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Incised Marks on Late Helladic and Late Minoan III Pottery

Nicolle Hirschfeld
Thesis: December 1990
Chair: Bass
Nautical Archaeology Program


A careful look at Late Helladic/Late Minoan III Pottery marked with incised signs leads to two observations. First, the incised signs are related in form and method of application, as well as the types of vessels to which they are applied and the chronological range and distribution of those vessels. These common features suggest systematic use of incised marks. Second, this system is directly related to potmarking practices of contemporary Cyprus.

Cypriot signs on Mycenaean vessels found on Cyprus or in the Near East can be explained as having been marked in Cyprus, but the incised Mycenaean vases found in the Aegean are more difficult to understand. The increasing number of incised vessels found in the Argolid and the fact that they are fine-ware vases makes it difficult to think of them as "returnables." In view of other evidence of highly-organized trade between the Argolid and Cyprus, it is proposed that the vessels bearing incised marks were designated for export to Cyprus while still on the mainland and there marked according to the practices appropriate to their destination. There is no precedent or logical reason to suggest that Mycenaeans employed such marks; more likely, Cypriots themselves incised the signs.

No pattern can be discerned which might indicate the function of the marks. No particular sign or combination of signs is peculiar to a certain shape, decorative motif, geographical region, or context. In fact, this lack of patterning in the appearance of the marks must itself provide some clue to the meaning of the signs. In default of other possible explanations, it is proposed that the diversity of signs is best explained as reflecting personal marks of those (Cypriots) handling the merchandise: traders, shippers or warehousers.


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