A Brief Synopsis of the Graves at Lefkandi:

An interesting and largely unexplained feature of many of the Dark Age graves at Lefkandi was the absence of both inhumed skeletal remains and cremated remains. This encouraged speculation concerning the circumstances of burial and the possibility that adverse soil chemistry had in many cases consumed human bone, burnt and unburnt. Some scientists feel that grave offerings were systematically arranged in tombs, even though there are no traces of human remains.

Other scientists feel that, whether or not human remains were originally placed in graves where no trace of them survived at the time of excavation, there is quite strong presumptive evidence that many of the offerings in these graves had not only been deliberately places where they were found, but their juxtaposition was such that they seem to echo the outline of the human forms which in life they had decked.


Discussion of the Bronze and Iron Age at Lefkandi:

The beginning of the Iron Age in the eastern Mediterranean is currently explained as a response to a bronze shortage following the collapse of the Mycenaean palatial system around 1200 BC.

Around 1025 BC bronze more or less vanishes from excavated sites in central Greece, being replaced by a previously rare metal - iron. Scientists believe that the shift from bronze to iron in the archaeological record can follow two models: the "circulation" model and the "deposition" model.

The currently popular "circulation" model sees a decline in long-distance trade causing a bronze shortage and the rise of an iron-based economy. The "circulation" model provides a motive for the adoption of innovation. At the time, iron was known, but was rare. It was mainly used for decoration. In the beginning, iron could be used as a "working metal" for weapons and tools, but bronze dominated for practical implements. Slowly iron became the main "working metal" and remained so for a long time. Cyprus was the first iron-based economy in the Mediterranean.

The "deposition" model severs the link between our data and the use of metals in everyday life, raising the question of what it means to speak of the "Early Iron Age" at all. Iron reigned supreme as a prestige good and on the battlefield, but metals were apparently little used otherwise - until 700 BC or even later most tasks were probably carried out with stone, bone or wood. Compared to the Greek settlements of the fifth and fourth centuries, the Early Iron Age was almost metal-free.

Nearly all the Greek metal has come from burials, and the implicit hypothesis that grave goods are a constant cross-section of the material culture of the living is questionable. Bronze might have equally well have disappeared from the graves because it was no longer appropriate for funerals. The shift from bronze to iron is part of a larger set of changes in burial in central Greece around 1050 BC. The new funerals made a distinction within the community, between an elite of perhaps a quarter to a third of the adult population, and an inferior group.

The collapse of east Mediterranean trade by 1050 BC was a crucial event in that locally-obtained prestige goods - iron artifacts - came to play a vital role in creating and maintaining alliances and hierarchy. The dominance of iron in graves after 1050 BC is explained as an elite monopoly on iron.

Access to metals need not have been easy or equal for everyone, even if they are mined locally. If an elite could control metal-smiths and/or the ores themselves - situations common enough in the ethnographic record - they could forge a powerful weapon of exclusion. By controlling iron and making it the only metal appropriate for grave goods in formal burial, the symbol of membership of the elite, the leaders of Greek communities could solidify their powers, creating a ritual gap between themselves and those excluded from iron and the formal cemetery. Gifts of iron weapons and jewelry to less powerful households would admit them as lower order members of the elite; lower still were those households excluded entirely from the ceremonial creation of the community in formal burials. The prohibition of bronze for grave goods might represent not scarcity but the inability of the elite to monopolize it.

"Cold Iron"
Gold is for the mistress - Silver for the maid -
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.
"Good!" said the baron, sitting in his hall,
"But Iron - Cold Iron - is the master of them all".
--Rudyard Kipling


Scientists have proposed a prestige economy, with iron monopolized by the elites and circulated as gifts among them. But why iron? It may have given the elite a decisive military advantage, although we know little about its hardness. In this case, iron would maintain the new order not only as a prestige good but also as the means of destruction guaranteeing unequal access to wealth. Retaining the core idea of the "circulation model", a decline in bronze supplies would further increase the military advantages of control over iron. It would also explain the elite's inability to monopolize bronze, if most of it were spread around in recycled Mediterranean objects rather than being concentrated in trade routes.

In the eighth century, when iron was no longer so highly ranked as bronze and was used for more everyday tasks, bronze weapons appear in poetry as symbols to mark the heroes of the Trojan War as superhumans, playing a potent role in underwriting elite authority. Iron weapons may have held a similar "historical" role in the eleventh century, setting their owners off from previous generations of bronze users, distancing the elite from the chaos of an unwelcome past and establishing a stable world order. During the Iron Age, the Macedonians thought along the lines iron:bronze::male:female, while the Athenians based their rituals on the assumption iron:bronze::elite:commoner.

We do not know how common bronze was. This is because bronze objects were for the large part, not used in burial rituals. Bronze tripods were being cast in Lefkandi between 925 BC and 900 BC. These objects were in circulation throughout the period, but are very rare in the archaeological record because they were used in situations, which provide no material residue. In Homer, tripods moved as wedding gifts, in initiation ceremonies, and between guest-friends. They were used at feasts and as a treasure to gloat over. The possible base for a giant tripod, was found in Lefkandi and is dated between 1025 BC and 950 BC. However, the archaeological record is not very authoritative.

Around the Aegean (particularly in Attica and Lefkandi), iron weapons became relatively common around 1050 BC and very few bronzes at all date between 1025 BC and 950 BC, with even intricate ornaments being made from iron. In Macedonia and Crete, iron becomes common for weapons after 1000 BC, but bronze remains the main metal for ornaments. In the western parts of Greece, iron is very rare in deposits until the ninth century, and such bronzes that occur are either heirlooms or typologically backward copies of Bronze Age objects.



When iron lost its potency as a symbol, elites turned to imports, encouraging Greek voyaging around the Aegean and providing greater incentives for Phoenician traders to come to Greece. The wealth of burials at Athens and Lefkandi escalated until 825 BC, when a balance returned, before the entire structure collapsed around 750 BC with the rise of the institutions of the polis.

Cemeteries dating between1100 BC to 825 BC have been explored in Lefkandi. A salient fact is that the period of bronze shortage at Lefkandi comes later than its supposed occurrence at Athens, In fact, bronze was always used rather sparingly at Lefkandi and if bronze objects appear numerically abundant, it must be remembered that they are all small and their total weight is relatively trivial. Bronze seems to be under-represented and iron over-represented in the Lefkandi burials. The spectacular "hero" graves of 1000 BC to 950 BC are more ambiguous. The male cremation was in a twelfth century Cypriot bronze burn, and some of the jewelry with the woman went back to 2000 BC. This seems to be more like a deliberate use of heirlooms to express the prestige of the dead than a desperate reuse of old metalwork in shortage, but any interpretation of this unique discovery is highly subjective. In the Lefkandi "heroon", bronze and iron fragments were found, probably from a door fastening. One hundred and two bronzes were studied at Lefkandi. Scientists conclude that there was a ready availability of the base metals to the metal-smiths at Lefkandi during the time span of the cemeteries.



The farther back in time one goes from the great turning point of the industrial revolution, the smaller the role played by iron. Any definition of "Iron Age" is of course relative, but to call the Aegean an iron-based economy before the sixth century would be a distortion. Iron moved around in a very restricted sphere of exchange, divorced from everyday activity, but it was that sphere which had the greatest influence in the creation of the archaeological record.