden 2004,
212) that had been excavated by Davaras in the 1970s
(Davaras 1975).
A detailed macroscopic study of the pottery fabrics collected
by the Vrokastro Survey revealed that granodiorite was a
common inclusion in the local pottery from Neolithic to
Modern times (Hayden et al. 1992, 333, 335). A range of
macroscopic fabric groups has been identified by Moody
according to the quantity and distribution of the non-plastic
components, the quality of the clay, and the colour of the
surface and core.3The selection of samples for petrographic
analysis was based on the macroscopically identified fabric
groups, and on the shape and date of the vessels, ranging
from Final Neolithic (FN) to Modern in each part of the
seven geographical units of the survey region.
The geology of the area and the analysis of the raw materials
During the first phase of the project petrographic and
mineralogical methods were employed in order to investigate
“Mirabello” Fabric(s) Forever: An Analytical Study of the Granodiorite Pottery
of the Vrokastro Area from the Final Neolithic Period to Modern Times1
Eleni Nodarouaand Jennifer Moodyb
aINSTAP Study Center for East Crete.
bUniversity of Texas.
1 Acknowledgments
The authors wish to thank Dr B. J. Hayden for supporting this project from the very beginning, and Drs H. Dierckx and B. Tsikouras for their collaboration.
Sampling permits were provided by the KD Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities and the Greek Ministry of Culture. Funding was provided by
the Institute of Aegean Prehistory.
2 The 2011 Annual Excavation Report ( ) notes a number of potter’s wheels and enormous amounts of wasters
said to be from the destruction of a MM IA kiln from the area of the North Trench, especially Trench 23. An MM II workshop “perhaps concerned with
pottery production” was excavated north of House Ea. In the early 1900s, a potter s wheel from Gournia was given by Harriet Boyd to the British
Museum (Fotou and Brown 2004, p. 267, note 264).
3 This study will be published as part of the Granodiorite Resources project’s final publication.
the composition of the raw materials encountered in the
Mirabello area. The study was extended to south central
Crete and the area of the Asteroussia where materials with
similar lithologies are encountered, although at present there
is no evidence that these resources were used intensively in
local pottery production or other crafts.
More specifically, the geology of the central and western
parts of Mirabello Bay consist of Cretaceous limestones of
the Tripolitza zone, intruded by dioritic to granodioritic
rocks, from which the main tempering agent for the pottery
derives (I.G.S.R. 1959). There is also a Miocene onlap
conglomerate including dolerite, gabbro, diorite,
granodiorite, basalt, amphibolite, sandstone, marble, chert
and various metamorphic rocks.
In south central Crete the Asteroussia Nappe is composed of
medium to high grade metamorphic rocks, such as mica-
chlorite-epidote schists, gneisses, marbles and amphibolites,
whereas the Miamou Nappe contains rock types
E. Nodarou and J. Moody ‘“Mirabello” Fabric(s) Forever’
Figure 1. Prehistoric pottery, cooking fabrics. Each image set illustrates a macro image on the left and a micro thin-
section on the right: a) MM-LM IIIC, mainly granite; b) FN/EM I-MM, granite and biotite; c) MMI-II, weathered granite.
representative of the ophiolite mélange such as basalt,
dolerite, serpentinite, and amphibolites (I.G.M.E. 1984;
Langosch et al. 2000).
Analyses of rock samples with scanning electron microscopy
and X-ray diffraction demonstrated significant geochemical
differences among the various lithologies. Amphiboles and
feldspars in particular proved to be excellent mineral
indicators for provenance analysis providing excellent
discrimination not only between the Asteroussia and the
Mirabello, but also between different localities sampled
within the Mirabello (Dierckx and Tsikouras 2007).
Petrographic analysis
Petrographic analysis of ancient pottery samples from the
Vrokastro survey was based on the existing macroscopic
fabric study and the geological studies of raw materials in
order to identify mineralogical and/or textural differences
within the granitic-dioritic groups and investigate whether
these differences might serve as indicators of chronology
and provenance. The study encompassed ca. 350 samples
ranging in date from Final Neolithic to Modern. Petrography
demonstrated differentiation in aspects such as the nature of
the raw materials, the mineralogical composition, and the
granulometry. Certain attributes proved to be either
function- or chronology- and possibly origin-specific.
Research conducted over a number of years has established
two main recipes; one for cooking vessels and one for
medium-sized transport and storage jars ranging in date
from Middle Minoan (MM) to Late Minoan IIIC (LM IIIC)
(Day 1995, 159-61; Whitelaw et al. 1997, 270; Day et al.
2005, 183-85; 2006, 150 – to name just a few). The material
from the Vrokastro Survey allowed for a more thorough
diachronic examination of a range of shapes and we were
able to identify varieties of these recipes that are date
specific and also show variation in the raw material used
and the manufacturing technology.
Cooking fabrics through time
Three different fabric variants were identified within the
cooking pot recipe in the prehistoric assemblage. The first
constitutes the main cooking fabric (Figure 1a). It comprises
a large number of specimens and was used over a long
A Cretan Landscape Through Time: Priniatikos Pyrgos and Environs
Figure 2. Distribution map of the biotite-rich fabric.
period of time. It consists mainly of granitic rock fragments,
quartz, and rare rocks of basic igneous composition (basalt).
Usually it has an optically active matrix which indicates low
firing temperature. This recipe is encountered from the MM
to the LM IIIC period, without any significant differences
between phases.
The second variant differs in that it contains more biotite, most
likely indicating a different raw material source (Figure 1b).
It ranges in date from FN/EM I to MM and seems to have been
used for the production of the earlier cooking pots, before the
appearance of the main granodiorite cooking fabric.
The third variant is rather rare and contains granite fragments
that are broken down into small pieces with a weathered
appearance (Figure 1c), which is also indicative of a different
raw material source; probably a river deposit. It has a very
narrow chronological span, dated to MM I-II.
It is of interest that the last two variants are confined to
specific parts of the Vrokastro survey region: the biotite-rich
fabric to the north and central part (Figure 2), and the fabric
with the weathered granite fragments to the western part
(Figure 3). This may be indicative of the location of the
workshop(s) or the source area(s) of the raw materials.
In contrast to the prehistoric periods, the use of granodiorite
fabrics in historic periods has been only sporadically mentioned
(Hayden et al. 1992; Hayden and Risser 2005; Hahn 2005;
Moody 2005c, 153; Erickson 2010; Nodarou in press).
Our analysis confirms that these fabrics continued to be used,
for cooking pots and jars, and, as in the case of the Minoan
period, it was possible to identify a number of variants.
The most resilient recipe seems to be the one used for cooking
pots which was used from the Roman period to modern times
(Figure 4a). It is compositionally similar to the main Minoan
cooking pot fabric, but it is higher fired; this is clearly
indicated by the brown firing matrix and the absence of
optical activity. The non-plastic inclusions are densely packed
in the clay matrix and consist mainly of granite fragments and
very few igneous rock fragments of basic composition. It is
encountered in many parts of the survey area.
A second variant comprises a red firing fabric, characterized by
a fine matrix (Figure 4b). The non-plastics consist of small granite
E. Nodarou and J. Moody ‘“Mirabello” Fabric(s) Forever’
Figure 3. Distribution map of the fabric with weathered granite.
fragments with rare biotite, basic igneous and metamorphic rocks.
It is a very homogeneous fabric, the samples being identical to
each other, which indicates a rather standardized production. At
present, it has a very narrow chronological span, dating solely to
the Roman period, and is confined mainly to the southern part of
the survey area (Figure 5).
Jar fabrics through time
The recipe for prehistoric transport and storage jars also
has three variants. The first is the most commonly
encountered and described in the bibliography; it is
characterized by a very fine, dark red firing matrix in
which the non-plastic inclusions have been added as
temper (Figure 6a). The non-plastics consist of coarse
diorite fragments composed of plagioclase, biotite,
hornblende, and rare quartz. What characterizes this fabric
group and makes it homogeneous is the presence of dark
red textural concentration features (clay pellets). This
fabric is encountered from the EM period to LM IIIC. The
chronological span is thus impressively large, and the fact
that granodiorite was deliberately added to the clay
suggests a rather standardized tradition for the production
of vases serving specific functions.
A second variant is characterized by a more calcareous
matrix (Figure 6b). There are clay striations and micritic
inclusions demonstrating the use of a calcareous clay. The
vessels represented are pithoi and jars of Protopalatial date.
The third variant is characterized by a very fine dark red
brown firing matrix with granitic inclusions and large
elongated voids which indicate the presence of organic
matter that has been burnt out during firing (Figure 6c). It
is encountered in the later Postpalatial period, mainly in
pithoi and other large vessels, and is largely confined to the
northern part of the survey area.
The study of fabrics used for transport and storage jars of the
historic periods established two variants. The first is used for
jars dated from the Protogeometric to the Orientalizing period.
It is fairly similar to the prehistoric fabric, with the same dark
red brown firing matrix and the non-plastic inclusions
consisting of granite, diorite and biotite (Figure 7a).
There are, however, two important textural differences: a) the
rock fragments are smaller and more densely packed in the
clay matrix; and b) the clay pellets are not as frequent as in the
prehistoric pottery. This suggests different clay processing in
comparison to Minoan times.
The second variant is dated to the Roman, Venetian and
Ottoman/Modern periods: the rock fragments are smaller
than in the first and it also contains quartz fragments evenly
A Cretan Landscape Through Time: Priniatikos Pyrgos and Environs
Figure 4. Cooking fabrics with small granite fragments. Each photo set illustrates a macro image on the left and a micro
thin-section on the right: a) Roman-Modern, b) red-firing, Roman.
distributed in the clay matrix (Figure 7b). In contrast to the
first variant it does not contain any clay pellets. This recipe
is encountered in basins, pithoi, and amphorae.
Analysis with Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM)
The aim of SEM analysis is twofold: a) to investigate
whether the components differentiating the sources of the
raw materials (amphiboles, plagioclases, chlorites) can also
be used in the analysis of pottery for the discrimination
between clay and temper sources; and b) to examine the
microstructure of the vessels in order to explore questions
of pottery manufacture and firing technology. The analysis
was conducted at the Department of Geology of the
University of Patras using a JEOL 6300 scanning electron
microscope fitted with an Oxford Energy Dispersive X-ray
spectrometer (EDS). The terminology used follows
Maniatis and Tite (1981). OK The analysis is still ongoing
but some general observations can be made regarding the
firing of granitic-dioritic pottery through time:
1. All variants of Minoan granodiorite cooking fabric are low
fired. The microstructure does not display any vitrification
(<750° C) (Figure 8a) but certain areas exhibit a “spongy”
texture (Figure 8b) indicating fast firing, i.e. a fast heating
rate resulting from the placement of the pottery during
firing or from a deliberate addition of fuel during the firing
process (Maniatis and Tite 1981, 74).
2. The jar fabrics of the prehistoric and historic period are
also low fired and do not display any vitrification (Figure
8c). The matrix, however, seems more homogeneous
than that of the cooking fabric.
3. The prominent exceptions to the above are the cooking and
jar fabrics of the Roman period, which display vitrification
and are higher fired (ca. 850° C) (Figure 8d).
As part of the collaborative project on the granodiorite
resources of the central and western Mirabello area, the
analysis of pottery dated from the FN to modern times
provides new insights into the varied use of the local raw
materials, a diachronic perspective on manufacturing
technology, and finally the intra-regional distribution
of products.
E. Nodarou and J. Moody ‘“Mirabello” Fabric(s) Forever’
Figure 5. Distribution map of the red-firing Roman cooking fabric.
The identification of many variants within the main
granodiorite fabrics used either for cooking or transport/
/storage purposes suggests a dynamic local potting tradition
using different sources of raw material most likely at a
number of potting centres in each period. This is further
corroborated by the concentration of certain date-specific
fabrics in specific areas within the Vrokastro survey area:
biotite-rich to the north and central part, fabrics with
weathered rock fragments to the west.
The analysis has also demonstrated compositional and
technological differences between the prehistoric and
historic pottery: petrography shows that both cooking and
jar fabrics became finer over time and that the
manufacturing process changed at least at the stage of clay
manipulation, resulting in the disappearance of clay pellets
in later fabrics. The SEM study, although at a very
preliminary stage, also indicates changes in the
manufacturing process by revealing differences in firing
temperatures over time.
Finally, the identification of date-specific fabrics provides
a new tool for dating survey pottery, especially when
encountered outside the Mirabello, opening the way for
investigating the interaction of the Mirabello area with the
rest of Crete through time.
A Cretan Landscape Through Time: Priniatikos Pyrgos and Environs
Figure 6. Prehistoric pottery, jar fabrics. Each photo set illustrates a macro image on the left and a micro thin-section on
the right: a) EM-LM IIIC, large clay pellets; b) Protopalatial with calcareous matrix; c) LM IIIC pithos fabric with organic
temper (note large voids).
E. Nodarou and J. Moody ‘“Mirabello” Fabric(s) Forever’
Figure 7. Historic pottery, jar fabrics. Each image set illustrates a macro image on the left and a micro thin-section on
the right: a) Protogeometric-Orientalizing with granite and diorite; b) Roman to Modern (no clay pellets).
Figure 8. SEM analysis. a) Minoan cooking fabric, non-vitrified; b) Minoan cooking fabric-spongy texture; c) Minoan jar
fabric, non-vitrified; d) Roman jar fabric, vitrified.
This study presents the preliminary results of new excavations of Early Minoan III–Middle Minoan IA horizons at Priniatikos Pyrgos in East Crete. It argues that there is cumulative growth at this central settlement throughout the Early Minoan and earliest Middle Minoan phases that is mirrored in the surrounding settled landscape, but that this changed dramatically during the latter phase with declining prosperity at the site. To explore this, the character of occupation and craft traditions at Priniatikos Pyrgos are evaluated. It is concluded that the autonomy of this settlement as a local center was interrupted during Middle Minoan IB–II, reflecting a shift in power and governance.
Full-text available
Since the 1980s, archaeometric analysis has changed drastically the picture of the Prepalatial period, providing new evidence about its characteristics, its organisation, and its complexity. This paper applies a synthetic approach to recent data combining the archaeological and archaeometric studies of pottery from sites across Crete. The clay recipes and technological characteristics of the various wares are presented, and the co-existence of Cretan and non-Cretan shapes is investigated. The pottery examined derives from burial and settlement sites ranging in date from the Final Neolithic to the end of the Early Bronze Age. This integrated approach provides important evidence about the identification of local and imported pottery, the ceramic traditions, and the contacts of Crete with the rest of the Aegean and the Mainland. The ceramic repertoire, the wares, and the technological choices raise anew the issues of the organisation of production, the distribution of the products, and the identity of the people who produced and consumed the pottery during this early period in Crete.
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