Friday 16 November 2007

Costis Christakis

Storage and economy in Neopalatial Crete: The evidence from pithoi
Storage of goods has often been the subject of research investigating the economic organisation of palatial Crete, through studies which have mainly focussed on the storage practices of ruling groups, whether palatial or peripheral. Palaces are described as centres of a complex mechanism of collection, storage, and redistribution of goods used for the support of a non-producing sector, converted into sumptuary items for “social storage” transactions, or used as relief in time of stress for the population.
Several scholars have argued that staple storage within palaces decreased during the Neopalatial period, when storage activities were transferred to second-order centres, the so-called “villas”. These changes have been ascribed to a shift in the interest of palatial institutions from a staple-based economy to a wealth-based economy, or as a cause and effect process. The cause is the inability of the palatial administrations to meet the demands of storage and distribution of subsistence commodities after the volcanic eruption of Thera.
This contribution sets out to reassess the sociopolitical implications of staple storage during the Neopalatial period. In contrast to studies undertaken to date, the emphasis is on the storage behaviour adopted by a group which is sometimes ignored in archaeological discussion: ordinary people. The discussion is based on the study of the pithoi used in simple houses, central buildings of nonpalatial settlements, wealthy mansions, and palaces before their destruction/abandonment.
The consideration of datasets concerning food storage within their contextual framework has revealed five storage patterns, which may reflect different economic behaviours. By implementing the reconstruction model of dietary autarky from storage vessels and installations, examined together with the overall excavation context in each case, important conclusions can be drawn concerning the structure of economic structures in different Neopalatial societies.
I suggest that most households had at their disposition low reserves of stored goods, sufficient to cover their nutritional requirements for no more than a single productive season. There is no evidence for an accumulation of surpluses that would have enabled householders to face food shortages in periods of stress. This situation may have created dependency relations with the central administration or wealthy groups, or involvement in commercial exchanges and/or manufacturing of goods in order to ensure part of the necessities of life. Large quantities of goods were observed only in some wealthy mansions and complexes related to peripheral political groups.
Palaces are the basic agencies of a system which stresses the gathering of goods and their processing into status products. Contrary to what it is generally believed,
there is no evidence for the decrease of staple storage within palaces and the transfer of these activities to secondary centers (‘villas’). Considerable quantities of goods were also kept in central complexes of secondary centers. The storerooms of central buildings in second-order centers, however, are simple in arrangement and construction detail when compared to the palatial stores, and their storage potentials are lower than those of the palaces.
The leading sector of the Late Minoan IB states, therefore, pursued ‘maximizing’ strategies of production, aimed at producing, extracting and mobilizing consistent agricultural surpluses and raw materials to feed groups of non-food producers, procure raw materials for craft industries, and support large-scale and labour-intensive ritual/feasting events and building programs. In the long run, the need for constant and increased mobilization of resources at the top of the social pyramid inevitably leads to social tensions and conflicts. This pressure may have increased even further in certain areas of the island due to environmental stress occurring within Late Minoan IB. Μany households and even peripheral political groups may have faced serious problems before the final destruction and abandonment of their houses/complexes.
Economic interaction between palatial institutions, peripheral leaders and commoners, therefore, intensified in order to cope with the increased demand for energy in the central sector of societal organization. Increased conspicuous consumption in the elite segment created pressure on the lower classes, the actual producers of material capital and providers of the labour force. The means of achieving this escalation and the strains it engendered may explain the social unrest I believe to have taken place at the end of this era.


Next Seminar

Friday 12 May 18.30

M. Marthari
Raos on Thera...