Friday 14 March 2008
Carl Knappett 
University of Exeter, UK 

The Birth of the Neopalatial
The cultural achievements of the Neopalatial period are familiar to all Minoan archaeologists. Yet when we think of Neopalatial we tend only to have LM IA and B in mind.  These, though, are the latter phases of the Neopalatial; what about its beginning? What of MM IIIA and B? Our favouring of LM I over MM III is not without reason, as in tackling MM III we encounter a series of problems. First, there is little agreement on the kind of transition that occurs from the Protopalatial to the Neopalatial period. Is it a smooth transition, a radical shift, or something intermediate? Secondly, consensus seems hard to come by as to when the Neopalatial starts: MM IIIA, or MM IIIB? And some scholars plump for MM III, avoiding the subdivisions of Evans. Thirdly, what is it that differentiates the Protopalatial from the Neopalatial: presumably palatial architecture, but what about pottery, iconography and administrative documents? A related problem is the scale at which we should expect to observe such changes: only at palatial sites, or at all sites across the island? Fourthly and finally, there is the question of interpretation: why does the Neopalatial happen? If we can characterise what it is, then we need to ask: what changes during the Protopalatial led to this? There are many interpretations offered on the reasons for the end of the Neopalatial, but rather fewer on the reasons for its genesis.
In this seminar I consider the early Neopalatial across a range of scales: palatial, regional and supra-regional, looking largely at ceramic but also architectural evidence. For this I choose three sites – Knossos, Palaikastro and Akrotiri (Thera), at each of which I have been working collaboratively (with Colin Macdonald, Tim Cunningham and Irene Nikolakopoulou respectively) on the early Neopalatial in recent years – and examine the changes that occur during MM IIB and through the MM III period. At these three sites we see a set of changes that can be interconnected, and attributed to the growing strength of Knossos at the expense of other Cretan centres. Looking at other sites in MM III we see a very different picture, as at Pseira, Myrtos Pyrgos or Malia, for example. I argue that Knossos adopted a particular set of strategies for its political economy during MM II that really expanded and bore fruit in MM III; whereas the strategies employed by elites in other regions did not come off. Some adapted quickly in MM III by following the Knossian model (Mesara); others were less quick to adapt (east Crete, largely). The ‘state’ seen in east Crete at the end of the Protopalatial may be seen as a belated attempt to compete with central Crete’s evident rising dominance.
Thus my argument is that the changes occurring from MM IIB to MM IIIA are significant and do justify a label such as ‘Neopalatial’, at certain sites at least. Nonetheless, our terminologies can hide important patterns from us, encouraging us to treat Proto- and Neopalatial separately rather than looking closely at how the latter evolves from the former. The changes are largely in political economy and political geography, with Knossos in particular benefiting from its hub-like position in networks that are partly of its own making, and partly beyond its control.


Next Seminar

Friday 12 May 18.30

M. Marthari
Raos on Thera...